Sunday, December 25, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 52 ~ St. Wenceslaus

Good King Wenceslas, a song with which we are all familiar was written in 1853 by an Anglican priest, John Mason Neale. He wrote quite a few hymns, and his translation of medieval hymns from Latin are also familiar to us today. These include O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Of the Father's Love Begotten, and All Glory, Laud and Honor.

The source of the story that is told in the carol is one of four biographies written fairly soon after the death of Wenceslas in 935 A.D. The Wikipedia article cited above quotes a 12th century source as saying;
But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.
All my life when I have heard Good King Wenceslas, I have pictured the king as old and hoary, so when I began to look for information for this post, I was surprised to learn that he was only 32 when he died. It's likely that he looked more like the king portrayed in many of the illustrations from the video above which were taken from this book illustrated by Tim Ladwig.

Wenceslaus was the grandson of Boriwoi, the first Christian duke of Bohemia, and his wife Ludmilla. They are believed to have been converted and baptized by St. Methodius. I love this part of Wenceslaus's biography because in the United States, we don't think much about Methodius. He is just one of those saints whose feast day comes around every year, and since it happens to fall on Valentine's Day, it really gets lost in the shuffle. And then we think of Wenceslaus in a kind of mythical way, so I love seeing the real histories of these two real men--these saints--converge. It brings them to life for me. Ludmilla is also a saint, whose feast is commemorated on September 16. 

The son of Boriwoi and Ludmilla, Wratislaw was Christian, but he married a pagan, Drahomira. She may have been baptized when the married, but later events in her life show that she did not really convert. Wratislaw and Drahomira had twins sons, Wenceslaus and Boleslaus, later know as Boleslaus the Cruel. When Wratislaw died, Ludmilla became regent for Wencesalus who was then eight, and took over his education. Boleslaus, however, was raised by his mother, who tried to wrest power from Wenceslaus, and return Bohemia to paganism but failed.

Wenceslaus was known as the epitome of a good ruler; pious, just, generous and chaste. There was a lot of territorial warfare in Bohemia during his reign and one legend (at least Wikipedia deems it a legend was about his encounter with Count Radislas, Duke of Kourim.
According to one legend one Count Radislas rose in rebellion and marched against Wenceslas. The latter, sending him a deputation, made offers of peace, but Radislas viewed the king's message as a sign of cowardice. The two armies were drawn up opposite each other in battle array, when Wenceslas, to avoid shedding so much innocent blood, challenged Radislas to single combat. As Radislas advanced toward the duke, he saw, by the side of Wenceslas, two angels who cried to him: "Stand off!" This cry acted like a thunderbolt upon Radislas, and changed his intentions. Throwing himself from his horse, he fell at the Saint's feet, and asked for pardon. Wenceslas raised him and kindly received him again into favor.
Another story that mentions the two angels is found here. This takes place a meeting of the princes of the Holy Roman German Empire.
There was a beautiful custom already established at that time. When a sovereign would enter, even if he had a lower standing than the Emperor, all the sovereigns present - including the Emperor - would rise. In this particular case, since Wenceslas was late, the other sovereigns decided to not pay him this tribute. He was late because he was praying in the church. But there is an infallible rule: those who do not pray much take a stern attitude toward those who do: whenever they can, they take their revenge. So, those nobles, who probably knew that the Bohemian King had lost track of time in prayer, resolved to punish him. To teach him a lesson, they would remain seated when he entered. 
How did Divine Providence respond to this decision? God sent two Angels to accompany him so that, when he entered the hall, all the nobles gathered there saw them flanking St. Wenceslas. Thus, instead of meeting disgrace, the Saint was covered with glory and honor. The Emperor gave him two precious relics, one of a Warrrior King who, like St. Wenceslas, had defended the Faith. How many beautiful things there are in this episode!
In 935 A.D., Wenceslaus was murdered by Boleslaus who hacked his body to pieces and buried them, but then, "three years later Boleslaw, having repented of his deed, ordered its translation to the Church of St. Vitus in Prague." So there must be hope for even Boleslaus the Cruel. Duke Wenceslaus.

So, was Wenceslaus a king? Well, yes and no. He was posthumously raised to kingship by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto.

I want to get this online soon, and as my family will be here at any minute, I'm going to post now and proofread later. Sorry if I've said anything stupid or rude!

Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this series, especially Paul, Maclin, and Grumpy without whom I could not possibly have filled every week.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 51 ~ St. Nicholas of Myra

Although we are now past his Feast day, I wanted to write about this December Saint, because of his association with Christmas, and because my husband, Nick, was born on his Feast day.

There is very little that is really known about St Nicholas, but he has obviously captured the imagination of many Christians, since there are devotions to him in a large number of places.

It is a matter of some sadness that there is no historical record of him being present at the Council of Nicaea, because the legend that he punched, or slapped, the heretic Arius is a great favourite of mine. Not that I'm passive-aggressive or anything. All the same, I can't resist sharing some memes.

I think that second meme is funny, but it may be the case that almost none of those things is true, or at least, not able to be verified. The Catholic Encyclopedia entry is suitably short.

It begins: “Bishop of Myra in Lycia; died 6 December, 345 or 352. Though he is one of the most popular saints in the Greek as well as the Latin Church, there is scarcely anything historically certain about him except that he was Bishop of Myra in the fourth century.

...He is patron of mariners, merchants, bakers, travellers, children...”

