Because Once Upon A Time, The Premier of China Was A Catholic

Imagine that you woke up to the news this morning that a former President of the United States, say Jimmy Carter for example, has just held a press conference saying that he has entered the Abbey at Gethsemane to become a Cistercian monk. Would you be flabbergasted? Amazed? Incredulous? Or would you be intrigued? That’s how I felt when I learned the news that I am going to share with you today. [Read more...]

Because On This Championship Ball Club, Everyone Can Play

Early on, before I officially started upon the path to becoming a Catholic, I read Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. I had already read Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, and Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ by the time I rolled around to Merton. In baseball terms, it was a strike-out for the side— the side of the Church, that is. Here is the play-by-play.

Blaise was the first pitch, thrown to the inside corner of the plate, and caught me looking. Looking up at the scoreboard, I saw the number “102″ flash under the MPH sign. Gulp. Then, Thomas #1 came in like a fastball, forcing me to swing. But it was a slider and the bottom fell out of that pitch as I swung the bat. No contact at all. By this time, I was 0-2 in the count, and that isn’t where you want to be as a batter.

Because being 0-2 in the count plants some serious seeds of doubt in your mind. Consider, when I first got up to the plate, I was convinced that the Catholic Church, er ball club, had not a leg to stand on. I knew, just knew, that I could handle any and every pitch that it threw at me.

But now I was 0-2 in the count, so I just did what I had to do. I choked up on the bat, determined to make contact. That is when She (they have females in this league) threw me the Merton pitch. It was a killer rainbow curve that caught me just like this one,

YouTube Preview Image

Wow. You don’t have to understand the language being verbally spoken in that video, to realize that this was an amazing last pitch, now, do you? Watching that replay over and over again in my own mind, I knew there was only one thing to do; call my agent and beg him to trade me to the same ball team that these guys played for. Thankfully, I swallowed my pride and the trade worked out. And now, here I am playing on the same team with the legends of the game.

The interesting thing about this here ball club (metaphor alert! read “the Catholic Church”) is that the players come from all over. That used to be unheard of in the big leagues at one time. Heck, some teams are still basically drawing their players from only one geographic area, or culture. But not this team.

Oh they tried that, early on, if you recall. Yeah, way back in the beginning when our first manager, a guy by the name of Peter, had it out with one of the star players on the squad, Paul. The row between these two in the clubhouse was about trying to make everybody who came from another place, fit the same exact mold of the original guys, even if they came from another culture altogether different. It’s all right there at the Baseball Hall of Fame Archives Center.

Man, the dust must have been flying in the dugout that day. But the two agreed that forcing everyone to adopt the same cultural practices of the country that the original players came from didn’t make sense because it wouldn’t help them to win ball games. They knew that the only culture that really mattered, is the Team’s culture. And our owners (there are Three of Them, though the uncanny thing is, They all think and act as One) take winning ball games very seriously.

I saw a story in the sports pages the other day that sounded like “Déjà vu, all over again” as another baseball great, named Yogi Berra, once remarked. A bunch of guys thinking that some people just can’t play baseball.  Period. Bats and gloves, and cleats are just too foreign to them, was the argument. What a load of hooey.

I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all. Because as best as I can recall it, and check the Rule Book for me on this one, the Owners say everybody can play baseball. No matter who you are, or what country or culture you come from. Let me see…yeah, here it is. This is from one of the Owners,

All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19)

That Owner, named Jesus? He came down and played ball with everyone at one time. He was a major “game changer” back in the day and as hard as this is to believe, the “old game” players took him out and killed him for revolutionizing baseball. But the amazing thing is, He came back to life (I told you He was a “game changer”) and he gave us all that play above to carry out,  right before he headed back to the Owners’ Sky Box.

So let’s go play some baseball, huh? Stop worrying about if some can play the game and some can’t. Because it has been proven, over time that everyone can play on this ball club. And don’t forget this either, have fun out there.

Because St. Anthony Helped Me Find John C.H. Wu

Anyone remember Webster’s first post on minor miracles? Something a little more than a coincidence led me to John C. H. Wu and I’m not ashamed to go “on the record” and say that. While browsing the shelves of my local public library, I came upon this little volume called St. Anthony’s Treasury. It’s a wee little book of prayers that is about the size of a pocket New Testament, like the ones the Gideon’s publish.

Catholic prayer books in the public library? That’s a minor miracle in itself, right? I know it was a gift from a patron. How? Because in pencil on the top right-hand corner of the blank page facing the inside cover is written carefully the word “gift.” The library, see, doesn’t have the money to purchase every published book under the sun. Especially not little Catholic prayer books like this one.

So I checked the book out, with the intention of looking over the prayers and devotions later. I was on my break and as I walked back to my office I learned about the First Friday Devotions right there on page 76. I always wondered what that devotion was all about. As someone who pretty regularly attends daily Mass, First Fridays are the same as every Friday, or so I thought. Now I know better.

