It is only very rarely that I have time for proper holidays, that is the idea of packing, flying and then enjoying a journey just for the sake of it. Much more frequently, I have to travel for my job, but – whenever possible – I try and make the most of these journeys, particularly attempting to know the places and people I’m visiting.
This happened in the past week, when I had to go to Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, for a conference. I was very curious, because I had never been to a Baltic country before. What will follow is just a kind of diary of what I saw, and, of course, I have no pretension to write as an expert of Lithuania or of its history. I’m merely a traveling musician who happened to spend a few days there.
The first thing I discovered was that Lithuania, along with its sister Baltic countries, Latvia and Estonia, is celebrating this year its 100th birthday. These countries declared their independence in 1918, though the following hundred years were marked by systematic violation of that independence and freedom. They experienced occupation and the deprivation of freedom and democracy, particularly during the long Soviet era.
Though the anniversary celebrations are stressing very strongly that the country’s independence is a hundred years old, and therefore that there is substantial continuity between Lithuania in 1918 and in 2018, they are also not hiding the country’s history and what it suffered in this century.
Just in front of the Academy of Music, where our conference took place, there is a building which immediately caught my eye. It is rather imposing, occupying one whole block; between the Academy and the building there is a small monument, in the shape of a little hill made of rocks, surmounted by a cross and with many flowers and candles spread around and above it. This tiny memorial invites attention, as does a block-long exhibition of drawings by children and teenagers – some of which are really beautiful – and which illustrate the history of Lithuania’s occupation. In fact, the large building a few steps away has had the debatable privilege of being the prison and operational centre of both the Gestapo (during the Nazi era) and of the KGB (during the longer Soviet occupation).
The building is covered in large square stones, on which the names and dates of birth and death of Lithuanian heroes are sculpted; many of them share the year 1945 as the second of the two. Inside the building is the Museum of the Genocide. I must admit that at first I had no intention to visit it. I can’t stand the sight of violence, I never watch horror movies, and I believe that one can learn enough about history without indulging in what I think are voyeuristic descriptions of torture and sadism.
In spite of this, in the end I convinced myself to enter, thinking that I would certainly not miss a visit to Auschwitz if I had the opportunity of going there, and so I had to take courage and enter here too. I was rewarded for this minor act of courage. The museum was by no means a chamber of horrors, even though it was more than a chamber of horrors. In the cellar, the KGB prison has been left as it was; and it is something one has really to see in order to believe it.
For example, you see what looks like a grim but not particularly terrible prison cell, about three by five meters, with three beds with no mattresses. The point is that up to a hundred prisoners were crammed into one of these cells. When you see it and think “well, this must be a cell for three people” and then you learn that a hundred people lived there… it makes you feel how inhuman their condition was. Then you see the showers, which are nothing to write home about, but when you learn that prisoners could take one shower a month you realize how terrible that was (and, incidentally, how the smell of a hundred unwashed people must have been).
There was, indeed, the display of some means of torture, of which I won’t write, but it was not like a splatter movie; rather, it made me deeply touched, sad and intensely moved. I was on the verge of tears when I descended into the execution room. I knew that thousands of people had died there; and while I felt the immense sacredness of a place like that, where heroes, martyrs and common people had been shot and had left this earth, I was also impressed by the “practical details” which made those killings so vivid in my eyes – such as the hosepipe used for washing the blood after the executions. It was like perceiving the reality and the truth of it all, not in the form of a tale, but as a true experience of life.
Similarly, I will never forget some small items which I saw in the museum in the upper floors, where tiny objects from the prisoners’ and the deportees’ lives were displayed. Many unsung heroes of the Lithuanian resistance were in fact sent to Siberia and other pleasant holiday places in the USSR, and, once more, the living truth conveyed by these objects was much more impressive for me than descriptions of tortures or other horrors which these people experienced.
There were handkerchiefs on which a married couple embroidered the portraits of their children: the parents had been sent to Siberia and this was a way for keeping the beloved features of their offspring with them. There were Christmas cards written on birch bark; small bags in which a handful of Lithuanian earth was kept by the deportees. But what most impressed me were the numerous examples of how faith kindled courage and hope in these prisoners.
A rosary made of bread, which belonged to the political prisoner Elena Kirlyte, Kazakh SSR, circa 1954.
There were rosary beads made of breadcrumbs (and one can only imagine how precious a breadcrumb could be for these people in forced labor at the end of the world); tiny holy vessels with which the priests celebrated Mass, sometimes even on the trains which brought them to Siberia, as witnessed in a “Mass diary” kept by a priest; minuscule crucifixes made from toothbrushes (!); portable altars carved in wood, or Lilliput prayer books written by hand. There were also some exquisite Christmas decorations which a deported bishop, from his internment at a kind of lunatic asylum, sent to his little niece; her picture was found in his own portable altar, so that he celebrated Mass for this little child.
I emerged from this visit with a full heart. I was impressed by some dates, telling me that some of these events happened during my own lifetime; in fact, I can distinctly remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, though I had forgotten about the human chain made by some two million inhabitants of the Baltic republics in 1989 (the “Baltic way”).
Outside the museum, I found a vibrant city, with a wonderful Old Town which is part of the Unesco World Heritage and modern shops like those I find in the major Western cities (though whether this homogenization is a positive aspect is debatable). But I also found an elderly man who sold simple bunches of homegrown flowers, tied with a shoelace – a touching reminder that freedom is not the same as well-being, and that consumerism is not the antidote to past abuses. The true antidote, I think, is in the deep faith and values of the Lithuanian people, some of whom I saw praying in the Cathedral church of Vilnius. I will not forget an old nun, who was so beautiful in her prayer that I couldn’t resist taking a picture of her.
The country, along with the other Baltic countries, will be receiving a visit by Pope Francis in a few days; possibly he will also go on pilgrimage to the Hill of the Crosses, a place I longed to see but which was too far from Vilnius to be compatible with my schedule. But I hope to be able to visit it in the future: it is yet another living witness of the power of faith and love to heal the deepest and most painful sorrows of humankind.
Dr. Chiara Bertoglio is a musician and theologian moonlighting as a journalist. She writes from Italy. Visit her website.
Just a few days ago, I heard about the death of a brother, a Dominican priest, Fr. Joachim Li, OP who on June 27th, died at the young age of 32. While enjoying his day off at the seaside in Rome, he lost his life successfully rescuing and saving two swimmers from drowning. Fr. Joachim’s heroic death reminded me of the story of his patron saint, St. Joachim Royo, OP, a Dominican missionary martyr in China. As Fr. Joachim gave up his life to save the two swimmers, St. Joachim gave up his life to save the souls of many.
St. Joachim Royo, OP was born around 1691 in Spain. In 1708, he joined the Dominican Order in Valencia. Filled with the zeal to preach the Gospel to the end of the world, he arrived in Manila in 1713. There he finished his studies and was ordained as a priest. St. Joachim arrived in China in the spring of 1715. In the missionary territories of southeastern China, he not only baptized many, but he formed the newly baptized converts into Dominican tertiaries and lay catechists. During the persecution of the early Qing Dynasty, he went into hiding in the wilderness and caves. Only in the cover of the night, was he able to administer sacraments for the faithful. While in prison, he continued his penitential practices, even going as far as asking the prison guards to whiplash him! He finally gave the ultimate witness of faith in Fujian, China in 1748. St. Joachim’s heroic life is just one story out of those of the 108 martyrs in China (33 of which were missionaries), whom we commemorate on July 9.
Even now, there are countless missionaries making all kinds of sacrifices, even risking their lives, so that people may hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How can you help? First of all, you can pray for them. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote in 1896, to Fr. Adolphe Roulland, MEP, who was about to be sent to Sichuan, China,
“Distance can never separate our souls, even death will only make our union closer. If I go to Heaven soon, I shall ask Jesus’ permission to visit you in Sichuan, and we shall continue our apostolate together. Meanwhile I shall always be united to you by prayer…”
If you hear the Lord’s call to be a missionary yourself and go to Asia, please do not hesitate to contact us!