Because we have so little to go on, I'm just going to have to go with the tradition of making stuff up. :)

That is, it's a fact that Benjamin Britten wrote a very interesting cantata about St Nicholas, but the lyrics are, at times, hilariously over the top, and were written by Eric Crozier, based on the many legends which sprang up about him. My choir sang this over 20 years ago, and the piece itself is modern and too atonal for me to normally like, but familiarity brought me around, and even after all these years I find it quite moving in many places. I could understand if you didn't want to listen to it much, but I'd like to recommend the second section from (6:00 min) which is sung by the high voices, and a boy soprano soloist. The lyrics to this section are:

The Birth of Nicolas

Nicolas was born in answer to prayer
and leaping from his mother’s womb he cried:

God be glorified!

Swaddling-bands and crib awaited him there
but Nicolas clapped both his hands and cried:

God be glorified!

Innocent and joyful, naked and fair
he came in pride on earth to abide

God be glorified!

Water rippled Welcome in the bath-tub by his side
he dived in open-eyed, he swam, he cried:

God be glorified!

When he went to church at Christmastide
he climbed up to the font to be baptised

God be glorified!

Pilgrims came to kneel and pray by his side
he grew in grace, his name was sanctified

God be glorified!

Nicolas grew in innocence and pride
His glory spread in rainbow round the countryside
“Nicolas will be a Saint!” the neighbours cried

God be glorified!

We'll gloss over the problem of a saint being said to grow up in pride! If you decide to listen to the whole thing, you might want to read the lyrics at the same time.

I really loved singing this piece and there is more information at Wikipedia. The final section begins at about 41:40 and features the tenor, St Nicholas, singing about his impending death, while the choir sings the Nunc Dimittus. I still find this very moving.

Also, I can't help sharing this picture of Father Christmas from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, which is probably my favourite.

I wish everyone a blessed Advent and hope you all have a Merry Christmas.

St Nicholas, pray for us.

Louise LaMotte is a friend from Light on Dark Water. Since she lived in Australia at the time we met online, I never thought we would meet in person. I was wrong. She has written here about St. Mary of the CrossPope St. Pius XFr. Jacques HamelOur Lady Undoer of Knots, St. Louise de Marillac, and St. Damien of Molokai.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 50 ~ Albertus Magnus

There’s no quicker way to turn me grouchy than to start going on about “the conflict between science and religion.” There have certainly been instances of conflict between scientists and religious believers, but to say that there is “a conflict,” period, is untenable.

People who ride that particular hobby horse can point to fundamentalist Christians who deny various aspects of evolutionary and geological science, but fundamentalist Christians are not the whole of “religion” and Darwinism is not the whole of “science.” Since the Catholic Church is at worst (from the science-as-religion point of view) something of a fence-sitter about evolution, the one argument they rely on is “Galileo!” In my experience the attempt to respond to that by citing the long history of the involvement of Catholics, lay and clerical, in science, and the absence of any institutional opposition to it, provokes the rejoinder “But—Galileo!”

One in fifty would probably be a generous estimate of the number of these folks who would even recognize the name Albertus Magnus, or Alfred the Great, a medieval Dominican who made very significant contributions to the development of the scientific method. This isn’t Catholic propaganda--let’s look at what a couple of secular sources say.

In the first section of his Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics Albertus Magnus discusses the possibility of the study of natural science. If science could only study particulars, Albert argues, then there would be no science in the sense of the demonstration of necessary causes because there would be as many sciences as there are particulars. But particulars, Albert goes on to point out, belong to definite kinds (species) and these can be studied because their causes can be demonstrated. Species have common attributes and a determined subject of which the attributes can be determined with necessity. Thus science is possible.

And this conviction about science being possible, as opposed to the Platonic and Neoplatonic tendency to discount the world of particular reality, and its presumed unaccountable changeableness, was not just a theoretical position on Albert’s part. He devotes a great deal of his time and attention to the actual empirical study of the relationships between attributes and natural subjects. Furthermore, he orders such study into what today would be called the “natural sciences”. Besides the study of the heavens and the earth and generation and corruption that he found in Aristotle, he adds the study of meteors, the mineral, animal, and vegetable kingdoms.

Albertus’ works represent the entire body of European knowledge of his time not only in theology but also in philosophy and the natural sciences. His importance for medieval science essentially consists in his bringing Aristotelianism to the fore against reactionary tendencies in contemporary theology. On the other hand, without feeling any discrepancy in it, he also gave the widest latitude to Neoplatonic speculation, which was continued by Ulrich of Strasbourg and by the German mystics of the 14th century. It was by his writings on the natural sciences, however, that he exercised the greatest influence. Albertus must be regarded as unique in his time for having made accessible and available the Aristotelian knowledge of nature and for having enriched it by his own observations in all branches of the natural sciences. A preeminent place in the history of science is accorded to him because of this achievement [My emphasis.]

Both the above links will take you to biographies of the saint, so I will give only the basics here: he was born around the beginning of the 13th century and died toward the end of it, approximately eighty years later. He was primarily an academic, holding among other positions the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Paris. Thomas Aquinas was his student, and the two were friends, not surprisingly since they are obviously kindred spirits, at least in the intellectual realm. He served as Provincial of the Dominicans in Germany for three years, from 1254 to 1257. He was made bishop of Regensburg in 1260 but apparently felt that this was not the role for him, and resigned it after three years. He was obliged to outlive his student and friend when St. Thomas died In 1274. Albert declared that “the light of the Church had been extinguished.”

