Because We Don’t Need Another Hero

I loved the Mad Max film series. My favorite was the second film in the franchise, The Road Warrior. But by the time Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome came around, the story was pretty stale to me.

But for some reason, the song sung by Tina Turner from that last film is stuck in my head. I think I need to share it with you. Maybe it’s because Thomas Merton died today, back in 1968. Maybe he is pointing out the truth of our fallen world to me, and suggesting this song.

I believe from watching the video and following along with the lyrics, this pop culture hit is a kind of modern day lamentation for Advent (or for Lent). My buddy Father Louis was on to something, I know that for a fact.

Or maybe it’s just me. But the scenes that unfold below look a lot like what Father Louis was writing about with these thoughts in The Seven Storey Mountain,

Free by nature, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born… loving God and yet hating him, living instead in fear and hopeless self-contradictory hungers.

Have a look and listen,

We Don’t Need Another Hero
Songwriters:Terry Britten & Graham Hamilton Lyle

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Out of the ruins
Out from the wreckage
Can’t make the same mistake this time
We are the children
The last generation
We are the ones they left behind
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change it
Living under the fear ’till nothing else remains

(chorus)
We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond,
the Thunderdome.

Looking for something we can rely on
There’s got to be something better out there:
Love and compassion
Their day is coming
All else are castles built in the air
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change it
Living under the fear ’till nothing else remains

All the children say:
We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond,
the Thunderdome.

So, what do we do with our lives?
We leave only a mark!
Will our story shine like a light?
Or end in the dark?
Give it all or nothing
We don’t need another hero…

For unto us, a savior is born.

Thus says the LORD, your redeemer,
the Holy One of Israel:
I, the LORD, your God,
teach you what is for your good,
and lead you on the way you should go.
If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea;
Your descendants would be like the sand,
and those born of your stock like its grains,
Their name never cut off
or blotted out from my presence. (Isaiah 48: 17-19)

Thanks be to God.

Update: Deacon Greg’s Quote of the Day from Father Louis.

Meet the Beatles! (Music for Mondays)

I’m not even going to try and squeeze all of the good out of the Beatles in this post. It simply can’t be done. It’s not even remotely possible. Sure, maybe Rolling Stone magazine (or these guys) could come up with the definitive Beatles play list, but why would you believe it? I mean, on what authority?

I’m just glad the Vatican gave them the big thumbs up sign! So forget all about picking the “best Beatles songs of all time” and let’s just enjoy a selection of some of my favorites here. To top it off, I’ll even include a few of my own thoughts, that granted, are completely, 100% guaranteed, private interpretations of their lyrics.

What’s that? I can’t interpret their lyrics, you say? And why not? The Apple Records Magisterium doesn’t exist. And even if it did, it collapsed when the Beatles divorced, broke up, split, and basically went their separate ways. As such, I can make their lyrics mean anything I want them to. Sure, it’s bad form to ignore the intent of the artists, especially when several of them are still alive to tell you what they were actually saying. But I’ve got three words for you on that front: Let It Be. Hey, that sort of rhymes with “heresy” doesn’t it?

So hold on to your hats and get ready to meet the Beatles!

Help! Live, back when live meant “for real.” These lyrics ring true for me and for my need for Our Lord and His Church. I used to be a believer in “sola” this and “sola” that. But now? Well it’s Advent and I’m singing this song until Christmas.

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Let It Be.Just when you thought it was safe to enter the water, they up and sing a song about Mother Mary. Sheesh! With a little help again from Billy Preston on keyboards.

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Lady Madonna. Whaat?! A second one?

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All Together Now. From the end of the movie Yellow Submarine. Sing along (it’s pretty easy to remember the lyrics).

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See? Once again, we haven’t even scratched the surface. One good thing though: most of these songs are short. I’ll see you next week for more MfM.

Because I Never Saw This Coming

Last Thanksgiving, let’s see…yes that was on November 26, 2009,— I received an e-mail from Webster Bull asking me if I would consider sharing my conversion story with the readers of this blog. I had been pointed towards YIMCatholic from either Patrick McNamara’s blog, or Deacon Greg Kandra’s blog (I don’t really remember which one), and I enjoyed what I had found here. 

I was a new(ish) Catholic myself and I had started poking around in the blog-o-sphere looking for kindred spirits. You know, guys like me who had been Protestants once and who had become Catholics. I knew there were a few of us around though, because I had found Francis Beckwith’s story in the Washington Post, see, when

I was considering the unheard of idea (to me anyway) of converting to Catholicism. And I knew that Anthony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the UK, was converting to Catholicism too in the same year I was. And as it turns out, that is when Webster had joined the Church as well.

