For the Art and Poetry of Wu Li, SJ (1632-1718)

Remember me and the pleasure I get from finding things out about our faith and sharing them with you? Well, I’ve been called Mister Google around these parts. But after this find, maybe it should be Doctor Google. You be the judge. [Read more...]

Because the Vocation You Pray For May Be Your Own

A few days ago, I wrote a post where I said that as a father and husband, I can’t literally go “to the Desert.” I quipped “maybe in the future.” Sure you will, I thought to myself. And then I found this story of a saint who did just that. Her name is Marie of the Incarnation and her Feast Day is April 18th.

Allison wrote a post on the same day about praying for vocations. Keep this in mind as you pray, because it just might turn out that the prayer may well be answered by an opened door. Who is to say what lies ahead for us? God knows. Barbara Avrillot was a mother of six, but her babies grew up and her husband passed away, opening the door to a life she had always admired. Let’s take a look.

What follows in italics is from the citation on Marie found in the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent.

Blessed Marie de l’Incarnation

Known also as Madame Acarie, foundress of the French Carmel, born in Paris, 1 February, 1566; died at Pontoise, April, 1618. By her family, Barbara Avrillot belonged to the higher bourgeois society in Paris. Her father, Nicholas Avrillot was accountant general in the Chamber of Paris, and chancellor of Marguerite of Navarre, first wife of Henri IV; while her mother, Marie Lhuillier was a descendant of Etienne Marcel, the famous prévôt des marchands (chief municipal magistrate). She was placed with the Poor Clares of Longchamp for her education, and acquired there a vocation for the cloister, which subsequent life in the world did not alter. In 1684, through obedience she married Pierre Acarie, a wealthy young man of high standing, who was a fervent Christian, to whom she bore six children. She was an exemplary wife and mother.

So she came from the upper crust of society and basically went to a boarding school (of sorts) with the Poor Clares. Sounds like something I’ve read before in a novel by Sigred Undstet. She married well and then had six children, which will definitely keep any mom busy for a while. Any dad too. Speaking of dads, he had his hands full at work. Take a look.

Pierre Acarie was one of the staunchest members of the League, which, after the death of Henry III, opposed the succession of the Huguenot prince, Henry of Navarre, to the French throne. He was one of the sixteen who organized the resistance in Paris.

Tea party anyone? Being a rich and well placed gentleman, I daresay he thought he could change the world, and obviously win. This story is getting good. Stand-by for an act of God.

The cruel famine (!), which accompanied the siege of Paris (war!), gave Madame Acarie an occasion of displaying her charity. After the dissolution of the League, brought about by the abjuration of Henry IV, Acarie was exiled from Paris and his wife had to remain behind to contend with creditors and business men for her children’s fortune, which had been compromised by her husband’s want of foresight and prudence.

Ouch. Dad wound up on the wrong side in this fight and was sent away (in irons?!). The family fortune is compromised too? Uh-oh, now mom has to fight to save the estate and provide for her kids as well. I hope she is up to the challenge. Surely, it can’t get any worse than this.

In addition she was afflicted with physical sufferings, the consequences of a fall from her horse, and a very severe course of treatment left her an invalid for the rest of her life.

What the heck? And I thought Kristen Lavransdatter had it tough. But truth is stranger than fiction, isn’t it? And, ahem, “severe course of treatment” most likely means a broken leg didn’t heal well. Game over? Not with her network, nor with her example of charity and good works.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century Madame Acarie was widely known for her virtue, her supernatural gifts, and especially her charity towards the poor and the sick in the hospitals. To her residence came all the distinguished and devout people of the day in Paris, among them Mme de Meignelay, née de Gondi, a model of Christian widows, Mme Jourdain and Mme de Bréauté, future Carmelites, the Chancellor de Merillac, Père Coton the Jesuit, St. Vincent of Paul, and St. Francis de Sales, who for six months was Mme Acarie’s director.

Yeah, you read that right, St. Francis de Sales and St. Vincent de Paul were in her Rolodex and paid calls to her salon. Sheeeeesh. Wait a second. I thought the rich had as much chance of getting to heaven as a camel has to pass through the eye of a needle. What gives? I told you this was a great story. It gets better:

The pious woman had been living thus retired from the world, but sought by chosen souls, when, toward the end of 1601, there appeared a French translation of Ribera’s life of St. Teresa. The translator, Abbé de Brétigny, was known to her. She had some portions of the work read to her.

Another rich illiterate? Doubtful, because she went to school with the Poor Clares, remember? Maybe either Vincent or Francis was reading to her in the salon on a visit. Ready for a miracle? Read on—

A few days later St. Teresa, appeared to her and informed her that God wished to make use of her to found Carmelite convents in France. The apparitions continuing, Mme Acarie took counsel and began the work.

I mean, what the heck would you do? Keep shopping and go on cruises? Talk about your life-changing experiences! As Our Lord says, “knock and the door will be opened to you.” Sure, the French hated the Spanish, but when Our Lord sends Big Terry as an emissary in a vision, well, I’d obey the call too, no questions asked. But what about the wealth?

Mlle de Longueville, wishing to defray the cost of erecting the first monastery, in Rue St. Jacques, Henry IV granted letters patent, 18 July, 1602. A meeting in which Pierre de Bérulle, future founder of the Oratory, St. Francis of Sales, Abbé de Brétigny, and the Marillacs took part, decided on the foundation of the “Reformed Carmel in France,” 27 July, 1602. The Bishop of Geneva (Francis de Sales again) wrote to the pope to obtain the authorization, and Clement VIII granted the Bull of institution, 23 November, 1603.

