Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Spirituality

Memorial: The Holy Shem (name) of Jesus

Today, the universal Church celebrates the Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus. This commemoration has been assigned to the first free day following January 1. So, it moves. This optional memorial has been celebrated in the Latin Catholic calendar of saints, since the late fifteenth century. Veneration of the Holy Name was made universal on 20 December 1721, during the pontificate of Pope Innocent XIII.

While the memorial traditionally celebrates the circumcision of our Lord (when Jewish children were given their name) eight-days after their birth, I would like to look at it from a different point of view.

We are all familiar with the famous Philippians’ hymn in chapter two of St. Paul’s epistle:

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 6-11)

Scripture says that “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name…” Do you find that verse curious? How is one name better than the other? Is Billy more preferable than Peter or Robyn over Katie? No. So, what was St. Paul trying to say?

The ancients would have derived a different meaning from the hymn because of their familiarity with the Old Testament and Aramaic. The Aramaic term for the word “name” is Shem. This name should be familiar to you since Shem inherited the blessing of God through his father Noah. With that blessing came all the covenantal promises of Adam as well. It is through Shem that God passed on His covenantal blessings renewed with Noah after the Great Flood in a pattern that resembles a renewed creation account (that is another blog).

Chapter nine of Genesis ends with the Noah blessing Shem and cursing Canaan (Curse was due to his father Ham trying to steal the birthright away from Shem by laying with his mother):

He also said: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! Let Canaan be his slave. May God expand Japheth, so that he dwells among the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.”

After Chapter 10 recounts the Noahin genealogy, the writer of Genesis continues on with the recounting of biblical history. Chapter 11 opens up with the fact that everyone was speaking the same language (Genesis 11:1). As many know, one of the unifying factors of a people and nation is a common language in which to communicate through. The Sacred Writ is thus recounting that all the peoples were still in union under their covenantal leader, Shem.

The next event is a sudden diaspora of the Noahin family. The biblical event that seemingly caused the diaspora is what we all remember colloquially as the Tower of Babel. Here God confuses the languages which soon gives rise to the table of nations because they wanted to build a building that reached heaven. But, think about it. Was God really threatened by a building? Clearly not! So, what is this story trying to recount?

As you remember, Canaan and his sons were cursed to be slaves of Seth because of the attempted usurpation of power by Ham over Shem. The descendants of Ham and Seth are to be found here in the Shinar plain (probably the Amorites who seemed to give rise to the Babylonians). Why were they building? Scripture tells us exactly why:

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.” (Genesis 11:4) [Emphasis mine]

Ham’s descendants wanted their own “Shem”. They wanted their own ruler. And so, they break covenant with Shem and God then curses them with various tongues that match their split allegiances. To build a large building and “make” a name for oneself is to establish a capitol and designate a ruler. But they already had a ruler and here was the crux of the problem.

Throughout Jewish history, the “name” or Shem was the rightful covenantal ruler of Israel. Whoever was the “Shem” held all the authority and power that was passed down from Adam through Noah.

Hopefully, Philippians is now coming into focus. To have the name above all names is to be the Shem of Shems. Or, in modernese –  the King of Kings. It would be foolish to bend one’s knee (In the Semitic culture to bend one’s knee is yield all power) just because of someone’s name. It also helps us understand the allegiance formula mentioned in the hymn that “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Properly understood, we see what this hymn really meant to the Jews. The Jews were waiting for their King. In fact, the whole universe was waiting for it’s Shem.

Remember, God renewed the promises of Adam with Noah which included dominion over the universe and even temple worship (Garden was a temple and Adam it’s High Priest – See Garden of Eden 2.0). Jesus is that Shem. We invoke His name in times of need and in prayer because He has rightful authority and jurisdiction over all visible and invisible. We Christians are His servants.

During the waning days of Christmastime, we are still liturgically asking the question, prompted by William Chatterton Dix song, What child is this? The child we speak of has a name – Jesus. And at His Shem, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, …to the glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Vocation of Christians in America: Abp Chaput

To celebrate the Lord’s Day here is a fantastic video on Faith and Reason at Houston Baptist University (HBU). They hosted Archbishop Chaput and he agreed to take their questions. Learned something new – he is the first Amer-Indian Bishop in the United States.

St. Teresa of Avila: Doctor of Prayer

St. Teresa of Avila provided the world with one of the greatest tomes on prayer, Interior Castle. To honor the Holy Spirit and its work within her, I have put some thoughts together on Catholic spirituality. At the end, I have also summarized the Teresian Mansions.

What is Spirituality?

Spirituality is the natural bloom of a life steeped in prayer.  In the broadest sense, spirituality refers to “any religious or ethical value that is concertized as an attitude or spirit from which one’s actions flow…In the strict sense of the word, the only authentic spirituality is a spirituality centered in Jesus Christ and through Him to the Trinity.  Christian spirituality is therefore a participation in the mystery of Christ through the interior life of grace, actuated by faith, charity, and other Christian virtues.”[1] Spirituality finds its foundation rooted in a dual wellspring – the living Tradition of the Church and prayer. [2]

Any spirituality that contradicts and opposes the teaching of the Magisterium is clearly in error.  Error by its very nature is insidious and many times difficult to see.  Like a weed, error usually prevents growth.  Unchecked and untreated, it will eventually strangle the life out of its victim.  Authentic spirituality necessarily must be rooted in the instrument that Jesus chose to safeguard truth— the Magisterium.

