For the Sacraments (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I just ran across these thoughts by Reverend Jesse Brett over at my favorite electronic library. Though on Wednesday ordinarily I try to feature a poem, after reading these few paragraphs on the Sacraments, I realized that I should share them with you.

Brett is a bit of a mystery too, though I found out that he was the chaplain at All Saints Hospital in Eastbourne in the U.K. (in the 1920′s), I haven’t been able to uncover anymore information about him. I’ll keep digging.

Recently I was asked to give a talk on the Communion of the Saints to the folks in RCIA (Class of 2011) at my parish. I hope it was helpful to them. But I also know that they still have many questions about the saints, the Church, the Sacraments, etc. etc.

They are embarking on what hopefully will be a lifetime of study and practice. I hope they are excited at this prospect. Because as Blessed John Henry Newman said, and I’ll paraphrase him gladly, Catholicism is deep and you can’t take it up in a tea cup.

Reading these words of Rev. Bretts may not answer all of their questions or yours. But they ring as true as a clarion call about the importance, nay, the absolute necessity of the Sacraments in the spiritual life of the followers of Christ.

In this regard, the following thoughts are pure “signal” without any interference or “noise.”

From The Hidden Sanctuary: Devotional Studies
Sanctifying grace is the Divine gift to the soul through the Sacraments; and upon that as a foundation is built the superstructure of the spiritual life and, we may add, of true mystical life. Catholics do not need to be taught this. They know the mystery of the Sacraments through the very clearness of their love. Their mystical knowledge, whatever it may be, is an integral part of their sacramental experience.

But for the sake of others be it said: there is no true Christian mysticism that ignores the Sacraments; while a truly lived sacramental life must always be open to mystical experience. The Catholic can never define a line of demarcation between the sacramental and the mystical. There should be a will to recognize, and a readiness to receive, the mystical. If there has been, and is, a tendency to neglect the mystical in the natural and proper protest against much that is false or pernicious in popular mystical teaching, we are also in some danger of going too far.

There is a true mysticism which the Catholic Church knows, approves and protects. It is not fantastic, but sober and balanced, because the Saints, in whom it has been most remarkable, have been so trained and disciplined that their very teaching concerning it has been too severe for such as are weakly imaginative. It is the science of the spiritual life as tested by heroic souls. It is the science of Divine love in its strength and beauty.

In the New Testament Scriptures sacramental and mystical teaching are intimately related. The apostles who are foremost in proclaiming sacramental truth, S. John and S. Paul, are themselves mystics of the highest order. The Old Testament writers also, whose teaching and experience were most clear and definite, were likewise mystics. Catholic mysticism is no new discovery, but rather the continuation of that which runs through Holy Scripture from its beginning to its end. It is the experience of souls in their relation to God, conveyed in language which they understand who pursue the same spiritual way, inspired by the same compelling love.

It is all-important, therefore, that we should know ourselves and realize our advantages and blessings in the way of the Sacraments. It is our sure ground of safety. It makes all, after experience, the more reasonable. If the soul is strong in sacramental grace, and burning with love to our Lord, Who is known in His sacramental presence, there is a development of interior life; and it will in some ways be advanced on the mystical side. What is that reality of life and power which we feel in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament but a Divine certainty apprehended by a developed mystical sense? This is an aspect of the sacramental life which we should not forget, though we must be careful not to exaggerate it.

In Holy Baptism we were born again, and the new life was none other than that in which we are to know God, enjoy Him, attain to high union with Him. In Confirmation we received the fulness of spiritual gifts, and were made strong for spiritual endeavour. In Penance we are renewed in cleanness of heart, the state essential to the vision of God. In Holy Communion we are nourished by the Heavenly Food, the Divine Sustenance given continually to souls in the wilderness way of this world. Reverent attention to the truth of this, and loving effort to realize the spiritual dignity, and richness, and power which are the immediate effect of the sacraments upon prepared souls, and the humble, yet joyous, recognition of all within ourselves, should lead to a profound sense of possibilities and responsibilities.

