For All the Saints: Simeon Stylites the Elder

Someone who you may have never heard of in the Communion of Saints is also celebrated by the Church today. Would you believe a guy who sat atop a pillar for over 35 years? I can’t make this one up folks so I’m going to share the citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent about my steadfast and devoted friend named St. Simeon “Stylites.”

When I first heard about the Stylites, I was taken aback.  I thought how could someone do such a thing? If my own child came to me with an idea to do something like this, would I support them? Or would I be like St. Francis of Assisi’s father and be outraged. I hope not. Come and see how this story unfolds,

St. Simeon was the first and probably the most famous of the long succession of stylitoe, “pillar-hermits,” who, during more than six centuries, acquired by their strange form of asceticism a great reputation for holiness throughout eastern Christendom. If it were not that our information, in the case of the first St. Simeon and some of his imitators, is based upon very reliable first-hand evidence, we should be disposed to relegate much of what history records to the domain of fable; but no modern critic now ventures to dispute the reality of the feats of endurance attributed to these ascetics.

Wait a second…for six hundred years there were hermits climbing pillars and living atop them? Holy renunciation! That is seriously hard corps. And think of all the folks who aided and abetted these “stylitoes.” Impressive charity, that. Tell me more about this Simeon character.

Simeon the Elder, was born about 388 at Sisan, near the northern border of Syria. After beginning life as a shepherd boy, he entered a monastery before the age of sixteen, and from the first gave himself up to the practice of an austerity so extreme and to all appearance so extravagant, that his brethren judged him, perhaps not unwisely, to be unsuited to any form of community life.

I told you he was gungy, which is Marine slang for “gung-ho.” Get outta here Simeon because you’re making us look bad! Blaise Pascal wrote, “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” Simeon didn’t have this problem.

Being forced to quit them he shut himself up for three years in a hut at Tell-Neschin, where for the first time he passed the whole of Lent without eating or drinking. This afterwards became his regular practice, and he combined it with the mortification of standing continually upright so long as his limbs would sustain him.

The whole season of Lent. When I was in the Marines, I stood for long periods during inspections. Then I went on to serve as a Marine Security Guard where standing watch for 8 hours at a time in some posts at the Embassy was just another day at the office. Simeon, I’m starting to like you. Because when I thought 8 hours was a long time, you were just getting warmed up.

In his later days he was able to stand thus on his column without support for the whole period of the fast. After three years in his hut, Simeon sought a rocky eminence in the desert and compelled himself to remain a prisoner within a narrow space less than twenty yards in diameter.

I know what you’re thinking. This guy is a showboat. But you’ve got Simeon all wrong, because he was devoted to the LORD. He didn’t change his mind about this and people noticed.

But crowds of pilgrims invaded the desert to seek him out, asking his counsel or his prayers, and leaving him insufficient time for his own devotions. This at last determined him to adopt a new way of life.

I think he prayed for a solution, and one was provided.

Simeon had a pillar erected with a small platform at the top, and upon this he determined to take up his abode until death released him. At first the pillar was little more than nine feet high, but it was subsequently replaced by others, the last in the series being apparently over fifty feet from the ground.

OK, so from nine feet up, his benefactors could throw him a jug of water, or a bunch of grapes. But it was still a little to crowded and noisy, see. So he just kept getting help to go higher. How did he pay the workers? How did he get food and water, relieve himself? We’ll see later when I take you to the movies.

However extravagant (!) this way of life may seem, it undoubtedly produced a deep impression on contemporaries, and the fame of the ascetic spread through Europe, Rome in particular being remarkable for the large number of pictures of the saint which were there to be seen, a fact which a modern writer, Holl, represents as a factor of great importance in the development of image worship.

And people kept coming out to see him, seeking his counsel, and asking him to pray for them and bless them. The accessible hermit. Here is how,

Even on the highest of his columns Simeon was not withdrawn from intercourse with his fellow men. By means of a ladder which could always be erected against the side, visitors were able to ascend; and we know that he wrote letters, the text of some of which we still possess, that he instructed disciples, and that he also delivered addresses to those assembled beneath.

Probably with a voice trumpet or something. Can you even imagine such a spectacle today? What about sunscreen and umbrellas Simeon? What about lightning? Stop worrying will you? Have a little faith.

