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.

To Pray for the Christians of Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: To Send Supplies to the Christians of Iraq.

Because Kenelm Henry Digby Could Write Such A Poem

Are you interested in Christian chivalry? You could do worse than read the works of Kenelm Henry Digby. Author of The Broad-Stone of Honour or Rules for the Gentlemen of England(1822), he was a Romantic who yearned for the days when knights upheld the honor of kith and kin. And the honor of the Holy Catholic Church as well.

I don’t know much, but I think he may have written the best poem for All Souls Day that I have ever read. Please allow me to share it with you.

It’s a little long, so be warned. But it really helps to explain why the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of All Souls, and why we pray for the faithful departed.

It’s simple, really. Because it is the right thing to do.

All Souls

There’s a race that we love, though it thinks it can soar
Above truths that it held to in ages of yore.
We deem it pretension; and we judge it from acts;
Let us single but one out of numberless facts,

Not confined to the circle which doubts or denies
That a prayer can be needed when any one dies,
But e’en showing this error extending as wide
As the nation renouncing the primitive side.

‘Tis the day of the dead, it was once here well known;
Yes, but then all such fancies have hence long flown.
For religion reform’d is now far too wise
To demand of our time such a fond sacrifice.

For suppressing the custom, this way is the first;
But then who can feel certain that it is the worst?
Although heads remain firm, one quickly discovers
That hearts pretty nearly agree with the others.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and it comes once a year,
But sooth few are now found to attend to it here.
For some are too busy, aye with too much in hand,
To suppose that a moment they have at command.

And there’s always some pressure on that very day,
Which must keep both the busy and idle away;
Our profession, affairs, visits—these are supreme—
And to think of suspending them, merely a dream.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and it comes with the cold,
With the fall of the leaf and the soft drench’d black mould;
The long damp waving grass and the tall dripping trees
Would do quite as much hurt as the wild wintry breeze.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and long has it gone by;
Mediaevalists only can like thus to sigh:
If you will talk and have us both pray and feel so,
‘Tis in warm and gay churches we should all of us kneel.

For what can one place be now more than another,
Unless superstition your reason will smother?
These old customs romantic and certainly wild
Belong to the vulgar for too often beguiled.

‘Tis the day of the dead, but then what would they say
Who might hear that through graves thus we too would stray?
You and I, my good friend, must now be like others,
However thus any one talks on and bothers.

‘Tis the day of the dead—but no great bell sounds
To invite us in thought from our brief earthly bounds:
Through the streets one runs hastening, another one stays;
All for business or pleasure; in brief no one prays.

Oh! England, that once wert believing and holy,
So free too from Pagan-like dull melancholy,
Aye so quick to attend to religion’s great voice,
Inviting gravely to mourn or gladly rejoice,

Just behold thy graves now left so lonely ever!
With the tears of fond memory on them never!
So deserted by all their surviving best friends:
And you’ll see at least here where thy long boasting ends.

But the scene changes now to a different shore,
Where religion exists as in ages of yore,
Where no one pretends that men are not clever,
The true and the false to distinguish and sever.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and it comes once a year:
The crowds are now moving, none ashamed to appear.
So the busiest men all engaged in their trade
Leave their shops and their ledgers, and thoughtful are made.

The statesman. the senator, the great and the small,
View the spot loved by each one, and kneeling down fall,
Yet at home much to do! constant work for their head!
But now all is forgotten excepting the dead.

Then the maiden so pale, and the old pensive sire,
With the youth for the day free, in deep black attire,
The widow, the orphan, and the seamstress so shy,
Gently pass to the spot where their loved ones still lie.

The little one grasping, and with such a tight hold,
The frock of sweet sissy, who herself’s not too bold;
Though all walk on order like relatives dear,
By their looks even charity letting appear.

Then some strew their pale flowers, and some light the lamp,
Unlocking in silence the cold monument damp,
And kneel like mute statues, and others stray on,
And all love to linger, and thence none will be gone.

There is woodbine that flourishes best o’er a grave;
Each alley, death’s violets—Pervenche—will pave;
Poet’s fictions of worms all engender’d below
Yield to wreaths of immortals which friends will bestow.