Rooted in Prayer

Likewise, we must be equally rooted in prayer.  Prayer is the direct action of the Holy Spirit inspiring a response of loving affection to the Father from who all blessings flow.

Prayer is the lifeline of the Christian.  We would do well to recall our Lord’s admonition in John 15:5, “…apart from me you can do nothing.”  Many of us live in the illusion of self-reliance.  Others of us live in the illusion of entitlement.[3] In the end, it is the individual who steeps his/herself in prayer and waits to be refreshed and directed by the one in “whom we live, move, and have our being” who truly lives the authentic Christian life.

As we briefly look at tendencies, modes, methods, and mansions of prayer, this short paper should be used only as a reference guide.  Choose appropriate books and read them.  If possible, read them in conjunction with a competent spiritual director who can assist you in understanding and assimilating the information that will encourage holiness.  May God bring to completion that which He begun in our baptism.

Christian Prayer

Christian prayer traditionally emphasizes four orthodox tendencies.  An individual runs the risk of falling into disordered or heterodox prayer, and consequently spirituality, when they over-emphasize or suppress a particular spiritual principle or teaching.

At different times in Church history, one or another tendency has been emphasized- usually to combat heterodox views of spirituality and theology.  Interestingly, there is a significant correlation between personality and the tendency of spirituality.

Four Traditional Tendencies

  1. Speculative:  The emphasis is on the ordered progression of thought from cause to effect.  While the focus is on the intellect, it moves from observable facts to first principles. The intellect informs the will so it may not only love but love deeply.  This has been instrumental in priestly formation for the past 400 years i.e., Dominican or Thomistic spirituality.
  2. Affective or Emotive:  This Affective or Emotive form directs prayer with emphasis on acts of the will and experience i.e., Franciscan.
  3. Apophatic: This emphasis is going beyond thought and images, by way of the “via negative” and/or the application of Scripture to ones life (Key Word: Transposition).  Thus, instead of understanding who God is in relation to who we are (anthrotypology), it focuses on who God is not (We may be wise but God is not wise, He is Wisdom) i.e., Carmelite and Augustinian traditions.
  4. Kataphatic: The emphasis is using images through the sensible imagination (Key Word: Projection).  This is the most popular among the laity and statistically for the general population i.e., Ignatian prayer.

Four Heterodox Tendencies

  1. Encretism: Extreme discipline, discipline for its own sake.
  2. Rationalism: Using the intellect as a hyper-measure of all reality.  Whatever does not appeal to the mind, reject.
  3. Quietism: The rejection of discipline and ritual because the individual(s) are so “in the spirit” i.e., Montanism/Protestantism
  4. Pietism: Religiosity.  An extreme need for externals without the corresponding continual internal transformation.  Also, typified by an individual(s) who liturgically participates without knowing why they do what they do.

St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila developed a mystical theology that provides valuable insights into the progression and obstacles an individual confronts in his/her prayer life.  These “grades” of prayer are points of reference to assist the individual in understanding and overcoming the particular associated difficulties.  She consistently emphasized that these “grades” are not like that of rungs on a ladder but a fluid progression of ebbs and flows in the spiritual life.  While each inferior “grade” gives way to the next, the individual will use those “skills and structures” they have learned, particularly in arid times.

St. Teresa’s castles or mansions may be divided into two categories: ascetical and mystical.  The first four grades may be said to belong to the ascetical and the remaining five to the mystical.  The essential difference is that the ascetical prayer may be attained through one’s own effort and ordinary grace while the mystical is infused prayer, which properly belongs exclusively to the action of the Holy Spirit by means of His gifts.  While the latter are the work of the Holy Spirit, these grades are still the natural progression of the Christian in growth in holiness in prayer.

The past 100 years has seen a return to the traditional teaching of spiritual theology that embraces both the ascetical and mystical states of the Christian. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. was the principle champion of this approach.  The separation of these two areas of the spiritual life created an artificial and quite damaging view of the spiritual life.  Consequently, the mystical state was improperly relegated for those chosen saints.  This in itself is not completely erroneous.  What some deemed to be the logical end was.

