Because God Calls Us

Last weekend I had three encounters with three people that left me mulling how we manage to face our days when we come to the understanding that so much of what happens to us is beyond our control.

I met three people from three different parts of the United States. One was contending with unemployment, the next with environmental disaster and the third with war.

These circumstances are not of their making; their circumstances resulted from economic and political decisions people made in places far from their own homes. While their stories caught my attention and made me realize we all are subject to forces beyond our ability to control, they made me wonder; how do we journey through life carrying this knowledge?

The first encounter happened Saturday morning in our local barber shop. While I waited for our 10-year-old son’s turn in the chair, I struck up a conversation with a man – I’d guess he was in his mid-fifities – who was having his hair cut. His adult son was in the other chair having his hair cut. He shared how he was unemployed despite many efforts to find work. His daughter was unemployed. So too was his son-in-law; in fact they had been laid off the very same day.

The son in the chair beside him was a recent college graduate who only had managed to find work in construction. He was thankful his wife still held a job. This encounter left me humbled about my own bout of unemployment and also deeply moved by his sense of optimism in the face of so much financial difficulty.

Then Sunday, my family attended Mass with a dear friend who was visiting from Louisiana. After Mass, we chatted with my parish priest. My girlfriend described how birds which had just been taken off the endangered list were now back on, thanks to BP’s oil spill.

With pain in her voice, she described how abandoned Louisianans feel by the federal government. They felt that first during Hurricane Katrina and now in the aftermath of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “They’ve written off Louisiana,” she said. Then she spoke of her run for a local school board. Despite the sense of abandonment, she was trying to make a difference in her own community.

Later that day, my sons and I went to lunch with family friends. We met in Bridgewater, New Jersey at the Olive Garden. I sat across the large table from a 29-year-old Army veteran from Missouri who had spent 27 months in Iraq. During the course of our conversation he vividly detailed an experience he and his wife had had between deployments.

They were driving through the Florida Everglades on a six-day vacation, listening to the radio news because nothing else was on. This is how he learned that deployments to Iraq were being extended from 12 to 15 months. He said he turned to his wife and said “Did we just hear that?”

What he communicated to me was the overwhelming disappointment that he learned such an important detail about his future not from his supervisors at Fort Hood but from a radio report. He went on to serve his country and now has returned to civilian life. He said he was delighted to discover the skills he gained doing logistics in the Army had helped him land a good job.

All three of these folks I met happened to be Catholic and I can’t help but wonder if their faith imbues them with the understanding that God calls each of us, by name. I recently had the privilege of meeting Apolonio Latare III, a seminarian in Rome who grew up near where my husband and I are raising our own sons. In a recent blog post he talks about: “the personal nature of man as well as the notion of duty being a personal calling from a personal God.”

Humanity has always been subject to forces beyond its control; warring nations, financial hardship and so on. What helps us transcend the difficulties of this life is the knowledge that our God willed us into being from nothingness. His love for every person is effusive and in some ways, unimaginable. Our Lord says,

Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.(Luke 12:6-7)

What these encounters helped me to realize is that amid our earthly struggles, losses and disappointments, He is always calling us by name.

Because of Others Who Showed Me the Way

Guest post by Meredith Cummings

Yesterday when I woke, I didn’t realize that before day’s end, I’d be writing an obituary. Writing obits isn’t difficult. I wrote many when I worked as a journalist. Just follow the style guide: First graph – name, age, place of death, date of death; second graph – summarize primary career in one sentence. Follow with a paragraph of chronological events – marriage, survivors, those preceding in death and funeral arrangements. Simple. It takes 10 minutes.

But I was writing about someone I knew – my dear friend Gina’s mother, Olga. How does one sum up 84 years of living in 10 minutes? Even my son thought the obit was bland. “It’s boring, mom. Mrs. Fuller wasn’t boring.”

An obit is a place marker in time, as is a birth announcement. It provides just enough information for an historian or a family member three or four generations out to outline a person in history. But it doesn’t do justice to the person who lived, the person who did something, the person who made a difference in the lives of many.

For me, one such person was Magdolen Olga Svarczkopf Fuller

Olga, or Maggie as many knew her, was born into this world a do-er. Perhaps she had no choice. With eleven siblings, there was plenty to do. Because of her strong Catholic upbringing and her Hungarian heritage, she always knew she could do what needed to be done as long as she kept God by her side.

After high school, Olga joined the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, Indiana. There, her devotion to Christ grew. But something wasn’t right. In her heart, she longed to be a mother, a mother to many, and so, she left the convent and spent another 15 years working and searching for the life to which she felt called.

In 1965, she married sweet Joe Fuller, a young Richmond boy several years her junior. Finally, she could be a mother. But there was one problem. Olga was getting older. Would she be able to bear a child?

Not to worry. God blessed her with little Regina on June 15, 1968. However, there was reason to worry because Gina was born with medical issues. At that time, doctors didn’t have all the medical miracles they do today. There wasn’t much hope.

I can imagine what Olga had to say back then, “Well, I’m just going to have to do something about this.” So she did, living months at a time in Indianapolis while her sick baby endured surgery after surgery. Olga prayed and probably drove doctors crazy. She even spent weeks and months refinishing her brother’s ugly dining room set, turning it into a work of beauty while she waited for her infant to get better. Mostly, though she just thanked God for the blessings of a husband and child, and she kept doing whatever was necessary to help her baby heal. When Gina was well enough, Olga traveled with her young daughter on two spiritual pilgrimages to Lourdes and Fatima.

All of Olga’s doing paid off. Her once sickly daughter has become a beautiful wife and mother who has inherited her own mother’s compassion and willingness to do for others.

Now remember Olga wanted to be a mother to many, but because of her age, Gina was her only child. That didn’t stop Olga. Gina’s friends, cousins, neighbors and classmates all became Olga’s “children,” as did Olga’s two grandchildren, Andy and Andrea. Olga welcomed everyone into her home, serving up her famous Hungarian soup and cabbage rolls. She offered advice, humor and friendship. She helped everyone in any way she could.

She never did for Olga, rather she always did for others, just as Christ asked her to do. Christ was the focus, and that focus never blurred. Over the years, Olga traveled to numerous Eucharistic Congresses, saw four popes and even took a private tour of the Vatican, thanks to a crabby Hungarian priest.

How did she do it all for 84 years? How did she keep going? Why didn’t she give up when the going got tough, which it did many times in her life? She did it all because of her faith in Jesus.

Olga began and ended every day with prayers of thanks. In her “spare time” she sat at her kitchen table and lovingly assembled rosaries out of blue and white plastic beads. Her husband Joe estimates she made several thousand rosaries over the years, all of which she sent to overseas missions or handed out to whomever she felt needed one.

Now, Olga was no saint. She was opinionated and cantankerous, and she could put up a good fight or start one when she wanted to. The last time I saw Olga was at her granddaughter’s (my Goddaughter’s) First Communion in April. Over lunch, the conversation turned to politics. Olga knew I was on “her side of the fence,” while most everyone else in the room was arguing for “the other side.” Olga kicked me under the table and whispered, “Well, aren’t you going to do something?” She was deliberately trying to throw me into the fray, hoping I’d start a good political fight so that she could jump in.”

“No way, Olga, I whispered back. “I’m not getting into this. Are you crazy? Two against everyone else in this house? Forget it. I’m not getting involved in family politics.” “Well, you’re part of the family, aren’t you?” she countered. “I suppose I am,” I said, grateful that she considered me family. “But if I am, I’d like to keep it that way.” She grinned and continued slurping her Hungarian soup.

Even on the last day of her life, Olga did for others. She visited a sick friend in the morning and worked at the church in the afternoon. The woman never stopped doing. However, on Monday, God apparently decided Olga had done enough. In thinking about this, I’m reminded of a line from the movie “Babe.” Four simple words repeated twice. In the movie, the words are directed at a pig, an amazing pig who has accomplished wonderful things. I have a feeling God may have said similar words to Olga as he called her home.

“That’ll do Olga. That’ll do.”

And that’s what we need to remember. We all know an Olga, someone whose faith shows us how to live.At one point or another, Olga did something for most everyone with whom she came in contact. We can’t list every one of those instances in an obituary. We can’t even mention them all in a eulogy. But we can keep them in our hearts and then take Olga’s doings and pass them on to others, who will then pass them on to others still.