He wrote a truly prodigious amount, having set himself the task of writing down more or less everything that was known at the time, and apparently making a pretty good job of it. He carried out physical investigations that were truly experimental science in the sense that we know it. And his abilities and achievement were honored during his life. But as I noted when discussing Newman here a few weeks ago, to be a great man and to be a saint are hardly the same thing. In the hour or two that I’ve spent looking around for information about him on the internet, I haven’t turned up much that discussed his personal qualities. I am intrigued by the description of his last years in the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Something of his old vigour and spirit returned in 1277 when it was announced that Stephen Tempier and others wished to condemn the writings of St. Thomas, on the plea that they were too favourable to the unbelieving philosophers, and he journeyed to Paris to defend the memory of his disciple. Some time after 1278 (in which year he drew up his testament) he suffered a lapse of memory; his strong mind gradually became clouded; his body, weakened by vigils, austerities, and manifold labours, sank under the weight of years.

And he died in Cologne in 1280. What sort of purgation might he have undergone in those two years? To have lived so long by his intellect, and then to lose it, must have been a greater trial even than the decline of his body. “Vigils, austerities, and manifold labours” certainly indicate a life of severe discipline. When he was bishop of Regensburg he declined the use of a horse, and got about his diocese on foot.

He was beatified in 1622 but not canonized until 1931. Considering that Aquinas was canonized within roughly fifty years of his death, why the long delay for Albert even to be beatified, and then another three hundred years before canonization, a total span of roughly six and a half centuries between death and canonization? Well, a book which I found on Google Books, A Companion to St. Albert the Great, suggests it was

...perhaps because [his] name had been associated with false accusations of sorcery, necromancy, and magic, rooted in suspect or spurious works attributed to him in the later Middle Ages. That Peter of Prussia, Albert’s 15th century biographer, devotes a great deal of energy to defend him against these charges indicates their gravity.

At any rate, he was finally canonized, and declared a Doctor of the Church, and named as the patron saint of scientists. And that job must surely involve listening to the prayers of non-scientists engaged in the war against the war between science and religion.

Maclin couldn't find many good pictures of Albertus Magnus,
  but thankfully my daughter and husband had their picture taken with him.

Maclin Horton is the proprietor of his own blog Light on Dark Water from which sprang this series. You might want to check out the current series there, 52 Movies or last year's 52 AuthorsIn this series he has written about St HenrikSt. John FisherSt AnsgarSt. Mary of Egypt, Bl. John Henry Newman, and St. John Kemble.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 49 ~ Blessed Lucy of Narnia

The reason I chose to write about Bl. Lucia of Narnia is because of my great-granddaughter Evelynn Lucille, whose mother calls her "my little Pevensie."

I first heard of Bl. Lucy (Lucia) of Narnia on a C. S. Lewis website called Into the Wardrobe. At the time it was the C. S. Lewis website, and in a way, it still is even though the forum is closed and nothing new is being posted. At the time, I got the impression that not much was known about Bl. Lucia, and that she was one of those saints that was acclaimed locally, but never formally recognized. I see now that I was very much mistaken. There seems to be a great deal of information about her, most of it in Italian, and she was beatified by Pope Clement XI on March 1, 1710. Most of the information that one can find on the internet about Bl. Lucia can be found on the website, Narnia, which promotes the city of Narni (formerly Narnia)  in Italy, and about which Lewis more than likely knew nothing except maybe the name. The city of Narni, however, definitely knows Lewis. Everything that I am about to write here, except my own opinions, comes from that website, and you might do better just to go look around here.

Lucia Brocadelli was born into a noble family on December 13, 1476. Beginning at the age of 5 and throughout her life, she received visits from Mary, Jesus, and various saints. Many of these visits were witnessed by others. In fact, there were even stories that when she was an infant, St. Catherine of Siena came to visit her daily, picked her up, and blessed her. When she was 7, Jesus and Our Lady came to her with St. Catherine and St.Dominic. Jesus put a ring on her finger and St. Dominic gave her a scapular. I don't know if these things were visibile to others. I expect not. St. Catherine was also given a ring by Our Lord, invisible, I believe by her request.

There are many stories from her childhood that demonstrate Lucia's love of and devotion to God. When an uncle visited her home with many toys for the children (Lucia was the oldest of 11 children.), instead of toys, she chose a rosary which she called her Christerello, which became her prized possession. One of the most prodigious stories concerns a marble statue of Mary holding the Baby Jesus in a nearby church. One day Lucia was praying before the statue and was longing to hold the baby in her arms. Mary handed her the baby, which became a real infant, and Lucia ran home with him and took care of him in her room for three days, during which time the statue of the infant disappeared.

At the age of twelve, Lucia made a private consecration to the Lord. Her intention was to join the Dominicans. However, when her father died, her uncle decided that the best plan for the 15 year old Lucia was to find her a husband. She rejected the first suitor, and wanted to reject the second, Count Pietro of Milan, a family friend. After receiving a visit from Mary, Jesus, and Sts. Catherine and Dominic, however, she consented to marry Pietro if he would agree to live as brother and sister.

To me Pietro is the most interesting person in Lucia's life. I wonder why he agreed to this arrangement. Was it financially beneficial for him to marry Lucia? Did he think that she would eventually change her mind. Or, perhaps, did he recognize that she was truly following God's call?

Whatever the reason, he allowed her to live as she chose. Although she was mistress of a noble house, she worked alongside her servants, treating them as members of the family. She was generous to the poor. She lived a very penitential life, and she continued to receive heavenly visitors, and this was what finally became too much for Pietro. It was fine when St. Catherine and two other female saints came to help her make the altar bread, but when she was out all night with two men, who she said were St. Dominic and John the Baptist, Pietro locked her up and kept her imprisoned throughout Lent.

After going to Mass on Easter, Lucia never returned to Pietro's house, she moved home, and became a Dominican tertiary. In his anger, and really who can blame him, Pietro burned down the Dominican priory. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to convince Lucia to return, Pietro perhaps realized that Lucia was doing the right thing, because he became a Francisan and famous preacher. In a way, Pietro reminds me of Felix Leseuer, the French atheist who belittled his wife Elizabeth's faith during her life, but who on reading her diaries after her death, converted and and became a priest.