‘Tis the day of the dead; it comes bright or cold,
But all are not nervous like some timid and old;
The slopes amid flowers, and the high stirring breeze,
Have enchantment for him who both feels and who sees.

So the tortuous path and the dark cypress spire,
He will follow half pleased, e’en, and he will admire;
The tombs shining graceful, or the green mossy sod–
Oh, how all of these lift up his heart unto God!

The day of the dead–to our old faith we owe it;
Both dear to the Christian and dear to the poet.
Our fathers they taught us on the graves thus to stray,
Although still in churches each morning we pray.

And the men of our age with their courage so high,
Have yet time thus, and hearts too, to breathe a soft sigh.
And let no one suppose we are sorrowful made
By wandering so thoughtful through this peaceful shade.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and the day of each home,
While recalling each household, wherever we roam;
‘Tis the day of our fathers, of sons, and of brothers,
The day of our sisters so fond, and of mothers.

‘Tis the day for the young, for the old, and for all,
And which needs not of priests the particular call.
Thus domestic, ancestral, the day has its claims
Still on every being who human remains.

See whole families walk in groups as they pass.
Do they weep for a brother, a boy, or a lass?
Do they think of a mother, a sister, or bride?
Oh, then mark with what pains will they seek tears to hide!

And when now fresh processions are seen to arrive,
What a sympathy moves all the rest who survive!
During eight days, from morning till evening ’tis so,
And all raise up to Heaven the hearts from below.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and here no one is found
To take his way reckless to a differnt ground;
It is known, and respected, and honor’d here still,
By all those who have even the faintest weak will

Thus to follow the customs so closely allied
With the faith of the Church that is elsewhere denied;
For the worst and most thoughtless, the wildest here then
Will remember that they too are mortal and men.

‘Tis the day of the dead, do you hear the strange bell?
Hark! it tolls thus all day, through the night too as well:
The guards are there mounted to keep the long way,
Such multitudes hasten to weep and to pray.

O then France, sprightly France, still so faithful and true
To defend what their fathers all believed in and knew,
With soft hearts that are warm, and aye kindled with light,
The same that dispell’d once, the old sad Pagan night,

Now behold thy deck’d graves thus from year unto year,
So bedew’d and refresh’d with poor grateful tear,
Thus frequented at times as the sweetest of fields,
And see there what good fruits now thy old faith still yields.

Thou art praised for thy science, thy art, and thy grace,
For courage so high that belongs to thy race,
But when all is admired, and all has been said,
There is nothing surpasses thy love for the dead.

You can read more of Digby’s poems here. For a further selection of his work click here.

For Purgatory, Thank Heavens

—Feast of All Souls

When I was straddling the fence on whether or not I should become a Catholic, I never had a problem with Purgatory. It just makes the most sense to me, not that my personal opinion about this doctrine means anything.

I’ll admit that I thought I would have a big problem with it at first. Because, you see, it isn’t mentioned specifically in the Bible (along with many other details). But where did all the people who died go, for example from the Old Testament times? Assuming that all the people who had died before the Incarnation were just, ahem—out of luck, is ridiculous to me. And that was before I knew the doctrine of purgatory very well.

And praying for the dead? Well, once the books of the Bible tossed out by the reformers were put back where they belong, that was no longer an issue either. Like this from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 7:36-37,

And stretch out thy hand to the poor, that thy expiation and thy blessing may be perfected. A gift hath grace in the sight of all the living, and restrain not grace from the dead.

I just ran a quick search over at the handy-dandy YIMCatholic Bookshelf of the word “purgatory” and came back with references to 175 different books. You’ll find everything from St. Catherine of Genoa’s Treatise on Purgatory(only 67 pages, so give it a look) to the Manual of the Purgatorian Society.

Below are some thoughts I want to share with you from an American named John L. Stoddard. Back in 1922, Stoddard wrote Rebuilding A Lost Faith, By An American Agnostic. It’s 246 pages of top-notch conversion story.  But I’m only going to share Stoddard’s thoughts on Purgatory with you because in many ways, they mirror my own path to understanding this doctrine. Like Stoddard, the crux of the matter for me hinges on authority. Either you believe that, heads, the Church has the authority to teach this doctrine or, tails (like Martin Luther), you don’t. Guess which side of this coin I side with?