As Webster reported, I had e-mailed him saying that I enjoyed his blog and that if ever I could help him out, I would be glad to do so. I didn’t think anything would come of it, really.  Sometimes my comments weren’t even published ( the nerve!), but I had sent him a few things I thought he would find of interest and that was about all I figured would result from my e-mailing him. And then on Thanksgiving Day, he asked me to share my story. 

That first 2BFrank post hit the blog on November 28, 2009 and thanks to the grace of God, I’ve been here ever since.

I never really thought I would be, you know. Writing my conversion story wasn’t my idea of a good time. It never, ever occurred to me to start my own blog, for example, and if Webster wouldn’t have asked, I would not be here now.

I had no idea that in one year, Webster would no longer be here blogging away with me. On other fronts, I had no idea that Allison would be here. Nor had it ever occurred to me that one day (it could happen) I might be the only person still writing here at all.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t know why I was called to join YIMCatholic as Webster’s first partner. Aside from term papers and essays in college, I had never written a word for publication in my life. But called I was, and that calling is what keeps me here sharing my experiences, as well as what I have found about the Catholic Faith that I think you may appreciate, or enjoy, or find comfort in.

So to all of you, and to Webster and Allison too, I say thanks for having me, and for taking a few minutes out of your day to stop by and visit here.

And I want to thank my wife, with whom I shared Webster’s initial request and who has steadfastly supported my efforts here. I pray that I am able to continue serving the Lord in a manner that I believe He finds favor with.

I also pray that you may find your visits here to be, as St. Anthony the Great would say, profitable.

“For often (Anthony) would ask questions, and desired to listen to those who were present, and if any one said anything that was useful he confessed that he was profited.”

Because, although I never saw this coming, blogging here has been a gift to me. A gift that I don’t believe I can ever repay. Pax Christi

“A Thanksgiving” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

A Thanksgiving by Blessed John Henry Newman
“Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.”
Lord, in this dust thy sovereign voice
First quickened love divine;
I am all thine,—thy care and choice,
My very praise is thine.

I praise Thee, while thy providence
In childhood frail I trace,
For blessings given, ere dawning sense
Could seek or scan thy grace;
Blessings in boyhood’s marvelling hour;
Bright dreams, and fancyings strange ;
Blessings, when reason’s awful power
Gave thought a bolder range;
Blessings of friends, which to my door
Unasked, unhoped, have come;
And, choicer still, a countless store
Of eager smiles at home.
Yet, Lord, in memory’s fondest place
I shrine those seasons sad,
When, looking up, I saw thy face
In kind austereness clad.
I would not miss one sigh or tear,
Heart-pang, or throbbing brow;
Sweet was the chastisement severe,
And sweet its memory now.
Yes!let the fragrant scars abide,
Love-tokens in thy stead,
Faint shadows of the spear-pierced side
And thorn-encompassed head.
And such thy tender force be still,
When self would swerve or stray;
Shaping to truth the froward will
Along thy narrow way.
Deny me wealth; far, far remove
The lure of power or name;
Hope thrives in straits, in weakness love,
And faith in this world’s shame.

For All The Saints: Clement I

Feast of Pope St. Clement I

Today is the feast day of the third (or fourth?) pope of The Church. Clement left one of the first patristric writings when he wrote letters from his office in Rome to the church in Corinth. But what else is known about him?

The first source I saw, from the good folks over at Universalis, said that nothing certain is known of his life. Looking for a little bit more than the terse paragraph they had on him, I turned to the handy YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

There, I found this interesting account of Clements’ life in a book entitled, Lives of the Saints: Compiled From Authentic Sources by a Jesuit Father named Francis Xavier Weninger. Published in 1876, I found this from Volume 11. Have a look before you go and read his letters to the Corinthians.

St. Clement, Pope and Martyr

Whilst the holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, were preaching the Gospel at Rome, there came to them Clement, a son of Faustinus, who was related to the Emperor Domitian. After several discourses with St Peter, he saw the error of Paganism in which he had been born and educated, and became a convert to the Christian faith. He progressed so rapidly in virtue and holiness, that he was of great help to Paul in converting the heathen, as the holy Apostle testifies in his Epistle to the Philippians.

The unwearied zeal he manifested in such holy endeavors, his purity and other bright virtues, raised him, after the death of Sts. Linus and Cletus, to the government of the entire Church of Christ. In this elevated but burdensome dignity, his holy life was an example to his flock.

He gave several excellent laws to the Church, by one of which he divided the city into seven districts, and placed in each a notary to record the deeds, virtues and martyrdom of those who were persecuted for Christ’s sake, that posterity, admiring their heroism, might be animated to follow their example. His sermons were so full of deep thought and so powerful, that he daily converted several heathens.