After this, Lucia was asked to found a monastery. It was here that she received the stigmata, which brought her a good deal of fame, but also garnered some opposition from those who thought it unauthentic, Later, she was asked by the Duke of Ferrara to be prioress of another monastery that he was building. She went, hoping to found a monastery of strict observance. These were lay monasteries, Third Order, but Lucia apparently did not see this as an excuse for a tepid religious life.

Lucia lived during the time of Borgias. Alexander VI was pope during the time I have been writing about, and the Duke of Ferrara was to become Lucretia Borgia's father-in-law. At one time, he sent eleven candidates for the monastery to Lucia under Lucretia's care. It seems that many of them were not successful in religious life.

As I said earlier, not everyone was pleased with Lucia's spirituality, and when the Pope (This would have been Pope Julius II, I believe.) sent ten second order nuns to reform the monastery, Lucia was put under penance. She was not allowed to speak to anyone (although she purportedly had heavenly visitors) for the last 39 years of her life.

At her death, however, many people came to her funeral which lasted for three days. Her body was later displayed incorrupt.

I have some paintings of Bl. Lucia that I collectd several months ago when I wrote the beginning of this piece, and unfortunately, I cannot remember where they reside (the paintings themselves). Some are in her chapel in Narnia.

Pretty sure this is in the chapel.

I'm really not sure if this is supposed to be St. Catherine holding baby Lucia (which seems likely to me)
or Bl. Lucia holding the Christ Child.

I believe that the first  kneeling Dominican saint to the left of Mary is Bl. Lucia, but again, I'm not sure.

Above the altar in the chapel.

The best, longest, and most interesting biography of Bl. Lucia is here.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 48 ~ St. Lidwina of Schiedam

J. K. Huysmans is a name that figures in literary history as one of the founding figures of Aestheticism – which is almost the opposite of asceticism. Early in his literary career, the dominant fashion in French writing was for panoramic sociological observation combined with gritty realism, and authors were expected to wander the streets and sit out at cafés cataloguing the world that went by — rather like Dickens but with cynical wit rather than warm good humour. In 1884, Huysmans coloured the literary standards of a generation by producing a stunning novel that turned away from public engagement to embrace private pleasures. The protagonist is a highly strung individual of great personal wealth who withdraws to his mansion and immerses himself in solitary delights and private vices, shutting out society and focusing on rare books, furnishings and collectibles, expensive things luxuriantly described in a prose dense with obscure allusion. It was a work so scandalous that simply owning a copy was produced as evidence in Oscar Wilde’s trial.

This novel, Against the Grain, together with his next, The Damned, shaped the atmosphere not just of decadence but of debauchery and diabolism that G. K. Chesterton reacted so strongly against at the very end of the 19th century. By then it was something that the author himself had also reacted against. Having left the Church in his childhood, he was reconciled in the early 1890s. He wrote a conversion novel, En route (which Oscar Wilde read in prison), and two more distinctly Catholic novels about the operations of grace, La Cathédrale (1898) and L’Oblat (1903). There were strong elements of autobiography in these. He had become a Benedictine oblate in 1899 or 1900, and moved to live near a monastery just before it was closed down by the anticlerical legislation of 1901. Midway between La Cathédrale and L’Oblat, Huysmans published not a novel, but a life of the late-medieval Dutch saint Lidwina of Schiedam. I have been meaning to find out more about her for some time, so on a long train journey last weekend took this book along.

There is a fairly well known bit in G. K. Chesterton’s Short History of England where he writes:

If we entered a foreign town and found a pillar like the Nelson Column, we should be surprised to learn the hero on the top of it had been famous for his politeness and hilarity during a chronic toothache. If a procession came down the street with a brass band and a hero on a white horse, we should think it odd to be told that he had been very patient with a half-witted maiden aunt. Yet some such pantomime impossibility is the only measure of the innovation of the Christian idea of a popular and recognized saint.

It is a passage that applies with particular force to Lidwina, who was bedridden from the age of 15, after a fall while ice-skating. Her fall broke a rib, which in itself might have healed quickly, but ramifying medical complications left her semi-paralysed. In iconography she can be recognised from the green pallor of her complexion. In worldly terms she never achieved anything, and yet her sufferings are commemorated in churches, processions, art and literature. She was never formally canonized, but in 1890 Pope Leo XIII officially recognized her cult as one of enduring popular devotion long predating the more stringent rules on canonization. She was prominent enough a century ago to have an entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Lidwina lived from 1380 to 1433, born the same year as Bernardino of Siena,
who popularised devotion to the Holy Name, and dying two years after Joan of Arc. The one led preaching campaigns, the other rode in armour to the battlefield. Lidwina had trouble turning from one side to the other, but did not live in total obscurity. Although her family was poor, her injuries were so unusual that doctors came from far and wide to inspect them. And her life was so unusual that within a few decades of her death three priests had written accounts of it: Jan Gerlac, who had lived for a while in the same house as Lidwina; Jan Brugman, a Franciscan preacher renowned for his oratorical skills; and Thomas à Kempis, the author of The Imitation of Christ.