Around the tiny platform which surmounted the capital of the pillar there was probably something in the nature of a balustrade, but the whole was exposed to the open air, and Simeon seems never to have permitted himself any sort of cabin or shelter. During his earlier years upon the column there was on the summit a stake to which he bound himself in order to maintain the upright position throughout Lent, but this was an alleviation with which he afterwards dispensed.

I’m glad he cut himself some slack. Sheeesh! And the high and the mighty came calling, just as they did with the Desert Fathers. Centuries later, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a poem about him too.

Great personages, such as the Emperor Theodosius and the Empress Eudocia manifested the utmost reverence for the saint and listened to his counsels, while the Emperor Leo paid respectful attention to a letter Simeon wrote to him in favour of the Council of Chalcedon.

Why would they bother? Well, as you’ll see, Simeon was up there for quite some time. And besides, he must have been talking some sense and providing good counsel.

Once when he was ill Theodosius sent three bishops to beg him to descend and allow himself to be attended by physicians, but the sick man preferred to leave his cure in the hands of God, and before long he recovered.

What, and climb down from his perch every time he got the sniffles? Simeon was no “sick-bay commando” folks.

After spending thirty-six years on his pillar, Simeon died on Friday, 2 September, 459 (Lietzmann, p. 235).

Talk about staying power. 36 years is not a fad folks. That is an institution. Later on, another Simeon would break his record, by another 32 years for a total of 68! And there was something of a bidding war for his relics,

A contest arose between Antioch and Constantinople for the possession of his remains. The preference was given to Antioch, and the greater part of his relics were left there as a protection to the unwalled city. The ruins of the vast edifice erected in his honour and known as Qal ‘at Sim ‘ân (the mansion of Simeon) remain to the present day. It consists of four basilicas built out from an octagonal court towards the four points of the compass.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for this photograph (see below) being described here.

In the centre of the court stands the base of St. Simeon’s column. This edifice, says H.C. Butler, “unquestionably influenced contemporary and later church building to a marked degree” (Architecture and other Arts, p. 184). It seems to have been a supreme effort of a provincial school of architecture which had borrowed little from Constantinople.

How about watching this short film about the Stylite? It’s only 43 minutes (and change) long. It’s called Simon of the Desert and it’s the 1964 classic by Luis Bunuel. It even has subtitles, and a surprise ending.

One of the really beneficial things about being a Catholic Christian is learning about all of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Communion of Saints. Their witness and example run the gamut of,  and make manifest, the individual ways that Christ calls us to serve Him.

St. Simeon, pray for us.

Because These Catholic Chaplains Were Awarded the Medal of Honor

This photograph is for all of you who get really persnickety about the altar, vestments, and such ancillary things like that. This is Major Charles Watters, U.S. Army, celebrating Mass out in the field for the troops. The altar is a couple of ammo boxes sitting on top of two water cans.

Though there are no relics of saints embedded in this altar, what matters most, Our Lord and Savior, will be there with His men soon. I attended services just like this one, even when I wasn’t a Catholic. Because beggars can’t be choosers, see? [Read more...]

For New Years Resolutions Like This: Choose A Patron Saint for 2011

Earlier today I mentioned that I was dipping into the Communion of Saints for inspiration. And why not? I love these people and I’m glad they are praying for me. Later this afternoon I noted that Elizabeth Scalia, “the Anchoress” was wondering about her patron saint for the new year. Readers may have noticed that we have two full time patrons here at YIMCatholic: St. Joseph and St. Joan of Arc.

But we can always use someone else to pray for us too. And I really like this neat Patron Saint Generator that Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary came up with. Elizabeth gave it a try and guess which saint choose to represent her this year? St. Catherine of Siena. So I decided to give it a whirl too.

Jennifer’s application makes it so easy. Just click the button and off it goes. Putting out a call in heaven I reckon, “Patron Saint needed for the man on aisle three,” or something like that. Whoever shows up has chosen you, see? Don’t go second guessing the saint that arrives at your doorstep, because even if you don’t know why this saint should be your patron, invite them in and get to know them! Look over in the sidebar and you’ll see that St. Frances of Rome is my patron this year. Looking at the citation that arrived with her, I’ll just say that I am looking forward to getting to know her better.