I’ll let Stoddard take it from here,

From Chapter XV, Purgatory and Indulgences

THE difficulty in regard to Papal Infallibility (See chapter XIV) having been overcome, I turned to consider the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory and the Sacrament of Penance. My feelings in respect to this will best be shown by the following extract from a letter which I wrote about this time to a Catholic friend.

“My Dear Francis:

“I find no special difficulty in the Catholic dogma of Purgatory. On the contrary, the idea of a state of purification, appointed for those souls who, though redeemed by Christ, are nevertheless still unprepared to pass at once into God’s presence, appears to me logical and even comforting. I think that every soul who feels his own unfitness for the Beatific Vision (and who does not feel this?) must wish for such a state of preparation, even though attended with a cleansing punishment. The lack of this idea in Protestantism leads, I think, to an objectionable feature in their system,—namely, the altogether improbable and presumptuous supposition that the soul of some monster of depravity can straightway enter the society of heaven, provided only that he says, at the last moment of his ill-spent life, that he repents and believes in Jesus as the Son of God. Christ’s Divine insight into the soul of the penitent thief, who hung beside His cross on Calvary, could justify, of course, His promise to him of an immediate entrance into Paradise; but that was a solitary instance, upon which one can hardly build much hope.

The statement, often loosely made, that, since ‘Jesus paid it all, all the debt I owe,’ a hardened criminal is thereby rendered instantaneously fit for Heaven, is dangerously demoralising. The Bible assures us that ‘there shall in no wise enter into the heavenly City of God anything that defileth, or that is defiled,’ and the acquisition of a pure character is not the affair of a moment by means of a death-bed repentance. I never shall forget the description in a Chicago paper, many years ago, of the hanging of a negro, who, on the night before his execution, was said to have repented of a peculiarly atrocious crime, and ‘knew that he was saved.’ The report was heralded by the flaring headline ‘Jerked to Jesus!’

This blasphemous alliteration probably did less harm, however, than the sensational story, which accompanied it, of the negro’s ‘edifying remarks’ which preceded his death. The idea of such a wretch going at once to Heaven was revolting to a sense of justice and even of decency. No Catholic would have supposed such a translation probable, or, save for a miracle, possible. We know, of course, nothing of what the purgatorial state may be, through which the soul must pass, to reach the sphere to which God calls it; but that some place of purification must exist for those who pass into eternity with no sufficient spiritual preparation, appears to me just, necessary and consoling.”

To this my friend replied as follows:—

I well remember the crudely blasphemous headline which you quote. It had a great success, and was accounted ‘clever,’ though I am sure its ribald, vulgar character shocked all in whom a consciousness of the dignity of life and of the majesty of death remained, even though they had no positive Christian faith. There is little, if any, analogy between the case of the wretched negro and that of the penitent thief, for the latter was redeemed by his humility and faith. He did not ‘know that he was saved.’ He confessed his guilt in a supreme moment, and admitted the justice of his punishment. Whether or not the grace given him by our Lord was the only one ever offered him, we are not told; but to this opportunity at least he did respond, and by a single aspiration expiated with his dying breath a life of crime.

That the consoling doctrine of Purgatory should appeal to you does not surprise me. There is hardly a religious system of antiquity in which some similar provision is not found. It was left for the ‘Reformers’ of the sixteenth century to reject this immemorial dogma of the Church. When they denied the sanctity of the Mass and many other sacramental features of Catholicism, the doctrine of Purgatory went with the rest. If the souls of the dead pass instantly into an eternally fixed state, beyond the efficacy of our intercessions, then all our requiems, prayers and similar practices are vain. But if, on the contrary, we believe in the Communion of Saints,—that is, in the intercommunion of the three-fold Church,—militant on earth, suffering in Purgatory, and triumphant in Heaven,—then we on earth can influence, and be influenced by, the souls who have crossed the border.