In that way, the doings of the Olga Fullers of the world will never be forgotten.

More From the Treasure Chest: “Cannot” Part II

A few days ago, I found an essay written by Father George Bampfield entitled “Cannot”. I posted the first part of it here. This post today is the rest of the essay.

I feel compelled to share the rest of it with you for a good reason. From some of the comments to the first post, comments which I didn’t publish, it is obvious that some of you don’t realize that many passages in the Bible are taken literally by the Catholic Church.

In fact, every Bible passage referred to here by Father Bampfield is the scriptural basis for the Catholic Church’s teachings on each of the positions he writes about in this essay.

To be sure, the teachings are more fully developed and fortified by Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church. But to believe that the Catholic Church doesn’t believe in any of the Scriptures as being able to be taken literally is, quite frankly, nonsense.

So here is the rest of the essay, with further examples from both the New Testament and the Old, from the Gospels and the apostolic letters. It gets really good when the narrator (in bold) moderates a debate between Father Flanagan, whom I picture as Alec Guinness’ character Father Brown (in the photo here), and the representatives of the various other Christian denominations.

“Cannot” is still the operative word here, and Father Flanagan does a much better job than I can explaining why that word doesn’t compute.

A word of warning(really more of an FYI), this is long, but simple to follow. You just might want to grab a snack now. Otherwise, we pick up where we left off—

Once more the Protestant flies from the simple sense of God’s word ; and once more with the same cry of “cannot.”

“How can this man,” say they “give us His Flesh to eat?” just as before they said, “Who can forgive sins but God only ?” And once more the priest flies not from the clear simple sense, but answers, “What God says, God means ; and if it is hard, remember that with God there is no ” cannot.”

Hitherto the Catholics have been the straightforward people. ‘You get from them a plain meaning for a plain text. It may be a deep text, and then you get a deep meaning ; but for all its depth it is clear and plain. The sense sticks close to the words. ” White ” does not mean ” black,” and ” black ” does not mean ” white.” Now, Protestants always seem to me trying to make out that ” black ” in the Bible means ” a little white,” and that ” white” in the Bible means “just a trifle black.”

You think it very shocking of me to say such things? Well! let us try both parties with a few more texts.

Our Lord said to Simon the son of Jonas, “Thou art Peter ;” and the word “Peter” certainly means “a rock” He promised him this name from the very beginning (St. John i. 42); He gave it him solemnly in presence of the other Apostles (St. Matthew xvi. 18). Now, certainly this sentence is a very simple one. “Thou art a rock” is clear and plain; and plain men, who are not afraid of the Bible, would take it to mean that St. Peter really is a rock.

Very clear and plain also are the words following : “Upon this rock I will build My Church;” plain men would in their child-like way suppose that Our Lord really did build His Church upon St. Peter.

Plain also are the words that follow : “The gates of hell,” that is the power of hell, “shall not prevail against it.” Plain men would suppose them to mean that, the Church being founded upon S. Peter, the power of hell has not prevailed, and does not prevail against it.

Now let us get some Catholic priest—it does not matter where you take him from, somehow or other they all of them always tell the same story, and the stupidest of them seems as clever in these matters as the cleverest—and put him side by side with a gentleman from St. Paul’s Cathedral, another from the City Temple, a third from the Tabernacle, a fourth from Lady Huntingdon’s miscellaneous college at Cheshunt, and as many more as you like from anywhere else, and let them talk about this text. Father Flanagan shall begin.

Fr. Flanagan: It is the plainest text in the world. Our Lord said to Simon, “Thou art a rock” and he became a rock.

St. Paul’s: Not more than the other Apostles : “the Church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets.” (Eph. ii. 20.)

Fr. Flanagan: Well then Our Lord would have called them all Peter. He does not. He says “Thou” not “Ye;” and when Our Lord says, “Thou” and speaks to one man, I take Him to mean “Thou.”

The Tabernacle: I say St. Peter was no more a rock than the rest of us. We are all “lively stones.” (I. St. Peter, ii. 5.)

Fr. Flanagan: Our Lord by solemnly giving him the name says that he is a rock more than the rest of us. He does not speak to all of us, but only to Simon son of Jonas. Else the giving of the name means nothing; it is made of “none effect.”

Here at all events the priest seems to stick closer to the words than the others. “Thou art a rock” is not the same as “you twelve are rocks,” or as “everybody is a rock.”

But pray Fr. Flanagan, what do you think Our Lord meant by calling Simon a rock? How is he a rock ?

Fr. Flanagan: It is all so simple and straightforward, I can’t see any difficulty. Our Lord compares His Church to a house which He is going to build. Now “a house built upon a rock does not fall” (St. Matt. vii. 25.), because a rock is not shaken by the wind or storm. Our Lord therefore, before building, prepares a rock to build upon. The rock was Simon the son of Jonas.

Yes! But what is meant by the “rock ?” In what way could Simon the son of Jonas be the rock not shaken by wind or storm?

Fr. Flanagan: By being an infallible teacher of the truth. The rock of the Church is a teacher sent from God who cannot blunder. The power of hell on earth has been “lying,” from the time that Satan lied to Eve about the fruit. But if a teacher of truth cannot be taken in by lies, and cannot lie himself, lying cannot prevail against him. He is as little to be moved as a rock, and the Church or society which listens to his voice is safe, so long as it listens.

City Temple: Christ Himself is that teacher sent from, God. He is the rock on which the Church is built, and “other foundation can no man lay.” You are honouring Peter that you may dishonour Christ.

Fr. Flanagan: God forbid! Christ Himself is certainly the Rock, the foundation of the Church; of this I am as certain as you; yet you have just yourself told me, one of you that we are all “lively stones,” another that the Church is “built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets.” How can Christ be the foundation and the Apostles a foundation also? In the same way Christ is the “light of the world;” yet He Himself says to the Apostles, “Ye are the light of the world.” If Our Lord is ” the light,” and yet the Apostles can be “the light” also, I suppose Our Lord can be “the rock,” yet St. Peter a rock also.

The difference of course is that Our Lord is the rock by His own strength, St. Peter not by his own strength, but by the strength which God gives him. Christ was the light of the world by teaching His own truth through His own power; the Apostles were also the light of the world by teaching their Master’s truth through their Master’s power. So Christ is the rock on which the Church is built, because He is by His own power the infallible teacher of truth; Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, because he is by Christ’s power the infallible teacher of truth till the world’s end. Against Christ “error,” which is the power of hell, could not prevail, because He is God; against Peter “error” cannot prevail, because he is sent by God and taught by God.

Christ is the unseen rock in Heaven, Peter the seen rock on earth, who leans upon Christ, and so leaning is able to bear up the Church. In other words, Christ taught the truth infallibly while on earth; when He went away from earth He no longer spoke to us with His own human lips; He chose therefore other human lips through which He might speak; the lips He chose were those of Peter. He gave him the power to teach truth without blunder; and, through Peter, Christ teaches us till the end of time. The words therefore of Our Blessed Lord mean as follows—” Thou art a teacher whom I will keep infallible; on thy teaching guided by Me I will build my Church, and false teaching shall never prevail against thee, so as to make thee teach error for My truth.”

What do you mean by saying that Christ teaches through Peter till the end of time? Peter is dead.

Fr. Flanagan: “The King is dead—Long live the King.” Peter himself is reigning with his Master. But Peter’s office is not dead, his Church is not dead, his Bishopric is not dead. Many Churches founded by Apostles have died and passed away. Many Bishoprics have been removed ; St. Peter’s Bishopric has not been removed. Just as, when a king dies, his kingly power goes down to his son, so when Peter died, his power of teaching without error went down to the Bishops who came after him, even to our present Pope Leo XIII. who now sits in Peter’s chair, and speaks with Peter’s power not to err. If it were not so, if it was only to Peter himself, not to the Popes who came after him, that the promise was made, then the Church would hardly be founded on a rock. St. Peter would die, the rock would be removed, and the Church might fall.

I think this is one of your deep texts with a deep meaning, and terribly long you have been about giving it. Still the priest’s sense, deep as it is, sticks close to its words. Now let us see. You said that Peter was and is really a rock?