When I got back to the office, I tossed the book into my book bag and forgot about it. And when I got home that evening, I dropped my bag in its customary resting place.  I forgot about it again until I needed to put my lunch into it the next morning. My routine? Grab my lunch, stuff it in the bag, grab my coffee, and out the door. Just another day, so far.

I work downtown and park in a garage that is about a ten minute walk from my office. So I get out of the car, throw my bag over my shoulder, lock the car and start walking. Oh yeah, then I dug into the bag and pulled out St. Anthony’s Treasury to read while I walked. Who knows? Maybe I’d learn something new.

The day before, I had checked the contents and skipped to the first devotion that caught my eye. For my walk, however, I started in the foreword, which is where I used to never look. You know, from before, when I was a “know-it-all.” I used to never read introductions, prefaces, or forewords, because I just wanted to get right to the action. I learned over the years that this wasn’t always a great idea.

So to the foreword it was. Written by a Robert Nash, S.J., he reminds us that St. Anthony is renowned as an “expert in the art of finding lost articles.” Does everyone know St. Anthony’s Prayer? You have lost something, say, and can’t find it anywhere. So you ask St. Anthony of Padua to help you out by calling on him like so,

St. Anthony!, St. Anthony!
Please come down.
Something is lost,
And can’t be found.

But, as far as I knew, I hadn’t lost anything on this day, so I kept on reading Fr. Nash’s foreword which was a lamentation on the huge numbers of people who have lost their faith and don’t really seem to care about it. It sounded like he was sulking, really, and I was just going to turn the page when I ran smack dab into these words,

The pagan philosopher Dr. Wu read…this in the Life of St. Thérèse. “What a wonderful girl!” he exclaimed. “If this saying of hers is an expression of the meaning of Catholic faith I see no reason why I should not become a Catholic.”

Having done a few posts on a guy named Wu, I was intrigued. The Wu I knew, though, became a Jesuit priest way before Thérèse of Lisieux had been born. As I walked, I resolved to see if I could find any information on this “pagan philosopher” named Wu, because from the quote Fr. Nash used, he sounded like a smart guy to me.

Now, this foreward is in the edition of St. Anthony’s Treasury that was published in 1975 by the Anthonian Press out of Dublin Ireland. I had some pretty good clues on this Wu person, and a Google search later, I had discovered that the guy who uttered these words was no pagan. Heck, by 1975, my friend John had been a Catholic for 38 years, and had published numerous books about the Faith. He had been an envoy to the Vatican in the early 1940′s, for crying out loud, and this Fr. Nash had no idea!

Something had been lost, alright, but it wasn’t my car keys. It was the Catholic legacy of John C.H. Wu that had been lost. Perhaps St. Anthony was pointing me in this direction so that John’s legacy can be rediscovered? That’s what I believe, anyway. Especially when I realized that most of his books are out of print, and used copies of them are few and far between. And expensive! Which got me thinking too.

Take a look at this map below.

This is the map of the world shaded by percentage of the population that identifies themselves as being Christian. See the big light colored space? Like all the way from Casablanca on the coast of Morocco to the islands of Japan? Less than 10 percent of the people in these areas are Christians. And the most populated country on that map is the Peoples Republic of China, right next to the second most populated country, the Republic of India.

Which leads me to make this appeal to the good folks at Our Sunday Visitor. Would OSV please consider republishing the works of John C.H. Wu if they still own the rights to them? I think the market for John’s books is pretty large. Heck, I love what he has written too and I’ve only read The Science of Love so far. He is the “Chinese” Chesterton after all. Just imagine the souls that could be reached in Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Arabic, and other lanquages.

What do you say OSV? Can you bring John’s work back to the presses (or to Kindle)? St. Anthony has found him, but we here at YIMCatholic do not have a printing press. Thanks in advance for taking up this cause. If anyone reading this post knows anyone who can help make this happen, I would be much obliged.

Thanks to Pink Floyd (Music for Mondays)

I’m warning you early—this edition of MfM will eat up your entire lunch hour. And if you don’t like rock n’ roll, get out now while there is still time.

Wait a second, I take that back. Stay. Because maybe, just maybe, everything you heard about Pink Floyd, is wrong. That is how it was for me and the Catholic Church for a long time, see? I was listening to people’s opinions instead of checking out the facts for myself. You all know where that led, as this blogs marquee proclaims. Besides, who else will show you Roger Waters, David Gilmore & Co. like this?

So what is it about these drug-crazed hippies that I think you should find appealing? You may be thinking to yourself, Obviously Frank…can’t you tell a bunch of sinners when you see them? [Read more...]

