For All the Saints: Joseph of Leonissa

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph of Leonissa (Feb. 4, 1612). He was from a small town in Italy that, at the time, lay within the borders of the Papal States. At the age of seventeen, he became a Capuchin friar. I hadn’t planned on posting on this saintly fellow, but I found something that I believe I am supposed to share with you. I can’t explain it really, I just feel drawn to share an account that involves Joseph.

But first, a little background. He is best known for heading to Constantinople to minister to the Christian galley slaves of the Sultan there. He didn’t do that on a lark, either. He studied the Turks, and Islam, before heading on this mission.

Art credit: Getty Images

One day, he got the idea that he would preach to the Sultan himself, was captured, tortured and then miraculously released after hanging from hooks through his foot and his right hand (comfortable, and humane) over a smokey fire for three days. You can read more about that episode from the article on him at the Catholic News Service. Suffice it to say it’s a miracle he survived.

Like I said, I really wasn’t going to post anything about this particular saint. But then I found something about him on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, you remember, my wacky hobby nowadays? And one thing led to another.

It is an episode in Joseph’s life that I found in a book entitled The Agonizing Heart, by Fr. François René Blot. I added this volume to our shelf promptly because the subtitle of the book is Salvation of the Dying, Consolation of the Afflicted. So, it sounds like a book that has a broad appeal, since all of us are dying, or consoling someone who has lost someone who has died.

This particular story comes from Section II in the book, Meditations For One Day In Each Month. The selection that concerns our saint of the day is the meditation for the month of December, on the Blessed Virgin Mary. It turns out that Joseph of Leonissa is also know for two things that stand out in my mind: he preached while holding a crucifix, and he had a strong devotion to Our Lady.

What could be more agonizing than losing your child in premature death? A horrible accident for example, or to a disease, and heaven forbid, to a homicide. That is the episode that unfolds in the account that involves our Saint of the Day below. Take a look,

from La Vie du B. P. Joseph de Leonissa
by Daniel de Paris

The talent of consoling the afflicted is one of the gratuitous graces which God gives to whom He wills for the benefit of others, but compassion towards the afflicted is the duty of every Christian, according to the words of St. Paul, ‘Weep with them that weep’ (Rom. xii. 15).

The Blessed Father Joseph had this talent to a remarkable degree. He was ever ready to weep with those who wept, and to lead them to adore the secrets of Divine Providence. On one occasion, when he was preaching the Lent at Jane (ed. a nearby town), he heard that a young man had just been killed in a quarrel, and that his mother, a widow, was inconsolable in her grief.

Father Joseph, with true compassion for her affliction, went to visit her, and to share it; but he found her in a state of frenzy, and full of thoughts of revenge. The servant of God did not begin by blaming her anger; on the contrary, he acknowledged that she had good cause for her tears.

“You weep,” said he, “your tears are reasonable, and God does not blame them. But now that you have given all that nature can expect from a mother’s heart, it is time to think of what grace claims from a Christian. You must let yourself be ruled by faith; look at Jesus on the Cross” (he showed her the crucifix), “and consider the tears of the Blessed Virgin His Mother, and her humble submission to the will of God. Will you not follow so beautiful an example? ”

“Your son has fallen a victim to the hatred of his enemies, but the Son of Mary suffered from the cruelty of His own people. The one was, like all Adam’s children, a sinner, the other was the God-Man, the Saint of Saints, and He died only to restore those who were dead in sin. In short, your son died in a personal quarrel, your Savior died for the sins of others. Yet Mary did not yield to such an excess of grief, she did not call upon Heaven to destroy those wicked deicides; she imitated the clemency of her Son, Who even on the Cross prayed for His murderers; every day she still intercedes for sinners. You have acted as an afflicted mother, but is it not now time to behave after her example, as a Christian mother, who conforms herself in all things to the will of God?”

The tears of a too human sorrow were changed into tears of holy compunction, and the poor mother seemed absorbed in the love shown by Jesus on the Cross. The holy man led her to something yet more perfect. As the Blessed Virgin loves those who have crucified her Son so much that she seeks their salvation, she also learned charity towards those who had taken the life of her child. She invited them to her house, even before the funeral, and assured them that she forgave them for the love of Jesus and His holy Mother.

****
I’ve been reading a book written by John C.H. Wu where he writes that,
Some time or other, the Holy Spirit moves you to whisper to Christ, “Lord, what shall I render to You for Your wonderful love of me? He answers you in a whisper, “Do not always say ‘me, me, me…’ Remember there is a big Me in you. Love Me, love My brothers.”

And of course, He also says,

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

St. Joseph of Leonissa, pray for us.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Because the Church is Paradoxically Consistent

The other day I wrote about the dictionary meanings for the word “catholic.” I have more thoughts on the matter, but that post was running long. Having already imposed a 3500 word(!) post on you right after the New Year, constant reading of marathon length missives might tucker you out, make you cross-eyed, and compel you never to return to this space. So consider this post as part II in a series of indeterminate length on the meanings of that word.

Though this Marine is no expert on word etymology, today I ask you to consider the meanings of the word “catholic” again, but this time applying them to an organism.

A human being for instance, or perhaps I should say to the ideal of what it means to be fully a human being. I wrote that this is one of my goals while slogging through what remains of the pilgrimage that is my time here on earth.

I happen to agree with the following thoughts I ran across recently on the Catholic Church,

Church and Bible are not to be judged only by what they say, but rather by what, for society and the individual, they have actually achieved; and what has acted for so many ages as a key to so complex a lock as human nature has its testimony in itself.

These words were written back in 1906 by an obscure convert to Catholicism named W.J. Williams. The bold highlights are mine. As my eyes ran across these words, my memory bank lit up remembering similar thoughts written, and more fully elaborated on, by someone who is anything but obscure. G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy, which was published in 1909 (long before he was received into the Church) writes the following on page 152,

The complication of our modern world proves the truth of the creed more perfectly than any of the plain problems of the ages of faith. It was in Notting Hill and Battersea that I began to see that Christianity was true. This is why the faith has that elaboration of doctrines and details which so much distresses those who admire Christianity without believing in it. When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it’s elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.

Chesterton then takes the reader through the full development of this idea between pages 148 and 187, in the sixth chapter  which he calls The Paradoxes of Christianity. If you haven’t read Chesterton before, head over to my favorite electronic bookshelf and read this for yourself. Then read our discussion notes on this chapter too.

Perhaps you are perfect, but if you are like me, it’s more likely that you simply judge others by their actions while judging yourself by your intentions. I’m getting better at stopping myself from following that pharisaical path into the pit of unhappiness and oblivion. It must have something to do with how I’m spending my time lately.

Someone shared their opinion on the post on Dracula that I was being inconsistent in my approach in how I considered Vlad, his life, his acts, and his death. To which I say, welcome to the paradox of lived Christianity. I have often quoted Qohelth, the Teacher, from my favorite Old Testament book in this space. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said of the words of the Psalmist, The Holy Spirit says,

All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to get, and a time to lose. A time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. A time of love, and a time of hatred. A time of war, and a time of peace.

What hath man more of his labor? I have seen the trouble, which God hath given the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made all things good in their time, and hath delivered the world to their consideration, so that man cannot find out the work which God hath made from the beginning to the end.

