For All the Saints: Philip of Heraclea & Companions

There are many saints on the calendar for today, but I’d like to share with you this story about St. Philip, the Bishop of Heraclea, and his two companions, the priest Severus, and the good deacon Hermes (named after the Roman god of fleet feet).

People are still being martyred in the present day. Physically, believe it or not in many parts of the world, and mentally elsewhere. Prepare for it because it is likely to happen to you, and maybe it already has, in some way, shape or form.

The following account is from the work of another saint, Alphonsus de Liguori’s Victories of the Martyr’s. Does St. Al’s name sound familiar to you? It should because I shared something else he wrote right before I went on vacation this past summer.

Would you think me macabre if I told you that I find tales of this sort motivating? Well, I do. Because these three men didn’t abide by the dictum that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Instead, they are faith-filled and fearless men. After all, as a famous Marine once screamed, “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” So let’s wade in to a triple play of Christian courage, shall we?

ST. PHILIP, BISHOP OF HERACLEA, AND HIS TWO COMPANIONS, ST. SEVERUS AND ST. HERMES.

St. Philip was elected Bishop of Heraclea, the metropolis of Thrace, in consequence of his extraordinary virtue; and so fully did he correspond to the expectation of his people, that, while they tenderly loved him, there was not one among his flock who was not the object of his most affectionate pastoral solicitude. But there were two of his disciples whom he loved with peculiar affection—Severus, a priest, and Hermes, a deacon, whom he afterwords had companions of his martyrdom.

In the persecution of Diocletian he was advised to retire from the city. This, however, he refused to do, saying that he wished to conform to the dispensations of God, who knows how to reward those who suffer for his love, and that consequently he feared not the threats or torments of the tyrant.

The audacity of this Bishop. And fearless? The governor decides to lie in wait and call his bluff.

In the year 304, the saint was one day preaching to his people upon the necessity of patience and resignation, when a soldier, by the order of Bassus, the governor, entered the church, and having commanded the people to retire, shut the doors and sealed them; upon which Philip said to him: “Dost thou think that God dwelleth in these walls, and not rather in our souls?”

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to hear strains of Tom Petty singing I Won’t Back Down. Man, Philip might even have looked like Tom Petty! Back to the story,

Philip, although unable to enter the church, was unwilling to abandon it altogether, and remained at the door with his people. Separating the good from the bad, he exhorted the former to remain constant in the faith, and called upon the latter to return to God by sincere repentance.

“Seperating the good from the bad…” Ahem, Phil, shouldn’t you really just chill out brother?! I mean, the governor’s soldier-boy is here and he’s mighty important, and looking kind of serious. What if the governor himself comes?

Bassus, (I warned you Phil!) finding them assembled, caused them to be arrested, and having demanded who was their master, Philip answered: “I am he.”

The governor said: “Hast thou not heard the edict of the emperor, that in no place shall the Christians be assembled, but shall sacrifice to the gods, or perish?” He then commanded that the gold and silver vessels, together with the books that treated of the Christian law, should be delivered up; otherwise that recourse would be had to torture.

I told you a bluff was going to be called. But Philip has a mind of his own, see, and a heart that belongs to the Lord because,

Philip replied: “For my part, I am willing to suffer in this my body, tottering with age, whatever thou canst inflict; but abandon thou the thought of having any control over my spirit. The sacred vessels are at thy disposal; but it shall be my care to prevent the holy books from falling into thy hands.”

In other words, you can kill the body, but not the spirit. Hmmm, where have I heard that before? Right! Matthew 10:28. And what effect does this have?

Bassus, infuriated at this answer, called forward the executioners, and caused the saint to undergo a cruel and protracted torture.

He didn’t waste any time, did he? Kind of like NPR in the firing of Juan Williams.

The deacon, Hermes, witnessing the agonies of his bishop, told the governor that, although he were possessed of all the holy books, good Christians would never fail to teach Jesus Christ to others, and to render him the honor he deserves. After these words the holy deacon was most cruelly scourged.

Oh, you expected kow-towing and capitulation, did you? Heh, civilians. Not to be outdone by the bishops subaltern,

Bassus commanded that the sacred vessels should be removed from the sacristy, that the Scriptures should be burned, and that Philip, with the other prisoners, should be led by the soldiers to the forum, to be executed, in order that the pagans should be gladdened and the Christians affrighted by the spectacle.

