Friday, November 2, 2018

Let light perpetual shine upon them - All Souls' Day



At the end of the Second World War, Austin Farrer preached a sermon in All Souls' Chapel, Oxford, recalling how the chapel had come into being for the purpose of praying for the repose of those who had died in the numerous wars and conflicts involving medieval England. This passage from that sermon (part of the collection published in 1960 by Faith Press as Said or sung: An arrangement of homily and versedeserves to be better known. Indeed, the whole sermon draws together many of the  theological, spiritual and pastoral considerations that undergird the Church's habit of praying for the departed.

(Use the SEARCH tool in the sidebar of this blog to find some other excellent All Souls' Day resources.)

‘May they rest in peace, and may light perpetual shine upon them’ - those millions among whom our friends are lost, those millions for whom we cannot choose but pray; because prayer is a sharing in the love of the heart of God, and the love of God is earnestly set towards the salvation of his spiritual creatures, by, through and out of the fire that purifies them. 

The arithmetic of death perplexes our brains. What can we do but throw ourselves upon the infinity of God? It is only to a finite mind that number is an obstacle, or multiplicity a distraction. Our mind is like a box of limited content, out of which one thing must be emptied before another can find a place. The universe of creatures is queuing for a turn of our attention, and no appreciable part of the queue will ever get a turn. But no queue forms before the throne of everlasting mercy, because the nature of an infinite mind is to be simply aware of everything that is. 

Everything is simply present to an infinite mind, because it exists; or rather, exists because it is present to that making mind. And though by some process of averaging and calculation I should compute the grains of sand, it would be like the arithmetic of the departed souls, an empty sum; I could not tell them as they are told in the infinity of God’s counsels, each one separately present as what it is, and simply because it is. 

The thought God gives to any of his creatures is not measured by the attention he can spare, but by the object for consideration they can supply. God is not divided; it is God, not a part of God, who applies himself to the falling sparrow, and to the crucified Lord. But there is more in the beloved Son than in the sparrow, to be observed and loved and saved by God. So every soul that has passed out of this visible world, as well as every soul remaining within it, is caught and held in the unwavering beam of divine care. And we may comfort ourselves for our own inability to tell the grains of sand, or to reckon the thousands of millions of the departed. 

And yet we cannot altogether escape so; for our religion is not a simple relation of every soul separately to God, it is a mystical body in which we are all members one of another. And in this mystical body it does not suffice that every soul should be embraced by the thoughts of God; it has also to be that every soul should, in its thought, embrace the other souls. For apart from this mutual embracing, it would be unintelligible why we should pray at all, either for the living or for the departed. Such prayer is nothing but the exercising of our membership in the body of Christ. God is not content to care for us each severally, unless he can also, by his Holy Spirit in each one of us, care through and in us for all the rest. Every one of us is to be a focus of that divine life of which the attractive power holds the body together in one. 

So even in the darkness and blindness of our present existence, our thought ranges abroad and spreads out towards the confines of the mystical Christ, remembering the whole Church of Christ, as well militant on earth as triumphant in heaven; invoking angels, archangels and all the spiritual host.



(Click on this flyer to enlarge it . . .)





Monday, October 1, 2018

St Thérèse and the grace of God



“Nothing in my hand I bring. 
Simply to thy cross I cling.” 

From the hymn “Rock of Ages” 
by Augustus M. Toplady, 1776.

On 24th August, 1997, during the Mass he celebrated at the Twelfth World Youth Day in Paris in the presence of hundreds of bishops and before a huge crowd of young people from all over the world, Pope John Paul II announced that he was to proclaim St Thérèse a “Doctor of the Universal Church.” This he did on Sunday 19th October 1997 when he pointed out that Thérèse is the youngest of the 33 officially recognised Doctors of the Church, the one closest to our time, and the third woman among them. In his apostolic letter Divini Amoris Scientia, the Pope said: 

“As it was for the Church’s Saints in every age, so also for her, in her spiritual experience Christ is the centre and fullness of Revelation. Thérèse knew Jesus, loved him and made him loved with the passion of a bride. She penetrated the mysteries of his infancy, the words of his Gospel, the passion of the suffering Servant engraved on his holy Face, in the splendour of his glorious life, in his Eucharistic presence. She sang of all the expressions of Christ’s divine charity, as they are presented in the Gospel.” 

The Pope also said that 

". . . we can rightly recognize in the Saint of Lisieux the charism of a Doctor of the Church, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit she received for living and expressing her experienced faith, and because of her particular understanding of the mystery of Christ . . . That assimilation was certainly favoured by the most singular natural gifts, but it was also evidently something prodigious, due to a charism of wisdom from the Holy Spirit." 

No wonder that Thérèse is the most quoted woman saint in the Catechism of the Catholic Church!

Her Life
Marie Frances Thérèse Martin was born at Alençon, France on 2nd January 1873. When she was four years old her mother died, and she moved with the family to Lisieux. 

