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?”

Because of the Way This Desert Father Handled a Calumny

—Feast of St. Joseph  

There are scandals, and rumors of scandals and there always will be. To be tainted by scandal, whether you are wrongly accused or guilty, is really a no-win situation. How does one take on the burden of this situation?

Christ was wrongly accused and He barely said a word to defend himself. But others have been wrongly accused and have borne their accusations in a similar manner.

One of my favorite examples of this is from an episode in the life of my patron, St. Macarius the Great. I can’t even begin to fathom the depth of this Desert Father’s humility, renunciation, and faith. Accused of sexual misconduct, Sister Benedicta Ward translates this episode in the saints life in her book Selections From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Abba Macarius said this about himself:

‘When I was young and was living in a cell in Egypt, they took me as a cleric in the village. Because I did not wish to receive this dignity, I fled to another place. Then a devout layman joined me; he sold my manual work for me and served me.

Now it happened that a virgin in the village, under weight of temptation, committed sin. When she became pregnant, they asked her who was to blame. She said, “the anchorite.”

Then they came to seize me, led me to the village and hung pots black with soot and various other things around my neck and led me through the village in all directions, beating me and saying, “This monk has defiled our virgin, catch him, catch him” and they beat me almost to death.

Then one of the old men came and said: “What are you doing, how long will you go on beating this strange monk?” The man who served me was walking behind me, full of shame, for they covered him with insults too, saying, “Look at this anchorite, for whom you stood surety; what has he done?”

The girl’s parents said, “Do not let him go till he has given pledge that he will keep her.” I spoke to my servant and he vouched for me. Going to my cell, I gave him all the baskets I had, saying, “Sell them, and give my wife something to eat.”

Then I said to myself, “Macarius, you have found yourself a wife; you must work a little more in order to keep her.” So I worked night and day and sent my work to her. But when the time came for the wretch to give birth, she remained in labor many days without bringing forth, and they said to her, “What is the matter?”

She said, “I know what it is, it is because I slandered the anchorite, and accused him unjustly; it is not he who is to blame, but such and such young man.” Then the man who served me was full of joy saying, “The virgin could not give birth until she said ‘The anchorite had nothing to do with it, but I have lied about him.’ The whole village wants to come here solemnly and do penance before you.”

But when I heard this, for fear people would disturb me, I got up and fled here to Scetis. That is the original reason why I came here.’

See what I mean? Is that not the most amazing, most Christ-like lowering of oneself that you have read, short of the trial of Our Lord? Short of the prophet’s words in Psalm 22?

But I am a worm, hardly human,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer;
they shake their heads at me

Sun Tzu

Who accepts blame like this when wrongly accused nowadays? With humility? With quiet reserve and with faith that the truth will come to light and set them free? This reminds me of something that Sun Tzu, in his Art of War wrote, five centuries before Christ was crucified, and eight centuries before Abba Macarius endured this calumny,

The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.

That is the truth. May it ever be so. And as for the example of Abba Macarius, Sister Benedicta shares this anecdote in Paradise of the Desert Fathers,

They said of Abba Macarius the Great that he became, as it is written, a god upon earth, because, just as God protects the world, so Abba Macarius would cover the faults which he saw, as though he did not see them; and those which he heard, as though he did not hear them.

Another very Christ-like character trait. Abba Macarius, Pray for us.

You will find Sister Benedicta Ward’s book on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

Update: For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says

For All the Meanings of the Word “Catholic”

My God isn’t too small, but I sure am. For the longest time I was a modern pharisee, so sure that I knew everything I needed to know about God and my own salvation. Then I walked away from worshipping God for the longest time, because my little mind “got it” about God and I didn’t really care about what your opinion, or any churches opinion for that matter, was about Him.

I waited a long time to be called home to the Church. But when I started to hear the call, the reasonableness of becoming a Catholic had a lot to do with that very word “catholic.” Let’s take a look at the word and maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Here is how the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word,

Definition of CATHOLIC

1:
a) often capitalized: of, relating to, or forming the church universal
b) often capitalized: of, relating to, or forming the ancient undivided Christian church or a church claiming historical continuity from it
c) capitalized : Roman Catholic

2: comprehensive, universal; especially : broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests
— ca·thol·i·cal·ly adverb
— ca·thol·i·cize verb

Examples of CATHOLIC,

(She is a novelist who is catholic in her interests.)
(a museum director with catholic tastes in art.)