What is the purpose of all we have received if it be not that we should enter into simply loving, and actively living, experience of God? And that which follows will be mystical knowledge of God.

See more of  Father Brett’s book here.

I Just Met Nickleback (Music for Mondays)

Feast of St. Albert the Great 

Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Bass, and Drums.  This is the Golden Mean ratio of Rock ‘n Roll, folks. It is like π, a constant that is both routine and mysterious.

Proven, like the four man fire-team of a Marine rifle squad. Robust, like the Ford V-8 engines, big-block or small, that spanked the whiz-bang V-12 Ferrari’s (large and small) at the 24 Hours of Le Mans four consecutive times (1966-1969).

In a word, classic. Much like the Catholic Church, now that I think about it.

However, without lyrics that mean something, it is all for naught. But when the poet sings to us too, while jamming out tunes that get our hearts and our feet moving? You get the classic four piece bands that legends are made of: The Beatles, the Who, U2, the Eagles, and the band I’m bringing to you today:

Nickleback.

Now out of Vancouver, Canada this band was unknown to me until two days ago. That’s right, I must live under a rock because they have been making music since 1995. Thankfully, I have some friends who pull me out of the cave every once in a while and introduce me to “new” old bands making music that I may like.

But I’m not the only one of my friends who never heard of them. Their Facebook page has 4,911,324+ adoring fans (and only two of my friends “like” them?!), which makes even Anne Rice’s fan page seem (and ours infinitesimally so) insignificant. I hope the following clips will help explain their appeal.

If Everyone Cared. Have you gotten involved in our letter writing (actually, e-mail writing) campaign? The Nuncio at the UN has offered up his Diplomatic Pouch so we can send messages of encouragement to our brethren in Baghdad. Have you thought of making a donation? Sure, it’s a small thing. But what if we do nothing? Nothing will get done. I think Chad Kroeger & Co. knock the cover off the ball here. Watching this I can’t help but think of Dorothy Day.

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If Today Was Your Last Day. I have no idea if these guys are Christians. But listen to the lyrics and watch these scenes unfold and you may only be concerned about one thing: am I living life as a true Christian, or like a pretender? I know I fall short.

Nickelback – If Today Was Your Last Day from Nickelback on Vimeo.

Never Gonna Be Alone I have sons and a daughter too. And time is certainly fleeting. Before I know it, my children will be on their own. But even if I’m gone tomorrow, Our Lord, The Church, and the Faith, will still be here for them. So they’ll never be alone either. Thanks be to God.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1

For the last two, I have to send you to You Tube. Please excuse any commercials.

Far Away. A young couple, the husband a fire-fighter. He, or she, could just as easily be a police officer or in the military. It’s a tough career on families. My wife got a phone call like this once, and though she got her husband back too, it took a little longer than this.

Savin’ Me. Some of Nickleback’s songs are about getting drunk and crazy, Burn It To The Ground, for example. The usual silliness that rock bands sometimes dip into, right? Think of Van Halens’, um, “thought provoking” songs. There is a time and a place for songs like BITTG, but this song is not like that at all. There is a longing here that comes through loud and clear.

Show me what it’s like
To be the last one standing
And teach me wrong from right
And I’ll show you what I can be.

Because My Pope Loves Libraries!

Libraries have always been one of my favorite places on earth. Just ask anyone who knows me. I’m especially fond of public libraries. But  private ones are nice too.

Pope Benedict XVI is a gifted writer so it probably comes as no surprise that he loves books and libraries as well. But I still love it when my Pope says that “we are keeping the library!”

Far from being simply the fruit of the accumulation of a refined bibliophile and of a hobby of collecting many possibilities, the Vatican Library is a precious means — which the Bishop of Rome cannot and does not intend to give up — that gives, in the consideration of problems, that look capable of gathering, in a perspective of long duration, the remote roots of situations and their evolution in time.

And why, pray tell, are the Vatican Libraries worth keeping?

From its origins it conserves the unmistakable, truly ‘catholic,’ universal openness to everything that humanity has produced in the course of the centuries that is beautiful, good, noble, worthy the breadth of mind with which in time it gathered the loftiest fruits of human thought and culture, from antiquity to the Medieval age, from the modern era to the 20th century.