Vatican II reminded the Church of the Universal Call to Holiness, which includes the laity progressing in prayer and holiness to the heights of sanctity.  The following is a summation of each mansion and purgation as understood by St. Teresa:

Ascetical States

First Mansion: Vocal Prayer

  • Any prayer expressed in words whether written or spoken
    • Three reasons for vocal prayer
      • Arouses interior devotion
      • Homage to God with our body as well as the mind and heart
      • Gives expression to the spiritual sentiments that floods the soul in prayer
    • Two requirements
      • Attention: Total awareness of what you are doing here and now (intellect)
      • Devotion: Purposeful direction of our will towards God (will)

Second Mansion: Discursive (Reasoned) Meditation

  • The reasoned application of the mind to some supernatural truth in order to penetrate its meaning, love it and carry it into practice
  • The most important element is the act of love aroused in the will due to the presentation of the truth by the intellect

Third Mansion: Affective Prayer

  • The type of prayer in which the operations of the will predominate over the discursus of the intellect
  • The method of St. Ignatius is not conducive to affective prayer as it emphasizes method and imagination and not the spontaneous movements of the heart

Fourth Mansion: Prayer of Simplicity

  • A simple loving gaze upon a divine object whether on God Himself or one of His perfections
  • Affective prayer gives way to a simple loving gaze towards God
  • Also known as Acquired Recollection and Simple Contemplation

Dark Night of the Senses (St. John of the Cross)

  • Purgation of habitual sin, human efforts aided by grace

Mystical States

Fifth Mansion: Contemplative Prayer (Prayer of Union)

  • Two Stages
    • Prayer of Quiet
      • Principally affects the intellect
        • Intellect and memory are tranquil
        • They are still free to realize what is occurring
      • The will is captivated and God’s presence fills the soul with ineffable delight
      • The other faculties are free and thus able to continue with the duties of life
    • Prayer of Union
      • All interior faculties are captivated including memory and imagination
      • Only external bodily senses are free
      • Signs of the Prayer of Union
        • Absence of distractions
        • Certitude of being intimately united to God
        • Absence of weariness and tedium

Dark Night of the Spirit (St. John of the Cross)

  • Purgation of involuntary and spiritual sin, divine effort

Sixth Mansion: Conforming Union (Mystical Espousal)

  • All interior and exterior faculties are captivated
  • Complete ecstasy
  • The difference between conforming and transforming union is a matter of degree of intensity

Seventh Mansion: Transforming Union (Mystical Marriage)

  • The essential difference is that God’s will and the individual’s will may no longer be distinguished
  • Heaven on earth
  • Attainable by every baptized Christian

[1] Aumann, Jordan, Spiritual Theology (Sheed and Ward, 1980) p.17-18

[2] Christian spirituality is preeminently Trinitarian through the person of Jesus the Christ.  There are two particular distinctions that set Christianity and Judaism apart from other world religions.  The first is that Christianity and Judaism are the only two religions where God instigates the relationship and actions.  The second is that both religions are totally responsive.  God acts – we respond.  These two movements are clearly exemplified in the Liturgy.  God speaks, we respond in affirmation.  God offers Himself in the Eucharist and we take and eat.  All other religions act in order for their god(s) to respond.  Unfortunately, this is very prevalent in Catholicism today by enculturation.  We have become a childish society demanding what we want and when we want it- especially spiritually.

[3] The illusion of entitlement rears its ugly head typically in one of two ways.  The first is the unfounded notion that all good people go to heaven.  Goodness, a trait that all would agree saints possess, is not the key to heaven.  What is the key?  Grace!  Grace makes us holy.  Holiness is the action by which the Holy Spirit, in the context of a willing response of our cooperation, forms us into the image of Christ.

The second is a quote out of context.  “Life is a prayer.”   St. Francis’ life was undoubtedly a prayer.  That is not to say he did not pray.  There is a prevalent illusion that says that as long as we do those duties that are required of us, prayer is optional.  Prayer is our primary duty!  Our vocations, and those actions that are related to living out our calling, flows forth from prayer.  Should one examine the teachings of the spiritual masters and the lives of the saints, one would find that those who emphasized life as prayer were the same ones that spent hour upon hour in prayer, several times a day.

Living the Liturgy

This EWTN program documentary on the monks of Clear Creek is not only inspiring but reveals the longing of our hearts. May our communities and Churches be filled again with religious who teach us to live the Liturgy.

Noble Simplicity

Yesterday was my wife’s 39th birthday (It’s okay, everyone knows – really, she is not 40) and over the past couple of days, there has been a tremendous amount of well-deserved fanfare: party with the parents, traditional Fairfax Craft festival attendance and of course her birthday dinner. To be honest, her birthday is more akin to a Solemnity consisting of an eight-day celebration than a simple remembrance of the day she graced the world with her presence. Can’t say I really object, considering everything she does for me and the kids.

As every husband and father knows, we must cook our wives the traditional birthday breakfast. This year’s breakfast offered a moment for pause, meditation and grace. See, for the first time in 16 years, I had nothing to do. The oldest two cooked and cleaned while the two youngest set the table and cleared it. It brought a great joy to my heart, my kids are coming of age. But that was not the interesting part. My youngest, who is six, noticed that the older three had something special to offer their mom by way of a talent in the preparation. Hannah cooked pumpkin pancakes from scratch, the Nicholas fried the bacon, and Victoria folded the napkins in a special way. At first he seemed a little disconcerted about not having anything to offer but then a smile appeared on his face.

