To Visit Provence Again, As A Catholic

It’s the Feast of St. Martha, you know, “the Dragonslayer” today. Yes, you read that right. Father Steve of Word on Fire has a few words about that and they prompted me to dust this off and bring it to the top today. Enjoy!

I ate at a McDonald’s in Avignon once. I like to see how Mickey D’s adapts to local tastes abroad. My wife and I also walked around the streets briefly too, before we had to get back on the tour bus that was taking us from Nice to the Burgundy country. See, we rewarded ourselves with a European trip after we graduated from college. It was the Summer of 1993.

It was one of those whirlwind tours. You know the type, right? Eleven countries in 21 days. At the time, I thought we spent way too much time in Rome. It’s amazing I wasn’t arrested there. But that is another story. After Italy, the tour moved on to France. We both loved France ( she still enjoyed Italy, whereas I only approved of Florence). To me, arriving in France was like arriving in Heaven after leaving Hell. I didn’t believe in Purgatory at the time, you see.

Two McDonalds in Avignon!

Provence was especially lovely as I recall. And I hope to go back someday, now that I am a Catholic. Why? Because of this little piece of history/ folklore that I stumbled across this morning. I saw on a Christianity timeline that St. Martha, in the year 48-49 AD arrived in Avignon, France. Where I had pommes frites at the Golden Arches? And she brought Lazarus and the gang with her too. Who knew?

I didn’t at the time. So I did a little digging over at Google Books and found about 100 more reasons to head back to Provence. First, I ran across this story in an old magazine named The Century, long since out of print. Why do I want to go back to Provence? Take a look at Exhibit A,

from “The Churches of Provence”, by Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer (November 1894)

“Everything here is on a smaller scale than in Italy — historical facts, as well as those of nature and of art; but thus we are offered a more intimate quality of charm, while we are not saddened by the tragedy of a world-possessing empire gone to wreck.”History meeting legend with a kiss,” we feel ourselves happily enchanted as in a land of pure romance; and the beauty and the gaiety of its living people do but complete the illusion.

The cities

“Every foot of this country, every name on its map, is romantically suggestive of Greeks or Romans, Saracens, Visigoths or Franks, Aquitanians or Spaniards, hermits, crusaders, heretics, inquisitors, exiled popes, famous poets, or earliest Christian martyrs. With Petrarch you may go to Avignon and Vaucluse, with Dante to the ancient cemetery called Les Aliscamps in Arles, with Dumas to the islands of the coast, and to Aix with René of Anjou —king, poet, painter, and historian of tournaments. The first monasteries of Gaul were founded upon Provençal islands, and one of them, St. Honorat, long played the prominent civilizing part that was played in Britain by the island of Iona.

“And Christian legend, calling to you at every step, carries you as far back as it could to Palestine itself.

“There is a real town in Provence with the impossibly poetic name of Les Saintes Maries. By the time you reach it on its ultimate point of sea-coast, you should be in the right Provençal mood; and this is the mood of him who saith, “Surely these things are true, else they had not been told.”

The countryside…Lavender!

“Just here, we are told, there landed a little company of the friends of Christ, set adrift by their persecutors from the shores of the Holy Land. They were Mary Jacobi, the sister of the Blessed Virgin; Mary Salome, the mother of the apostles James and John; their servant Sarah; Maximin, to whom Christ had restored his sight; Lazarus with his sister Martha; and Mary Magdalene.

“Where and why they had left behind them Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, or whether Provençal belief confounds her with the erring and repentant Mary — this I could not get explained. But I know that Mary Jacobi and Mary Salome remained at their landing-place, for the beautiful name they bequeathed it is a witness. St. Louis caused their bones to be fittingly honored: you may see their tombs today in an ancient church tower, as, in the crypt beneath, the tomb of their servant Sarah; and the medieval pilgrimages still continue, in crowding streams, on an anniversary day in May.

Bad dragon!

“I likewise know that Martha journeyed to Tarascon, between Avignon and Arles, for there she slew the tarasque, a terrific dragon that was devouring the land: the name of the town is again a proof, and the name of the old church of St. Martha, the effigy of the tarasque, which you may behold, and the festival which year by year is celebrated yet in honor of the prowess of the good housewifely saint. Then at Arles you will learn that Christ himself consecrated for Christian burial the famous pagan Aliscamps (its name is a corruption of Efysii Campi), and at Vienne you will be informed that St. Paul brought thither the first Christian tidings when on his way toward Spain, and will be shown a Roman tomb under which the body of Pontius Pilate was laid.

“And you might just as well have stayed in America as to doubt that such things, told in such ways for nearly two thousand years, must be veritably true.”

****

Dragon slaying? Sign me up! As if that wasn’t enough, her article goes on to describe the church buildings throughout the region with photographs and drawings that magazines of today just don’t take the time to do anymore. I love this story about the early Christians coming to France though and wanted to know more. Here is another taste of Catholic Provence,

from Cathedrals and Cloisters of the South of France by Elise Whitlock Rose (published in 1906)

“Few of the Cathedral-churches of the Midi are without holy relics, but none is more famous, more revered, and more authentic a place of pilgrimage than the Basilica of Apt. It came about in this way, says local history. When Martha, Lazarus, and the Holy Marys of the Gospels landed in France, they brought with them the venerated body of Saint Anne, the Virgin’s Mother; and Lazarus, being a Bishop, kept the holy relic at his episcopal seat of Marseilles.

“Persecutions arose, and dangers innumerable; and for safety’s sake the Bishop removed Saint Anne’s body to Apt and sealed it secretly in the wall. For centuries, Christians met and prayed in the little church, unconscious of the wonder-working relic hidden so near them; and it was only through a miracle, in Charlemagne’s time and some say in his presence, that the holy body was discovered. This is the history which a sacristan recites to curious pilgrims as he leads them to the sub-crypt…

“To the faithful Catholic, the interest of Sainte-Anne of Apt lies in its wonderful and glorious relics. Here are the bodies of Saint Eleazer and Sainte Delphine his wife, a couple so pious that every morning they dressed a Statue of the Infant Jesus, and every night they undressed it and laid it to rest in a cradle. There is also the rosary of Sainte Delphine whose every bead contained a relic; and before the Revolution there were other treasures innumerable. During many years Apt has been the pilgrim-shrine of the Faithful, and great and small offerings of many centuries have been laid before the miracleworking body of the Virgin’s sainted Mother.”

****

Do you see what I mean? Tidbits like this “Lazarus, being a Bishop…” just give me a thousand more leads to follow up on, and more reasons to go broke heading to Provence. I want to know all about that tradition! As I’ve said before, it will take an eternity of lifetimes to ponder what God has wrought by the Incarnation as well as with the founding of His Church. Unfortunately, it would take a bottomless bank account too. Sigh.

Obviously, Elise’s book is available on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, though, for unlimited access to all at no charge. I could get lost in this particular book for hours…

Cathédrale de Notre Dame des Doms,
Avignon

For Thoughts Like These On Confession

What follows are thoughts on the Sacrament of Reconciliation written by Kenhelm Henry Digby in his classic, Mores Catholici.

Thoughts on Sin, the Church, and Forgiveness

Now the Church had far more mysterious relations than could exist in any mere domestic society, so that by persons who viewed it from without, a right understanding respecting it could only be formed by an act, in the first instance, of confidence in the truth of God who has founded the Church. They must at first have been satisfied with the evidence that it was a divinely constituted household, and then after being received into it as members, they would assuredly in due time have discovered how it was holy in all its doctrines, and just in all its ways. As the Athenian says to the blind wanderer who interrogates him respecting the laurel groves to which he has come—”These things, O stranger, are to be venerated, not from the words of men, but rather from long custom and experience.”

Cicero, indeed, says, that “the medicine of the soul is not only not desired before discovered, but that it is not even valued after it is known;” but such a complaint applies only to philosophy, for it was ungrounded in relation to the remedies which the Church administers, insomuch that a man accustomed to confession, when asked for arguments to prove its divine origin as an integral part of religion, must have felt as if he had been called upon to prove the reality of his own existence.

Its proofs were in the deepest roots of his spiritual life. His own amendment, the recovery of long lost joy, the renovation of his heart, this was the evidence that must have convinced him so feelingly that each argument beside would seem blunt and forceless in comparison. It is dangerous to follow men into the deepest recesses of their heart and behold what passes there: I will not, therefore, invite “the moderns” to search into the grounds of their hatred for confession. To persons obstinate in the conclusions of prejudice, reader, I would turn not, when viewing historically the supernatural features in the morality of the Catholic Church. On confession and indulgence I will speak not as if to an ignorant multitude, nor to judges, nor to senators, more accustomed to action than to the contemplation of things, but as to a man interiorly philosophic who understands and loves philosophy.