In the early years of her incapacitation, the curate who brought Lidwina communion six times a year taught her to see her sufferings as a share in Christ’s, and to spend her time in contemplation. At first she found this very hard, telling him “When I struggle to consider the tortures of Christ I can think of nothing but my own.” He encouraged her to accept this in itself as a suffering, not to try too hard, just to give up and sleep if she became tired, but not to stop renewing the attempt. As she spent increasing time in contemplation and mental pilgrimage, she began to receive visions and angelic visitations. A reputation for sanctity spread, but so did malicious gossip. Though Schiedam was a small town it lies at the mouth of the river Maas, right next to Rotterdam, and had a considerable transitory population. All sorts of visitors would come to see the reputed holy woman, to gawp, or to test her, or to pester her with frivolous questions or requests for predictions. She laid bare the souls of some of these visitors, removing scruples or urging them to confess secret sins; she banished despair from some, and reconciled families that had quarrelled; those seeking assurances about loved ones who had passed on she urged not to waste time and to get on with praying for the departed. Huysmans gives this something of the atmosphere of people consulting a medium, but not getting the flattering or self-serving answers a medium would give them. “Her sick room,” Huysmans says, “became a spiritual hospital.” Far from profiting from this celebrity, Lidwina died in extreme poverty.

Two connections to earlier posts on this blog emerged. Like those of the Martyrs of Gorcum, the relics of Lidwina were smuggled to Brussels in 1615; and they were entrusted to the Carmelite monastery that was home to Sister Margaret. In 1871 the bulk of them were returned to Schiedam, only fragments being retained in Brussels, and in 1881 a church (pictured) was built to house them. John Paul II made the church a basilica in 1990. I didn’t have a clear idea of where Schiedam was, beyond somewhere in Holland, but it turns out it’s about six miles from where my oldest is at university.

Huysmans does write in a highly wrought style, and there are things going on in the book that have a lot to do with his personal issues and the issues of his time (the curtailing of freedom of religion in France; the modernist crisis; the anti-Semitism surrounding the Dreyfus Affair), so I don’t know that I would necessarily recommend his life of Lidwina in general terms, although I certainly found it interesting. What is very clear is the comfort he derives from a saying that he attributes to St Hildegard: “God dwells not in bodies that are whole.”

The feast of St Lidwina is celebrated on 14 June (formerly 14 April). She is the patron saint of Schiedam, of ice skaters, and of the chronically ill.

Paul Arblaster is my second oldest internet acquaintance (The oldest is Mary who also comments on this blog.). He has also written about St. AnthonySt. CuthbertMargaretSt. KizitoSt. Margaret Clitherow, St. Michael, and St. Peter Ascanus  for this series.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 47 ~ St. Scholastica

It is surprising how many cases of saintly twins there are: Medard and Gildard, Mark and Marcellian, Crispin and Crispinian, Gervase and Protase, and Cosmas and Damian. There may be others. But surely the most famous pair are St Benedict and St Scholastica.

Scholastica lives very much in the shadow of her brother, but she was close to him and shared in his mission. Benedict, though certainly not the first Christian monastic, is nonetheless the father of Christian monasticism on account of his great influence and example, and Scholastica, by a convenient parity, occupies something like the same position for female contemplatives.

What little we know about her comes from St Gregory the Great's Dialogues. He tells us that she was born (c.480) into the Italian nobility, in Nursia, and was dedicated to the Lord from infancy. The historical sources are mostly silent on the events of her life. We do know that by the time Benedict had founded the monastery at Montecassino (c.530) she was living in a women's religious community nearby, and that she made an annual pilgrimage to visit her brother and to speak with him about spiritual matters.

Two famous stories have come down to us, both from the last days of her life, in the year 542. During one of her annual visits it came time for the two to part, but Scholastica, unwilling to be parted just yet, asked Benedict to stay. When he protested that he was needed in the monastery, she quietly bowed her head and prayed. Immediately "there fell suddenly such a tempest of lightening and thundering, and such abundance of rain" that Benedict was forced to prolong his time with her. (On account of this incident, she is invoked as intercessor against storms.)

Just three days later, Scholastica died. We do not know the reason or the circumstances. Perhaps it was sudden, for Benedict was not present with her. Instead, he is said to have seen her soul ascending to heaven in the form of a dove, a symbol of purity and peace, and thereby knew that she had died. At his instruction, her body was brought to Montecassino and interred in the same tomb in which Benedict himself was later laid.

What became of her relics I do not know. Raids by Lombard soldiers forced the evacuation of Montecassino for most of the 7th century, and during that period St Benedict's remains are believed to have been taken to France, but I've found no record of what happened to St Scholastica's. In death, as in life, it seems she remains largely hidden.

Yet despite this poverty of knowledge, the Church has through the centuries remembered and honoured her; her feast day is February 10. Her tender affection for her brother, her devotion to Our Lord, and her place at the fount of Benedictine spirituality have endeared her to many of the faithful.

Indeed, she is rather close to my own heart. My wife and I even gave her name to our eldest child (as a middle name). Initially some people took that name as an indication that her over-educated parents were tagging her for a life of academic achievement, but of course this was not the case. For each of our children, we've tried to give them a saintly middle name that, we hope, will give them a personal connection to a saint who will, by example and prayer, teach them something essential, something that the world is otherwise unlikely to teach them. In the case of St Scholastica, it was precisely her vocation as a contemplative that appealed to us, for if anything can be said to be wanting in our culture, and if any virtue can best equip a soul for a life of communion with God, it is surely a disposition to contemplation, of goodness, of beauty, and of truth. And so our daughter, and ourselves, we commend to the intercession of St Scholastica.