Origin of CATHOLIC

Middle English catholik, from Middle French & Late Latin; Middle French catholique, from Late Latin catholicus, from Greek katholikos universal, general, from katholou in general, from kata by + holos whole — more at cata-, safe

First Known Use: 14th century (maybe in English, but I think St. Ignatius of Antioch used the term to describe the Church back early in the 2nd century).

Related words to CATHOLIC

Synonyms: all-around (also all-round), all-purpose, general, general-purpose, unlimited, unqualified, unrestricted, unspecialized

Antonyms: limited, restricted, specialized, technical

Looking at the citation, definition #1 jives with what historically may be ascertained about the Church. She is, after all, a world-wide Church with parishes practically everywhere. She traces her leadership lineage from Pope Benedict XVI, all the way back to St. Peter, who was given the Keys of the Kingdom by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bear with me for a minute because my mind is very small. The universe, however, is (we think) infinitely large. Guess what? The Catholic Church claims all of that space as her domain too. Remember the keys? That’s why someone from the Vatican Observatory can say that the mere thought of extraterrestrial life shouldn’t spook you.

That is, unless your mind is too small and you believe that God only exists on our planet, or maybe not even at all. That’s not to say that, God willing, ET couldn’t come here and ruin our lives either. Remember what was done to the Native Americans by other human beings? Or what the Egyptians did to Israel, or the Babylonians, or the Romans? Free will can be painful.

Maybe you’ve never given this much thought. I know I didn’t for the longest time because I was too busy getting and spending and such. Conquering the world for me and mine, while giving mere lip service to serving God. That sounds harsh now that I read it, but it is true.

Let’s move on to definition #2 which pertains to the small “c” version of the word.

comprehensive, universal; especially: broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests.

Now this definition is what gets to the heart of why I am Catholic. Because now that my little mind has been pondering our Triune God more and more, this second definition jives with the characteristics of God Himself. Comprehensive? Check! Universal? Check! Broad in sympathies? I’m counting on it! Broad in tastes and interests? Well now that you mention it, of course He has broad tastes and interests, most of which I have ignored all my life and many which I have never even considered. Consider the variety of life He created, people of every race and origin, 15000+ types of trees, and thousands of different kinds of flowers and hundreds if not thousands of different kinds of spiders (yuk!) even.

Consider that He became a human in order to save every man, woman, and child, and maybe even the animals (St. Francis of Assisi preached to birds!), in every clime and place. In every land, every nation, north, south, east and west. Because He is beyond mere points on a compass.

This weeks readings from the letter to the Hebrews practically scream this from the very first words in that letter(and I still didn’t get it) as you can see here,

Brothers and sisters: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, He spoke to us through the Son, whom He made heir of all things and through whom He created the universe, who is the refulgence of His glory, the very imprint of His being, and who sustains all things by His mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, He took His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.(Hebrews 1:1-4)

And here,

It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. Instead, someone has testified somewhere:

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under his feet.”

In “subjecting” all things to him, He left nothing not “subject to Him.”(Hebrews 2:5-8).

For the longest time I ignored this salient fact, this truth, which has been staring me right in the face in the phrases “all things” and “nothing not” all this time. Others have missed them as well, which explains why the Church defended Christianity from the Arian, Donatist, and all the other heresies as well. And it explains why Our Pope could say this back when he was a Cardinal,

Just as the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy [in the great religions] neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured.

And it explains why sometimes we trip each other up when one persons idea of orthodoxy (example: can I do yoga and still be a Catholic?) conflict with another’s ideas on orthodoxy (example: you may only receive the consecrated host on the tongue). All of which is way above my pay grade (able-bodied seaman, if that) and leads me to say “thank God for bishops!”

Maybe I understood all of these ideas about God and the Church only in theory, but not in practice. I’m certain I was lacking them in actual practice when I had stopped worshipping altogether. But I was, and still am, humbled to discover that the Catholic Church has been, and still is, engaged in a “practice makes perfect” exercise that has stood the test of time despite Her slips and stumbles along the way.