Power…it’s all about the power. And our shining heroes would have nothing to do with bending their knees unto the temporal power of a mere despot.

Philip, having arrived at the forum, and being informed of the burning of the Scriptures, spoke at length to the people of the eternal fire prepared by God for the wicked.

Get that? Philip believes in Hell. And the really crazy thing? He prefers Heaven. And just when he was getting, ahem, warmed up,

During this discourse, a pagan priest, called Cataphronius, came carrying some meats that had been sacrificed to the idols. Hermes, seeing him, exclaimed: “This diabolical food hath been brought, that we, being forced to eat it, may be contaminated!” St. Philip desired him to be calm.

The good Bishop, in the face of certain death, tells the good Deacon to remain calm. I wonder what scheme the governor is planning next.

In the mean time the governor, arriving at the forum again, commanded the holy bishop to sacrifice to his gods.

Why be subtle, right? And was Philip impressed? Not hardly.

The saint asked: ” Being a Christian, how can I sacrifice to marble?” “Sacrifice at least to the emperor,” said Bassus. “My religion,” said the saint, “commands me to honor the princes, but teaches me that sacrifice is due to God alone.”

An in an effort to seem reasonable, the governor said,

“But doth not this beauteous statue of Fortune,” said the governor, “deserve a victim?”

The saint replied: “It may receive that honor from thy hands, since thou dost adore it; but it shall not from mine.”

Uh-oh, the governor thought, this wise-acre of a Christian is calling my bluff! I blinked once but I’ll give him another chance.

“Let then,” urged Bassus, “this fine figure of Hercules move thee.”

Whereupon Philip makes an audacious speech and,

Here the holy bishop, raising his voice, rebuked the insanity of those who worship as gods statues that, being taken from the earth, like earth should be trodden upon, not adored.

Much to the consternation of the governor, who seems to be begging now as we see when,

Bassus, turning to Hermes, asked him if he at least would sacrifice. The holy deacon resolutely answered that he was a Christian, and could not do so; and having been told that, should he continue obstinate, he would be cast into flames, replied: “Thou dost threaten me with flames that last but for a short time, because thou art ignorant of the strength of those eternal flames in which the followers of the devil shall burn.”

Uh-oh, stand-by for the good part,

Bassus, exasperated at the constancy of the saints, remanded them to prison. As they went along, the insolent rabble frequently pushed the venerable and aged bishop, so as to throw him down, but he with joyous looks quietly raised himself again.

Those would be the actions of the crowd of reasonable, though “god-fearing” idolators. Warms the cockles of your heart, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile the term of Bassus’ government having expired, Justin, his successor, arrived at Heraclea.

And then term limits kicked in and everyone lived happily ever after. Right? Dream on, because the new guy on the job has something to prove. Because,

He was a much more cruel man than his predecessor. St. Philip, having been brought before him, was told that if he would not sacrifice, he should, notwithstanding his extreme age, have to suffer tortures that were intolerable even to youth.

And here, the drama continues to unfold.

The venerable bishop replied: “Ye, for fear of a short punishment, obey men: how much more ought we to obey God, who visits evil-doers with eternal torments? Thou mayest torture, but canst never induce me to sacrifice.”

Justin: “I shall command thee to be dragged by the feet through the streets of the city.”

Philip: “God grant that it may be so.” The bloody threat was executed; yet the saint did not die in that torment, but his body was torn to pieces, and in the arms of the brethren he was carried back to prison.

Why am I thinking of the movie Hard to Kill? Surely the old Bishops companions will bend to the governor’s will after this near death experience.

After this, the governor called before him Hermes the deacon, whom he exhorted to sacrifice, in order to escape the torments that were being prepared. But the saint replied : “I cannot sacrifice and betray my faith; do, therefore, according to thy pleasure—tear my body to pieces.”

“Thou speakest thus,” said Justin: “because thou knowest not the pains that await thee; upon a trial thou shalt repent.”

Hermes: “Atrocious though they may be, Jesus Christ, for whose love I am about to suffer, will render them not only light, but sweet.”

Justin sent him also to prison, where the saints remained for seven months.

Justin must have been thinking that these guys are on to something. Maybe he wanted to study it, or maybe more pressing matters came about which led him to forget about these three pesky Christians. The parishoners were probably underground by this time. After seven months of waiting,

Thence he sent them before him to Adrianople, and upon his arrival again summoned Philip to his presence, intimating to him that he had deferred his execution in the hope that, upon mature consideration, he would sacrifice.