Are not these seasons also shared by our human natures in our own life cycle? I can only speak of my personal recognition of my own paradoxical nature, so perhaps you do not see this. Perhaps you are more consistent than I am, but I know that I am consistently paradoxical. But the Church sees this as her thoughts have developed over these past 2000 years of her existence. And again, this viewpoint is not that of one solitary person, but of this earthly house of the world-society of souls, as my new friend Algar Thorold describes the Church, shepherded by the Vicar of Christ for the benefit of all mankind.

Consider the paradoxical nature of the Church herself as a living organism that is growing up in Her mission, and maturing in it as well. This is better explained by Blessed John Henry Newman in his Essay on Development than I ever could. But in essence Newman argues that the Church too has grown and matured through a life cycle of change. And still she develops, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Take a look at this long paragraph Newman writes at the conclusion of section 1 of the first chapter of his  Essay on Development,

But whatever be the risk of corruption from intercourse with the world around, such a risk must be encountered if a great idea is duly to be understood, and much more if it is to be fully exhibited. It is elicited and expanded by trial, and battles into perfection and supremacy. Nor does it escape the collision of opinion even in its earlier years, nor does it remain truer to itself, and with a better claim to be considered one and the same, though externally protected from vicissitude and change. It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become more vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope.

We’re half-way through the paragraph now but I wanted to alert you that the bold highlights above are mine. The words “deep”, “broad,” and “full” are, to me anyway, synonyms for the word “catholic” too, both in regards to human beings as well as to the institution of the Church. Or maybe you buy into the modern social science idea that man can only be understood as little self-serving widgets directed by their own self-interest like the economists would have you believe. That is the way that governments treat us too. I used to think that way as well, until I met the saints. Their lives are lived for others, at the expense of themselves. This is true humanism. Now back to the beata’s thoughts. He was talking about scope,

At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

That was me with the bold again (and a link, actually). Recently I’ve had discussions with those who say “I can’t follow the Church because back during the Thirty Years War she advocated the killing of Protestant’s etc. etc.” To which I say, that was then and this is now,

Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.

For this reason, I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind (cf. Mt 22:37). This is the sentiment which inspires and directs this “Message for the XLIV World Day of Peace, devoted to the theme: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.”

Yes, the Vicar of Christ just said those words recently. Read it all at the not-so-top-secret Vatican website. Again, this is a true form of humanism, the Christian form, because Christ, the Eternal Word is the origin of humanism. God became a human, and the Good News, which has existed from the start, only obscured, arrived in the flesh. The world hasn’t been the same since. But the Word is eternal and as this past weeks reading from the Letter to the Hebrews notes, our ancestors saw the words, but didn’t get the message.

For in fact we have received the Good News just as our ancestors did. But the word that they heard did not profit them, for they were not united in faith with those who listened.

If you are still stuck in the times of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, the Thirty Years War, etc. etc., are you being profited? Are you even fulfilling the pledge that we pray in the prayer that the Word taught us?

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Instead, you may be falling into that logic trap that our human ancestors fell into before the Incarnation as well. Bear with me here.

Because to me, judging the Church only on her failures, while forgetting her successes is like judging the Marine Corps only on her failures while forgetting her prowess in actually fighting battles and winning wars. Stay stuck on the Ribbon Creek incident (where several Marine Recruits  died of drowning by the actions of a sadistic drill instructor), for example, while forgetting all of the Marine Corps’ success on the battle field, like the fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservior to Hungnam during the Korean War, and you may understand what I mean.

Those young men who died at Ribbon Creek can never be forgotten, nor can we bring them back to life and restore them to their families. But as a result of that tragedy, the Marine Corps changed the way recruits were handled, and she continues to develop the way recruits are trained to this day. Critics of the Church today who say that she is incapable of allowing freedom of thinking which helps her to develop makes me wonder if they have really considered what she has accomplished in spite of her growing pains. As W.J. Williams writes,

The Church, then, does not regard herself as perfect, but as having found the only possible way in which to make a great religious experiment, to organize and objectify the religious idea; to create and to continue an organism in which the religious process may be carried on. She does not say that she has accomplished her purpose in a manner the most perfect that could be conceived—far from it, she does but say, that she has done what she could; but she adds that if she has failed in her purpose it is not easy to see whom else she should regard as having succeeded, nor is it easy to find in the world an organism which has united experiment, consistency and advance in the religious idea, in an equal degree with herself.

So the critics that keep pounding the table that the Catholic Church never changes, is anathema to change, is the killer of all freedom, both actual and intellectual, are, in my humble and unimportant opinion, missing the boat. Perhaps they can’t see the forest for the trees.

Because the Church is paradoxically consistent and consistently paradoxical.

To be continued...

Thanks to St. John of the Cross, Master of Paradoxes

In the past, I have shared my affinity for both the writings of John C.H. Wu (the Chinese Chesterton, here with his family and Pope Pius XII) and St. John of the Cross. Do you remember when I shared my friend John’s thoughts on Thérèse of Lisieux? He compared her to Lao Tzu and Confucius.

As this is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, I would like to share with you some of John Wu’s thoughts about this Doctor of the Church as well as this diagram of St. John’s Ascent of Mt. Carmel. [Read more...]

Because of Francisco De Osuna and a Minor Miracle

During the Summer of 2007 I read an awful lot of books that led me to join my parish RCIA program in the Fall of that same year. I’ve written about most of my reading program in earlier posts in this series, and I continued reading great Catholic books once my RCIA class started too.

For example, I read Mirabai Starrs’ translation of The Book of My Life by St. Teresa of Avila. It is a fascinating book about prayer by a fascinating woman. By reading Big Terry’s book, I discovered the work of another obscure author I had never heard of who had a big impact on this Doctor of the Church and on me. Here is what St. Teresa says on page 20 of her book that peaked my interest,

On the way to my sister’s village, we stopped in to see my Uncle Pedro. He gave me a copy of The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna. This is a book all about the Prayer of Recollection. In the past year, I had realized what harm my appetite for romance novels had done to my soul, and I had begun to develop a tremendous appreciation for spiritual books. Since I did not know a thing about the practice of contemplative prayer, or how to go about recollecting my senses and my thoughts, I was thrilled to find a book that told me exactly what to do.

I remember thinking to myself, I don’t know what St. Teresa is talking about (contemplative prayer? What’s that?), but if she liked de Osuna’s book enough to give it such a ringing endorsement, then I need to get a copy of it too, post haste! And the “harm of romance novels” comment resonated with me too, as I sheepishly realized how much of my reading time had heretofore been wasted on a lot of superfluous junk. Since this time, my night stand has been cluttered with “spiritual books”, and lots of them, instead. I wonder if she introduced de Osuna’s book to another Doctor of the Church too, you know, her friend and colleague St. John de la Cruz.

It turns out that Paulist Press published this book as a part of their excellent The Classics of Western Spirituality Series and it’s readily available. A visit to Amazon.com, a few clicks of the mouse, and a credit card authorization later, and The Third Spiritual Alphabet was on its way to me.