Because of Catholics like the “Chinese Chesterton”

Today I want to introduce you to another man from China named Wu, who also became a Catholic. His full name is Wu Jingxiong, or Wu Ching-hsiung. As he spent much of his life in Western countries, he did what many do and adopted an Anglicized form of his name: John Ching Hsiung Wu, or John C. H. Wu for short.

Earlier this year, before summer started, I happened upon the story of a Chinese painter and poet who became a Catholic, way back in the year of Our Lord 1681. His name is Wu Li and I wrote several posts about him, his art, and his poetry. He eventually became a Jesuit Priest and spent the remainder of his years serving Christ as a missionary to his native land.

It was an exciting discovery, for me anyway, to find a convert to Catholicism whose decision to become a Catholic made my own decision to join the Church look like a cake-walk. There I was,  thinking that my swimming the Tiber had been the biggest step that anyone could have ever possibly taken. But from a cultural perspective, living in a nation founded on Christian principles, it can’t begin to compare to the decision Wu Li made to become a Catholic. Unlike Wu Li, though, John is a modern convert to the Church, having been born in the year 1899 and passing on to eternity in 1986.

John had already made the leap to Christianity, as a Methodist, 20 years before he entered the Roman Catholic Church, so he was a bold pioneer who stepped aside from the norms of his own culture early on. Again, I’m humbled by stories of courageous, audacious actions of converts like these. See what the Holy Spirit can do? So how did he wind up becoming a Catholic? That’s where the story gets good.

But first, the biographical information that will help you understand my new friend better.  I am indebted to the work of Li Xiuqing, editor-in-chief of the Journal of East China University Political Science and Law for her paper on the college life of John, as well as to Nicholas Howson of the University of Michigan School of Law for translating it. Howson’s commentary appears in italics below.

John was born in 1899 in Ningbo, China, a little town south, and across the bay, from Shanghai. Details of his youth are lacking, but he wrote of them and when I get my hands on one of his books, I look forward to learning more. He studied and graduated from the Suhzou University Law School with an L.L.B in 1920, and then went on to obtain his J.D. degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1921. Yep, you read that correctly, one year later.  Because he was a “young man in a hurry,” see? I know the type. Howson writes the following,

John C. H. Wu is one of the giants of post-Imperial Chinese law, philosophy, education and religion, who visited at law schools and universities throughout the United States and Europe — including Paris (1921), Harvard (1923 and 1930) and Northwestern (1929). He engaged in a long correspondence with Justice Holmes between 1921 and 1935, founded “Tianhsia Monthly” (1935) as a bridge between Chinese and Western culture, and served as Vice Chairman of the KMT-era Legislative Yuan’s Constitutional Drafting Committee starting in the early 1930s. In fact, he is well-known in China and Taiwan as the principle drafter of the 1946 Chinese Constitution, largely based on his June 1933 draft constitution (still described in Chinese as the “Wu draft”).

Whaat?! Yes, he wrote a government’s constitution. Like Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Morris, et al., wrote the U.S. Constitution. And he corresponded with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as well. He was getting pretty well known. Did I mention he later became Chief Justice of a district court in China too?

In January 1927, he was appointed by the Jiangsu Provincial Government to sit as a judge on the new “Shanghai Provisional Court”, a court with jurisdiction over all controversies in the Shanghai International Settlement, except those cases where the defendants were citizens of the Treaty nations. (As he exulted to Justice Holmes at that time, “I shall try to Holmesianize the Law of China!”) He was later promoted to Chief Justice and then President of the same Court.

Soon he tired of this position and left it to further hone and polish his legal expertise by heading to the United States for a few plum assignments.

He resigned from the Court in the Fall of 1929 to return to the United States as a Rosenthal Lecturer at Northwestern Law School (Winter 1929) and a Research Fellow at the Harvard Law School (Spring 1930). By the Fall of 1930 he had returned to Shanghai, where he practiced law until the Japanese invasion.

And from what I gather, he became a wealthy and very influential lawyer during that short time—and disenchanted, nay, with an empty feeling inside as a result. Surely there is more to life than this. It is time for a saint to intervene. More on that further on, but first, let’s round out his career.

After 1937 John Wu rediscovered his early Christian faith, only now as a Catholic and not a Methodist, and went on to an equally rich career as a Catholic intellectual and leader, translating the New Testament and the Psalms into Chinese, and serving as Chinese minister to the Vatican in 1947-8. (He later, in 1961, completed a still popular English translation of Laozi’s Taoist classic, the Tao Teh Ching (Classic of the Way).

He kept busy, huh? It’s humbling to me to think of translating a menu at a restaurant into English, but John translated the entire New Testament and the Psalms into Mandarin. Gulp! And my friend Jonathan Chaves informs me that his translation of the Tao Teh Ching is excellent. And he was the Chinese minister to the Vatican too? Sheeeeesh. What more can this guy possibly have accomplished? Well, there was revolution brewing back home, see. Surely that tripped him up.