In the midst of all the cooking, he called out and said, Mommy! I have something special for you. Come outside with me.” He then took her outside, took up his bow and arrow, lifted it towards the sky and shot an arrow across the lawn. With a big smile, he threw his arms up into the air and exclaimed, “Ta da!” His special talent – shooting an arrow. His gift had nothing to do with breakfast, it added nothing to the meal, shooting the arrow didn’t even kill the pig that was sumptuously frying in the pan.

I stood in awe of the noble simplicity of his gift to her. He offered everything he had and was not ashamed of it. Noah taught me a great lesson yesterday about how we present ourselves before our Lord. In whatever we do, we need to offer ourselves completely and without reserve. What little we have is enough. The Lord, like my wife, was not looking for something incredible or complicated but just what we have to offer with a smile. That is true nobility.

As we try so hard to grow in holiness, maybe we should be more like Noah and live a simply with all our all mind, soul and strength. I think I read that somewhere. We should enjoy and rejoice in everything that we do within the boundaries He has given us because simple things are holy. I hope I can rediscover noble simplicity in my life. Maybe that is why Jesus told us that we can only enter into the Kingdom of God if we become like little children.

Blessed Pope John XXIII

I know very little about our Blessed Pope John XXIII except that he was an exceptionally funny, focused and holy man.  Communio provided a great tribute to him today:

Blessed John XXIII

Today we are given Blessed John XXIII as a model of holiness. Pope Blessed John’s liturgical memorial is not the date of his death but the anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

As one example of his holy inclinations I recently read his 1962 letter to women religious, “Il Tempio Massimo.” It is remains a beautiful testament to a great man filled with the Holy Spirit lived as a man of the Church. In this letter the Pope talks about the place of spiritual renewal in religious life; he’s got the grace of a new Pentecost in mind: an old person can be born again.
The new Pentecost in Blessed John’s mind is evidenced in a life of prayer, a life of example and a life in the apostolate, whether active or in the cloister. Of course, this letter to the women religious has a specific structure and emphasis but one that ought not be lost to the rest of the Church today; the Pope encourages us “to cultivate a holy enthusiasm” in life in Christ aiming to a more complete and full vocation first introduced to us in the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation & Eucharist) and then in the call to serve the Lord and the Church in a particular manner (the vowed life, priesthood for those given that vocation, the married state and single life).
Blessed John’s points on prayer could be summarized as follows:
1. “…more rigid mortification and penance is intended to affirm once again the pre-eminence of the duties of worship and of complete consecration of life to prayer over any other form of apostolate…;
2. “…conform more perfectly to the call of the Divine Master…in the contemplative life”;
3. “…the only foundations and soul of the apostolate is the interior life”;
4. without a life of prayer can “…fall into that ‘heresy of action';
5. a life of prayer “…entails not a mechanical repetition of formulas but is rather the irreplaceable means by which one enters into intimacy with the Lord, to better understand the dignity of being daughters of of God and spouses of the Holy Spirit, the ‘sweet guest of the soul’ Who speaks to those who know how to listen in recollection”;
6. “holy Mass should be the center of your day, so much so that every action converges on it as a preparation or as a thanksgiving. Let Holy Communion be the daily food which sustains, comforts and strengthens you”;
7. 3 recommended and fundamental devotions: “Nothing is better for enlightening and encouraging the adoration of Jesus than to meditate upon Him and invoke Him in the threefold light of the Name, the Heart and the Blood.
I’d recommend reading the rest of the letter because Pope John talks about honoring poverty, radiating chastity, a life of sweet obedience and the apostolic and contemplative life.

Pelicanus Periculosus?

Great article on Christian symbology from New Liturgical Movement. And, the symbol is one of my favorites – the Pelican.

Pelicanus Periculosus?

by David Clayton

Is there a danger that trying to reestablish traditional Christian symbols in art would sow confusion rather that clarity? Lots of talks and articles about traditional Christian art I see discuss the symbolism of the iconographic content; for example, the meaning of the acacia bush (the immortality of the soul) or the peacock (again, immortality). This is useful if we have a printed (or perhaps for a few of you an original) Old Master in church or a prayer corner as it will enhance our prayer life when contemplating the image. But is this something that we ought to be aiming to reinstate the same symbolism in what we produce today? Should we seek to educate artists to include this symbolic language in their art?

If symbols are meant to communicate and clarify, they should be readily understood by those who see them. This might have been the case when they were introduced – very likely they reflected aspects of the culture at the time – and afterwards when the tradition was still living and so knowledge of this was handed on. But for most it isn’t true now. How many would recognize the characteristics of an acacia bush, never mind what it symbolizes? If you ask someone today who has not been educated in traditional Christian symbolism in art what the peacock means, my guess is that they are more likely to suggest pride, referring to the expression, ‘as proud as peacock’. So the use of the peacock would not clarify, in fact it would do worse than mystify, it might actually mislead. (The reason for the use of the peacock as a symbol of immortality, as I understand it, is the ancient belief that its flesh was incorruptible). So to reestablish this sign language would be a huge task. We would not only have to educate the artists, but also educate everyone for whom the art was intended to read the symbolism. If this is the case, why bother at all, it doesn’t seem to helping very much, and in the end it will always exclude those who are not part of the cognoscenti . This is exactly the opposite of what is desired: for the greater number, it would not draw them into contemplation of the Truth, but push them out.