Surely, you’ve had plenty of time to see the reasonableness of the governments position. But Philip plays the man and,

The saint boldly replied: “I have already told thee that I am a Christian, and I will always say the same. I will not sacrifice to statues, but only to that God to whom I have consecrated my entire being.”

I sense the denouement coming on.

Angered by this reply, the judge ordered him to be stripped and scourged until the bones and bowels were laid bare. The aged bishop suffered this torture with so much courage, that Justin himself was astonished.

Justin must have been thinking “why won’t you die?!”

Three days afterwards he was again summoned before the tyrant, who inquired why it was that with so much temerity he continued to disregard the imperial edicts.

The saint replied: “That which animates me is not rashness, but the love I bear my God, who one day shall judge me. In worldly matters I have invariably obeyed the rulers, but now the question is, whether I will prefer earth to heaven. I am a Christian, and cannot sacrifice to thy gods.”

These Christians are damned inflexible. Well, inflexible maybe, but surely not damned. Maybe they’re just gung-ho.

Seeing that he could not shake the constancy of the holy bishop, Justin, turning to Hermes, said: ” This old man is weary of life, but thou shouldst not be so reckless of it: offer sacrifice, and consult thy safety.”

Justin figures ol’ Phil is suicidal, so he appeals to the younger Deacon. Would you believe that Hermes takes this as an opportunity to school Justin in reality?

Hermes began to show the impiety of idolatry, but Justin hastily interrupted him, saying: ” Thou speakest as if thou wouldst persuade me to become a Christian.”

“I earnestly desire,” said the saint, ” that this should happen not only to thee, but to all those who hear me.”

Wow! Way to be a witness Deke, and way to try and save a soul too! Not that Justin cared, but that is never the point is it? Hermes and Philip didn’t answer to Justin, but to Our Lord.

Finally, the tyrant, perceiving that he could not win over these generous confessors, pronounced sentence in the following manner:

“We command that Philip and Hermes, for having contemned the imperial edicts, shall be burned alive.”

Time to get this over with.

Sentence having been pronounced, the saints proceeded to the place of execution, evincing by their holy joy that they were two victims consecrated to the Lord. But from having been tortured in the stocks their feet were so sore that the holy bishop had to be supported, while Hermes with great difficulty followed, saying to Philip : “Let us hasten, Father, nor care for our feet, since we shall no longer have need of them.”

Now that is hard corps!

When they came to the place of their martyrdom, according to the custom of the country, they were placed standing in a trench, and covered with earth up to the knees, in order that they might not be able to flee from the fire. Upon entering the trench, Hermes smiled with holy joy, and the fire having been kindled by the executioners, the saints began to thank Almighty God for their death, terminating their prayer and their martyrdom with the usual “Amen.”

Remember the priest, Severus? He was left behind, and not too happy about it. So he started praying,

Severus, who was the other disciple of St. Philip, had been left in prison while his holy bishop consummated his martyrdom in the flames; and having been informed of his glorious triumph, was deeply afflicted at not having been able to bear him company; hence he earnestly besought the Lord not to think him unworthy of sacrificing his life for his glory. His prayers were heard, and on the following day he obtained the desired crown.

And there is a somewhat miraculous twist to the story still because,

After the execution, their bodies were found entire and fresh as in full health, without any trace of fire.

And St. Alphonsus de Liguori (a Doctor of the Church) has this to share to round out this story,

St. Hermes, though a simple deacon, was a distinguished man. He had been first magistrate of the city of Heraclea, and had fulfilled the duties of his office with so much wisdom that he conciliated the esteem and veneration of all his fellow-citizens. After having renounced everything to devote himself to the service of the Church, he took the resolution to live only by the labor of his hands, like the great Apostle (St. Paul), and he had a son named Philip whom he brought up in the same principles.

While the executioners were setting fire to the pile in which he was to be consumed, and perceiving one of his friends in the crowd, he called him and said: “Go, and tell my son: ‘These are the last words of your dying father—words that he leaves you as the most precious marks of his affection. You are young: avoid as dangerous everything that can weaken your soul; above all, avoid sloth; keep the peace with every one.’” The flames having risen prevented him from continuing. These details are given by Ruinart. —ED.