Among these was Flavia Domitilla, a niece of the Emperor Domitian, who not only became a zealous Christian, but refusing several advantageous offers of marriage, vowed her virginity to God. He converted Sisinius, one of the most influential men in the city, by a miracle. While yet a heathen, Sisinius went unseen into the secret chapel where the Christians assembled, in order to ascertain what they were doing, and to see whether his wife was among them. God, however, punished him immediately with blindness in both eyes. He discovered himself by calling for someone to lead him home; and St. Clement, who was present, went to him, and, restoring his sight after a short prayer, he improved the occasion to explain to him the truths of Christianity.

Sisinius, being soon convinced, received holy baptism, and many heathens followed his example. The Emperor Trajan, being informed of this, commanded St. Clement to be banished to the Chersonesus, unless he consented to sacrifice to the gods. Nearly two thousand Christians had already been banished to that region, where they were forced to work in mines and quarries.

The holy Vicar of Christ rejoiced to be thought worthy to suffer for his Divine Master, and indignantly refused to comply with the Emperor’s command to worship the Pagan idols. He was accordingly transported, and condemned to labor like the others. This fate at first seemed very hard to him, but the thought that he suffered it for Christ’s sake, strengthened him.

With the same thought he endeavored also to inspire his unhappy companions, when he saw that they became discouraged and lost their patience. He also frequently represented to them the reward which was awaiting them in heaven. A miracle that God performed through him raised him to great consideration even with the heathens. There was a great scarcity of water; and the Christians suffered much from the thirst occasioned by their hard work.

St. Clement, pitying them most deeply, prayed to God to help them. Rising from his knees, he saw, on a high rock, a lamb, which seemed, with his raised right foot, to point to the place where water could be found. The holy man, trusting in the Almighty, seized an axe, and, lightly striking the rock, procured a rich stream of clear water, which refreshed all the inhabitants of the country, especially the poor persecuted Christians.

So many heathens were converted on account of this miracle, that, in the course of a year, almost all the idolatrous temples were torn down, and Christian churches erected in their stead. Some of the idolatrous priests complained of this to the Emperor, who immediately sent Aufidian, a cruel tyrant, to force the Christians to forsake their faith, and to put St. Clement to death.

The tyrant endeavored to induce the holy man to forsake Christ, but finding that all words were useless, he commanded the executioners to tie an anchor to the neck of St. Clement, take him out into the sea, and cast him into the deep, in order that nothing of him should remain to comfort the Christians. The last words of the holy Pope were: “Eternal Father! receive my spirit!”

The Christians, who had been encouraged by him to remain constant in their faith, stood on the sea-shore, until the tyrant and his followers had departed, after the death of the Saint. They then knelt in prayer, to beg of the Almighty that He would restore to them the body of their beloved shepherd; and, whilst they prayed, the sea began slowly to retreat from the shore.

The Christians, following the retreating water, came to the place where the Saint had been cast into the sea, and found, to their inexpressible astonishment, a small marble chapel, and in it a tomb of stone, in which the body of the holy Pope was reposing. At his side lay the anchor which had been tied around his neck.

The joy and comfort that filled the hearts of the faithful at this sight can more easily be imagined than described. They wished to take the holy body away, but God made known to them that, for the present, it should not be disturbed; and that every year the sea would retreat, during seven days, so as to permit all to visit the shrine of the Saint. This took place for several years, until, at last, by divine revelation, the relics were transported to Rome.

Thanks to Father Antonio Vivaldi, “the Red Priest”

Around this time of the year, my appreciation for classical music rises to the surface. I don’t know if it is because of the change of seasons, or whether it is the “fall back” move on our clocks. Perhaps it’s because the days are getting shorter and the nights longer now that “daylight savings time” is over.

I’m a simple man, and I would be quickly found a liar if I tried to buffalo you with the idea that I am a man who is a well-educated, and throughly cultured, connoisseur of classical music. No. I’m a poor hick who only knows what he likes. And I’ve always liked Vivaldi and his Four Seasons. I do know that his music came before Bach, Handel, and Beethoven, and that is about it.

But here is what prompted this post: yesterday morning, while preparing to head to Mass, I heard a snippet of a program on NPR where the announcer mentioned that Vivaldi had been “in the clergy.”

Whaat?! It didn’t take me long to determine that given the time frame, and the fact that he was an Italian, that Vivaldi was a Catholic priest. And due to his being a red-head, he was given the nick-name of “the Red Priest.”

A quick check of the internet later and sure enough, seemingly the whole world knows that Vivaldi was a Catholic priest, except me. Somehow I missed hearing about that in music class, and a part of me thinks this is the result of a cover-up. But as I always say, let the sun shine in.