Respecting the hatred of truth and the love of deceiving and of being deceived observable in many men, (Blaise) Pascal says,

Mark a proof of this which fills me with horror. The Catholic religion does not oblige one to discover his sins indifferently to all the world; it permits him to remain concealed from all other men excepting one only, to whom it commands him to disclose the bottom of his heart, and to show himself such as he really is. 


There is only this one man in the world that it orders us to undeceive, and he is obliged to an inviolable secrecy, so that this knowledge is in him as if it was not in him. Can one imagine any thing more charitable and more gentle? Nevertheless, the corruption of man is such that he finds this a hard law, and it is one of the principal reasons which have made a great part of Europe revolt against the Church. (Thoughts, #100)

You have heard the great thinker of modern times; let us now attend to the philosophy of the middle ages. “Silence respecting sin,” says the Master of the Sentences,

arises from pride of heart. For a man wishes not to confess his sin in order that he may not be reputed externally such as he exhibits himself in the sight of God, which desire springs from the fountain of pride. For it is pride in a sinner to wish to be esteemed just, and it is hypocrisy to palliate or deny our sin like our first parents, or like Cain to bury it in silence. Now where there is pride and hypocrisy there can be no humility, and without humility there is no forgiveness. 


Therefore, where there is silence respecting sin there can be no hope of pardon. Here then, we see how detestable is the silence of sin, and how necessary is confession, which is the evidence of a conscience fearing God; for he who fears the judgment of God does not blush to confess. Perfect fear dissolves all shame. The confession of sin has shame, and that shame is a heavy punishment : and for this reason we are commanded to confess, that we may suffer shame, for this is part of the divine judgment.

Thus the words of St. John, beginning with “if we confess our sins,” were not understood as implying merely, “If we say that we are sinners generally with all the world,” but as teaching the necessity of suffering the shame and humiliation of confessing one’s personal particular sins; nor was there found any one formerly to maintain that this could be an immoral shame which would injure rather than repair the soul’s purity.

That extreme horror on finding that one has been suspected of crime, which Tieck’s hero evinces in his conversation with Balthasar, only proved in fact an unillumiuated heart: moreover, this overstrained and false honor reveals its own weakness, for by its very indignation it evinces its conviction that the fall was possible.

It is worthy of remark, that while the Church inflicted penance on all who ever made mention of expiated sins,— for among the penitential canons of the rule of St. Columban, we read, ‘”He who relates a sin already expiated shall fast on bread and water for a day,”—the very men who denounced the act of humility that she imposed as injurious, made no scruple not only as we before observed, in resting in self-contemplation, but also in confessing the sins of their past life; or rather exulted in being able to recall the rememberance of them, disclosing them in detail with effrontery: their own retrospective narration differing £rom the confession which they renounced and stigmatized, only in the circumstance that theirs was made in defiance of the law of God, in hardened impenitence insensible to shame.

“O fearful thought!” cries St. John Climacus, “there are moments of delirium in the career of sin, when man fears not God, esteems as nothing the memory of eternal punishment, execrates prayer, looks at the relics of the dead as if they were senseless stones.” True, indeed ; but what is it to reflect that in consequence of a new instruction, widely imparted and legally established in some places, this is the case with men now, not during moments of delirum, for which they might repent and make amends, but throughout their whole lives, which pass in an uninterrupted career of self-esteem and congratulation? To the fundamental objection of the moderns, the best mode of reply would be simply to relate in the clear and precise language of the middle ages, what was the Catholic doctrine.

Taking, then, Hugo of St. Victor for their representative, let us hear what he says respecting sacerdotal absolution.

Solus Deus peccata dimittit (Only God forgives sins) ; yet authorities have that power by which priests forgive sins, and that by which God forgives them. But priests are said to forgive sins, because they administer the sacraments in which, and by which, sins are by the divine authority, forgiven.

When it was said that the form of absolution which had been in use thirty years before was deprecatory, and that William of Auxerre, William of Paris, and cardinal Hugo thought that this was the only ancient form, St. Thomas Aquinas replied, that ”he did not know whether this were true or not; but in any case no authority of antiquity could do prejudice to the words of our Lord, ‘Whatever you shall bind on earth.’”

Thus instead of being tempted to enter with them upon subtle, antiquarian investigations, he embraced the spirit of antiquity. It is clear, however, from the Roman council under pope Zacharia, that the form of the sacrament of confession was then similar to what it is at present. Strictly judicial is the sacerdotal office so that with accurate precision has the church retained the name of Basilica, which signified that upper part of the forum, where justice was administered to the people.

You can read more at the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

A Tale of the Laity and Priestly Scandal, Circa 1400 AD

This is Part III of a recently started series about on-going personal conversion. Part I started us off with thoughts from a vision of St. Catherine of Siena. Part II continued with words of a Franciscan friar giving an intelligence brief on our adversary. What follows is either miraculous or not depending on how you view things.

I say miraculous, in at least a minor way, because a) until today, I had never heard of this passage I’m sharing now, and b) the timing of the find is uncanny. How, pray tell, did I “find” it? It all started a few weeks ago when I picked up volume one of the Norton Anthology of English Literature for $4.00 at a flea market about an hour from my home. In mint condition, and weighing in at 2074 pages, folks who like math will delight in the fact that I paid ‎a whopping .001344989 cents per page for it. It’s chock full o’ Catholic classics too.

What does this have to do with personal conversion? Boatloads. As Qoheleth, the inspired writer of my favorite Old Testament book says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” That includes scandals involving priests. They will come, and they will go. None of us have seen the last of them, and persevere through them, we must. And despite some folks thinking that questioning priests, and holding them accountable, turns the faithful into members of the “brood of vipers and evil doers” section of the flock, I believe this story shows the opposite to be true.

So this morning, with no intention whatsoever of my own, I picked up this weighty tome I acquired so cheaply and randomly flipped it open to find myself on page 374. There, I happened upon the following tale that beckoned me with the heading Examination Before the Archbishop and started with the following words,

There was a monk should preach in York, the which had heard much slander and much evil language of the said creature.

Uh?, I thought. Do tell! Having never heard of Margery Kempe, I just plunged onward through this story as if I had entered a time machine and was whisked back to the days when England was still Catholic. Margery, it turns out, was a contemporary of St. Julian of Norwich and is honored in the Anglican Communion. She lived in Norwich, married at the age of 20, and had 14 children. She remained a member of the laiety, and yet was ahead of her time in recognizing her calling to the “royal priesthood” that St. Peter describes in his first letter to the faithful (1 Peter 2:9).

Be advised that this is a bit long, so go get a glass of your favorite beverage, or head to the loo, before you wade in. Ready? Enjoy…

from The Book of Margery Kempe

Examination before the Archbishop

There was a monk should preach in York, the which had heard much slander and much evil language of the said creature. And, when he should preach, there was much multitude of people to hear him, and she (Margery) present with them. And so, when he was in his sermon, he rehearsed many matters so openly that the people conceived well it was for cause of her, wherefore her friends that loved her well were full sorry and heavy thereof, and she was much the more merry, for she had matter to prove [test] her patience and her charity wherethrough she trusted to please Our Lord Christ Jesus.

When the sermon was done, a doctor of divinity which loved her well with many others also came to her and said,

“Margery, how have ye done this day?”

“Sir,” she said, “right well, blessed be God. I have cause to be right merry and glad in my soul that I may any thing suffer for his love, for he suffered much more for me.”

Anon after came a man which loved her right well of good will with his wife and others more, and led her seven miles thence to the Archbishop of York, and brought her into a fair chamber, where came a good clerk, saying to the good man which had brought her thither, “Sir, why have ye and your wife brought this woman hither? She shall steal away from you, and then shall ye have a villainy of her.”

The good man said, “I dare well say she will abide and be at her answer with good will.”

On the next day she was brought into the Archbishop’s chapel, and there came many of the Archbishop’s meiny, despising her, calling her “loller” and “heretic,” and swearing many an horrible oath that she should be burnt. And she, through the strength of Jesus, said again to them,

“Sirs, I dread me ye shall be burnt in hell without end unless than ye amend you of your oaths swearing, for ye keep not the commandments of God. I would not swear as ye do for all the good of this world.”

Then they gedyn [went] away as they had been ashamed. She then, making her prayer in her mind, asked grace so to be demeaned that day as was most pleasant to God and profit to her own soul and good example to her evyn [fellow] Christians. Our Lord, answering her, said it should be right well.