Few, indeed, quit this life in a state of purity and grace which warrants their immediate entrance into Heaven. Still fewer, let us hope, are those to whom the blessed refuge of Purgatory,— that half-way house of our dead,— is closed. I cannot conceive how Protestants can believe as they do on this point, nor is it astonishing that their rejection of Purgatory has been followed, in the case of many, by the elimination of a belief in Hell; for the latter doctrine, taken alone, is monstrous. In fact, all Catholic doctrines are interdependent; they stand or fall together. You cannot pick stones out of the arch, and expect it to stand, for it will not do so. Purgatory is one of the most humane and beautiful conceptions imaginable. How many mothers’ aching hearts has it not soothed and comforted with hope for some dead, wayward son!

Soon after receiving this letter, I read the following words from Mallock:—”As to the doctrine of Purgatory, time goes on, and the view men take of it is changing. It is fast becoming recognised, that it is the only doctrine that can bring a belief in future rewards and punishments into anything like accordance with our notions of what is just and reasonable; and so far from its being a superfluous superstition, it will be seen to be just what is demanded at once by reason and morality.” My attention was at this time also called to the fact that the idea of Purgatory is no longer confined exclusively to Roman Catholic Christians. At a recent General Convention of Episcopalians in America resolutions looking towards prayer for the dead were defeated by only a very small majority.

The doctrine of the Catholic Church in reference to Purgatory states that there is such a place, in which souls suffer for a time, before they can be admitted to the joys of Heaven, because they still need to be cleansed from certain venial sins, infirmities and faults, or still have to discharge the temporal punishment due to mortal sins, which is as yet uncancelled, though the lasting punishment of those sins has been forgiven and removed through Christ’s atonement. Furthermore, the Church declares, that by our prayers and by the acceptable sacrifice of the Mass we may still help those souls, through the merits of Christ.

Beyond this statement the Church’s formal doctrine does not go; but it is not an article of Catholic faith that there is in Purgatory any material fire. It is generally believed that souls in Purgatory suffer spiritual anguish from the fact that they then feel acutely, as they could not do on earth, the perfect happiness from which they are for a time excluded, while they must also understand the enormity of the sins which they committed against their Heavenly Father and their Savior.

The entire story is here.
*****

What follows now are a few thoughts from Saint, and Doctor of the Church, Alphonsus Liguori, on our duty to pray for the faithful departed souls in Purgatory. This is from the Introduction to the Manual of the Purgatorian Society. With a book title like that, it’s got to be good!

The practice of recommending to God the souls in Purgatory, that He may mitigate the great pains which they suffer, and that He may soon bring them to His glory, is most pleasing to the Lord and most profitable to us. For these blessed souls are His eternal spouses, and most grateful are they to those who obtain their deliverance from prison, or even a mitigation of their torments. When, therefore, they arrive in Heaven, they will be sure to remember all who have prayed for them. It is a pious belief that God manifests to them our prayers in their behalf, that they may also pray for us.

It is true these blessed souls are not in a state to pray for themselves, because they are so to speak, criminals atoning for their faults. However, because they are very dear to God, they can pray for us, and obtain for us, the divine graces. St. Catherine of Bologna, when she wished to obtain any grace, had recourse to the souls in Purgatory, and her prayers were heard immediately. She declared that, by praying to those holy souls she obtained many favors which she had sought through the intercession of the saints without obtaining them. The graces which devout persons are said to have received through the holy souls are innumerable.

But, if we wish for the aid of their prayers, it is just, it is even a duty, to relieve them by our suffrages. I say it is even a duty; for Christian charity commands us to relieve our neighbors who stand in need of our assistance. But who among all our neighbors have so great need of our help as those holy prisoners? They are continually in that fire which torments more severely than any earthly fire. They are deprived of the sight of God, a torment far more excruciating than all other pains.

Let us reflect that among these suffering souls are parents, or brothers, or relatives and friends, who look to us for succor. Let us remember, moreover, that being in the condition of debtors for their sins, they cannot assist themselves. This thought should urge us forward to relieve them to the best of our ability. By assisting them we shall not only give great pleasure to God, but will acquire also great merit for ourselves.