Fr. Flanagan: Most certainly. Christ took him into a share of His own office of rock of the Church.

And you, Reverend sirs?

St. Paul’s: Well! It is a difficult text. Yes: a rock, certainly a rock; a rock, probably my dissenting brethren will agree with me, a rock by character: St. Peter was a firm-minded strong man.

Fr. Flanagan: For many reasons this will not do.

1. In all other cases in which God Himself gives a name, the name describes not the character but an office. With Abraham and Sarah and Joshua and the Holy Name Jesus, it is so.

2. It is not likely that Our Lord should have solemnly given and made such a point of a name which merely described a man’s character.

3. It is not true of Peter’s character. He went to walk on the waves and sank; he was scandalized at the thought of the Crucifixion; he slept during the Agony; he denied his Master with oaths: naturally he was surely not a rock in character.

You say that on St. Peter Our Lord built His Church ?

Fr. Flanagan: Most certainly.

And you, Reverend sirs?

St. Paul’s: Well no! not on St. Peter. On Himself, or on the Truth.

But He Himself says upon St. Peter: He does not here say on Himself or on the Truth.

St. Paul’s: Well, but this must be the meaning of it. Otherwise Popery would be true, and Popery, you know, is not true.

You say also that the power of hell, that is, error, does not prevail against the Church because it is built upon St. Peter’s See of Rome, and St. Peter is the rock?

Fr. Flanagan. Certainly.

And you, Reverend sirs?

St. Pauls: -Oh ! that cannot be right. Of course error did prevail against St. Peter’s See of Rome. Rome became terribly corrupt.

Who then has the truth?

St. Pauls: Well! nobody exactly has the whole truth. Every sect has got something wrong: each of them teaches some truths and some errors.

It seems to me, then, that the power of hell has prevailed very fearfully. The Church has been built upon sand. Lies and truth are taught together; and the truth with no mixture of falsehood which Jesus taught is gone. The priest’s sense is surely deeper, more honourable to God, and at the same time simpler and nearer to the words. Father Flanagan, I am your convert. You are a better Bible Christian than the others.

Our Protestant friends will again give their reason “Cannot” for thinking St. Peter not to have been really a “rock.” A sinful man, they say, a rock! An erring human creature like ourselves an infallible teacher! Impossible! God cannot make a man infallible. At least, not in 1885. It is true that the writers of Scripture were infallible, but that was long ago.

Long ago! Has God grown old and feeble? He cannot do now what He could do before! He could make Isaiah infallible, perchance even St. Peter himself, but not Leo XIII. Not amidst gas, and electricity and steam, and Armstrong cannons, and Schneider rifles and big telescopes, and daily discovery of wonderful bones—the thing is impossible.

God is and will be as He was—says the Catholic—the same today as yesterday. He, who kept erring man infallible of old, keeps him infallible still ; He does not change ; He loses neither strength nor love. Certainly the Catholic opinion sticks close to the Scriptures and close to common sense also. It is neither Scripture nor common sense to think that God has changed, and does not deal with men as he used to deal.
5. Let us try another text or two. Here, Father Flanagan, is a text from St. James : “Is any one sick among you ?” it says, “let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” You Catholics take this text in its plain meaning, do you not?

Fr. Flanagan: Of course we do. We take every text to mean what it says. What would be the good of texts if they did not? When we are sick, we send for the elders and they pray over us, anointing us with oil.

And you, Reverend sirs?

St. Paul’s: We have no such custom. St. James, you see, wrote of a custom existing in his days; suitable for hot countries and those times; it would not do now.

Fr. Flanagan: Then these words are of “none effect.” They are no use in these days except to puzzle plain people. St. James certainly does not say anything about hot countries. India is hot enough for most people; would my reverend brethren anoint there? It seems to me that a good deal of Scripture might be got rid of in this way, if we may say of any thing we please that it is not for our time or our climate. What makes you think that St. James spoke only for his own day and not for all times?

St. Pauls: Well! there is nothing exactly in the Scripture about hot countries and his own times; but you see we don’t do it, and of course we should do it, if it was right. Besides what is the use of it ?

The Tabernacle: We Baptists used to anoint the sick at one time:—Kiffin did it; but we have left it off now; it is probably a thing we may do or not do just as we please. But I don’t see the use of it myself.

Fr. Flanagan: St. James very clearly tells us the two uses; healing for the body, forgiveness of sins for the soul: “The prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”

The Tabernacle: A drop of oil cure the sick! It cannot be.

City Temple: A drop of oil forgive sins! It cannot be.

Fr. Flanagan: Cannot again! What cannot God do? Does not St. Mark tell us that many that were sick were anointed with oil and healed ? (St. Mark vi. 13.)

The Tabernacle: Oh! but that was in Apostolic times.

Fr. Flanagan: Apostolic times! And is not God alive now? What He could do in Apostolic times, He cannot do for us, and in these days!

City Temple: But forgive sins! Through oil !

Fr. Flanagan: Through these stones if He pleased. The question is what He does please; and these words very clearly say that He pleases to forgive sins to the sick through prayer and the anointing with oil.

It is very odd. Here we are getting a great number of texts on all of which the priest is plain and straightforward, and talks common sense; while, with all respect to our good Protestant brethren, they seem just a trine given to shuffling, and putting inconvenient texts on the shelf. I fancy that if Fr. Flanagan was to take to Bible-burning, there would be a text or two which he would pick out of the flames. Clearly “anointing with oil” is a different thing from-”not anointing with oil;”and leaving off what the Apostles order in the Scriptures is not so Scriptural as doing what the Apostles order in the Scriptures. Father Flanagan, you bad Bible-burning priest, I give it for you again; you are the best Bible Christian of them all. Have you any other text to discuss with St. Paul’s ?
6. Fr. Flanagan: Well! To myself it seems that from Genesis to Revelations—from cover to cover—the Protestants are all wrong about every text altogether; but I suppose this will be thought a wild Irish thing to say, so I will pick you out another verse or two. It shall be about one or two troublesome little things that we do, and you do not. For instance, in St. Matt. xix. 21, Our Blessed Lord certainly says to the rich young man, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor.” Now, in the first place, you do not, I think, in any Protestant body, talk about being perfect. You do not preach sermons about perfection, as distinct from simply “keeping the commandments from your youth up.” (Verse 20).

St. Paul’s: Well no! it would be an indiscreet subject. Men’s works are worth very little. The best of us are unprofitable servants. What can a man do more than keep the commandments ? We certainly do not talk of perfection.

Fr. Flanagan: But you see Our Lord does talk of perfection, and while both of us claim to follow Our Lord, you Protestants do not talk of perfection, and we Catholics do. We say that keeping the commandments is one thing, being perfect is a higher and better thing—and this is what Our Lord says. Which of us so far agree with God and the Scriptures?

St. Paul’s: Certainly Our Lord does speak of perfection here.

Fr. Flanagan: Yes; and He says that selling all that we have is not part of the commandments, but part of being perfect. Now is it at all a custom among you in the Cathedral, the Tabernacle, or the City Temple, to sell all that you have and give to the poor?

St. Paul’s: We are charitable to the poor, I am sure. There is always somebody at me for a guinea to a ragged school here, and a soup kitchen there, and I am Governor myself of a score of hospitals, and asylums, and institutions to meet every evil under the sun. But I don’t know about selling all that I have. I never heard of anybody exactly doing it. My wife would think it injudicious, and I don’t think I could advise any young man to do quite as much as that. It seems to me one of those passages in Scripture that were not meant to be taken too literally.

The Tabernacle: A difficult passage. We have great charities. The orphanage at Stockwell is a noble thing.

Fr. Flanagan: A noble thing, I grant you, nobly planned, and founded by noble charity. But it is not selling all that you have ?

The Tabernacle: It is not. But is this Scripture to be taken literally ? Do you sell all that you have?

Fr. Flanagan: Certainly those who aim at perfection do. Every day rich men and rich women sell all that they have and give to the poor.

The Tabernacle: And what do they do then ?

Fr. Flanagan: Follow Him. Enter convents and monasteries, or the priesthood, and follow His life of poverty, and fasting, and hardship.