Look, even the synonyms of the word “catholic” describe Our Lord and His Church (all-around, all-purpose, general, general-purpose, unlimited, unqualified, unrestricted, unspecialized), even as the antonyms(limited, restricted, specialized, technical) continue to describe me when I stumble, which is often. And this helps to explain why the words denomination, narrow-minded, and sectarian do not describe Our Lord and His Church, but the antonyms of these very words do.

I came across these thoughts the other day that helped bring me full-circle on better understanding the Church and her mission,

Therefore, that Catholicity, which at first did but mean the collection of traditions from all parts within the Christian Church, came to mean what it was inevitable in the nature of the case it should, from the first, actually imply,—the bringing into one and gathering together of all the strongest facts and experiences of religion,—all elements in the religious idea wherever found which could prove their fitness by survival or their vitality by their growth or this ” richness” by their capacity for a deeper interpretation;—all “truths of religion,” outside the Christian Church as well as within it. In this manner and on a basis of the deeper expediency, begun but not completed, attempted not achieved, a Catholic Church has alone any chance of becoming “Humanity grown conscious of itself.”

Remember the two greatest commandments? St. Francis de Sales reminds us of them in the ninth meditation in his Introduction to the Devout Life,

Consider that Jesus Christ, enthroned in Heaven, looks down upon you in loving invitation: “O beloved one, come unto Me, and joy for ever in the eternal blessedness of My Love!” Behold His mother yearning over you with maternal tenderness—” Courage, my child, do not despise the Goodness of my Son, or my earnest prayers for thy salvation.” Behold the Saints, who have left you their example, the  millions of holy souls who long after you, desiring earnestly that you may one day be for ever joined to them in their song of praise, urging upon you that the road to Heaven is not so hard to find as the world would have you think. “Press on boldly, dear friend,”—they cry. “Whoso will ponder well the path by which we came hither, will discover that we attained to these present delights by sweeter joys than any this world can give.”

You can call me grasshopper,  but I’ll be taking this saint’s, and all his millions of saintly friends, advice from now on. To be continued…

Update: Monsignor Charles Pope on the width of the Church.

To Pray for the Christians of Iraq

Post by Allison Salerno,
I drive New Jersey highways to work each morning, one uninspiring state road after another. Lately, I have found a scenic side road, right before I pull up to the large public high school where I work. The subdivision has large yards and ranch homes festooned for the season. Pumpkins, bales of hay and scarecrows dot the lawns. Some folks even have started to display Christmas wreaths even.

As I was navigating these hilly pretty suburban streets, a news report came on my car radio about more Christians killed in Iraq. Overnight, bomb attacks targeted Christian homes in the Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Mansour, al-Duarah and Sara Camp.

Al-Qaida– the same folks who murdered innocents on Sept. 11 – including dozens of my husband’s friends – is taking “credit” for the massacre of more than 50 worshippers, including priests, at Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad at a vigil Mass for All Saint’s Day.

It is considered the worst attack on Iraqi Christians in modern times. This is the land we learned as children was the “Fertile Crescent,” the “Birthplace of Civilization” 4,000 years ago. God have mercy on us all.

How many of us Americans consider ourselves Christians and yet do little to live out our faith day by day? How many of us would be willing to be martyrs, to pray in public no matter what the consequences? Would we be willing to die for the faith?

A dear friend, whose father works in Jordan with Iraqi Christian refugees, tells me the persecution of Iraqi Christians has been unrelenting ever since Saddam Hussein was ousted from power. Hussein was brutal, for sure, but he had other targets, such as the Kurds, for his persecution.

Let us pray none of us blessed enough to be living in countries where religious freedom is cherished take our faith for granted. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Iraq and every place where Christians are persecuted. Let us pray for the souls of their tormentors too. May they begin to understand that God gazes on us all and waits for us to turn our hearts to Him.

UPDATE: To Send Supplies to the Christians of Iraq.

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.