Within a week it arrived, all 609 pages of it. And let me tell you, de Osuna did not disappoint. I broke out my pencil for underlining purposes early, and often. Here are some examples of his thoughts from a few of the chapter and section headings,

Communion to God is Open to All; As Gifts Increase, So Do Our Debts; How We Should Give Thanks In Adversity; Blindness is Necessary to See God; How We Cannot Know God in Himself While We Live; Imitating Our Lord in the Desert of Recollection.

And here are a few of his thoughts on recollection that I underlined,

p.170: …we note that the devotion is called recollection because it gathers together those who practice it and, by erasing all dissension and discord, makes them of one heart and love. Not content with just this, recollection, more than any other devotion, has the known, discernible property by which someone who follows it can be greatly moved to devotion when he sees another person also recollected.

Having just left the greater Los Angeles area for my hometown in the hills of Tennessee, these words on the next page struck a chord with me too,

p.171: This devotion encourages us to retire from the traffic of people and noisy places to dwell in more secluded regions and to go out only now and then. If we do leave, we find ourselves anxious to return to our retreat to enjoy recollection, and we are just as eager as when we began the practice. We are like an eel that slips around in the fisherman’s hands so it can wriggle back into the water.

He could say that again. He goes on to say,

In recollection news and vain gossip have no appeal, nor do we like to hear anything that does not advise us to withdraw further into our hearts…for (the recollected) only wish is to see God with their hearts.

And Fray Francisco doesn’t pull any punches on what it takes to get from A to Z in the practice of this devotion. These are his thoughts from p. 175 that maybe only a Marine Corps Drill Instructor can appreciate,

You should also remember that no one masters any art without arduous practice, and the more one practices and becomes accustomed to something, the more quickly he masters it. Do not be so foolish as not to respect in this devotion and art the two things we observe in all occupations. First, learn it so that you are its master; do not be content to remain a beginner all your life like stupid, listless people who are forever learners, never attaining the science of truth because they are insufficiently attentive to their tasks. They are like the one in the gospel of whom it is said, “This man began to build and could not finish( Luke 14:30).”

How ignorant is the man who starts to build a house but does not concentrate on finishing it as quickly as possible so he can enjoy it soon! …If you wish to build the house of recollection for your souls, brother, you will profit immensely by remembering your intention. Plan to finish it.

Aye, aye sir! Now that I’ve given you a taste of my pal Fr. Francisco, I promise to share more of his thoughts in future posts. I can assure you of this because of the minor miracle that I will briefly describe for you now.

You may not have noticed that I’ve been blogging here for just over a year and this is only the second time that I am writing about my friend Fr. Francisco. I mentioned him briefly in the YIMC Book Club discussion of Mere Christianity when we were reading C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on pride. The principal reason for me keeping Fr. Francisco hidden from view is simple: I misplaced his book!

I had searched up and down my house, and my office, for it too. I reckon that it has been missing from my shelves for well over a year. Miraculously, and admittedly this is a minor miracle, not a supernatural one, the book reappeared in the back seat of my car last night. Here is the story.

Our family attended a Christmas party last night, see, and we took two cars because my wife had to go early to help set up. She took my eldest son with her to help her carry things. In Marine Corps jargon, her and my son were the Weathers “advance party” to the event. I followed in trace with the “main body” which included myself and my two younger children.

With the advent of cellular phones, this “advance party(AP) – main body (MB)” jargon makes sense to me because the AP called the MB about five times between the time the AP left and the MB crossed the line of departure. The message traffic went sort of like this,

AP to MB: “Could you bring my make-up bag? I left it in my other purse. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do.”

AP to MB: “MB, MB, could you stop by the ATM and get some money so we can buy some raffle tickets? I’m out of cash. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do. Over.”

AP to MB: “Could you bring XYZ with you? I just realized I forgot it. Over.”

MB to AP: “Negative AP, we are enroute and only 5 mikes (minutes) from your location. Over.

AP to MB: “OK then, disregard. Over and out.”

Granted, my wife and I don’t really talk like this on our cell phones. But really, isn’t this the way these AP to MB conversations go? Surely you have experienced this too. After that first exchange about the makeup bag, I found that bag and took it directly to the back seat of my car. I know what is of vital importance to a mission being successful or not, and a missing makeup bag would have been unimaginable. I absolutely did not want to forget that, thus I put it right there on the empty back seat of my car and walked away knowing that all would be well.

The MB arrives at the party and finds it well attended and packed to the gills with people enjoying themselves immensely and noted a long, snake-like, slow-moving, line of people waiting their turn for the food. I tracked down my wife, who was busy helping out, etc. I informed her that I had the makeup bag in the car and to let me know when she needs it and I’ll go get it. She said, “why didn’t you bring it in?” and discretion being the better part of valor, I turned tail and went and got it, ASAP.

As I approached my car, unlocked the doors, and rounded the rear bumper to open the passenger door on the side of the car where I had deposited the make-up bag, I was shocked to see Fr. Francisco’s book sitting there pretty as you please. When I unlocked the car, the dome light comes on automatically and I just stared through the window at that book for probably 15 seconds before I opened the door. I was thinking to, “where did you come from?” That seat had been empty when I threw the makeup bag there less than an hour earlier.

I was happy though, and thanked the Lord that it reappeared. It turned out that my youngest son had somehow noticed that something was bulging in the pouch on the back of the front passenger seat. He may have thought that I was hiding a Christmas present in there or something. I’m sure he was disappointed when it turned out to be one of his Dad’s dog-eared and well worn old books. So he just tossed it onto the seat and never said a word.

Sometimes that is how minor miracles work themselves out. Regardless, I’m just glad Francisco is back and I look forward to sharing more of his thoughts with you in future posts.

For Thoughts Like These from François Nepveu, S.J.

I love discovering devotional works that bring the Catholic perspective on Christianity directly onto the center stage. That’s what this book by Jesuit Father François Nepveu does.

Translated from the French by Henry Coleridge, S.J. (poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s brother), it is entitled Of the Love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, And the Means of Acquiring It.

Father Nepveu presents us with the motives for loving Our Savior. What follows is the first motive he describes, which is pretty straight-forward and right on the mark.

We Should Love Jesus Christ: Because He is Loveable.

Everything that is beautiful, and everything that is perfect, is naturally loveable. Everything that is infinitely beautiful and infinitely perfect, is therefore infinitely and necessarily loveable. Hence it follows that the Blessed, who see clearly the beauty and perfections of God, love Him so necessarily that it is out of their power to refrain from doing so. They would love Him infinitely if they were capable of an infinite love.

Were we then to study more often, were we to know more perfectly Thy perfections, O Jesus! Should we not find ourselves under a sweet obligation of loving Thee, since Thou dost contain in Thyself all perfections, created and uncreated, human and divine, spiritual, absolute and relative, and consequently all that can not only satisfy our minds and win our hearts, but even please our affections, and captivate our senses, in a word, all that can attract our love?

Is it not, then, wonderful that in spite of so many reasons for loving Thee, we can possibly avoid doing so? Jesus is God. He possesses, therefore, infinite beauty, infinite goodness, infinite power, holiness, wisdom, and, in a word, every perfection to an infinite degree. Thus, then, my soul, thou canst find in Him wherewith to Satisfy thy desires, however vast, however ambitious they may be; wherewith to fill that immense craving of the human heart which cannot be filled with any created or finite good. What then dost thou seek for elsewhere?