Saint Scholastica, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, true sister of St. Benedict, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, chosen by God from eternity, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, prevented by the grace of Christ Our Lord, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, consecrated to God from thy infancy, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, always a virgin incorrupt, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, espoused to Jesus Christ, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, scholar of the Holy Ghost, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, mirror of innocence, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, model of perfection, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, pattern of virtues, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, glory of the monastic life, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, mother of numberless virgins, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, imitator of the angelic life, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, full of faith in God, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, replenished with hope of the goods of heaven, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, ever burning with the love of thy Spouse, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, resplendent with humility, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, trusting as a daughter in the Lord, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, intent on prayer, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, quickly heard by the Lord, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, famed for the praise of perseverance, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, who didst enter the courts of Heaven in the form of a dove, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, who dost now follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, who dost rejoice in delights of thy Spouse for ever, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, adorned with a crown of glory, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, advocate with God of those who invoke thee, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, generous patron of those who imitate thee, pray for us.
St. Scholastica, holy and innocent virgin, pray for us.

-- from the Litany of St Scholastica

-- Craig Burrell blogs at All Manner of Thing and is curator of The Hebdomadal Chesterton. In this series he has also written about St. Andre Bessette, Beato Angelico, and St. Nicholas Owen.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 46 ~ Blessed John Henry Newman

Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890) is unusual among those who have been formally honored by the Church for their virtue in that he is a figure of stature in the secular world. I first encountered him in a literature course in which prose writers of Victorian England were studied. He very much belonged there, since he is acknowledged by everyone of sense to be one of the intellectual lights of England in the 19th century, and in particular one of the great prose stylists. The main thing I remember about Newman from that course was the excerpt from his The Idea of a University which my professor, not a believer but a man of great discernment and intellectual honesty, pointed out as particularly memorable:

Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man.

I was not a Catholic or any sort of Christian then, but I thought that was not only a very fine bit of prose but also real wisdom. In one sentence it exhibits what I later came to see as the persistent shrewdness and balance of the Catholic mind, which does not disparage or dismiss human capacities such as reason, but yet never forgets that they are not sufficient to keep us on the right path.

I imagine most people reading this have at least heard of Newman and have some idea of his significance for the Church; this is surely true for anyone who’s ever been involved or interested in the Anglican tradition. Many of the saints in this series have been ones of whom little is known. Newman is the opposite: not only did he live in the modern era, but he was very well-known and influential in his own time, and continues to be so. So his life is known and studied in great detail. I’m going to give you the briefest biographical summary. A moment on the Internet will turn up a great deal of information; for starters, here is his Wikipedia article.

Newman’s life shows a pattern which has become somewhat familiar since his time: early embrace of evangelicalism, movement into high-church Anglicanism; awareness of the difficulty of reconciling Protestantism with the historic Christian faith; conversion to Rome. He was an intellectual and scholar by nature, and a celibate by choice, and the drama of his life takes place in the world of ideas. Externally there is nothing very exciting to note. He was associated with Oxford University from his late adolescence until 1843, when, recognizing that he could no longer in good conscience remain an Anglican, he went into a sort of limbo that lasted until 1845, when he was formally received into the Catholic Church. He was one of the central figures in the Oxford Movement, which attempted to bring Anglicanism into greater harmony with the Catholic tradition, and in the associated Tractarian Movement, which issued a number of tracts, many written by Newman, making the Catholic case for Anglicanism. In the end many of the people associated with and influenced by the Oxford Movement did convert.

As is often the case with converts, the roughly half of his life that he spent as a Catholic was not altogether smooth sailing. He was apparently regarded with suspicion by many in high places. And although throughout his life he was engaged in fierce intellectual combat with religious liberalism, by which he meant the effort to make human reason the final judge of religious truth, he was himself considered something of a liberal. I think—I am no expert, but this is the impression I’ve gotten—that this was at least in part because his theological approach was founded less on Thomism and more on the Fathers. He was opposed to the solemn definition of papal infallibility (1870), not because he disbelieved it but because he thought such a declaration “inopportune.”

In 1864 the very anti-Catholic Anglican clergyman Charles Kingsley wrote something about Newman which provoked one of Newman’s most well-known works, the Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Defense Of His Life). It is not an autobiography, not even a spiritual autobiography, in any usual sense. Newman introduces it as a “History of my Religious Opinions,” and that’s exactly what it is. We learn about those in great detail, but most of what can be learned about the man himself and his life can only be inferred.

Kingley’s offense was to say that the Catholic Church did not consider truth to be a virtue, and that his source for this charge was Newman. In a well-known passage, in the course of reviewing a book on the history of the Church, Kingsley asserted, with no reference to anything Newman had ever written that might justify the accusation, that

Truth, for its own sake had never been a virtue with the Roman clergy. Father Newman informs us that it need not, and on the whole ought not to be...

These were fighting words, and a fight was what Kingsley got, and got the worst of. Newman objected, and Kingsley responded smoothly that he must have misunderstood Newman’s words, and was glad to be reassured that Newman had not meant what Kingsley thought he meant.

This sly tactic did not work. “Never meant it? I maintain that I never said it,” responded Newman. A lengthy and complex war of words ensued in which Kingsley only dug his hole deeper. In the end Newman’s reputation was enhanced, and Kingsley’s diminished, because it was clear to any fair-minded observer, whatever his view of the Catholic Church, that Kingsley was in the wrong.

The Apologia followed from this controversy, because Newman believed that at the root of Kingsley’s accusation, and his confidence in making it, was a widespread and largely whispered suspicion that Newman had for many years been secretly Catholic, remaining formally Anglican and operating as a subversive within the Church of England. The idea of sneaky malicious Catholics plotting in dark places against everything decent had a powerful hold on the English (and American) Protestant mind in the 19th century, and this gave Newman the chance to bring it into the light and combat it. In the Apologia he described in detail every turn of his thinking, and the action resulting from it, with the aim of showing that he had never done other than act openly in accordance with his evolving convictions.