In February 1949 he returned from Rome to Shanghai and was asked by the Guomindang Prime Minister Sun Fo (Sun Yat-sen’s son) and Acting President Li Chung-zen (Chiang Kai-shek having “retired” to his home of Ningbo, prior to his transfer to Taiwan) to be China’s Minister of Justice. The appointment was never formalized with the collapse of the Sun Fo cabinet, and in March 1949 – after a final, melancholy, interview with Chiang Kai-shek at their shared hometown Ningbo – John Wu departed China for the last time. After the 1949 Revolution, he was a long-time professor at the University of Hawaii and later still Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Wow. Have you seen the movie Field of Dreams? “Hey Rookie—you were good!” This guy was a secular superstar if there ever was one. And then he became a Catholic and, to use a baseball term, he kept hitting long balls over the fence. I mean, Mao Zedong came to power on the mainland and John left China and settled in the United States none the worse for wear. At least that’s how is seems. Of course there is probably more to the story, much more.

That’s enough for the particulars though, wouldn’t you say? Not quite, because there are a few more things to cover. According to Dr. Karl Schmude, of Campion College in Sydney, Australia, John was given the sobriquet “the Chinese Chesterton” by “a Chinese-Australian lady whom the Australian author and publisher Frank Sheed met in Sydney in 1944.” Sheed published one of John’s books about Catholicism entitled Beyond East and West and I can’t wait to read it.

John authored a number of books. As mentioned above, some were related to his cultural heritage, like his translation of the Tao. Others concerned his profession as a lawyer. After his conversion to Catholicism, his writing career flourished as a means to explain his conversion to others and as a way to explore the common ground between Confucianism and Catholicism. In fact, he wrote another book that I look forward to reading entitled From Confucianism to Catholicism.

Here is a list of his published works,

Jingxiong Wu, Juridical Essays and Studies

Some Unpublished Letters of Justice Holmes

The Art of Law and Other Essays Juridical and Literary

Essays in Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy

The Science of Love: A Study in the Teachings of Thérèse of Lisieux

Justice Holmes to Doctor Wu: An Intimate Correspondence 1921-1932

From Confucianism to Catholicism

Beyond East and West

The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love

Fountain of Justice: A Study in Natural Law

Justice Holmes: A New Estimate

Cases and Materials on Jurisprudence

Chinese Humanism and Christian Spirituality

Sun Yat-sen: The Man and His Ideas

The Four Seasons of T`ang Poetry

Zhongguo zhe hsuëh [Chinese philosophy]

The Golden Age of Zen

*Translations*

Jingxiong Wu, Tao Teh Ching

Not quite as prolific as Chesterton, you say? Sure, but John was a law professor for his day job, remember? That can take up a little bit of your time too. Anyway, I think I’ve covered the basics of what you need to know about my newest friend in the faith for one post. I’ll delve more into the particulars of John’s “rediscovery of his Christian faith,” and what led him to Rome, in a post tomorrow.

For Thoughts Like These from Robert Hugh Benson

Robert Hugh Benson was an English convert to Catholicism. No big deal, right? Wrong! You see, RHB had been ordained an Anglican priest in 1895. The thing was, his dad was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time.  Think of how proud his parents and the rest of his family were of him.

In 1896, his father passed away suddenly, and Benson himself was ill as well. While on a field trip to recover his health, he began delving into his beliefs and began to lean toward becoming a Catholic. His relatives were underwhelmed with the idea of the son of the late head of the Church of England doing such a thing. Preposterous—but Bobbie did just that in 1903. [Read more...]

There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Back in June, I shared a poem by Frederick Faber in this space.  This week, I share the words of a hymn he wrote. You can find the music, too, and sing along if you like.  But I actually prefer these words without the music.

I first read read them in my favorite book about my favorite Old Testament book. Faber wrote lots of hymns, Faith of Our Fathers being one of the better known ones. This hymn is a gift that reminds me of the passage that St. Paul writes to the Corinthians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.(2Cor. 1:3-4)

Though the road that leads to life is narrow, God’s mercy is not.

There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.

‘Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
It is something more than all;
Greater good because of evil,
Larger mercy through the fall.

If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.

Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?

It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
‘Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?

For All the Saints: The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne

Guest post by William “Mac” McCarthy

Blogging makes surprising connections. Back in the day when I was a lapsed Episcopalian and he was the rare Catholic at our New England school, Mac lived down the hall from me. Forty years later, now an attorney in Bakersfield, California, he read YIM Catholic and quickly promised me a write-up on an extraordinary group of Catholic martyrs, whom we honor on July 17.