And for another reason,

…nothing of all that is truly human is foreign to the Church, which because of this has always sought, gathered, conserved, with a continuity that few equal, the best results of men of rising above the purely material toward the search, aware or unaware, of the Truth.

Which I reckon means we will be keeping our astronomical observatory too. And another great thing about the Vatican Library and our Pope’s love for the same? Just this,

In the Vatican Library, all researchers of the truth have always been received with attention and care, without confessional or ideological discrimination; required of them only is the good faith of serious research, unselfish and qualified.

All are welcome!

You can read the full article from ZENIT here (h/t to Athos at Chronicles of Atlantis for posting on this).

To Dedicate this Song to the Memory of the Martyrs of Baghdad

I remember listening to America’s Top Forty with Casey Kasum while I was growing up, do you? While I was fooling around at You Tube preparing for the MfM music post, I replayed the beautiful Hail Mary prayer that is in Arabic that I posted on Friday. I soon realized that there is a ton of Christian music in Arabic posted over there.

So like the people who used to call in to Casey (who is of Lebanese Druze family heritage), and to Wolfman Jack (and other disc-jockeys too), I would like to dedicate this song to my brothers and sisters at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad Iraq.

Peace Be Upon You Mary. This is in Arabic, though I’ve translated the title (Assalamou Alayki Ya Maryam) into English. I don’t kid myself that I understand Arabic fluently, but I know what the first line means and this sounds beautiful nonetheless.

After listening, click on the title here and you will be transported to You Tube where video after video of other Christian hymns and songs in Arabic can be found.

Yes, as Webster once wrote, the Holy Spirit is definitely on-line (and so is the Body of Christ).

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And I’ll dedicate this one too (let’s pretend it’s “Two for Tuesday”).

Pax Christi.

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Because Christian Martyrdom Sheds No Innocent Blood

Originally posted back on September 16th, the Feast of St. Cyprian, I am breaking this post out of the archives again. The recent killings of parishioners at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad bring the title of this post into stark relief with the events that transpired there on All Hallows Eve. St Cyprians words do not alleviate the pain, nor do they erase this tradgedy from our minds. But they do point to something larger than ourselves: the truth in the title of this post points to the Truth of the Word Incarnate.

—Feast of St. Cyprian

Today is the day we commemorate the fellow you see in the icon to your left. Cyprian was beheaded for refusing to worship the false gods of the Roman Empire.

There was no separation of church and state, see, so the state decided to make an example of Cyprian, and thousands of other Christian martyrs too. The state, the Empire, lost the war against Christianity, and collapsed like the house of cards that it was.

On days like this, when the Catholic Church reveres a martyr, I am struck by a signal truth: the only innocent blood that was shed is that of the martyr. In other words, they didn’t go out with “a bang”, trying to bring as many down with them as possible. To me, that fact alone proves the supernatural Truth of the Way.

As a Marine, I promised to put my life on the line for the safety of the citizens of my home country. I promised to willingly take lives, and perform duties that would facilitate the taking of many lives, in order to fulfill this pledge. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The Marine Corps taught “my hands to fight, and my fingers to war.”

I am retired from the Marines now. As such, I am no longer bound by this oath made by men. As oaths go, it is a fine one. But now, my sword has been turned into a ploughshare and my time and talents are no longer to “be exercised any more to war.” Not temporally, anyway.

Below is a letter St. Cyprian wrote to honor those who fell as martyrs, and to encourage those who may fall in the service of Our Lord. The martial symbolism is not lost on me. Nor is the call to spiritual arms. But as you read the letter below, keep in mind that each of these martyrs never lifted a sword against their oppressor. And they each, as Cyprian does, knew who the oppressor really is, and that lifting a sword against a mere pawn of that oppressor was, and still is, pointless.

Sun Tzu once wrote that,

All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

St. Cyprian saw the strategy, and so does every Christian who dies as a martyr. This is one of the myriad paradoxes of our life of faith. I believe Sun Tzu would understand this since he said,

Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.