Father Antonio was ordained in 1703 and it seems like he only performed his clerical duties for a short while due to ill health.  He suffered from asthma, among other ailments.

Here is the trailer of a movie based on Vivaldi’s early career. Truthfully, I don’t know if this film ever made it into the theaters or even if it ever hit the small screen instead. But, as you can see, he is wearing a collar throughout. And you get the distinct impression that the good looking red-head had a problem in common with modern-day musicians as well.

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Andante from Concerto In D Minor for 2 Mandolins. But instead of two mandolins, we get Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Bobby McFerran playing his voice box. This is pretty amazing.

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Double Concerto for Two Cellos. This is a beautiful piece Vivaldi wrote for cellos. And this is a very clever presentation with Rebecca Roundman “using multi-tracking. Rebecca plays the two solo cellos parts, the violin 1 part, the violin 2 part, the viola part (not shown), the section cello part and the bass part.” All I can say is, “bravo!”

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Vivaldi did a lot more than this too. Operas and concertos. Sacred and choral music. Like just about any other MfM post though, we are just scratching the surface of his work here. Do you believe he died a pauper? I haven’t read his biography yet (where do you start?) but maybe, just maybe, he wanted to die in that state.

For Thoughts Like These On Martyrdom By Archbishop Sheen

Martyrdom has been on our minds here at YIMCatholic lately. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once wrote that “death is the affirmation of the purpose of life in an otherwise meaningless existence.”

Our Lord led by example, was killed, and buried, by the well meaning and peace-keeping Proconsul named Pilate.

Jesus was an irritant, see, and Pilate, though knowing in his heart that He was innocent, had Him killed anyway. As Father Ronald Knox put it so simply, such is the way of the world. With Our Lord’s Resurrection though, the Game changed and the God of Ecclesiastes unveiled a Heaven sent major revision to the meaning of death.

Sometimes during the Memorial Acclamation at mass we say “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.” (cf. 1 Cor 15 3-23). He leads by example in all things, because if He did not, Christianity would have been stillborn right there at the foot of the Cross. Instead, after Pentecost, former scaredy cats who hid in fear boldly proclaimed the Gospel in a manner that puts real flesh on the phrase “what…you want to live forever?!”

I don’t think there are any words I can offer to succor the families in Iraq left behind in the wake of the deaths of their loved ones. Archbishop Fulton Sheen has a short chapter in his wee book The Power of Love, though, that reminds us that there is more to the picture than meets the eye. Perhaps these thoughts may provide both solace and hope for the persecuted in Iraq and the world over.

Those Who Suffer Persecution by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

“Blessed are you when all men speak well of you, when you are popular and in the limelight,” is a beatitude of the world.

Let the Lord come into a world that believes that our whole life should be geared to flattering and influencing people for the sake of what they can do for us, and say to them: “Blessed are you when men hate you, persecute you, revile you,” and He will find Himself without a friend in the world, and an outcast on a hill with a mob shouting His death and His flesh hanging from Him like purple rags.

This Beatitude is really the Beatitude of the blessedness of being persecuted, or the happiness of being a martyr. In its full statement it runs: “Blessed are those who suffer persecution in the cause of right; the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are you, when men revile you, and persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you falsely, because of Me. Be glad and lighthearted, for a rich reward awaits you in Heaven.”

When Our Lord spoke of the world, He did not mean the physical world or the cosmos, He meant the spirit of the world which was arrayed against Him and His followers; a world which would one day kill his servants and think it was rendering a service to God, a world that is composed of human nature organizing itself against Divinity.

The Christian is bidden to be happy as Peter and the Apostles were when they were permitted to incorporate themselves to the Cross of Christ in order to share in the glory of His Resurrection. To be tolerated sometimes is a sign of weakness; to be persecuted is a compliment. The mediocre survive.

The persecuted person shows that his belief is taken seriously and the cause for which he stands must be eliminated if evil is to conquer. True it is that evil men are persecuted, but they do not come within this Beatitude, for as Saint Paul said: “If I should deliver my body up to be burned and have not the love of God and my neighbor in my heart, then it profits me nothing.” A martyr must die for the faith, not for his property, nor his good name, nor for the sake of the Party. Self-made martyrs are numerous, but they have no place in the ranks of those who are promised the Kingdom of Heaven for taking the Cross of Christ on their shoulders.

One would expect that a person who is humble and unselfish, merciful and loving of mankind, should expect a peaceful end, but the Lord who made human hearts knew better. He, therefore, closed His Beatitudes by showing the treatment He would have us expect from the world.

