Tag Archives: martyrs

Profound Pity

Jeremiah 3:14-17, Jeremiah 13:10-13, Matthew 13:18-23

But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold. (Mt 13:23)

When the apostle Thomas said, “Unless I see the print of the nails and put my finger where his nails were…” (Jn 20:24) we see how stubborn he was in his doubt. It would have been justifiable if he had not immediately believed, for we read, “One who trusts others too quickly is light‑minded” (Sir 19:4).

But to overdo one’s search, especially about the secrets of God, shows a coarseness of mind: “As it is not good to eat much honey, so one who searches into the majesty [of God] is overwhelmed by its glory” [Prov 25:27]; “Seek not what is too difficult for you, nor investigate what is beyond your power. Reflect upon what has been assigned to you, for you do not need what is hidden” (Sir 3:22).

Throughout the Gospels, we see the strongest signs of God’s profound pity. First, in this: that He loves the human race so much that He sometimes allows tribulations to afflict his elect; seeds to fall on thorns and stones; doubting Thomas, Peter’s Denial, etc. God permits this so that from these, some good can accrue to the human race.

God allowed the apostles, the prophets and the holy martyrs to be afflicted: “Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of my mouth” (Hos 6:5); “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted it is for your comfort which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer” (2 Cor 1:6).

This is both remarkable and puzzling. Through profound pity, God allowed some Saints to fall into sin (as David did by adultery and murder) in order to teach us humility through refinement in the furnace.

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Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio (c. 1601–1602) / PD-US

Laughing at Death

Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.
—Kurt D. Bruner, Kurt Bruner, Jim Ware, Finding God in the Lord of the Rings

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

St Lawrence puns

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 annual Spirit 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

29/6/14 Collect pictures of Chaira Badano and her parents who are nearly 80 in London pics david poole.

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

Despite her illness, she did not lose her joy…
Esteban Pittaro, “Exclusive: The death of Sister Cecilia; the rest of the story,” Aleteia

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.
Wisdom 3:1-4

“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

Images: Tomics; “The Schoolgirl Saint: The courage of Chiara Badano has propelled her towards the Catholic church’s highest honour”, Daily Mail.

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1 Fr. Francesco Moraglia, “St Lawrence: Proto-Deacon of the Roman Church”, Vatican.va.

2 Melissa Keating, “The Four Best Beards in the History of Christendom”, FOCUS. cf. Douglas O. Linder, “The Trial and Execution of Sir Thomas More: Primary Documents”, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.

4 Bess Twiston-Davies, “Divorce, Dissolution, and Death: The English Martyrs”, Catholic Culture.

5Bono on the difference between Grace and Karma”, Resistance and Renewal.

Prayer is Not Worship: Saintly Intercession

Prayer is not worship. Worship is a subset of prayer. Worship, properly speaking, entails sacrifice, a gift of something precious to honour the deity worshipped. The Mass is the one and only perfect sacrifice, offered by God on behalf of man. With the Mass, the Hebrew sacrifices of animals and crops, and the pagan sacrifices of people, animals, food, and other items, should have ended.

Archangel Raphael & Tobias. Girolamo Savoldo, c. 1500
Archangel Raphael & Tobias. Girolamo Savoldo, c. 1500

The word “prayer” comes from the Latin precari,to ask earnestly, beg, entreat.” In common parlance, this can be seen in the phrase “Pray tell me…”. Just as we ask our family and friends on Earth to pray with us and for us to God, Who alone can answer our prayers, so do we ask our family and friends in Heaven to pray for us. They are completely united with God – how much more efficacious are the prayers of a just man (James 5:16).

The saints, or holy ones, in Heaven are fully alive and awake, contrary to some Protestant interpretations of scripture. We know this from the miracles worked through their intercession – at least two certified miracles are required before someone is canonised, or officially recognised by the Church as a Saint for universal veneration. Moreover, Scripture tells us: “…we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us…” (Hebrews 12:1). The word martyr comes from the Greek martus, meaning witness. The saints have witnessed to their faith in Christ by their lives; they’re standing at the finish line cheering us on through our earthly pilgrimage. As marathon runners accept bottles of water from onlookers, let us accept the heavenly aid of the saints.

My mission – to make God loved – will begin after my death. I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.
St Thérèse of Lisieux

St Thérèse of Lisieux
photograph taken by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP, at the Royal English College of Valladolid, Spain.