Gung-ho for Christ until the end. Semper Fidelis, Philip, Hermes, and Severus and if you please, pray for us.

Ave Maris Stella, A Poem and a Prayer

The poem below was written by a Scot by the name of John Leyden (1775 – 1811). From what I could find, Leyden was a medical doctor by trade and a Christian. He was even a minister, and according to Wikipedia,

Though he completed his divinity course, and in 1798 was licensed to preach from the presbytery of St Andrews, it soon became clear that the pulpit was not his vocation.

But he evidently had a soft spot in his heart for Our Lady as attested to by the following apologetic words of his publisher in the introduction to these verses,


Though valuing highly the principles of the Protestant faith, we cannot withhold our approval of the many avenues of thought opened up by the Catholic creed, which afford material for beautiful poetry. These stanzes with exception of a few lines are executed in Leyden’s best manner.Many avenues of thought indeed! And material for beautiful poetry? Well, Dr. Leyden was inspired is all that I can figure.  The spray in his face and the wind at his back, set his inner Catholic yearning to breathe free, aboard the good ship ironically named the St. Anthony.  Take a look at what flowed forth from his pen,

Portuguese Hymn

To The Virgin Mary, “The Star of the Sea.”
Written At Sea, On Board The Ship Santo Antonio.Star of the wide and pathless sea,

Who lovest on mariners to shine,

These votive garments wet, to thee,

We hang within thy holy shrine.
When o’er us flash’d the surging brine,
Amid the waving waters tost,
We call’d no other name but thine,
And hoped when other hope was lost.
Ave Maris Stella!
Star of the vast and howling main!
When dark and lone is all the sky,
And mountain-waves o’er ocean’s plain
Erect their stormy heads on high;
When virgins for their true-loves sigh
They raise their weeping eyes to thee;—
The Star of ocean heeds their cry,
And saves the foundering bark at sea.
Ave Maris Stella!
Star of the dark and stormy sea!
When wrecking tempests round us rave,
Thy gentle virgin-form we see
Bright rising o’er the hoary wave;
The howling storms that seem’d to crave
Their victims, sink in music sweet;
The surging seas recede to pave
The path beneath thy glistening feet.
Ave Maris Stella!
Star of the desert waters wild,
Who pitying hears’t the seaman’s cry!
The God of mercy as a child
On that chaste bosom loves to lie;
While soft the chorus of the sky
Their hymns of tender mercy sing,
And angel voices name on high
The mother of the heavenly king.
Ave Maris Stella!
Star of the deep! at that blest name
The waves sleep silent round the keel,
The tempests wild their fury tame,
That made the deep’s foundations reel;
The soft celestial accents steal
So soothing through the realms of woe,
The newly-damn’d a respite feel
From torture in the depths below.
Ave Maris Stella!

Star of the mild and placid seas!

Whom rain-bow rays of mercy crown,
Whose name thy faithful Portuguese,
O’er all that to the depths go down,
With hymns of grateful transport own,
When clouds obscure all other light,
And heaven assumes an awful frown,
The Star of ocean glitters bright.
Ave Maris Stella!
Star of the deep! when angel lyres
To hymn thy holy name assay,
In vain a mortal harp aspires
To mingle in the mighty lay;
Mother of God! one living ray
Of hope our grateful bosoms fires—
When storms and tempests pass away,
To join the bright immortal choirs.
Ave Maris Stella!

And what, pray tell, is this Ave Maris Stella? A beautiful prayer, that’s what.  Again, I’m indebted to the anonymous authors of Wikipedia for the following citation:

“Ave Maris Stella (Latin, “Hail Star of the Sea”) is a plainsong Vespers hymn to the Virgin Mary. It is of uncertain origin and can be dated back at least as far as the eighth century. It was especially popular in the Middle Ages and has been used by many composers as the basis of other compositions. The creation of the original hymn has been attributed to several people, including Saint Venantius Fortunatus.

The melody is found in the Irish plainsong “Gabhaim Molta Bríde”, a piece in praise of St. Bridget. The popular modern hymn Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star, is loosely based on this plainsong original. It finds particular prominence in the “Way of Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary” by Saint Louis de Montfort.”

It is certainly a beautiful way to ask Our Lady to pray for us. Won’t you pray this with me now?

