From “The Pearl” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Today is the feast day of St. Ephrem the Syrian, Deacon and Doctor of the Church. Pope Benedict XV gave him the title of Doctor in his Encyclical dated October 5, 1920.

St. Ephrem was prolific, writing over 3000 poems and hymns during his lifetime. So why have I never heard of him? Maybe because I haven’t been paying attention. Well, I’m paying attention now because even though he wrote his poems in Syriac, they translate beautifully into English.

As I’ve written before, I really enjoy learning new things about our Church and the depth and breadth of our Catholic faith. And I enjoy sharing my discoveries with you too. Perhaps I’ve been studying the wrong poets for too long a time, but poems like this one leave me yearning for more.

Below is the Fourth Hymn of St. Ephrem’s The Pearl: Seven Hymns on the Faith translated by J.B. Morris. I think Hilaire Belloc got a kick out of reading poems like this. It left me mesmerized. After reading this, you will understand why St. Ephrem was known by the sobriquet, The Harp of the Holy Spirit.

The Pearl: Hymn Four

The thief gained the faith which gained him,
And brought him up and placed him in paradise.
He saw in the Cross a tree of life;
That was the fruit,
He was the eater in Adam’s stead.
The fool, who goes astray,
Grazes the faith, as it were an eye,
By all manner of questions.
The probing of the finger blinds the eye,
And much more doth that prying blind the faith.

For even the diver pries not into his pearl.
In it do all merchants rejoice
Without prying into whence it came;
Even the king who is crowned therewith
Does not explore it.

*****

Because Balaam was foolish,
A foolish beast in the ass spoke with him,
Because he despised God Who spoke with him.
Thee too let the pearl reprove
In the ass’s stead.
The people that had a heart of stone,
By a Stone He set at nought,
For lo, a stone hears words.
Witness its work that has reproved them;
And you, ye deaf ones,
Let the pearl reprove to-day.

With the swallow and the crow did He put men to shame;
With the ox, yea with the ass, did He put them to shame;
Let the pearl reprove now,
O ye birds and things on earth and things below.

*****

Not as the moon does thy light fill or wane;
The Sun whose light is greater than all,
Lo! of Him it is that a type is shadowed out in thy little compass.
O type of the Son,
One spark of Whom is greater than the sun!
The pearl itself is full,
for its light is full;
Neither is there any cunning worker who can steal from it;
For its wall is its own beauty,
Yea, its guard also!
It lacks not,
since it is entirely perfect.

And if a man would break thee
To take a part from thee,
Thou art like the faith which with the heretics perishes,
Seeing they have broken it in pieces and spoiled it:
For is it any better than this
To have the faith scrutinized?

The faith is an entire nature
That may not be corrupted.
The spoiler gets himself mischief by it:
The heretic brings ruin on himself thereby.
He that chases the light from his pupils
Blinds himself.

Fire and air are divided when sundered.
Light alone, of all creatures,
As its Creator, is not divided;
It is not barren, for that it also begets
Without losing thereby.

*****

And if a man thinks that thou art framed by art
He errs greatly;
Thy nature proclaims that thou, as all stones,
Art not the framing of art;
and so thou art a type of the Generation
Which no making framed.
Thy stone flees
From a comparison with the Stone which is the Son.
For thy own generation is from the midst of the deep,
That of the Son of thy Creator is from the highest height;
He is not like thee,
In that He is like His Father.

And as they tell,
Two wombs bare thee also.
Thou camest down from on high a fluid nature;
Thou camest up from the sea a solid body.
By means of thy second birth
Thou didst show thy loveliness to the children of men.

Hands fixed thee, when thou wast embodied,
Into thy receptacles;
For thou art in the crown as upon the cross,
And in a coronet as in a victory;
Thou art upon the ears, as if to fill up what was lacking;
Thou extendest over all.


St. Ephrem, Pray for Us.

You may read all seven hymns in The Pearl here.

Thanks to Neil Young (Music for Mondays)

Neil Young is in town! Neil Young is in town! That was what the sign on the Civic Auditorium said last Thursday night. It’s always big news when a big name comes to a small town. Not like I could go to the show or anything. My wife was hosting her book club meeting and although baby-sitting duty would kick me and the kids out of the house, I’m not quite ready to take them to a rock concert. I took them go-karting instead.