I am so excited about this that I too am posting on it. When I got home from work, I gathered the family after dinner so we could all pick a saint for this year too. My youngest son went first and St. Aloysius of Gonzaga arrived on our doorstep. Wow, I said, that was your great-grandfathers middle name kiddo! My daughter was up next and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton rang our doorbell. Break out the fine china! My oldest son gave it a whirl and St. Jane de Chantal entered our little circle, and she can teach us a thing or two about forgiveness. Lastly, my wife was introduced to her patron for 2011, St. Margaret of Hungary—a princess no less!

Next, I let them all know that I want to know all about their patrons too and I want them to know them as well as they know their best friends. And when we say our prayers at night, we’ll ask our saints to pray for us. And Elizabeth had another great idea, which I shared with my family: we’ll also ask our patron saints to teach us what they know. Schools out, so saint school is in! I walked them over to the YIMCatholic bookshelf and showed them how to learn more. Then I went searching for more on their particular saints to see if there were any biographies written about them. 4 out of 5 ain’t bad, so 4 new classic books were added to the self too.

So join the club dear reader, and give Jennifer’s application a try. Don’t over-think this, just click it and open your door. Don’t forget how the apostles (after prayer) chose Matthias—they drew straws! Add the name of your patron that arrives on your doorstep in the comm box below, and I’ll see if I can find a book about them and I’ll add it to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf for you too.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…that’s what I’m singing now. Because the saints are Christian role models for us all.

Saints Be Praised!

Because It Was Time: A Confession on Why I Killed Santa Claus

There is a killing that I won’t need to bring to my parish priests’ attention the next time I enter the confessional. I killed Santa Claus a little over a year ago in my own household, and I have absolutely no regrets about doing so either.

Because it had to be done, see? Like when Old Yeller saved the day and protected the family from a rabid wolf. [Read more...]

For the Example and Witness of Charles Péguy

I’ve got a buddy who is a blogger, a fellow by the name of Webster Bull. You may have heard of him before, because he is the founder of the blog you are reading now. When he has the chance, or the spare time, Webster blogs occasionally for an outfit called Cahiers Péguy. [Read more...]

Because God Became Man (Despite His Flawed Human Ancestors)

This day is just beginning, but I can’t let it go forward without mentioning yesterdays’ Gospel reading. It is from Chapter 1 in Matthew and it is the genealogy of Jesus. Here the gospel writer goes to great pains to show that Our Lord and Savior is indeed descended from the line of King David.

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling with portraits of Our Lord’s earthly ancestors. After reading this post, you may think that earthy is a better description of them.

I work in an archive and many of our patrons come to our repository in order to research their family history and genealogy. It is a fun hobby for many, and though some pursue it in order to prove they are related to famous founding fathers or so they can join patriotic groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the Revolution, etc., most just want to know where their families came from.

Who are my forefathers? Were they like me? In this land of immigrants, when did my family arrive here? Were they good people? Were they famous, or rich, or generous? Am I descended from royalty, or from scoundrels? The riddle of how you came about waits to be solved, because the cast of characters in your background is both deep and wide. Interestingly, many lose heart when nothing special turns up, or they discover their great-grandfather was a horse thief and they are repulsed. Oops!

Our Lord’s genealogy has it’s share of wonderful peculiarities. Jesus is fully God and fully human, and his human line has some very interesting characters, let me tell you. Some have even called Our Lord’s human ancestors a veritable rogues gallery. Forget horse thieves, how about some liars (Abraham, Isaac), adulterers (David), murderers (Manassah), fornicators (Judah), polygamists (Solomon), and harlots? They are all here.

Let’s look at Manassah for example. This is from the Encyclopedia Britannica,

Manasseh, also spelled Manasses, king of Judah (reigned c. 686 to 642 bce). During his long and peaceful reign, Judah was a submissive ally of Assyria. In the course of his reign there occurred a revival of pagan rites, including astral cults in the very forecourts of the temple of Yahweh, child sacrifice, and temple prostitution; hence, he is usually portrayed as the most wicked of the kings of Judah.

Sheesh, that’s right! He even sacrificed his kids to Moloch. And you thought it was bad nowadays? Good news though. By the grace of God, Manassah repented and turned things around. Whew! You can read all about it right there in 2 Chronicles, chapter 33.