Seal II (Music for Mondays)

A while back, I wrote a post about my Mustang’s harmonic balancer. It turned out that my own “harmonic balancer” was out of whack too.  When my pony sat fallow for all that time, the album that I’m about to share with you sat inside the cassette player. It, just like the car, sat there the whole time.

During the waiting period, I did a lot of work on my house. I did a lot of reading too. I was thinking about becoming a Catholic, but wasn’t committed to the idea…yet. It was the Summer of 2007, and I turned to the task of fixing my car. As I recounted in the post above, I took the ‘Stang to some pro’s. They had her fixed in no time, and on the way home from the shop, I put the top down, and turned the stereo on. And the following tunes began to play.

I had never really listened to the whole album before. I mean, not to the lyrics.  I was that fellow in the Pink Floyd song who was “comfortably numb,” see? But when these songs started playing, they hit me like a ton of bricks, lyrics and all.

I had always liked a couple of the songs, and sang them like a crazy man, occasionally, when blasting around the freeways of Los Angeles in the ‘Stang.  But after my readings and reflecting on my faith, and realizing whose harmonic balancer was really out of whack, coupled with hearing Seal sing these songs on this album, and in this order…well, let’s just say I crossed the “line of departure” and there was no turning back.

Does God work through the secular? I don’t have any doubt about it. After all, it is His world, you know.

Bring It On. This is the first song. You can go to YouTube directly for the lyrics too(for all of the songs below). I’ll just get out of Seal’s way now.

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Prayer for the Dying. You don’t have to have AIDS to be one of the dying. This is all of us.

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Dreaming in Metaphors. Why must we dream in metaphors?
Try to hold on to something we couldn’t understand.

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Don’t Cry. I thought to myself, who is singing this? Our Lord, Our Lady? Both? What has the world done to me…

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Fast Changes. There is a time to wait, and a time to act. For me, it was time to act.

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Kiss From A Rose. I wrote a post on this one earlier here.

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People Asking Why. I mean, I was certainly asking this question, for a long time.

How do I get to where I’ve come from, now?
How will I paint this garden I’ve destroyed, green?
Can I get back to where I’ve come from?

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Newborn Friend. I remember thinking, Christmas in July!

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If I Could. I would explain it all if I could. Some things just can’t be put into words.

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I’m Alive. I heard this and the part of the lyrics you see here? I must have rewound that tape 20-25 times to make sure. Yep, I heard that right.

Your hands found me.
Blood on the cross,
And it changed my life.

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Bring It On(Reprise). Right back where we started. Get thee to RCIA!

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Because I Believe in Miracles

Feast of St. Peter Claver

When I was startled into wondering if I could become a Catholic, one thing really stood out to me as a proof of the legitimacy of the Church—the miracles. The Catholic Church believes in miracles without flinching. They even have a standard operating procedure in place to prove or disapprove miracles.

Before I converted, I was a Christian. But I was also a child of the modern age. A rationalist. As a Christian, I believed in miracles and the power of prayer. But it always seemed that this was something to speak of only in hushed whispers. I can only speak for myself here, but the idea of believing in miracles was a bit unseemly.

Old miracles long since accomplished and cataloged in the Bible? No problem there. Sing those long and sing them loud. But modern day miracles seemed to a) not be discussed, b) be explained away or c) just keep that on the q.t., you know, very hush-hush. In contrast, the Catholic Church embraces miracles, past, present, and future.

I couldn’t deny one thing for sure, and that is little ol’ Frank does not know everything. I am not omniscient. Just because I haven’t personally seen something that is documented as having happened, doesn’t mean it didn’t. And I cannot stop God from performing miracles because their explanation is inconvenient either. Besides, hadn’t I thought there were miracles happening all along? Uh-huh, minor miracles of the Websterian variety happening constantly.

Now there are a lot of miracles to consider, and they all are amazing. Eucharistic miracles, apparitions of Mary, miraculous healings, incorruptible bodies of deceased saints, etc. The one type of miracle that really “got me” was the stigmata, aka the wounds of Christ manifesting themselves on a person. St. Francis of Assisi received the Stigmata (see portrait above), as did my favorite Catholic widow, Blessed Marie of the Incarnation. And most recently, in the 20th Century, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (see photo below) did.