The Tabernacle: Oh! convents and monasteries! Cracow, Prague, Belgium, and Hull(ed. know for abuses in the past)!

Fr. Flanagan: Rubbish. Come, come, stick to the point. Our Blessed Lord tells you, if you want to be perfect sell all that you have and give to the poor. Do any of you do this thing ? Yes or no ?

S. Paul’s: Honestly we do not.

The Tabernacle: We do not.

City Temple: We do not.

Fr. Flanagan: We do. Which of us is Scriptural ?

I will only take two things more, for we must not talk over every doctrine and every text of Scripture. It would take two or three life-times. Here is another point very much like the last. Our Lord tells us in very strong language that there are “eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake.”

Father Flanagan how understand you this?

Fr. Flanagan: I understand our Blessed Lord to say that it is good not to marry for God’s sake. He says that it is not given to all men to remain unmarried, but only to some; but He encourages those to whom it is given ; ” He that is able to receive it,” says He, “let him receive it.”

When then Our Lord says “let him receive it,”you take Him to mean that people are to receive it; and that those who are able, do well to remain unmarried for God’s sake ?

Fr. Flanagan: Certainly; that is the plain simple sense; our Lord cannot surely mean by such words as “make themselves eunuchs ” to recommend marriage.

And you, gentlemen?

St. Paul’s: It is a difficult text. We do not generally speak much about it. You see the Apostle says, “Marriage is honourable in all.”

Fr. Flanagan: Oh! fie, for shame! You know you are giving a wrong translation. Come, come, we shall never find out the truth, unless we are ourselves truthful. You know the Apostle’s words are, “Let marriage be kept honourably by all.” But here at all events, our Lord does not say, “Marriage is honourable in all:” He says distinctly, “Making themselves eunuchs is honourable in some.”

The question is simply this. Our Lord and the Scriptures encourage men to remain unmarried for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. Do you encourage men to remain unmarried for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake? Do you ever praise it, or advise it, or in any way promote it?

The Tabernacle: Well! we do not. In fact, to be honest, we encourage age men to marry, and think the unmarried state not so good as the married. We do not care about monks and nuns. The life is too severe: men cannot live it.

St. Paul’s: I think with you. I do not believe it possible.

City Temple: We cannot do it. A wife is very useful in the ministry.

Fr. Flanagan: Cannot, again! Oh! ye of little faith! Do you really forget that what is impossible with man is possible with God? Do you believe at all that God is a God of power?

The Tabernacle: But surely forbidding to marry is one of the errors of Rome. We have said so these 300 years.

Fr, Flanagan: Forbidding to marry! Who talks of forbidding marriage to those who want to marry? Not we. After a baptism, there’s nothing I like so much as a marriage. The question is, if a man wants to make himself a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake, whether he may do so ? You say no, and call him all kinds of bad names. Precious tyrants we think you for your pains. I say, if a man wants to marry let him marry, but if he wants to be single for God’s sake, in heaven’s name leave the man alone, and let him be single. Come, come, be honest; the simple point is this: Our Lord praises men for keeping themselves single for God’s sake; is it a practice among you to keep yourselves single for God’s sake?

S. Paul’s: Our bishops marry, our deans, canons, clergy, and laity. I do not think it is.

The Tabernacle: It is not.

City Temple: With us it is not.

Fr. Flanagan: With us it is. Once more, which of us is Scriptural?

Oh! Flanagan, Flanagan, you bad boy, when next you burn a Bible, pick out this text and keep it. I declare you have the best of it again.

There is only one thing more we will talk about. Fr. Flanagan, I met the other day a woman of your creed, who declared to me that she had been quite cured of rheumatism, lumbago, and I don’t know what besides, by the relics of some saints. I asked her to let me look at them, and she showed me a little bit of a bone that I could hardly see, and a piece of black rag that she said was part of some holy woman’s dress. When I told her it was the doctor’s stuff that cured her, she got so angry that I had to run out of the house like a shot, half afraid of a stool, or some other unpleasant missile, coming after me. Now, this may be all very well for poor old Goody Maguire, but you do not mean to tell me, Father Flanagan, that you educated Catholics will call such a thing as that Scriptural?
Fr. Flanagan: Not Scriptural! Why if there is a doctrine clearly proved by Scripture, I should think it was the doctrine of relics.

St. Paul’s: Well! I never!

The Tabernacle: It is not in our Bible. It must be in some of your books we don’t believe in; or some wrong translation, or something.

City Temple: I never read anything about relics that I remember.

Fr. Flanagan: There it is. You don’t half read your Bibles. You have got your favourite texts, and you stick to them. Talk of my burning Bibles! It seems to me that you clip and cut your Bibles to pieces. Now my dear Tabernacle, the Second Book of Kings—we call it the Fourth Book, but that does not matter—is in your Bible, is it not?

The Tabernacle: Of course it is.

Fr. Flanagan: Well! I will let you use your own translation. Now just turn to the 13th chapter, and read verses 20 and 21.

The Tabernacle: “And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass as they were burying a man, that behold they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the Sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.”

Fr. Flanagan: Well it was not the doctor’s stuff which cured that dead man?

The Tabernacle: No; he was dead.

Fr. Flanagan: Nor the man’s own faith?

City Temple: No; he was dead.

Fr. Flanagan: Nor the faith of those who threw him in ?

St. Paul’s: I suppose not. They wanted to get away from the Moabites. They do not seem to have brought him in faith for the purpose of throwing him in.

Fr. Flanagan: If they did bring him for the purpose, it would prove that they believed—like Goody Maguire—in the power of a holy man’s bones. But they did not. Now, by the plain text of Scripture, if it were not the doctor’s stuff, nor the dead man’s faith, nor the living men’s faith, what was it that raised the corpse to life ?

St. Paul’s: I think we must say it was dead Elisha’s dead bones.

Fr. Flanagan: And what were dead Elisha’s dead bones but the relics of a saint?

The Tabernacle: It is curious; I don’t think I ever thought of the text. But dead bones raise the dead! It cannot be.

Fr. Flanagan: Oh! Cannot, cannot, cannot! I tell you it was.

City Temple: But bones! God only can raise the dead.

Fr. Flanagan: Of course. Am I a baby that you tell me such “A B C” as that! Of course God only. But cannot God raise the dead through the bones of a saint, or through any instrument He pleases ?

The Tabernacle: Of course He can, if He pleases.

Fr. Flanagan: And does not this text show that He did so please ?

The Tabernacle: Yes; in old times.

Fr. Flanagan: In old times! Does God change? What He did under the Old Testament, in the time of fear, He will not do under the New Testament, in the time of love! Again I say, oh ye of little faith! You believe in a God of the past! You do not believe in a living God of the present.

Hush! Father Flanagan. You are getting a trifle hot, and red in the face. I must say I think you have made out about the bones. But what about Goody Maguire’s bit of black rag?

Fr. Flanagan: I will give you but two texts more, for I grant you do make a man hot. In the same Second Book of Kings, chapter ii., we are told that Elijah, when he went up in a fiery chariot, let fall his mantle, his cloak; only what you would call a rag, mind you; a mere piece of stuff. Now, Elisha took it up, and he did a thing which none of you could, according to your religion, have done.

“He took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters,” which looked very much like the same sort of trust in a rag which Goody Maguire showed, ” and he said, where is the Lord God of Elijah?” which sounded very like trust in the merits and prayers of a saint, who had gone from earth, “and when he had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither; and Elisha went over.”

St. Paul’s: But that was the power of God, not of the mantle.

Fr. Flanagan: Oh! dear, dear, dear; of course it was the power of God; but it was the power of God using the mantle as His instrument. If not-what was the use of Elisha’s smiting the river with a piece of stuff? You do not dream that we think a Saint’s cloak will heal us by any power in the stuff itself! It is God, using it as He used Elijah’s mantle. You cannot get into your heads the notion of God’s using weak, worthless instruments.

City Temple: It was the power of prayer. Elisha prayed.

Fr. Flanagan: Granted. But he did not pray only. He prayed and struck. If prayer was enough, why strike? And his prayer was a strange one. He did not kneel down and ask God to divide the river. He did not pray to his God. He said “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” He used Elijah’s mantle, and prayed to Elijah’s God. Surely the plain meaning of this is that the river was divided for Elijah’s sake, by the prayer of Elijah in Paradise, and that God gave such strange power to Elijah’s relic to show that it was for his sake.