At the last the said Archbishop came into the chapel with his clerks, and sharply he said to her,

“Why goest thou in white? Art thou a maiden?”

She, kneeling on her knees before him, said, “Nay, sir, I am no maiden; I am a wife.”

He commanded his meiny to fetch a pair of fetters and said she should be fettered, for she was a false heretic. And then she said,

“I am no heretic, nor ye shall none prove me.”

The Archbishop went away and let her stand alone. Then she made her prayers to our Lord God almighty for to help her and succour her against all her enemies, ghostly and bodily, a long while, and her flesh trembled and quaked wonderly that she was fain to put her hands under her clothes that it should not be aspied.

Since the Archbishop came again into the chapel with many worthy clerks, amongst which was the same doctor (of theology) which had examined her before and the monk that had preached against her a little time before in York. Some of the people asked whether she were a Christian woman or a Jew; Some said she was a good woman, and Some said nay.

Then the Archbishop took his see [ecclesiastical seat], and his clerks also, each of them in his degree, much people being present. And in the time while the people was gathering together and the Archbishop taken his see, the said creature stood all behind, making her prayers for help and succour against her enemies with high devotion so long that she melted all into tears. And at the last she cried loud therewith, that the Archbishop and his clerks and much people had great wonder of her, for they had not heard such crying before.

When her crying was passed, she came before the Archbishop and fell down on her knees, the Archbishop saying full boisterously unto her,

“Why weapest thou so, woman?”

She, answering, said, “Sir, ye shall will some day that ye had wept as sore as I.”

And then anon, after the Archbishop put to her the Articles of our Faith (the Apostle’s Creed), to the which God gave her grace to answer well and truly and readily without any great study so that he might not blame her, then he said to the clerks,

“She knows her faith well enough. What shall I do with her?”

The clerks said, “We know well that she can the Articles of the Faith, but we will not suffer her to dwell among us, for the people have great faith in her dalliance, and peradventure she might pervert some of them.”

Then the Archbishop said unto her, “I am evil informed of thee; I hear said thou art a right wicked woman.”

And she said again, “Sir, so I hear said that ye are a wicked man. And,if ye be as wicked as men say, ye shall never come in heaven unless than ye amend you while ye be here.”

Then said he full boisterously, “Why, thou, what say men of me?”

She answered, “Other men, sir, can tell you well enough.”

Then said a great clerk with a furred hood, “Peace, thou speak of thyself and let him be.”
Since said the Archbishop to her, “Lay thine hand on the book here before me and swear that thou shall go out of my diocese as soon as thou may.”

“Nay, sir,” she said, “I pray you, give me leave to go again into York to take my leave of my friends.”

Then he gave her leave for one day or two. She thought it was too short a time, wherefore she said again,

“Sir, I may not go out of this diocese so hastily, for I must tarry and speak with good men ere I go, and I must, sir, with your leave, go to Birdlington and speak with my confessor, a good man, the which was the good prior’s (St. John of Birdlington) confessor that is now canonized.”

Then said the Archbishop to her, “thou shall swear that thou shalt not teach nor challenge the people in my diocese.”

“Nay, sir, I shall not swear,” she said, “for I shall speak of God and undirnemyn [reprove] them that swear great oaths wheresoever I go unto the time that the Pope and Holy Church have ordained that no man shall be so hardy to speak of God, for God all mighty forbids not, sir, that we shall speak of him. And also the gospel makes mention that, when the woman had heard Our Lord preach, she came before him with a loud voice and said, `Blessed be the womb that thee bore and the tits that gave the suck.’ Then our Lord said again to her, `Forsooth so are they blessed that hear the word of God and keep it.’ And therefore, sir, me thinks that the gospel gives me leave to speak of God.”

“A sir,” said the clerks, “here wot[know] we well that she hath a devil within her, for she speaks of the gospel.”

As such a great clerk brought forth a book and laid Saint Paul for his party against her that no woman should preach. She, answering thereto, said,

“I preach not, sir, I come in no pulpit. I use but communication and good words, and that will I do while I live.”

Then said a doctor which had examined her beforetime, “Sir, she told me the worst tales of priests that ever I heard.”

The bishop commanded her to tell that tale.

Stand-by for one of the best parables I have ever read. Everything prior, though a bit tedious, has set the stage for the following stunner. Read on me hearties!

Peach Tree in Bloom
Vincent Van Gogh

“Sir, with your reverence, I spoke but of one priest by the manner of example, the which as I have learned went wild in a wood through the sufferance of God for the profit of his soul til the night came upon him. He, destitute of his herborwe [lodging], found a fair arbor in the which he rested that night, having a fair pear tree in the midst all flourished with flowers and embellished, and blooms full delectable to his sight, where came a bear, great and boisterous, hugely to behold, shaking the pear tree and felling down the flowers. Greedily this grevious beast ate and devoured those fair flowers. And, when he had eaten them, turning his tail end in the priest’s presence, voided them out again at the hinder part.

The priest, having great abomination of that loathly sight, conceiving great heaviness for doubt what it might mean, on the next day he wandered forth in his way all heavy and pensive, whom it fortuned to meet with a seemly aged man like to a palmer or a pilgrim, the which enquired of the priest the cause of his heaviness. The priest, rehearsing the matter before written, said he conceived great dread and heaviness when he beheld that loathly beast defoul and devour so fair flowers and blooms and afterward so horribly to devoid them before him at his tail end, and he not understanding what this might mean.

Then the palmer, showing himself the messenger of God, thus areasoned him,

“Priest, thou thyself art the pear tree, somedeal flourishing and flowering through thy service saying and the sacraments ministering, though thou do undevoutly, for thou take full little heed how thou says thy matins and thy service, so it be blabbered to an end. Then go thou to thy mass without devotion, and for thy sin hast thou full little contrition. Thou receivest there the fruit of everlasting life, the sacrament of the altar, in full feeble disposition.

“Since all the day after thou misspendest thy time, thou give thee to buying and selling, chopping and changing [bargaining and exchanging], as it were a man of the world. Thou sittest at the ale, giving the to glotony and excess, to lust of thy body, through lechery and uncleanness. Thou breakest the commandments of God through swearing, lying, detraction, and backbiting, and such other sins using. Thus by thy misgovernance, like onto the loathly bear, thou devourest and destroyest the flowers and blooms of virtuous living to thine endless damnation and many man’s hindering less than thou have grace of repentance and amending.”‘

Then the Archbishop liked well the tale and commended it, saying it was a good tale. And the clerk which had examined her beforetime in the absence of the Archbishop, said,

“Sir, this tale smites me to the heart.”

The foresaid creature said to the clerk, “Ah, worshipful doctor, sir, in place where my dwelling is most, is a worthy clerk, a good preacher, which boldly speaks against the misgovernance of the people and will flatter no man. He says many times in the pulpit, `If any man be evil pleased with my preaching, note him well, for he is guilty.’

And right so, sir,” said she to the clerk, “fare ye by me, God forgive it you.”

The clerk wist [knew] not well what he might say to her. Afterward the same clerk came to her and prayed her of forgiveness that he had so been against her. Also he prayed her specially to pray for him. And than anon after the Archbishop said,

An Archbishop

“Where shall I have a man that might lead this woman from me?”

As swithe [immediately] there started up many young men, and every man said of them, “My Lord, I will go with her.”

The Archbishop answered, “Ye be too young; I will not have you.”

Then a good sad [of sober continence] man of the Archbishop’s meiny asked his Lord what he would give him and he should lead her. The Archbishop proferred him five shillings and the man asked a noble. The Archbishop, answering, said,

“I will not waryn [spend] so much on her body.”

“Yes, good sir,” said the said creature, “our Lord shall reward you right well again.”

Then the Archbishop said to the man, “See, here is five shillings, and lead her fast out of this country.”

She, kneeling down on her knees, asked his blessing. He, praying her to pray for him, blessed her and let her go.

Than she, going again to York, was received of much people and of full worthy clerks, which enjoyed in our Lord that had given her not lettred wit and wisdom to answer so many learned men without villainy or blame, thanking be to God.

****

And that’s all for today, dear reader. For more on Margery Kempe, see this new volume added to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf: The Cell of Self-Knowledge.

For Thoughts on Our Adversary by Fray Francisco de Osuna

No, this isn’t about Uncle Sam, patriotism, or anything like that. This is part two of a series on the work of on-going personal conversion that I started yesterday. Milk drinkers beware, because meat and potatoes are coming your way.  Bring your knives and forks and spoons. Napkins are optional.