But I wanted to go to the show. So I did the next best thing. I hunted around for Neil Young songs on You Tube and started posting them on my Facebook page. See, I’ve always liked some of his songs, even when Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynyrd  told me that I shouldn’t like him. Sorry, I couldn’t do that Ronnie, because Cinnamon Girl rocks, man. (I can’t believe my wife has never heard of it. Sheeeeeeesh!)

Even so, before I became a Catholic, I was more close-minded. Which means that after I became a Catholic I became more open-minded.  Whaat?! Yeah, sounds like an oxymoron to be an open-minded, yet orthodox follower of the faith doesn’t it? But that is the way it is.

You hadn’t noticed? I can’t explain it all to you here, music fans, because that is way beyond the scope of a post like this. Suffice it to say that Neil Young is an interesting character, a non-conformist, and yep, you guessed it,  a contrarian. Is he a Catholic? I have no idea. But is he godless? I don’t believe so. Heck, some people think he may even be a prophet. I really can’t say. I do know that a few videos here don’t even begin to scratch the surface of Neil’s artistic and philanthropic work. I just know that I like Neil Young’s music and his character.  He isn’t perfect, but he knows that too.

Now then, what we have here are the makings of the longest Music for Mondays posts ever at YIM Catholic. Good thing that it is a holiday (here in the US at least), because this way you can crank up the speakers and sing along with Neil (and me).  Just be careful, because some of his tunes will melt your speakers down to the wires, which I think is a good thing too.

Why hasn’t Neil ever been awarded a Grammy? That is the question I’m asking myself too. I don’t know (ed. this has since been rectified!). No matter, come along and follow me for a taste o’ Neil Young and remember the wise words of Crash Davis from the movie Bull Durham: “Don’t think. It’s bad for the ball club.” Just enjoy these along with me.

First up, Neil’s folksy side:

Heart of Gold “Put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.” Thankfully, before Neil headed for “the ditch,” he recorded a show for the BBC in London and played this new song for the audience. Check him out as he fumbles around, in a very charming and relaxed way, for the harmonica in the correct key (key of G, in case you want to blow along with him) to accompany the song. This was Neil’s first and only #1 hit on the Billboard Charts and it is a beauty.

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That song sold me on Neal almost immediately. This song sealed the deal. As if Neil would need a band—sheesh! At the same BBC show, Neil also played Old Man. He gives us some neat background information about how he wrote it for the old foreman of his ranch in California. Listen to the words, which Neil enunciates as well as Frank Sinatra ever could, and see if you hear something spiritual whispering into your ear. I know I do around about here,

Love lost, such a cost . . .

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Like a Hurricane. Webster likes finger-picking rock guitarists like Mark Knopfler. Finger-picking? Yep, Neil can do that too. Now, what does the song mean? Hey, this is art! Subject to interpretation, see? I know what it means to me and I know something else: it sounds great.

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This Note’s for You. Here Neil basically sticks a knife in the heart of the mainstream. This song and music video, which parodied the MTV/Corporate influence of the music industry and, dare I say it, the materialist culture that is still prevalent today.  Show it to your kids. I am. They didn’t want to, but MTV honored this song and video with the Music Video of the year Award in 1989.

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Just Singing a Song Won’t Change the World I saw an interview Neil gave on the Charlie Rose Show where he told Charlie that all he has been given is pure gift, a gift that he has to share. This video, shot with someone’s hand camera, was done at a benefit for the Bridge School that Neil and his wife founded to help developmentally challenged children in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Two of Neil’s children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Talk the talk and walk the walk.

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Neil and his wife Pegi sing Four Strong Winds followed up by Neil alone on his When God Made Me performed at the benefit concert Live Aid Canada in 2005. Listen to the second song.  Does it make you wince at all? Sort of like good Catholic social teaching, it cuts to the quick.  Is the theology crystal clear? Probably not, but Neil isn’t a theologian either. But he isn’t an atheist either.

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OK, were moving into the “melt your speakers” portion of Neil’s oeuvre.  I’ve never seen the Jim Jarmusch film Dead Man (1995) starring Johnny Depp.  But after this discovery, I will be. And soon!  Neil set up monitors all over his studio and followed the movie along in real time playing whatever he felt from what he saw on the screen and as the action moved him. He told Jarmuch that the film didn’t really need any music. But Jim begged him to write music to the film anyway. Neil has a gift, see, and thankfully he understands that. Thank God he is sharing it.