I think that the answer is that some symbols are worth persevering with, and some should be abandoned. First, it is part of our nature to ‘read’ invisible truths through what is visible. This does not only apply to painting. The whole of Creation is made by God as an outward ‘sign’ that points to something beyond itself to Him, the Creator. Blessed John Henry Newman put it in his sermon Nature and Supernature as follows: “The visible world is the instrument, yet the veil, of the world invisible – the veil, yet still partially the symbol and index; so that all that exists or happens visibly, conceals and yet suggests, and above all subserves, a system of persons, facts, and events beyond itself.” It is important to both to make use of this faculty that exists in us for just this purpose; and to develop it, increasing our instincts for reading the book of nature and in turn, our faith.

However, coming back to the context of art again, some discernment should be used, I suggest. I would not be in favour of creating an arbitrarily self-consistent symbolism. The symbol must be rooted in truth. The symbolism in the iconographic tradition is very good at following this principle. This is best illustrated by considering the example of the halo. This is very well known as the symbol of sanctity in sacred art. There are very good reasons for this. The golden disc is a stylized representation of a glow of uncreated, divine light, shining out of the person. Even if this were not already a widely known symbol, it would be worth educating people about the meaning of it, because in doing so something more is revealed. When however, the representation of a halo develops into a disc floating above the head of the saint, as in Cosme Tura’s St Jerome, or even a hoop, as in Annibale Caracci’s Dead Christ Mourned, (both shown) then it seems to me that the symbol has become detached from its root. Neither could be seen as a representation of uncreated light. These latter two forms, therefore, should be discouraged.

Similarly, those symbols that are rooted in the gospels or in the actual lives of the saints should be encouraged and the effort should be made, I think, to preserve or, if necessary, reestablish them. The tongs and coal of the prophet Isaias relate to the biblical accounts of his life. The inclusion of these, will generate a healthy curiosity in those who don’t know it, and so might direct them to investigate scripture. The picture shown below, incidentally, is one that I did as a demonstration piece for our recent summer school at Thomas More College in New Hampshire.

In contrast consider the peacock and the pelican. The peacock, as already mentioned, does not, we now know, have incorruptible flesh. The pelican is a symbol of the Eucharist based upon the erroneous belief in former times that pelicans feed their young with their own flesh. The immediate reaction is that these should not be used (I am not aware of any biblical reference to these two creatures that would justify it). However, I am torn by the fact that both of these are beautiful and striking images, even if based in myth.

Also, it might be argued, and this is particularly true for the pelican, that to use it is not resurrecting an obscure medieval symbol. It is an ancient symbol certainly – and St Thomas Aquinas’s hymn to the Eucharist, Adore te devote called Christ the ‘pelican of mercy’. But it lasted well beyond that. It was very widely understood even 50 years ago. Awareness of it is still common nowadays amongst those who are interested in liturgy and sacred art. Perhaps an argument could be made that even when the reason for the use of symbol is based in myth, if that is known and understood, and when that symbol recognition is still widespread enough to be considered part of the tradition, it should be retained. We should also remember that modern science is not infallible, and we moderns could be those who are mistaken about the pelican! My Googling research (admittedly even less reliable than modern science) revealed that the coat of arms of Cardinal George Pell has the image of the pelican. If this is so, I imagine he would have something to say about the issue also!

I would love to know the thoughts of readers on these points.

Stat crux dum volvitur orbis

Holy Family with St Bruno and St Elisabeth by Guy Francois

The Church remembers today one of its hidden sons, Bruno the Carthusian. Born around 1030 in Cologne, he passed into eternal glory on October 2, 1101 in Serra San Bruno. Of all his earthly accomplishments, he is credited with founding the magnificent Carthusian Order and its first two communities. He is also noted as being a renowned teacher at Reims and the papal adviser to his former student, Pope Urban II.

St. Bruno had an exceptional reputation for holiness in all the virtues. His brothers and contemporaries all agreed that of all the virtues, three stood out, namely,

  • Earnest and fervent prayer
  • Mortification
  • Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary

I have held a special place in my heart for the Carthusians since Franciscan University when I used to accompany Fr. Augustine to one of their hermitages for him to hear confessions. What a beautiful time in my life!

The motto of the Carthusians I have made my own which I keep before me daily, “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis” or in the vernacular, “The Cross is steady while the earth is turning.” So much in this simple phrase.

In our present situation, I believe that we could apply this to the fact that while the world argues over what is sin or isn’t, whether there are absolute truths or not, and the duplicity of the worldly Christian, the cross and its Gospel do not change. Simply put, the Son of God died for the sons of men so the sons of men could become the Sons of God.

Unfortunately, I think that devotion to the Holy Cross of Christ has been usurped by a fast-food, give it to me now, hedonistic society – and that is for us Christians. We have forgotten what to do without means. We need everything now. And, when we do not get it, we quit. How can anyone grow in their spiritual life needing, dare I say demanding, instant spiritual gratification? our Lord takes His time and will not be forced, tricked or ordered around. Like Psalm 115:3 says,

Our God is in heaven, whatever he wills He does.