Martyrs, witnesses to the Divine Love in the world, are promised the Kingdom of Heaven. They do not possess it merely because they suffer and endure; they rather suffer and endure because they already possess the Kingdom in their own hearts. One great and mysterious fact that is not generally known to the world is that wherever there is persecution on account of the Faith, it always results in a vast catch of souls for the Kingdom of God. Tertullian was right when he said: “Blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

The triumph of truth in Heaven is not enough; it must also have its glorious revenge in the very theater of its humiliations and conflicts. The world must see how mistaken it was in rejecting Divine Love, and must be forced to exclaim again with Julian the apostate: “Oh Galilean! Thou hast conquered!”

From today’s responsorial Psalm, “The Lamb has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God.” Amen.

Update: To Send Supplies to Iraqi Christians.

Because Christian Martyrdom Sheds No Innocent Blood

Originally posted back on September 16th, the Feast of St. Cyprian, I am breaking this post out of the archives again. The recent killings of parishioners at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad bring the title of this post into stark relief with the events that transpired there on All Hallows Eve. St Cyprians words do not alleviate the pain, nor do they erase this tradgedy from our minds. But they do point to something larger than ourselves: the truth in the title of this post points to the Truth of the Word Incarnate.

—Feast of St. Cyprian

Today is the day we commemorate the fellow you see in the icon to your left. Cyprian was beheaded for refusing to worship the false gods of the Roman Empire.

There was no separation of church and state, see, so the state decided to make an example of Cyprian, and thousands of other Christian martyrs too. The state, the Empire, lost the war against Christianity, and collapsed like the house of cards that it was.

On days like this, when the Catholic Church reveres a martyr, I am struck by a signal truth: the only innocent blood that was shed is that of the martyr. In other words, they didn’t go out with “a bang”, trying to bring as many down with them as possible. To me, that fact alone proves the supernatural Truth of the Way.

As a Marine, I promised to put my life on the line for the safety of the citizens of my home country. I promised to willingly take lives, and perform duties that would facilitate the taking of many lives, in order to fulfill this pledge. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The Marine Corps taught “my hands to fight, and my fingers to war.”

I am retired from the Marines now. As such, I am no longer bound by this oath made by men. As oaths go, it is a fine one. But now, my sword has been turned into a ploughshare and my time and talents are no longer to “be exercised any more to war.” Not temporally, anyway.

Below is a letter St. Cyprian wrote to honor those who fell as martyrs, and to encourage those who may fall in the service of Our Lord. The martial symbolism is not lost on me. Nor is the call to spiritual arms. But as you read the letter below, keep in mind that each of these martyrs never lifted a sword against their oppressor. And they each, as Cyprian does, knew who the oppressor really is, and that lifting a sword against a mere pawn of that oppressor was, and still is, pointless.

Sun Tzu once wrote that,

All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

St. Cyprian saw the strategy, and so does every Christian who dies as a martyr. This is one of the myriad paradoxes of our life of faith. I believe Sun Tzu would understand this since he said,

Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.

If Sun Tzu would have been alive when the missionaries first came to China, I think he would have understood the Way.

Here is a portion of St. Cyprian’s thoughts on martyrdom,

St. Cyprian’s 10th Epistle

Cyprian, to the martyrs and confessors, continued health in Christ our Lord, and in God the Father:

I am exceeding glad, and heartily congratulate you, brethren, most blessed in your great endurance, when I hear of your faith and courage, in which your Mother the Church triumphs. Indeed she triumphed before, when a judicial sentence drove the confessors of Christ into exile, without shaking their constancy. But your present confession is as much more glorious and honorable than that, as the sufferings have been greater, through which it has been maintained. The combat has been greater, and greater has been the glory of the combatants.

You have not been deterred from the contest, but you have been rather the more excited to the battle, by the prospect of torture: and you have returned, firm and undaunted, with an unshaken devotion, to the struggles of the hottest engagement. Some of you, I hear, have already been crowned; some are pressing towards the crown of victory, and stand ready to grasp it; and all the glorious band, upon whom the dungeon has closed, are animated with an equal and mutual ardor to carry on the contest.

This is as it ought to be with the soldiers of Christ in the army of the saints; that effeminacy may not enervate, that threats may not terrify, that racks and tortures may not move the integrity and stability of their faith. Since He is greater who is in us, than he who is in the world; and no earthly infliction has greater power to cast us down, than the Divine help has to support us.

Of this we have the proof before our eyes, in the glorious contest of those of our brethren, who were the leaders in this conquest of tortures; and afforded an example of constancy and faith, while they rushed again and again on the battle, until the battle was overcome. In what words shall I proclaim your praises, O brethren, most invincible! With what device of the herald shall I blazon the strength of your fortitude, the endurance of your faith!