If Sun Tzu would have been alive when the missionaries first came to China, I think he would have understood the Way.

Here is a portion of St. Cyprian’s thoughts on martyrdom,

St. Cyprian’s 10th Epistle

Cyprian, to the martyrs and confessors, continued health in Christ our Lord, and in God the Father:

I am exceeding glad, and heartily congratulate you, brethren, most blessed in your great endurance, when I hear of your faith and courage, in which your Mother the Church triumphs. Indeed she triumphed before, when a judicial sentence drove the confessors of Christ into exile, without shaking their constancy. But your present confession is as much more glorious and honorable than that, as the sufferings have been greater, through which it has been maintained. The combat has been greater, and greater has been the glory of the combatants.

You have not been deterred from the contest, but you have been rather the more excited to the battle, by the prospect of torture: and you have returned, firm and undaunted, with an unshaken devotion, to the struggles of the hottest engagement. Some of you, I hear, have already been crowned; some are pressing towards the crown of victory, and stand ready to grasp it; and all the glorious band, upon whom the dungeon has closed, are animated with an equal and mutual ardor to carry on the contest.

This is as it ought to be with the soldiers of Christ in the army of the saints; that effeminacy may not enervate, that threats may not terrify, that racks and tortures may not move the integrity and stability of their faith. Since He is greater who is in us, than he who is in the world; and no earthly infliction has greater power to cast us down, than the Divine help has to support us.

Of this we have the proof before our eyes, in the glorious contest of those of our brethren, who were the leaders in this conquest of tortures; and afforded an example of constancy and faith, while they rushed again and again on the battle, until the battle was overcome. In what words shall I proclaim your praises, O brethren, most invincible! With what device of the herald shall I blazon the strength of your fortitude, the endurance of your faith!

You have borne the most exquisite tortures, even to the consummation of your glory; nor have you yielded to torment, but rather torment has yielded to you. Your martyrdom has crowned those sufferings, to which your tortures refused to put an end. The severity of infliction was thus continued, not to the overthrow of a dauntless faith, but that it might transport men more rapidly to their Lord.

The spectators wondering at the celestial contest, the contest of God, the spiritual contest, the battle of Christ, saw his servants standing, with a determined voice, with a mind untainted, with heavenly virtue; without the arms of this world, indeed, but strong in the panoply of faith. The tortured stood more unmoved than their torturers; and the crushed and lacerated limbs overcame the instruments of cruelty. The fierce and often repeated lash could not overcome their invincible faith, although their very vitals were laid open with repeated stripes, and the frequent blow fell not on the body, but on the wounds of the servants of God.

The effusion of blood might have extinguished the flames of persecution, might have assuaged the very fires of hell with its glorious stream. O how noble was that spectacle! In the eyes of the Lord how sublime! How great, how acceptable in the sight of God, that fulfillment of the oath, that pledge of the devotion of his soldiers! Since it is written in the Psalms, the Holy Spirit speaking also to us, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

This is indeed a precious death, which has purchased immortality; which has received the crown as the consummation of virtue. How did Christ then rejoice! How willingly did he fight and conquer in such servants of his; confirming their constancy, and giving to all those who believed in him according to their faith!

He was present, as if the contest were His own: He strengthened, encouraged, and animated those who fought for Him, and for the honor of His name: and He who once conquered death for us, continues to conquer death in us. When they shall deliver you up, says he, think not what ye shall say; for in that hour it shall be given you what ye shall say: for it is not ye who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaketh in you.

The present combat afforded an evidence of this truth. A word full of the Holy Spirit broke from the mouth of the most blessed martyr Mappalicus, when he exclaimed, in the midst of his tortures, to the Proconsul, Tomorrow shall you see a struggle indeed! And what he said with the witness of a courageous faith, the Lord himself fulfilled. The heavenly struggle was seen; and the servant of God received his crown in the height of the anticipated contest.