Last December, I wrote of a minor miracle regarding me and Fray Francisco de Osuna. Come to think of it, St. Anthony of Padua probably had something to do with it too, as I thought a book was lost, and it was found. Francisco, see, was a Franciscan, and he wrote the book I misplaced, The Third Spiritual Alphabet, that had a huge impact on St. Teresa of Avila. Information like that gets my attention, pronto.

For me, Fray Francisco became a mentor of sorts. Sure, he’s dead and gone, and not an official saint, but if reading his book helped out the Carmelite superstar mentioned above, then I figured he could help me out too. I didn’t know too much about Franciscans at the time, except that they were founded by the peace-loving St. Francis of Assisi. But for a guy that was cloistered, Fray Francisco sure seemed an expert on human nature. And his command of the scriptures, as you’ll soon see, put this RCIA attending “soon to be former” Protestant “Bible-expert” at ease.

As for his “peace-loving” Franciscan side? Well, don’t you dare try and stereotype my mentor. Besides, the combat he refers too is spiritual, though it involves the physical as well. In my mind’s eye, I picture him as Sir Alec Guinness playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, but with a Spanish accent. However, instead of spouting modernist, Manichean, New Age, Star Warsian psycho-babble from under his brown wool habit, he’s teaching Catholic orthodoxy. The kind that, with me anyway, never goes out of style.

Take for instance the following passage from the seventh letter of “the Alphabet.” What’s this section all about? “How We Are To Cast Out Evil Thoughts, Saying: Thoughts Start War if the Gate is not Closed.” What follows is from the first chapter of this treatise. Remember my affinity for the military genius from ancient China, named Sun Tzu? My mentor Fray Francisco could teach him a thing, or two.

Chapter 1: The Devil’s Army

Astute captains always keep soldiers in reserve so that when they rush into a losing battle, the soldiers who thought themselves overwhelmed will take heart at the support, and their joy and renewed efforts will discourage the enemy. This is exemplified in the valiant, gentle captain Joshua who in the fight against the city of Hai placed five thousand men in ambush on one side of the city and thirty thousand on the other side, while he with the main body of soldiers stood openly against the city. He pretended to flee before the citizens, who ran out in pursuit, while the thirty thousand came and took the city, and the five thousand resisted those who returned to defend it; thus, with some helping others, they all enjoyed total victory. (Joshua, Chapter 8)

Just a quick note from your Marine Corps trained editor. See what I mean? Fray Francisco speaks the lingo that resonated with the recently retired Leatherneck. And now, we meet the adversary.

This strategy of clever warriors is no less known by that skilled soldier, the devil, to whom the words of the Maccabeans are applicable: “He fought many battles and took the fortresses of all, and killed the kings of the earth. He went through even to the ends of the earth and took spoils of many nations; and the earth was quiet before him. And he gathered great power and a very strong army, and his heart was exalted and lifted up. And he subdued the countries and nations, and princes became tributaries to him.” (1 Maccabees 1:2-5)

This passage describes the unjust, exceedingly prideful Alexander (Ed: Alexander the Great), who through great force became lord of what was in no justifiable sense his. He represents the devil, not only in deed but in name, for his name means the very strong, and so it can be said of him that he was a very strong and warring man, the son of a whore (Judges 11:1) His evil guilt and sin are expressed by his wicked mother whose son he became when he obeyed her and heeded the counsel of iniquity.

This devilish and most strong Lucifer, like the other Alexander, fought and fights each day many unjust battles; he took the fortresses of all when he conquered our first parents, leaving us vanquished like the subjects of a captured king. He killed the kings of the earth, who were our first parents, whom God created to rule all inferior things, when he caused them to offend God Your Majesty and be sentenced to death. He killed them, as it were, because he said they would not die for their offense, but that in itself was the reason they perished.

And it says he passed through to the end of the earth, which is human flesh corrupted by iniquity, and God says that this end has come before him in lament (Genesis 6:11-13). This passing through the earth is original sin, which goes from one to another like a perpetual burden, as slavery is handed down from mother to child, or corrupton spreads from the roots of the tree, or force of yeast affect the entire dough, or the poison of the salamander invades the tree’s fruit, for Pliny says that if the salamander touches the roots of the tree, its entire fruit and all the tree will be infected.

See Isaiah 14:12

Thus the devil passes by to take possession of mortals and steals immense wealth when he leads into sin many who previously were rich in grace. And if they do not resist, the earth becomes quiet before him, which in itself suffices to make them his. The devil gathers a great army from among the defeated, forcing them to fight against those as yet unconquered, and he protects them and arms them with cleverness like his own so that they constitute a crowd of sinners whose hearts burst with deviltry and who are more skillful than the devil himself.

He can muster such an army because there is no earthly power to equal his (Job 41:24). He took countries of nations, especially because the Gentiles worshipped him (as Alexander probably did), and as Christ explains, the tyrants became his tributaries when he named himself prince of this world (John 12:31). The tyrants are lesser devils who serve him continually, albeit against their will, for if they do not consent to honor God in heaven, even less do they wish to be subjects of Lucifer.

This extraordinarily strong warrior who, like Goliath, is trained for battle since youth (1 Samuel 17:33), fights in the style I began to describe: that is, he keeps soldiers in reserve and divides his army into three groups for a more clever attack. He orders one squadron after another into the skirmish so that if his enemy succeeds against the first, the second will defeat him, and the third, as seen in the image from the book of Kings: Three companies went out from the camps of the Philistines to fight (1 Samuel 13:17).These Philistines, who are demons, pitch their tents in the field of malice and assemble their trops in three battalions.

Luxury is the first battalion and it marches forth heavily armed and provided with everything necessary to win. St. Bernard says this battle engages every rank or class of people: all ages, the ugly, the beautiful, the great and small, the healthy and the sick –in short, the entire human race.

Many manage to escape from their ferocious opponent, but then the battalion of Pride rushes in, armed with offices, riches, honor, and such things, and those who did not wish to sully themselves in what they considered the obscenity of the first vice now fall victim to the second precisely because it seems so clean in contrast with the first and less blameworthy for the reason that so many people commit it.

If they overcome the second battalion, the third surely defeats them, for these soldiers are more ferocious and cunning, being the demons themselves who have come to battle men by thrusting into their imaginations a whole throng of spiritual vices, as expressed by the image of Sennacherib (Tobit 1:18), who launched his entire army and power against Jerusalem.

St. Paul advised the faithful about this: “Take comfort, brothers, in the Lord and the strength of his power. Put on the armor of God to counter the devil’s tricks. For now we do not contend just with flesh and blood, but with princes and powers, the rulers of the world of darkness, the evil spirits over heavenly things (Ephesians 6: 10-12).”

The apostle’s words prove the seriousness of the battle in that first he warns us that the battle will be strenuous and we will need the armor of God’s favor and effort, since our own is inadequate against such infamy, and second, he refers to trickery, which implies malice as well as strength. Third, he emphasizes the grievousness of the battle by stating that it is no mere contest of flesh and blood and by naming the demons with lofty titles so as to evoke their tremendous power to battle spiritual opponents for what he calls heavenly things, those which the commentary explains are the virtues and souls of the faithful against whom the third assault is launched.

The first two attacks are physical, clear to see, and involve the body rather than the spirit. But the third hurls a host of evil thoughts to irritate and wear us down, and our letters says concerning these: “Thoughts start war if the gate is not closed.”

It seems that in the first two battles the devil leaves the fighting to his soldiers, those who take his side: that is, the flesh, which is the first vice to plague man, and the world, which supports the devil against Christ. But when the devil sees that his companions and vassals, who are other demons, are defeated and that person has withstood successfully the siege of these two vices and lives chastely and totally devoted to God, then it can be said of him: “He sent against them the heat of indignation, anger, and fury, and tribulation, a multitude of agents of misfortune; he opened a way for his anger and he did not save them from death.” (Psalm 77:49-50)

Is your milk getting curdled yet? Perhaps it is fitting to recall that Blessed Pope John Paul II recommend the following to the flock,

“May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: ‘Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power’ (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”

Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

For All the Miracles: The Road To Emmaus and After

Guest post by Giovanni Papini (published in 1921)

After the solemn interval of the Passover, plain, ordinary everyday life began again for all men.

Two friends of Jesus, among those who were in the house with the Disciples, were to go that morning on an errand to Emmaus, a hamlet about two hours journey from Jerusalem. They left as soon as Simon and John had returned from the sepulcher. [Read more...]

Because Christ Is Still Living Among Us

What follows is from Giovanni Papini’s introduction to his Life of Christ. Published in 1921, you would think that these words were written just yesterday. John C.H. Wu tipped me off to this book and I found a used copy of it on Alibris.