The kicker? All of these miracles, of every conceivable type, occured to Roman Catholics on what seemed to be a pretty regular basis. Enough for me to think that there is really something to them. A little voice in my head said, “embrace the Mystery,” and I became a child again and did.

A little book I found recently is all about miracles in the Church. It is The Question of Miracles written by G.H. Joyce, S.J. I’ve put Father Joyce’s introduction to the book below.

The Christian religion has ever professed itself to be a religion of miracles. Its early documents assure us that a series of miracles ushered in the life of its Founder, and that His public ministry was marked by the continuous exercise of supernatural power. We are told that He pointed to these works in confirmation of His teaching: and, further, that He made special appeal to a crowning miracle—His own Resurrection—which should be for all time an irresistible attestation of the truth of His claims. To that event the Church has ever pointed as the foundation of her belief. Moreover, if the New Testament writings are to be believed, He endowed His apostles with similar powers: and these they exercised in a manner which leaves no doubt as to their reality.

The miraculous element in Christianity is in accordance with its internal character as a religion. For the Christian revelation is no mere ethical system. It claims to be nothing short of a vast inrush of supernatural forces upon the human race, elevating man to a new plane of being, and conferring upon him an altogether new destiny. According to Christian belief, by the Incarnation and the Atonement, man is raised to sonship to God: his soul becomes the seat of a divine indwelling: and through membership in Christ’s body he receives the pledge of an eternal beatitude to which his nature gives him no claim. Thus Christianity as a religion supposes that God has superseded the natural order on man’s behalf. And considered in the light of these truths, external miracle appears but the congruous expression of the tremendous spiritual transformation.

Such, speaking historically, is the relation of the Christian faith to miracles. At the present day, however, the claim is made to hold a “non-miraculous Christianity”—to profess Christianity and at the same time to dispense with all belief in the miraculous. This attitude may be said to be one of the leading characteristics of liberal Protestantism. Among German Protestant theologians it is almost universal. Those who, like Zahn and Seeberg, still hold the historic reality of the New Testament miracles are few indeed—rari nantes in gurgite vasto.

In England the movement has been less rapid; yet every year sees it find more and more support among Anglican and Nonconformist divines. It is the standpoint of some of the writers both in Contentio Veritatis and in Foundations—books admittedly representative of certain aspects at least of Oxford thought. In Contentio Veritatis we are told that to admit a suspension of natural law “would destroy all the criteria both of scientific and historical reasoning.” And in both works we find belief in the bodily resurrection of our Lord rejected on the ground of its miraculous character. Mr. Thompson’s Miracles of the New Testament did but put in plain language what others expressed with somewhat more reserve.

We need not be at a loss to account for this development. The last two centuries have been marked by the rise of several schools of thought, which, notwithstanding their many differences, have at least this in common, that they one and all hold the universe of experience to be a closed system, admitting of no interference from without. With all of them it is a postulate that the chain of causes and effects which experience reveals is never broken. The Deism of the seventeenth century, the Transcendental Idealism of Kant, the Positivism of J. S. Mill, the Scientific Materialism of Tyndall, and the more recent forms of Neohegelianism are at one as regards this. Each of these philosophical fashions has had a wide influence on the thought of the day. And just in so far as a man adopts any one of them, the idea of supernatural interference becomes impossible. Miracles must go. They must go, not because of any new light upon the evidence, but on grounds that are purely metaphysical.

These tendencies have found no foothold within the Catholic Church. In her teaching there is no hesitation or ambiguity. She points, as she has ever pointed, to the miracles of Christ as one of the firmest grounds of our belief in His claims. And she asserts with confidence that the age of miracles is not past, but that God still manifests His power by such events. Nevertheless, since the denial of the miraculous is so wide-spread among our Protestant fellow-countrymen, it appeared to the present writer that there was room for a work on this subject. His effort in the following pages has been to show how untenable are the objections urged against miracles and how overwhelming is the evidence for their actual occurrence.

You can find this book in its entirety on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

For Thoughts Like These from John C. H. Wu

I’ve been reading one of John Wu’s books. I first received it via Intra-library loan through my local public library.  But it is so good that I coughed up the dough to buy my own copy as well.  It’s worth the cost, trust me. [Read more...]