As a child, Thérèse had a deep awareness of God’s presence in her life. She grew up loving the Lord Jesus and understanding the Sacraments to be deeply personal encounters with him. By the time she became a teenager she knew that God was calling her to embrace the Religious life in its contemplative form. 

In 1887 Thérèse went to on pilgrimage to Italy with a group from Lisieux. On 20th November Pope Leo XIII met with them and Thérèse was able to ask him for special permission to enter the Carmel of Lisieux at the age of fifteen, which she did on 9 April 1888, receiving the habit on the following year. She made her religious profession on 8 September 1890, the Birthday of Our Lady. 

Thérèse embraced the spiritual principles of St Teresa of Avila while faithfully fulfilling the various community responsibilities entrusted to her, especially the menial ones. During this time her faith was severely tested by the sickness of her father who died on 29th July 1894. 

She continued to be nourished by the Scriptures, which were central to her spiritual life. Her response to God’s Word in openness of heart and mind nurtured her growth in holiness and made a deep impact on those around her. 

The autobiographical manuscripts she wrote are a detailed account of her walk with God. Based on the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, she called it the “little way” of “spiritual childhood” and taught it to the novices entrusted to her care. 

She also accepted the ministry of spiritually supporting two missionary priests with prayer and sacrifice. Indeed, seized by the love of Christ, whom she described as her “only Spouse”, she became increasingly aware of her own apostolic and missionary vocation. 

In her autobiography Thérèse says that on Trinity Sunday 1895 (9th June), she gave herself completely to the love of God. Several months later, on the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday (3rd April 1896), she suffered a haemoptysis, the first sign of the illness which would lead to her death. From this point, her writings speak of the trial of faith, which would last until she died. In the midst of her pain she wrote that her vocation was simply “to be love in the heart of the Church.” 

Thérèse was transferred to the infirmary on 8 July 1896. During this time her sayings were collected. Meanwhile her sufferings intensified. She accepted them with patience, right up to the moment of her death in the afternoon of 30th September 1897. “I am not dying, I am entering life”, she wrote. 

Her final words, “My God, I love you!” were uttered at the age of 24, after years of illness and spiritual struggle, sealing a life lived in total surrender to the Lord’s love. Then she began what she had already foreseen as her new responsibility - her ministry of intercession, prayer, and love in the Communion of Saints, “in order to shower a rain of roses upon the world.”

Thérèse was canonized by Pope Pius XI on 17 May 1925. 

Since her death, Christians of many cultures and traditions - especially young people - have been inspired by her holiness, love and steadfast faith to give themselves completely to the Lord.

Letters to Maurice
To get a truly rounded picture of Thérèse – and in order to move away from the rather saccharine stereotype of her that has been built up, it is a good idea to read Maurice and Thérèse: The Story of a Love, by Patrick Ahern. This is the collected correspondence between Thérèse and Maurice Bellière, a stumbling young man she had never met, who was preparing to become a missionary priest. They exchanged twenty-one letters at a time when Thérèse’s suffering and pain was at its height, and when her spiritual struggle was most intense. It is significant that she was able to write such letters of support and encouragement to someone else. (The letters are accompanied by Ahern’s commentary.) 

Maurice had experienced a moral failure, and couldn’t quiet his conscience. Thérèse told him that God does not want our relationship with him be based on an obsessive fear of punishment. Neither, she said, does God want us to try and bargain for salvation by promising to do good works. With all who have begun to grasp the meaning of the grace-filled Gospel down through the Christian centuries, Thérèse knew that no amount of “good works” could purchase God’s love, and that in our better moments we would always wonder if we had done enough. In fact she even said to Maurice that the best of our good works are blemished, anyway, and they make us displeasing to God if we rely on them. 

Thérèse knew that Jesus came into this world to save us, to set us free. She reminded Maurice of St Augustine and St Mary Magdalene, both of whose sins “which were many” were forgiven. 

She wrote to him, “I love them. I love their repentance, and especially their loving boldness.” 

Thérèse knew that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Indeed, she said, “How can I fear a God who is nothing but Mercy and Love?” “Confidence, nothing but confidence” in God’s love was what she stressed. This may sound like spiritual presumption to some. But it echoes the teaching of Hebrews 10:19-22: 

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” 

Justification, Faith and Works
Thérèse practised what she taught. Just four months before she died, she wrote:"I am very happy that I am going to heaven. But when I think of this word of the Lord, 'I shall come soon and bring with me my recompense to give to each according to his works,' I tell myself that this will be very embarrassing for me, because I have no works . . . Very well! He will render to me according to His works for His own sake." 

And in her Act of Oblation, she prays to Jesus: “After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.” 

At the level of Christian experience, Thérèse articulates the theological convergence on the doctrine of Justification that would appear in the the Agreed Statements of the Roman Catholic/ Lutheran dialogue, as well as the Roman Catholic/ Anglican dialogue. It is significant for the ecumenical journey ahead that she occupies such a central place among the Doctors of the Church and in the Catechism.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Today at Mass - THE HOLY NAME OF MARY



The following background to today’s Mass is from the blog of Father Christopher Phillips, ATONEMENT ONLINE. which describes itself as “random thoughts and various things of possible interest from the founding pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Church in San Antonio, Texas.”