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”

During the French Revolution’s Reign of terror, on the evening of July 17, 1794, in Paris’s Place de la Nation, a hardened crowd waited at the guillotine for the carts carrying that day’s “batch” from the Palais de Justice. A heavy stench from the putrefying blood in the pit below the scaffold hung over the plaza. During the five weeks the guillotine had stood in the Place de la Nation, a thousand severed heads had fallen into the blood-stiffened leather bag of Sanson, the Paris executioner. The blood pit had been enlarged once already but had quickly filled up again.

Usually, raucous jeers from where Rue du Faubourg St. Antoine emptied into the plaza would signal the approach of the tumbrels carrying the condemned. Not this night. A strange hush spread into the plaza. Then there was something else. Singing. Serene, female voices intoning a cool, effortless chant of verse after verse of the Te Deum.

When the tumbrels rolled up to the scaffold, the crowd grew silent. The singers were sixteen sisters from the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Compiegne. They wore long white choir mantles (cloaks) over brown robes similar to nuns’ habits. Such attire had long since been outlawed in the new order. But these women were not of the new order. Their religious clothing and singing in Latin embodied the lost time before the storming of the Bastille and the start of the revolution on July 14, 1789. Also, while plenty of priests and some nuns had been executed individually, never had an entire religious community been carted up to the guillotine. Their radiant, happy faces were wrong for this place. They should have looked sad. They were about to die. They looked joyous. The other twenty-four condemned prisoners with them looked unhappy.

The reason for the Carmelites’ happiness was their belief that the guillotine was the answer to their prayers. Every day for almost two years, since about the time of the September 1792 massacres, the sisters had made a daily act of consecration in which they offered their own lives to God as a sacrifice to restore peace, help France, and stop the killing. For Christ, their heavenly Spouse, to actually accept their offer of themselves in holocaust and grant them their martyrdom gave them great joy.

Three hours earlier at the Palais de Justice, the sisters had been condemned to death. A show trial proved them “enemies of the people.” The blatantly false charges included “hiding weapons in your convent.” In answer, the 41-year old prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, lifted her crucifix from her bosom and held it up to the presiding judge saying, “The only weapon we’ve ever had in our convent is this. You cannot prove we have ever had any others.” They had no convent anyway. The revolutionary government had confiscated it and ejected them in September 1792. Carmel Compiegne and everything in it had been sold to finance the revolution.

A fellow prisoner who saw them return from hearing their death sentences reported their faces were “beaming with joy.” A Parisian working class woman who watched the Carmelites pass by on the tumbrels had shouted, “What good souls! Just look at them! Tell me if you don’t think they look just like angels! I tell you, if these women don’t go straight to paradise, then we’ll just have to believe it doesn’t exist!”

At the scaffold, the sisters performed devotions normal for dying Carmelites. The nuns renewed their monastic vows of poverty chastity and obedience. They sang the Veni Creator Spiritus:

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav’nly aid,
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made. …

One sister, was heard to cry out, “Only too happy, O my God, if this little sacrifice can calm your wrath and reduce the number of victims.”

Then Mother Teresa of Saint Augustine walked over to the foot of the scaffold steps and turned to face her spiritual daughters. In the palm of her hand, the prioress held a tiny terracotta image of the Virgin and Child, a last relic saved from Carmel Compiegne. She summoned Sister Constance, the youngest sister, who approached.

This was 29-year-old Sister Contance’s first act of obedience as a professed Carmelite. Moments before, as her sisters were renewing their vows, she was pronouncing her vows for the first time. In 1789, at the start of the Revolution, just before she completed her novice year, the revolutionary government prohibited the taking of religious vows. So, after six years as a novice, she finally made her profession in extremis. Previously, she had expressed a terrible fear of the guillotine. She would show no fear this night.

At the steps, Sister Constance knelt at her prioress’s feet and received a blessing. She kissed the clay Madonna and Child cupped in her prioress’ hand. Finally, bowing her head, she asked:

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”

Sister Constance rose from her knees. A witness described her as radiant as “a queen going to her receive her diadem.“ As she began her climb up to the scaffold, she spontaneously intoned the Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, the 117th Psalm. That psalm was sung by the Discalced Carmelite Order’s mother-foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, at the foundation of every new Carmel in 16th-century Spain. Hearing Sister Constance, her sisters immediately took up the chant:

Praise the Lord, all ye nations!
Praise Him all ye people!
For his mercy is confirmed upon us,
And the truth of the Lord endureth forever!
Praise the Lord!

At the top of scaffold steps, still joined in chant with her sisters, Sister Constance waved aside the executioner and his valet. She walked on her own to the vertical balance-plank; was strapped to it; and then lowered into horizontal position. With a swoosh and a thud, the guillotine had cut the number of voices to 15. The remaining voices rose in defiance. Even before her falling head reached Sanson’s leather bag, Sister Constance was in the arms of her heavenly Spouse in the Kingdom of the Lamb.