And, in return for our suffrages, these blessed souls will not neglect to obtain for us many graces from God, but particularly the grace of eternal life. I hold for certain that a soul delivered from Purgatory by the suffrages of a Christian, when she enters paradise, will not fail to say to God: “Lord, do not suffer to be lost that person who has liberated me from the prison of Purgatory, and has brought me to the enjoyment of Thy glory sooner than I have deserved.

For all the answers on Purgatory (and on Indulgences) that you want to know, but are afraid to ask, click on the hotlinks you just passed over. You’ll be glad you did.

Rerum Creator optime (A Few Words For Wednesday)

From todays Office of Readings, this hymn attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great. I also found a little more information about this particular hymn at Thesaurus Precum Latinarum, a neat little website that you may want to bookmark. There, Michael Martin writes,

This traditional Matins hymn is used in the Liturgia Horarum for the Office of the Readings for Wednesdays of the 1st and 3rd weeks of the Psalter during Ordinary Time. Likewise it is found as the Matins hymn for Wednesdays in the Roman Breviary.

I get a tingle up my spine when I hear words like Matins. Formerly the early morning prayer of the Church, it has now been replaced by the Office of Readings in the modern form of the LOTH. But I like the original Latin usage to signify the various prayers of the day, such as Lauds, Vespers and Compline. Some very neat vocabulary words to help orient your day around Our Lord.

More trivia from Michael’s website: this English translation of this hymn is by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Rerum Creator optime (Thou Madest All)

Thou madest all and dost control,
Lord, with Thy touch divine,
cast out the slumbers of the soul,
the rest that is not Thine.

Look down, Eternal Holiness,
and wash the sins away,
of those, who, rising to confess,
outstrip the lingering day.

Our hearts and hands by night, O Lord,
we lift them in our need;
as holy Psalmists give the word,
and holy Paul the deed.

Each sin to Thee of years gone by,
each hidden stain lies bare;
we shrink not from Thine awful eye,
but pray that Thou wouldst spare.

Grant this, O Father, Only Son
and Spirit, God of grace,
to whom all worship shall be done
in every time and place.

Amen.

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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For All the Saints: Thérèse of Lisieux

I have been wrestling with the angel named Vocation. In August, my wife and I sold our small publishing business, and just this week I completed all but the proofreading for the biggest writing project I’ve ever tackled. Meanwhile, Katie and both of our daughters are on the first steppingstones of new life paths. For our entire family, the future is an open book. The only thing I know is, I have to work.

Yes, sadly the publishing business did not (never did) reap much of a profit. Selling it was not a lucrative deal. So I will have to continue tending the bread ovens, mixing the dough, stoking the hardwood fires. The only thing that has become clear, or seems to have, is that I will work not as a literal baker, but as a writer.

You might think that, as someone halfway to age 118, I should have solved the vocation question for myself long ago. But my favorite nonfiction writer, Norman Maclean, saw it differently in the epigraph to his book Young Men and Fire, and so do I.

As I get considerably beyond the biblical allotment of three score years and ten, Maclean wrote, I feel with increasing intensity that I can express my gratitude for still being around on the oxygen-side of the earth’s crust only by not standing pat on what I have hitherto known and loved. While the oxygen lasts, there are still new things to love, especially if compassion is a form of love.

Not standing pat. New things to love. Compassion is a form of love. Maclean (left) also wrote:

The problem of identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time. Perhaps the problem. It should haunt old age, and when it no longer does it should tell you that you are dead.

Fortunately, several enticing and/or well-paying projects loom ahead of me like islands in the fog. Today, I am going to a meeting about the most enticing of these options, so far anyway. Last week, looking ahead to my meeting today, I thought, “October 1. Let’s see whose day that is,” as in which saint. My heart grew instantly warmer inside my chest when I flipped the page on my Catholic desk calendar and saw that it is Thérèse’s day. Something about it seemed so right, so apropos. I felt safe, provided for. I immediately began saying a novena to Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

Stumbling back into this blog last night, like not just the Prodigal Son but the Prodigal Father, I find that Frank has beat me to the St. Thérèse punch, and if there were ever a lousy, mixed metaphor, that has to be it. But then in the short century-plus since she left this earth and began showering us with flowers, people have never tired of writing about her, a Doctor of the Church with one slim book to her credit.