This is the struggle which the Apostle Paul describes, in which we ought to run so as to obtain the crown of glory: Know ye not, says he,

that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize ? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown ; but we an incorruptible.

Again, describing his own contest, and in immediate anticipation of being offered up, he says,

For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

This struggle, therefore, appointed by the Lord, undergone by Apostles, Mappalicus, in his own name and in the name of his companions, promised that the Proconsul should see. Nor did he disappoint the expectation that he had excited: he exhibited the contest he had promised; he bore off the palm which he deserved.

Let me, then, exhort those of you who remain, to follow that most glorious martyr, and the rest who shared in his engagement; who were patient in tribulation, who were victorious over the rack, and stood like soldiers and comrades unbroken in faith.

That those whom the bond of one confession and the walls of the dungeon have already associated, may also be associated in the consummation of virtue and the heavenly crown. That you may dry, by your joy, those tears of your Mother the Church, which she sheds over the fall and ruin of many; and that you may confirm those, who are yet unshaken, by your example of endurance.

When your turn shall arrive, and you too shall be called to the fight, quit yourselves valiantly, and endure with constancy; well assured that you fight under the eyes of the Lord, who is present with you, and that you march to glory through the confession of his name. He is not such a master as to look on his servants from afar; but He himself struggles together with them; with them He advances to the conflict: He himself, in the successful issue, both bestows and receives a crown.

St. Cyprian, pray for us. You can read more of this letter on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

To Ask Mary to Pray For Us— in Arabic

Asking for the intercession of Our Lady may be the best course of action each one of us can take to help bring about peace in the Middle East for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters. Our Lady is held in high esteem in the Islamic world, as well she should be, and our prayer requests to her are effective.

I spent some time in the Middle East and a friend of mine tipped me off to the Hail Mary in Arabic.

Those who speak Arabic fluently can tell you that regional dialects can identify where the speaker is from. I’m not sure which part of the Middle East this recording comes from. I only know that even in Arabic this petition to Our Lady is beautiful and profound.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen

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UPDATE! Write a letter to the diocese in Baghdad! Here’s how.

Because Vincent de Paul was Once a Muslim’s Slave

Life got you down? Things perhaps haven’t turned out as you planned? Do you think everyone else has got it so easy? Your neighbors, for example, or those fortunate people who come into a considerable sum of money?

And how about those saintly types? They are simply walking on air, those guys, living lives of complete and blessed beatitude, right? Hold up!

While in Heaven the saints enjoy the beatific vision, but while they were here on earth? They were slogging it out with the rest of us. And that even includes those who were fortunate enough to be blessed with an earthly inheritance.

Take St. Vincent de Paul for instance (today is his feast day). Following his being ordained a priest, in the year of Our Lord 1605, he received news that someone had left him an inheritance. Saints be praised! Come and see where this development led him.

Once Upon a Time, over four hundred years ago…

The young priest’s life flowed on peacefully for the next five years, and then a startling adventure befell him. An old friend of his died at Marseilles, and Vincent received news that he had been left in the will a sum of fifteen hundred livres, which in those days was a considerable deal of money. Vincent’s heart was full of gratitude. What could he not do now to help his poor people. And he began to plan all the things the legacy would buy till it struck him with a laugh that ten times the amount could hardly get him all he wanted. Besides, it was not yet in his possession, and with that reflection he set about his preparations for his journey to Marseilles.

He probably went the greater part of the way on foot, and it must have taken him about as long as it would take us to go to India. But he was a man who had his eyes about him, and the country which he passed through was alive with the history he had read. Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and the scandal, now two hundred years old, of the two popes, would be brought to his mind by the very names of the towns where he rested and the rivers which he crossed, but at length they were all left behind, and Marseilles was reached.

His business was soon done, and with the money in his pocket he was ready to begin his long walk back to Toulouse, when he received an invitation from a friend of the lawyer’s to go in his vessel by sea to Narbonne, which would cut off a large corner(of his journey). He gladly accepted and went on board at once. But the ship was hardly out of sight of Marseilles when three African vessels, such as then haunted the Mediterranean, bore down upon them and opened fire.