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Because I’m Billy Jack (Not Francis of Assisi)

A while back, I wrote a post where I said that I became a Catholic because I discovered that Christ, and His Church, wanted 100% of me. My whole heart, soul, mind and strength. The full-spectrum of Frank, warts and all. I needed to change, but I didn’t have to stop being a man.

I’m especially thankful for this, as I don’t fit the mold of modern-day milquetoast Christian guy. Namby-pamby, pacifistic, always gentle and kind. The ancients counseled “Know thyself,” and I know this about myself: I’m more like Billy Jack than I am like St. Francis of Assisi.

Remember Billy Jack? The movie character brought to life by Tom Laughlin?  He made four movies as this character. The first was Born Losers where we meet Billy and his back-story. Fresh out of the Army, Special Forces. A former Green Beret, see? Eager to turn his sword into a ploughshare. “I ain’t a gonna study war no more,” as the ditty goes.

But then some bad guys roll into town on their choppers and start terrorizing the locals. Raping, pillaging, and generally carrying on in a despicable manner, disturbing the peace with impunity. Enter Billy Jack, who moves to protect the weak with his gifts of strength and skill. Does he go over the top with his vigilantism? Of course (it’s a movie, after all)!

The next movie he made was simply titled Billy Jack, and now he is seriously trying to make himself into a pacifist Christian guy, like he believes he is supposed to do. A square peg trying to fit into a round hole. But Billy is a warrior, and though in his heart he deplores violence, sometimes he realizes that is what is called for. Like in this scene below,

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That could easily be me. I’m not saying it’s pretty, but the Marine in me, the berserker, can admit that it is pretty true. The difference between me now, and Billy Jack/former Frank, is that a) I know that standing up to bullies and hooligans is not forbidden “Christian man” behavior, and b) if my switch gets tripped and I go nuclear, as Billy Jack does in the clip above, the confessional is only a few blocks away if my conscience screams, “You went too far!”

I understand the use of deadly force. I understand that it is hard to control violence, and that lines are crossed daily, from the misapplication of force, changing lives for the worse forever. But I’m also a man, a husband, a father, and a warrior. A protector of not only my family, but of the innocent, a champion of the oppressed, a friend to the unloved. This is what I, with the help of the Church, am teaching my two boys. Teaching them what it means to be a strong Christian, a strong Catholic man. And I trust that my daughter will benefit from this too.

There has been lots of press lately about young people taking their own lives when they were bullied to the point of no return. If they weren’t physically assaulted, then they were attacked verbally. I’m left with a question to parents of children everywhere: Where are the Christian kids who aren’t afraid to back up the bullied kids? Who aren’t afraid to befriend them? Who actively rally around them and protect them?

Obviously, it takes fortitude to go against the mainstream, especially in the peer-pressure-cooker pack of the school-age set, both in public and private schools. Sometimes, it takes young men with the mindset of Billy Jack to police the halls of the world and keep the peace. Thankfully, there are Warrior Saints I can share with my children too.

We have to teach our children this fortitude, along with the rest of the Cardinal virtues of justice, temperence, and prudence. These complement and put into action the Theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Teaching our children only the latter (the Theological virtues), while neglecting the former, will leave them ill-equipped to be faithful examples of lived Christianity in our world today.

We are called to love, and to pray for peace. But we are not to turn our backs on injustice, or flee from standing up for what is right, or run away from defending the weak.

I pray that my children, and yours, will do the right thing: love and protect all of their peers—the popular, the average, and the unpopular, and that they be virtuous in this life. Amen.

A Poem And A Prayer on Michaelmas

Today is the Feast of St. Michael and the Archangels, also known as Michaelmas. I like the calendar name Michaelmas and that this day used to be a huge festival marking the beginning of Autumn. I actually hope that this day is celebrated extravagantly still somewhere on the globe. Does anyone know?

What follows is a brief hymn penned by Blessed John Henry Newman to mark the occasion. Written in 1862, this was published in 1867 in a volume entitled Verses on Various Occasions.  

Saint Michael
(A hymn)
Thou champion high
Of Heaven’s imperial Bride,
For ever waiting on her eye,
Before her onward path, and at her side,
In war her guard secure, by night her ready guide!
To thee was given,
When those false angels rose
Against the Majesty of Heaven,
To hurl them down the steep, and on them close
The prison where they roam in hopeless unrepose.
Thee, Michael, thee,
When sight and breathing fail,
The disembodied soul shall see;
The pardon’d soul with solemn joy shall hail,
When holiest rites are spent, and tears no more avail.
And thou, at last,
When Time itself must die,
Shalt sound that dread and piercing blast,
To wake the dead, and rend the vaulted sky,
And summon all to meet the Omniscient Judge on high.