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Have you ever heard of the group Pearl Jam? Neil wrote this tune Rocking in the Free World and performed it here with Eddie Vedder & Co. back in 1993. In letter-box format no less, so you can also melt your computer screen too. And note, Neil doesn’t go trying to bash his trademark black Les Paul guitar into any amps either. Unlike the rookies from Pearl Jam. Neal just shows them the reason why his guitar is given top-billing. Ow…that dude can jam!

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Fifteen years later, Out of the Blue, live in 2008, where the now older man shows that as you start losing your hearing, just turn up the volume and add more distortion. Break out your ear plugs or crank your speakers is all I can say. And don’t forget to listen to the message too.  After all, there’s more to the picture than meets the eye and it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

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See? Like I said, we’ve barely scratched the surface, but that is all we have time for this week. This could turn into one of those Webster-esque multi-part posts for me very easily. Maybe next time, we’ll do Neil’s movies.

 

To Remember the Fallen

This is a special Memorial Day edition of the YIM Catholic Community Prayer Intentions List.  In the United States, Monday, May 31st is a federal holiday. On this day we honor those who have given their lives while serving in the armed forces of our country during armed conflicts.

As the resident Marine on the blog, writing this post is a duty I must fulfill. Truthfully, I didn’t want to write it. But then I started remembering two Marines who died in an accident that almost killed me. Their names are Sergeant Armando Avila, and Sergeant Michael Vasquez.

They served with me in the artillery unit that I belonged to. Sgt. Avila was a cannoneer and responsible for a team of Marines that manned the 155MM howitzer that we all knew and loved, the M198. Sgt. Vasquez was a Forward Observer, or the eyes of the battery. He would radio back to our Fire Control Center positions and coordinates for targets. I loved these two men as brothers. Their families loved them even more.

I still wasn’t going to write this post though, because my two friends had died in a peace-time accident. Then one of my friends posted the picture and story of a guy I served with when he was a young enlisted Marine. Let me introduce you to my friend and comrade-at-arms, Major Jay Thomas Aubin, USMC.

Jay had always wanted to be a pilot, it was a dream of his. His father owned a little airstrip up in Maine. Little Jay was a lot like me, you see. He knew what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he knew it at a young age. Also like me, Jay wasn’t born with a silver-spoon in his mouth, but he had a goal, and goal setting is how you actualize dreams. Or maybe he, again like me, was called to the vocation of warrior.

Jay enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school for a four-year enlistment. After graduating from Parris Island, he went to school to learn how to repair communications and navigation equipment on aircraft.  He worked on A-6 Intruders, an all-weather attack aircraft. He was a good kid, a good Marine. He did his four years honorably, and left the Marines with money he had saved and earned. He attended college.

Like me, Jay didn’t go to college to “find himself” either. He went to earn his bachelor’s degree so he could come back into the Marine Corps as an officer and take his shot at flight school. If all this sounds pat and easy, believe me, it is far from that. The entire endeavor was a long-shot if there ever was one. College was the easy part but surviving Quantico (where Marine Officers are made), which is known for many things, is no cakewalk. He did well, made it to flight school, earned his wings of gold. Easy words to write, but extremely difficult tasks to accomplish.

He married a girl named Rhonda, who knew what she was getting into when she met Jay. Military wives are a special breed, and they need to be remembered as well. The Twin Towers were struck, and the machinery of society geared up for war. By this time, Aubin had moved up the ranks and was a Major and an experienced pilot (when I knew him he was a wee Corporal). His country said his unit must go to war, and he said “Aye aye, sir.”

Operation Iraqi Freedom was the name of the deployment. The war began on March 20, 2003. From here, I’ll let Hugo Kugiya of the Associated Press tell the rest.

Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin was among the first casualties of the war. He was piloting a helicopter with three other Marines and eight British Marines aboard when it crashed in Kuwait, two days after the war started.

The chopper was emblazoned with his nickname, Sweet Pea. It was a name given to him by a subordinate, inspired by the way Aubin responded to a favorable report: “Oh, sweet!”

“No one could find a name to suit him,” said his mother, Nancy Chamberlain of Winslow, Maine. “They kept coming up with these macho names, but they didn’t fit.”

He was not an imposing man, possessing a slight build and an easy smile.