We celebrated the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8th and now on September 12th we commemorate the giving of her name by her parents, Ss. Joachim and Anne. They chose the Hebrew name of Miryãm, which means “lady” or “sovereign.” The feast of the Holy Name of Mary originated in Spain and was approved by the Holy See in 1513. It was Pope Innocent XI who extended its observance to the whole Church in 1683, and for a very special reason. It was an act of thanksgiving to our Lady for the victory on September 12, 1683 by John Sobieski, king of Poland, over the Turks, who were besieging Vienna and threatening the West.

What happened was this: the Turks had been hammering the city of Vienna for a couple of months, and finally enough was enough. Under the leadership of Poland’s king an army comprised of Germans, Austrians and Poles made their move against the Turks, routing them completely. It was such an important victory that the Pope was inspired to do something special – thus, what had been a localized commemoration was now an act of thanks from the whole Church. But there’s more to the story…

When the Turks made their hasty retreat there were all sorts of things left behind, including several sacks containing a strange bean unknown to the victors. Thinking it was food for the invaders’ camels, the Viennese were about to dump it all in the Danube. But there was a citizen of Vienna who had been a captive under the Turks. He knew these beans were roasted by the Turks, and after grinding them up they would put them in hot water, making a drink they really seemed to relish. This man, Kolinsky, received exclusive permission to make and sell this new and unfamiliar drink – coffee.

The Viennese people hated it. It was bitter. The grounds got stuck in their teeth. It didn’t seem much better than drinking a cup of mud. Then a friend of Kolinsky made a suggestion. Strain out the grounds. Put a little milk in it to lighten it up. Add some sugar to make it more palatable. After following that advice, the people flocked to buy it, and so the first coffee house was born.

But let’s face it – what’s a cup of coffee without something to go with it? And with that came a new pastry which not only tasted good, but poked a stick in the eye of the defeated Muslim invaders. The delectable comestible was formed into the shape of a crescent – that symbol which had become so hated during the Turkish occupation – and with every bite of these wonderful pastries the Viennese were able to have another small victory over their invaders.

So there we have it. There’s the story of how Turkish coffee was made drinkable, and how the croissant – the “Turkish crescent” – came into being. And it all happened as part of the victorious triumph achieved under the banner of the Most Holy Name of Mary.


Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that thy faithful people who rejoice in the name and protection of the most holy Virgin Mary, may by her loving intercession be delivered from all evils on earth and be found worthy to come to everlasting joys in heaven; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.




Monday, August 20, 2018

S. Bernard - Loving Jesus with all his heart



Bernard of Clairvaux, as a result of whose ministry flames of real revival were lit right across Europe, is said to have been one of the most powerful preachers ever in the history of the Church. He was passionately in love with the Lord, and proclaimed a message of God’s grace, inspiring hundreds of thousands to seek God. 

Bernard was born in 1091 into the minor nobility of Burgundy, France, grew up relatively privileged, and received a very good education. At the age of twenty-two, however, he turned his back on a life of ease to join the newly founded Cistercian Order. He influenced thirty men from the same background to move with him to Cîteaux - an uncle, four brothers and twenty-five others. Only three years later Bernard was asked to found a new monastery at Clairvaux, where he was to remain as abbot until his death in 1153.

From this base, Bernard travelled around Europe, preaching the gospel. History records that many knights responded to his message, committing their lives to Jesus, renouncing their glory, warfare and immoral behaviour, a considerable number of them joining the Cistercian Order, taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and learning to live by the Scriptures.

A colourful personality towering over the twelfth century, Bernard became the most prominent figure of his day, and one of the most influential Christian leaders of all time. 

Over the next thirty years, Bernard founded sixty-eight new Cistercian communities, teaching Scripture and moulding Christ-like character. With these communities and their daughter houses, Bernard ended up being personally responsible for 164 centres across Europe. He threw himself into discipling new believers and training leaders for these monastic houses which became centres of genuine faith and conduits of spiritual regeneration for the surrounding countryside. Bernard’s writings led many to Christ during his lifetime and sparked a series of revivals that would sweep Europe over the next three centuries. But that’s not all. He carried on a huge correspondence in which he even corrected bishops, popes and kings, as he called the powerful in both church and state to genuine faith and servant leadership.

Nor did Bernard shy away from the controversies of his time. He boldly stood up against compromise in the church wherever he found it. He opposed the growing rationalism that he saw in the universities. And he urged the nobility of Europe to unite against the military threat of Islam. 

Mostly, however, Bernard tirelessly preached the gospel to his generation.

Scripture fills Bernard’s preaching and writing. In his written works, there is a quote or allusion to the Word of God in just about every sentence. He was soaked in Scripture! He loved it, and had memorised so many passages - that everything he said radiated God’s Word.