Conversion and reversion stories never fail to fascinate. Stories of how and why a person freely decides to embrace the Catholic Faith, or return to the Catholic Faith of his or her childhood after having freely rejected it, are intriguing. Such stories edify Catholics in their Faith, giving them more reasons to love it. For open-minded non-Catholic readers searching for truth, these stories open up more avenues for the search.
Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro tells a unique reversion story. Its subject matter is not a canonized saint or a famous apologist, but Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero whose writings played a major role in the Philippine struggle for independence from Spain during the 1890s.
Every Filipino learns in school about Rizal’s life and writings. Inevitably, we learn that at one point in his life, he studied in Europe, got exposed to Enlightenment philosophies, became a Freemason, wrote about the abuses committed by the Spanish friars in the Philippines, and was shot by a firing squad on accusations of treason against the Spanish government. His novels, which we also study as part of the basic education curriculum in the Philippines, present the Catholic Church in an unflattering light: lustful, avaricious, cruel, and power-hungry friars; caricatured depictions of superstitious piety of ordinary folk. Most of the heroes of the novels are free-thinkers; in one chapter of the first novel, one of them scoffs at the Catholic doctrine on purgatory and indulgences.
We also learn that before he was executed, Rizal signed a written retraction of his anti-Catholic writings, but historians debate his sincerity in signing it. Rizal’s admirers seem to think that retracting his anti-Catholic writings would reduce his greatness, and surmise that he signed the retraction only out of convenience – an odd position to take about someone whom one is presenting as a hero worthy of emulation (and which, for me, does not make sense because the retraction did not save Rizal from the firing squad).
However, it is documented that before he was shot, Rizal went to sacramental confession four times and contracted a sacramental marriage with Josephine Bracken with whom he had previously been cohabiting. In one of his last recorded conversations before he was shot, he serenely asked the priest accompanying him if he would go to Heaven on the same day if he gained a plenary indulgence.
Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro traces Rizal’s spiritual journey from the piety of his childhood, through his estrangement from the Catholic Faith and his immersion in Enlightenment thought, to his return to the Faith of his childhood before he died.
The author, Fr. Javier de Pedro, is a Spanish priest who fell in love with the Philippines, having lived and ministered here for many years. He has doctorates in Industrial Engineering and Canon law and, according to those who know him, is a Renaissance man like Rizal himself. Thus, he brings to the book a valuable perspective: that of a Spaniard who knows and loves the Philippines and Rizal a lot, who has done extensive research about his subject matter, and who, as an experienced priest in the confessional, frequently encounters the tension between sin and grace in souls.
Indeed, the book is detailed, well-researched, and reveals the author’s thorough familiarity with Rizal’s writings, which the author refers to as “mirrors” of Rizal’s soul.
The book presents not only the life and thoughts of Rizal, but also his historical context, including the intellectual trends in fashion in the Europe where Rizal developed his ideas. Thus, the book is valuable not only as a source of spiritual edification, but also as a work of history. It avoids the common pitfalls of isolating Rizal from the historical context in which he lived, and of giving the impression that Rizal’s thoughts remained static and did not develop throughout his life.
The pastor’s perspective is another valuable element of the book. The author shares his insights and analysis on what contributed to Rizal’s estrangement from the Catholic Faith as well as what helped him find his way back to it. Thus, the book also serves as a cautionary tale on what may lead a soul away from the Faith, as well as a guide on how to help oneself and others regain the Faith when it has been lost.
I appreciate the author’s affection for Rizal even as the author points out Rizal’s missteps. In the Prologue, the author refers to Rizal as someone “for whose soul I am now raising a prayer, even if I am convinced that he received long ago the welcome of the Father to the house of Heaven.” The author understands Rizal and acknowledges Rizal’s legitimate grievances against certain clergymen that arose from Rizal’s real experiences. The author is careful to base his insights on Rizal’s spiritual journey on verifiable facts and texts, and emphasizes that in the end, Rizal’s spiritual journey is an mysterious interplay between his freedom and God’s grace.
The book is a compelling read. I especially like the narration of the last days of Rizal, where the author describes recounts details such as the parallel Christmas celebrations of Rizal’s family and the Spanish guards of the prison where Rizal was incarcerated (Rizal was executed on December 30, 1896). That chapter is full of drama and humanity.
Unfortunately, the book is not widely available. As of now, the only place I know where it could be bought is the bookstore of the University of Asia and the Pacific here in the Philippines (inquiries may be made here). In fact, one reason I reviewed Rizal Through a Glass Darkly was to change this by promoting interest in the book.
Indeed, the story in Rizal through a Glass Darkly deserves to be more widely known. It is of particular interest to Filipinos, but it is of interest, too, to everyone else. It is a touching story of a talented man with great ideals and who is credited for a lot of important things, who was at the same time a flawed human being who committed grave errors but eventually found redemption. Like every other conversion and reversion story, it is fascinating.
Last night I noticed that a Protestant friend of mine had liked a page entitled “Toowong’s Heritage — worth fighting for.” Curious, I clicked through to find that 2,500 people had petitioned to preserve a heritage-listed convent intact. It was dear to many locals as a boarding house for the local Catholic school, and included a chapel in the front room. The last remaining Sister of Mercy moved out in April 2017 before the property was sold to developers, who wish to subdivide it and turn it into a nursing home.
I was quite impressed by the fact that many non-Catholic and even irreligious people, such as the local Greens MP, had taken up this cause. What is it about beautiful sites of historical value that tug at the heartstrings of people?
This brought to mind a 2012 furor in Singapore over a sacrilegious party in the deconsecrated chapel of my mother’s old school, slated for Holy Saturday. A friend back home made a police report and encouraged me to do likewise. Later on, a reporter asked, “Why does it matter to you, when you are not even in Singapore?”
Aside from it being the chapel where my mother learned to pray and sing in English (since her parents spoke Teochew), to every Catholic anywhere in the world, an act of sacrilege is a wound in the Body of Christ. To us, every church where the Blessed Sacrament is found is a house of God our Father, and thus also our house. Even when the church has been deconsecrated and repurposed for some other use, its very architectural character hearkens back to its original purpose, and the sacred rites which hallowed its walls.
[Besides, that February I had attended a magnificent Orthodox ceremony in that very chapel.]
But what about non-Catholics, or lapsed Catholics who still care about our heritage sites?
Last December in Brisbane we saw a considerable groundswell against plans to install a café in a heritage-listed chapel here, which still functions like a parish church besides providing for the spiritual needs of the nursing home in which it is situated. A Buddhist, lapsed Catholic neighbor walked in after Mass one Sunday morning, exclaiming what a pity it was that the developers did not respect the integrity of the chapel.
Meanwhile, a few Catholics did not see what the fuss was about.
I think some people have a real sense of the importance of preserving the history of our built environment. It is a common lament among my Singaporean expatriate friends that, with old buildings being torn down and new ones springing up seemingly every few months, each time they go home, they can’t find familiar landmarks anymore. They end up lost and bewildered.
As we are physical beings, familiar surroundings lend us a sense of comfort, identity and belonging. Furthermore, historical sites invoke curiosity and wonder in quite a different way to modern buildings. As intelligent beings with a conception of time, we are able to appreciate the value of old places, where people lived and died before us. Heritage sites give us a feeling of connection with the people who once walked the streets we do now. They help us feel part of a community that extends not only over a local area, but also through time.
This is intensified in sacred sites, where people encounter not only their earthly peers, but commune with God and the saints.
Australia is a relatively young country. It does not have the ancient buildings of Europe. As population pressure mounts, the landscape is steadily being transformed, sometimes with scant regard for the country’s heritage. Moreover, with the drive to modernize, glorious old art and architecture can sometimes be discarded over-hastily, without community consultation. When I saw old photos of Brisbane’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with side altars, a magnificent Epiphany altarpiece and murals depicting the history of Catholicism in Brisbane — which have all vanished — I felt robbed. It was painful.
I haven’t been to Mount St. Mary’s Convent (a.k.a. Goldicott House), but I urge you to sign the petition, so that future generations may continue to appreciate it, and not lament its demise.