Let me break in with a little reality here. Jay was tough as nails. Look at the photograph. He could run 3 miles like a gazelle, doing it in 18 minutes or less. Slight build? He could do 20 dead-hang pull ups. And when I knew him, 80 sit-ups in under 2 minutes. Marines come in two varieties: big and mean, and skinny and mean. OK? Back to the civilians’ write-up,

His was more of a nurturing personality. After the Marine Corps ball, he took his wife home, then checked out a van and drove back to the party, waiting for drunk Marines to exit, offering them a ride home.

Knowing him as I did, I can believe every word of this. He was an outstanding human being.

Aubin, 36, enlisted in the Marines, first, as a way to pay for college where he earned a business degree, then, so he could pursue the dream he had had of learning to fly, ever since he was an infant and his pilot father strapped him into his two-seater.

The crash that killed Sweet Pea was ruled an accident — there was no gunfire. Blowing sand and smoke from burning oil wells were thought to be a factor, his mother said.

“The thing that bothered me the most was I thought he was going to be blamed,” Chamberlain said. “But he wasn’t …

“He always said if he was flying a helicopter that went down, he wanted to go down too. I miss him more than I can tell you, but sometimes there are things worse than death. We’re the ones suffering now. But if he had lived, he would really be suffering.”

And that is how I received my orders to write this post. My buddy, Corporal Jay Aubin became Major Jay Aubin, aka Sweet Pea, and his family lost him at the age of 36. He was survived by his parents,  his wife, Rhonda, and their children, 10-year-old Alicia (now 17) and Nathan, 7 (now 14).

Our Lord said,  this is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:12-13). Whether or not you believe that this includes members of the military, let me assure you that it does. Sudden death is an occupational hazard for members of the military. For the rest of us, it is just a hazard. But death, either way, is inevitable, and those who put their lives on the line during combat operations are definitely following Our Lord’s commandment.

In the comment box below, if you would like to offer up a prayer for any of your friends or family members who have given their life while serving in the armed forces, please do so. You can remain anonymous or not, it is up to you. I would only ask that you adhere to our other regular rule, which is to avoid divisive politics.

There are hundreds, thousands,  tens of thousands of stories similar to Jay Aubin’s that I’ve shared with you today. So let us pray for the brave souls of our fallen, and for their families who have borne their sacrificial loss, together as a community. Semper Fidelis.

God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your sons and daughters.
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.




Because Immanuel Is His Name

The other day I wrote a post about how small an amount of time I am committing to Our Lord. The number I came up with was shockingly small. Given the years I wandered in the wilderness, the number probably has a couple of more zeros to the right of the decimal point. But that is in the past.

One fact about Our Lord is He doesn’t keep bringing up the past and how much I neglected Him or, more accurately in my case, flat-out ignored Him. Now I think of Him constantly. Our reader Rose wrote that her spiritual director has suggested that she remember that Our Lord is only “an awareness away.” Allison suggested praying the LOTH as another way to keep our Lord before us. I rely on these two tools daily.

Webster wrote once about Brother Lawrence and his Practice of the Presence of God. So simple, so easy that it is often overlooked to just think of God. Brother Lawrence did so constantly and I have read of his practice more than once during my walks to and from daily mass.

There is no known portrait of my friend Wu Li, SJ so I’m going to have to make-do with this one. Just a portrait of a wise looking Chinese man is enough for my mind to bring Wu to life.

A few days ago, I received my copy of Jonathan Chaves’ book, Singing of the Source: Nature and God and the Poetry of Chinese Painter Wu Li. I am so thankful that Chaves translated these beautiful poems for us all. This book belongs on every Catholic’s bookshelf.

The following poem in particular has had a profound impact on me.  It is from a series entitled Singing of the Source and Course of Holy Church. These words speak of our Triune God as He is, and as He is in the Eucharist, and how thankful I feel when I partake of Communion with Him.

Utterly transcendent, His wondrous essence
was never limited to place;
to bring life to the teeming people
He showed Himself, then hid.
Effortlessly, a single standard—
a new cake baked for us;
as before, the six directions have one supreme Lord.
In the human realm, now we have
a whole burnt offering;
in Heaven for eternity is preserved our daily bread.
I have incurred so many transgressions,
yet am allowed to draw near;
with body and soul fully sated,
tears moisten my robe.