Bernard was an evangelist, pleading with his hearers to make a total commitment to Jesus. He wanted their conversion to be authentic.  He was a strident critic of the “nominal Christianity” predominating among clergy and laity alike. In his tract “On Conversion” he confronted sin head-on and declared that a new conversion is absolutely essential.

Bernard would not allow lukewarm or halfhearted faith in the Cistercian movement. All who joined were to have been soundly converted and following Jesus with zeal. 

For Bernard, conversion is not just a matter of renouncing the world. It is to enter into a deeply personal friendship with Jesus. He proclaimed and lived an evangelical catholicism. At a time when scholastic theologians were debating abstract propositions, Bernard insisted on practical application of the Scriptures in the disciple’s daily life. And though he wrote in beautiful Latin and was a gifted scholar, he brought Scripture down to earth, making it come alive at an individual level for each disciple in such a way as to nourish his or her relationship with God.

The image Bernard consistently uses in portraying our relationship with God is the nuptial symbolism of bride and bridegroom, in fact, resting on the primordial image in Scripture of Christ as the heavenly Bridegroom, with the church as his bride (Eph 5:25-33), being prepared for the great wedding feast (Matt 25:1-13; Rev 19:7-9 and 21:1-27).

In his writings, and especially in his sermons on the Song of Songs, Bernard personalises this reality and welcomes each believing soul to see itself as Christ’s bride and receive the Lord’s tender touch. [Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, trans. Kilian Walsh, 4 Vol. (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1976).] Sometimes referred to as bridal spirituality, this message invites men and women alike to experience the closest possible relationship with the Lord. The goal of Bernard’s whole ministry was to bring hungry souls into true intimacy with Jesus.

“God is love,” (1 John 4:8) is the key verse in all that the Abbot of Clairvaux says. For dogmatic and political reasons, the medieval church often saw Jesus as the vengeful King coming to condemn the ungodly on the Day of Judgment. In Bernard’s teaching Jesus is the Good Shepherd whom the Father sends into the world to save the lost and dying. Jesus is approachable, offering grace to those drowning in their sin.

In his work, “On Loving God,” Bernard asks: How much did God love us? He answers with a tour-de-force of passages from the New Testament:

St John says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). St Paul says, “He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us” (Rom 8:32). The Son, too, said of himself, “No one has greater love than the man who lays down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). [Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, trans. G. R. Evans, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 175.]

Throughout his writing Bernard emphasises God’s love and maintains that salvation is entirely by God’s grace. We could never earn it. In response to God’s love for us, we love him, desire him and seek him with our whole heart. The forgiven soul, says Bernard, “seeks eagerly for his Creator, and when he finds him, holds to him with all his might.” [Ibid., 176.]

* * * * * * * * * *

Anglicans are most aware of St Bernard through the well known translation of two of his hymns: 

Jesu dul­cis memoria 

Jesu! the very thought is sweet!
In that dear Name all heart-joys meet;
But sweeter than the honey far
The glimpses of his presence are.

No word is sung more sweet than this:
No name is heard more full of bliss;
No thought brings sweeter comfort nigh,
Than Jesus, Son of God most high.

Jesu! the hope of souls forlorn!
How good to them for sin that that mourn!
To them that seek thee, O how kind!
But what art thou to them that find?

Jesu, thou sweetness, pure and blest,
Truth’s Fountain, Light of souls distressed,
Surpassing all that heart requires,
Exceeding all that soul desires!

No tongue of mortal can express,
No letters write his blessedness,
Alone who hath thee in his heart
Knows, love of Jesus! what Thou art.

O Jesu! King of wondrous might!
O Victor, glorious from the fight!
Sweetness that may not be expressed,
And altogether loveliest!

(This hymn is also translated as: ”Jesus, the very thought of thee”
and “Jesus, thou joy of  loving hearts”

* * * * * * * * * *

Jesu, Rex admirabilis 

O Jesus, King most wonderful,
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou Sweetness most ineffable,
In whom all joys are found!

When once thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, Light of all below,
Thou Fount of life and fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire!

Thy wondrous mercies are untold,
Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousand fold,
Whatever we can say.

May every heart confess thy Name;
And ever thee adore;
And seeking thee, itself inflame,
To seek thee more and more.

Thee may our tongues forever bless;
Thee may we love alone;
And ever in our lives express
The image of thine own.



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

S. Maximilian - a martyr for our time



Canterbury Cathedral: 
The Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time
Photo by Bob Culshaw (go HERE for info)

When he visited Canterbury Cathedral on the eve of Pentecost 1982, one of the things Pope John Paul II did was to pray with Archbishop Robert Runcie in a small semi-circular chapel lit with high stained-glass windows, not far from where St Thomas Becket was martyred, right at the easternmost end of Canterbury Cathedral. For a long time this was known as the Corona Chapel, having been the place where part of Becket’s skull was housed as a relic. By 1977 the Corona Chapel had been given a new name: “The Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time.” It honours those who have more recently given their lives in martyrdom. 