What struck me this morning and prompted this post was the selection from that slim book, her Story of a Soul, in today’s office of readings. Thérese wrestled with Vocation as well! Of course, she called this process a “longing for martyrdom,” which are words that have not yet fallen from my lips and aren’t likely to this side of the barroom door:

Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of Saint Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.

I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will now show you the way which surpasses all the others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind. . . .

I have not yet found peace of mind. But I have a new prayer to steady my mind, a prayer to the Little Flower.

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?

“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

Because Catholic Priests Know The Bible, Backwards and Forwards

—Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle

It all seems so silly now.  Before I converted to the Faith, I believed the nonsense that Catholics were biblically illiterate. I remember being amazed at the amount of scriptural knowledge that I noticed when reading Blaise Pascal’s book. And Blaise was a layman. When I read The Imitation of Christ, I was astounded at the depth and breadth of Thomas à Kempis’ knowledge of scripture.

And Thomas even wrote parts of the book in the character of Our Lord. That is how confident he was of his knowledge of the Bible and of Catholic doctrines. The same happens in the selection below. My friend Thomas was a monk and a priest. The selection you’ll see here was also written by a priest. His name is Father Michael Müller, of the Redemptorists. He said I could call him Father Mike, to keep from having to deal with the umlaut over the “u” in his last name all the time. See how nice these priests are?

Father Mike was a well known writer and apologist in the 19th Century. What follows is the preface to a book on prayer that he wrote entitled Prayer: The Key to Salvation. It was published back in 1868, which is quite recently, if you think about it. As you will see, he can throw down scripture quotes with the best of them. And look out Thomas, because he borrowed your technique of writing in the character of Our Lord from time to time too. Take a look,

Preface to Prayer: The Key to Salvation

“The Jews, therefore, murmured at Him, because He had said: I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” (John vi. 41.) “This murmuring at the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ is,”  says St.Cyrillus, “the inheritance which was bequeathed to the Jews by their forefathers, who lived at the time of Moses.” Would to God that this inheritance had been transmitted to the Jews only; but, alas! there is no class of men which is free from such murmurers.

Our Lord’s doctrine is murmured at by infidels when they hear Him say: ” He that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark xvi. 16) . . . “because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John iii. 18.) The doctrine of our Lord is murmured at by Protestants, when He declares: “Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doth the will of My Father who is in Heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. vii. 21.)

The will of God has not been taught by Luther, or Calvin, or Henry VIII., or John Wesley, or by another man who invented certain doctrines, and founded a sect according to his own private notions, but it has been taught by Me, the Son of God, Who have charged Peter and his lawful successors to do the same. Upon him I have built My Church; to him and his lawful successors I have said: “He who heareth you heareth Me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me, and he who despiseth Me despiseth Him that sent Me.” One who does not do this will be condemned.

“There is a way (the Protestant religion) that seemeth to a man right, and the ends therefore lead to death.” (Prov. xvi. 25.) Sinners murmur when our Blessed Saviour preaches: “I say to you that unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.” (Luke xiii. 3.) The rich also complain, when He threatens ” Woe to you that are rich, for you have your consolation.” (Luke vi. 24.) The poor are dissatisfied when He teaches : “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Math. v. 3.) The learned reject His doctrine when he warns: “Amen I say to you: unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Math. xviii. 3.) The young are displeased when He exclaims : “Woe to you that now laugh, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Luke vi. 25.) Those who are tempted or afflicted, murmur when He exhorts them by His words and example: “Not my will but Thine be done.” (Luke xxii. 42.) The lukewarm are displeased when He tells them : “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of My mouth.” (Apoc. iii. 16.) Finally, the greater part of men murmur at our Lord, when He teaches : “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent bear it away.” (Matt. xi. 12.) They complain with the unfaithful disciples of our Lord, “these are hard sayings; who can hear them?” (John vi. 61.)