That answers the wealth question. Put it to work for the Lord! Speaking of Clement, way back around 200 AD, Clement of Alexandria wrote a lengthy exposition entitled Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? Basically it spells it out for us regular folks that when wealth is put in its proper place (read “way out in left field”), while Christ remains in the proper place (read “at the center of our being”), things work out just dandy. Especially when you give all your wealth away, as Marie eventually does. But not yet, I don’t think her husband would agree. Anyway. . .

The following year some Spanish Carmelites were received into the Carmel of Rue St. Jacques, which became celebrated. Mme de Longueville, Anne de Gonzague, Mlle de la Vallieres, withdrew to it; there also Bossuet and Fénelon were to preach. The Carmel spread rapidly and profoundly influenced French society of the day. In 1618, the year of Mme Acarie’s death, it numbered fourteen houses.

From zero to fourteen Carmelite houses in France due to the work of this fine soldier for Christ. Can she rest now? Go back on vacation? Why would she want to when there is still so much for this crippled mom to accomplish. Like to help fund, er, found the French Oratory and then the Ursulines.

Mme. Acarie also shared in two foundations of the day, that of the Oratory and that of the Ursulines. She urged De Bérulle to refuse the tutorship of Louis XIII, and on 11 November, 1611 she, with St. Vincent de Paul, assisted at the Mass of the installation of the Oratory of France. Among the many postulants whom Mme Acarie received for the Carmel, there were some who had no vocation, and she conceived the idea of getting them to undertake the education of young girls, and broached her plan to her holy cousin, Mme. de Sainte-Beuve.

The Ursalines were founded solely for the purpose of educating young girls. How progressive. Those wacky Catholics, always pushing the frontier of humanism and never getting credit for it. I’d like to get to know her “holy cousin” too. Marie was still married all this time but alas,

To establish the new order they brought Ursulines to Paris and adopted their rule and name. M. Acarie having died in 1613, his widow settled her affairs and begged leave to enter the Carmel, asking as a favour to be received as a lay sister in the poorest community.

OK, all the children raised? Check. No longer married? Check. Remember her life long dream of a “vocation to the cloister”? Check. Exit stage left!

In 1614 she withdrew to the monastery of Amiens, taking the name of Marie de l’Incarnation. Her three daughters had preceded her into the cloister, and one of them was sub-prioress at Amiens. In 1616, by order of her superiors, she went to the Carmelite convent at Pontoise, where she died. Her cause was introduced at Rome in 1627; she was beatified, 24 April, 1791; her feast is celebrated in Paris on 18 April.

Ever heard the expression “God writes straight with crooked lines”? What a life and what a marvelous ending! Maiden, wife, mother, wealthy patron of the Church, cloistered Carmelite, and then home with our Lord. May all our journeys end blessed as such.

Madame Acarie, please pray for vocations and also please pray for us.

You can read a full account of her life on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf in A Gracious Life by Emily Bowles.

For Thoughts Like These on Divine Mercy Sunday

It is the first Sunday after Easter, now known as Divine Mercy Sunday.  For the previous nine days we have been praying a novena for the Divine Mercy in preparation for this day. Today there will be services honoring the Divine Mercy image, special penance services, indulgences, etc. Why? All because some nun had visions and heard voices? Well yes, but only because the visions and voices were true to Christ and His Church. If it had been otherwise, we wouldn’t be commemorating this day with such vigor and passion.

For those of you who prayed the novena with us you know that I included various passages from works of saints, historians, and theologians to shed light on the various works of mercy that we were praying for on any given day.  After all, prayer itself is a work of mercy too.  Especially when we are praying for others as Our Lord asked us to do these past nine days.

I’ll spare you from any more of my personal reflections on this great day and leave you to enjoy it with these beautiful words and thoughts written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux about 900 years ago.  It is from his book of answers to the question he received from a nobleman named Lord Haemeric. To wit, why God is to be loved, and how much? What follows is chapter one of St. Bernard’s answer.

Why we should love God and the measure of that love

You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love. Is this plain? Doubtless, to a thoughtful man; but I am debtor to the unwise also. A word to the wise is sufficient; but I must consider simple folk too. Therefore I set myself joyfully to explain more in detail what is meant above.

We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable. When one asks, Why should I love God? he may mean, What is lovely in God? or What shall I gain by loving God? In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists, namely, God Himself.

And first, of His title to our love. Could any title be greater than this, that He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God’s claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us (I John 4.19).

Ought He not to be loved in return, when we think who loved, whom He loved, and how much He loved? For who is He that loved? The same of whom every spirit testifies: ‘Thou art my God: my goods are nothing unto Thee’ (Ps. 16.2, Vulg.). And is not His love that wonderful charity which ‘seeketh not her own’? (I Cor.13.5). But for whom was such unutterable love made manifest? The apostle tells us: ‘When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son’ (Rom. 5.10). So it was God who loved us, loved us freely, and loved us while yet we were enemies. And how great was this love of His? St. John answers: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3.16). St. Paul adds: ‘He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all’ (Rom. 8.32); and the son says of Himself, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15.13).

This is the claim which God the Holy, the Supreme, the Omnipotent, has upon men, defiled and base and weak. Some one may urge that this is true of mankind, but not of angels. True, since for angels it was not needful. He who succored men in their time of need, preserved angels from such need; and even as His love for sinful men wrought wondrously in them so that they should not remain sinful, so that same love which in equal measure He poured out upon angels kept them altogether free from sin.

As the song goes, Love is a many-splendored thing.