Because Once Upon A Time, The Premier of China Was A Catholic

Imagine that you woke up to the news this morning that a former President of the United States, say Jimmy Carter for example, has just held a press conference saying that he has entered the Abbey at Gethsemane to become a Cistercian monk. Would you be flabbergasted? Amazed? Incredulous? Or would you be intrigued? That’s how I felt when I learned the news that I am going to share with you today. [Read more...]

Because of Catholics like the “Chinese Chesterton”

Today I want to introduce you to another man from China named Wu, who also became a Catholic. His full name is Wu Jingxiong, or Wu Ching-hsiung. As he spent much of his life in Western countries, he did what many do and adopted an Anglicized form of his name: John Ching Hsiung Wu, or John C. H. Wu for short.

Earlier this year, before summer started, I happened upon the story of a Chinese painter and poet who became a Catholic, way back in the year of Our Lord 1681. His name is Wu Li and I wrote several posts about him, his art, and his poetry. He eventually became a Jesuit Priest and spent the remainder of his years serving Christ as a missionary to his native land.

It was an exciting discovery, for me anyway, to find a convert to Catholicism whose decision to become a Catholic made my own decision to join the Church look like a cake-walk. There I was,  thinking that my swimming the Tiber had been the biggest step that anyone could have ever possibly taken. But from a cultural perspective, living in a nation founded on Christian principles, it can’t begin to compare to the decision Wu Li made to become a Catholic. Unlike Wu Li, though, John is a modern convert to the Church, having been born in the year 1899 and passing on to eternity in 1986.

John had already made the leap to Christianity, as a Methodist, 20 years before he entered the Roman Catholic Church, so he was a bold pioneer who stepped aside from the norms of his own culture early on. Again, I’m humbled by stories of courageous, audacious actions of converts like these. See what the Holy Spirit can do? So how did he wind up becoming a Catholic? That’s where the story gets good.

But first, the biographical information that will help you understand my new friend better.  I am indebted to the work of Li Xiuqing, editor-in-chief of the Journal of East China University Political Science and Law for her paper on the college life of John, as well as to Nicholas Howson of the University of Michigan School of Law for translating it. Howson’s commentary appears in italics below.

John was born in 1899 in Ningbo, China, a little town south, and across the bay, from Shanghai. Details of his youth are lacking, but he wrote of them and when I get my hands on one of his books, I look forward to learning more. He studied and graduated from the Suhzou University Law School with an L.L.B in 1920, and then went on to obtain his J.D. degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1921. Yep, you read that correctly, one year later.  Because he was a “young man in a hurry,” see? I know the type. Howson writes the following,

John C. H. Wu is one of the giants of post-Imperial Chinese law, philosophy, education and religion, who visited at law schools and universities throughout the United States and Europe — including Paris (1921), Harvard (1923 and 1930) and Northwestern (1929). He engaged in a long correspondence with Justice Holmes between 1921 and 1935, founded “Tianhsia Monthly” (1935) as a bridge between Chinese and Western culture, and served as Vice Chairman of the KMT-era Legislative Yuan’s Constitutional Drafting Committee starting in the early 1930s. In fact, he is well-known in China and Taiwan as the principle drafter of the 1946 Chinese Constitution, largely based on his June 1933 draft constitution (still described in Chinese as the “Wu draft”).

Whaat?! Yes, he wrote a government’s constitution. Like Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Morris, et al., wrote the U.S. Constitution. And he corresponded with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as well. He was getting pretty well known. Did I mention he later became Chief Justice of a district court in China too?

In January 1927, he was appointed by the Jiangsu Provincial Government to sit as a judge on the new “Shanghai Provisional Court”, a court with jurisdiction over all controversies in the Shanghai International Settlement, except those cases where the defendants were citizens of the Treaty nations. (As he exulted to Justice Holmes at that time, “I shall try to Holmesianize the Law of China!”) He was later promoted to Chief Justice and then President of the same Court.

Soon he tired of this position and left it to further hone and polish his legal expertise by heading to the United States for a few plum assignments.