But Jesus is also man. In taking a body and a nature like ours, He makes these beauties and perfections of His—all divine as they are—material, sensible, adapted to our weakness, and proportioned to our faculties. How, then, can we refuse to love Jesus, or excuse ourselves from doing so, though we be ever so earthly, material, or attached to the objects of sense? For we have in Jesus, as the object of our love, something which is both divine and human, spiritual and sensible; something which can, consequently, satisfy our minds, our hearts, our reason, and our senses, and attract at the same time our veneration, our love, our admiration, and our tenderness.

How comes it, then, that the effect upon us is so often different from this? What are we to think or say of this strange marvel? Only that there is something in the malice of man, and in the insensibility of his heart towards Jesus, as incomprehensible as there is in the goodness and beauty of God.

God became Man, says St. Augustine, in order that man, who is composed of two such different parts, one altogether spiritual the other altogether material, finding in a God-Man all that was wanting to make the happiness of both his own natures, should not be obliged to divide his heart, and thereby to divide his love, between God and the creature; but that, finding in the Humanity of Jesus a holy occupation for his affections, pleasure for his senses, satisfaction for his mind, and enough to content his heart, he might place all his joy in Him, and find his happiness in loving Him. What then!

If one touch of beauty, if the smallest trace of perfection found in a wretched creature, can dazzle our eyes, take possession of our minds, and allure our hearts with a kind of enchantment; what strange sort of enchantment is this of which we speak, that the accumulation of every beauty and all perfections, divine and human, spiritual and material, all of which are found in Thee, most lovely Jesus, is unable to satisfy our mind, win our heart, or earn our love? Is it madness? Or blindness? or insensibility? Or, rather, is it not all three at once?

For, indeed, how is it conceivable that, while we can no more help loving that which is loveable, than help seeing that which is visible, yet Jesus, Who has done everything to make Himself beloved by us, or rather, is Himself alone worthy of love, should be about the only one unloved by us! Unloved! Rather, Who is neglected, scorned, forsaken!

It is this pitiable blindness which the Prophet foresaw and deplored in those touching words—”Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and ye gates thereof, be very desolate, saith the Lord. For my people have done two evils. They have foresaken Me, the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water”(Jer. ii. 12, 13).

This is what happens daily, when we forsake Jesus, infinitely lovely, to run after creatures, the possession of which never contents us, and the love of which, far from making us happy, makes us miserable and even criminal. This horrible confusion and strange insensibility which no one can comprehend, and which yet we see every day, touches to the quick those souls who are penetrated with the love of our Lord. We ourselves should bitterly lament it, if we had not ourselves a share in this insensibility.

This thought, that a God infinitely lovely should not be loved by men, so inconsolably afflicted the Saints, such as St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa, and St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, as to cause them sometimes to sigh for death, and to cry out in their holy transports of zeal, love, and suffering: “Love is not loved, Love is not loved!”

Oh, sons of men! How long will your minds be so blinded, and your hearts so weighed down by earthly things, as to have no wish to see the One True Beauty, and to love the One True Love! Thus it must be, my sweet and adorable Jesus, till Thou Thyself, Who art the Light of the World, shalt so enlighten, elevate, and fortify our minds as to render them capable of knowing Thee; until Thou shalt so detach, purify, and warm our hearts as to render them capable of loving Thee; until Thou shalt not only make known to our minds Thy Beauty, but also make our hearts sensible to the power of its charms, so that we shall confess that there is none but Thee Who art beautiful, and perfect, and lovely, and that consequently Thou only dost deserve our love.

Have a look at the rest of the book here.

Because Life is Like an Epic Poem (Not a Report Card)

Report cards used to be a once every nine week event. Remember those halcyon days? Information technology being what it is, nowadays we can check our children’s grades daily. Oh, the horror!

I say that because lately, the picture hasn’t been pretty for several of my little darlings. Not that I ever hoped that my kids would make straight A’s or anything like that. That would be a miracle, considering my part of their genetic make up.

Confession time: I didn’t out and out hate school, but I just never gave my studies the attention they deserved. Truth be told, I know that I never gave more than a fraction of my best effort to school work when I was growing up. My home life was a train-wreck, my parent’s had divorced just before I entered the first grade, and it was all I could do just to maintain my sanity growing up. I wasn’t into sports either because that was my older brother’s department. Oh, but I was into reading, though not into reading my textbooks for homework assignments. Unless it was a subject I really liked.

I was also a very young high school graduate too, and I left home when I was seventeen to join the Marines. I had to have my mothers permission, of course, because I was under eighteen. My mom, knowing that I was called to serve in the military, agreed to this in my case. How did she know I was called to this? Because since I was about 8 years old I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I figured that school was just a delaying action until I could join the service. On top of all that, college was unaffordable, for me anyway, so I figured why get all uptight about it?

My mom had one condition on agreeing to sign her little boy’s life away to the Marine Corps. For starters, she would only let me join the Reserves because she wanted me to go to college too. I didn’t mind this condition at the time, because I knew that all Marines, whether Reservists or Regular, both went through the same training, and that I would spend six months on Active Duty, at which point I would a) have an idea if I liked the Marines or not and b) I would be 18 and could apply to re-enlist as a Regular Marine, which is what I wound up doing. The second condition was that upon my return, I promised to attend the local college in our area. That part of the plan didn’t last long.

What does all this have to do with homework, grades, and parental performance anxiety? Well, though I may not have spent much of my childhood mental horsepower on trying to understand square roots, or on learning what a gerund is, I did know one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: my mom loved me. And she taught me that God loved me even more. And that when all was said and done, what was most important in life was for me to realize this and to love God back. And that God had a purpose in mind for me was something I understood too. I figured I was meant to be a soldier, sailor, airmen or Marine. And I was happy, like Joseph of Cupertino.

And that was good, because with my grades in high school, there wasn’t much chance of my being accepted by a college, not to mention a prestigious one. You know, the ones that you and all the other parents are salivating over when you chit chat with one another at the ball field, or at the family reunion, or amongst your co-workers. Uh-huh, like which school they wind up in is the absolute most important thing in the world to you.

Because, see, if Janie or Johnny doesn’t make it into “Top o’ the Heap” University right out of high school, their lives, and by extension yours too, will be over. What will the neighbors, and oh my heavens, the relatives think?! I don’t know, nor do I care.

And as for my children’s teachers thoughts? Well, let’s just say that teachers of children have no better success at choosing who among their students will be “winners” and who will be, ahem, not, then does a random coin toss. And despite their best intentions, they see only as man sees, and not as God does. God, seeing the heart,  is ultimately the career planner of my children. I’m not, and neither are the guidance counselors at school.

I sincerely believe that God has a plan and purpose for all of my children. For all of His children. And all of my children are His children, so I try not to make mountains out of mole hills. I realize that as a parent, I am called to provide for my children the best education I possibly can, and opportunities to discern what it actually is that the Lord is calling them to do with their lives. And that is what my wife and I try to do. But in reality, only the Lord knows what He has in mind for them.