The Tabernacle: Well! well! granting all this, yet your text is from the Old Testament. Things were more outward in the Jews’ religion; after the coming of the Holy Ghost all things became spiritual and inward. We don’t want saints’ mantles now. You cannot give me one instance from the New Testament.

Fr. Flanagan: Can’t I? How I do wish you men would read your Bibles. Among your other societies, do please form a Bible-Reading Society, and read it fairly. Do you really not remember how a woman with an issue of blood was cured by the hem of Our Lord’s garment? Or did you never read how handkerchiefs and aprons were carried from St. Paul’s body to the sick, and how devils fled from a piece of stuff?

City Temple: I never read it; I don’t think it is in our version.

Fr. Flanagan: It is there, and you have read it. But you won’t notice these things. It is in Acts xix., verse 12.

The Tabernacle: It is there sure enough. It must have been the people’s faith.

Fr. Flanagan: Faith! The poor people had plenty of faith before the handkerchiefs touched the bodies; but never an inch did the devils budge for their faith till the handkerchief got near them. They might have asked St. Paul simply to pray, but they didn’t; they used the relics. Besides, what did they have faith in? They clearly had faith in that in which you have no faith, the power which God gives to a mere rag which has touched a saint’s body.

St. Pauls: It cannot be. A rag!

The Tabernacle: It cannot be.

City Temple. It cannot be.

Fr. Flanagan: Then you don’t believe the Scriptures. Oh ye of little faith!

Ah! Father Flanagan. I see you read the Bibles before you burn them. I declare you have beaten them again.

Fr. Flanagan: Beaten them! How could I help it? The Catholic Church is the Bible. The Church and the Bible being both from God are one and the same thing; and what God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

The Bible says what it means. Which religion really believes this?

Hmmmm. It that “check” or “check mate”?

From Hymns on Paradise (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Webster wrote a post way back in October of last year entitled Because a Tornado is Coming.  As it turned out, it was a hurricane.  See those two flags there in the photograph? That is the signal for “a hurricane is coming.” Don’t let the cloudless sky fool you.

We all know what has happened over the past 18 months—lots of bad stuff. Economic melt downs in 2008 – 2009, jobless recovery in 2010, societal acrimony  and unsettled general feelings and then Whammo!— more discoveries of priest abuse scandals early this year. Top it all off with the spectre of a “double-dip” recession (and all that this implies) and even the hardiest sailor would be getting queasy in this crazy gale.

Oh, you could lie awake at night worrying about all this stuff.  Or you could focus all of your energy on the current political scene and let that side-show take your eye off the ball. Or better yet, you may feel the urge to arm-chair quarterback all of the the latest moves by the Vatican. And you could second-guess all of the decisions of the Church’s leadership at every level.  Heck, you might even decide to throw in the towel and leave the Church altogether, though I pray that you don’t.

You know what I suggest? Turn off the news, stop reading the blogs, take a break. Click. Aaaahh, lookee there, no more hurricane.  That’s more like it!

Sure, you are upset that the professor hired to teach a religion class on Catholicism was fired for doing just that. What is the whole story? Who knows. Let it go.  Go on an information R&R.; Give it a break for a day, or two, or forever, and concentrate on the big-picture, which is the little picture of who we are and what we are meant to be.

We are children of God; salt; the leaven that makes the whole loaf rise. And don’t forget this: we are the light of the world. You and me. And we are called to love one another, hating sin, but loving sinners, which is everyone. No need to be choosy.

Here is another idea: let’s cross the bridge into Paradise.  As painted by these words of  St. Ephrem, which he penned upon reading the Creation story in Genesis, relax from your toils and have a look into our future. Indeed, is this not the better part that Martha was missing?

From Hymns on Paradise

I read the opening of this book
    and was filled with joy,
for its verses and lines
    spread out their arms to welcome me;
the first rushed out and kissed me,
    and led me on to its companion;
and when I reached that verse
    wherein is written
the story of Paradise,
     it lifted me up and transported me
from the bosom of the book
     to the very bosom of Paradise.

The eye and the mind
     traveled over the lines
as over a bridge, and entered together
     the story of Paradise.

The eye as it read
      transported the mind;

in return the mind, too,
      gave the eye rest
from its reading,
      for when the book had been read
the eye had rest
      but the mind was engaged.

Both the bridge and the gate
      of Paradise
did I find in this book.
      I crossed over and entered;
my eye remained outside
      but my mind entered within.

I began to wander
      among things indescribable.

This is luminous height,
      clear, lofty and fair:

Scripture named it Eden,
       the summit of all blessing.

“The summit of all blessing” will not be attained here, not that we won’t keep trying. I’m not going to try to set all things right all by myself today.  No, instead, I’m going to trust God with the conn and give these troubling thoughts a rest. For a day, or two, or forever…

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Silver Bullet Selection II (Music For Mondays)

Steel Pulse is a reggae band that I don’t know diddly squat about. But it’s Monday, it’s raining, and I like the advice these guys are giving here: Chant A Psalm A Day. It makes a whole lot of sense, which is why it’s like a silver bullet.

What have you got to lose? 150 Psalms = 150 days. Some are longer than others, but I’m willing to give it a try. Not sure which ones to pick? Check out the LOTH or just do them in numerical order from your Bible. While you think about it, listen to the song.

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From the Treasure Chest: “Cannot” Part I

Every once in a while, I unearth a real jewel of a find.  You may have noticed that we are reading Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies in the YIMC Book Club.  The most recent chapter is about the Protestant Reformation.  Having finished my chores on Saturday afternoon, I began trolling Google Books, like a fisherman, for new selections to add to our YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

I came across this essay, and it couldn’t be more timely.  Because not only does it tie in with our book club selection, but it also is an answer to the question Why I Am Catholic.  I’ve done a few posts in the past about how the Catholic Church is a Bible-believing Church, so this essay by Reverend G. Bampfield is a real treat.

First, a little background. I found this in a volume put out by the top-secret Catholic Truth Society. I’m joking, of course, because this being found in volume 35 of the Publications of the Catholic Truth Society means that it was hardly secret at all. Volume XXXV was published in 1898, or about a half a heart-beat ago history wise.

Who is this secret organization and who are their agents,  pray tell? I’m glad you asked. They are a Catholic charity based in the United Kingdom, and they have been getting the message out, aka evangelizing,  non-stop since 1868.  And here is the best part: you don’t have to have a Q clearance or be a 00 agent in order to read the materials they publish! Check out their Mission Statement:

The Catholic Truth Society works to develop and disseminate as widely as possible completely reliable publications about the faith, teaching and life of the Catholic Church. It is motivated by a love of Christ, a deep belief in the profound hope he brings to modern man, a love of and fidelity to the Church, and the desire to communicate these treasures both to the faithful and all other enquirers by way of inexpensive and accessible English language publications.

See? Not exactly KAOS  or SPECTRE, huh? And not even MI 5 (or is it MI 6?). Now Reverend G. Bampfield is a little more mysterious.  He was the founder of the Institute of St. Andrew and a “well know convert” according to sketchy sources. But I hit pay dirt on Reverend Bampfield when I traced him to the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel & St. George Enfield. As Sherlock Holmes would say, it was simplicity itself (thanks to Google!).

And now, without further adieu, the Reverend George Bampfields essay,

Cannot, or Which Church Believes the Bible?

Which Religion really believes the Bible ? “The Protestant,” you will say, “of course. Is not the whole talk of Protestants about the Bible? Do they not scatter Bibles, as the sower scatters seed? Are there not Bible readers, and Bible sellers, and Bible classes, and Bible Societies, by the hundred ?”

Yes: that is true. But to read the Bible, and talk about it, and sell it, is one thing; to believe it is another. Now when the Bible says a thing, who really believe it, the Protestants or the Catholics?

“A very odd question; why ! I never heard of Catholics believing the Bible. They are never allowed to read it, and the priests burn all they can get.”