It’s 408 pages long and is filled with great passages. Written in his native Italian, it was translated in 1923 by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Papini had been an ardent atheist, anarchist and was one of the literary giants of Italy.

Have a blast reading this article about him in Time magazine, from March 31, 1923. Was anything “lost in translation?” Nothing whatsoever. Have a look at sections one and two and see for yourself,

from the Introduction of Life of Christ by Giovanni Papini.

For five hundred years those who call themselves free spirits, because they prefer prison life to army service, have been trying desperately to kill Jesus a second time—to kill him in the hearts of men.

The army of His enemies assembled to bury Him as soon as they thought they heard the death-rattle of Christ’s second death. Presumptuous donkeys mistaking libraries for their stables, top-heavy brains pretending to explore the highest heavens in philosophy’s drifting balloon, professors poisoned by the fatal strong drink of philology and metaphysics, armed themselves.

Paraphrasing the rallying cry of Peter the Hermit to the crusaders, they shouted “Man wills it!” as they set out on their crusade against the Cross. Certain of them drew on their boundless imaginations to evolve what they considered proof positive of a fantastic theory that the story of the gospel is no more than a legend from which we reconstruct the natural life of Jesus as a man, one-third prophet, one-third necromancer, one-third demagogue, a man who wrought no miracles except the hypnotic cure of some obsessed devotees, who did not die on the cross, but came to Himself in the chill of the sepulcher and reappeared with mysterious airs to delude men into believing that He had risen from the dead.

Others demonstrated as certainly as two and two make four that Jesus was a myth developed in the time of Augustus and of Tiberius, and that all the Gospels can be reduced to a clumsy mosaic of prophetic texts. Others conceived of Jesus as a good, well-meaning man, but too high-flown and fantastic, who went to school to the Greeks, the Buddhists, and the Essenes and patched together His plagiarisms as best He could to support His claim to be the Messiah of Israel.

Others make Him out to be an unbalanced humanitarian, precursor of Rousseau and of divine democracy; an excellent man for his time, but who today would be put under the care of an alienist. Others, to get rid of the subject (once for all), took up the idea of the myth again, and by dint of puzzlings and comparisons concluded that Jesus never was born anywhere in any spot on the globe.

But who could have taken the place of the man they were trying to dispose of? The grave they dug was deeper every day, and still they could not bury Him from sight.

Then began the manufacture of religions for the irreligious. During the whole of the 19th century, they were turned out in couples and half-dozens at a time: the religion of Truth, of the Spirit, of the Proletariat, of the Hero, of Humanity, of Nationalism, of Imperialism, of Reason, of Beauty, of Peace, of Sorrow, of Pity, of the Ego, of the Future, and so on.

Some were only new arrangements of Christianity, uncrowned, spineless Christianity, Christianity without God. Most of them were political, or philosophic, trying to make themselves out as mystics. But faithful followers of these religions were few and their ardor faint. Such frozen abstractions, although sometimes helped along by social interest or literary passions, did not fill the heart which had renounced Jesus.

Then attempts were made to throw together facsimiles of religion which would make a better job of offering what men looked for in religion. Free-Masons, Spiritualists, Theosophists, Occultists, Scientists, all professed to have found the infallible substitute for Christianity.

But such mixtures of moldy superstition and worm-eaten necromancy, such a hash of musty rationalism and science gone bad, of simian symbolism and humanitarianism turned sour, such unskillful rearrangements of Buddhism, manufactured-for-export, and of betrayed Christianity, contented some thousands of leisure-class women, of condensers of the void…and went no further.

In the meantime, partly in a German parsonage and partly in a professor’s chair in Switzerland, the last Anti-Christ was making ready. “Jesus,” he said, coming down form the alps in the sunshine, “Jesus mortified mankind; sin is beautiful, violence is beautiful. Everything that says ‘yes’ to Life is beautiful.” And Zarathustra, after having thrown into the Mediterranean the Greek texts of Leipzig and the works of Machiavelli, began to gambol at the feet of the statue of Dionysius with the grace that might be expected of a German, born of a Lutheran minister, who had just stepped down from a chair in a Swiss university.

But, although his songs were sweet to the ear, he never succeeded in explaining exactly what he meant when he spoke of this adorable “Life” to which men should sacrifice such a living part of themselves as their need to repress their own animal instincts. Nor could he ever say in what way Christ, the true Christ of the Gospels, opposed Himself to life, He who wanted to make life higher and happy. And the poor syphilitic Anti-Christ, when insanity was close upon him, signed his last letter, “The Crucified One.”

And still Christ is not yet expelled from the earth, either by the ravages of time or by the efforts of men. His memory is everywhere: on the walls of churches and the schools, on the tops of bell-towers and of mountains, in street-shrines, at the heads of beds and over tombs, thousands of crosses bring to mind the death of the Crucified One.

Take away the frescoes from the churches, carry off the pictures from the altars and from the houses, and the life of Christ fills museums and picture galleries. Throw away breviaries and missals, and you find His name and His words in all the books of literature. Even oaths are an involuntary remembrance of His presence.

When all is said and done, Christ is an end and a beginning, an abyss of divine mystery between two divisions of human history. Paganism and Christianity can never be welded together. We can seek out what comes before Christ, we can acquire information about it, but it is no longer ours, it is signed with other signs, limited by other systems, no longer moves our passions. It may be beautiful, but it is dead.

Caesar was more talked about in his time than Jesus, and Plato taught more science than Christ. People still discuss the Roman ruler and the Greek philosopher, but who nowadays is hotly for Caesar or against him? And where are the Platonists and the anti-Platonists?

Christ, on the contrary, is still living among us. There are still people who love Him and who hate Him. There is a passion for the love of Christ and a passion for His destruction. The fury of so many against Him is a proof that He is not dead. The very people who devote themselves to denying His ideas and His existence pass their lives in bringing His name to memory.

This is a great book folks. Too bad it isn’t available on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. Put you local librarian to work though. Find this book!

Update: Papini writing on the Road to Emmaus and After.

For 10 Things To Do While Fr. Corapi is on Leave

Joe Six-Pack, USMC here, also known as “the Worst Consumer of Catholic Media on the Planet.

You’ve heard the news about Fr. John Corapi? Let’s say that you are a devotee of his. You aren’t alone, because last time I checked, there are 45,800+ “fans” on his Facebook page alone.

He has been placed on Administrative Leave, which to a Marine (like me) means he has been given a “time-out” from line-duty until an investigation can be completed. Nothing to get all wound up about.

But the question now is, how are you going to fill that hour or two (or four?!) that he helped you fill during your week?

 Whaat?! The company commander is wounded and has been medevaced and you lugs just sit down? What is this, the Soviet Army?!

I’ve got news for you lubbers. That’s not how we run things here in the Church Militant. There is plenty for you to do, especially when you consider Commander’s Intent and orders from the Holy Spirit via the pen of St. Paul,

So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.

You heard the Old Man…WORK! And lest you start bellyachin’ about the opportunity for advancement you have been presented, heed these words too:

Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. -(Philippians 2:12-15)

So, let’s assume the Skipper (Marine slang for Captains/Company Commanders) won’t be back, OK? But we’re still at war. So here is a little list of things to do to fill your time while Fr. John is on hiatus.

1. Read Your Bible for an Hour a Week. What, you don’t have a Bible? What kind of soldier are you? Besides, the battlefield is littered with them. I may not be a heavy user of Catholic Media (and TV…no time!), but the USSCB website has the Bible available 24/7. No excuses for not heading to the rifle range. I bet your parish has a bible study class available too. Sign up for it ASAP.

2. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This is like #1 above, but with spiritual direction provided by the Church. The readings and psalms are all laid out for you. It is a great way to spend your time, any time of the day. Available 24/7 at Universalis.

3. Meet the Doctors of the Church Where do you think Fr. John learned to shoot like he does? He’s standing on the shoulders of giants, and so can you. Head to the library and read some of the sermons of St. Athansius, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, and others. You’ll be amazed at the stuff they wrote, and the skills you’ll pick up.

4. Read The Spiritual Combat by Dom. Lorenzo Scupoli. Want action? Want a riveting read on tactics and strategies for living through this fight called Christian life? You’ve come to the right place with this book. This will get you started on Chapter One.

5. Pray for our priests and for vocations. We have deaths, retirements, and casualties. And the troops always need leaders. Pray for us soldiers for Christ and pray for our officer corps. If Adoration is available at your parish, that is a great place to pray. But anywhere will do, if you just make the time.

6. Go to Confession. A great way to kill an hour, at least for this week. Only you and God know the state of your own soul, so go take care of business.