For someone like me, who came into the Church from the Anglican tradition (growing up as a Methodist, later spending a few years as an Episcopalian), this is a pretty fascinating work, because it follows Newman through the slowly dawning realization that the belief that Anglicanism is in continuity with the Church of the first millennium is untenable. There are some often-quoted passages about that. In 1839, for instance, Newman was studying the Monophysite heresy and concluded here, in the middle of the fifth century, I found, as it seemed to me, Christendom of the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries reflected. I saw my face in that mirror, and I was a Monophysite.

Most of Newman’s other work has more than held its place since his time. A Grammar of Assent is an inquiry into the nature of religious truth and our grounds for holding it. I read it many years ago in inconvenient circumstances, didn’t really understand it, and would like to read it again, as I think it articulates and expands upon some of my own intuitions. There is the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, in which occurs another well-known remark: “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”

His sermons collected in a huge volume as Parochial and Plain Sermons are full of insight and wisdom. The hymn “Lead, Kindly Light” is a setting of one of his poems. His long poem, “The Dream of Gerontius,” about death and judgment, was set to music by Edward Elgar; if you are a classical music lover and don’t know it, you should seek it out, as it is one of Elgar’s best works. And Newman himself was an amateur musician who played violin and viola.

But to be a capable defender of the faith in controversy, and to have impressive intellectual achievements, is not to be a saint. What of Newman’s personal virtue? I wouldn’t necessarily call his duel with Kingsley saintly. Newman is pretty pugnacious—but then many saints were in defending the faith. The original edition of the Apologia has an introductory section which concludes thusly:

Away with you, Mr. Kingsley, and fly into space! Your name shall occur again as little as I can help, in the course of these pages.

So let us turn to the words of Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of Newman’s beatification:

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3).

He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

If you read the Apologia or any summary of Newman’s life (I can’t speak to the full-length biographies such as Ian Ker’s), you know that as an Anglican he was the vicar of St. Mary the Virgin parish, a University parish which I take to have been (and probably still be) fairly posh. But this position included responsibility for a place called Littlemore, which to me and probably most people is just a name. But it was a poor neighborhood, a sort of suburb of Oxford, and Newman seems to have devoted more time as a pastor to it than to St. Mary proper. You can read a good deal about that in this paper (link is to a PDF file). It belies the image one is apt to have of Newman as an aloof and insulated don.

Will Newman eventually be declared a saint? I have no idea, but if he is there will be a lot of rejoicing.

Maclin Horton is the proprietor of his own blog Light on Dark Water from which sprang this series. You might want to check out the current series there, 52 Movies or last year's 52 AuthorsIn this series he has written about St HenrikSt. John FisherSt Ansgar, St. Mary of Egypt, and St. John Kemble.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 45~ Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

In 1901 Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in Turin into a prominent Italian family. His agnostic father, Alfredo,was influential in politics as founder and director of the newspaper, La Stampa.  Like his father, Pier was strongly anti-Fascist and did nothing to hide his political views.

His deep spiritual life was aided by daily communion (he had to obtain permission for this rare privilege) and frequent nocturnal Eucharistic adoration.  St. Paul's Epistles were favorite meditations and St. Catherine of Siena's writings were instrumental in his becoming a Third Order Dominican.

Pier never hesitated to share his faith with his many friends and he did nothing to hide his political views--physically defending the faith and at times involved in fights with anticlerical Communists and Fascists. On one occasion, participating in a Church-organized demonstration in Rome, he withstood police violence and rallied the other young people by grabbing the group's banner which the police had knocked down--holding it even higher while using the pole to ward off their blows.

While yet very pious Pier was described by his friends as "an explosion of joy." This handsome, vibrant fun-loving young man was an avid mountain climber--organizing many outings with his friends; he loved hiking, riding horses, skiing, and as a lover of art and music--he frequented the opera, theater, and museums. He appreciated good humor, laughter, and practical jokes.

Though the Frassati family was of enormous wealth and power, Alfredo's austerities never allowed his children too much spending money. Even so, Pier managed to donate most of his allowance to those more 'needy' than himself---becoming accustomed to giving away his train-fare to the poor and running back home so as not to be late for dinner.

This young man was dedicated to works of social action and charity. Having joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society at the age of 17, He was also involved with Catholic Student Foundation, the Apostleship of Prayer, Catholic Action, and became a very active member of the People's Party, which promoted the Catholic Church's social teaching based on the principles of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical letter, Rerum Novarum.

Pier Giorgio was not a passive 'joiner'...records show that he was active and involved in each, fulfilling all the duties of membership.

He put his faith concretely into action through his constant, humble, mostly hidden service to the poorest of Turin. He lived simply and gave away food, money, or anything that anyone asked of him and considered it a privilege to to be the servant of the poor and suffering.

Just before receiving his university degree Pier Giorgio contracted polio....most likely from the very people to whom he was ministering in the slums. Even though he lay dying he would not draw attention to himself as his own grandmother was dying at the same time he was. On the eve of his death he scribbled a message to a friend reminding the friend not to forget the medicine for a poor man he had been assisting. After six days of suffering he died at the age of 24.

Upon their son's death,(July 4, 1925)  his family expected Turin's elite and political figures to come to offer their condolences and attend the funeral. Much to their surprise the streets of the city were lined with thousands of mourners---the poor and needy whom he had unselfishly served.  And many of these folks in turn were surprised to learn that the saintly young man was the heir of the influential Frassati family. The poor of the city petitioned the Archbishop to begin the cause for canonization....and the process was opened in 1932.

Pope John Paul II visiting Frassati's original tomb in 1989 in the family crypt in Pollone said, "I wanted to pay homage to a young man who was able to witness to Christ with singular effectiveness in this century of ours.  When I was a young man, I, too, felt the beneficial influence of his example and, as a student, I was impressed by the force of his testimony."