As I was pondering report cards and what really is important to teach my children, I ran across Heather King’s blog Shirt of Flame. She recently wrote several posts about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. I really enjoyed these essays as she turned the spotlight on some of Gladwell’s assertions and helps explain that if Gladwell’s model is the path to success, then I’m happy to let him know that he can keep it.

I too had thought of writing a post about Outliers once. I was going to title it Because of Malcolm Gladwell…Not! way back when Webster first invited me aboard YIMCatholic, but I never got around to it. Now I don’t have too, thanks to Heather.

For those of you who haven’t read his book, here is a taste of Heather’s essay:

One thing I saw right away: Gladwell’s book isn’t about outliers, defined as “something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.” His book is about the opposite of outliers: people who’ve managed to parlay their talents into utterly mainstream, predictable and garden-variety money, property and/or prestige. For the most part, he doesn’t mean outliers: he means the extra rich, extra famous, extra lucky, and/or extra smug.

You’ll want to read the companion piece too.

Maybe Gladwell means what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “black swans,” only in this case the rare and improbable event is the success of a single person in “the world.” Taleb’s book, on the rare events in finance that come out of nowhere, and can’t be predicted, is really the opposite of Gladwell’s book too. Because Taleb’s thesis is that you can’t predict these event’s, even though we fool ourselves into thinking we can. Meanwhile,  Gladwell’s book tries to tease out the behaviors and circumstances that separate winners from the losers. And as parents, we want our kids to be winners, right?

So Gladwell preaches that it all comes down to doing dreary stuff, like putting in at least 10,000 hours shooting free-throws, for example, or to just being lucky enough to have been born in Seattle and having a wealthy dad who gives you carte blanche at the office, or having the good fortune to have been born in the Great Depression, or in January if you are a little league hockey player, so you get an extra year of playing time etc. It’s all so simple. And there is absolutely no room for the Holy Spirit to transform anyone in Gladwell’s world.

None of us have any control over many of these events, for example, like when or where we were born. And Gladwell would have you believe that the Beatle’s really were successfull just because they played more gigs at an earlier age than anyone else at the time?! I wonder what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger think about that? I don’t know, but I can think of one word—balderdash!

But enough of Gladwell and back to why I won’t be losing any sleep over my kids grades any time soon. Because as someone who was almost killed, an event that was completely unplanned I might add,  I know that life is too short for me to ride herd over every decimal point of my kid’s grade point averages. I’m not saying I don’t help them with their homework, or give them pep talks to do their best, etc. I do.

Thank God this is the phony ending!But I will be teaching them something that I noticed was missing from Gladwell’s book. And that is that the Holy Spirit will work through them and will change them, and bring gifts to them too. And I’ll teach them that they shouldn’t be surprised if their best laid worldly plans turn out to be all made of straw, and that their lives take a radically different turn away from the one that they had planned for. And that they shouldn’t be so quick to kill Hobbes (Thank God that is the fake ending!).

After nine years in the Marines, I decided to give college another try. At that point in my life, I was a much different person than I had been in high school. I met my wife, and she missed out on meeting the lousy high school student and instead met the young man in a hurry. He looked a lot like the faux Calvin in that last frame.

It may be a minor miracle that this C-/D+ high school student from Tennessee eventually graduated from UCLA, but that is surprisingly what happened. I don’t think a single teacher in my high school would have seen that one coming. But the Holy Spirit saw it coming, even when I had no way of knowing that this would even have been possible.

Now I’m all grown up and I can’t be a Marine anymore. And how in the world did I wind up here in this space? Hmmm.

Nowadays, I think the most important classes my children attend currently are their CCD classes. That may seem like a strange assertion, but I believe it to be true. Because though everything else passes away, our faith and the Church will still be here for them. And the love that my mother has for me, and the love of God that she taught me, is the single most important intangible thing that I can pass on to my children.

I came across these words by Kenelm Digby while adding books to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf (I certainly never saw that hobby coming!) which prompted me to title this post as I have. This is from the preface of a poem in twelve cantos he wrote entitled Ouranogaia: Heaven on Earth,

The design of this Poem (if such it may be called) is to represent the happiness, comparable in some degree, we might think, to what reigns in Heaven— which results from taking a cheerful, sympathetic, tolerant, and Catholic view of human life, as being on the confines of our celestial country, with constant means of access to it, amidst our various ordinary, or comic, or tragic conditions, hearing and observing with delicate exactitude the most minute things, whether jubilant, or, in a material sense, sorrowful, while escaping from impediments to this intense intellectual enjoyment, by mentally merging, as it were, in a confused way, one’s own individuality in some other person, or, at least, losing for the time self-consciousness, as if it were others who felt, heard, witnessed, and realized the approach to Paradise.

The object is also to suggest that human pleasures in this world, even those which are deemed most strictly confined to earth, and to our twofold formation in the present state of existence, are enhanced immeasurably when associated in a general way with such higher thoughts as may be said, without extravagance, to culminate in Heaven, being tempered and colored as it were by an all-pervading tone of trust in that forgiveness which constitutes an Article of the Christian Creed.

The whole is so arranged as to show in detail that some of the bliss of Heaven, as far as we can conceive it, may be enjoyed by mankind in this life by means of the spectacle of Creation, and in particular of Beauty, as also Mirth, Admiration, Friendship, Love, Goodness, Peace, Poetry, Learning, Philosophy, the Festivals of the Church, as developing, even by the rites attending them, those internal dispositions which render man what a theologian calls “animal carissimum Deo,” and in fine, through sanctity, untroubled and unaffected by human follies, while ignoring, rather than trying to extirpate the inevitable.

There is an attempt to show likewise with what effect Heaven may be said to descend especially on youth and age, and on those who have gone astray without having had, as a famous author says, “the foretaste of evil, which is calculation, or its aftertaste alone, which is zero.” Poverty, and a low social rank with its consequences, are shown to present no obstacle to this vision of two worlds; and, lastly, Heaven is represented as brought down to the sick and to the dying.

Digby’s first lines from Canto I ? I thought you would never ask.

Oh, joy, wing’d guest, how wonderful thou art!
Yes, just as wondrous as the human heart,
Or all that in the universe we see
Replete with wonder and divinity!
Joy at its highest is the lightning’s gleam,
Dazzles the sense and passes as a dream.
But then its precious memory can last,
Denoting through what golden gate we pass’d.
And, oh! that moment’s glimpse of what’s beyond
Once caught—no, never more should we despond.

That about sums it up for me.  Because the Catholic view of life is about a whole lot more than making straight A’s, hitting the high life, and reaching the top of the earthly pyramid. Because as St. Paul explains,

It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.—Ephesians 2:8-9

For All the Saints: Philip of Heraclea & Companions

There are many saints on the calendar for today, but I’d like to share with you this story about St. Philip, the Bishop of Heraclea, and his two companions, the priest Severus, and the good deacon Hermes (named after the Roman god of fleet feet).

People are still being martyred in the present day. Physically, believe it or not in many parts of the world, and mentally elsewhere. Prepare for it because it is likely to happen to you, and maybe it already has, in some way, shape or form.