Because of Minor Miracles III (zzzzz)

At the beginning of January, I started a series of posts about this blog, how it began and evolved. I wrote three pieces about it, this one, this one, and this one. Then I went to sleep. Maybe you did too. But with Allison joining Frank and me this weekend, and with a new format up and running (spiffy, no?), I think this blog has finally reached a form to stick with for a while. So let me wrap this up.

I think I left off with:

Chapter 5 — The Crazy Marine from the Old South Who May Be An Angel or Something
That would be Frank Weathers. As I’ve written somewhere, YIM Catholic was only a couple of months old when I started receiving e-mail blasts from somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. When I paid attention, I was vaguely aware that they were from a “retired Marine” living in Tennessee. I figured “retired” meant ancient and “Tennessee” meant too much moonshine. Wrong on both counts. 

It turned out Frank was in his mid-40s, very knowledgeable, a convert like me, and a good writer to boot. I asked him to write a guest post and he wrote two, in an hour. About this time (Thanksgiving 2009), I was looking for help, divine or human, it didn’t matter. I felt tired writing alone each day and lonely (exposed to my own ignorance and readers’ reactions to it). I’m only half joking calling Frank an angel. I’m not sure what his former Drill Instructor would have said and don’t care.

The chemistry of the blog changed at once when I asked Frank to join and he agreed. It was fun again, and readers were picking up on the fun. I learned a whole new vocabulary. Frank was “covering my six” as YIMC’s co-pilot. He called me “Mav,” I called him “Merlin,” both “Top Gun” references. And he peppered me with the occasional “Bravo Zulu!” and “dumb civilian!”

Was this why I had started YIM Catholic? Absolutely not. Except that I had come to two conclusions: (1) I had run the table on all the reasons why I had become a Catholic, and (2) if this blog was going to continue it would have to transcend “Webster Bull.” I’m not the only Catholic in the world with good reasons to be one.

Chapter 6 — Building a Community
I read a piece on successful blogs about this time. It made several important points. One was, you’re better off finding people to help, especially writers. Check, I had Frank. Another point was, build a community. Interact with your readers. Comment on their comments. Understand what they want to see on your blog, or rather what they expect to see from your blog because only you can do it best, then do that.

I think we’ve been periodically successful sticking to this theme. We still fire off in all directions, and I suppose that’s one of the charming things about this space. But we definitely have made friends (and maybe a few enemies), and the friends have formed a community, at least in our own minds. When Warren Jewell doesn’t comment—or guest post—for a few days, we wonder where and how he is. When I get up in the morning, I look for Maria’s comments, because she seems to be up all night and very often has valuable things to say. We have friends with strange monikers, like Mujerlatina, EPG, and newguy40. I wouldn’t recognize any of them on the street, but we’d miss them if they didn’t come around now and then.

Blogging takes me outside my parish, outside my demographic, into the Universal Catholic Church (how about that Moses in Malaysia or Rose in India?). Come to think of it, the Universal Catholic Church is probably the first worldwide virtual community, dating to the year 33.

Chapter 7 — Yikes, It’s a Girl!
Which brings us to this weekend, when Allison Salerno has agreed to join Frank and me in a sort of unholy trinity of Catholic bloggers who love being Catholic. As the line at the top of this page suggests, this blog sometimes has had the sound and smell of a men’s locker room, what with all the towel-snapping and Bravo Zuluing and whatnot. Allison dared to barge in. What a fine writer! She is a cradle Catholic, unlike Frank and me. She is the mother of boys. I am the father of girls. Frank is father to both. We balance each other in many useful ways.

Furthermore, we all agree that there are more than enough Catholic blogs that obsess over politics, and we don’t want to be another. We all agree that what we do here is unlikely to make any of us a penny richer, and we agree that we don’t care. We agree that we love being Catholic—in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Tennessee, or wherever we happen to be going to Mass—and we want people to share the love. Furthermore, we’re all in the Eastern Time Zone.

Personally, I believe that the best thing a Catholic can do to evangelize is not to argue with anyone but rather to pray, go to Mass, aim for holiness, and smile along the way. That’s what we seem to be doing here, with maybe some question about the holiness. Hang around, won’t you?

FOOTNOTE: Pardon the seemingly presumptous image of the Holy Family at the head of this post about Allison, Frank, and me. No, Allison is not Mary, and I’m not Jesus. But I have learned that you can’t go wrong with St. Joseph.  May the Holy Family bless our efforts here below.

Because Nothing Matters, Until Everything Does

Allison recently wrote a good post about soccer and sports. I want to be clear: This is not a rebuttal to her post. I agree with much of what she had to say in that post, and with many of the comments as well. But forget sports, school work, home work, our careers, our relationships, our involvement in society, our intelligence, our physical gifts or impediments for a second. None of it matters unless our love of Christ is the center of our existence. For as Qoheleth says in Ecclesiastes, all is vanity. However, when we are Christ centered people, then everything matters.

You may remember from an earlier post that I hinted that I am a gearhead. I willfully dismantled a perfectly good engine in my Mustang in an effort to make it better, stronger, faster. I did this before I became a Catholic. I have always had an interest in motors, engines, airplanes, trucks, etc. I was just born with this attraction and with mechanical ability. So, new exhaust manifolds, intake manifold, cylinder heads, fuel injectors, camshaft—all were removed and replaced in my driveway with hand tools and moxie back in 1999.

Just to see if I still could, I swapped the cylinder heads on the motor again in 2002 (after my near brush with death). And actually, I had blown a head gasket and took that incident as an opportunity to add ported and polished heads.  That is an example of clear, focused, gearhead thinking for you. In 2005, I drove this car 2100 miles across the country from California to our new home. She is a runner and one spirited pony. And none of this matters for my salvation. That is, until it did.

