For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says About Discerning True Christians


A while back, I introduced everyone to my patron, St. Macarius the Great. He has some great homilies that help to prepare Christians for the trials and tribulations that we will encounter along this narrow path. What’s that? You don’t need to hear anything from a desert father about the inner struggle in the life of the Christian? Don’t delude yourself.

Think back over the past 9-10 years regarding scandals among the priesthood. Or better yet, look back just recently and there have been any number of implosions across the spectrum of those who profess to be good and holy Christians. I don’t have to name names, now, do I? Scandal is no stranger to the Church.
The fact of the matter is, the path of Christianity is treacherous and full of temptations, and risks of failure. As John C.H. Wu counseled yesterday, when you fall down, you have to get back up. No one is safe and as the saying goes, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” There is no dearth of scandal among members of the faithful.

But often times, we go looking for earthly heroes and alleged paragons of virtue whom we think we can follow with confidence anyway, when we should just stick with Christ. If we need additional models of Christian behavior, we should just stick with the saints, whom are our brethren in the Church Triumphant, and whose behaviors point us back to Christ anyway.

Below, my patron has a few important words on sifting the posuers from the pure at heart.

Homily XXXVIII: 
Great exactness and intelligence is required to discern true Christians, and who these are.

Many who appear to be righteous are taken for Christians. It is a task for skilled men and experts to try whether such men have really the stamp and image of the King, lest perchance they should be counterfeits of the works of skilled men, and skilled men wonder at them and criticize them. But people who are not skilled cannot test deceitful workers, for they too wear the shape of monks and Christians. For the false apostles also suffered for Christ, and they also preached the kingdom of heaven. That is why the apostle says In perils more abundant, in afflictions above measure, in prisons more abundant, wishing to show that he had suffered more than they.

Gold is easily found; but pearls and precious stones which do for a king’s diadem are seldom found, for many times none that will do are found. So Christians also are built up into the crown of Christ, that those souls may be made partakers with the saints. Glory to Him who so loved that soul, suffered for it, and raised it up from the dead. But as a veil was put over the face of Moses, that the people might not gaze upon his face, so now a veil lies upon your heart, that you may not behold the glory of God. When this is taken away, then He shines forth and manifests Himself to Christians, to those who love Him and seek Him in truth, as He says, I will manifest Myself to him, and will make My abode with him.

Let us endeavor then to come to Christ, who cannot lie, that we may obtain the promise, and the new covenant, which the Lord has made new through His cross and death, having burst the gates of hell and sin and brought out the faithful souls, and given them the Comforter within, and brought them into His kingdom. Let us reign then with Him, even we, in Jerusalem, His city, in the heavenly church, in the choir of the holy angels. The brethren who have been long time exercised and tried, these can succour the less experienced, and feel for them.

For some who had made themselves sure, and had been mightily worked upon by grace of God, have found their members so sanctified that they reckoned that concupiscence does not occur in Christianity, but that they had acquired a sober and chaste mind, and that from henceforth the inward man was raised aloft to divine and heavenly things, so that they really imagined such an one to have come already to the perfect measures. And when the man imagined that he was already near the calm haven, billows rose up against him, so that he found himself again in the middle of the ocean, and was carried where sea was sky and death was ready. Thus sin entered after all, and wrought all manner of evil concupiscence.

And again a certain class of persons having some grace vouchsafed to them, and having received a drop, so to speak, out of the whole deep sea, find it hour by hour, and day by day, such a work of wonder, that the man who is under its influence is amazed and astounded at the strange, surprising operation of God, to think that he should be given such wisdom. After this, grace enlightens him, guides him, gives him peace, makes him good in every way, being itself divine and heavenly, so that in comparison with that man kings and potentates, wise men and nobles are esteemed as least and worthless.

After a time and season things change, so that of a truth such a man esteems himself a greater sinner than all others; and again at another season sees himself like a great colossal king, or a king’s powerful friend; again at another season sees himself weak and a beggar. Then the mind falls into perplexity, why things should be thus and then thus. Because Satan in his hatred of the good suggests evil things to those who attain virtue, and strives to overthrow them. That is his occupation.

But do not submit to him, while you work at the righteousness that is accomplished in the inner man, where stands the judgment seat of Christ, together with His undefined sanctuary, that the testimony of your conscience may glory in the cross of Christ, who has purged your conscience from dead works, that you may serve God with your spirit, that you may know what you worship, according to Him who said, We worship that which we know. Obey God who guides you. Let your soul have communion with Christ, as bride with bridegroom. For this mystery is great, it says; but I speak concerning Christ and the blameless soul.