So Wu Li felt the same way as I do when partaking of the Eucharist. Thoughts of gratitude and happiness because behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He is here. God is with us and He is as Good as His Name.

Song of the Mystic (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I know of Father Abram J. Ryan (1838-1886) because he was once the pastor of the parish where I usually attend daily mass. Each day I walk by a historic marker that tells the story of this “poet, patriot, priest.” The thing is, he was a Confederate loyalist, which makes him a rebel patriot.  Thankfully, the rebels lost the war. But even the Confederate troops needed a chaplain, and that is how Father Ryan served.

Father Ryan is best know for writing the poem Conquered Banner which, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, was “read or sung in every Southern household, and thus became the apotheosis of the ‘Lost Cause.’” Lost causes are good and all, but I prefer the following poem by Father Ryan instead. It is simple, beautiful, and evokes the theme of solitude, silence, and prayer.

Song of the Mystic 
  

I walk down the Valley of Silence—
  Down the dim, voiceless valley—alone!
And I hear not the fall of a footstep
  Around me, save God’s and my own;
And the hush of my heart is as holy
  As hovers where angels have flown!

Long ago was I weary of voices
  Where music my heart could not win;
Long ago was I weary of noises
  That fretted my soul with their din;
Long ago was I weary of places
  Where I met but the human—and sin.

I walked in the world with the worldly;
  I craved what the world never gave;
And I said: ” In the world each Ideal,
  That shines like a star on life’s wave,
Is wrecked on the shores of the Real,
  And sleeps like a dream in the grave.”

And still did I pine for the perfect,
  And still found the False with the True;
I sought ‘mid the Human for Heaven,
  But caught a mere glimpse of its blue;
And I wept when the clouds of the Mortal
  Veiled even that glimpse from my view.

And I toiled on, heart-tired of the Human,
  And I moaned ‘mid the mazes of men,
Till I knelt, long ago, at an altar
  And I heard a voice call me. Since then
I walk down the Valley of Silence
  That lies far beyond mortal ken.

Do you ask what I found in the Valley?
 ‘Tis my trysting place with the Divine.
And I fell at the feet of the Holy,
  And above me a Voice said, ” Be mine.”
And there arose from the depths of my spirit
  An echo—” My heart shall be thine.”

Do you ask how I live in the Valley?
  I weep—and I dream—and I pray.
But my tears are as sweet as the dew-drops
  That fall on the roses in May;
And my prayer, like the perfume from censers,
  Ascendeth to God night and day.

In the hush of the Valley of Silence
  I dream all the songs that I sing;
And the music floats down the dim Valley,
  Till each finds a word for a wing,
That to hearts, like the Dove of the Deluge,
  A message of peace they may bring.

But far on the deep there are billows
  That never shall break on the beach;
And I have heard songs in the silence
  That never shall float into speech;
And I have had dreams in the Valley
  Too lofty for language to reach.

And I have seen thoughts in the Valley—
  Ah! me, how my spirit was stirred!
And they wear holy veils on their faces,
  Their footsteps can scarcely be heard;
They pass through the Valley like Virgins:
  Too pure for the touch of a word!

Do you ask me the place of the Valley,
  Ye hearts that are harrowed by care?
It lieth afar between mountains,
  And God and His angels are there:
And one is the dark mount of Sorrow,
  And one the bright mountain of Prayer.

Belmont Abbey College, located near Charlotte North Carolina, has an archive on Father Ryan which you can access here.

Because 0.89% of My Time is Not Enough

Sometimes it’s dangerous putting a calculator into my hands. I can come up with some pretty wild ideas. This past Sunday, when visiting a different parish while on a trip to Georgia, the priest mentioned in his homily that if we only think about being Christians once a week during mass, then we are only giving Our Lord 52 hours a year, or only 2.167 days out of 365. Gulp! That’s nothing.

Later on, I played with this information a little bit. Figuring that sleep accounts for 8 hours a day, that leaves 16 hours a day for when I am actually awake. 16 hours times 365 days = 5840 hours a year that I am available to practice living life as a Catholic Christian. Now, if I only practice my faith by going to mass for 1 hour a week, as the priest mentioned, and I am only giving Our Lord 52 hours a year of my time, then 52 hours divided by 5840 hours equals 0.89% of my time.  Think about that for a moment.

How is that even remotely close to this?