A few months after our move, she (cars are feminine) broke down and I couldn’t figure out the problem. I started her up one day and she was running really rough. I opened the hood, checked the spark-plug wires, fuel injectors, sensors, etc. All was fine. But still, the motor had a wicked shimmy and was seemingly trying to tear herself off the motor mounts. Have I lost you with all the gearhead jargon? Sorry. Long story short, I put the pony to pasture for a while because I was busy with other chores, like building a stair-case and contemplating swimming the Tiber.

Eventually (over a year later) I finished the home improvement projects and decided to tackle the engine problem again. Knowing my limitations though, I took it to a professional. I learned early on that throwing money and personal labor at problems a professional can diagnose quicker and cheaper is silly. The problem? The harmonic balancer was slipping off the crankshaft key.

The balancer is a big counterweight that dampens the vibrations in the mechanical workings of an internal combustion engine. It probably went a little off kilter when I swapped the camshaft, and eventually it manifested itself as a wicked shimmy. See this photograph? The balancer is that thingy that looks like a wheel on the end of the crankshaft. Without the balancer, centered perfectly on the crankshaft, the engine will tear itself apart. With the balancer in place, the engine will run smoothly.

At the time my car’s motor broke, I was wrestling with my practice of Christianity. I knew that up to this time in my life, Christ definitely had not been the center of my existence. I had pushed him way out on the periphery. Of course, by doing that, the big counterweight that should have been my center was removed. Thus all the other moving parts in my life were vying for the central position. As a result, I was running as rough as my Mustang motor had been with the broken balancer. So this idea popped into my gearhead–Joe Sixpack mind: Christ is our harmonic balancer.

The idea of having Christ at our center isn’t mine, it is God’s. And this handy little diagram isn’t my idea either. But until the motor in my Mustang broke, I didn’t really “get” the ramifications of not having Christ as the center. This incident with the harmonic balancer was when theory and practical application came together for me. It is why I understand that putting sports, or anything else for that matter, at the center of your life instead of Christ will lead to oblivion.

Is this the shortest parable on record? I don’t really know, and truthfully, I haven’t checked. If it isn’t, though, it’s close.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.
Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is recorded as having said this in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 13). And there we all are as Catholics and Christians—yeast to be mixed in with the flour of the rest of the world so that the mixture is leavened and the loaf can rise. In the same Gospel, while giving His Sermon on the Mount He also says,
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
The Desert Fathers chucked everything and headed into the desert to pray and wait. I don’t have that option because I was called to be a father and a husband. And I understand that I am called to put Christ first in my life. I have found the Catholic Church to be the place where I can do this most effectively. And all of my God-given talents and abilities are to be put to good use and for His greater glory. The same is true for my wife and our children.
So be it sports, school work, home work, careers, relationships, involvement as citizens, our intelligence, our physical gifts or impediments, et cetera, et cetera, with Christ in his rightful and central place in our lives, everything we do, or think, or say, matters for our salvation.
Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War was not a Catholic or a Christian. Heck, he couldn’t have been because he lived in China around 500 BC. But I think he would have made a good Catholic Christian and he would understand where his loyalties must lie as a disciple of the True King. Note this saying of his,
The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
The same is true for us privates and gearheads too.

Thanks to Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

“On the day upon which the Church celebrates the feast, I had a vision of Mary’s Annunciation.”

At daily Adoration I have been reading slowly The Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the visions of German visionary and stigmatist Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824). I opened the book today (volume one of four) and found that I had reached the Annunciation, which we celebrate tomorrow. It reads:

“I saw the Blessed Virgin a short time after her marriage in the house of Nazareth. Joseph was not there. He was at that moment journeying with two beasts of burden on the road to Tiberias, whither he was going to get his tools. But Anne was in the house with her maid and two of the virgins who had been with Mary in the Temple. Everything in the house had been newly arranged by Anne. Toward evening they all prayed standing around a circular stool from which they afterward ate vegetables that had been served.”

I feel a bit kooky reading Emmerich. She starts with the Garden of Eden, for goshsakes, complete with a tree on an island in the middle of a pond, as vivid as the island green at Sawgrass (left). Emmerich’s vision of the Annunciation is just as vivid.

“Anne seemed to be very busy about the household affairs, and for a time she moved around here and there, while the Blessed Virgin ascended the steps to her room. There she put on a long, white, woolen garment, such as it was customary to wear during prayer, a girdle around her waist, and a yellowish-white veil over her head. The maid entered, lighted the branched lamp, and retired. Mary drew out a little, low table, which stood folded by the wall, and placed it in the center of the room. It had a semicircular leaf, which could be raised on a movable support so that when ready for use the little table stood on three legs. Mary spread upon it a red and then a white, transparent cover, which hung down on the side opposite the leaf. It was fringed at the end and embroidered in the center. A white cover was spread on the rounded edge.”

I love all this detail. Don’t you wonder where it came from—and how it could possibly go on for 1,800 pages? What was happening here?

“When the little table was prepared, Mary laid a small, round cushion before it and, resting both hands on the leaf, she gently sank on her knees, her back turned to her couch, the door of the chamber to her right. . . . I saw her praying for a long time with intense fervor. She prayed for Redemption, for the promised King, and that her own supplications might have some influence upon His coming. She knelt long, as if in ecstasy, her face raised to Heaven; then she drooped her head upon her breast and thus continued her prayer. And now she glanced to the right and beheld a radiant youth with flowing, yellow hair. It was the archangel Gabriel. His feet did not touch the ground. In an oblique line and surrounded by an effulgence of light and glory, he came floating down to Mary. The lamp grew dim, for the whole room was lighted up by the glory.”