Hallowmas Day

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.
Dara O’Briain

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.

Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic; cf. Marc Barnes, “Death Metal Ain’t Got Nothing on Us

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.”
—“Allhallowtide”, Wikipedia

On the trick-or-treating point, stay tuned for tomorrow’s article on Soulmas.

Fra Angelico

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.

be who you are

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.
—Blaise Pascal

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.
—St. Bernard

Why Do We Pray to Saints?

To prevent this article from extending to an insane length, please refer to this note, in particular the article “Catholic Devotion to the Saints, in the light of Jewish Scripture and Tradition”.

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

It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light.
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

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.
—Søren Kierkegaard

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

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Images: Fra Angelico; The Culture Project Australia

Happy Fault

On the way to work one day, you get into a car crash.  The hassle aggravates you.  But in a phone conversation with your insurance agent, you share the Gospel, and his eternal destination changes.  From this perspective outside of time, you would of course consent to a minor car wreck that wrought another person’s salvation.

When time is no more, the veil will be pulled back, and we shall see why God orchestrated all of history as He did.  It will be our “Aha” moment.  We will understand why He allowed 5.5 million babies to die by abortion in this country and 16 million by starvation in China.  At the end of time, we will consent to all God’s ways, all His will.  We will see the other side of the tapestry whose messy underside has been this world.

If we know we will consent to His will at the end of time, why do we not consent to it now?  If we know we will say “yes” then, why do we not affirm His ways today?  Why do we postpone the submission of our wills?

Just as Christ carries His wounds into Heaven, so His saints carry theirs.  Those blessed with the stigmata retain it in Heaven.  The martyrs display their glorious crosses, arrows, and firebrands.  As Christ’s wounds testify to His victory, so our wounds point to our share in His crown.  God chooses to work through our sin and sadness.  He could have accomplished our sainthood another way, but He chose to do it through free will.  He desires free beings who love Him.

Mother Theresa believed that when Jesus says, “I thirst” from the cross, He is thirsting for souls.  He desires to give Himself to all, to feast with His flock, to serve them His own flesh.  When Jesus said, “Father, let this cup pass from Me,” He foresaw in full the chalice He would drink.  He knew every suffering on the road from Gethsemane to Golgotha.  And He chose it for us.  If Mary Proffit had been the only sinner on earth, God would still have died for Mary Proffit.  When God created Adam, He foresaw how all history would unfold.  He chose to redeem us even when He created it.  He saw through the tragedy to the glorious end.

Thus we pray felix culpa, O happy fault which purchased for us so great a Redeemer.  Had the apple never been taken, we would never have had Mary for our Queen.  As Eve took the fruit from the tree in disobedience, so Mary offers Her Son on the tree in obedience.  Blessed be the time the apple was taken.  Therefore we sing Deo gratias.

 

The Witness of Our Lives

The image of the ISIS’ beheading of Egyptian Coptic Christians has provoked various reactions: sympathy, outrage, exhortations to prayer, demands for action, and symbolic displays of solidarity. I think the most important reaction it is self-examination.

Pope Francis said of the slain Egyptian Coptic Christians that they were killed for being Christians, and that their blood bears witness to Christ. Their example should prod us to ask ourselves if we are willing to pay the price of discipleship — if we are willing to witness to Christ with our lives.

I’ve read somewhere that the word “martyr” comes from a word that means “witness”, and indeed, the martyrs who die for Christ give the ultimate witness to Christ.

However, all Christians, and not just those who face the prospect of literal martyrdom, are called to witness to Christ. Not all Christians are called to witness to Christ with their deaths, but all Christians are called to witness to Christ with our lives.

To witness to Christ with our lives may be less gruesome, less painful than what the martyrs had to face, but it too requires fortitude. Christ warned us that discipleship will not always be easy. But while we proudly call ourselves Christians, we often run away from the difficult but doable ways to live our faith.

Those Egyptian Coptic Christians were beheaded for being Christians. Many of us face more benign fates as a consequence of living consistently with our faith – losing friends; missing out on jobs or business opportunities; being labelled “self-righteous”, “old-fashioned”, “uncool”, “bigoted”, “close-minded”, or “outdated”; the inconveniences we have to put up with because we want to insert Sunday Mass in our week-end getaway plans. While our Christian brothers and sisters are being slaughtered for their faith, we let peer pressure or the allure of the easy way keep us from acting like a Christian when to do so requires, for example, saying “no” to an invitation to watch a certain popular movie, or explaining to a colleague why we are passing up the meat course during lunch on a Lenten Friday.