The following account is from the work of another saint, Alphonsus de Liguori’s Victories of the Martyr’s. Does St. Al’s name sound familiar to you? It should because I shared something else he wrote right before I went on vacation this past summer.

Would you think me macabre if I told you that I find tales of this sort motivating? Well, I do. Because these three men didn’t abide by the dictum that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Instead, they are faith-filled and fearless men. After all, as a famous Marine once screamed, “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” So let’s wade in to a triple play of Christian courage, shall we?

ST. PHILIP, BISHOP OF HERACLEA, AND HIS TWO COMPANIONS, ST. SEVERUS AND ST. HERMES.

St. Philip was elected Bishop of Heraclea, the metropolis of Thrace, in consequence of his extraordinary virtue; and so fully did he correspond to the expectation of his people, that, while they tenderly loved him, there was not one among his flock who was not the object of his most affectionate pastoral solicitude. But there were two of his disciples whom he loved with peculiar affection—Severus, a priest, and Hermes, a deacon, whom he afterwords had companions of his martyrdom.

In the persecution of Diocletian he was advised to retire from the city. This, however, he refused to do, saying that he wished to conform to the dispensations of God, who knows how to reward those who suffer for his love, and that consequently he feared not the threats or torments of the tyrant.

The audacity of this Bishop. And fearless? The governor decides to lie in wait and call his bluff.

In the year 304, the saint was one day preaching to his people upon the necessity of patience and resignation, when a soldier, by the order of Bassus, the governor, entered the church, and having commanded the people to retire, shut the doors and sealed them; upon which Philip said to him: “Dost thou think that God dwelleth in these walls, and not rather in our souls?”

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to hear strains of Tom Petty singing I Won’t Back Down. Man, Philip might even have looked like Tom Petty! Back to the story,

Philip, although unable to enter the church, was unwilling to abandon it altogether, and remained at the door with his people. Separating the good from the bad, he exhorted the former to remain constant in the faith, and called upon the latter to return to God by sincere repentance.

“Seperating the good from the bad…” Ahem, Phil, shouldn’t you really just chill out brother?! I mean, the governor’s soldier-boy is here and he’s mighty important, and looking kind of serious. What if the governor himself comes?

Bassus, (I warned you Phil!) finding them assembled, caused them to be arrested, and having demanded who was their master, Philip answered: “I am he.”

The governor said: “Hast thou not heard the edict of the emperor, that in no place shall the Christians be assembled, but shall sacrifice to the gods, or perish?” He then commanded that the gold and silver vessels, together with the books that treated of the Christian law, should be delivered up; otherwise that recourse would be had to torture.

I told you a bluff was going to be called. But Philip has a mind of his own, see, and a heart that belongs to the Lord because,

Philip replied: “For my part, I am willing to suffer in this my body, tottering with age, whatever thou canst inflict; but abandon thou the thought of having any control over my spirit. The sacred vessels are at thy disposal; but it shall be my care to prevent the holy books from falling into thy hands.”

In other words, you can kill the body, but not the spirit. Hmmm, where have I heard that before? Right! Matthew 10:28. And what effect does this have?

Bassus, infuriated at this answer, called forward the executioners, and caused the saint to undergo a cruel and protracted torture.

He didn’t waste any time, did he? Kind of like NPR in the firing of Juan Williams.

The deacon, Hermes, witnessing the agonies of his bishop, told the governor that, although he were possessed of all the holy books, good Christians would never fail to teach Jesus Christ to others, and to render him the honor he deserves. After these words the holy deacon was most cruelly scourged.

Oh, you expected kow-towing and capitulation, did you? Heh, civilians. Not to be outdone by the bishops subaltern,

Bassus commanded that the sacred vessels should be removed from the sacristy, that the Scriptures should be burned, and that Philip, with the other prisoners, should be led by the soldiers to the forum, to be executed, in order that the pagans should be gladdened and the Christians affrighted by the spectacle.

Power…it’s all about the power. And our shining heroes would have nothing to do with bending their knees unto the temporal power of a mere despot.

Philip, having arrived at the forum, and being informed of the burning of the Scriptures, spoke at length to the people of the eternal fire prepared by God for the wicked.

Get that? Philip believes in Hell. And the really crazy thing? He prefers Heaven. And just when he was getting, ahem, warmed up,

During this discourse, a pagan priest, called Cataphronius, came carrying some meats that had been sacrificed to the idols. Hermes, seeing him, exclaimed: “This diabolical food hath been brought, that we, being forced to eat it, may be contaminated!” St. Philip desired him to be calm.

The good Bishop, in the face of certain death, tells the good Deacon to remain calm. I wonder what scheme the governor is planning next.

In the mean time the governor, arriving at the forum again, commanded the holy bishop to sacrifice to his gods.

Why be subtle, right? And was Philip impressed? Not hardly.

The saint asked: ” Being a Christian, how can I sacrifice to marble?” “Sacrifice at least to the emperor,” said Bassus. “My religion,” said the saint, “commands me to honor the princes, but teaches me that sacrifice is due to God alone.”

An in an effort to seem reasonable, the governor said,

“But doth not this beauteous statue of Fortune,” said the governor, “deserve a victim?”

The saint replied: “It may receive that honor from thy hands, since thou dost adore it; but it shall not from mine.”

Uh-oh, the governor thought, this wise-acre of a Christian is calling my bluff! I blinked once but I’ll give him another chance.

“Let then,” urged Bassus, “this fine figure of Hercules move thee.”

Whereupon Philip makes an audacious speech and,

Here the holy bishop, raising his voice, rebuked the insanity of those who worship as gods statues that, being taken from the earth, like earth should be trodden upon, not adored.

Much to the consternation of the governor, who seems to be begging now as we see when,

Bassus, turning to Hermes, asked him if he at least would sacrifice. The holy deacon resolutely answered that he was a Christian, and could not do so; and having been told that, should he continue obstinate, he would be cast into flames, replied: “Thou dost threaten me with flames that last but for a short time, because thou art ignorant of the strength of those eternal flames in which the followers of the devil shall burn.”

Uh-oh, stand-by for the good part,

Bassus, exasperated at the constancy of the saints, remanded them to prison. As they went along, the insolent rabble frequently pushed the venerable and aged bishop, so as to throw him down, but he with joyous looks quietly raised himself again.

Those would be the actions of the crowd of reasonable, though “god-fearing” idolators. Warms the cockles of your heart, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile the term of Bassus’ government having expired, Justin, his successor, arrived at Heraclea.

And then term limits kicked in and everyone lived happily ever after. Right? Dream on, because the new guy on the job has something to prove. Because,

He was a much more cruel man than his predecessor. St. Philip, having been brought before him, was told that if he would not sacrifice, he should, notwithstanding his extreme age, have to suffer tortures that were intolerable even to youth.

And here, the drama continues to unfold.

The venerable bishop replied: “Ye, for fear of a short punishment, obey men: how much more ought we to obey God, who visits evil-doers with eternal torments? Thou mayest torture, but canst never induce me to sacrifice.”

Justin: “I shall command thee to be dragged by the feet through the streets of the city.”

Philip: “God grant that it may be so.” The bloody threat was executed; yet the saint did not die in that torment, but his body was torn to pieces, and in the arms of the brethren he was carried back to prison.