The French were powerless to resist, and one and all refused to surrender, which so increased the fury of the Mohammedans that they killed three of the crew and wounded the rest. Vincent himself had an arm pierced by an arrow, and though it was not poisoned, it was many years before the pain it caused ceased to trouble him. The ‘Infidels’ boarded the ship, and, chaining their prisoners together, coasted about for another week, attacking wherever they thought they had a chance of success, and it was not until they had collected as much booty as the vessel could carry that they returned to Africa.

Vincent and his fellow-captives had all this while been cherishing the hope that, once landed on the coast of Tunis, the French authorities would hear of their misfortunes and come to their aid. But the Mohammedan captain had foreseen the possibility of this and took measures to prevent it by declaring that the prisoners had been taken on a Spanish ship. Heavy were their hearts when they learned what had befallen them, and Vincent needed all his faith and patience to keep the rest from despair.

The following day they were dressed as slaves and marched through the principal streets of Tunis five or six times in case anyone should wish to purchase them. Suffering from wounds though they were, they all felt that it was worth any pain to get out of the hold of the ship and to see life moving around them once more. But after awhile it became clear that the strength of many was failing, and the captain not wishing to damage his goods, ordered them back to the ship where they were given food and wine, so that any possible buyers who might appear next day should not expect them to die on their hands.

Early next morning several small boats could be seen putting out from the shore, and one by one the intending purchasers scrambled up the side of the vessel. They passed down the row of captives drawn up to receive them; pinched their sides to find if they had any flesh on their bones, felt their muscles, looked at their teeth, and finally made them run up and down to see if they were strong enough to work. If the blood of the poor wretches stirred under this treatment they dared not show it, and Vincent had so trained his thoughts that he hardly knew the humiliation to which he was subjected.

A master was soon found for him in a fisherman, who wanted a man to help him with his boat. The fisherman, as far as we know, treated his slave quite kindly; but when he discovered that directly the wind rose the young man became hopelessly ill, he repented of his bargain, and sold him as soon as he could to an old chemist, one of the many who had wasted his life in seeking the Philosopher’s Stone.

The chemist took a great fancy to the French priest and offered to leave him all his money and teach him the secrets of his science if he would abandon Christianity and become a follower of Mohammed, terms which, needless to say, Vincent refused with horror. Most people would speedily have seen the hopelessness of this undertaking, but the old chemist was very obstinate, and died at the end of a year without being able to flatter himself that he had made a convert of his Christian slave.

The chemist’s possessions passed to his nephew, and with them, of course, Father Vincent. The priest bore his captivity cheerfully, and did not vex his soul as to his future lot. The life of a slave had been sent him to bear, and he must bear it contentedly whatever happened; and so he did, and his patience and ready obedience gained him the favour of his masters.

Very soon he had a new one to serve, for not long after the chemist’s death he was sold to a man who had been born a Christian and a native of Savoy, but had adopted the religion of Mohammed for worldly advantages. There were many of these renegades in the Turkish service during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and nearly all of them were men of talent and rose high.

Vincent de Paul’s master had, after the Turkish manner, married three wives, and one of them, a Turk by birth and religion, hated the life of the town where she was shut up most of the day in the women’s apartments, and went, whenever she could, to her husband’s farm in the country, where Vincent was working. It was a barren place on a mountain side, where the sun beat even more fiercely than in Tunis; but at least she was able to wander in the early mornings and cool evenings about the garden, which had been made with much care and toil.

Here she met the slave, always busy—watering plants, trimming shrubs, sowing seeds, and generally singing to himself in an unknown tongue. He looked so different from the sad or sullen men she was used to see that she began to wonder who he was and where he came from, and one day she stopped to ask him how he happened to be there. By this time Vincent had learned enough Arabic to be able to talk, and in answer to her questions, told her of his boyhood in Gascony, and how he had come to be a priest.

“A priest! What is that?” she said.

And he explained, and little by little he taught her the doctrines and the customs of the Christian faith.