You have borne the most exquisite tortures, even to the consummation of your glory; nor have you yielded to torment, but rather torment has yielded to you. Your martyrdom has crowned those sufferings, to which your tortures refused to put an end. The severity of infliction was thus continued, not to the overthrow of a dauntless faith, but that it might transport men more rapidly to their Lord.

The spectators wondering at the celestial contest, the contest of God, the spiritual contest, the battle of Christ, saw his servants standing, with a determined voice, with a mind untainted, with heavenly virtue; without the arms of this world, indeed, but strong in the panoply of faith. The tortured stood more unmoved than their torturers; and the crushed and lacerated limbs overcame the instruments of cruelty. The fierce and often repeated lash could not overcome their invincible faith, although their very vitals were laid open with repeated stripes, and the frequent blow fell not on the body, but on the wounds of the servants of God.

The effusion of blood might have extinguished the flames of persecution, might have assuaged the very fires of hell with its glorious stream. O how noble was that spectacle! In the eyes of the Lord how sublime! How great, how acceptable in the sight of God, that fulfillment of the oath, that pledge of the devotion of his soldiers! Since it is written in the Psalms, the Holy Spirit speaking also to us, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

This is indeed a precious death, which has purchased immortality; which has received the crown as the consummation of virtue. How did Christ then rejoice! How willingly did he fight and conquer in such servants of his; confirming their constancy, and giving to all those who believed in him according to their faith!

He was present, as if the contest were His own: He strengthened, encouraged, and animated those who fought for Him, and for the honor of His name: and He who once conquered death for us, continues to conquer death in us. When they shall deliver you up, says he, think not what ye shall say; for in that hour it shall be given you what ye shall say: for it is not ye who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaketh in you.

The present combat afforded an evidence of this truth. A word full of the Holy Spirit broke from the mouth of the most blessed martyr Mappalicus, when he exclaimed, in the midst of his tortures, to the Proconsul, Tomorrow shall you see a struggle indeed! And what he said with the witness of a courageous faith, the Lord himself fulfilled. The heavenly struggle was seen; and the servant of God received his crown in the height of the anticipated contest.

This is the struggle which the Apostle Paul describes, in which we ought to run so as to obtain the crown of glory: Know ye not, says he,

that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize ? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown ; but we an incorruptible.

Again, describing his own contest, and in immediate anticipation of being offered up, he says,

For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

This struggle, therefore, appointed by the Lord, undergone by Apostles, Mappalicus, in his own name and in the name of his companions, promised that the Proconsul should see. Nor did he disappoint the expectation that he had excited: he exhibited the contest he had promised; he bore off the palm which he deserved.

Let me, then, exhort those of you who remain, to follow that most glorious martyr, and the rest who shared in his engagement; who were patient in tribulation, who were victorious over the rack, and stood like soldiers and comrades unbroken in faith.

That those whom the bond of one confession and the walls of the dungeon have already associated, may also be associated in the consummation of virtue and the heavenly crown. That you may dry, by your joy, those tears of your Mother the Church, which she sheds over the fall and ruin of many; and that you may confirm those, who are yet unshaken, by your example of endurance.

When your turn shall arrive, and you too shall be called to the fight, quit yourselves valiantly, and endure with constancy; well assured that you fight under the eyes of the Lord, who is present with you, and that you march to glory through the confession of his name. He is not such a master as to look on his servants from afar; but He himself struggles together with them; with them He advances to the conflict: He himself, in the successful issue, both bestows and receives a crown.

St. Cyprian, pray for us. You can read more of this letter on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

Because Vincent de Paul was Once a Muslim’s Slave

Life got you down? Things perhaps haven’t turned out as you planned? Do you think everyone else has got it so easy? Your neighbors, for example, or those fortunate people who come into a considerable sum of money?

And how about those saintly types? They are simply walking on air, those guys, living lives of complete and blessed beatitude, right? Hold up!

While in Heaven the saints enjoy the beatific vision, but while they were here on earth? They were slogging it out with the rest of us. And that even includes those who were fortunate enough to be blessed with an earthly inheritance.

Take St. Vincent de Paul for instance (today is his feast day). Following his being ordained a priest, in the year of Our Lord 1605, he received news that someone had left him an inheritance. Saints be praised! Come and see where this development led him.

Once Upon a Time, over four hundred years ago…

The young priest’s life flowed on peacefully for the next five years, and then a startling adventure befell him. An old friend of his died at Marseilles, and Vincent received news that he had been left in the will a sum of fifteen hundred livres, which in those days was a considerable deal of money. Vincent’s heart was full of gratitude. What could he not do now to help his poor people. And he began to plan all the things the legacy would buy till it struck him with a laugh that ten times the amount could hardly get him all he wanted. Besides, it was not yet in his possession, and with that reflection he set about his preparations for his journey to Marseilles.