The exact order in which the other 15 sisters climbed the scaffold has not come down to us. We know only the last two sisters. What is known is that the guillotine mob remained silent the whole time, an almost impossible–or one could say miraculous–occurrence. The bumps, clicks, swooshes and thuds of the death apparatus told of the deadly business. But the calm, austere chant of the Laudate Dominum never stopped.

About every two minutes, one voice would fall away from the others, to be heard no more by mortal ears. Each sister, when her time came, went to her Mother and knelt; received a blessing; and kissed the Madonna and Child statuette.

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”

Here are the names of the other sisters:

Sister Jesus Crucified, choir sister, age 78. She and Sister Charlotte had celebrated their jubilee of 50 years of profession.

Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, choir sister, age 78. The martyrs arrived at the Paris Concierge (jail) from Compiegne on July 13 after a two-day journey in open carts. Sister Charlotte was unable to rise and step out of the cart with her sisters. She could only walk with a crutch, but her hands were tied behind her back. Exhausted, she sat alone in the tumbrel in the soiled straw. An angry guard jumped up and tossed her out onto the cobblestones. After lying still for a while, Sister Charlotte lifted her bloodied head and gently thanked the brutal guard for not killing her. She wanted to live long enough to make her witness with her sisters.

Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conception, choir sister, age 58

Sister Julie Louise of Jesus, choir sister, age 52. Sister Julie Louise of Jesus entered Carmel as an aristocratic young widow. Well educated and musically talented, she composed a song or poem every year for the community’s July 16 patronal festival, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This year, at the Concierge in Paris, since writing materials were forbidden in jail, she managed to obtain scraps of charcoal. She composed a long five stanza song about a happy martyrdom and set it to the tune of the bloodthirsty La Marseillaise. One line went, “Let’s climb, let’s climb, the scaffold high!” The day before they went to the guillotine, all the sisters gaily sang Sister Julie Louise’s feast day song. Their only disappointment was they would not die on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Sister Teresa of the Heart of Mary, choir sister, age 52

Sister Saint Martha, lay sister, age 52

Sister Catherine, extern, age 52

Sister Marie of the Holy Spirit, lay sister, age 51

Sister Teresa of Saint Ignatius, choir sister, age 51

Mother Henriette of Jesus, past prioress and novice mistress, choir sister, age 49

Sister Teresa, extern, age 46

Sister Saint Louis, subprioress, choir sister, age 42

Sister Saint Francis Xavier, lay sister, age 30

Sister Henriette of the Divine Providence, choir sister, age 34. This sister was the second to last to die. She was a fiery beauty, whose nine adult bothers and sisters included two priests and five nuns. Fearing her natural beauty would be a distraction, she had withdrawn from the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, a public nursing order and sought out the hidden life in the cloister at Carmel. One of her sisters became the Superior General of all the Sisters of Charity of Nevers. (This was the order of St Bernadette of Lourdes.)

In the courtroom at the Revolutionary Tribunal on the day of her martyrdom, she boldly challenged the Tribunal’s notorious public prosecutor, Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, to define what he meant by calling her community “fanatic.” In response to her repeated demands that he stop avoiding her question and answer it, the prosecutor finally said their “attachment to their religion” made them criminals and dangers to public freedom. At the guillotine, since she was the Carmel’s infirmarian, she took a place by the steps and helped her older, weaker sisters up the scaffold steps.

The psalm chant stopped only when the last Carmelite, the prioress—Mother Teresa of Saint Augustine, age 41, had climbed the scaffold steps and followed her daughters. She was the only child of an employee of the Paris Observatory. Since she was not from a wealthy family, the generous young Dauphine of France, Marie Antoinette, had paid her dowry for Carmel. The prioress was well educated and artistic. Some of her paintings still hang on the walls of French Carmels. She was only 34 when she was first elected prioress. She is believed to be the first nun to have felt the call to community martyrdom.

Before beginning her walk up the steps, the prioress made the sign of the cross and paused. A pious woman in the crowd, who saw the hesitation, understood and moved up to discreetly take the tiny terracotta Virgin and Child statuette from the hand of the great prioress of Carmel Compiegne. The statuette was kept safe and has come down to us.

Ten days after the Carmelites of Compiegne fulfilled their vow and offered themselves up in sacrifice to stop the bloodshed, Robespierre fell from power. A bloody revolutionary, he was a key architect of the Reign of Terror. The next day, July 28, 1794, he was guillotined and the Reign of Terror soon faded.