He resigned from the Court in the Fall of 1929 to return to the United States as a Rosenthal Lecturer at Northwestern Law School (Winter 1929) and a Research Fellow at the Harvard Law School (Spring 1930). By the Fall of 1930 he had returned to Shanghai, where he practiced law until the Japanese invasion.

And from what I gather, he became a wealthy and very influential lawyer during that short time—and disenchanted, nay, with an empty feeling inside as a result. Surely there is more to life than this. It is time for a saint to intervene. More on that further on, but first, let’s round out his career.

After 1937 John Wu rediscovered his early Christian faith, only now as a Catholic and not a Methodist, and went on to an equally rich career as a Catholic intellectual and leader, translating the New Testament and the Psalms into Chinese, and serving as Chinese minister to the Vatican in 1947-8. (He later, in 1961, completed a still popular English translation of Laozi’s Taoist classic, the Tao Teh Ching (Classic of the Way).

He kept busy, huh? It’s humbling to me to think of translating a menu at a restaurant into English, but John translated the entire New Testament and the Psalms into Mandarin. Gulp! And my friend Jonathan Chaves informs me that his translation of the Tao Teh Ching is excellent. And he was the Chinese minister to the Vatican too? Sheeeeesh. What more can this guy possibly have accomplished? Well, there was revolution brewing back home, see. Surely that tripped him up.

In February 1949 he returned from Rome to Shanghai and was asked by the Guomindang Prime Minister Sun Fo (Sun Yat-sen’s son) and Acting President Li Chung-zen (Chiang Kai-shek having “retired” to his home of Ningbo, prior to his transfer to Taiwan) to be China’s Minister of Justice. The appointment was never formalized with the collapse of the Sun Fo cabinet, and in March 1949 – after a final, melancholy, interview with Chiang Kai-shek at their shared hometown Ningbo – John Wu departed China for the last time. After the 1949 Revolution, he was a long-time professor at the University of Hawaii and later still Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Wow. Have you seen the movie Field of Dreams? “Hey Rookie—you were good!” This guy was a secular superstar if there ever was one. And then he became a Catholic and, to use a baseball term, he kept hitting long balls over the fence. I mean, Mao Zedong came to power on the mainland and John left China and settled in the United States none the worse for wear. At least that’s how is seems. Of course there is probably more to the story, much more.

That’s enough for the particulars though, wouldn’t you say? Not quite, because there are a few more things to cover. According to Dr. Karl Schmude, of Campion College in Sydney, Australia, John was given the sobriquet “the Chinese Chesterton” by “a Chinese-Australian lady whom the Australian author and publisher Frank Sheed met in Sydney in 1944.” Sheed published one of John’s books about Catholicism entitled Beyond East and West and I can’t wait to read it.

John authored a number of books. As mentioned above, some were related to his cultural heritage, like his translation of the Tao. Others concerned his profession as a lawyer. After his conversion to Catholicism, his writing career flourished as a means to explain his conversion to others and as a way to explore the common ground between Confucianism and Catholicism. In fact, he wrote another book that I look forward to reading entitled From Confucianism to Catholicism.

Here is a list of his published works,

Jingxiong Wu, Juridical Essays and Studies

Some Unpublished Letters of Justice Holmes

The Art of Law and Other Essays Juridical and Literary

Essays in Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy

The Science of Love: A Study in the Teachings of Thérèse of Lisieux

Justice Holmes to Doctor Wu: An Intimate Correspondence 1921-1932

From Confucianism to Catholicism

Beyond East and West

The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love

Fountain of Justice: A Study in Natural Law

Justice Holmes: A New Estimate

Cases and Materials on Jurisprudence

Chinese Humanism and Christian Spirituality

Sun Yat-sen: The Man and His Ideas

The Four Seasons of T`ang Poetry

Zhongguo zhe hsuëh [Chinese philosophy]

The Golden Age of Zen

*Translations*

Jingxiong Wu, Tao Teh Ching

Not quite as prolific as Chesterton, you say? Sure, but John was a law professor for his day job, remember? That can take up a little bit of your time too. Anyway, I think I’ve covered the basics of what you need to know about my newest friend in the faith for one post. I’ll delve more into the particulars of John’s “rediscovery of his Christian faith,” and what led him to Rome, in a post tomorrow.


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