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Emmerich entered an Augustinian convent when she was twenty-eight. “Here she was content to be regarded as the lowest in the house.” Her sisters were disturbed and annoyed with her weak health, her ecstasies, her strange powers. In 1813 she became bedridden, and soon afterward she received the Stigmata, including the marks of thorns encircling her head. In about 1820 Klemens Brentano, a famous poet, visited her. She recognized him, saying that he was the man who would help her fulfill the word of God. She dictated the entire
Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to Brentano. He was won over by her purity, humility, and patience under indescribable sufferings.

“The angel, with hands gently raised before his breast, spoke to Mary. I saw the words like letters of glittering light issuing from his lips. Mary replied, but without looking up. Then the angel again spoke and Mary, as if in obedience to his command, raised her veil a little, glanced at him, and said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to they word!’ I saw her now in deeper ecstasy. The ceiling of the room vanished, and over the house appeared a luminous cloud with a pathway of light leading up from it to the opened heavens. Far up in the source of this light, I beheld a vision of the Most Holy Trinity. It was like a triangle of glory, and I thought that I saw therein the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

“As Mary uttered the words: ‘May it be done unto me according to thy word!’ I saw an apparition of the Holy Ghost. The countenance was human and the whole apparition environed by dazzling splendor, as if surrounded by wings. From the breast and hands, I saw issuing three streams of light. They penetrated the right side of the Blessed Virgin and united into one under her heart. At that instant Mary became perfectly transparent and luminous. It was as if opacity disappeared like darkness before that flood of light.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us, “Sister Emmerich lived during one of the saddest and least glorious periods of the Church’s history, when revolution triumphed, impiety flourished, and several of the fairest provinces of its domain were overrun by infidels and cast into such ruinous condition that the Faith seemed about to be completely extinguished. Her mission in part seems to have been by her  . . .  Besides all this she saved many souls and recalled to the Christian world that the supernatural is around about it to a degree sometimes forgotten. A rumour that the body was stolen  caused her grave  to be opened six weeks after her death. The body was found fresh, without any sign of corruption. In 1892 the process of her beatification was introduced.

“While the angel and with him the streams of glory vanished, I saw down the path of light that led up to Heaven, showers of half-blown roses and tiny green leaves falling upon Mary. She, entirely absorbed in self, saw in herself the Incarnate Son of God, a tiny, human form of light with all the members, even to the little fingers perfect. It was about midnight that I saw this mystery.”

For Chants Such as These (Music for Mondays)

It’s Monday, and looking very gloomy in my neck of the woods. Pop music? Not interested. Blues? I feel them, but no. I need something a lot more holy than that today. Spring may have sprung, but it still felt like I was in hibernation this morning. Here are a few selections that fit the bill for my frame of mind.

First, the Regina Caelorum (the Marian antiphon from the Presentation of the Lord until Good Friday). Here is an English translation:

Hail, O Queen of Heaven enthroned.
Hail, by angels mistress owned.
Root of Jesse, Gate of Morn

Whence the world’s true light was born:
Glorious Virgin, Joy to thee,
Loveliest whom in heaven they see;
Fairest thou, where all are fair,
Plead with Christ our souls to spare.

V. Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O sacred Virgin.
R. Give me strength against thine enemies.

Let us pray: We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to assist our infirmity: that like as we do now commemorate Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, Mother of God; so by the help of her intercession we may die to our former sins and rise again to newness of life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Remember the Gospel reading yesterday when Jesus brought Lazarus back to life? Rejoice O Bethany. And the rest of these are in English, so I can follow along.

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And now for a couple more that are in English (whew!). First, the Polyeleos. The citation from Wikipedia reads:

The word “polyeleos” also refers to a large chandelier used in some Orthodox churches, particularly in monasteries. It is in the form of a very large circle (also called a corona or horos) with many candles on it, and is often adorned with icons of numerous saints. The polyeleos is suspended by a chain from the ceiling. During the chanting of the Polyeleos psalms (134 and 135), all of the candles are lit and it is pushed with a rod so that it turns back and forth during the singing, adding to the joy of the service. This practice is still seen in the monasteries of Mount Athos and in other traditional Orthodox monasteries throughout the world.

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This one reminds me of St. Romanus singing of the unapproachable light: Now Christ, Thou Sun of Justice

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For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 9 and His Feast Day)

Two years ago today, I realized that I didn’t want to take Thomas (More) as my confirmation name, I wanted to take Joseph. Taking “A Man for All Seasons” as my patron was aiming too high, I thought: statesman, writer, martyr. Joseph was more my speed: husband, father, worker. It was a fortuitous choice. Three days later was the Easter Vigil, and my father drove up from Connecticut to witness my reception into the Catholic Church. Three months later, Dad was dying of melanoma. I did not know at the time that St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death.

All summer long I said prayers for my father before the statue of St. Joseph that stands at the front of our church at the head of the right aisle. That St. Joseph stands watch over this post too. Dad died six months to the day from Easter, a happy man who had a happy death, or so I like to think.

Our late great Pope John Paul II gets a final word in this series of nine posts about St. Joseph, a novena that culminates today. His Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer) was written on the hundredth anniversary of Leo XIII’s encyclical Quamquam Pluries. As I wrote yesterday, Leo’s encyclical began a process of frequent “upgrades” of St. Joseph in the eyes of the Church. Redemptoris Custos summarizes a century of Papal teaching.