And how about the ladies in the line, huh? Strange enough that women are included at all, given the patriarchal society of the Hebrews. Maybe the gospel writer hopes to clean up the reputation of this line a little bit with a brace of impeccable women? Not hardly. First up, we get the Gentile woman named Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law in order to get pregnant. Whaat?! That sounds like something out of an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, doesn’t it?

See, that was after her first husband, a fellow by the name of Er, “greatly offended the Lord; so the Lord took his life.” Gulp! So Judah (see list above) orders Er’s brother Onan to do his duty and “unite” with Tamar so she could have children. Onan, “spilled his seed on the ground”, offending the Lord and he lost his life too. Which led her to dress up like a hooker, get Judah drunk and seduce him. I can’t make this stuff up, folks. Go check out the story in Genesis, chapter 38.

Next up, we have Rahab the harlot, so you know what she did for a living. Did I mention she was into espionage as well? And she too was a Gentile, a Caananite. So much for the racial purity aspect of Christ’s human lineage. Now, Rahab aided Joshua and his men when they spied on Jericho. So she was a hooker and a traitor? Yep. Picture Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, hiding a couple of spies on her roof and you get the picture right. When the ruler of Jericho asked her to send out the men, she lied and said they were already gone. They didn’t bother to go in and check (they probably didn’t want to be seen in Rahab’s digs). Again, go read about this episode in Joshua Chapter 2. She too is in the cloud of witnesses though due to her faith. You don’t believe me? See Hebrews chapter 11.

And then there is Ruth, the impeccable woman out of this bunch. And again, not Jewish (how can this be?!) Anyway, she married a nice Jewish fellow name Boaz, and lived happily ever after. She had children and had a son who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David, so she is David’s great-grandmother. There is a tiny book all about her in the Old Testament, and you should take a look at it. The filial piety practiced by Ruth is the kind that Wu Li, SJ, and my other Chinese Catholic friends, are very comfortable with. And that goes for me too.

Last, but certainly not least, we round out this list of femme fatales with “the wife of Uriah”, you know, Uriah the Hittite? That was the good soldier whose wife David slept with, which makes this next lady none other than Bathsheba. All kinds of wreck and ruin came about as a result of her and David getting together. She gave birth to Solomon, who I mentioned earlier as the future polygamist and polytheist.  Get all the details on David and Bathsheba in good ol’ 2 Samuel, chapter 11.

I don’t think you need any more examples from me regarding the incontrovertible fact that God works His Will through us flawed human beings whether we see the big picture or not. God promised a Messiah, and I would wager that many of the people on this family tree had no idea that all along God’s Will was working through their lives to bring about the Incarnation. Is it any wonder that Mary, would exclaim, “how can this be?” Because aside from being a virgin, she knew her family line was a train wreck. Maybe even more so than yours or mine.

In my favorite Old Testament book, Qoheleth put it best when he writes,

God made everything fitting in it’s time; but He also set eternity in our hearts, though we are not able to embrace the work of God from beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

And Our Lord speaks volumes when He says,

Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.(Matthew 9:13)

Maranatha, Lord Come!

Thanks to St. John of the Cross, Master of Paradoxes

In the past, I have shared my affinity for both the writings of John C.H. Wu (the Chinese Chesterton, here with his family and Pope Pius XII) and St. John of the Cross. Do you remember when I shared my friend John’s thoughts on Thérèse of Lisieux? He compared her to Lao Tzu and Confucius.

As this is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, I would like to share with you some of John Wu’s thoughts about this Doctor of the Church as well as this diagram of St. John’s Ascent of Mt. Carmel. [Read more...]

Because of Francisco De Osuna and a Minor Miracle

During the Summer of 2007 I read an awful lot of books that led me to join my parish RCIA program in the Fall of that same year. I’ve written about most of my reading program in earlier posts in this series, and I continued reading great Catholic books once my RCIA class started too.

For example, I read Mirabai Starrs’ translation of The Book of My Life by St. Teresa of Avila. It is a fascinating book about prayer by a fascinating woman. By reading Big Terry’s book, I discovered the work of another obscure author I had never heard of who had a big impact on this Doctor of the Church and on me. Here is what St. Teresa says on page 20 of her book that peaked my interest,

On the way to my sister’s village, we stopped in to see my Uncle Pedro. He gave me a copy of The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna. This is a book all about the Prayer of Recollection. In the past year, I had realized what harm my appetite for romance novels had done to my soul, and I had begun to develop a tremendous appreciation for spiritual books. Since I did not know a thing about the practice of contemplative prayer, or how to go about recollecting my senses and my thoughts, I was thrilled to find a book that told me exactly what to do.