A notice on the wall reads:

"Throughout the centuries 
men and women have given their lives for Christianity. 
Our own century is no exception. 
Their deaths are in union with the life-giving death 
of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Saviour of mankind. 
In this Chapel we thank God for the sacrifice of martyrdom 
whereby truth is upheld and God’s providence enriched. 
We pray that we may be worthy of their sacrifice."

The change in designation took place following the murder of Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda by Idi Amin’s forces in 1977 As David Douglas says in Touchstone Magazine of December 2000, ". . . Plastic-sheeted pages inside offer brief biographical sketches of more than a dozen twentieth-century martyrs, among them the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and the priest and hermit Charles de Foucauld. Two nuns, Edith Stein and Maria Skobtsova, are included . . .

"Without fanfare, in stained-glass stillness, the East Chapel transforms the beatitude, 'Blessed are those who are persecuted,' into lives of flesh and spilled blood . . ." 

Today is when the Church celebrates the triumph of sanctifying grace in the life of Maximilian Kolbe, one of the martyrs commemorated in the east Chapel. Born in Poland in 1894, when he was just 12 years old Maximilian had a vision of our Lady offering him a white crown and a red crown. The white crown symbolized persevering in holiness, and the red crown symbolized accepting martyrdom. This devout boy accepted both! His first name was actually Raymond. He later took the name of Maximilian, an ancient Christian martyr. 

He became a Franciscan priest and had a remarkable ministry of evangelization in Poland and Japan. Through his ministry so many young people came to know the Lord. But the darkness that spread across Europe during the 1930's gave rise to the Second World War, and on 17th February 1941 Maximilian, whose large following was greatly feared by the Nazis, had been arrested. In May of the same year he was transferred to the dreadful Auschwitz concentration camp where he devoted himself completely to caring for the other prisoners. His kindness, love and generosity became well known. 

At the end of July one of the prisoners escaped. The commander was furious and ordered that ten prisoners should die in his place. The prisoners were lined up and ten picked out at random. The ninth one chosen, a young Polish soldier, broke down and asked for mercy on the grounds that he was married and had a young family to support. It was then that Maximilian stepped forward and asked if he could take the man's place. After giving the matter some thought, the commander agreed.

The ten condemned men were flung naked onto the concrete floor of an underground bunker and were left there to starve to death. The guards observed them through a peep-hole and could hardly believe what they saw. Frequently the condemned men were gathered around Father Maximilian. Sometimes they were joking, sometimes they were praying and singing hymns. The assistant janitor, an eyewitness of those terrible days, said that it was as though the cell in which the condemned men were held "had become a church."

Fourteen days went by, and death overtook the prisoners one by one. Father Maximilian was the last to die when a guard put and end to his agony with an injection of phenol.

Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose place Maximilian had taken, survived Auschwitz and the war. Later he said, "At first I felt terrible at the thought of leaving another man to die in my place. But then I realised that he had done this, not so much to save my life, as to be with the other nine in their last terrible agony. His nearness to them in those dreadful last hours was worth more than a lifetime of preaching."

Maximilian might have contented himself with giving those men encouragement and advice. If it had been allowed he might have visited them in their death cell. But his presence with them, sharing their dreadful ordeal meant more than anything else.

Maximilian's death began a healing work in many hearts. After the War he became a popular symbol of the cry for a renewed respect of basic human rights in Germany as well as in Poland. In church circles, people of both nationalities pressed for his recognition as a Saint. This eventually took place in October 1982 in St Peter's Basilica, Rome. The next day, Franciszek Gajowniczek and many other survivors of Auschwitz and similar concentration camps were present at a special service of reconciliation in which Germans and Poles prayed together and exchanged the greeting of peace with each other. Gajownizek died in 1995, a great-grandfather.

Like Jesus whom he served, Maximilian gave his life for others. Like Jesus, his very presence reassured all kinds of people that God was real and that he loved them in spite of all the suffering and pain in the world.


St. Maximilian's cell in Block 11 at Auschwitz

Patricia Treece, in A Man For Others quotes one of the prisoners who witnessed Maximilian offer himself in Franciszek Gajowniczek's place:

"It was an enormous shock to the whole camp. We became aware someone among us in this spiritual dark night of the soul was raising the standard of love on high. Someone unknown, like everyone else, tortured and bereft of name and social standing, went to a horrible death for the sake of someone not even related to him. Therefore it is not true, we cried, that humanity is cast down and trampled in the mud, overcome by oppressors, and overwhelmed by hopelessness. Thousands of prisoners were convinced the true world continued to exist and that our torturers would not be able to destroy it. More than one individual began to look within himself for this real world, found it, and shared it with his camp companions, strengthening both in this encounter with evil. To say that Father Koble died for one of us or for that person's family is too great a simplification. His death was the salvation of thousands. And on this, I would say, rests the greatness of that death. That's how we felt about it. And as long as we live, we who were at Auschwitz will bow our heads in memory of it as at that time we bowed our heads before the bunker of death by starvation. That was a shock of optimism, regenerating and giving strength; we were stunned by this act, which became for us a mighty explosion of light in the dark camp night . . ."