That the martyrs were able to wear parts of their forbidden habits at the guillotine, like their white choir mantles, was due to unusual coincidences or, more likely, the hand of God. After their expulsion from Carmel Compiegne, they had been forbidden to wear their habits. With no money to buy clothes, they had to accept worn out, cast-off, immodest clothing. They draped scarves over their shoulders and necks to protect their modesty.

But, on July 12, 1794, in the jail in Compiegne (a confiscated convent) they had donned what remained of their habits in order to wash their single outfits of civilian clothing. At the same time, the mayor received an order from the Paris Committee of Public Safety ordering the martyrs’ immediate transport to Paris for “trial.” The secular clothes were soaking in wash tubs. Delaying the execution of the Paris order was unthinkable (and too risky) for the Compiegne officials. Therefore, the martyrs went to Paris in what they had left of their forbidden habits. Perhaps, when their Lord decided to accept their offer of martyrdom, He also granted the martyrs the tender mercy of dying in their beloved, long, white choir mantles.

The worn-out, immodest civilian clothes left soaking in the tubs at Compiegne had yet another role in God’s plan. Confined in the Compiegne jail with the Carmelites had been 17 English Benedictine sisters. Four others had already died in jail. They had been arrested as foreigners in 1792 at their monastery in Cambrai. A granddaughter of St. Thomas More had founded the monastery when Catholic religious orders were forbidden in England. Though kept apart, Benedictines learned of the Carmelites’ daily consecration to sacrifice themselves to restore peace and free prisoners.

After the Carmelites were taken to Paris, the Compiegne jailers made the Benedictines wear the Carmelites’ abandoned civilian clothes. The Benedictines were still wearing them when they were finally allowed to sail for England in 1795. That community eventually founded England’s famous Stanbrook Abbey. Today, Benedictines at Stanbrook still honor the Carmelites as martyrs whose deaths somehow stopped the killing and saved the jailed Benedictine sisters from the guillotine. In 1895, Stanbrook Abbey returned many of the “wash tub” clothes as venerated relics to the newly reestablished Carmel Compiegne.

The martyrs were beatified by St. Pius X on May 13, 1906. Their memory is celebrated on July 17 by both branches of the Carmelites and the archdiocese of Paris.

Several successful literary and artistic works have helped spread the martyrs’ story around the world. They include Gertrude von De Fort’s famous 1931 novella, Song at the Scaffold, which in turn inspired Georges Bernanos’ Les Dialogues des Carmelites (1949), as well as Francis Poulenc’s opera (1957) and an Italian-French film (1959), both also named Les Dialogues des Carmelites.

Almost all the historical facts used in this post come from William Bush’s outstanding book, To Quell the Terror: The Mystery of the Vocation of the Sixteen Carmelites of Compiegne Guillotined July 17, 1794, ICS Publications (1999). The same goes for a lot of the wording and observations in this posting. Bush has spent many years studying the martyrs. His book has a picture of the terracotta statuette and photos of art work by the martyrs, including a beautiful pastel of Christ on the Cross by Mother Teresa of Saint Augustine. Any errors, misstatements, or unclear writing here in this post are this writer’s fault.

For a short, brilliant essay on the martyrs, Catholicism, and modern times, read “The Mantle of Elijah: The Martyrs of Compiegne as Prophets of the Modern Age” by Terrye Newkirk, OCDS. It is only 11 pages and easily downloaded from the ICS website.

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”

Matt Maher (Music for Mondays)

Does anyone remember Webster’s little secret? Well, how about Christian Contemporary music written and performed by a Catholic? No need to keep that a secret, right? But heck, I’m probably the last Catholic to ever hear of Matt Maher or his music.

Now, I first heard one of his songs on the Message, which I play whenever I’m driving my wife’s car on taxi duty.  A quick search on the internet later and I learned that he is a Catholic, which really wouldn’t matter if he couldn’t carry a tune. But from the selections below you will hear that he can do that quite handily.

Now, there is no need for me to re-write Maher’s website for him in order to introduce him to you.  Besides, I don’t know enough about him to write much anyway. You can read all about him yourself here. But before you go there, have a listen to the following tunes I was able to cobble together from the videos available on YouTube. Many of these include the lyrics to the songs, so I’ll keep my comments to a minimum.

As far as I can tell, there are a lot of good songs that Maher has put out. He has released 5 albums in his career so far and he does a lot of touring.  He has been out and about since 2002, but I never got the memo. In case you didn’t either, I hope you will enjoy these as much as I do.

The artists introduction to Hold Us Together.

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Hold Us Together

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Great Things

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Alive Again. When writing the songs for this album, Maher determined that “the over-arching theme that emerged seemed to be centering on what it means to be alive. The whole notion that God became a human being should change the way we look at what it means to be human, and ultimately the way it leads us is back to the cross.”

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Your Grace Is Enough

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As It Is In Heaven

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Empty and Beautiful

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Lay It Down

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Head on over to i-Tunes and pick up one of his albums (I just did!).  And then check his website to see if he may be coming to a concert hall near you.