Cardinal Newman wielded a mighty pen, as this volume of poems is almost 400 pages in length. I look forward to sharing more of Blessed John Henry’s poetry with you as we make our way through the liturgical calendar.

Now, this feast day would not be complete without a prayer asking St. Michael the Archangel to pray for us and for the Church. Happily, I also found this excellent video presentation of Pope Leo XIII’s original prayer to St. Michael. Composed sometime between 1884 -1898 (I couldn’t find the definitive date), the original prayer is both longer and more soul satisfying than the short version that I am used to seeing.

Pray it along with me now (and please share it with others).

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And how about some recipes for dishes traditionally served on this feast day, courtesy of the good folks at Fish Eaters? Now this is the kind of eating, praying, and loving I can get used too. May I have seconds on the goose please?

Four for the Day (Music for Mondays)

It’s raining, it’s Monday, and Summer is officially over. That about sums it up for me. The weekend was too short, it’s starting to get chilly, and it would have been nice to sleep in on this rainy morning. I hope it’s sunny where you are!

Now matter what the weather is like, try to make the best of it. Here’s what I have on tap for you,

Rainy Days and Mondays. The Carpenters

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Monday, Monday. The Mama’s and the Poppa’s

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Blue Monday. New Order. Don’t you dare dance! Okay, maybe you can tap your feet.

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Manic Monday. The Bangles

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For Dom Lou’s Thoughts on The Effects of Secularization in China

I just finished reading Lou Tseng-Tsiang’s Ways of Confucius and of Christ. In the latter pages of the book, he gives a seminar in Chinese history that I think you may find of interest. Secularization of a culture, the scrubbing away of their religious heritage, is not some new idea. [Read more...]

Because I Was a Stow-Away

Noah built an ark, and Christ built His Church. Hope floats.

For a long time, I was a stow-away aboard His Majesty’s ships. But a few years back, I stopped lurking in the shadows, approached the Captain of one of His frigates, and asked to be added to the rolls of His Majesty’s Fleet.

“All are welcome,” the Captain said. “Of course, you must swear allegiance to Our King and endeavor to follow His dictates and precepts,  which will change you from stem to stern. And, of course, you will be required to work in some capacity aboard the ship. Are you up for this laddie?”

“That is why I am here, sir,” I said with a faltering voice. “I have been a stow-away aboard His Majesty’s ships for years, stealing table scraps, and hiding in the bilge,” I confessed. “I came aboard your particular ship several years ago, and I have been hidden from your attention by one of the crew.”

He laughed heartily, and slapped me on the back and said, “My good fellow, I’ve known about you all along. You thought you escaped my attention, did you? Why, the entire Fleet knows about you, and all of your mates as well. His Majesty knows each one of those who comprise His ship’s company too, be they on the muster rolls, or not.”

I was amazed at this revelation. Stunned.

“Why, a few days before your arrival here,” he continued, “I received a dispatch from the Captain of the last ship you were a stow-away on. The Packet is quite fast, you see, and flies before the wind, unlike that slug of a brig that brought you to the port where you met up with us.”

“You mean you knew I have been on board your ship, sir?,” I stammered. I was amazed that I had not been successful in remaining hidden.

“Of course, and don’t trouble yourself about it. Now that you are going to be added to the rolls, though, I expect a full days work out of you each and every day. Our Majesty expects everyone to do their duty to the utmost of their ability. Is that understood?”

I knuckled my forehead and said in my most seamanlike voice, “Yes sir!”

“Very good, and welcome aboard Seaman Apprentice Weathers. You have much to learn, and much to do, so get on with it.”

And I have been endeavoring to do just that ever since.

 

Because of Thoughts Like These by Blaise Pascal

—Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham

About a month ago, Webster wrote a post about awaking from a long, bad, dream. Blaise Pascal woke me up from a long slumber. His was a shrill alarm too, much like the one on the clock by my nightstand right now. But unlike that one, Blaise’s alarm didn’t have a snooze button. That’s because I had been snoozing for most of my adult life.