It’s late and you don’t need a lecture from me about it, so I’ll just give you the link here. Read it in your spare time. Say a prayer to St. Joseph. And listen to the closing words of a homily to him by Karl Rahner, SJ:

We have a good patron, who is suitable for everyone. For he is a patron of the poor, a patron of workers, a patron of exiles, a model for worshipers, an exemplar of the pure discipline of the heart, a prototype of fathers who protect in their children the Son of the Father. Joseph, who himself experienced death, is also the patron of the dying, standing at our bedside. We have inherited from our Father a good patron. But the question put to us is whether we remain worthy of this inheritance, whether we preserve and increase the mysterious rapport between us and our heavenly intercessor.

Joseph lives. He may seem far away from us, but he is not. For the communion of saints is near and the seeming distance is only appearance. The saints may seem eclipsed by the dazzling brightness of the eternal God, into which they have entered, like those who have vanished into the distance of lost centuries. God, however, is not a God of the dead, but of the living. He is the God of those who live forever in heaven, where they reap the fruits of their life on earth, the life that only seems to be past, over and done with forever. Their earthly life bore eternal fruit, and they have planted that fruit in the true soil of life, out of which all generations live.

And so Joseph lives. He is our patron. We, however, will experience the blessing of his protection if we, with God’s grace, open our heart and our life to his spirit and the quiet power of his intercession.

Blessed St. Joseph, patron of the dying, stand by us now and at the hour of our death!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 8)

If you don’t believe that Church tradition develops under the influence of the Holy Spirit, listen to how St. Joseph has been almost methodically “upgraded,” along with the Holy Family, by one Pope after another since the nineteenth century. This was not just a case of Popes waking up in the middle of the night and thinking to themselves, “Gee, I’d like to do something nice for St. Joe.”

In 1870, at a difficult time in the Church’s history, Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph the Patron of the Catholic Church. “In the providence of God,” writes Michael D. Griffin, OCD, “nothing has, I believe, made the faithful so directly conscious of the special importance of Saint Joseph. From that time onwards, devotion to Joseph has grown by leaps and bounds within the Church.”

In the great encyclical Quamquam Pluries (1889), Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) established the foundation of the theology of St. Joseph, stating that Joseph is greatest of the saints after Mary and ahead of all the other saints. His encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) would sum up the teaching of the Church on the singular role of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church:

The divine household which Joseph governed as with paternal authority contained the beginnings of the new Church. The Virgin most holy is the mother of all Christians, since she is the mother of Jesus and since she gave birth to them on the Mount of Calvary amid the indescribable sufferings of the Redeemer. Jesus is, as it were, the firstborn of Christians, who are His brothers by adoption and redemption. From these considerations we conclude that the Blessed Patriarch must regard all the multitude of Christians who constitute the Church as confided to his care in a certain special manner. This is his numberless family scattered throughout all lands.

Leo instituted the Feast of the Holy Family on the Third Sunday after Epiphany. That would change twice in the next eighty years.

Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922), in his Bonum Sane (1920), stated that the only hope for nations lies in families. Benedict made the Feast of the Holy Family a day of obligation and transferred it to the First Sunday after Epiphany. Benedict XV also reestablished March 19, the feast day of St. Joseph, as a holy day of obligation.

Pope Pius XI (1922–1939) left several teachings about St. Joseph and was the first Pope to state that Joseph belongs to the order of the Hypostatic Union along with Jesus and Mary. His successor, Pius XII (1939-1958) instituted the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, as an antidote to the Communist celebration of May Day.

Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) had a special devotion to St. Joseph and even proposed in May 1960 that the Assumption of St. Joseph into heaven “is worthy of pious belief.” This was ten years after Pius XII solemnly defined the Assumption of Mary. When John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, he commended it to the heavenly patronage of St. Joseph. Perhaps even more important was John’s insertion of Joseph’s name in the Canon of the Mass, immediately after the name of Mary and before all other saints.

Paul VI (1963-1978) spoke often of St. Joseph in homilies, and in 1969 he moved the Feast of the Holy Family to within the Octave of Christmas. While John Paul I lived only a month as Pope in 1978, his successor, John Paul II, issued the crowning tribute to St. Joseph with his Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer), on the hundredth anniversary of Quamquam Pluries. We’ll look at Redemptoris Custos tomorrow, on the final day of this novena, the Feast of St. Joseph.

Throughout this series of St. Joseph, I have been offering excerpts from a homily on the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ. Here’s the penultimate section:

[Joseph] received into his family the one who came to redeem his nation from their sin, one to whom he himself gave the name of Jesus, a name which served the eternal Word of the Father, the Word who had become a child of this world. And people called their redeemer the son of a carpenter. When the eternal Word was audible in the world in the message of the Gospels, Joseph, having quietly done his duty, went away without any notice on the part of the world.


But the life of this insignificant man did have significance; it had one meaning that, in the long run, counts in each person’s life: God and his incarnate grace. To him it could be said: “Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.” Who can doubt that this man is a good patron for us? This man of humble, everyday routine, this man of silent performance of duty, of honest righteousness and of manly piety, this man who was charged with protecting the grace of God in its embodied life?


Contemporary Christians might find their way back to what is best in them if the individuality of this man, their patron, were again producing more stature in them. Granted, a nation must have greatness of spirit and pioneers who will lead it toward new goals. Just as much, if not more so, however, a nation needs men and women of lifelong performance of duty, of clearheaded loyalty, of discipline of heart and body. A nation needs men and women who know that true greatness is achieved only in selfless service to the greater and holy duty that is imposed upon each life; human beings of genuine reverence, conquerors of themselves, who hear the word of God and carry out the inflexible decrees of conscience. It needs men and women who through their lives bear the childlike, defenseless grace of God past all those who, like Herod, attempt to kill this grace. A nation needs men and women who do not lose confidence in God’s grace, even when they have to seek it as lost, as Joseph once sought the divine child. Such individuals are urgently needed in every situation and in every class.