“But after all, for us Catholics… a church… is more that just an ordinary spacious attractive meeting house. It is even more than just a house of prayer. It is the place for us where the living Presence of the Godhead dwells, it is the great audience chamber where the God made Flesh and Dwelt Among us is here constantly, here ready for you at all times, to listen to your prayers and your petitions. It is the one place, the one spot perhaps for each of us that is intimately connected with the most important, the greatest events of our lives.”
— George Cardinal Mundelein, Archbishop of Chicago, 1939
Cathedrals are not medieval monuments but houses of life, where we feel ‘at home’: where we meet God and where we meet each other.
— Pope Benedict XVI, General audience in the Paul VI Hall, Rome, Italy, Wednesday 21 May 2008
I was excited when I learned that the life of Saint Paul was going to be made into a movie. Among the saints, Saint Paul is one who has a movie-worthy life: his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, a daring escape plan that involved being lowered down the window in a basket, preaching and provoking riots and getting arrested several times, shipwreck, remaining unharmed after being bitten by a viper.
Paul, Apostle of Christ turned out different from what I expected. It is meditative, a bit slow-paced in the beginning, and intellectual. It assumes that the viewer knows a bit about Saint Paul. Nevertheless, the movie is still accessible, and though the movie could have been improved by better storytelling and more action, it is not devoid of tension and drama.
In short, I loved the movie despite its flaws.
Paul, Apostle of Christ opened at the time of the Roman emperor Nero’s crackdown against Christians after the burning of Rome. Christians were being persecuted, and Saint Paul was arrested, imprisoned in the Mamertine Prisons, and condemned to death by beheading. (For parents concerned with the appropriateness of this movie for their children, the movie depicts scenes of Christians being burned as human torches, the bloody body of a dead child, and Christians, including children, in prison waiting to be thrown to the lions).
The movie follows Saint Luke’s frequent visits to Saint Paul in prison, seeking wisdom for a struggling Christian community in Rome and in order to document Saint Paul’s story in what was later to be the Acts of the Apostles. The movie also follows the subplots of the dilemma of the Christian community whether to stay in Rome or escape, the conflicts with a faction of Christians who want to raise arms against Nero, a Roman officer’s attempt to understand Christianity, and Saint Paul’s own internal conflict grappling with his past as a persecutor of Christians himself.
One of the movie’s strengths was making Saint Paul’s words come alive, putting them in the context in which they were written – a context not so different from our own times. I like how the scriptwriter chose appropriate Pauline quotes for the different situations that the movie depicted. The themes of love, forgiveness, and hope will be appreciated by many.
I also like how the movie made Saint Paul himself come alive, highlighting his mental sharpness and his zeal for souls which made seize every available opportunity to speak about Christ to everyone, even his executioners.
Another of the movie’s strengths is its depiction of the first Christians – how they lived fraternally among themselves, how their ideals clashed with those of pagan Rome, how they sustained hope and witnessed to Christ in their ordinary lives amidst persecution. The Christian characters other than Saint Paul are just as lovable, and one of my favorite parts is when a certain Christian character’s excellent practice of his profession became an occasion of grace for a non-believer.
However, the movie could have given more emphasis on the Eucharist as the sustaining and unifying force of the Christian community. There was a lot of focus on the teachings of Christ as transmitted by Saint Paul, but not enough on the Bread of Life which was the center of life and worship among the first Christians, and which was also a central theme of Pauline writings. More emphasis on the Eucharist would have been also been an apt counterpoint to the movie scenes showing sacrifices to the pagan Roman gods.
Despite its flaws, Paul, Apostle of Christ is a worthy effort to present the apostle’s life and teachings. Its depiction of Saint Paul as a man with a rich inner life and silent power beneath his aging, battered exterior complements my image of him as a passionate and energetic preacher and man of action. Watching the movie gave me a greater appreciation of Saint Paul’s role in the early Church, and how his teachings are as relevant today as they were during those times.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 326/330 – 390), nicknamed since antiquity as ‘The Theologian’, was a fourth-century bishop, born in the rural setting of modern-day central Turkey. He is venerated as a Father of the Church, and is one of the Cappadocian Fathers, along with Ss. Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa.
Gregory fought strenuously for spiritual orthodoxy, particular in relation to a doctrinal understanding of the Trinity, championing the Nicene perspective, and developing a unique Trinitarian language. He viewed the Nicene stance as a midday between the heretical extremes of Sabellianism and Arianism.[i]
Classically trained in rhetoric and philosophy, he is responsible for transposing Hellenism into the Early Church. In fact, “Gregory’s literary ability was regarded so highly by the learned connoisseurs of Byzantium that they ranked him with the great stylists of classical poetry and prose.” [ii] For example, Psellos (c. 1017 – 1028) describes Gregory’s style in glowing terms as embodying the gifts of figures such as Demosthenes, Pericles, Lysias and Herodotus, whilst outranking them, in wit, persuasive power, beauty and skill.[iii] He was even well regarded by Renaissance humanists for his literary prowess.[iv]
Gregory has left the Church with a large corpus of written works: letters, poems and orations. It is through his orations—speeches delivered in homilies and sermons, and polished and edited in his later life—that he has extended his greatest influence, both theologically and literarily.
Among his 44 orations is Oration 42—a Farewell Address; a kind of apologia directed at his flock at Constantinople upon his resignation. A resignation made for the purpose of quelling the dissensions and controversy surrounding his Canonically awry position in Constantinople. He thus stepped aside, to keep the peace.
The audience included the 150 bishops of the Eastern Church gathered for the First Council of Constantinople (381), and various rivals low and high. It is also addressed to the Nicaean faction in general. He is defending accusations against his style of ministry in Constantinople, whilst raising the banner of his Trinitarian faith. He says his farewells with a mix of sadness, joy, and satire, and leaves by throwing a few preacher-punches at the “great and Christ-loving city!” a descriptive term he calls unenlightened, while at the same time it is expressive of his hope of what could be.[v] Still, the tenderness of his delivery is undeniable—in Gregory is a pastor who loved his people.
The Cult of Numbers
The portion of this Oration I’d like to draw attention to is section 7, where Gregory alludes to a worldly, economic kind of religious way of thinking, that can be described as the cult of numbers. This can simply be understood to be a measuring of spiritual success and fruitfulness in Christian communities, based solely on numbers—on the population of a group in the Church or the Church as a whole. It is an outlook that focuses on the external of quantity, to the exclusion and neglect of the quality of such members. A quality defined by sound spirituality and doctrine, manifesting in holiness and love.
The Context of His Farewell
In the context of his Farewell Oration, he speaks to a church where the Nicene community has recently regained power from the Anti-Nicene’s; finally having the support of imperial policy on its side. It is “a people now grown from small to great, from scattered to well-knit, from a pitiable even to an enviable state”—and Gregory testifies to this increase as the work of God, the rich harvest won through his ministry with the support of his companions.[vi] Yet he does not praise the increase in numbers as the real reason to rejoice, but the increase in this people’s quality: a people who soundly “worship the Trinity”.[vii]
Gregory—God and Numbers
In the following extract Gregory shares what he thought he “heard God saying” (Or 42:8) in those days when the faithful adherents of the Trinity in Constantinople were a mere remnant, “tiny and poor” (Or 42:4), vastly outweighed by those who “wickedly divided” the Godhead in their false doctrines: many of whom, brought from darkness to light, falsehood to truth, now stand before Gregory as he speaks.