Before I bumped into Blaise, I had been sleeping in my shoes, so to speak. My conscience tried to arose my soul from its slumber from time to time, but mainly my ego just kept hitting the snooze button, ten minutes at a time.

The ironic thing is that when I started reading Blaise, I did so with the intent to find evidence of the errors of Catholicism. That lasted for maybe 20 pages. This mathematical genius, who died at 39 years of age in 1662, had deep knowledge of scriptures as well as deep insights into the human condition. And yet, he could explain his thoughts simply and lucidly. In other words, he could tell it like it is.

The selection below is from Chapter XXI of his Thoughts On Religion. It is a long chapter, and the selection below is only the last quarter of it. But it should suffice to show you the decibel level of Blaise’s klaxon. Like my friend John C.H.Wu reported in his life story in Beyond East and West, up until this time I had thought that I was a clever man. After reading this, being by the grace of God in the right frame of mind, I realized that I had been merely sleep walking.

Blaise wrote this in the mid 1600′s, and yet it seemed as fresh as this mornings cup of coffee. And it had the same stimulative effect.

The Strange Contrarieties Discoverable in Human Nature, with regard to Truth and Happiness, and Many Other Things.

Isn’t this lead-in to the chapter provocative? Contrarieties. Now if that isn’t a word for Anu Garg, there aren’t any.

The civil war between reason and passion has occasioned two opposite projects, for the restoration of peace to mankind: The one, of those who were for renouncing their passions, and becoming gods; the other, of those who were for renouncing their reason, and becoming beasts. But neither the one nor the other could take effect. Reason still remains, to accuse the baseness and injustice of the passions, and to disturb the repose of those who abandon themselves to their dominion: And the passions live, even in the hearts of those, who talk the most of their extirpation.

“Reason still remains, to accuse the baseness and injustice of the passions…” And Blaise is saying that this is the role fulfilled by Mother Church, as you will see shortly. That turns the world’s perception of the Church upside down, doesn’t it? Faith and reason are not only compatible, but they have a home. But what of standing on our own two feet?

This is the just account of what man can do, in respect to truth and happiness. We have an idea of truth, not to be effaced by all the wiles of the sceptic; we have an incapacity of argument, not to be rectified by all the power of the dogmatist. We wish for truth, and find nothing in ourselves but uncertainty. We seek after happiness, and find nothing but misery. We must needs desire both truth and happiness, yet we are incapable of both. This desire seems to have been left in us, partly as a punishment, and partly to remind us whence we are fallen.

For a brief period of time, I was a stock-broker. Blaise just described 95 percent of my clients. Which should come as no surprise, given the raw humanity of the markets in motion. Manic-depressive swings up and down, ad infinitum; a game that virtually no one has a definitive lock on. Which, again can be seen in war, politics, sports, etc., etc. So Blaise counters with these thoughts:

* If man was not made for God, why can he enjoy no happiness but in God? If man was made for God, why is he so opposed to God?

* Man is at a loss where to fix himself. He is unquestionably out of his way, and feels within himself the remains of a happy state which he cannot retrieve. He searches in every direction, with solicitude, but without success, encompassed with impenetrable darkness!

By the time I read this, I had come to realize this was true. The world had been grappling with this since the beginning of time, as Blaise explains with elegant simplicity here,

Hence arose the contest amongst the philosophers: some of whom endeavored to exalt man, by displaying his greatness; others to abase him, by representing his misery. And what seems more strange, is, that each party borrowed the arguments of the other, to establish their own opinion.

For the misery of man may be inferred from his greatness, and his greatness from his misery. Thus the one sect demonstrated his misery the more satisfactorily, in that they inferred it from his greatness; and the other the more clearly proved his greatness, because they deduced it from his misery. Whatever was offered by the one, to establish his greatness, served only to evince his misery, as alleged by the other; it being more miserable to have fallen from the greater height.

And the converse is equally true. So that in this endless circle of dispute, each helped to advance his adversary’s cause; for it is certain that the more men are enlightened, the more they will discover of human misery and human greatness. In a word, man knows himself to be miserable. He is, therefore miserable, because he knows himself to be so. But he is also eminently great, because he knows himself to be miserable.

What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a chaos! What a subject of contradiction! A judge of all things, and yet a worm of the earth; the depositary of the truth, and yet a medley of uncertainties; the glory and the scandal of the universe. If he exalt himself, I humble him; if he humble himself, I exalt him; and press him with his own inconsistencies, till he comprehends himself to be an incomprehensible monster.