To Him be the glory for ever. Amen.

Thank you. And Abba Macarius? Please pray for us.

More wisdom from Abba Macarius can be found on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

Recognizing Grace in a Manual Transmission

This past week, I’ve been on vacation. Actually, it’s been a “stay-cation,” with me working on little projects around the house. The repairs to our home after the hail damage (from the storms back in April) needed to be managed as well. And then there was my car.

My car had been damaged pretty significantly by the hail storm too. Early in May it was inspected by my insurer, and the body shop scheduled it for repair in the third week of July. They said it would take one full week, and instead, it took three. It also cost them twice as much to repair it as the insurer estimated.

Did I mention my oldest son received his “learners permit” back in July too? And he has been driving under supervision since that time and doing a fine job. That is, until my car came home from the shop. You see, my little car has a 5-speed transmission, which helps it get 40 miles per gallon on the highway. I informed my son that he must learn to drive it.

It’s one of those unilateral “Dad Edicts” that I announce from time to time, as it is my prerogative to do. Anyway, to make a long story short, my son has been re-learning how to drive this week while I am on vacation. School starts next week for him, so now is the time.

What does any of this have to do with grace? Maybe nothing. Or maybe everything.

When talking about grace, I mean what Merriam-Webster marks down as definition #1(a) & (b):

1a: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.

1b: a virtue coming from God.

You see, when you live in the world of automation, everything seems easy. And you can start to take for granted that ease, and completely miss out on all the wonderful, and sometimes difficult, things that actually take place in order to accomplish things as simply as shifting gears in a car. Or like drafting this message.

Now as long as I’ve had children, they have known that manual transmissions exist. But my oldest is realizing now how something that I (and his mother) make seem so effortless is actually downright tricky to duplicate.

He has learned how even the most modest of inclines is a fearsome challenge. He has been humbled, and amazed, by the ease with which a car can stall when trying to get started in first gear on level ground. And he’s learned:

How unforgiving the clutch is if you let it out too quickly. How three pedals and a stick shift have to be manipulated, all while steering and keeping track of all these other cars on the road too. He has learned how little patience other drivers have when he inadvertently stalls when at a red light.

These moments were all lost to him when he was a passenger only, or when he was driving our automatic transmission car. It really never crossed his mind that driving a car with a manual transmission is a form of work. It’s not, really, and after he gets the hang of it these tasks will be second nature to him as well.

So, as I’ve been sitting in the passenger seat as his instructor pilot this week, thoughts of recognizing grace have been popping up in my mind. Because if we don’t look for it, we can forget that it is occurring all around us, all the time. We run the risk of being numb to it, just like we forget, or never really even knew, how an automatic transmission works.

Drawing by David Levine

It’s all the fault of Karl Rahner, SJ. I’ve been reading Volume One of his Mission and Grace. In it he says stuff like,

There cannot be any grace which does not imply a quite definite putting into action of nature; nor can there be any human, responsible putting of nature into action, which is not subject to the demands of grace, amounting in concreto, with no avoidance of it while life lasts, to a Yes or No to grace.

Got that? If it sounds kind of highfalutin, pardon Fr. Karl. He probably didn’t recognize that this sounds a lot like shifting gears with a manual transmission. See, without the grace (see definition 3c) of easing out the clutch, there will be a failed action called stalling, and not the beautiful action of going.

But the grace that I am referring to is that which resides in the interactions I have been having with my son while teaching him this new skill. The grace of helping him to see he can do this seemingly impossible task. The grace of giving him encouragement. The grace of expressing my faith in his ability to succeed. The grace of helping him overcome the dejection of failure. The grace of watching him mature before my eyes. The grace of his confidence rising from the rocks of failure.

It reminds me again of what Fr. Karl writes when he says,

The Christian knows that he will constantly be sent by God upon courses which he cannot by himself complete; that tasks will be laid upon him which cannot be finally performed while the fashion of this world remains; that he has always to fight, without, as yet, being able to see final victory, indeed that it would be a danger-signal of the most appalling defeat if he so much as wanted to fight in such fashion as to achieve a once-for-all victory. And yet the Christian does not despair of this world. He works, he keeps on beginning again, he does not give up.

Yes. Recognizing God’s grace is a lot like learning to drive a stick shift. One day soon, I’ll be able to use these experiences to teach my son this higher truth. And I can only hope that recognition and gratitude will be the result.

Um, that’s my seat Cody.

 

Because Yes, Baseball and Faith Are Compatible

H/T to Our Sunday Visitor for catching this ground ball and throwing it to me on second base. I first learned of Florida Marlins manager Jack MeKeon’s piety while watching  the video Champions of Faith with my children a few years back.


