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. [Read more…]

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. [Read more…]

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.