“But you build walls around me, and marble slabs and mosaic floors, long colonnades and porticoes; you glitter and shine with gold, spending it like water and gathering it up like sand, forgetting that faith camping in the open is worth more than the richest impiety, and that three-people gathered in the name of the Lord are worth more to God than tens of thousands who deny the divinity. Do you value the Canaanites more than Abraham, all by himself? Or the Sodomites more than Lot on his own? Or the Midianites more than Moses—though all of these were aliens and strangers? What of the three hundred of Gideon, who manfully lapped up the water, while thousands were rejected? What of Abraham’s household slaves, a few more than these in number, who pursued and defeated many kings and their armies of thousands of men, few though they were? And how do you understand this passage: ‘If the number of the children of Israel should become as the sand of the sea, only a remnant will be saved?’ Or this: ‘I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bent their knees to Baal.’ No this is not the solution—God does not delight in numbers![viii]
The Approach of a Spiritual Man
Gregory understood this Scripturally-derived lesson of God so very clearly. His understanding was applied in the way he went about his ministry. Faced with a tiny remnant Gregory did not conjure up systematic methods to increase his flock, with the mind of an accountant and tact of an administrator. Nor did he subject himself to human standards at the compromise of the Gospel message to gain sympathizers (Or 42:19). Nor did he play politics, to win members to his flock—siding with one faction against another, but he simply delineated between truth and falsehood, paying no regard to human groupings. And nor did he lord his authority over the Anti-Nicene’s in order to crush them, and consolidate the numbers of his Nicene-flock, when the tables turned in his camps’ favor, but rather he acted mercifully, to the point of being blamed for leniency by his very own.
For St. Gregory was a spiritual man, who saw things with a spiritual eye. Seeing success in the quality of his people, not in their numbers; to the point he even lost favor with much of his own due to his steadfastness to the Gospel of mercy. He knew what was at stake — “the salvation of the soul”— and saw his pastoral responsibility with a sharpness of vision: “to guard and protect his flock” but above all “by distributing the word” in teaching, example and the sacraments, which he calls “the first of our tasks” (Or 2:35).[ix]
In one of his poems he defends his Word-focused approach as a Bishop; an approach carried out from the motive of saving souls, not to increasing numbers for the sake of numbers:
You’ve been considering a bishop as you would an accountant, laying stress on mere rubbish, where I’ve been concerned with important issues. A priest should have one function and one only, the sanctification of souls by his life and teaching… Other matters he should relinquish to those skilled in them.[x]
Learning from Gregory
There is so much we can learn from St. Gregory on the cult of numbers. The lesson he understood so well, is perennially relevant to the Church in all its spheres: on the universal scale, the local parish scale, on the level of the religious community, and even to the microcosm of every youth, bible study or prayer group. The value of all of these is not weighed by the numbers of attendants or alleged adherents, but on the quality of the interior fruits of sound spirituality and doctrine, brought forth as the harvest of the Word; nourishing the real spiritual growth of its members, shown to be authentic by a visible and practical love.
It is easy for groups to become ‘accountant-minded’ and focus on numbers as the measure of spiritual success. Acting in ministry from the motive to “increase numbers,” and investing efforts to win “bums in seats.” Yet by focusing on numbers, we lose our focus of love—depersonalising the face of ‘the other’ into a mere number, thus losing sight of the face of Christ in our neighbour; and this is all a consequence of chasing after numbers instead of a deepened relationship with the Word and the lived proclamation of His Truth—a proclamation that reaches out to ‘the other’ as the image of God, not as the means to bump up a statistic.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus shows us that we need not focus on numbers, for “God does not delight in numbers!” but we need only focus on God the Trinity, seeking to increase the quality of the “tiny and poor” remnant in our midst—above all by seeking the Father, Son and Holy Spirit ourselves (in prayer, instruction and the sacraments); and this labour will be blessed by God who in time, will bring forth an increase far greater in quality and quantity, than we could ever achieve by our quest for greater numbers.
God did so in Constantinople in the fourth-century A.D., and He can do so again in our day; so long as we see like Gregory that our strength lies not in numbers, but in our God, and the unconditional Love He has for us (Ps 28:7). That Love of the Father for the Son, the Love who is the Holy Spirit—and increasing in this Love, which always reaches out, and not in numbers, must be our sole and only focus.
[i] Brian E. Daley, S.J., Gregory of Nazianzus, The Early Church Fathers (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2006), Oration 42:16, pp. 147-148.
New South Wales based aged-care organization Catholic Healthcare has become embroiled in controversy over renovation plans for the Villa Maria Hostel in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, especially its chapel.
The controversy hinges on proposed modifications to the chapel within the hostel complex to turn part of it into a café and dining area.
Hundreds have protested outside the Hostel against the proposed renovations.
“Nobody in the community was properly consulted,” remarked Peter Bond, member of the community and altar server.
Anthony Vaughan, regular attendee, commented on behalf of his community:
“Villa Maria Chapel is very important to the prayer life of Brisbane — like St Patrick’s Church Hill in Sydney …
The community will not accept anything except keeping the complete chapel intact.
It is a sacred space frequented by many in the area.”
The plans replace the historic choir loft and antechamber with a gathering area separated via glass walls; this will consume a third of the current Romanesque chapel.
Villa Maria, founded in 1927, in the heart of Brisbane, was a center for the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
Today it is an aged care facility leased by the Brisbane Archdiocese to Catholic Healthcare.
The chapel, under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese, is within the complex and is not a parish; this has caused significant confusion.
Catholic Healthcare, planning to triple the capacity of elderly residents in the future, intended for better facilities.
Catholic Healthcare could not be contacted but reported to the community that the move was a misunderstanding:
‘We thought there was a large chapel that wasn’t being used and wanted to utilize the building to its best potential.”
But the chapel, evidently, is used.
In December a vigil of over 200 gathered on the street and a petition of over 1,000 signatures is circulating for the chapel’s status quo.
Will Marcus, architect, offered floor plans to utilize alternative areas of the complex:
“There are already 27 other places for gathering-rooms in the nursing home.”
He further argues that the upgrade, canonically, is invalid:
“Canon law 1229 states: ‘oratories and private chapels must be reserved for divine worship alone and free from domestic uses.”
Catholic Healthcare informed that the intent is better facilities for the elderly:
“We have a ministry to aged care.
Our ministry is neither social welfare nor building parishes.
We see aged care as a social responsibility.”
The final decision on the matter is to be made this month. But the community says they feel ignored.
The community is supportive of better facilities for the elderly which should include the current preservation of the chapel.
Peter Bond concluded:
“We are not against Catholic Healthcare’s upgrades per se.
Their desire to look after the elderly is honourable.
But we are adamant there should be appropriate respect given to God and his holy place.
One small change and the situation would be resolved instantly.”
David Ryan is a young journalist based in Sydney, Australia.
Last year, I finished Fr. Michael Gaitley MIC’s book, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.
I am sure some of you know about his book 33 Days to Morning Glorysold by the Marian Fathers. The Marian book talks about Marian consecration according to St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Pope St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta.
In The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, Fr. Gaitley talked about how they printed 1 million Spanish copies of the Marian book and gave 100,000 for free to Mexico.
This was very important because the drug war there led to a lot of killings. One reason why there were so many killings is because of their devotion to “Santa” Muerte, aka “Saint” of Death. The devotion is practiced by gruesome killings. They do this to gain power from the demonic spirits.
He said that this was very important because Marian Consecration in the US and Mexico is being promoted by their bishops etc to combat the killings and abortion. The Mexican bishops consecrated their entire dioceses to Mama Mary.
Does Marian Consecration work? Yes! How do we know? Let me give you two concrete examples in recent history.
Before WWII, Mama Mary got St Maximilian Kolbe to promote Marian consecration throughout Poland. Through this, she strengthened her children for the coming war. The Poles were heroically charitable and generous even in the midst of inhumane persecution and oppression. St Maximilian also went to Nagasaki, Japan to promote Marian consecration there. He also passed by Manila en route back to Poland. Notice anything about these places? Warsaw, Poland and Manila were the most devastated cities of World War II. Nagasaki was the site of the atomic bomb. Mama Mary sent him to prepare the places that would be most devastated by promoting Marian Consecration.
In more recent history; my country, the Philippines, received the best proof of this during the 1987 EDSA People Power Revolution.
In 1985, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines dedicated the year as a Marian Year. All throughout the country, there would be posters of Mama Mary. There would be conferences about Marian spirituality. Parishioners were encouraged to pray the Rosary.
This renewed devotion to Mother Mary was in the midst of Martial Law, Marcos’ dictatorship where thousands were arbitrarily abducted, tortured and killed.
From February 21 until 25, 1986, thousands of people congregated along EDSA street. In the face of tanks and soldiers, they prayed the Rosary, asking for Mama Mary’s intercession for peace in the land. They offered flowers to the soldiers. And miraculously, there was no bloodshed. The soldiers lowered their weapons and accepted the flowers. The dictator Marcos fled to Hawaii. Peace and democracy was restored to the Philippines.