He probably went the greater part of the way on foot, and it must have taken him about as long as it would take us to go to India. But he was a man who had his eyes about him, and the country which he passed through was alive with the history he had read. Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and the scandal, now two hundred years old, of the two popes, would be brought to his mind by the very names of the towns where he rested and the rivers which he crossed, but at length they were all left behind, and Marseilles was reached.

His business was soon done, and with the money in his pocket he was ready to begin his long walk back to Toulouse, when he received an invitation from a friend of the lawyer’s to go in his vessel by sea to Narbonne, which would cut off a large corner(of his journey). He gladly accepted and went on board at once. But the ship was hardly out of sight of Marseilles when three African vessels, such as then haunted the Mediterranean, bore down upon them and opened fire.

The French were powerless to resist, and one and all refused to surrender, which so increased the fury of the Mohammedans that they killed three of the crew and wounded the rest. Vincent himself had an arm pierced by an arrow, and though it was not poisoned, it was many years before the pain it caused ceased to trouble him. The ‘Infidels’ boarded the ship, and, chaining their prisoners together, coasted about for another week, attacking wherever they thought they had a chance of success, and it was not until they had collected as much booty as the vessel could carry that they returned to Africa.

Vincent and his fellow-captives had all this while been cherishing the hope that, once landed on the coast of Tunis, the French authorities would hear of their misfortunes and come to their aid. But the Mohammedan captain had foreseen the possibility of this and took measures to prevent it by declaring that the prisoners had been taken on a Spanish ship. Heavy were their hearts when they learned what had befallen them, and Vincent needed all his faith and patience to keep the rest from despair.

The following day they were dressed as slaves and marched through the principal streets of Tunis five or six times in case anyone should wish to purchase them. Suffering from wounds though they were, they all felt that it was worth any pain to get out of the hold of the ship and to see life moving around them once more. But after awhile it became clear that the strength of many was failing, and the captain not wishing to damage his goods, ordered them back to the ship where they were given food and wine, so that any possible buyers who might appear next day should not expect them to die on their hands.

Early next morning several small boats could be seen putting out from the shore, and one by one the intending purchasers scrambled up the side of the vessel. They passed down the row of captives drawn up to receive them; pinched their sides to find if they had any flesh on their bones, felt their muscles, looked at their teeth, and finally made them run up and down to see if they were strong enough to work. If the blood of the poor wretches stirred under this treatment they dared not show it, and Vincent had so trained his thoughts that he hardly knew the humiliation to which he was subjected.

A master was soon found for him in a fisherman, who wanted a man to help him with his boat. The fisherman, as far as we know, treated his slave quite kindly; but when he discovered that directly the wind rose the young man became hopelessly ill, he repented of his bargain, and sold him as soon as he could to an old chemist, one of the many who had wasted his life in seeking the Philosopher’s Stone.

The chemist took a great fancy to the French priest and offered to leave him all his money and teach him the secrets of his science if he would abandon Christianity and become a follower of Mohammed, terms which, needless to say, Vincent refused with horror. Most people would speedily have seen the hopelessness of this undertaking, but the old chemist was very obstinate, and died at the end of a year without being able to flatter himself that he had made a convert of his Christian slave.

The chemist’s possessions passed to his nephew, and with them, of course, Father Vincent. The priest bore his captivity cheerfully, and did not vex his soul as to his future lot. The life of a slave had been sent him to bear, and he must bear it contentedly whatever happened; and so he did, and his patience and ready obedience gained him the favour of his masters.

Very soon he had a new one to serve, for not long after the chemist’s death he was sold to a man who had been born a Christian and a native of Savoy, but had adopted the religion of Mohammed for worldly advantages. There were many of these renegades in the Turkish service during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and nearly all of them were men of talent and rose high.

Vincent de Paul’s master had, after the Turkish manner, married three wives, and one of them, a Turk by birth and religion, hated the life of the town where she was shut up most of the day in the women’s apartments, and went, whenever she could, to her husband’s farm in the country, where Vincent was working. It was a barren place on a mountain side, where the sun beat even more fiercely than in Tunis; but at least she was able to wander in the early mornings and cool evenings about the garden, which had been made with much care and toil.

Here she met the slave, always busy—watering plants, trimming shrubs, sowing seeds, and generally singing to himself in an unknown tongue. He looked so different from the sad or sullen men she was used to see that she began to wonder who he was and where he came from, and one day she stopped to ask him how he happened to be there. By this time Vincent had learned enough Arabic to be able to talk, and in answer to her questions, told her of his boyhood in Gascony, and how he had come to be a priest.