I remember thinking to myself, I don’t know what St. Teresa is talking about (contemplative prayer? What’s that?), but if she liked de Osuna’s book enough to give it such a ringing endorsement, then I need to get a copy of it too, post haste! And the “harm of romance novels” comment resonated with me too, as I sheepishly realized how much of my reading time had heretofore been wasted on a lot of superfluous junk. Since this time, my night stand has been cluttered with “spiritual books”, and lots of them, instead. I wonder if she introduced de Osuna’s book to another Doctor of the Church too, you know, her friend and colleague St. John de la Cruz.

It turns out that Paulist Press published this book as a part of their excellent The Classics of Western Spirituality Series and it’s readily available. A visit to Amazon.com, a few clicks of the mouse, and a credit card authorization later, and The Third Spiritual Alphabet was on its way to me.

Within a week it arrived, all 609 pages of it. And let me tell you, de Osuna did not disappoint. I broke out my pencil for underlining purposes early, and often. Here are some examples of his thoughts from a few of the chapter and section headings,

Communion to God is Open to All; As Gifts Increase, So Do Our Debts; How We Should Give Thanks In Adversity; Blindness is Necessary to See God; How We Cannot Know God in Himself While We Live; Imitating Our Lord in the Desert of Recollection.

And here are a few of his thoughts on recollection that I underlined,

p.170: …we note that the devotion is called recollection because it gathers together those who practice it and, by erasing all dissension and discord, makes them of one heart and love. Not content with just this, recollection, more than any other devotion, has the known, discernible property by which someone who follows it can be greatly moved to devotion when he sees another person also recollected.

Having just left the greater Los Angeles area for my hometown in the hills of Tennessee, these words on the next page struck a chord with me too,

p.171: This devotion encourages us to retire from the traffic of people and noisy places to dwell in more secluded regions and to go out only now and then. If we do leave, we find ourselves anxious to return to our retreat to enjoy recollection, and we are just as eager as when we began the practice. We are like an eel that slips around in the fisherman’s hands so it can wriggle back into the water.

He could say that again. He goes on to say,

In recollection news and vain gossip have no appeal, nor do we like to hear anything that does not advise us to withdraw further into our hearts…for (the recollected) only wish is to see God with their hearts.

And Fray Francisco doesn’t pull any punches on what it takes to get from A to Z in the practice of this devotion. These are his thoughts from p. 175 that maybe only a Marine Corps Drill Instructor can appreciate,

You should also remember that no one masters any art without arduous practice, and the more one practices and becomes accustomed to something, the more quickly he masters it. Do not be so foolish as not to respect in this devotion and art the two things we observe in all occupations. First, learn it so that you are its master; do not be content to remain a beginner all your life like stupid, listless people who are forever learners, never attaining the science of truth because they are insufficiently attentive to their tasks. They are like the one in the gospel of whom it is said, “This man began to build and could not finish( Luke 14:30).”

How ignorant is the man who starts to build a house but does not concentrate on finishing it as quickly as possible so he can enjoy it soon! …If you wish to build the house of recollection for your souls, brother, you will profit immensely by remembering your intention. Plan to finish it.

Aye, aye sir! Now that I’ve given you a taste of my pal Fr. Francisco, I promise to share more of his thoughts in future posts. I can assure you of this because of the minor miracle that I will briefly describe for you now.

You may not have noticed that I’ve been blogging here for just over a year and this is only the second time that I am writing about my friend Fr. Francisco. I mentioned him briefly in the YIMC Book Club discussion of Mere Christianity when we were reading C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on pride. The principal reason for me keeping Fr. Francisco hidden from view is simple: I misplaced his book!

I had searched up and down my house, and my office, for it too. I reckon that it has been missing from my shelves for well over a year. Miraculously, and admittedly this is a minor miracle, not a supernatural one, the book reappeared in the back seat of my car last night. Here is the story.