Blessed St. Joseph, whose clear example of dedication, righteousness, and manly piety has never been more needed than today, pray for us!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 7)

This series of posts on St. Joseph has drawn few formal comments to YIM Catholic. But friends have taken me aside, both in person and on line, to say that St. Joseph has attracted their attention. At the end of our visit today, my real-life friend Joan of Beverly noted the remarkable coincidence that devotion to St. Joseph is peaking in an age when the family is under attack more than ever. On-line friends Mujerlatina and Maria have been commenting too. Maria came up with this 100-year-old volume on Devotion to St. Joseph, a treasure I haven’t dug into yet.

The increasing interest in St. Joseph over the past 800 years that I have been detailing is a fascinating case study in how the Catholic Church’s traditions evolve with the times under the influence of the Holy Spirit. If your guiding rule were Sola Scriptura (the Bible is the only authority), you would have little to say about St. Joseph since he has literally nothing to say in the Gospels. But our Church, formed by Christ himself and the first Apostles, led by Peter, takes a broader view.

One of the more interesting testimonies to St. Joseph in recent centuries is the brief account of his early life given by the German mystic and stigmatist Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774–1824). Her four-volume Life of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is an epic visionary account of Salvation History from Adam and Eve through the death, burial, and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. It influenced Mel Gibson in making The Passion of The Christ, and it is currently influencing me. I have been reading a little bit of it most days at Adoration, and I’m sure I’ll have more to write at a future date. I hasten to add that Emmerich’s visions are not considered formal dogma or doctrine, any more than St. Teresa of Avila’s visions and voices are highlighted by the Church. But they exist for the faithful to contemplate.

Here’s Emmerich’s brief bio cribbed from the Web link to her book in the preceding paragraph:

ANNE CATHERINE EMMERICH [left] was told by Our Lord that her gift of seeing the past, present, and future in mystic vision was greater than that possessed by anyone else in history. Born at Flamske in Westphalia, Germany, on September 8, 1774, she became a nun of the Augustinian Order at Dulmen. She had the use of reason from her birth and could understand liturgical Latin from her first time at Mass. During the last 12 years of her life, she could eat no food except Holy Communion, nor take any drink except water, subsisting entirely on the Holy Eucharist. From 1802 until her death, she bore the wounds of the Crown of Thorns, and from 1812, the full stigmata of Our Lord, including a cross over her heart and the wound from the lance.

Anne Catherine Emmerich possessed the gift of reading hearts, and she saw, in actual, visual detail, the facts of Catholic belief which most of us simply have to accept on faith. The basic truths of the catechism–angels, devils, Purgatory, the lives of Our Lord and the Blessed Mother, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the grace of the Sacraments–all these truths were as real to her as the material world. Her revelations make the hidden, supernatural world come alive. They lift the veil on the world of grace and enable the reader to see, through Anne Catherine’s eyes, the manifold doctrines of our Faith in all their wondrous beauty.

And here is Emmerich’s account of Joseph’s early life. The image below is based on her description of the home he grew up in:

Among many things which I saw today of the youth of St. Joseph, I remember what follows.

Joseph, whose father was called Jacob, was the third of six brothers. His parents lived in a large house outside Bethlehem, once the ancestral home of David, whose father Isai or Jesse had owned it. By Joseph’s time there was, however, little remaining of the old building except the main walls. The situation was very airy, and water was abundant there. I know my way about there better than in our own little village of Flamske.

In front of the house was an outer court (as in the houses of ancient Rome), surrounded by a covered colonnade like a cloister. I saw sculptures in this colonnade like the heads of old men. On one side of the court was a fountain under a stone canopy. The water issued from animals’ heads in stone. There were no windows to be seen in the lower story of the dwelling house itself, but high up there were circular openings. I saw one door. A broad gallery ran round the upper part of the house, with little towers at each of its four corners, like short, thick pillars, ending in big balls or domes on which little flags were fastened. Stairs led up through these little towers from below, and from openings in the domes one had a view all round without being seen oneself. There were little towers like this on David’s palace in Jerusalem, and it was from the dome of one of these that he saw Bathsheba at her bath. This gallery ran round a low upper story with a flat roof on which was another building with another little tower. Joseph and his brothers lived in the upper story, and their teacher, an aged Jew, lived in the topmost building. They all slept in a circle in one room, in the middle of the story which was surrounded by the gallery. Their sleeping places were carpets, rolled up against the wall in the daytime and separated by removable screens. I have often seen them playing up there in their rooms. They had toys in the shape of animals, like little pugs. [Catherine Emmerich uses this word indiscriminately for any creatures she does not know.] I also saw how their teacher gave them all kinds of strange lessons which I did not rightly understand. I saw him making all kinds of figures on the ground with sticks, and the boys had to walk on these figures; then I saw the boys walking on other figures and pushing the sticks apart, placing them differently and rearranging them and making various measurements at the same time. I saw their parents, too; they did not trouble much about their children and had little to do with them. They seemed to me to be neither good nor bad.