". . . For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall walk by your light . . ." (Isaiah 60:1-2)


The painting of St Maximilian at the Franciscan Church in Krakow


Monday, August 13, 2018

Forgive and you will be forgiven



S. Augustine Preaching Before Valerius, his predecessor as bishop of Hippo,
 by Carle Van Loo (1705-1765) in the Church of Our Lady of Victories, Paris. 

S. Augustine of Hippo was born in 354 at Thagaste in northern Africa. He received a Christian education, but experimented with other philosophies and ways of life before being finally converted and baptised in 387. In 391 he was ordained to the priesthood and in 395 he became coadjutor bishop to Valerius of Hippo, whom he succeeded in 396. Augustine struggled with the heresies of Manichaeism, Donatism, and Pelagianism. His writings - including transcripts of his sermons - have had a marked influence on subsequent thinkers. Above all he was a pastor and a spiritual writer. He died in 430. In this sermon he deals with our need to be more open to the Lord’s teaching on forgiveness and generosity of spirit, and what these realities mean in our daily lives.. The passage is Sermon 83, 2. 4: PL 38, 515-516

I tell you that you must forgive 
not seven times
but seventy times seven. 
(Matthew 18:22)

The Lord puts the parable of the unforgiving debtor before us that we may learn from it. He has no desire for us to die, so he warns us: “This is how your heavenly Father will deal with you if you, any of you, fail to forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Take notice now, for clearly this is no idle warning. The fulfillment of this command calls for the most vigorous obedience. We are all in debt to God, just as other people are in debt to us. Is there anyone who is not God’s debtor? Only a person in whom no sin can be found. And is there anyone who has no brother or sister in his debt? Only if there be someone who has never suffered any wrong.

Do you think anyone can be found in the entire human race who has not in turn wronged another in some way, incurring a debt to that person? No, all are debtors, and have others in debt to them. Accordingly, God who is just has told you how to treat your debtor, because he means to treat his in the same way.

There are two works of mercy which will set us free. They are briefly set down in the gospel in the Lord’s own words: “Forgive and you will be forgiven, and Give and you will receive.” The former concerns pardon, the latter generosity.

And so, every day we pray; every day we beat upon God’s ears with our pleas;As regards pardon he says: “Just as you want to be forgiven, so someone is in need of your forgiveness.” Again, as regards generosity, consider when a beggar asks you for something that you are a beggar too in relation to God.

When we pray we are all beggars before God. We are standing at the door of a great householder, or rather, lying prostrate, and begging with tears. We are longing to receive a gift—the gift of God himself.

What does a beggar ask of you? Bread. And you, what do you ask of God, if not Christ who said: “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven”? Do you want to be pardoned? Then pardon others. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Do you want to receive? Give and you will receive.

If we think of our sins, reckoning up those we have committed by sight, hearing, thought, and countless disorderly emotions, I do not know whether we can even sleep without falling into debt.

And so, every day we pray; every day we beat upon God’s ears with our pleas; every day we prostrate ourselves before him saying: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we also forgive those who trespass against us.”

Which of our trespasses, all of them or only some? All, you will answer.

Do likewise, therefore, with those who have offended you.

This is the rule you have laid down for yourself, the condition you have stipulated. When you pray according to this pact and covenant you remember to say: “Forgive us, as we also forgive our debtors.”




Saturday, August 11, 2018

St Clare and her love for God



The Church in western Europe was not in such good shape at the end of the 12th century. But it was at this time that the Holy Spirit stirred the hearts of two young people in central Italy, giving rise to the remarkable Franciscan movement.

Clare was born Chiara Offreduccio in 1193 or 1194, the daughter of a wealthy and highly educated family in Assisi. When Francis began to preach the Gospel in the squares of Assisi in 1210 Clare was only sixteen years old, eleven years younger than him. Even as a child her heart was turned towards the Lord, and she would share her food with the poor and needy people of the town. She had already refused several offers of marriage. At the age of 18, she was captivated by Francis' Lenten preaching of a Christ-centred simple gospel life, and especially his emphasis on poverty as a special vocation to which some are called. She had several secret meetings with him, accompanied only by a friend, Bona, and made up her mind to join him. 

On Palm Sunday 1212 Clare left her parents' house secretly. She had already sold her dowry and given the money to the poor. At the little church of St Mary of the Angels, just below Assisi, she met Francis and a few of his brothers. She changed her dress for a simple habit, and took off her jewellery. Francis cut her hair, and she made a vow of obedience to him. At first she lived with a nearby Benedictine community of nuns, doing simple menial tasks. 

Not surprisingly, Clare's family were outraged at what she had done. They sent armed men to bring her back, without success. When Clare's younger sister, Catherine, followed her only a fortnight later, the family made even more violent attempts to force her to return home. Indeed, it is said that as they were physically carrying Catherine away Clare prayed, and Catherine became so heavy that they could not lift her. Defeated, they returned home. 