It remarkable that EDSA is short for Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, “Epiphany of the Saints.” Yes, this was its name even before the peaceful revolution! The day that manifested the power of everyday saints and Mama Mary’s protection and intercession.
In the world today, there is much confusion and chaos. ISIS, Syrian war in the Middle East. Migrant crisis and economic uncertainty in Europe. Abortion and euthanasia in the United States and Canada. The genocide of drug suspects in the Philippines. In the midst of so much uncertainty, the only way the world can find peace is if it turns with trust to Mama Mary. If the Catholics throughout the world consecrated themselves to Mama Mary, her Immaculate Heart would triumph once more.
Remember that this was her promise at Fatima: that if Russia was consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, the world would find peace. St John Paul II accomplished this at Fatima on March 25, 1984. But now our Lord and our Lady are calling us to do the same. We can find peace and healing if we consecrate ourselves to Mother Mary, entrusting ourselves to her perfect care; she will bring peace back to the world as only the gentlest of mothers could.
So now as we near the 100th anniversary of Fatima, I encourage everyone to make take advantage of this special season of grace. Pray the Rosary and consecrate yourselves to Mama Mary. As she has shown throughout history, she can bring about peace in the midst of the greatest adversities. And should God permit us to suffer, she will give us the grace, courage and strength to love one another as Christ loves us on the Cross.
Leia Go is a Filipina law student. She graduated in 2011 with an AB in Interdisciplinary Studies, focusing on Literature and Philosophy from Ateneo de Manila University (Loyola Schools). Her patron saints are Mama Mary, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint Faustina. She has been a lector and altar server in her schools’ campus ministry offices since high school. She also loves volunteering at the Good Shepherd Sisters baby orphanage and is discerning a vocation to religious/consecrated life.
He who has himself for a guide has a fool for a disciple.
I had a lapsed Catholic friend who expressed skepticism about our devotion to saints, because she had read that it originated in the worship of pagan gods. Well, if you walk into the Pantheon in Rome today, you will see that it is dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs. Christianity is the religion of the Incarnation; just as God elevates our human nature into His divine life through the life and death of Jesus Christ, so does Catholicism elevate non-Christian culture by receiving what is true, good and beautiful in it into the life of the Church. We do not worship saints, far from it – we honor them as masterpieces of God, frail humans just like us who derived their strength, courage and joy from the One God.
It is a really modern idea that for something to be good, or valid, or sound, it has to be one-of-a-kind, trademarked, patented, branded, a unique individual piece to be appreciated on its own merit. People are suspicious that copies are not genuine. But the world doesn’t work that way – creation is full of recycling: just look at the food chain! Human endeavors are built on the work of previous generations. It would be terribly inefficient to reinvent the wheel every time we embarked on a project.
The entire enterprise of education involves teachers handing down skills and knowledge from previous generations, and we are bound to trust this process to some degree, even though it is mediated through imperfect human beings. We are copies of our parents and our ancestors – we are at once unique, entirely new individuals from the moment of our conception, and also replicas of the people who have gone before us, a part of the vast community of humanity. God alone is the Original.
Christianity did not develop in a vacuum – Christ came in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4), fulfilling not just Hebrew but also pagan prophecies;1 the time of His coming resulted in the early Church being able to synthesize Jewish tradition, Greek philosophy and Roman governance, creating a strong foundation for the rest of salvation history.2With God, there are no accidents. Ancient texts like the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh echo the tale of Noah’s flood in Genesis; God is present and active throughout human history, though He has chosen to bind salvation to the Barque of Peter. As Aquinas says, grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.3 It takes a Jewish girl and, through her acceptance of God’s proposal, makes her Theotokos and Queen of Heaven;4 it takes up our offerings of bread and wine, transforming them into God’s own Self, the supersubstantial bread referred to in the Lord’s Prayer. God’s grace, His infinite mercy, takes our human lives and all of human history and transfigures everything, everything, taking it to Himself.
It was only with the Renaissance that composers began acknowledging authorship of their own work.5 Even so, they continued to borrow liberally from each other, as demonstrated by Mozart’s, I mean, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.6 From the humanism of the Renaissance came modern anthropocentricity, decried by gulag survivor Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his commencement address at Harvard.7
Mona Lisa has a twin, a painting “executed by an artist in Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop at the same time as the original. Probably it was created by Francesco Melzi, one of Leonardo’s favorite pupils.”8 Art, like architecture, used to be a craft with skills passed down from generation to generation, steadily developing but not departing from the mathematical principles of aesthetics. (Incidentally, there is a new online Masters of Sacred Art course where you can learn to create beautiful art in the tradition of Holy Mother Church). Art was taught in schools where pupils assisted the master craftsman with producing commissioned pieces. It was an organic and collaborative process, with the Church as principle patron and benefactor.
This too can be seen in the creation of the Biblical canon. The Bible is comprised of books which each have their own name, but scripture scholarship has taught us that many of the books have multiple authors, each with a unique, detectable voice. Other ancient texts like the Iliad and the Odyssey are also deemed to have had multiple authors, though these two are attributed to Homer; they were passed down in oral tradition before being written down, just as Holy Writ and British common laws were handed down. This does not detract from the truth, beauty or authority of the scriptures, through which God deigns to speak to us today. Like fertile riverbanks forming through gradual accretion of silt and being slowly molded by the flow of the river, so did the rich loamy soil of Scripture and Tradition develop naturally through the centuries, molded by the Holy Spirit.
The books of the Bible were not written under divine dictation, but with divine inspiration. In this, we can see how God respects the freedom of human creatures. He has endowed us with reason and faith, which enable us to collaborate in His work even through our imperfect lives. The process of deciding which books were canonical was also a collaborative exercise performed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, at the Council of Rome in AD 382.9
In the Church, we do not “go it alone”. We are not self-made men. On the contrary, we are members of the One Body of Christ, a communion of saints working in unison to proclaim the Good News, setting the world ablaze with the fire of God’s love, the love of the Holy Trinity. God is the perfect Union of Persons, a Communion of superabundant Love that pours Itself into all creation, making masterpieces out of messiness.
Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature. —John of Salisbury, Metalogicon (1159)
Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that. —St. Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney, Curé d’Ars
Our heart is built according to the Trinity; our love is built according to the trinitarian love; all nature has a trinitarian character. —Msgr. Leo Maasburg
…a threefold cord is not easily broken. —Ecclesiastes 4:12
Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys’ philosophies — these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either.
—C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Yet I loathe the thought of annihilating myself quite as much now as I ever did. I think with sadness of all the books I’ve read, all the places I’ve seen, all the knowledge I’ve amassed and that will be no more. All the music, all the paintings, all the culture, so many places: and suddenly nothing….If it had at least enriched the earth; if it had given birth to…what? A hill? A rocket? But no. Nothing will have taken place. —Simone de Beauvoir
Over dinner, I related the stories of the martyrdoms of St. Lawrence of Rome and St. Thomas More to my atheist friend, to which he curtly responded, “They joked when they were just about to die? I don’t buy that.”
“Thomas More had a trial—everything he said was recorded in court documents,” I countered.
These two saints are famous for their pre-mortem quips. St. Lawrence, patron of deacons, cooks, and comedians, exhibited true courage under fire: as he was being grilled to death, he cried out, “Assum est. Versa et manduca.”1 (“It is roasted. Turn me over and take a bite.”)
Thomas More, though not physically tortured, surely underwent intense emotional turmoil in the Tower of London, knowing that if he only swore the Oath of Supremacy, he could be reunited with his loving family, who had been plunged into poverty by the loss of their breadwinner. Yet, as he ascended the scaffold, he said politely: “I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself.” Just before his head was chopped off, Thomas More exhorted the executioner to be careful of his beard, saying, “This hath not offended the king.”2
A couple of other English saints displayed the same ready wit. Blessed John Sugar said on the scaffold, “Be ye all merry, for we have not occasion of sorrow but of joy: for although I shall have a sharp dinner, yet I trust in Jesus Christ that I shall have a most sweet supper.”3
St. John Roberts was not to be outdone: “Even as he was dying at the Tyburn gallows, Roberts astonished the crowds with his high spirits, joking, ‘Here’s a hot breakfast despite the cold weather,’ as he looked down at the fire burning to boil his remains.”4
How could they have laughed in the face of death? All of them lived in times of religious persecution, and they gave up all they had to profess the faith.