Case in point: I remember when I was first married how my wife and I dreamed of working our way up to owning a house (still working). Or, how we one day dreamed of buying furniture or paying for a vacation. It took 16 years but we paid for our first family vacation this year, a week in Kitty Hawk. It felt so good to not only accomplish a goal but to look back and see the lean years of minimal vacations.

Today, we are amazed by the youth how if they want it and cannot afford it, mom and dad flip the bill (will not be happening for wants in our house). We also enjoy the argument that vacations, trips and get-aways are needs. There is no sense or habit of self-denial and discipline. The cross, to many, is only a symbol of violence, torture and pain (all true) which should be avoided at all costs – except the token remembrance during Lent of course or jewelry of course.

The cross though is the hope of our salvation, our sweetness in redemption, the love of a redeemed heart and the triumph of a slain King who took His life up again. The cross is the necessary doorway to eternal glory – there is no other way in. Death precedes glory and the cross before the crown.

If we only knew the power of the cross. If we would but unite ourselves to it, we would quickly discover the fire and power that drove the saints to the height of holiness. May St. Bruno intercede for us that we may become the sons and daughters of God we were designed to be.

Holy St. Francis

I wanted to share the Saint of the Day selection written by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira from the Web site dedicated to him.  Happy Feast day Father Francis!

St. Francis of Assisi – October 4

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Biographical selection:

197_Benozzo_Gozzoli_Meeting.jpg - 29399 Bytes
St. Francis and St. Dominic meet

Benozzo Gozzoli, 1452

In the summer of 1215 St. Francis with a small group of friars were in Rome seeking approbation for his Rule. One night during his stay while Francis was praying, he saw Our Lord prepared to unleash most terrible chastisements upon the world. His Most Holy Mother was making an effort to placate Him, asking His mercy and forgiveness. For this purpose, she presented two men who would labor for the conversion of the world and return a countless number of lost sheep to the fold. Francis recognized himself as one of these apostles. He did not recognize the other one, however.

The following day, he was in one of the churches of Rome when suddenly an unknown person came up to him, embraced him, and said: “You are my companion, we will work together, supporting one another toward the same end, and no one will prevail against us.” Francis recognized him as the other man in the vision. It was St. Dominic, who had also received a similar vision. When he saw Francis in that church, he immediately went to greet him, inspired by the Holy Ghost.

Sometime after this encounter, Francis and Dominic assisted at a service at St. John the Lateran Basilica where a famous preacher was giving a sermon. It was Fr. Angelo who later would die a martyr in Sicily. As he preached, Fr. Angelo saw Francis and Dominic in the audience. Moved by a grace, he stopped, looked at them, and announced with prophetic words that the two would be strong columns of the Church.

At the end of the ceremony, St. Angelo waited for them, embraced them, and told them the favors God had reserved for them. The two founders, in turn enlightened by a supernatural grace, revealed the principal events of the life of St. Angelo. As the trio left the church, they came upon a leper begging there. The three gave a simultaneous blessing to the poor man, which restored him to health.

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

This narration is so beautiful that I feel embarrassed to comment on it. But since I have the obligation to say some words to you regarding it, I will do so.

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The encounter of two vocations

Santa Maria di Castello, Genoa, 15th century

You see the splendor of the scene. St. Francis and St. Dominic both received visions that allowed them to recognize one another. So when St. Dominic saw St. Francis in one of the churches of Rome, he went to him and embraced him. They both expressed their enthusiasm for the mission each had received and for the fact that they would support one another. This was the embrace of two souls, each one with every reason to hold the other in the highest esteem: on one hand, because their missions were very similar; on the other hand, because they were very different.

According to Catholic criteria, a great similarity leads to friendship, but so also does a great dissimilarity when it is not the dissimilarity of opposition, but rather one that is complementary. One had something that the other was lacking. Together they constituted a harmonic ensemble. For this reason, they admired one another.

Both saints had a profound Marian devotion. St. Francis was a great palatine of the Immaculate Conception centuries before it was defined as dogma. The Franciscans would spread that truth throughout the world. St. Dominic was the great apostle of the Rosary. Through the devotion of the Rosary the Dominicans would effect immediate and spectacular conversions. The Dominican is the Order of the Rosary par excellence. So, from the Marian perspective, there is a great similarity in the Orders.

However, even with this similarity of mission, there are also differences. The two Marian devotions represent in the minds of the faithful two different floods of light. Still, they are convergent lights, because it is not unusual for the person who believes in the Immaculate Conception to pray the Rosary, and vice-versa.

This balance between similarity and dissimilarity can also be noted in another point. The Dominican Order was called to convert persons by speaking to their will through their intelligence. It is clear that part of the Dominican mission is an intellectual work – the study and teaching of philosophy, theology, and apologetics. On the contrary, the dominant note of the Franciscan Order is to move the will through a manifestation of zeal. The great conversions of the Franciscans came about through the consideration of the Wounds of Our Lord, His Passion, His poverty and spirit of sacrifice. Once again, they are harmonic differences that merge in the spirit of the faithful. A Catholic instructed in the arguments of apologetics by the Dominicans should also be touched by the fervor of the Franciscans.