7. Go to Daily Mass. This is a great way to spend a half-hour everyday, if you can swing it. You will be surprised at how easy it is to form this habit.

8. Get to know your own parish priest(s) better. This sort of takes care of itself as a result of #6 and #7 above. You know their names, but do they know yours? Why not?!

9. Get Involved in Your Parish. Here is an idea: become a lector, or an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Or join the choir, a committee, or help out at the next parish function. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Help pull some of the load in your parish.

10. Pray the Rosary with your family. Pope John Paul II said, “How beautiful is the family that recites the Rosary every evening.” Hard to do in my family, I’ll admit, but it’s not impossible to do at least once a week. You can even pray along with Mother Angelica and the gang over at EWTN (9:30 PM Eastern).

I’m sure there are many, many other ways to increase your knowledge and devotion during Fr. Corapi’s hiatus. So, Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For, as the Apostle says When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.

So don’t take your packs off. Saddle-up and move out for King and Country!

Because Napoleon Died a Catholic Death

A few weeks back, my family and I hit the used book sale that is held annually to benefit our local public library. Going to this sale has been an annual event for us, ever since we moved to Tennessee six years ago. It is at that sale where I first picked up the collection of Harvard Classics, where I met Blaise Pascal and Thomas à Kempis.

Now that I’m a Catholic, I go to this sale on the lookout for books about the Faith, and works written by great Catholic authors. 

I hit the jackpot this year, with a treasure trove of titles. Four Faultless Felons by G.K. Chesterton, for example. A paperback from 1956 called The Papal Encyclicals, with writings from St. Peter all the way up to Pope Pius XII. More Chesterton with Father Brown of the Church of Rome, edited by John Peterson. I picked up 17 titles in all, including The Waters of Siloe by Thomas Merton and The Peasant of Garonne by Jacques Maritain.

And the selection I am sharing with you today is from Hilaire Belloc’s biography of a famous French general and Emperor you may have heard of named Napoleon Bonaparte. Published in 1932, and weighing in at 379 pages, in a large hardback sporting “16 Illustrations and 22 Maps,” I’m looking forward to getting to know Napoleon better, through Hilaire Belloc’s pen.

A cursory glance of the volume landed me near the end of the book where the death of the exiled leader is imminent. Much as he did in The Great Heresies, Belloc doesn’t bother with footnotes here. But from what he writes about how Napoleon died, I hope to meet him in heaven.

Here is how Belloc tells the tale,

The Death of Napoleon

In exile on St. Helena

It was nightfall on Sunday, April 29, 1821. Napoleon lay dying. The little iron camp-bed with the silver eagles on its four corners and its green curtains was placed in the middle of the low petty room, its head to the light between two windows, its foot towards the simple fireplace, on the mantlepiece of which, in front of a large square looking-glass, stood the bust of his little son.

Wretched as the room was, it was the best in the shanty of a house—a place that was soon to be turned into common stables and was most suitable perhaps for that. It had been worse, when first the Emperor and the few who followed him came into that exile. They had found shreds of the wall-paper turned moldy and rotten with moisture and the ragged carpet on the floor gnawed into holes by rats. So much had been set right; muslin had been stretched over the walls and fluted round, the ceiling white-washed, and the place reasonably clean.

Napoleon’s Lodgings

It stood not far from the summit of a sort of very wide shallow cup sloping down easterly towards the sea from on of the ridges of that volcanic island (St. Helena in the South Atlantic), the floors of the long low place being somewhat less than 2000 feet above the sea, the noise of which could be heard coming up the funnel from the mouth of the depression below. And up that broad cup of the valley, and from the ocean below too, frequently blew the south-east gales—which the failing Emperor dreaded, finding that they suited him ill.

To the right end of the bed as he lay in such extremity he looked through an open door at the chapel which had been set up as best might be in the next room of the suite, the dining room. He gazed through to the wooden altar which the Chinese workmen (serfs of the East India Company) had set up; and his eyes could rest there on one of the last monuments of his name; the four golden letters “N” embroidered on either corner of the green velvet cloth which covered the two steps.

Through this door that morning he had heard the Sunday Mass which Bertrand’s young son had served. There also was the Tabernacle, rough, amateur, cardboard covered, but ornamented as best might be with gilt paper and the white of it gleaming against the red satin behind, while above stood a great Crucifix in ebony, too large it seemed for the altarpiece. Its great silver figure of Christ dominated the scene. He had given orders that when his last agony should be upon him, the Blessed Sacrament should be exposed and the Prayers of the Dead recited; also, said he, he desired to fulfill all the duties of the Catholic Faith.

Now as he had said these words, Antommarchi—the surgeon attendant upon him, who was an atheist in the spirit of his time,as also from the boast of science that he had, could not restrain a smile; whereat Napoleon, with some remnant of strength, flamed up at him and cried, “Be off! Stupidity fatigues me, but I can forgive shallow wits or even bad manners. I cannot forgive dullness of heart.”

It being not long after dark, Montholon had already taken up his watch at nine o’clock, which he changes alternately with the valet Marchand, and it ran till two o’clock in the morning. But on that day he had occasion to leave the Emperor alone, for this reason, that the priest Vignali was to attend. For Napoleon had said long before, when first he discovered what awaited him in his exile, “I must have a priest about me: I would not die like a dog.”

The Emperor had not feared death. He had seen it coming for now long past, ever since the beginning of the year. For when, on New Year’s Day, Marchand had pulled the curtains in the morning, Napoleon—who loved a joking converse with a familiar, and was devoted to those about him—had said, “Well, and what present have you for me this New Years?”

Marchand had answered, “Sire, the hope of seeing Your Majesty soon set to rights and leaving this air which does you only ill.”

But to such words Napoleon, no longer smiling, had gravely replied, “It will not last long, my son. My end is on me; I cannot carry on much more.”

Said Marchand, “As I see things it is not so.”

And then Napoleon had ended all this by the few words, “It shall be as God wills.”

As his illness had increased upon him he had known more and more that certainly it was death.

There came a time when he could no longer walk or ride out of doors, and when he attempted to do so turned faint. In March his blood had chilled and they needed to put warm clothes about his feet, and by the middle of the month he said to a doctor who begged him to take remedies prescribed, “Well, sir! I am at your orders! But do you not see that death will be to me a gift from Heaven? I do not dread it. I will do nothing to hasten it, but I would try no sortilege to make my life the longer.” And at another time he said, “Death has now been for some weeks beside me upon my pillow,” meaning that he had become familiar with that Visitor.

He had told them also, with more instinctive knowledge than their science possessed, that he was dying of what his father had died of; and so he was—with a cancer in the stomach which was certain soon to make an end; so that he could also say, when his English doctor asked him how he felt upon a certain day, “I shall soon give back to the earth the remnant of that life which it is of such import to the Kings to seize.”

He had asked, while still he could attend to reading, that they should read him Homer for a while; and that same day, Sunday the 29th, he had dictated, as he had dictated upon the day before, what he termed “A Reverie”—would that we possessed it! But now, when the night had come, greater things were at hand. The priest was with him alone.

Napoloeon Bonaparte confessed, and was absolved; his peace with the Faith was made; the Last Sacraments were administered—save for this, that he might not receive the Viaticum since he could retain no food. They therefore dared not give him the Eucharist. But he was at peace, while yet his reason remained to him.

It remained to him still for a brief four days. Upon the next day, the last of April, the Monday, his thoughts being still clear but his weakness very great and the sickness upon him very grievous, he kept his eyes still fixed upon the bust of his little son showing there against the glass at the foot of the bed upon the mantel. His sleep had left him, but he lingered on through May 2 and until the 3rd. Upon the 3rd, the last flicker of his great will being, as he thought, still at his service, he attempted to rise for a moment, but fell back. They gave him wine, and as he tasted it he murmured, “How good is wine!”

With that night of the 3rd, however, all around know that the end was upon him, and all watched. With the morning, before noon, his delirium began, in the frenzy of which at one moment he attempted to seize on Montholon at his side; and in that fever he muttered continually words the whispered confusion of which suggested now this, now that. It is said that the last of them which any mortal could distinguish were, “Army…army…” and “Head of the Army….” But there can be no certain record of such things.

All that day long, all the afternoon, right on through the night till four in the morning of the Saturday, the 5th, that final unconscious communion with the last flicker of this life continued. Drowning the slight murmurs of it, came violent rain for hours against the window panes at either side of the beds head, and mixed with that noise the saying of the Prayers before the Altar. Out of the sea a great wind arose and blew furiously up the valley, shaking the frail and miserable tenement with its gusts and rattling the casements and driving more furiously still the waters of the tempest against the glass.