How can we, too, laugh in the face of death?
Because we know that death is not the end. Death is a new beginning, where we may come at last face to Face with the source of all Life, Love Himself.
St. Paul wrote with harrowing honesty to the Corinthians: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Cor. 15:19) He continued: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep: For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.”
I recently attended the annualSpirit in the City conference in Brisbane, where Archbishop Mark Coleridge addressed us on Christianity and paganism. He said: “Pagan culture is essentially self-referential and imprisoned in a self-worshipping world. Do ut das: I give so that you give to me.I am the real focus. It is a world of doing deals in a strict logic of exchange, where you sacrifice to capricious gods to keep them nice. It is a world where Death is the ultimate non-negotiable.”
Archbishop Coleridge reflected that the pagan catch-cry carpe diem, “seize the day”,encapsulates how their hope is fragile and in the end evaporates. He continued, “Christianity brings to birth a new world which looks to the other and worships the Other. It bursts free of the tyranny of the self.
“With Easter, death no longer has the last word. Easter gives us a genuine hope, not a cosmetic hope, born out of what seems to be hopeless. The Bible records a story of blood, sweat, and tears out of which comes a cry of hard-won jubilation, unimaginable in the parameters of the pagan world. The logic of exchange is broken; God overturns every previously non-negotiable status quo.”
My good Buddhist friend once listened patiently as I explained the Resurrection to her. I acknowledged, “It’s mind-blowing!” But if there is an omnipotent God, couldn’t He do the seemingly mind-blowing impossible? Couldn’t He choose to become human, die, and rise from the dead? Is the doctrine of the Resurrection less reasonable than belief in reincarnation?
Bono grasped the difference between grace and karma: “The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled… it’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven.”5
Christians are free to laugh in the face of death, because death is not the end. Instead of the ultimate despair of atheists like Simone de Beauvoir, we possess an eternal hope, a lasting peace, a profound joy.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of sobriety.
— 2 Timothy 1:7
But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you. – 1 Peter 3:15
“One cardinal of the Church visited [Chiara Luce Badano]. He said, ‘That light in your eyes is amazing. Where does it come from?’ ‘I try to love Jesus as much as I can.’…Take a good look at those eyes on her deathbed. It makes no sense at all. Unless some of this invisible stuff is actually real….The only thing that’s going to give us that on our deathbed—not even your deathbed, but give you that to wake up in the morning and brush your teeth—is if the God Who loves you, the Author of life, and the end of the story being Heaven, is good and real. Really real…the ‘ground under your feet’ kind of real. Only if it’s that real can we have that [joy].” —Chris Stefanick, “Absolute Relativism: The New Dictatorship and What to Do About It”
This is the night when Jesus Christ
broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer? —Easter Proclamation (Exsultet)
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery: And their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace. And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality.
“Beside the terror of God’s judgment, the atrocities of the totalist tyrant are pinpricks. A God-intoxicated man, knowing that divine love and divine wrath are but different aspects of a unity, is sustained against the worst this world can do to him; while the good-natured unambitious man, lacking religion, fearing no ultimate judgment, denying that he is made for eternity, has in him no iron to maintain order and justice and freedom.
Mere enlightened self-interest will submit to any strong evil. In one aspect or another, fear insists upon forcing itself into our lives. If the fear of God is obscured, then obsessive fear of suffering, poverty, and sickness will come to the front; or if a well-cushioned state keeps most of these worries at bay, then the tormenting neuroses of modern man, under the labels of ‘insecurity’ and ‘anxiety’ and ‘constitutional inferiority,’ will be the dominant mode of fear.”
—Russell Kirk, The Rarity of the God-Fearing Man (via The Federalist)
When we feel us too bold, remember our own feebleness. When we feel us too faint, remember Christ’s strength. In our fear, let us remember Christ’s painful agony that Himself would for our comfort suffer before His passion to the intent that no fear should make us despair. And ever call for His help such as Himself wills to send us. And then need we never to doubt but that either He shall keep us from the painful death, or shall not fail so to strengthen us in it that He shall joyously bring us to heaven by it. And then doeth He much more for us than if He kept us from it. For as God did more for poor Lazarus in helping him patiently to die of hunger at the rich man’s door than if He had brought to him at the door all the rich glutton’s dinner, so, though He be gracious to a man whom He delivereth out of painful trouble, yet doeth He much more for a man if through right painful death He deliver him from this wretched world into eternal bliss.
—St. Thomas More, Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation
It says in the catechism that death is nothing but the separation of soul and body. Well, I have no fear of a separation which will unite me forever with the good God.
—St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Supermarkets in Australia have been full of Hallowe’en décor since early September. One could join in the laments about how Christmas decorations appear unseasonably early in October, hot cross buns are available in the middle of Lent, plus Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the great Apostles to the Slavs, keep being so impolitely overlooked in the annual St. Valentine’s Day mêlée (I can just imagine them sending prank soppy cards to St. Valentine in Glagolitic, the precursor of Cyrillic).
Sixty years of advertising broke two millenia of Christian practice. Halloween has now become the closest thing we have to an Advent season. Advent is now a four-week long Christmas season, and Christmas season is now Purgatory.
—Steve Kellmeyer, “Nailing Christ to the Cross”
However, one could also contemplate how ingrained Christianity is in Western culture, although deformed by marketing and Mammon. Just as you can never lose the indelible mark of baptism on your soul, configuring you to Christ, and how Gollum still had the nature of a hobbit, albeit a horrendously deformed one, Western civilisation can never lose its intrinsically Christian character.
If you join the Taliban, you will merely be regarded as a bad Catholic.
So, what exactly is Hallowe’en all about? Why do we dress up in strange costumes and go trick-or-treating? As a Yahoo Answers questioner asked, “Why is Halloween a thing?”
It is the eve of All Saints’ Day, when vigil Masses were celebrated in honor of the feast.
Not a particularly revelatory fact for Catholics – but when people have appropriated our culture, our high holy days, it’s high time to take them back.
Hurrah! History to the Rescue!
Here are some historical facts to give out with your Hallowe’en treats next year – of course, it all began with blood and gore:
In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this we find in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. We also find mention of a common day in a sermon of St. Ephrem the Syrian (373), and in the 74th homily of St. John Chrysostom (407)… The vigil seems to have been held as early as the feast itself.
—“All Saints’ Day”, New Advent
The origin of the festival of All Saints as celebrated in the West dates to May 13, 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since.
The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter’s for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world”, with the day moved to November 1.
—“All Saints’ Day”, Wikipedia
In 998, St. Odilo, the abbot of the powerful monastery of Cluny in Southern France, added a celebration on Nov. 2. This was a day of prayer for “the souls of all the faithful departed.” This feast, called All Souls’ Day, spread from France to the rest of Europe.
That took care of Heaven and Purgatory. The Irish, being the Irish, thought it unfair to leave the souls in Hell out. So on Hallowe’en they would bang pots and pans to let the souls in Hell know they were not forgotten. However, the Feast of All Damned never caught on, for fairly obvious theological reasons. The Irish, however, had another day for partying.
After the Black Death, All Souls Day became more important, and a popular motif was the Danse Macabre (Dance of Death). It usually showed the devil “leading a daisy chain of people — popes, kings, ladies, knights, monks, peasants, lepers, etc. — into the tomb.” Sometimes the dance was presented on All Souls’ Day itself as a living tableau with people dressed up in the garb of various walks of life.
“But the French dressed up on All Souls, not Hallowe’en; and the Irish, who had Hallowe’en, did not dress up.” During the 1700s the Irish and French Catholics began to bump into one another in British North America and the two traditions mingled. The Irish focus on hell gave the French masquerades an even more macabre twist.