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Coronation of the Virgin
with St. Francis of Assisi at left and St. Dominic at right

Giovanni dal Ponte, 15th century

That embrace in a church of Rome, therefore, was not just the embrace of two saints, but something more. It was the missions of the two Orders that embraced in that moment. The two Founders were like the two hands of God uniting their efforts to work on this earth, to bring holiness and happiness to men and glory to the Catholic Church.

This was further completed by the presence of a third saint. The saint who preached from the pulpit was so famous that both Francis and Dominic came to hear him. In the middle of his sermon, St. Angelo sees what it is not given to human eyes to see: he sees the future of St. Francis and St. Dominic and how they would become strong columns of the Church and Catholic Civilization, which was threatening to crack and break.

Finally, the three men met and embraced at the end of the office. What did the Carmelite preacher St. Angelo bring to that embrace? He brought what was missing: martyrdom. He brought his acceptance of the holocaust and immolation of his very life in honor of Our Lord Jesus Christ and as a witness to the truth of the Catholic Faith.

Simplifying the picture, then, we have wisdom, charity and martyrdom that merge in that encounter and work a miracle. A leper was at the door of the church begging. Leprosy was the worst and most incurable illness of the time. The three Saints made a joint blessing over the leper, and the man was cured. This symbolized a Christendom that was becoming leprous and which, by the action of those saints, was restored to health.

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St. Francis in glory

Sassetta, 15th century

This is how we can understand the first part of the selection. The Revolution was installed in Christendom and Our Lord was ready to release His punishments. But Our Lady intervened, pointing to the mission of those two men, and she obtained the postponement of that chastisement, because the action of the Revolution would be deferred by the action of those two saints.

In the 15th century the Revolution entered again with new force. Why did this happen? Did God call another man to halt it? In this case, we would be facing the possibility that a new St. Francis was called and did not correspond to his vocation. Or perhaps the man corresponded and became a saint – St. Vincent Ferrer, for example – but the people did not correspond to his appeal. We do not know. What is certain is that from the 15th century on, the collapse of Christendom has been continuous.

We can see the preventive counter-revolutionary action of St. Francis of Assisi. By means of humility, purity and austerity, he put a brake on the pride and sensuality of his times.

We should ask St. Francis, through the grand union he has with Our Lady, to obtain for us a great spirit of humility and mortification so that we stop thinking about ourselves and think only on the Catholic cause, without the desire to appear, shine, or have fun. It should suffice for us only to know, love, serve and glorify Our Lady through our whole life. We should also ask him to help us fight with all our forces to destroy the Revolution, which he helped to counter-attack in his times.

Tradition in Action

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Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

The Saint of the Day features highlights from the lives of saints based on comments made by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Following the example of St. John Bosco who used to make similar talks for the boys of his College, each evening it was Prof. Plinio’s custom to make a short commentary on the lives of the next day’s saint in a meeting for youth in order to encourage them in the practice of virtue and love for the Catholic Church. TIA thought that its readers could profit from these valuable commentaries.

The texts of both the biographical data and the comments come from personal notes taken by Atila S. Guimarães from 1964 to 1995. Given the fact that the source is a personal notebook, it is possible that at times the biographic notes transcribed here will not rigorously follow the original text read by Prof. Plinio. The commentaries have also been adapted and translated for TIA’s site.

Torrent of Divine Love

St. Thérèse is one of the most celebrated saints of the last fifty years. Her “Little Way” as it is known, has become a spirituality that has invigorated the old and young alike. Two of her greatest gifts she bequeathed to our modern age is her understanding of prayer as an action and the need for divine love.

Ora et Labora or Ora est Labora – That is the question!

St. Benedict gave us the famous maxim, Ora et Labora – Pray and work. During the sixth century, St. Benedict of Nursia spent a great deal of time teaching his monks the holiness of work. He taught that monastics should full-heartedly participate in the divine command given to Adam in the garden. Our Lord told Adam, and all mankind to adovah. The first meaning is to work or toil. The second, but not secondary meaning is to pray. Man vocation is to both pray and work.

By the nineteenth century, St. John Bosco reflecting on the culture, adjusted Benedict’s maxim to Ora est labora – Prayer is work. Don Bosco battled a the Enlightenment and Humanism which viewed prayer as an excuse for not acting. They saw the cloisters as an escape from the world to a life of ease while but hiding from the work that needed to be done. The culture of the nineteenth century believed that mankind itself was the answer to all the world’s woes; once it had shed its primitive naivete of believing in God.

St. Thérèse: Scourge of Humanism and Activism

In the life of St. Thérèse, we see the nexus of both maxims. Her witness is the scourge of Humanism and the joy of all who are cloistered. Today’s society continues to promote Humanism under the new banner of activism, “I must do otherwise nothing will ever change!”