This is not to say that as Christians, we should deliberately stick out like sore thumbs. Nor does it mean that we should not defend our rights and well-being. Fortitude and prudence come hand in hand.

It does mean that we should follow Christ’s exhortation to be the salt of the earth, even when it is not easy. As the salt of the earth, we must blend in the world without losing our saltiness. Salt hurts when rubbed in wounds, and we live in a wounded world. Our example will inevitably make people uncomfortable. But just as salt heals, the public coherence between our behavior and our beliefs will help heal the wounded world in which we live.

Our decision to be more courageous in living the demands of the faith is the best way we can show solidarity with our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters. They strengthen us with their example and their prayers, but they are also relying on our help. Let us support them in their struggles by not shirking from the sacrifices that our discipleship will demand of us in our everyday lives.

A God-Centered Romance

“Choose someone God-fearing, and make God the center of your relationship.” When this advice was given in a talk for college students about dating and marriage, a girl in the audience asked, “If we’re going to be thinking of God all the time, how can our relationship be exciting?”

The idea of a God-centered romance is, indeed, alien to today’s culture. This age assumes that a God-centered romance is an oxymoron, a dull and platonic relationship as opposed to a wild, pleasure-centered one. But this is hardly the impression I get from the last letter written by Blessed Bartolome Blanco Marquez to his girlfriend before he was executed for his faith during the Spanish Civil War.

The letter begins:

Provincial prison of Jaen, Oct. 1, 1936

My dearest Maruja:

Your memory will remain with me to the grave and, as long as the slightest throb stirs my heart, it will beat for love of you. God has deemed fit to sublimate these worldly affections, ennobling them when we love each other in him. Though in my final days, God is my light and what I long for, this does not mean that the recollection of the one dearest to me will not accompany me until the hour of my death.

I do not know how Blessed Bartolome Blanco Marquez and his girlfriend met each other and fell in love, but from this introduction, he clearly loved her deeply and ardently.

Reading further, one sees his bravery, nobility, faith, as well as the depth of his love:

I am assisted by many priests who — what a sweet comfort — pour out the treasures of grace into my soul, strengthening it. I look death in the eye and, believe my words, it does not daunt me or make me afraid.

My sentence before the court of mankind will be my soundest defense before God’s court; in their effort to revile me, they have ennobled me; in trying to sentence me, they have absolved me, and by attempting to lose me, they have saved me. Do you see what I mean? Why, of course! Because in killing me, they grant me true life and in condemning me for always upholding the highest ideals of religion,

My body will be buried in a grave in this cemetery of Jaen; while I am left with only a few hours before that definitive repose, allow me to ask but one thing of you: that in memory of the love we shared, which at this moment is enhanced, that you would take on as your primary objective the salvation of your soul. In that way, we will procure our reuniting in heaven for all eternity, where nothing will separate us.

Goodbye, until that moment, then, dearest Maruja! Do not forget that I am looking at you from heaven, and try to be a model Christian woman, since, in the end, worldly goods and delights are of no avail if we do not manage to save our souls.

My thoughts of gratitude to all your family and, for you, all my love, sublimated in the hours of death. Do not forget me, my Maruja, and let my memory always remind you there is a better life, and that attaining it should constitute our highest aspiration.

Be strong and make a new life; you are young and kind, and you will have God’s help, which I will implore upon you from his kingdom. Goodbye, until eternity, then, when we shall continue to love each other for life everlasting country and family, they swing open before me the doors of heaven.

This is an example of a God-centered romance, where the lovers want the Ultimate Good for each other, edify each other spiritually, and inspire noble aspirations in each other. It is a love that is no less passionate, and that does not exaggerate when it proclaims itself to be forever. Such kind of romance was possible in the past, and it is still possible today if young people aspire to love and be loved nobly.

I do not know what became of Blessed Bartolome Blanco Marquez’s girlfriend after he died. Perhaps she too was executed for her faith; perhaps became a nun; perhaps she remained single in the world; perhaps she found someone else and got married. But it is impossible that such love from a noble lover would have left her unchanged. Most likely, she and Blessed Bartolome Blanco Marquez had such a joyful reunion in heaven, giving their story a happy ending.