Our family attended a Christmas party last night, see, and we took two cars because my wife had to go early to help set up. She took my eldest son with her to help her carry things. In Marine Corps jargon, her and my son were the Weathers “advance party” to the event. I followed in trace with the “main body” which included myself and my two younger children.

With the advent of cellular phones, this “advance party(AP) – main body (MB)” jargon makes sense to me because the AP called the MB about five times between the time the AP left and the MB crossed the line of departure. The message traffic went sort of like this,

AP to MB: “Could you bring my make-up bag? I left it in my other purse. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do.”

AP to MB: “MB, MB, could you stop by the ATM and get some money so we can buy some raffle tickets? I’m out of cash. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do. Over.”

AP to MB: “Could you bring XYZ with you? I just realized I forgot it. Over.”

MB to AP: “Negative AP, we are enroute and only 5 mikes (minutes) from your location. Over.

AP to MB: “OK then, disregard. Over and out.”

Granted, my wife and I don’t really talk like this on our cell phones. But really, isn’t this the way these AP to MB conversations go? Surely you have experienced this too. After that first exchange about the makeup bag, I found that bag and took it directly to the back seat of my car. I know what is of vital importance to a mission being successful or not, and a missing makeup bag would have been unimaginable. I absolutely did not want to forget that, thus I put it right there on the empty back seat of my car and walked away knowing that all would be well.

The MB arrives at the party and finds it well attended and packed to the gills with people enjoying themselves immensely and noted a long, snake-like, slow-moving, line of people waiting their turn for the food. I tracked down my wife, who was busy helping out, etc. I informed her that I had the makeup bag in the car and to let me know when she needs it and I’ll go get it. She said, “why didn’t you bring it in?” and discretion being the better part of valor, I turned tail and went and got it, ASAP.

As I approached my car, unlocked the doors, and rounded the rear bumper to open the passenger door on the side of the car where I had deposited the make-up bag, I was shocked to see Fr. Francisco’s book sitting there pretty as you please. When I unlocked the car, the dome light comes on automatically and I just stared through the window at that book for probably 15 seconds before I opened the door. I was thinking to, “where did you come from?” That seat had been empty when I threw the makeup bag there less than an hour earlier.

I was happy though, and thanked the Lord that it reappeared. It turned out that my youngest son had somehow noticed that something was bulging in the pouch on the back of the front passenger seat. He may have thought that I was hiding a Christmas present in there or something. I’m sure he was disappointed when it turned out to be one of his Dad’s dog-eared and well worn old books. So he just tossed it onto the seat and never said a word.

Sometimes that is how minor miracles work themselves out. Regardless, I’m just glad Francisco is back and I look forward to sharing more of his thoughts with you in future posts.

Because the Saints Are Alive

Back in November of 2007, it never would have crossed my mind that I would stand in front of my parishes RCIA group giving a talk on the Communion of Saints. And yet three years later that is exactly where I found myself.

A few weeks ago I asked our readers here for pointers on what I should cover. Then, I put together a killer slide show and even planned to show a clip (or two) from the movie The Reluctant Saint.

I really hoped to just knock the cover off the ball with a presentation that would be no less than a tour de force which would leave everyone completely dazzled at the adventure that they individually, along with the rest of the Class of 2011, were embarking on.

I should have known better.

Have you ever heard the phrase “God writes straight with crooked lines?” And let’s not forget the secular saint named Murphy of “everything that can go wrong will” fame. Because on Sunday, my stunning slideshow was viewable only by the two or three people in the front row because my whiz-bang marvel of a Macintosh computer didn’t have the right connection cable doohickeys to hook up to the projector. Even the USB cable that was there was inoperative.Yikes!

But like they say, “the show must go on.” The RCIA Director asked me if I had a prayer to start the class with and I said yes: “Lord, Help!” like Abba Macarius taught me. Other than that, it was adapt, improvise, and overcome time as I crossed the line of departure.

I think that first class turned out ok anyway, and as I was playing to a packed room, I was glad that I had your suggestions and my slideshow/crib notes to refer to. I remember that my own RCIA class, in a different parish, had 8 people in the class between catechumans and candidates. I am happy to report that my current parish has 50 people in the class of 2011. Saints be praised! And by Monday evening, we even had the slide show bugs worked out. Whew!