There are still many, it is true, who will say with St. Peter and the other Apostles: “Lord, to whom shall we go ? Thou hast the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have known that Thou art Christ the Son of God.” (John vi. 69, 70.) But how many, even among these, will murmur, not indeed at Christ’s doctrine, but at heretics, unbelievers and great sinners? How many are there who, like the Apostles, not knowing of what spirit they are, wish that fire should come down from heaven to consume them (Luke ix. 54, 55), for not believing, in spite of so many miracles and evident proofs, confirming the truth of the Catholic religion?

To all these our Lord answers with divine sweetness: “Murmur not among yourselves: no man can come to Me, except the Father, who hath sent Me, draw him.” (John vi. 44.) As to all those of you, He means to say, who believe in Me and live up to My doctrine, you ought not to murmur at infidels, heretics or nominal Christians, on account of their infidelity, false belief or bad life, but you should remember that faith, especially practical faith, is a supernatural gift of God, and that no one can have true faith in Him unless it is granted by My heavenly Father. Since they are not as yet drawn by the Father, you should not feel indignant or treat them with severity, but rather pray to the Father that He may draw them sweetly, but powerfully, by enlightening their understanding to know the true faith, and by exciting their will to embrace it in practice, and thus they will be united with you in the same religion.

But as to you who do not believe My doctrine, or believe only a part of it, or live not according to it, neither ought you to murmur at Me and My doctrine or at those who believe truly in Me, because My Father has drawn them. Pray you, too, to My Father that He may draw you also, by removing from your understanding the darkness which prevents you from knowing My Church and the truths she teaches. Pray that He may remove from your heart the coldness and indifference which prevents you from loving the truth, and from your will the reluctance and resistance which prevents you from embracing it.

For this purpose, you should often say to God in all sincerity: “Our Father, who art in heaven, if there are still more truths which I must know and practise, in order to be saved, I beseech Thee, for the sake of Jesus Christ, permit me to know them in whatever way it pleaseth Thee to manifest them to me. Give me a good will that I may embrace them and practise faithfully what they command, until the end of my life.” If you pray perseveringly, in this manner, rest assured that you also will be drawn by My Father, to live and die with My true followers in the same faith.

All your unjust murmurs and complaints would soon be changed into joy, as I have promised when I said: ” Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full,” (John xvi. 24), for My Father “is rich unto all that call upon Him,” (Rom. x. 12) in My name, for the sake of which I will grant that life of which I have said: ” I am come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly,” (John x. 10), here by My exuberant grace and hereafter by My unspeakable glory.

This doctrine, of such vital importance for the salvation of mankind, is too seldom preached, little understood, and still less put in practice,” God thus permitting it,” says St. Alphonsus, “in punishment for the sins of men.”

“And now, brethren, as you are the ancients among the people of God, and their very soul resteth upon you, comfort their hearts by your speech” (Judith viii. 21), by explaining to them, as often and as plainly as possible, the great necessity of this doctrine on prayer, as well as the right manner of practising it, in order to derive therefrom all possible advantage.

In this book I have tried, my dear reader, to do this; wherefore, I venture to assert that the reading of it will be more profitable to you than the perusal of any other book, for the more you read it the more you will find this assertion to be true. I pray you to read it again and again with great attention, not because it is my production, but because it is a means which God offers you to enable you to attain eternal salvation, thereby giving you to understand that He wishes you to be saved. When you have finished reading this book, induce as many of your friends as you can to read it also.

You must also thank the Lord for what He teaches you in this book, “for it is a great mercy,” says St. Alphonsus, ” when He gives the light and grace to pray and to understand the importance of prayer.” “Ah, my dear brethren,” wrote Pope Celestine to the Bishops of France, “let prayer never leave your hearts, and the grace and mercy of God will never leave your souls. Rest assured that the Lord will never withdraw from you, nor cease to enlighten, guide and protect you as long as you pray to Him. You complain of the difficulty of saving your souls in the midst of a corrupt world, in which you are exposed to so many dangers. Do you wish to escape them all and to fear none? Arm yourselves with prayer. Prayer was the daily food and strength of the prophet; it was his whole delight; he understood but too well all its advantages.”

That is what I would call a tour de force. And that is just the preface? Sheesh! Bumping into guys like this made it very easy for me to consider swimming the Tiber. You can find the rest of this book on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.


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