Francis received Catherine, too, as a sister, and gave her the name Agnes. Then Clare, Agnes and several friends moved to San Damiano, the church where Francis had heard Jesus speak to him from the crucifix, charging him to "rebuild" the Church. Here the first community of Poor Clares came into being. In time, Clare's widowed mother joined as well. 

It was said that the followers of Clare were the most beautiful young girls from the "best" families of Assisi. The community grew rapidly, and in 1215, very much against her will, Clare was made Abbess. 

The women devoted themselves to prayer, nursing the sick, and works of mercy for the poor and neglected. The order came to be called the "Poor Clares." They wore no shoes, ate no meat, lived in a house that was unsatisfactory even by the standards of the time. They also kept silent most of the day. They had no beds, but slept on twigs with patched hemp for blankets. They only ate food they begged for. Clare made sure she fasted more than anyone else. 

Clare remained in charge until her death in 1253. In spite of long years of sickness, we know the depth of her love for the Lord by the letters she wrote. Two years after her death, in 1255, she was declared a saint by the Church. 

In the early years of the movement Francis visited Clare often, but as his own community grew his visits decreased and she had to find within herself the inspiration she had received from him. In fact, their relationship grew more equal, and Francis would consult her on important decisions. In his last illness he came to San Damiano and Clare cared for him. 

Although she called herself “the little plant of Francis” Clare became a powerful and innovative woman in her own right. Not only did she write the Rule (a guide to a way of life) for her religious community. She struggled long and hard with the "institutional Church" for most of her life, as Popes and Cardinals resisted the renewal movement and sought to draw her away from the poverty which was at the heart of her following of Jesus. But Clare remained firm and her Rule was finally approved by the Pope himself just a few days before her death. By that time there were more than 150 communities which followed her way of life, mainly in Italy, southern France and Spain, but also spreading as far east as Prague, and as far west as Bruges. 

COLLECT
God of peace, 
who in the poverty of the blessed Clare 
gave us a clear light 
to shine in the darkness of this world: 
give us grace so to follow in her footsteps
 that we may, at the last, 
rejoice with her in your eternal glory; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.



The Church of San Damiano, 
where St Francis heard the voice of Jesus say to him, "rebuild my Church." 
It is also where St Clare died on August 11, 1253.


A LETTER OF St CLARE TO BLESSED AGNES OF PRAGUE 
Agnes, previously a very wealthy woman, was Abbess of the community of Poor Clares in Prague. Although she and Clare never met, a close friendship developed and was maintained through their correspondence for over twenty years. 

Fortunate indeed is she who shares in the sacred banquet and clings with all her heart to him whom the hosts of heaven constantly adore! Contemplation of him refreshes her; his kindness and sweetness fill her being. "He is the splendour of eternal light, a mirror without blemish." Look daily into that spotless mirror, dear queen and spouse of Christ, and see your face in it. See how you are to adorn yourself, within and without, in all the blossoms of virtue, as befits a chaste daughter and spouse of that greatest of kings. In that mirror poverty, humility, and love beyond telling shine radiantly. 

Contemplate the beginning therein mirrored - the poverty of him who lay in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. What marvelous humility and astonishing poverty! It is the King of angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, who lies here! Contemplate next the course of his life, with its humility in the form of blessed poverty, endless toil, and torments to be endured for the redemption of humankind. Contemplate, finally, the boundless love that marks the end of that life, when love made him suffer and die on the Cross. The mirror cries out to us: "All you who pass along the way, look and see if there be any sorrow like mine!" What shall our answer be? "I remember and my heart fails within me." Here, noble queen of the heavenly King, your love will flame up ever more intensely. 

If you go to contemplate his inexpressible delights and the riches and honours he bestows, your heart will sigh with loving desire: “Draw me after you; we shall run after you, drawn by your fragranet perfumes,” heavenly Spouse! I shall run and not cease until you lead me into your wine cellar. 

When you contemplate all this, remember me, your poor little mother. Know that the memory of you is imprinted in my heart, for you are dearer to me than any other. 


A LETTER OF St CLARE TO ERMENTRUDE OF BRUGES 
In 1240 Ermentrude, a noble lady originally from Köln, went to Bruges, Belgium, where she lived for twelve years in a hermitage. She heard about Clare and the Poor Ladies and left for a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome, but found that Clare had already died. She returned to Bruges and transformed her small hermitage into a monastery of Poor Ladies and then and then established other monasteries in Flanders. Clare had written two letters of encouragement to her. Here is one of them: 

I have learned, O most dear sister, that, with the help of God's grace, you have fled in joy the corruptions of the world. I rejoice and congratulate you because of this and, again, I rejoice that you are walking courageously the paths of virtue with your daughters. Remain faithful until death, dearly beloved, to God to whom you have promised yourself, for you shall be crowned by him with the gariand of life. 

Our labour here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamour of the world, which passes like a shadow. Do not let the faise delights of a deceptive world deceive you. Close your ears to the whisperings of hell and bravely oppose its onslaughts. Gladly endure whatever goes against you and do not let good fortune lift you up: for these things destroy faith, while these others demand it. Offer faithfully what you have vowed to God, and he shall reward you. 