The main theme of my talk was this thought: the saints are alive and they are a lot like you and me. And just like none of our own lives have turned out as we thought they would (show of hands please? Uh-huh.), neither did the lives of the saints. That wasn’t a hard leap of faith for me to make a statement like that since, right on que, even my equipment was unusable. Lord knows, I was living another unplanned moment.

As we say in the Marines, Press on. I started off with an example of the episode in the life of St. Vincent de Paul when he was captured by Barbary Pirates and sold into slavery. His example of having faith that everything would work out to God’s benefit is inspirational to me.

I introduced them to a few others of our family members too. Because as Henri Nowen once wrote,

Through baptism we become part of a family much larger than our biological family. It is a family of people “set apart” by God to be light in the darkness. These set-apart people are called saints. Although we tend to think about saints as holy and pious, and picture them with halos above their heads and ecstatic gazes, true saints are much more accessible. They are men and women like us, who live ordinary lives and struggle with ordinary problems. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s people. Some of their lives may look quite different, but most of their lives are remarkably similar to our own.

The saints are our brothers and sisters, calling us to become like them.

So I introduced them to some official saints like the flying “jack-ass for Christ” (Joseph of Cupertino), The Impaled Deacon (Benjamin), my favorite Catholic widow (Blessed Marie of the Incarnation), and the guy who helped a robber make off with his own stolen property (Macarius the Great). And of course Our Mother, Queen of All Saints. And I couldn’t help ad libing about the Desert Fathers,  Saint Al (Alphonsus de Liguori) and Big Terry (Teresa of Avila) too. I also asked the sponsors to share with the class their Confirmation names and we learned even more about our family in the Church Triumphant in that way too.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I let them know that I was a rookie Catholic just a few years removed from where they were sitting. And I told the Monday evening class an abbreviated version of how the uncanonized saint Blaise Pascal sent me running to the chartroom for a major course correction. We glanced at Thomas Merton as the college wise guy and juxtaposed that with what became of him after he became a Catholic. And I had a good time, while losing all track of time talking about the saints.

The main thing about the saints is that they put Christ first in their lives. Their stories aren’t fairytales but well documented and true. Whether we are talking about the original Apostles (all martyred except for St. John), or the ones I named above, they put into practice the following command,

Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).

And their lives were never lived only for themselves, but for something far, far greater than that.

Which brings me to the conclusion of this very long post. Toward the end of the Monday evening session, one of our Deacons brought the concept of time into focus for us all. While we live constrained by time, which for us only moves forward, God is not bound by time, or clocks, watches, or chronometers. He is timeless and all that is, was, and will be, is already known to Him. Though God Himself came into time (during the Incarnation as the Son of Man, and whenever it suits Him now) Our Lord is now seated at the right hand of the Father, and therefore no longer bound by time either. Backwards, forwards, sideways, up or down, God is not bound by time as we are.

And this is also true for the saints in the Church Triumphant in Heaven. They are in communion with God in all His glory as well. This is why we can ask them to pray for us and why they can perform miracles in our time too.

In fact, as our Deacon so clearly explained it, when we go to Mass, the entire Church is present there along with us. Not just in my parish, but at every Mass in every parish the world over. We men and women in the Church Militant (slogging it out on our pilgrimage through time on earth) are not the only ones present. Listen to the Liturgy, he explained, and hear us invoke the saints like we do in the Eucharistic prayer here,

In union with the whole Church we honor Mary, the ever-virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God. We honor Joseph, her husband, the apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul, Andrew James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude; we honor Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian and all the saints. May their merits and prayers gain us your constant help and protection. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Because the saints are alive, just as the departed faithful in Purgatory are. Which is why during the Mass we also pray for the faithful departed too,

Remember, Lord, those who have died and have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, especially those for whom we now pray, (names deceased loved ones whom the celebrant or parishioner wishes to offer before God). May these, and all who sleep in Christ, find in your presence light, happiness, and peace. Though Christ our Lord. Amen.

Afterwards, I thought of a new slide to add to the end of the presentation. I searched Google and couldn’t find what I was looking for, though I’m positive I’m not the first to think of this. But I couldn’t find what I was looking for so I made this “Venn diagram” of the Church below. Because the Church, like God Himself, is One in Three. And all of His Church members are alive and present together at Holy Mass.

Thanks be to God.

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.


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