“A priest! What is that?” she said.

And he explained, and little by little he taught her the doctrines and the customs of the Christian faith.

“Is that what you sing about?” she asked again. “I should like to hear some of your songs,” and Vincent chanted to her,

“By the waters of Babylon,” feeling, indeed, that he was “singing the Lord’s songs in a strange land.”

And day by day the Turkish woman went away, and thought over all she had heard, till one evening her husband rode over to see her, and she made up her mind to speak to him about something that puzzled her greatly.

“I have been talking to your white slave that works in the garden about his religion—the religion which was once yours. It seems full of good things and so is he. You need never watch him as you do the other men, and the overseer has not had to beat him once. Why, then, did you give up that religion for another? In that, my lord, you did not do well.”

The renegade was silent, but in his heart he wondered if, indeed, he had “done well” to sell his soul for that which had given him no peace. He, too, would talk to that Christian slave, and hear if he still might retrace his steps, though he knew that if he was discovered death awaited the Mohammedan who changed his faith.

But his eyes having been opened he could rest no more,and arranged that he and Vincent should disguise themselves and make for the coast, and sail in a small boat to France. As the boat was so tiny that the slightest gale of wind would capsize it, it seems strange that they did not steer to Sicily, and thence journey to Rome; but instead they directed their course towards France, and on June 28, 1607, they stepped on shore on one of those long, narrow spits of land which run out into the sea from the little walled town of Aigues-Mortes.

Vincent drew a long breath, as after two years captivity he trod on French soil again. But he knew how eager his companion was to feel himself once more a Christian, so they only waited one day to rest, and started early the next morning through the flowery fields to the old city of Avignon. Here he made confession of his faults to the Pope’s legate himself, and was admitted back into the Christian religion. The following year he went with Father Vincent to Rome, and entered a monastery of nursing brothers, who went about to the different hospitals attending the sick and poor.

It is very likely that it was Father Vincent’s influence that led him to take up this special work, to which we must now leave him, for on the priest’s return to Paris, he found a lodging in the Faubourg SaintGermain, close to the Hopital de la Charity—the constant object of his care for some months.

And did I mention that St. Vincent is an Incorruptible?

You can read the rest of St. Vincent de Paul’s story in The Book of Saints and Heroes by Leonora Lang on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

This was originally posted on Novermber 12, 2010. Happy Feast of St. Vincent de Paul!

Because My Pope says “Read the Bible!”

I can remember the days when I just knew that Catholics were clueless about the Bible. My wife was, for example. Of course, that was before I bumped into Blaise Pascal, and Thomas à Kempis, St. Francis de Sales, et al.

But those guys are all high-powered super Catholics, you may be saying to yourself. Well my Pope just published Verbum Domini, and a lot of converts like me are turning cartwheels over it. What follows are a few short paragraphs that will give you an idea why there is cause to celebrate.

Because if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: we are a Bible-believing Church!

72. Encountering the word of God in sacred Scripture

If it is true that the liturgy is the privileged place for the proclamation, hearing and celebration of the word of God, it is likewise the case that this encounter must be prepared in the hearts of the faithful and then deepened and assimilated, above all by them. The Christian life is essentially marked by an encounter with Jesus Christ, who calls us to follow him. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops frequently spoke of the importance of pastoral care in the Christian communities as the proper setting where a personal and communal journey based on the word of God can occur and truly serve as the basis for our spiritual life. With the Synod Fathers I express my heartfelt hope for the flowering of “a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faithfilled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with
Jesus.”

Throughout the history of the Church, numerous saints have spoken of the need for knowledge of Scripture in order to grow in love for Christ. This is evident particularly in the Fathers of the Church. Saint Jerome, in his great love for the word of God, often wondered: “How could one live without the knowledge of Scripture, by which we come to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?” He knew well that the Bible is the means “by which God speaks daily to believers.” His advice to the Roman matron Leta about raising her daughter was this: “Be sure that she studies a passage of Scripture each day…Prayer should follow reading, and reading follow prayer…so that in the place of jewellery and silk, she may love the divine books.”

Jerome’s counsel to the priest Nepotian can also be applied to us: “Read the divine Scriptures frequently; indeed, the sacred book should never be out of your hands. Learn there what you must teach.” Let us follow the example of this great saint who devoted his life to the study of the Bible and who gave the Church its Latin translation, the Vulgate, as well as the example of all those saints who made an encounter with Christ the center of their spiritual lives. Let us renew our efforts to understand deeply the word which God has given to his Church: thus we can aim for that “high standard of ordinary Christian living” proposed by Pope John Paul II at the beginning of the third Christian millennium, which finds constant nourishment in attentively hearing the word of God.

Read the whole document here.