—Mike Flynn, “A Miscellany of Saints”, The Auld Blogge
Allhallowtide, Hallowtide, Allsaintstide, or the Hallowmas season, is the triduum encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Saints’ Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’) and All Souls’ Day, which last from October 31 to November 2 annually. Allhallowtide is a “time to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians.”
On the trick-or-treating point, stay tuned for tomorrow’s article on Soulmas.
What Does it Mean to be a Saint?
Ok, now we’ve got that sorted, what is a saint? What does it mean to be holy? Do I have to change into someone I’m not? Will I have to give up all my human predilections, my favourite hobbies? Aren’t pious people boring? What an unnatural way to live! Why do they never shut up about this Jesus dude?
FIRST, some autobiographical insight. When I was in law school, it just about killed my soul. Spending hours sifting through cases and legislation was not my thing. It felt meaningless to me, a treadmill of paperwork going nowhere.
I spent my entire final semester in early 2012 obsessing about becoming a nun and dedicating my life in a completely meaningful way, bringing the kingdom of God to birth. Between final exams and graduation in Brisbane, I snuck off to Perth for a heavenly nine days in a convent.
On the fifth day of working in a Singaporean law firm, I quit, booked a one-way ticket to Perth, and ran away to join the Franciscans of the Immaculate (my mother, being a lawyer, was dead set on me becoming a lawyer). Yes, yes, I know, just like St. Clare, sans wedding gown. I spent a few days saying goodbye to my friends forever, and on the Feast of St. Mary of the Angels, I left Singapore for good, or so I thought.
Two weeks in, I was in trouble.
Firstly, I missed books. Yes, there was plenty of splendid spiritual reading to be had, and I took copious notes which I’ve carried around to this day. But my favourite genres are fantasy, adventure, and mystery. I love fiction, and without it, I felt that I was missing an important chunk of humanity.
Secondly, I missed non-Catholics. I had the blessing of studying in great authentically Catholic schools from kindergarten to junior college, plus the tremendous grace of a vibrant Latin Mass community in Brisbane during my university days, but many of my best friends were not Catholic. In the convent, I received four letters – two were from Anglicans, and one was from a Presbyterian. (Mother Superior had to read the mail before giving it to me – I don’t think so many Protestants had written before!)
Thirdly, I missed male companionship. I have only one sibling, a big brother, and I am close to my father. Several of my closest friends are male. Although I had been to all-girls’ schools for a decade of my life, and my junior college class had only three males in it (Arts class, what do you expect?), I really missed that dimension of human interaction.
My fellow aspirant reflected that Our Lady sometimes calls people to the convent or friary for a lifetime, and other times she calls us for a particular time of formation, which we are then able to use in later life to help form other people. My time in the convent was a marvellous grace, not just for what I received, but also for what I didn’t receive.
It was devastating giving up that dream, but in the convent, I remembered that two years before, I had wanted to transfer to a liberal arts college after reading its prospectus, because its courses looked right up my alley! Now that my mother understood my deep aversion to law, she agreed that I could pursue the liberal arts, even though she was afraid it wouldn’t help me land a good job.
Enough of that – back to saints! So, what is being a saint? It is being yourself, the best possible version of your true self.
If you wish to be a saint, do not imitate past saints in their uniqueness. Rather, imitate them in their commitment. Francis was nothing more than Francis. Augustine was only Augustine. Therese, Therese and Aquinas, Aquinas. All they ever did was play the part assigned to them extremely well. —“On Sainthood“, The Stained Glass Buffalo
Did a Magdalene, a Paul, a Constantine, an Augustine become mountains of ice after their conversion? Quite the contrary. We should never have had these prodigies of conversion and marvellous holiness if they had not changed the flames of human passion into volcanoes of immense love of God.
—St. Frances Cabrini
There are only two kinds of people: saints, who know they are sinners, and sinners, who think they are saints.
We might even say that the one thing which separates a saint from ordinary men is his readiness to be one with ordinary men.
—G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas
The saying goes that the hypocrite looks upon the sinner and thanks God that he is not like them. The saint looks upon the sinner and thanks God because he is like them. The saint knows that without grace, sin would be his lot. No amount of effort, no amount of hard work can keep us from sin. Try as we may, without grace, sin and its consequences would be all we know. An unearned gift, grace is that help for which, too often in our pride, we do not ask. No amount of effort, no matter how well intentioned, can restore that which is lost through sin. Only God can do that. And here is the crazy thing, He has.
—Pat Archbold, “Graceland“, National Catholic Register
Sanctity is holiness, authentic wholeness. We have been born into a broken world marred by sin; the Good News is that in spite of all the pain, loss and evil in the world, we can still become whole, we can be truly fulfilled. My favourite Bible verse is John 10:10, where Jesus tells us, “I have come to bring life, and life to the full.” (emphasis mine)
Gloria Dei est vivens homo; vita hominis visio Dei:
The glory of God is man fully alive; the life of man is the vision of God.
—St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, Book 4 Ch. 20
How are we fulfilled as humans? By Love. What is Love? It is God. God alone is all-holy, perfect, unchanging, life-giving. The scandal of the Cross is that our transcendent God lowered Himself to be corrupted by the sins of mankind. The triumph of the Cross is that sin and death did not have the last word, because God destroyed them by taking them into Himself. Great story, huh? Yes. It is the greatest and truest Story ever told. And that story is meant to be lived out in my life, in your life, in every human life. That is sainthood. This is why we celebrate the saints – because they are living icons of Christ.
It is good to venerate the crucifix. But even better than images of wood or stone are living images, souls formed in the image of Christ.
—Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)
We should imitate the virtues of the saints just as they imitated Christ, for in their virtues there shines forth under different aspects the splendor of Jesus Christ.
—Pope Pius XII
If the friendship of saints living in this world fills us with love for God, how much more then shall we gain by considering the Saints in glory, by invoking them, and taking them for our protectors!
—St. John Vianney
Clearly, if we venerate [the memory of the saints], it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning. Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company.
I shall leave you with more quotes from the communion of saints on Earth and in Heaven. Blessed Allhallowmas Day!
To call someone a saint is to describe the fullness of the presence of Christ within the soul of that individual. So to honor a saint really isn’t to glorify the saintly individual but rather Christ within them, and any soul so closely bound to the Lord is glorified by the glory of God of which they are vessels of and which we ourselves should seek to be vessels of. —C. Martin, Catholic Splash
Those in the Catholic Church, whom some rebuke for praying to Saints and going on pilgrimages, do not seek any Saint as their saviour. Instead, they seek Saints as those whom their Saviour loves, and whose intercession and prayer for the seeker He will be content to hear. For His Own sake, He would have those He loves honoured. And when they are thus honoured for His sake, then the honour that is given them for His sake overflows especially to Himself.
—St. Thomas More
You say you see no reason why we should pray to the Saints since God can hear us and help us just as well, and will do so gladly, as any Saint in Heaven. Well, then, what need, I ask, do you have to ask any physician to help your fever, or to ask and pay any surgeon to heal your sore leg? For God can both hear you and help you as well as the best of doctors. He loves you more than they do, and He can help you sooner. Besides — His poultices are cheaper and He will give you more for your words alone than they will for your money!
—St. Thomas More
Friends, again I ask you, what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. The saints show us the selfless love of His way. As disciples of Christ, their extraordinary journeys unfolded within the community of hope, which is the Church. It is from within the Church that you too will find the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord. Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy. You are Christ’s disciples today. Shine His light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free.
—Pope Benedict XVI, Greeting to Young People, St Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, 19 April 2008
Believe me, don’t wait until tomorrow to begin becoming a saint.
—St. Thérèse of Lisieux
O God, I not only want to be all Yours, I wish to be a Saint. Since I do not know whether my life will be long or short, I tell You that I want to be a Saint soon.
—St. John Bosco
Real Christian holiness is about entering into God’s life, giving over one’s life to God, becoming like God, loving as God loves in one’s daily life. And, of course, “becoming like God” and “loving as God loves,” as the example of Jesus shows us, means self-giving, self-offering and self-less service of others, modeled after the example of Jesus. Christian holiness, then, always stands under the Cross, as the great pattern of pouring out our lives in love and in service of others. In many ways, there is nothing more “this-worldly” than true holiness.