Odd or not, will you look quietly into the question with me? I was once a Protestant and am now a Catholic, and it seems to me that Protestants never take the Bible to have a plain, straightforward, common-sense meaning like any other book. Other books mean what they say: the Bible alone, according to Protestants, means one thing and says another. Catholics, on the other hand, do always seem to me to have a common-sense, straightforward meaning for the Bible. Its sayings may be hard to understand and harder to do, but if the Bible says a thing, it is true, and must be believed, however difficult, and done, however unpleasant.

For instance—the Bible says, speaking of marriage, “What God hath joined, let no man put asunder.” Now if I ask a Protestant what this means, he will tell me, “What God hath joined in marriage, let the judge and lawyers of the Divorce Court put asunder.” But if I turn to a Catholic, he says, “Once married, always married. No man can put the married asunder.” What! not even the Pope, or a General Council! Not all the Popes nor all the Councils. God only, Who joined them, can part them by death.

It seems to me that here the Catholic takes the Bible at its word, sticks close to its clear, common-sense meaning, and that the Protestant shuffles about it, and makes it say one thing and mean the opposite. “Let no man put asunder,” is not the same thing as “Let the Divorce Court put asunder.” Is it ?

“They do not sound very much alike. However, one flower does not make a nosegay. Have you more things of the same sort?”

Plenty. I will go through a few, and I fancy you will have as big a nosegay as you can well carry.

1. The Bible says (S. John iii. 5), “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” I take this text to a Low Churchman of the Church of England, to an Independent, or a Baptist, or other Dissenter, and I say to him, “Do you believe that a man must be born again of water and the Spirit ?” Well, he will say, of the Spirit; certainly of the Spirit. The water you know is a form, and no form can be necessary. The unbaptized babies doubtless go to Heaven without the water.

“Well, but,” I answer, “the Bible says not Spirit only, but water and the Spirit.”

Water is not necessary, they reply; that souls are born again in baptism is a soul-destroying doctrine.

I turn to the Catholic and ask “What do you think of this text?” And the answer is, What the Bible says it means; it says water and it means water; except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Unbaptised babies, though they are not cast into torments, do not enter into Heaven.

Certainly the Catholic is the closest; and when I look into the Protestant’s reasons, I find that the real cause of his not sticking so close is a fancy that God cannot save through water. How can a drop of water possibly touch the soul, and roll away sin?

Cannot! says the Catholic on the other hand; God can do what He likes through whatever means he likes. His power is shown best by the choice of weakest means; and as a matter of fact, the Bible tells us that He has chosen water as a channel of grace and forgiveness. God’s will is all we have to do with; we know nothing about “cannot” when we speak of God.

2. I go again on another matter to the Low Church man or the Wesleyan, or Independent, or other Protestant. I ask, Do you believe that a man by the power of God forgives the sins of other men? “Of course not,” he tells me with a laugh of mockery if he be a merry man, or a scowl of indignant horror if he be of the severer sort; “of course not, man cannot forgive the sins of his fellows.”

“Well, but here is plain Bible on the point. The Apostles were men, and Our Lord said to these men quite plainly (John xx. 23), ‘Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them.’ Now if this does not mean that God gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins, what does it mean? Is ‘whosesoever sins ye remit’ the same as ‘You can’t remit any sins;’ or is ‘they are remitted unto them,’ the same as ‘of course they won’t be remitted unto them ?’”

But come with me to the Catholic Church and ask the priest about it. “We know,” we will say to him, for priests are mostly good-natured men and like a little fun, “we know that you are greatly afraid of the Bible, and never let your people see it for fear they should find you out. Now here is a plain text: dare you face it? What does it mean?”

Mean! he will answer; why! of course it means just what it says, like any other straightforward truth-loving book. The Apostles were men, and being men they did remit sin; and those sins were remitted. Of course through the power of God, not through their own power. God only can forgive sins, but He can forgive them through what instrument He pleases. And the instruments He used of old time were men, as is clear by the text; and if He forgave sins of old time through men, He will surely forgive sins through men now; for He does not change.

Really the priest does not seem frightened of this text at all events. He gives to the words their plainest, simplest meaning; the Protestant does not; he either gives the words no sense at all, or he puts upon them a crooked round-about meaning, not a plain meaning for plain words such as any other book would have.

Again the reason the Protestants have for not sticking to the clear sense is “cannot.” God cannot forgive sins through man. “Cannot!” says the Catholic, “yes, through these stones if He pleases.” The question is not about “can” or ” cannot.” The question is only, ” What way of forgiving sins has God chosen ; of what way does the Bible speak?”

3. A third matter. I go again with my open Bible to our Low Churchman, our Independent, or other Dissenter. It is open at St. Matthew, chap. 26, verse 20—”Take eat : this is My Body.” I say to them, “Here are very simple words. Do you believe them? When Our Lord said, ‘This is My Body,’ did He mean ‘this is My Body ?’”

“Well! No,” our Protestant friend will say, “He did not mean exactly, This is My Body; He meant, This is the figure of My Body.”

But He does not say so—He says, This is My Body, and, again, This is My Blood.

“No. He does not say so, but He means what He does not say. He says, this is My Body, but He means, This is a figure, a type, a likeness of My Body. He says, This is My Blood, but means, This is a figure of My Blood.”

Then you will grant that your meaning is not the first clear, common-sense, easy meaning which the words would have? When it is written that the water was made wine (St. John ii. 9), you would not say that the first clear meaning of the word was, the water was made a likeness of wine ?

” We suppose this must be granted. Our Protestant meaning is not the first clear meaning of the words.”

Well, then! let us turn again to that un-scriptural priest who is so afraid of the Bible. What say you, Reverend Father, of these words?

“I say, what I have always in all things said, that the Bible means what its words seem to mean. The plain, simple, straightforward sense is the true sense. When our Lord said, This is My Body, it was His Body; when He said, This is My Blood, it was His Blood. Just as when a man says, this is a book, he means this is a book, not this is the figure of a book; so surely with Our Blessed Lord, Who cannot love to puzzle us by hiding His meaning under doubtful words. Why does our good Protestant think that our Lord meant one thing and said another?

“Oh! because it cannot be. It is impossible. Bread cannot become God’s Body: wine cannot become His Blood.”

Cannot again! Always cannot! In Baptism cannot, in Confession cannot, and now again cannot? What is it that God cannot do?

Surely the priest is here again the straightforward one of the two. He does not seem afraid of the Bible after all. It is the Protestant who seems afraid, who wriggles and shuffles a little, and does not give plain senses to plain language.

It will be perhaps the same with St. John vi. 53, “Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you.” Do you, Low Church, or Independent, or Wesleyan minister, do you really eat the real Flesh and drink the real Blood of God ?

“No, certainly not; Our Lord means that we must eat the figure of His Flesh, drink the figure of His Blood ; eat and drink His Flesh and Blood not with the body but only with the mind.”

We turn to the priest, and his answer is straightforward as before. “What the Bible says it means. We do really eat the real Flesh of God; we do really drink the real Blood of God. He enters not into our soul only by His Spiritual Power, but His Real Body enters into our body, and is meat indeed and drink indeed.”

Ain’t that grand?  And trust me —it gets even better! You can read part II of this delightful essay hereAnd to learn more about the Catholic Truth Society, click here.

For Psalm 10, “The Prayer of Justice”

If you haven’t taken a look at the post on the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne yet, have a look at the psalm of David, from which the responsorial psalm is derived from in today’s Mass readings, in full below. Written by David over 3000 years ago, are you as amazed as I am at how current and relevant the words of this prayer are for us today?

Reading this makes me think that the Martyrs of Compiegne were praying this prayer when they stood accused of being “enemies of the people” a mere 216 years ago. Think about that for a second. That was just a few seconds ago on the timeline of history. Because whether  3000 years ago, 216 years ago, or even right up to today, the historical evidence of revolution far outweighs the historical evidence of human evolution. To my small mind anyway.

One day, the nation-states will be no more. Until that time, I’ll just keep praying The Prayer of Justice.

Psalm 10

Why, Lord, do you stand at a distance
and pay no heed to these troubled times?
Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor;
they trap them by their cunning schemes.