Not a pretty picture, that. The preceding chapter had ended with the following thoughts,

Without Jesus Christ man is, of necessity, in vice and misery: With Jesus Christ man is released from vice and misery. In him is all our happiness, our virtue, our life, our light, our hope : Out of him there is naught but vice, misery, darkness, and despair; and we can discover naught but obscurity and confusion, whether in the divine nature, or in our own.

I couldn’t have agreed more, because deep down in my soul, I knew this to be true. And in the 28th chapter, Blaise told me emphatically where I needed to go in order to come into the light,

It is the Church, together with Jesus Christ, to whom She is inseparably united, which obtains the conversion of all those who are in error. And it is these converts, who subsequently aid their Mother, to whom they owe their deliverance.

The body can no more live without the head, than the head without the body. He that separates from the one, or the other, is no longer of the body, nor a member of Jesus Christ. All virtues, all mortification, all good works, and even martyrdom itself, are of no worth out of the Church, and out of communion with the head of the Church.

Because Blaise knew what Our Lord meant we He said,

And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.

“Sensitiveness” A Poem By Blessed John Henry Newman

Sensitiveness

Time was, I shrank from what was right,
From fear of what was wrong;
I would not brave the sacred fight,
Because the foe was strong.

But now I cast that finer sense
And sorer shame aside;
Such dread of sin was indolence,
Such aim at heaven was pride.

So, when my Saviour calls, I rise,
And calmly do my best;
Leaving to Him, with silent eyes
Of hope and fear, the rest.

I step, I mount where He has led;
Men count my haltings o’er;—
I know them; yet, though self I dread,
I love his precept more.

—Blessed John Henry Newman

Seal II (Music for Mondays)

A while back, I wrote a post about my Mustang’s harmonic balancer. It turned out that my own “harmonic balancer” was out of whack too.  When my pony sat fallow for all that time, the album that I’m about to share with you sat inside the cassette player. It, just like the car, sat there the whole time.

During the waiting period, I did a lot of work on my house. I did a lot of reading too. I was thinking about becoming a Catholic, but wasn’t committed to the idea…yet. It was the Summer of 2007, and I turned to the task of fixing my car. As I recounted in the post above, I took the ‘Stang to some pro’s. They had her fixed in no time, and on the way home from the shop, I put the top down, and turned the stereo on. And the following tunes began to play.

I had never really listened to the whole album before. I mean, not to the lyrics.  I was that fellow in the Pink Floyd song who was “comfortably numb,” see? But when these songs started playing, they hit me like a ton of bricks, lyrics and all.

I had always liked a couple of the songs, and sang them like a crazy man, occasionally, when blasting around the freeways of Los Angeles in the ‘Stang.  But after my readings and reflecting on my faith, and realizing whose harmonic balancer was really out of whack, coupled with hearing Seal sing these songs on this album, and in this order…well, let’s just say I crossed the “line of departure” and there was no turning back.

Does God work through the secular? I don’t have any doubt about it. After all, it is His world, you know.

Bring It On. This is the first song. You can go to YouTube directly for the lyrics too(for all of the songs below). I’ll just get out of Seal’s way now.

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Prayer for the Dying. You don’t have to have AIDS to be one of the dying. This is all of us.

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Dreaming in Metaphors. Why must we dream in metaphors?
Try to hold on to something we couldn’t understand.

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Don’t Cry. I thought to myself, who is singing this? Our Lord, Our Lady? Both? What has the world done to me…

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Fast Changes. There is a time to wait, and a time to act. For me, it was time to act.

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Kiss From A Rose. I wrote a post on this one earlier here.

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People Asking Why. I mean, I was certainly asking this question, for a long time.

How do I get to where I’ve come from, now?
How will I paint this garden I’ve destroyed, green?
Can I get back to where I’ve come from?

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Newborn Friend. I remember thinking, Christmas in July!

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If I Could. I would explain it all if I could. Some things just can’t be put into words.

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I’m Alive. I heard this and the part of the lyrics you see here? I must have rewound that tape 20-25 times to make sure. Yep, I heard that right.

Your hands found me.
Blood on the cross,
And it changed my life.

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Bring It On(Reprise). Right back where we started. Get thee to RCIA!

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