“Is that what you sing about?” she asked again. “I should like to hear some of your songs,” and Vincent chanted to her,

“By the waters of Babylon,” feeling, indeed, that he was “singing the Lord’s songs in a strange land.”

And day by day the Turkish woman went away, and thought over all she had heard, till one evening her husband rode over to see her, and she made up her mind to speak to him about something that puzzled her greatly.

“I have been talking to your white slave that works in the garden about his religion—the religion which was once yours. It seems full of good things and so is he. You need never watch him as you do the other men, and the overseer has not had to beat him once. Why, then, did you give up that religion for another? In that, my lord, you did not do well.”

The renegade was silent, but in his heart he wondered if, indeed, he had “done well” to sell his soul for that which had given him no peace. He, too, would talk to that Christian slave, and hear if he still might retrace his steps, though he knew that if he was discovered death awaited the Mohammedan who changed his faith.

But his eyes having been opened he could rest no more,and arranged that he and Vincent should disguise themselves and make for the coast, and sail in a small boat to France. As the boat was so tiny that the slightest gale of wind would capsize it, it seems strange that they did not steer to Sicily, and thence journey to Rome; but instead they directed their course towards France, and on June 28, 1607, they stepped on shore on one of those long, narrow spits of land which run out into the sea from the little walled town of Aigues-Mortes.

Vincent drew a long breath, as after two years captivity he trod on French soil again. But he knew how eager his companion was to feel himself once more a Christian, so they only waited one day to rest, and started early the next morning through the flowery fields to the old city of Avignon. Here he made confession of his faults to the Pope’s legate himself, and was admitted back into the Christian religion. The following year he went with Father Vincent to Rome, and entered a monastery of nursing brothers, who went about to the different hospitals attending the sick and poor.

It is very likely that it was Father Vincent’s influence that led him to take up this special work, to which we must now leave him, for on the priest’s return to Paris, he found a lodging in the Faubourg SaintGermain, close to the Hopital de la Charity—the constant object of his care for some months.

And did I mention that St. Vincent is an Incorruptible?

You can read the rest of St. Vincent de Paul’s story in The Book of Saints and Heroes by Leonora Lang on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

This was originally posted on Novermber 12, 2010. Happy Feast of St. Vincent de Paul!

Because My Pope says “Read the Bible!”

I can remember the days when I just knew that Catholics were clueless about the Bible. My wife was, for example. Of course, that was before I bumped into Blaise Pascal, and Thomas à Kempis, St. Francis de Sales, et al.

But those guys are all high-powered super Catholics, you may be saying to yourself. Well my Pope just published Verbum Domini, and a lot of converts like me are turning cartwheels over it. What follows are a few short paragraphs that will give you an idea why there is cause to celebrate.

Because if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: we are a Bible-believing Church!

72. Encountering the word of God in sacred Scripture

If it is true that the liturgy is the privileged place for the proclamation, hearing and celebration of the word of God, it is likewise the case that this encounter must be prepared in the hearts of the faithful and then deepened and assimilated, above all by them. The Christian life is essentially marked by an encounter with Jesus Christ, who calls us to follow him. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops frequently spoke of the importance of pastoral care in the Christian communities as the proper setting where a personal and communal journey based on the word of God can occur and truly serve as the basis for our spiritual life. With the Synod Fathers I express my heartfelt hope for the flowering of “a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faithfilled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with
Jesus.”

Throughout the history of the Church, numerous saints have spoken of the need for knowledge of Scripture in order to grow in love for Christ. This is evident particularly in the Fathers of the Church. Saint Jerome, in his great love for the word of God, often wondered: “How could one live without the knowledge of Scripture, by which we come to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?” He knew well that the Bible is the means “by which God speaks daily to believers.” His advice to the Roman matron Leta about raising her daughter was this: “Be sure that she studies a passage of Scripture each day…Prayer should follow reading, and reading follow prayer…so that in the place of jewellery and silk, she may love the divine books.”