—Fr. Mark O’Keefe, OSB
All the saints will have their own brightness, different in each case, yet equal. Christ’s judgment will not advance one at the expense of another’s deserving merit. All will have Christ as their kingdom, light, life, and crown. Note how the teachers of the Old and New Testaments differ in their deeds but are paired in glory, for the one Wisdom issued twin Laws in the two Testaments, so equal distinction gives the same weight to differing powers. Peter did not divide the sea with a rod, but then Moses did not walk on the waters. However, both have the same bright glory, for the one Creator inspired both the cleavage of the waters with a rod and the treading of the waves underfoot. The God of the saints of old is also the God of the new.
—St. Paulinus of Nola
God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.
When the Church keeps the memorials of martyrs and other saints during the annual cycle, she proclaims the Paschal mystery in those “who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ. She proposes them to the faithful as examples who draw all men to the Father through Christ, and through their merits she begs for God’s favors.” —CCC #1173
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. —Hebrews 12:1
Before I begin, let me preface this by saying that it is an extremely rough sketch of a very complex topic. If there are any real historians out there reading this (for a laugh, no doubt) I welcome your criticism and correction.
One of the more popular tropes you hear around the internet is the lament among some of the women that: “Chivalry is dead!”
It is usually followed pretty quickly by a man who, under the impression that he is being both witty and original, retorts: “Yeah, and women killed it.”
This exchange shows only that neither the woman nor the man understand chivalry. If it was something that feminism could kill, it was not really something worth having in the first place. Feminism did not kill chivalry, but it has been implicated in vandalizing the corpse.
Chivalry has been one of my life long interests, not merely as an historical study, but primarily as a way of life. I have sought to incorporate it into my daily life, and to live it. As I have gotten older, my understanding of it has evolved and deepened, and it is no longer even remotely defined for me by social niceties such as holding doors, picking up the check, carrying groceries, etc. The long historical view of Chivalry destroyed that caricature a long time ago.
The concept of chivalry arose in a recognizable modern form between 1170 and 1220 AD but its roots go back much further. The word comes from the French “chevalerie,” which means “horse soldiers.” (Our modern “cavalry” is descended from the same root). Originally little more than mounted gangs of teutonic raiders, with the drawing to a close of the Dark Ages and the beginnings of the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne, these gangs began to merge and coalesce into larger groups. It was from these larger groups that the concept of knighthood and chivalry arose.
Historic chivalry had three pillars:
1) The martial virtues
2) The social virtues
3) The religious virtues.
The martial virtues were the oldest of the bunch. These had been in existence in warrior cultures from time immemorial, what Jack Donovan calls “the tactical virtues.” These were strength, courage, competence, honor and loyalty. This is the bare bones moral framework you need for a group of men who have to fight on a daily basis just to survive. These were also the foundation of chivalry, and this is a very important thing to understand. Chivalry was founded on the warrior ethos of men who lived with violence as a way of life, and to whom loyalty to “us” versus “them” was the supreme civic virtue.
With the development of Medieval Society, an increasingly complex world, warfare was no longer the secondary occupation of every man, but became the primary occupation of a select few men, those who had the aptitude for it or were born into the warrior class families. Among these the martial virtues were still the foundation of their ethos, but an increasingly civilized world began to demand more of them than simply skill in separating heads from bodies.
Enter the two great civilizing influences, the women and the Church. It was these two forces that took chivalry from being essentially a gang ideal, and made it the dominant cultural ethos of Europe for hundreds of years.
Women influenced the development of chivalry by introducing the “courtly virtues.” In more broad terms we might consider this the social component of chivalry. These virtues included culture, refinement, soft speech, table manners, dancing, singing, music, and later on with the Renaissance, arts and letters. Respect for women, sometimes an almost worshipful adoration of them, also attached itself to the ideal of chivalry. The reason why women encouraged and rewarded these virtues was as a sort of self-protection. They were dealing with big rough men whose day job involved killing other big rough men and taking what they wanted. Women needed protection from the enemy men, but also protection from their own men as well. The ideal of respect for the weak, the helpless, and especially women offered at least nominal insurance against the appetites of men used to taking what they wanted by force.
The Church reinforced this adaptation and added a spiritual component, sanctioning chivalry with ceremonies of knighthood, blessings and prayers. The Church tried to inspire an ideal of monastic piety as a third component of chivalry, most clearly seen in the monastic chivalric orders, such as the Templars and the Hospitallers.
Chivalry began to decline with the advent of gunpowder. The knightly class no longer reigned supreme on the battlefield. Instead they were slowly replaced by anonymous, massed, paid professionals, and later a core cadre of professionals training and commanding an army of conscripts. With warfare no longer their sole reason for existing as a class, even in theory, the primary foundation of chivalry collapsed. The martial virtues that formed the basis of chivalry as a way of life decayed, kept alive only in sports and occasional military service. Without the vitality and urgency of constant exposure to death, chivalry lost its mojo.
Move up a couple of centuries, into the 1500 to 1800’s, and a second pillar of Chivalry was removed with the fruition of the Protestant Reformation. Christendom fractured from a loosely allied group of warring states, nominally loyal to the Holy Roman Empire and to the Church, into discrete nations, each one claiming their own land until, by the beginning of the 19th century boundaries and national identities were relatively fixed. Loyalty to a religion that transcended the nation, i.e. the Church, was seen as suspicious at best, and treasonous at worst. England ran the full gamut from Edmund Campion’s martyrdom in 1581 to the ostracism of Catholics experienced by John Henry Cardinal Newman in the 19th century.
With the Church no longer the dominant social force, sanctity was no longer held up as the ideal for the knightly class. They had a vague religiosity, they went to church on sundays, endowed orphanages and such, and maintained a perhaps mostly social code of honesty, fair play and straight dealing, but the primacy of almsgiving, penance and prayer was lost.
With the martial and religious virtues gone, only the social virtues were left to take up the slack. The late renaissance through the 19th century was the highpoint of the secular humanist liberal education. The goal of this education was to produce liberal minds, minds conversant with the classics, but also on the forefront of modern knowledge, broad, cultured, sensitive, urbane. This liberal minded gentleman probably also had some familiarity with fencing, boxing or some other vaguely martial sport. He supported his local parish, and had his own family pew in church on sunday. This was the gentleman of Newman’s day. Newman, of course, was under no illusions that such an ideal was a religious one, but as far as it went, as a purely human goal, the gentleman was a worthy ideal.
The days of the gentleman were numbered, however, with the rise of the industrial revolution and capitalism in the west. In the Middle Ages commerce was seen as disgraceful for the chivalric class, and money was valued chiefly as something to give away or live splendidly with. In the modern world, money is everything. The coup de grace came when the liberal education of the 19th century gave way to the career preparation of the 20th century as the primary educational model. The meal ticket replaced the development of the person as the end of education.
At this point, I think we can say that chivalry was dead. Not, certainly, as a personal code for a few dedicated individuals, but as a cultural force. The only remnant of the ethos of fighting men was a vague network of social niceties, mostly revolving around male-female relationships. The distinct maleness of chivalry being divorced from such gestures as holding the door and picking up the check, it was too easy for this bastardized version to be caricatured, ridiculed and dropped, but make no mistake, chivalry was gone before feminism arrived on the scene.
It is a matter for debate whether feminism could have arisen at all otherwise.
This is why any serious discussion of chivalry and its role in the life of modern men must take into account the historical origins and nature of the code. I am not interested in talk about reviving the social niceties of the 1950’s. Like all social etiquette, they were valuable and meaningful in their time, but customs change with times and it is no use lamenting them when they are past.
It was the foundation in a masculine ideal of danger, courage and risk that gave chivalry its power, and as soon as that foundation was lost, the whole structure inevitably followed. Any real discussion of a new chivalry must begin by recapturing the martial virtues of strength, courage, competence and honor. Without this foundation we are merely wasting our time.
For more about #TheNewChivalry go to www.themanwhowouldbeknight.com
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