Pope John Paul II recognizing that the witness of  St. Thérèse’s life would be a worthy nail into the coffin of activism, declared her to be the Patroness of Missionaries. To drive home the point, she never left her convent. He saw that her thirst for souls led her to pray for the foreign missionaries and priests.  It was her ardent prayers that obtained the salvation of  a man named, Pranzini,  who had murdered two women and a girl in Paris.  He had no desire of repentance, but Saint Thérèse’s prayers touched Heaven and on his way to the guillotine for execution, he asked to kiss the crucifix, which he kissed three times.

Prayer is an action even though it is always passive on our part. We, quickened by the Holy Spirit, cooperate in the economy of salvation through our prayers and hidden works of virtue for the Divine Lover. If the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, then the prayer of the cloistered is  the till that breaks the fallow ground of our hearts. A seed cannot grow if the Living Water cannot seep into the soil.

Prayer is not the excuse of the lazy or idleness but the very heart of all evangelistic activity. As St. Thérèse knew, we should not move until the Lord of Hosts has given us our marching orders.

At the Heart of the Matter

Currently, there is much confusion in the Body of Christ. In a sort of frenzied amnesia, many question there role and function in the Church. Laity want to be priests, priests want to be laity, Pastors handover their “birthright” to Pastoral Councils and committees believe they run the Church. In her writings,  St. Thérèse search to discover her role and function in the Body of Christ. To her surprise, she discovered she was to become a ferocious fire of Divine Love:

Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of St. Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the 12th and 13th chapters of the 1st epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.

I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will show you the way which surpasses all others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind.

When I had looked upon the mystical body of the Church, I recognised myself in none of the members which St. Paul described, and what is more, I desired to distinguish myself more favourably within the whole body. Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realised that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.

Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction. (Source: Office of Readings, Oct. 1 – excerpt from Story of a Soul)

A body without love withers and dies. Thérèse became love and infused it into the Body of Christ. Not just a filial love a joyful, ecstatic, passionate and intimate love. A love that makes the heart beat faster and the soul grow stronger. It is a love that instills in a person the audacity to ask the Father of Lights anything and then walk away knowing that He will do it.

Her example compels us to remember that love is the foundation of all ministry. Her gift  of intercession is a ministry of the heart. It says to the Lord, “Break my heart with the things that break yours!” Then with a zeal for souls and a love that empowers, she floods the heart of God with affections and requests that a lover cannot refuse. If love and intimacy was the goal and core of our prayer and relationship with the Blessed Trinity, what could the Body of Christ not do?

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

Over the last twenty-four years of my Christian walk and ministry, two people have particularly inspired me by their witness to live a life of ferocious love with our Lord. Both are daughters of St. Thérèse and exemplify all that the Little Flower desires to teach us. Their lives of unwavering commitment to the truth and unfettered love for our Lord and His Bride, the Church, are a rare combination in our culture. They continue to persevere in their ministries and families through prayer that gives way to action – and they never settle for second best.

Dawn and Kelly, thank you for incarnating St. Thérèse teaching for me. On your Feast day, may she continue to pour out the sweet fragrance of her Lord’s grace into your lives! You continue to be an example to the many young women (and men) who have no idea how to love, what love means and how only truth can yield love. Your mentoring (even from a distance) continues to teach me that Thérèse was a true romantic and a passionate lover for our Lord and His people.

Grasping at Love

Finally, a note on a culture that demands love on its own terms. Many of the young women that my wife and I have ministered to over the years have been blinded by a romantic sentimentality of what the culture – and fanciful fairy tales – define as love and romance (Frankly, the men are no better). As my wife shared with me the other day, “Romance is not a bouquet of flowers or poetry quoted over a candle-lite dinner. Romance is when your husband has to wake up every hour on the hour for days at a time to force a cracker down her throat in hopes that the Vicodin he just made her take is not puked up back on him” (I would provide you with my example but I can neither top hers nor figure out who her husband is).

It is not that they [we] do not have a passion to love one another and the Lord, it is just they do not have enough. I think that C.S. Lewis explained this phenomena the best when he wrote in, The Weight of Glory, that the problem is that we settle for the immediate arms-length good instead of pushing through the pain and heartbreaks for the good we cannot see. We grasp and take hold of the love we want instead of waiting for the Lord to deliver the love (and lover) He desires to provide for us. We are satisfied with the mediocrity of our imaginations that the blazing truth and reality to true love.

I believe that St. Thérèse and the other twentieth century Teresa (Mother Teresa) holds the key to heal this wound in our culture. After suffering for 18 months of darkness in her soul, Thérèse claimed her prize of eternal glory. Mother Teresa who lived 50 years of interior darkness never experienced the consolation of our Lord’s love this side of heaven but poured out His love on every person she met. These examples are not to say that the answer to our culture grasping for love is perseverance until death. The answer is not settling for anything less than the Lord’s love first. Love is not only passion but purifying correction, loneliness and unexciting burdensome routines – all carried with love for Him that is steeped in a life of prayer. Once we are consumed by the torrents of His love – sometimes unexciting, THEN all other loves will fall into place.

St. Thérèse, intercede for us that we might learn to receive and become love.