Would You Believe The Who? (Music for Mondays)

The Who, the bad boys of rock n’ roll. I can hear some of you saying You’re kidding, right Frank?! You think there is any redeeming quality to any of the music these artists have produced? Well, if you ask me, my answer is a resounding Yes! Keep in mind, the beautiful thing about art is it is subject to personal interpretation. So I can truthfully say that some of the hit songs of this particular band have always struck me as spiritual.

Don’t try to explain to me that Pete Townsend and company are a bunch of sinners up to their neck in filth, etc. I’m not saying they are perfect.  I’m not saying that they are Catholics, and I’m not saying that all their songs, especially their most recent stuff, pass muster for the faithful. But hey, here’s an idea, let’s pray for them!

Then, bear with me as I present you with a few of their tunes that I always feel inspired by. Because as Webster said once, “being Catholic is like walking around with a blazing torch in your hand, one that illuminates everything you encounter, at least for me. So everything is a good subject for YIM Catholic, because Jesus Christ is everywhere, all the time.” Indeed, is that not what Allison wrote about yesterday? As Our Lord said in the Gospel reading yesterday, “who do you say that I am?” So let’s see what good I can find from the work of this famous rock n’ roll band with the name from Our Lord’s query.

First up, from their 1967 Album “The Who Sell Out,” I Can See For Miles.  Sure, on the surface it’s a love story gone wrong.  But from a different perspective, one gained standing on the foundation of Scripture coupled with riding on the shoulders of the writings of the Early Church Fathers, I feel this way when confronting “the deceiver” day to day.

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I’m Free, from the rock-opera Tommy. Maybe I’m just an eternal optimist, but this is how I feel when I let go of the tiller and hand myself over to Our Lord. Sure, it’s hard not to try and grab the wheel back from time to time. But I notice that whenever I do the driving, I don’t get this feeling. This version of the song is from Tommy, the movie and rich in symbolism.

If I told you what it takes
to reach the highest high,
You’d laugh and say ‘nothing’s that simple’
But you’ve been told many times before
Messiahs pointed to the door
And no one had the guts to leave the temple!

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See Me, Feel Me. From the closing scene of the movie Tommy as well. Have you ever felt like this as you contemplate Our Lord and Savior? Maybe Roger Daltrey is singing about the sun, but when I sing it, it’s about The Son. This scene reminds me a bit of Psalm 121 and I think of Mary the sister of Lazarus when hearing these words,

Listening to you, I get the music
Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet

Have a look:

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If you have an hour(and change) to kill, you can watch the entire rock-opera Tommy as performed live in Los Angeles at the Universal Amphitheater in 1989 at the link here. Low resolution video, and lots of guest stars too(Stevie Wynwood, Billy Idol,Patti Labelle, Phil Collins, and Elton John). Be advised, some ‘R’ rated lyrics when Billy Idol comes aboard.

The Seeker. Recorded after Tommy, and it seems to be another unintentional spiritual hit, with me anyway. According to the link (see title), Pete Townsend says “it sounded great in the mosquito-ridden swamp I made it up in, Florida at three in the morning, drunk out of my brain.” He didn’t like it much, it seems. Which goes to show that it doesn’t always matter what the artist thinks, but how one percieves the art. Well, their agent must have liked it! There God goes again, writing straight with crooked lines.

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From the rock-opera Quadrophenia (1973),  Love Reign o’er Me. This album was also made into a movie in 1979 and stars a bunch of unknowns and one Gordon Sumner, aka, Sting. I never saw the movie, never had the time. But this song became a hit, and I would venture to put forth that the reason it did so well is that it strikes a chord with listeners, universally. Another catholic hit with a small ‘c.’

Only love,
Can bring the rain,
That makes you yearn to the sky.
Only love,
Can bring the rain,
That falls like tears from on high.
Love!

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Won’t Get Fooled Again (1971). We don’t waste much time and energy on politics here at YIM Catholic. This classic song pretty much sums up why. Vote, don’t throw in the towel, but also don’t forget to “get down on your knees and pray”too. For as the Psalmist says,

I put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save. (Psalm 146:3)

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From their latest album (2006) Endless Wire. So Pete Townsend saw Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and was inspired to write a few songs. Maybe not in a good way. This one is called Two Thousand Years. Remember what I said earlier about their later stuff? It’s definitely not orthodox as Pete is still struggling with the concept of organized religion. Like you haven’t, right? That’s why I said pray for them.

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From the same album, It’s Not Enough. Because He requires all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, which for some may seem to be asking too much. But like Our Lord says in yesterday’s Gospel reading,“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” 

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I hope you enjoyed these selections. Pax Christi and see you next Monday.


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