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

If you said to yourself, it’s not, then you are thinking like me. Surely compartmentalizing our Catholic faith into just attending mass weekly is not enough to earn the “well done my good and faithful servant” kudos (Matthew 25:23). Nor is it enough time to fulfill the command to,

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19).

We have to do more. We have to find a way to give more of our time to the service of the Lord. One way is for us to consecrate our daily work to Him. Think about the number of hours we throw toward that task. At least 2080 hours a year. So up from .89% of our time to a whopping 36.5%. But even that is far from the mark.

I ran across this short poem by Toyohiko Kagawa recently that left me thinking,

I read in a book 
That a man called 
Christ 
Went about doing good. 
It is very disconcerting to me 
That I am so easily satisfied 
With just 
Going about. 

Over the next few days, I intend to look into various ways to go about fulfilling the passage in Deuteronomy above. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Because the Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Church

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Life.  In the Paulist published book entitled Light of the Cross in the Twentieth Century,  the following passage is attributed to Monsignor Louis Gaston de Ségur and describes in beautiful detail the scene that played out on the first Pentecost that we read of today in the second chapter of the book of Acts.

These thoughts of Monseigneur de Ségur help me better understand the fact that the Holy Spirit is indeed the Soul of the Catholic Church.  As many of our children receive the Sacrament of Confirmation this week, let us reflect on these truths on this great day.

Pentecost and the Holy Spirit

Before ascending into heaven, the Word Incarnate had promised to St. Peter and the Apostles that He would send to them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, of holiness, of justice, and of love, to become the Soul of the Church.

He had, moreover, commanded them to wait at Jerusalem, in retreat and prayer, this miraculous descent of the Holy Ghost. In obedience to this, and in expectation of the fulfilment of this promise, St. Peter and the Apostles, with seventy-two disciples and the holy women, had withdrawn to the upper chamber, and there, grouped around the Blessed Virgin, mother and queen of the budding Church, they persevered in fasting and in prayer.

Thus nine clays passed away. The tenth was the fiftieth after Easter, and was also the anniversary of the promulgation of the Decalogue by the Lord in the midst of the thunders of Mount Sinai. On this tenth day, at about nine in the morning, the whole house trembled, and the room in which the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin were Assembled was filled with a supernatural flame—a symbol of the Holy Spirit, of whom Mary was the living temple.

It descended upon each of the Apostles under the form of tongues of fire, penetrating and completely transforming them. At that moment they received both the plenitude of heavenly gifts and the fulfilment of all the promises of the Savior; the Catholic Church received its confirmation and its divine mission- and it was then, according to the most ancient traditions, that St. Peter, the first Pope, surrounded by all his brethren, celebrated for the first time the divine sacrifice of the Mass.

Now all this was noised abroad throughout Jerusalem, and many thousands of Jews came in haste to Mount Sion. St. Peter, seeing this multitude, had pity on them, and going out with the Apostles, he began to preach to them the resurrection and divinity of Jesus Christ. And all the Apostles joined in glorifying the loving-kindness of the Saviour. Then it was that God worked a great miracle—the Apostles preached in one language only, and there were present there men out of every nation under heaven, who were quite unable to understand Hebrew, and yet all understood the Apostles, and every man believed that he heard them speak in his own tongue. By this God desired to teach that His Apostles were helped by Him, and also that the Church is the universal society of all people, and that, by means of the Church, all are united in the same faith, in the same truth, and in love for the same Lord.

Seeing this great wonder which none could deny, almost all present unhesitatingly adored the God of St. Peter and the Apostles, and they cried, ” What shall we do?”

Then St. Peter instructed them briefly in the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption, prepared them for baptism, and, assisted by his brethren, he that day baptized nearly five thousand. The following Sunday three thousand more became Christians. This was the nucleus of that great and imperishable Catholic Society, which, from that time, has gradually extended over the whole world, teaching all the great nations of the earth to acknowledge Jesus as their King, and inculcating the lessons of holiness and peace, of devotion and charity, of purity of morals, and human respect; teaching, in one word, all that is great and true and noble upon earth.

The Holy Spirit is, I repeat, the soul of the Church.  It is He who sustains and protects it, who gives it life, and makes it fruitful in all good works; it is He who brings destruction upon its enemies; it is He who maintains in the true faith and constantly assists the Pope, its infallible head.

To continue reading this passage, click here for the rest available on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

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.


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