But as the afternoon grew louder in the heavens without, the Emperor at last lay still, and even the faint whisperings from his lips were no longer heard; but they still moved imperceptibly in breathing. The household were assembled. It was near six in the evening. At nine minutes to the hour, the sunset gun was heard far off down the wind; and the rush of the tropical twilight fell under the hurrying clouds and that now lessening gale all those silent about him saw the change: the mouth half fell, the eyes opened; but they saw nothing of this world any more: Napoleon was dead.

They covered him with the cloak he had worn at Marengo, a Crucifix upon it, and by his side laid his sword.

You better believe that if I can say a prayer for the soul of Dracula, then I can certainly say one for Napoleon’s soul as well. And in the spirit of Lenten almsgiving, I’ll throw another one in for Hilaire Belloc’s soul for good measure too.

Update: Napoleon answers the question “Who is Jesus Christ?”

For All the Saints: Louise de Marillac

Earlier this morning, I posted a book review in which the author states that one of his problems with the Catholic Church is that it treats women like second-class citizens. Well, surprise! The LORD works in mysterious ways. 

And although the word mystery is an irritant to some, including the author of that particular book, today’s feast of St. Louise de Marillac is “Exhibit A” in the refutation of that preposterous idea. I don’t think it is a coincidence that today is her feast day.

Now I will be the first to admit that I don’t know about every saint under the sun. But I don’t let that stop me from finding out more. And as it turns out, Louise is the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. You may have heard of them. And get this, she did it pretty much on her own, of course, with the blessings of a few saintly priests you may have heard of, not to mention the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I wonder what Ayn Rand thought of the achievements of folks like Louise and her adopted sisters?

I’ll share with you the charming, and fascinating, story on this great woman of the Church from a write up which was published in the August 1920 edition of Catholic Missions magazine. Take a look,

Louise de Marillac, widow Le Gras, was the foundress of the religious society known as the Sisters of Charity. She was beatified last June. There are many branches of the original Sisterhood and the habits vary, but all sprang from the parent tree planted in 1633 by St. Vincent (de Paul) and Louise de Marillac. Another of this holy woman’s early spiritual directors was St. Francis de Sales, so that she had an intimate knowledge of the ways of saints.

On June 6, 1919, in the consistorial chamber of the Vatican, three decrees of beatification and canonization were read. The second of these concerned the beatification of the Venerable Louise de Marillac, in the world called the widow Le Gras, who founded the Society of the Sisters of Charity, also known and loved as the Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul.

The Sisters of Charity are especially honored in mission countries because a large part of their activities are in behalf of unfortunate pagans whom, in great numbers, they have led by kind ministration into the Church.

It was at a troublous period of French history, when civil wars and countless feuds were dividing the country that this child of destiny first saw the light. She was the daughter of Louis de Marillac, who himself was the brother of two men destined to most tragic fates in the years to come.

One, the Chancellor Michel de Marillac, was celebrated, as the author of the great compilation of laws called the “Michau Code.” The other, Marshal de Marillac, was famous in France
for taking part against Cardinal Richelieu, in favor of Marie de Medicis.

The father of Louise was also noted for high intellectual qualities as well as for nobility of character. The girl was not destined, however, to enjoy the love of her parents for many years. Her mother died when she was a small child and her father when she was about fifteen.
At twenty-two Louise was a maiden showing plainly that she possessed rare gifts of heart and mind. Her education was advanced for the Period for besides the usual studies pursued by young ladies, she had a knowledge of Latin and philosophy, and could paint with skill.

In 1613, in the church of St. Gervais, Louise became the wife of Antoine Le Gras, one of Marie de Medicis’ secretaries. A son born of this marriage later became Counsellor of the King. The married life of Louise lasted only twelve years. At the age of thirty-four she became a widow and took a vow never to marry again.

At this period she had the advantage of some very remarkable spiritual directors. First among these was Mgr. le Camus, Bishop of Belley; later she placed herself under St. Francis de Sales. Then she came into communication with the holy St. Vincent de Paul, with the result that she decided to devote the remainder of her life entirely to works of charity and piety.

The decree concerning the cause of beatification thus speaks of this event:

From the day when the venerable servant of God, Louise de Marillac, widow Le Gras. encountered this man of preeminent piety, known as Vincent de Paul, and chose him for the director and judge of her conscience, ther.e was established between the two souls a union that time could not dissolve. During the thirtyeight last years of her life the Venerable Louise remained faithfully attached to Vincent de Paul and allowed herself to be guided and governed by him whom the designs of divine Wisdom had sent to be her master and guide.

It is impossible to cite here the numberless good works performed by Louise de Marillac, suffice it to speak only of the foundation of the Society of the Sisters of Charity. St. Vincent had instituted in a number of parishes associations of pious women whose duty it was to visit and care for the sick. Louise de Marillac was given the supervision of these bands, and much charity was dispensed, but as they were composed of ladies living in the world they were not as fruitful as St. Vincent and his auxiliary desired.

It was therefore decided to recruit a number of young girls who would consecrate themselves exclusively to the service of the poor out of love for their Divine Master. The first to offer herself was a little shepherdess; others soon followed, and in November, 1633, the foundress had a little community of four beside herself to whom she gave a rule of life. Two years later she herself took a solemn vow to consecrate herself to the service of the poor. Thus was brought into existence that wonderful organization known throughout the world as the Sisters of Charity.

At the beginning of the present century the various communities counted 2,658 nuns, who cared for 37,714 children in schools and orphanages and who had charge in hospitals of more than a million sick and infirm. It is the ministration of the Sisters in the missions that concerns us most directly, and while these nuns always performed a valuable work in the stations to which they were appointed, since the war, on account of the increase in poverty and human misery, their hospitals, schools and orphanages are more crowded than ever.

Rescue work among the abandoned babies of China is an important branch of their propaganda. It has been stated that at the beginning of the century the Sisters of this association numbered 2,658. But since then it has increased its members by leaps and bounds. In 1919 there were in the missions alone 1,435 Sisters, of whom 939 were Europeans and 496 native women. In the districts confided to the Lazarists, in which these Sisters are most numerous. 3,411,427 persons were treated in hospitals, 6,567 orphans were sheltered, 1,081 aged men and women
given a home, and 400 lepers’ received physical and spiritual care.

These figures relate only to the missions. What a splendid showing must be made every year in the great cities of the world, where the daughters of St. Vincent de Paul are engaged in every variety of charitable ministration!

It was in February, 1660, that Louise de Marillac was seized with the illness that was to prove fatal. The malady was a violent fever increasing so rapidly that within a few days, her condition was considered serious and she was given the Last Sacraments. After this she revived wonderfully and lived a month in comparative ease. But in March the fever again attacked her and on the fifteenth of the month she was prepared for death, and immediately rendered her soul to her Maker.

Her venerable director, St. Vincent de Paul was not with the foundress of his Order during her last moments on earth, as he himself, then in his eighty-fifth year, was lying on a bed of pain. In fact, he lived only six months longer than Louise de Marillac.

In June, 1895, exactly two hundred and thirty-five years after the death of this holy religious, Pope Leo XIII signed the introduction of The Cause of Beatification and canonization of the venerable servant of God, Louise de Marillac, widow Le Gras. The solemn ceremony of beatification took place in Rome, Sunday, May g, 1920.

Such events are always most bsautiful and most impressive. On this occasion St. Peter’s was splendidly decorated. Over the altar hung a portrait of the Venerable Louise heavily veiled. Several – cardinals, two hundred bishops, the dignitaries of the pontifical court, the Superior General of the Lazarists, and the Mother General of the Sisters of Charity, assisted at the services.

After the mass the Secretary of the Congregation of Rites read the brief of beatification, and then the veil was withdrawn and the portrait of Blessed Louise appeared in all its glory.
Immediately the bells of St. Peter’s burst into a clarion of joyful sound announcing to Rome that another great one of the Faith had received the honors of the Church.

St. Louise de Marillac, pray for us.

The saint is entombed at the
Chapel of the Miraculous Medal in
Paris, France

For Lessons on Lying from “The Catechism Made Easy” (with a Little Help from the Rolling Stones)

The subject of “lying for Jesus,” as Mark Shea puts it, has been rolling through the Catholic blog-o-sphere in light of the tactics used by the Pro-Life group Live Action.

I even posted a little piece comparing many of the commentators to characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I dubbed Mark Shea as “Faramir” because that character said, “I would not snare even an orc with a falsehood.” Mark states his case based on what the Catechism says about lying.