O dearest one, look up to heaven, which calls us on, and take up the cross and follow Christ who has gone on before us: for through him we shall enter into his glory after many and diverse tribulations. Love God from the depths of your heart and Jesus, his Son, who was crucified for us sinners. Never let the thought of him leave your mind, but meditate constantly on the mysteries of the cross and the anguish of his mother as she stood beneath the cross. 

Pray and watch at all times! Carry out steadfastly the work you have begun and fulfil the ministry you have undertaken in true humility and holy poverty. Fear not, daughter! God, who is faithful in all his words and holy in all his deeds, will pour his blessings upon you and your daughters. He will be your help and best comforter for he is our Redeemer and our eternal reward. 

Let us pray to God together for each other for, by sharing each other's burden of charity in this way, we shall easily fulfil the law of Christ.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Transfiguration - some great readings



What a wonderful start to the day as a handful of us gathered at the altar in the Lady Chapel for the Mass of the Transfiguration! Here are inks to previous previous blog posts on this amazing revelation of the Lord's glory, followed by a meditation of Brother Roger of Taizé:


Thoughts on HIS Transfiguration and OURS
Brother Roger of Taizé  (1915-2005)

As we celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ 
we sing at the same time 
the unimaginable prospect of our own transfiguration.  
Christ enters us, and changes us into his likeness.  

He transfigures everything in us, the good as well as the bad. 

For those who are marked by suffering 
and by the cross of Christ, 
the day will come 
when they will be able to burn with the flame 
that is fed with all their past life. 
They will know that in God nothing is lost.
 

Christ does not come to destroy flesh and blood. 
He does not break what is in us. 
He has not come to abolish but fulfil. 
When darkness gathers his loveis fire. 



In every man and in every woman 
there is a wound, 
inflicted by failures, 
humiliations, bad conscience. 
Perhaps it was caused at a time 
when we needed understanding 
and nobody was there to give it. 

If we moan about this wound, 
it becomes a torment an aggressive force 
turned against ourselves 
and against others 
- often against those who are closest to us.

 
Transfigured by Christ,
 it is changed into a focus of energy 
into a source of creativity 
where communion, friendship and understanding 
and compassion burst forth.

-


Saturday, August 4, 2018

S. John Vianney on praying and loving



John Vianney was a French parish priest born in 1786 who became internationally famous for his pastoral care, confessional wisdom, children’s catechesis and practical preaching.

Born into humble circumstances, his parents were devout and hard working, and they sought to serve God as a family. When he was 20, John decided to leave his rural surroundings and begin secondary education so as to respond to what he believed was the call of God to the priesthood. He was a highly unpromising student, and has a real struggle. His studies progressed very slowly. A decade later he was ordained. He was well-known for his heart of compassion which led him to open an orphanage as he began to minister in the local parish in the aftermath of the Revolution. In due course he was appointed curé (parish priest) of the remote rural parish of Ars, and was known to spend up to 18 hours a day in the confessional. Over time, he became internationally famous, and each year tens of thousands of pilgrims flocked from far and wide to hear him preach the Gospel, and to sseek his counsel. He prayerfully moved in the area of what would in the 20th century become known as the “charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit”, and he experienced deeply the reality of spiritual warfare with the powers of evil. John Vianney was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925. He is the patron saint of the parish clergy.

Here is the passage set for the Office of Readings today, from the S. John Vianney’s catechetical instructions:

The glorious duty of man: to pray and to love
My little children, reflect on these words: the Christian’s treasure is not on earth but in heaven. Our thoughts, then, ought to be directed to where our treasure is. This is the glorious duty of man: to pray and to love. If you pray and love, that is where a man’s happiness lies.

Prayer is nothing else but union with God. When one has a heart that is pure and united with God, he is given a kind of serenity and sweetness that makes him ecstatic, a light that surrounds him with marvelous brightness. In this intimate union, God and the soul are fused together like two bits of wax that no one can ever pull apart. This union of God with a tiny creature is a lovely thing. It is a happiness beyond understanding.

We had become unworthy to pray, but God in his goodness allowed us to speak with him. Our prayer is incense that gives him the greatest pleasure.

My little children, your hearts are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the soul and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun.

Prayer also makes time pass very quickly and with such great delight that one does not notice its length. Listen: Once when I was a purveyor in Bresse and most of my companions were ill, I had to make a long journey. I prayed to the good God, and, believe me, the time did not seem long.

Some men immerse themselves as deeply in prayer as fish in water, because they give themselves totally to God. There is no division in their hearts. O, how I love these noble souls! Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Colette used to see our Lord and talk to him just as we talk to one another.

How unlike them we are! How often we come to church with no idea of what to do or what to ask for. And yet, whenever we go to any human being, we know well enough why we go. And still worse, there are some who seem to speak to God like this: “I will only say a couple of things to you, and then I will be rid of you.” I often think that when we come to adore the Lord, we would receive everything we ask for, if we would ask with living faith and with a pure heart.