Upon exhumation his mortal remains were found completely intact and incorrupt. They were transferred from the family tomb in Pollone to the cathedral in Turin where his body is available for the veneration of the public.

St. Peter's Square was filled with thousands on May 20, 1990 when Pier was beatified--the Pope called him: the "Man of the Eight Beatitudes."

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati's time on earth was short, only 24 years and yet his was a life rich in meaning and purpose derived from faith in God and this despite two unreligious parents who misunderstood and disapproved of his piety and intense interest in Catholicism.

This young man is truly a saint for today--not just for young adults but for us all who would rally around the truth of our Catholic Church's teaching.

Sue is a dear friend from homeschooling days. Now she has moved back to her home state and I miss her all the time. I really appreciate her participation in this series, which she has previously written about St. Gertrude the Great.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 44 ~ St. Louise de Marillac

Up until I was at least into my thirties, I had no idea there was a saint with my name, or maybe I have her name. I'm pretty sure my parents called me Louise just because they liked the name, but when I discovered St Louise de Marillac, I basically adopted her, or maybe she adopted me, it's hard to say.

St Louise's Feast Day is the Ides of March. She was a widow, and mother of one son. She is a patron saint of social workers, and that was special to me, because most of my father's working life was as a social worker. Also, when I was in my twenties I used to work part time as a social worker. I have just discovered that the nuns she was taught by, from a very young age, were Dominican sisters. They taught me too, along with the Salesian brothers and priests. I like seeing these connections.

With St Vincent de Paul, she founded the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul.
The Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (Latin: Societas Filiarum Caritatis a S. Vincentio de Paulo), called in English the Daughters of Charity or Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent De Paul is a Society of Apostolic Life for women within the Catholic Church. Its members make annual vows throughout their life, which leaves them always free to leave, without need of ecclesiastical permission. They were founded in 1633 and are devoted to serving Jesus Christ in persons who are poor through corporal and spiritual works of mercy. They have been popularly known in France as "the Grey Sisters" from the color of their traditional religious habit, which was originally grey, then bluish grey.

Humble Beginnings

St Louise was born out of wedlock on August 12, 1591 in Le Meux, Oise, France. Her mother is unknown and her father Louis de Marillac was a widower. He acknowledged her as his natural daughter, and was apparently very fond of her, considering her to be a great consolation. From a young age, she was educated by the Dominican sisters at the royal monastery of Poissy near Paris, and was given an excellent education. Her aunt was a nun there.

When she was about 12, her father died, and she then lived with a good, devout spinster, who taught her how to manage a household, and about herbal medicine. At the age of 15 she applied to enter the convent with the Capuchin nuns in Paris, but was rejected. We don't know why, but it may have been due to her poor health. Her spiritual adviser told her that God had other plans for her, and as we will see, that proved to be the case.

Her uncle, Michel de Marillac, was a major figure in the court of Queen Marie de' Medici and he
. . . arranged for her to marry Antoine Le Gras, secretary to Queen Marie. Antoine was an ambitious young man who seemed destined for great accomplishments. Louise and Antoine were wed in the fashionable Church of St. Gervaise on February 5, 1613. In October, the couple had their only child, Michel.

She was a good wife and mother and was also active in her parish. She had a leading role with the Ladies of Charity, which was a group of wealthy women dedicated to helping the poor and sick.

St Louise seems to have been a mystic, and had a regular spiritual life. It seems that she may have had some spiritual direction from St Francis de Sales. When her son was about 12, her husband died, after being ill for a couple of years, during which time she developed depression. At about the time of Antoine's death, she met St Vincent de Paul, and corresponded with him. She continued to bring up her son, and eventually St Vincent became her spiritual adviser, and helped her to obtain “greater balance in a life of moderation, peace and calm.” St Louise had often struggled with various anxieties.

Now that Michel had grown up, she could consider her next step. It seemed that God was calling her to work more intensely for the poor and when she told St Vincent, he had received guidance to form the religious organisation of women, which would come to be known as the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.

Organised Charity

I have a small, 50 page book about her life. The thing which struck me quite forcibly the first time I read it was that St Louise had a charism of administration, which sounds about as dull as ditchwater, but is actually fascinating. She had real charity for people, as you'd expect in a saint, but although this was a personal thing, her charism of administration meant that the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul could work together very effectively as a group of women in service of the poor. This meant that her work could continue well after her death and was therefore not dependent upon her personal powers. She did what she had to do, and did it so well that the work continued after her. The supernatural life adds so much to human organisation and resources. It's never enough to simply throw money at a problem. The human element, infused with Divine love, must never be overlooked.

St Louise died on March 15, 1660 (aged 68) in Paris, France, after 26 years of this work.

Writings, Patronage, and Veneration

A list of her writings can be found here.

In addition to being a patron saint of social workers, she is also (according to Wikipedia) a patroness of disappointing children, loss of parents, people rejected by religious orders, sick people, social workers, Vincentian Service Corps, widows .

St Louise de Marillac was canonised in 1934 by Pope Pius XI.
Her remains are enshrined in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity at 140 rue du Bac, Paris. She is mistakenly referred to as an incorrupt saint; the body enshrined in the chapel is actually a wax effigy, containing her bones. (Wikipedia)

St Louise, pray for us.

Louise LaMotte is a friend from Light on Dark Water. Since she lived in Australia at the time we met online, I never thought we would meet in person. I was wrong. She has written here about St. Mary of the CrossPope St. Pius XFr. Jacques Hamel, Our Lady Undoer of Knots and St. Damien of Molokai.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.