Below, from the handy, dandy YIMCatholic Bookshelf, is a selection I found in a book titled The Catechism Made Easy: Being a Familiar Explanation of the Catechism of Christian Doctrine. Written by Fr. Henry Gibson, formerly a prison and reform school chaplain, the title page includes these simple words from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians,

“Except you utter by the tongue plain speech, how shall it be known what is said? For you shall be speaking into the air.” —1 Cor. xiv. 9.

Ouch! See? I told you being a Christian is hard! Published in 1882, we’ve forgotten a lot of this great stuff written by our Catholic forefathers. This is from the section in Fr. Henry’s book about the Eighth Commandment, with practical examples included at no additional charge.

Oh no, not again!

The Eighth Commandment. What it forbids. False Testimony, Rash Judgment, Lies, Calumny, Detraction, and Talebearing—Obligation of Restitution. What the Eighth Commandment commands.

Q. What is the Eighth Commandment?

A. The Eighth Commandment is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

The next sin which we speak of—that of telling lies— is one against which I am particularly anxious to warn you, both because it is, unhappily, very common among children, and because it is the root of many other vices. To tell a lie, is to say what we believe to be untrue. If we believe that we are speaking the truth, and happen to be mistaken, it is not a lie; on the other hand, if we say what we believe to be false, and it turns out to be true, it is really a lie in the sight of God.

All lies are sinful, because they are all directly opposed to Divine Truth, which is one of the most admirable Perfections of the Almighty. Moreover, they are an abuse of that most excellent gift of speech, which God has given us to enable us to make our thoughts known to our fellow-men; whereas the liar uses his speech to conceal his thoughts and deceive his neighbor. But though all lies are sinful, they are not all equally sinful; some are much more grievous than others.

The worst lie of all is that which is told in confession by him who conceals a sin, for such a lie is a sacrilegious lie, a lie told to God himself, and is a profanation of a holy Sacrament. The lie next in guilt is that which is told to injure our neighbor’s character; for example, when a person gives false testimony in a court of justice, or when he spreads abroad calumnies against his neighbor, accusing him of crimes which he has never committed. Such lies are called malicious lies, because they are told through malice on purpose to injure others, and they are very grievous sins.

But there are other lies which are much less in guilt, namely, lies of excuse and lies of jest. These lies are sometimes called by foolish people white lies, as if that which is black in its very nature could ever become white. It is true that they may not cause our neighbor any injury, but still they are displeasing to God and hurtful to the soul. They displease God, because he is the very Truth, and as the Scripture says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. xii. 22). They are hurtful to the soul, not only on account of the wound they inflict upon it, but also because a habit of lying is thereby formed, which is the foundation of many vices.

If a child is a habitual liar, depend upon it that, if not cured of this vice in time, he will grow up both a hypocrite and a thief, for truth is the twin sister of candor and honesty. “Show me a liar,” says the proverb, “and I will show you a thief.” Moreover, to tell a lie to excuse yourself is an act of cowardice, and shows a certain weakness of character and principle, which may well cause us to fear that so feeble and timid a soul will soon fall a prey to its evil passions and the temptations of the devil. Be always, then, my dear children, most exact in speaking the truth, and pray to God to give you a great love of this excellent virtue which is so pleasing to him. Remember that if you love and always speak the truth, you are in a special manner the children of God, who is the Divine Truth.

On the contrary, if you have a habit of lying, you are the children of the devil, who is, as our Blessed Lord says, a liar and the father of lies (John viii, 44). You must not tell the smallest lie even to save the whole world, for it is better that the world should be destroyed than that God should be offended. Much less, then, should you tell a lie to save yourself from a scolding or a beating, which are soon over, and moreover, are intended for your good. If you have done wrong, be sorry for it and own it, then you are soon forgiven both by God and your parents; whereas if you try to hide it by a lie, you are guilty of a fresh sin, and one often much greater than the fault you first committed.

Listen to these two lines of one of our own poets on this subject; they are well worth remembering—

“Dare to be true, nothing can need a lie;
The sin that needs it most grows two thereby.” -George Herbert

Yes, dare to be true. Be brave enough to speak the truth, for it is an act of true courage. Your parents or teachers may punish you, but they will respect and trust you, the Saints and Angels will look down on you with approval, God will hear and will reward you. Nothing can need a lie, because nothing can excuse it. Moreover the sin you have committed, and that seems to need it most, grows two thereby, since you offend God doubly, and thus make it far more difficult to obtain his pardon.

And depend upon it, sooner or later the liar will be found out in his lies, for, as the proverb says, “truth will out.” In conclusion, what is more contemptible than the character of a liar, whose word is never taken, whose denials are never believed, whose promises are never trusted? On the contrary, what is more noble, what more amiable, than the character of a child who is always candid, truthful, and sincere? Such a one, wherever he goes, carries with him the esteem, the confidence, the respect of every one.

The Bishop and the Soldiers

It is related in Church History that upon one occasion the emperor Maximinian, a cruel persecutor of the faithful, despatched a troop of soldiers to apprehend and cast into prison Antony, the venerable Bishop of Nicomedia. It happened that, without knowing it, they came to the house of the holy Bishop, and being hungry, knocked at the door and begged for some refreshment. He received them with great kindness, invited them to sit down at table, and set before them such food as he had at his disposal.

When the meal was ended, the soldiers entered upon the subject of their mission, and requested him to inform them where they could meet with the Bishop Antony. “He is here before you,” replied the Saint. The soldiers, full of gratitude for his generous hospitality, declared that they would never lay hands upon him, but would report to the emperor that they had not been able to find him.

“God forbid,” replied the Saint, “that I should save my life by becoming a party to a lie. I would rather die a thousand times than that you should offend Almighty God.” So saying, he gave himself into their hands, and was conducted to prison.—Catechisme de Perseverance.

Death Rather Than A Lie

During the great French Kevolution, at the end of last century, the Catholic churches were pillaged throughout the country, and closed for public worship. The priests also were proscribed, and forced to conceal themselves in private houses, or even to seek shelter in the thickets of the forests or in the caves and fastnesses of the mountains. It happened about this time that a young girl, named Magdalen Larralde, of the village of Sare, on the borders of Spain, fearing to have recourse to her own parish priest in his place of concealment, was wont to cross the mountains whenever she desired to approach the Sacraments, in order to seek spiritual assistance from the Capuchin Fathers at Vera, on the Spanish side of the Pyrennees.

One day, on returning from the convent, she fell in with an outpost of the French army, which was then stationed along the frontier, in consequence of the war which raged between the two countries. The soldiers immediately seized her as a spy, and dragged her before the general, who questioned her as to the object of her presence in Spain. Magdalen answered simply and without a moment’s hesitation that she had been to confession.

The officer, touched by her youth and innocent bearing, and anxious, if possible, to save her, quickly replied, “Unfortunate woman, do not say that, for it will be your sentence of death. Say, rather, that the advance of the French troops frightened you, and drove you to seek shelter on Spanish ground.”

“But then I should say what would not be true,” answered the girl, “and I would rather die a thousand times than offend God by telling a lie.” In vain did the general urge and solicit her to yield; her firmness never gave way, and she was conducted before the tribunal at St. Jean de Luz. Before her judges, Magdalen again, with unflinching courage, refused to save her life by a lie. She was, therefore, condemned to the guillotine, and, as she walked to the place of execution, her step never faltered, and she ceased not to invoke the assistance of God, chanting aloud the Salve Regina in honor of the Queen of Heaven. —The Month.

The Imposter Struck Dead

St. James, Bishop of Nisibis, was one day travelling through the country, when he was accosted by a beggar who appeared to be in deep distress. On approaching the Saint he implored him with earnest supplications to bestow upon him an alms to enable him to bury his companion, who, as he said, had just expired by the roadside. The holy Bishop readily gave him what he asked, and went on his way praying earnestly for the soul of the deceased.

The beggar, laughing at the thought of having succeeded so easily in imposing upon the Saint, meanwhile ran back to his companion, whom he had left lying upon the ground at a little distance, pretending to be dead. On coming to the spot he called out to him to get up, as the trick had been successful, but he received no answer. He approached nearer, and took his companion by the hand in order to arouse him, but what was his horror at finding that he was really dead!

Immediately with loud cries and lamentation he ran after the Saint, and, throwing himself on his knees before him, acknowledged the deceit which they had practised, and implored his pardon and intercession. The servant of God having first reproved him for his sin, betook himself to prayer, and the unhappy man, who had provoked God to deprive him of life, was restored at the prayers of the Saint and became a sincere penitent.
—Butler’s Saints’ Lives

If those three examples weren’t enough on the sin of lying, how about one from a secular source? Here are the “Glimmer Twins” and the gang from their 1978 album singing about the problem of prevarication,

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