Why am I thinking of the movie Hard to Kill? Surely the old Bishops companions will bend to the governor’s will after this near death experience.

After this, the governor called before him Hermes the deacon, whom he exhorted to sacrifice, in order to escape the torments that were being prepared. But the saint replied : “I cannot sacrifice and betray my faith; do, therefore, according to thy pleasure—tear my body to pieces.”

“Thou speakest thus,” said Justin: “because thou knowest not the pains that await thee; upon a trial thou shalt repent.”

Hermes: “Atrocious though they may be, Jesus Christ, for whose love I am about to suffer, will render them not only light, but sweet.”

Justin sent him also to prison, where the saints remained for seven months.

Justin must have been thinking that these guys are on to something. Maybe he wanted to study it, or maybe more pressing matters came about which led him to forget about these three pesky Christians. The parishoners were probably underground by this time. After seven months of waiting,

Thence he sent them before him to Adrianople, and upon his arrival again summoned Philip to his presence, intimating to him that he had deferred his execution in the hope that, upon mature consideration, he would sacrifice.

Surely, you’ve had plenty of time to see the reasonableness of the governments position. But Philip plays the man and,

The saint boldly replied: “I have already told thee that I am a Christian, and I will always say the same. I will not sacrifice to statues, but only to that God to whom I have consecrated my entire being.”

I sense the denouement coming on.

Angered by this reply, the judge ordered him to be stripped and scourged until the bones and bowels were laid bare. The aged bishop suffered this torture with so much courage, that Justin himself was astonished.

Justin must have been thinking “why won’t you die?!”

Three days afterwards he was again summoned before the tyrant, who inquired why it was that with so much temerity he continued to disregard the imperial edicts.

The saint replied: “That which animates me is not rashness, but the love I bear my God, who one day shall judge me. In worldly matters I have invariably obeyed the rulers, but now the question is, whether I will prefer earth to heaven. I am a Christian, and cannot sacrifice to thy gods.”

These Christians are damned inflexible. Well, inflexible maybe, but surely not damned. Maybe they’re just gung-ho.

Seeing that he could not shake the constancy of the holy bishop, Justin, turning to Hermes, said: ” This old man is weary of life, but thou shouldst not be so reckless of it: offer sacrifice, and consult thy safety.”

Justin figures ol’ Phil is suicidal, so he appeals to the younger Deacon. Would you believe that Hermes takes this as an opportunity to school Justin in reality?

Hermes began to show the impiety of idolatry, but Justin hastily interrupted him, saying: ” Thou speakest as if thou wouldst persuade me to become a Christian.”

“I earnestly desire,” said the saint, ” that this should happen not only to thee, but to all those who hear me.”

Wow! Way to be a witness Deke, and way to try and save a soul too! Not that Justin cared, but that is never the point is it? Hermes and Philip didn’t answer to Justin, but to Our Lord.

Finally, the tyrant, perceiving that he could not win over these generous confessors, pronounced sentence in the following manner:

“We command that Philip and Hermes, for having contemned the imperial edicts, shall be burned alive.”

Time to get this over with.

Sentence having been pronounced, the saints proceeded to the place of execution, evincing by their holy joy that they were two victims consecrated to the Lord. But from having been tortured in the stocks their feet were so sore that the holy bishop had to be supported, while Hermes with great difficulty followed, saying to Philip : “Let us hasten, Father, nor care for our feet, since we shall no longer have need of them.”

Now that is hard corps!

When they came to the place of their martyrdom, according to the custom of the country, they were placed standing in a trench, and covered with earth up to the knees, in order that they might not be able to flee from the fire. Upon entering the trench, Hermes smiled with holy joy, and the fire having been kindled by the executioners, the saints began to thank Almighty God for their death, terminating their prayer and their martyrdom with the usual “Amen.”

Remember the priest, Severus? He was left behind, and not too happy about it. So he started praying,

Severus, who was the other disciple of St. Philip, had been left in prison while his holy bishop consummated his martyrdom in the flames; and having been informed of his glorious triumph, was deeply afflicted at not having been able to bear him company; hence he earnestly besought the Lord not to think him unworthy of sacrificing his life for his glory. His prayers were heard, and on the following day he obtained the desired crown.

And there is a somewhat miraculous twist to the story still because,

After the execution, their bodies were found entire and fresh as in full health, without any trace of fire.

And St. Alphonsus de Liguori (a Doctor of the Church) has this to share to round out this story,

St. Hermes, though a simple deacon, was a distinguished man. He had been first magistrate of the city of Heraclea, and had fulfilled the duties of his office with so much wisdom that he conciliated the esteem and veneration of all his fellow-citizens. After having renounced everything to devote himself to the service of the Church, he took the resolution to live only by the labor of his hands, like the great Apostle (St. Paul), and he had a son named Philip whom he brought up in the same principles.

While the executioners were setting fire to the pile in which he was to be consumed, and perceiving one of his friends in the crowd, he called him and said: “Go, and tell my son: ‘These are the last words of your dying father—words that he leaves you as the most precious marks of his affection. You are young: avoid as dangerous everything that can weaken your soul; above all, avoid sloth; keep the peace with every one.’” The flames having risen prevented him from continuing. These details are given by Ruinart. —ED.

Gung-ho for Christ until the end. Semper Fidelis, Philip, Hermes, and Severus and if you please, pray for us.

For All the Saints: Thérèse of Lisieux

I have been wrestling with the angel named Vocation. In August, my wife and I sold our small publishing business, and just this week I completed all but the proofreading for the biggest writing project I’ve ever tackled. Meanwhile, Katie and both of our daughters are on the first steppingstones of new life paths. For our entire family, the future is an open book. The only thing I know is, I have to work.

Yes, sadly the publishing business did not (never did) reap much of a profit. Selling it was not a lucrative deal. So I will have to continue tending the bread ovens, mixing the dough, stoking the hardwood fires. The only thing that has become clear, or seems to have, is that I will work not as a literal baker, but as a writer.

You might think that, as someone halfway to age 118, I should have solved the vocation question for myself long ago. But my favorite nonfiction writer, Norman Maclean, saw it differently in the epigraph to his book Young Men and Fire, and so do I.

As I get considerably beyond the biblical allotment of three score years and ten, Maclean wrote, I feel with increasing intensity that I can express my gratitude for still being around on the oxygen-side of the earth’s crust only by not standing pat on what I have hitherto known and loved. While the oxygen lasts, there are still new things to love, especially if compassion is a form of love.

Not standing pat. New things to love. Compassion is a form of love. Maclean (left) also wrote:

The problem of identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time. Perhaps the problem. It should haunt old age, and when it no longer does it should tell you that you are dead.

Fortunately, several enticing and/or well-paying projects loom ahead of me like islands in the fog. Today, I am going to a meeting about the most enticing of these options, so far anyway. Last week, looking ahead to my meeting today, I thought, “October 1. Let’s see whose day that is,” as in which saint. My heart grew instantly warmer inside my chest when I flipped the page on my Catholic desk calendar and saw that it is Thérèse’s day. Something about it seemed so right, so apropos. I felt safe, provided for. I immediately began saying a novena to Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

Stumbling back into this blog last night, like not just the Prodigal Son but the Prodigal Father, I find that Frank has beat me to the St. Thérèse punch, and if there were ever a lousy, mixed metaphor, that has to be it. But then in the short century-plus since she left this earth and began showering us with flowers, people have never tired of writing about her, a Doctor of the Church with one slim book to her credit.