The wicked even boast of their greed;
these robbers curse and scorn the Lord.
In their insolence the wicked boast:
“God doesn’t care, doesn’t even exist.”
Yet their affairs always succeed;
they ignore your judgment on high;
they sneer at all who oppose them.
They say in their hearts, “We will never fall;
never will we see misfortune.”
Their mouths are full of oaths, violence, and lies;
discord and evil are under their tongues.
They wait in ambush near towns;
their eyes watch for the helpless,
to murder the innocent in secret.
They lurk in ambush like lions in a thicket,
hide there to trap the poor,
snare them and close the net.
The helpless are crushed, laid low;
they fall into the power of the wicked,
Who say in their hearts, “God pays no attention,
shows no concern, never bothers to look.”

Rise up, Lord God! Raise your arm!
Do not forget the poor!
Why should the wicked scorn God,
say in their hearts, “God doesn’t care”?
But you do see;
you do observe this misery and sorrow;
you take the matter in hand.
To you the helpless can entrust their cause;
you are the defender of orphans.
Break the arms of the wicked and depraved;
make them account for their crimes;
let none of them survive.

The Lord is king forever;
the nations have vanished from God’s land.
You listen, Lord, to the needs of the poor;
you encourage them and hear their prayers.
You win justice for the orphaned and oppressed;
no one on earth will cause terror again.

For All the Saints: The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne

Guest post by William “Mac” McCarthy

Blogging makes surprising connections. Back in the day when I was a lapsed Episcopalian and he was the rare Catholic at our New England school, Mac lived down the hall from me. Forty years later, now an attorney in Bakersfield, California, he read YIM Catholic and quickly promised me a write-up on an extraordinary group of Catholic martyrs, whom we honor on July 17.

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”

During the French Revolution’s Reign of terror, on the evening of July 17, 1794, in Paris’s Place de la Nation, a hardened crowd waited at the guillotine for the carts carrying that day’s “batch” from the Palais de Justice. A heavy stench from the putrefying blood in the pit below the scaffold hung over the plaza. During the five weeks the guillotine had stood in the Place de la Nation, a thousand severed heads had fallen into the blood-stiffened leather bag of Sanson, the Paris executioner. The blood pit had been enlarged once already but had quickly filled up again.

Usually, raucous jeers from where Rue du Faubourg St. Antoine emptied into the plaza would signal the approach of the tumbrels carrying the condemned. Not this night. A strange hush spread into the plaza. Then there was something else. Singing. Serene, female voices intoning a cool, effortless chant of verse after verse of the Te Deum.

When the tumbrels rolled up to the scaffold, the crowd grew silent. The singers were sixteen sisters from the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Compiegne. They wore long white choir mantles (cloaks) over brown robes similar to nuns’ habits. Such attire had long since been outlawed in the new order. But these women were not of the new order. Their religious clothing and singing in Latin embodied the lost time before the storming of the Bastille and the start of the revolution on July 14, 1789. Also, while plenty of priests and some nuns had been executed individually, never had an entire religious community been carted up to the guillotine. Their radiant, happy faces were wrong for this place. They should have looked sad. They were about to die. They looked joyous. The other twenty-four condemned prisoners with them looked unhappy.

The reason for the Carmelites’ happiness was their belief that the guillotine was the answer to their prayers. Every day for almost two years, since about the time of the September 1792 massacres, the sisters had made a daily act of consecration in which they offered their own lives to God as a sacrifice to restore peace, help France, and stop the killing. For Christ, their heavenly Spouse, to actually accept their offer of themselves in holocaust and grant them their martyrdom gave them great joy.

Three hours earlier at the Palais de Justice, the sisters had been condemned to death. A show trial proved them “enemies of the people.” The blatantly false charges included “hiding weapons in your convent.” In answer, the 41-year old prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, lifted her crucifix from her bosom and held it up to the presiding judge saying, “The only weapon we’ve ever had in our convent is this. You cannot prove we have ever had any others.” They had no convent anyway. The revolutionary government had confiscated it and ejected them in September 1792. Carmel Compiegne and everything in it had been sold to finance the revolution.

A fellow prisoner who saw them return from hearing their death sentences reported their faces were “beaming with joy.” A Parisian working class woman who watched the Carmelites pass by on the tumbrels had shouted, “What good souls! Just look at them! Tell me if you don’t think they look just like angels! I tell you, if these women don’t go straight to paradise, then we’ll just have to believe it doesn’t exist!”

At the scaffold, the sisters performed devotions normal for dying Carmelites. The nuns renewed their monastic vows of poverty chastity and obedience. They sang the Veni Creator Spiritus:

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav’nly aid,
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made. …

One sister, was heard to cry out, “Only too happy, O my God, if this little sacrifice can calm your wrath and reduce the number of victims.”

Then Mother Teresa of Saint Augustine walked over to the foot of the scaffold steps and turned to face her spiritual daughters. In the palm of her hand, the prioress held a tiny terracotta image of the Virgin and Child, a last relic saved from Carmel Compiegne. She summoned Sister Constance, the youngest sister, who approached.

This was 29-year-old Sister Contance’s first act of obedience as a professed Carmelite. Moments before, as her sisters were renewing their vows, she was pronouncing her vows for the first time. In 1789, at the start of the Revolution, just before she completed her novice year, the revolutionary government prohibited the taking of religious vows. So, after six years as a novice, she finally made her profession in extremis. Previously, she had expressed a terrible fear of the guillotine. She would show no fear this night.

At the steps, Sister Constance knelt at her prioress’s feet and received a blessing. She kissed the clay Madonna and Child cupped in her prioress’ hand. Finally, bowing her head, she asked:

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”

Sister Constance rose from her knees. A witness described her as radiant as “a queen going to her receive her diadem.“ As she began her climb up to the scaffold, she spontaneously intoned the Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, the 117th Psalm. That psalm was sung by the Discalced Carmelite Order’s mother-foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, at the foundation of every new Carmel in 16th-century Spain. Hearing Sister Constance, her sisters immediately took up the chant:

Praise the Lord, all ye nations!
Praise Him all ye people!
For his mercy is confirmed upon us,
And the truth of the Lord endureth forever!
Praise the Lord!

At the top of scaffold steps, still joined in chant with her sisters, Sister Constance waved aside the executioner and his valet. She walked on her own to the vertical balance-plank; was strapped to it; and then lowered into horizontal position. With a swoosh and a thud, the guillotine had cut the number of voices to 15. The remaining voices rose in defiance. Even before her falling head reached Sanson’s leather bag, Sister Constance was in the arms of her heavenly Spouse in the Kingdom of the Lamb.

The exact order in which the other 15 sisters climbed the scaffold has not come down to us. We know only the last two sisters. What is known is that the guillotine mob remained silent the whole time, an almost impossible–or one could say miraculous–occurrence. The bumps, clicks, swooshes and thuds of the death apparatus told of the deadly business. But the calm, austere chant of the Laudate Dominum never stopped.

About every two minutes, one voice would fall away from the others, to be heard no more by mortal ears. Each sister, when her time came, went to her Mother and knelt; received a blessing; and kissed the Madonna and Child statuette.

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”

Here are the names of the other sisters:

Sister Jesus Crucified, choir sister, age 78. She and Sister Charlotte had celebrated their jubilee of 50 years of profession.

Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, choir sister, age 78. The martyrs arrived at the Paris Concierge (jail) from Compiegne on July 13 after a two-day journey in open carts. Sister Charlotte was unable to rise and step out of the cart with her sisters. She could only walk with a crutch, but her hands were tied behind her back. Exhausted, she sat alone in the tumbrel in the soiled straw. An angry guard jumped up and tossed her out onto the cobblestones. After lying still for a while, Sister Charlotte lifted her bloodied head and gently thanked the brutal guard for not killing her. She wanted to live long enough to make her witness with her sisters.

Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conception, choir sister, age 58

Sister Julie Louise of Jesus, choir sister, age 52. Sister Julie Louise of Jesus entered Carmel as an aristocratic young widow. Well educated and musically talented, she composed a song or poem every year for the community’s July 16 patronal festival, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This year, at the Concierge in Paris, since writing materials were forbidden in jail, she managed to obtain scraps of charcoal. She composed a long five stanza song about a happy martyrdom and set it to the tune of the bloodthirsty La Marseillaise. One line went, “Let’s climb, let’s climb, the scaffold high!” The day before they went to the guillotine, all the sisters gaily sang Sister Julie Louise’s feast day song. Their only disappointment was they would not die on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Sister Teresa of the Heart of Mary, choir sister, age 52

Sister Saint Martha, lay sister, age 52

Sister Catherine, extern, age 52

Sister Marie of the Holy Spirit, lay sister, age 51

Sister Teresa of Saint Ignatius, choir sister, age 51

Mother Henriette of Jesus, past prioress and novice mistress, choir sister, age 49

Sister Teresa, extern, age 46

Sister Saint Louis, subprioress, choir sister, age 42

Sister Saint Francis Xavier, lay sister, age 30

Sister Henriette of the Divine Providence, choir sister, age 34. This sister was the second to last to die. She was a fiery beauty, whose nine adult bothers and sisters included two priests and five nuns. Fearing her natural beauty would be a distraction, she had withdrawn from the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, a public nursing order and sought out the hidden life in the cloister at Carmel. One of her sisters became the Superior General of all the Sisters of Charity of Nevers. (This was the order of St Bernadette of Lourdes.)

In the courtroom at the Revolutionary Tribunal on the day of her martyrdom, she boldly challenged the Tribunal’s notorious public prosecutor, Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, to define what he meant by calling her community “fanatic.” In response to her repeated demands that he stop avoiding her question and answer it, the prosecutor finally said their “attachment to their religion” made them criminals and dangers to public freedom. At the guillotine, since she was the Carmel’s infirmarian, she took a place by the steps and helped her older, weaker sisters up the scaffold steps.

The psalm chant stopped only when the last Carmelite, the prioress—Mother Teresa of Saint Augustine, age 41, had climbed the scaffold steps and followed her daughters. She was the only child of an employee of the Paris Observatory. Since she was not from a wealthy family, the generous young Dauphine of France, Marie Antoinette, had paid her dowry for Carmel. The prioress was well educated and artistic. Some of her paintings still hang on the walls of French Carmels. She was only 34 when she was first elected prioress. She is believed to be the first nun to have felt the call to community martyrdom.

Before beginning her walk up the steps, the prioress made the sign of the cross and paused. A pious woman in the crowd, who saw the hesitation, understood and moved up to discreetly take the tiny terracotta Virgin and Child statuette from the hand of the great prioress of Carmel Compiegne. The statuette was kept safe and has come down to us.

Ten days after the Carmelites of Compiegne fulfilled their vow and offered themselves up in sacrifice to stop the bloodshed, Robespierre fell from power. A bloody revolutionary, he was a key architect of the Reign of Terror. The next day, July 28, 1794, he was guillotined and the Reign of Terror soon faded.

That the martyrs were able to wear parts of their forbidden habits at the guillotine, like their white choir mantles, was due to unusual coincidences or, more likely, the hand of God. After their expulsion from Carmel Compiegne, they had been forbidden to wear their habits. With no money to buy clothes, they had to accept worn out, cast-off, immodest clothing. They draped scarves over their shoulders and necks to protect their modesty.

But, on July 12, 1794, in the jail in Compiegne (a confiscated convent) they had donned what remained of their habits in order to wash their single outfits of civilian clothing. At the same time, the mayor received an order from the Paris Committee of Public Safety ordering the martyrs’ immediate transport to Paris for “trial.” The secular clothes were soaking in wash tubs. Delaying the execution of the Paris order was unthinkable (and too risky) for the Compiegne officials. Therefore, the martyrs went to Paris in what they had left of their forbidden habits. Perhaps, when their Lord decided to accept their offer of martyrdom, He also granted the martyrs the tender mercy of dying in their beloved, long, white choir mantles.

The worn-out, immodest civilian clothes left soaking in the tubs at Compiegne had yet another role in God’s plan. Confined in the Compiegne jail with the Carmelites had been 17 English Benedictine sisters. Four others had already died in jail. They had been arrested as foreigners in 1792 at their monastery in Cambrai. A granddaughter of St. Thomas More had founded the monastery when Catholic religious orders were forbidden in England. Though kept apart, Benedictines learned of the Carmelites’ daily consecration to sacrifice themselves to restore peace and free prisoners.

After the Carmelites were taken to Paris, the Compiegne jailers made the Benedictines wear the Carmelites’ abandoned civilian clothes. The Benedictines were still wearing them when they were finally allowed to sail for England in 1795. That community eventually founded England’s famous Stanbrook Abbey. Today, Benedictines at Stanbrook still honor the Carmelites as martyrs whose deaths somehow stopped the killing and saved the jailed Benedictine sisters from the guillotine. In 1895, Stanbrook Abbey returned many of the “wash tub” clothes as venerated relics to the newly reestablished Carmel Compiegne.

The martyrs were beatified by St. Pius X on May 13, 1906. Their memory is celebrated on July 17 by both branches of the Carmelites and the archdiocese of Paris.

Several successful literary and artistic works have helped spread the martyrs’ story around the world. They include Gertrude von De Fort’s famous 1931 novella, Song at the Scaffold, which in turn inspired Georges Bernanos’ Les Dialogues des Carmelites (1949), as well as Francis Poulenc’s opera (1957) and an Italian-French film (1959), both also named Les Dialogues des Carmelites.

Almost all the historical facts used in this post come from William Bush’s outstanding book, To Quell the Terror: The Mystery of the Vocation of the Sixteen Carmelites of Compiegne Guillotined July 17, 1794, ICS Publications (1999). The same goes for a lot of the wording and observations in this posting. Bush has spent many years studying the martyrs. His book has a picture of the terracotta statuette and photos of art work by the martyrs, including a beautiful pastel of Christ on the Cross by Mother Teresa of Saint Augustine. Any errors, misstatements, or unclear writing here in this post are this writer’s fault.

For a short, brilliant essay on the martyrs, Catholicism, and modern times, read “The Mantle of Elijah: The Martyrs of Compiegne as Prophets of the Modern Age” by Terrye Newkirk, OCDS. It is only 11 pages and easily downloaded from the ICS website.

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”

A Thanksgiving (A Few Words For Wednesday)

Venerable  Cardinal John Henry Newman will become Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman later this year.  Cardinal Newman is big news for converts to Catholicism, as his “conversion to Catholicism in 1845 rocked Victorian England.”

Known for his ability to write well, it turns out that he wrote poetry too. Below is a little poem on thankfulness I found while trolling the YIMC Bookshelf. It’s easy to count your blessings when everything is going your way. This poem reminds us to be thankful in the midst of adversity, when the Way seems particularly arduous, as well.

A Thanksgiving

‘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.

Matt Maher (Music for Mondays)

Does anyone remember Webster’s little secret? Well, how about Christian Contemporary music written and performed by a Catholic? No need to keep that a secret, right? But heck, I’m probably the last Catholic to ever hear of Matt Maher or his music.

Now, I first heard one of his songs on the Message, which I play whenever I’m driving my wife’s car on taxi duty.  A quick search on the internet later and I learned that he is a Catholic, which really wouldn’t matter if he couldn’t carry a tune. But from the selections below you will hear that he can do that quite handily.

Now, there is no need for me to re-write Maher’s website for him in order to introduce him to you.  Besides, I don’t know enough about him to write much anyway. You can read all about him yourself here. But before you go there, have a listen to the following tunes I was able to cobble together from the videos available on YouTube. Many of these include the lyrics to the songs, so I’ll keep my comments to a minimum.

As far as I can tell, there are a lot of good songs that Maher has put out. He has released 5 albums in his career so far and he does a lot of touring.  He has been out and about since 2002, but I never got the memo. In case you didn’t either, I hope you will enjoy these as much as I do.

The artists introduction to Hold Us Together.

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Hold Us Together

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Great Things

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Alive Again. When writing the songs for this album, Maher determined that “the over-arching theme that emerged seemed to be centering on what it means to be alive. The whole notion that God became a human being should change the way we look at what it means to be human, and ultimately the way it leads us is back to the cross.”

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Your Grace Is Enough

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As It Is In Heaven

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Empty and Beautiful

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Lay It Down

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Head on over to i-Tunes and pick up one of his albums (I just did!).  And then check his website to see if he may be coming to a concert hall near you.