Jerome’s counsel to the priest Nepotian can also be applied to us: “Read the divine Scriptures frequently; indeed, the sacred book should never be out of your hands. Learn there what you must teach.” Let us follow the example of this great saint who devoted his life to the study of the Bible and who gave the Church its Latin translation, the Vulgate, as well as the example of all those saints who made an encounter with Christ the center of their spiritual lives. Let us renew our efforts to understand deeply the word which God has given to his Church: thus we can aim for that “high standard of ordinary Christian living” proposed by Pope John Paul II at the beginning of the third Christian millennium, which finds constant nourishment in attentively hearing the word of God.

Read the whole document here.

To Pray for the Christians of Iraq

Post by Allison Salerno,
I drive New Jersey highways to work each morning, one uninspiring state road after another. Lately, I have found a scenic side road, right before I pull up to the large public high school where I work. The subdivision has large yards and ranch homes festooned for the season. Pumpkins, bales of hay and scarecrows dot the lawns. Some folks even have started to display Christmas wreaths even.

As I was navigating these hilly pretty suburban streets, a news report came on my car radio about more Christians killed in Iraq. Overnight, bomb attacks targeted Christian homes in the Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Mansour, al-Duarah and Sara Camp.

Al-Qaida– the same folks who murdered innocents on Sept. 11 – including dozens of my husband’s friends – is taking “credit” for the massacre of more than 50 worshippers, including priests, at Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad at a vigil Mass for All Saint’s Day.

It is considered the worst attack on Iraqi Christians in modern times. This is the land we learned as children was the “Fertile Crescent,” the “Birthplace of Civilization” 4,000 years ago. God have mercy on us all.

How many of us Americans consider ourselves Christians and yet do little to live out our faith day by day? How many of us would be willing to be martyrs, to pray in public no matter what the consequences? Would we be willing to die for the faith?

A dear friend, whose father works in Jordan with Iraqi Christian refugees, tells me the persecution of Iraqi Christians has been unrelenting ever since Saddam Hussein was ousted from power. Hussein was brutal, for sure, but he had other targets, such as the Kurds, for his persecution.

Let us pray none of us blessed enough to be living in countries where religious freedom is cherished take our faith for granted. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Iraq and every place where Christians are persecuted. Let us pray for the souls of their tormentors too. May they begin to understand that God gazes on us all and waits for us to turn our hearts to Him.

UPDATE: To Send Supplies to the Christians of Iraq.

A Statement and a Prayer (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Today is a High Holy Day for Marines like me. On this day in 1775, the Continental Congress agreed to form two battalions of Marines. The committee that decided this met at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, over beers of course, and the Continental Marines were born.

So those of us who have earned the title Marine, have two birthdays, the second of which we all celebrate today. I’m thankful that I was blessed to be a Marine. But I also know that my time in the service, and those of my brother and sister Marines, has left me with an unsettled feeling about the wars we have been called on to fight of late. Coming up on 10 years in Afghanistan? Sheesh.

Sigfried Sassoon (that’s him in uniform above) is regarded as one of the best “war poets” of all time. He served bravely during World War I, and was awarded a medal for gallantry. But he also experienced the horror of total war, and this in a war that destroyed an entire generation of the “best and brightest” of Europe.

Below are thoughts of Sassoon’s that were published in the English newspapers in 1917. They caused quite an uproar at the time. But the salient points he raises should, in my humble opinion, be raised again today.

Sassoon’s Public Statement Of Defiance

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerity’s for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.

Later in life, Sassoon converted to Catholicism. It is difficult to readily find any of his later Catholic poems (you can find most of his war poems easily) but I did find this one to share. This is the prayer of an old soldier. Someone who has seen the world at its worst, despite it’s best intentions, and has found solace at the foot of the Cross.

A Prayer in Old Age

Bring no expectance of a heaven unearned
No hunger for beatitude to be
Until the lesson of my life is learned
Through what Thou didst for me.

Bring no assurance of redeemed rest
No intimation of awarded grace
Only contrition, cleavingly confessed
To Thy forgiving face.

I ask one world of everlasting loss
In all I am, that other world to win.
My nothingness must kneel below Thy Cross.
There let new life begin.

Semper Fidelis


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