Joseph, whom I saw in this vision at about the age of eight, was very different in character from his brothers. He was very gifted and was a very good scholar, but he was simple, quiet, devout, and not at all ambitious. His brothers knocked him about and played all kinds of tricks on him. The boys had separate little gardens, at the entrance of which stood figures like babies in swaddling clothes on pillars, but sheltered a little (in niches perhaps?). I have often seen figures like these, and there were some on the curtain which hung by the praying-place of St. Anne and also of the Blessed Virgin, but on Mary’s curtain this figure held something in its arms that reminded me of a chalice with something wriggling out of it. Here in St. Joseph’s house the figures were like babies in swaddling clothes with round faces surrounded by rays. In still earlier times I noticed many figures of this kind, particularly in Jerusalem. They appeared, too, in the Temple decorations. I saw them in Egypt as well, where they sometimes had little caps on their heads. Amongst the figures which Rachel carried off from her father Laban there were some like these, but smaller, as well as other different ones. I have also seen these figures lying in little boxes or baskets in Jewish houses. I think perhaps that they represented the child Moses floating on the Nile, and that the swaddling-bands perhaps symbolized the tightly binding character of the Law. I often used to think that this little figure was for them what the Christ Child is for us.

I saw herbs, bushes, and little trees in the boys’ gardens, and I saw how Joseph’s brothers often went in secret to his garden and trampled or uprooted something in it. They made him very unhappy. I often saw him under the colonnade in the outer court kneeling down with his face to the wall, praying with outstretched arms, and I saw his brothers creep up and kick him. I once saw him kneeling like this, when one of them hit him on the back, and as he did not seem to notice it, he repeated his attack with such violence that poor Joseph fell forward onto the hard stone floor. From this I realized that he was not in a waking condition, but had been in an ecstasy of prayer. When he came to himself, he did not lose his temper or take revenge, but found a hidden corner where he continued his prayer.

I saw some small dwellings built against the outer walls of the house, inhabited by a few middle-aged women. They went about veiled, as I often saw women doing who lived near schools in the country. They seemed to form part of the household, for I often saw them going in and out of the house on various errands. They carried water in, washed and swept, closed the gratings in front of the windows, rolled up the beds against the walls and placed wickerwork screens in front of them. I saw Joseph’s brothers sometimes talking to these maid-servants or helping them with their work and joking with them, too. Joseph did not do this; he was serious and solitary. It seemed to me that there were also daughters in the house. The lower living-rooms were arranged rather like those in Anna’s house, but everything was more spacious. Joseph’s parents were not very well satisfied with him; they wanted him to use his talents in some worldly profession, but he had no inclination for that. He was too simple and unpretentious for them; his only inclination was towards prayer and quiet work at some handicraft. When he was about twelve years old, I often saw him go to the other side of Bethlehem to escape from his brothers’ perpetual teasing. Not far from the future cave of the Nativity there was a little community of pious women belonging to the Essenes, who dwelt in a series of rock-chambers in a hollowed-out part of the hill on which Bethlehem stood. They tended little gardens near their dwellings and taught the children of other Essenes. Little Joseph went to visit these women, and I often used to see him escaping from his brothers’ teasing to go to them and join in their prayers, which they read by the light of a lamp in their cave from a scroll hanging on the wall. I also saw him visiting the caves of which one was afterwards the birthplace of Our Lord. He prayed there quite alone, or made all kinds of little things out of wood; for there was an old carpenter who had his workshop near these Essenes with whom Joseph spent much of his time. He helped him with his work and so little by little learnt his craft. The art of measuring which he had practiced at home under his master’s tuition was here of great use to him.

His brothers’ hostility at last made it impossible for him to remain any longer in his parents’ house; I saw that a friend from Bethlehem (which was separated from his home by a little stream) gave him clothes in which to disguise himself. In these he left the house at night in order to earn his living in another place by his carpentry. He might have been eighteen to twenty years old at that time.

To begin with, I saw him working with a carpenter at Lebona. This was the place where he first really learnt his craft. His master had his dwelling against some ancient walls which ran from the town along a narrow ledge of hill, like a road leading up to some ruined castle. Several poor people lived in the walls. I saw Joseph making long stakes in a place between high walls with openings above to let in light. These stakes were frames for wicker-screens. His master was a poor man, and made mostly only such common things as these rough wicker-screens. Joseph was very devout, good, and simple-minded, everybody loved him. I saw him helping his master very humbly in all sorts of ways—picking up shavings, collecting wood, and carrying it back on his shoulders. In later days he passed by here with the Blessed Virgin on one of their journeys, and I think he visited his former workshop with her.

His parents thought at first that he had been carried off by robbers; but I saw that he was discovered at last by his brothers and severely taken to task, for they were ashamed of his low way of life. He was, however, too humble to give it up; though he left that place and worked afterwards at Thanath, near Megiddo, by a small river called Kishon which runs into the sea. Joseph lived here with a well-to-do master, and the carpenter’s work which they did was of a higher quality. Later still I saw him working in Tiberias for a master-carpenter. He might have been as much as thirty-three years old at that time. His parents in Bethlehem had been dead for some time. Two of his brothers still lived in Bethlehem; the others were dispersed. The parental home had passed into other hands, and the whole family had come down in the world very rapidly. Joseph was very devout and prayed fervently for the coming of the Messiah. He was just engaged in building beside his dwelling a more retired room for prayer, when an angel appeared to him and told him not to do this, for, as once the patriarch Joseph at about this time had, by God’s will, been made overseer of all the corn of Egypt, so he, the second Joseph, should now be entrusted with the care of the granary of salvation. Joseph in his humility did not understand this, and gave himself up to continual prayer, till he received the call to betake himself to Jerusalem to become by divine decree the spouse of the Blessed Virgin. I never saw that he was married before; he was very retiring and avoided women.

This vivid account perhaps has no place in this string of posts about the history of devotion to St. Joseph. But it helps me to remember a simple fact: he was a real guy with real parents, brothers, house, and so on.

O blessed St. Joseph, whose holiness becomes only more vivid the more we study and meditate on you, intercede for us!


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