What struck me this morning and prompted this post was the selection from that slim book, her Story of a Soul, in today’s office of readings. Thérese wrestled with Vocation as well! Of course, she called this process a “longing for martyrdom,” which are words that have not yet fallen from my lips and aren’t likely to this side of the barroom door:

Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of Saint Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.

I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will now show you the way which surpasses all the others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind. . . .

I have not yet found peace of mind. But I have a new prayer to steady my mind, a prayer to the Little Flower.

YIMC Book Club Selection Poll

It’s time for another horse race folks. The four selections in the poll (see left side-bar) are all novels written by Catholics that I would like to read over the next twelve months. So,  I’ve put them together and I would like for you to help me choose in what order we will read them. One book per quarter, or at least that is my intention.

Head on over to Amazon and run a query on these selections and then put your vote in the ballot box. The selection with the most votes will be our next read, and we will read the runner-up second, and so on down the line.

We will start reading the winning selection on or around the 3rd week of October. Thanks for your support!

Because of Thoughts Like These by Blaise Pascal

—Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham

About a month ago, Webster wrote a post about awaking from a long, bad, dream. Blaise Pascal woke me up from a long slumber. His was a shrill alarm too, much like the one on the clock by my nightstand right now. But unlike that one, Blaise’s alarm didn’t have a snooze button. That’s because I had been snoozing for most of my adult life.

Before I bumped into Blaise, I had been sleeping in my shoes, so to speak. My conscience tried to arose my soul from its slumber from time to time, but mainly my ego just kept hitting the snooze button, ten minutes at a time.

The ironic thing is that when I started reading Blaise, I did so with the intent to find evidence of the errors of Catholicism. That lasted for maybe 20 pages. This mathematical genius, who died at 39 years of age in 1662, had deep knowledge of scriptures as well as deep insights into the human condition. And yet, he could explain his thoughts simply and lucidly. In other words, he could tell it like it is.

The selection below is from Chapter XXI of his Thoughts On Religion. It is a long chapter, and the selection below is only the last quarter of it. But it should suffice to show you the decibel level of Blaise’s klaxon. Like my friend John C.H.Wu reported in his life story in Beyond East and West, up until this time I had thought that I was a clever man. After reading this, being by the grace of God in the right frame of mind, I realized that I had been merely sleep walking.

Blaise wrote this in the mid 1600′s, and yet it seemed as fresh as this mornings cup of coffee. And it had the same stimulative effect.

The Strange Contrarieties Discoverable in Human Nature, with regard to Truth and Happiness, and Many Other Things.

Isn’t this lead-in to the chapter provocative? Contrarieties. Now if that isn’t a word for Anu Garg, there aren’t any.

The civil war between reason and passion has occasioned two opposite projects, for the restoration of peace to mankind: The one, of those who were for renouncing their passions, and becoming gods; the other, of those who were for renouncing their reason, and becoming beasts. But neither the one nor the other could take effect. Reason still remains, to accuse the baseness and injustice of the passions, and to disturb the repose of those who abandon themselves to their dominion: And the passions live, even in the hearts of those, who talk the most of their extirpation.

“Reason still remains, to accuse the baseness and injustice of the passions…” And Blaise is saying that this is the role fulfilled by Mother Church, as you will see shortly. That turns the world’s perception of the Church upside down, doesn’t it? Faith and reason are not only compatible, but they have a home. But what of standing on our own two feet?

This is the just account of what man can do, in respect to truth and happiness. We have an idea of truth, not to be effaced by all the wiles of the sceptic; we have an incapacity of argument, not to be rectified by all the power of the dogmatist. We wish for truth, and find nothing in ourselves but uncertainty. We seek after happiness, and find nothing but misery. We must needs desire both truth and happiness, yet we are incapable of both. This desire seems to have been left in us, partly as a punishment, and partly to remind us whence we are fallen.

For a brief period of time, I was a stock-broker. Blaise just described 95 percent of my clients. Which should come as no surprise, given the raw humanity of the markets in motion. Manic-depressive swings up and down, ad infinitum; a game that virtually no one has a definitive lock on. Which, again can be seen in war, politics, sports, etc., etc. So Blaise counters with these thoughts:

* If man was not made for God, why can he enjoy no happiness but in God? If man was made for God, why is he so opposed to God?

* Man is at a loss where to fix himself. He is unquestionably out of his way, and feels within himself the remains of a happy state which he cannot retrieve. He searches in every direction, with solicitude, but without success, encompassed with impenetrable darkness!

By the time I read this, I had come to realize this was true. The world had been grappling with this since the beginning of time, as Blaise explains with elegant simplicity here,

Hence arose the contest amongst the philosophers: some of whom endeavored to exalt man, by displaying his greatness; others to abase him, by representing his misery. And what seems more strange, is, that each party borrowed the arguments of the other, to establish their own opinion.

For the misery of man may be inferred from his greatness, and his greatness from his misery. Thus the one sect demonstrated his misery the more satisfactorily, in that they inferred it from his greatness; and the other the more clearly proved his greatness, because they deduced it from his misery. Whatever was offered by the one, to establish his greatness, served only to evince his misery, as alleged by the other; it being more miserable to have fallen from the greater height.

And the converse is equally true. So that in this endless circle of dispute, each helped to advance his adversary’s cause; for it is certain that the more men are enlightened, the more they will discover of human misery and human greatness. In a word, man knows himself to be miserable. He is, therefore miserable, because he knows himself to be so. But he is also eminently great, because he knows himself to be miserable.

What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a chaos! What a subject of contradiction! A judge of all things, and yet a worm of the earth; the depositary of the truth, and yet a medley of uncertainties; the glory and the scandal of the universe. If he exalt himself, I humble him; if he humble himself, I exalt him; and press him with his own inconsistencies, till he comprehends himself to be an incomprehensible monster.

Not a pretty picture, that. The preceding chapter had ended with the following thoughts,

Without Jesus Christ man is, of necessity, in vice and misery: With Jesus Christ man is released from vice and misery. In him is all our happiness, our virtue, our life, our light, our hope : Out of him there is naught but vice, misery, darkness, and despair; and we can discover naught but obscurity and confusion, whether in the divine nature, or in our own.

I couldn’t have agreed more, because deep down in my soul, I knew this to be true. And in the 28th chapter, Blaise told me emphatically where I needed to go in order to come into the light,

It is the Church, together with Jesus Christ, to whom She is inseparably united, which obtains the conversion of all those who are in error. And it is these converts, who subsequently aid their Mother, to whom they owe their deliverance.

The body can no more live without the head, than the head without the body. He that separates from the one, or the other, is no longer of the body, nor a member of Jesus Christ. All virtues, all mortification, all good works, and even martyrdom itself, are of no worth out of the Church, and out of communion with the head of the Church.

Because Blaise knew what Our Lord meant we He said,

And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.