Long time readers of YIMCatholic know I’m a baseball fan. So I was glad to see this story  highlighting Jack’s faith in the New York Times this morning. Take a look.

Jack McKeon’s baseball days begin in a pew. At 8 on Tuesday morning, the Florida Marlins’ manager attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, less than 12 hours after his team beat the Mets on a 10th-inning grand slam. Such games are testament to his faith in the saint he prays to every game during the national anthem.

“A good night for St. Thérèse,” he said, sitting in the lounge of a Midtown Manhattan hotel.

In each major league city, McKeon has a favorite, or at least a convenient, Roman Catholic church. If he does not know their names, he can describe them or tell you how to get there. In Cincinnati, it’s SS. Peter and Paul. In Chicago, Mass is at Holy Name Cathedral. In Philadelphia, he goes to what he calls “the oldest church in the U.S.” When the Marlins stayed at a hotel on the East Side of Manhattan, he followed these directions: “Walk out the door, take a left, walk 30 yards, and take a right, where the homeless hang out.”

For each of the regular churches in his personal directory, he learns the Mass schedule.
“At St. Patrick’s it’s 7, 7:30, 8, noon and 12:30,” he said. “They’re very flexible.”
Mornings at church “give me energy,” he said. “You’re free. You feel good.” His daily ritual is part of a baseball routine that is now in its 62nd year, stretching back to D League ball in Greenville, Ala.

Hey, Jack and I have two things in common now! Go enjoy the rest here.

Thoughts on Obedience and Reading Maps without Guidance

Today, while making the rounds around the blogger neighborhood, I saw a great quote on a subject that is not near and dear to the heart of modern mankind: obedience. Deacon Greg Kandra shared the thoughts of a modern saint on the subject,

Your obedience is not worthy of the name unless you are ready to abandon your most flourishing work whenever someone with authority so commands…Oh, the power of obedience! The Lake of Genesareth had denied its fishes to Peter’s nets. A whole night in vain. Then, obedient, he lowered his net again into the water and they caught ‘a great number of fishes.’ Believe me, this miracle is repeated every day. –St. Josemaria Escriva [Read more...]

For the Work of On-Going Personal Conversion (Part I)

I’ve written in the past about the deleterious side effects of cults of personality. If I wasn’t clear before, let me rectify the situation and say that I believe in the only cult of personality that really matters. It is the same one that all of the saints point us towards: the Person of Jesus Christ.

The Church is built around this, and this alone. One of the reasons I am a Catholic now is that I believe I became ready to move past the milk and head on to the solid food of the Faith. Prior to my conversion, I was a milk drinker for so long that I grew tired of it. So I left and as a result, I almost missed the feast that awaits Christians that persevere along the Way.

One way I have found that helps me stay grounded in the faith is to follow the advice of St. Philip Neri,

It is very useful for those who minister the Word of God, or give themselves up to prayer, to read the works of authors whose names begin with S., such as Saint Augustine, Saint Bernard, etc.

Or in the case today, the works of St. Catherine of Siena. What follows is from Chapter 63 of her Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin. How do I know it’s chapter 63? Because something I was reading that was written by Father Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. identified it as such in his The Three Ways of the Spiritual Life. How did I find out about his book? From the tip I received from the Chinese “Chesterton”, and author of The Three-fold Way of Love, John C.H. Wu. See?

Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

The common thread among these folks, and the other saints (such as St. John of the Cross, St. Thomas Aquinas, and others), is that Christianity is not just a “one-and-done” conversion. Far from it.

As Christians, see, through no merit of our own, we help spread the Good News, while the saints help us to persevere in the faith in that which we cannot see. In the passage below, God gives information through a vision of St. Catherine that points out how after our first conversion, the second must be attained, which leads unto the third. Come and see,

How the Soul, after having mounted the first step of the Bridge, should proceed to Mount the Second.

“Thou hast now seen how excellent is the state of him who has attained to the love of a friend ; climbing with the foot of affection, he has reached the secret of the Heart, which is the second of the three steps figured in the Body of My Son. I have told thee what was meant by the three powers of the soul, and now I will show thee how they signify the three states, through which the soul passes. Before treating ‘ of the third state, I wish to show thee how a man becomes a friend and how, from a friend, he grows into a son, attaining to filial love, and how a man may know if he has become a friend. And first of how a man arrives at being a friend.”

“In the beginning, a man serves Me imperfectly through servile fear, but, by exercise and perseverance, he arrives at the love of delight, finding his own delight and profit in Me. This is a necessary stage, by which he must pass, who would attain to perfect love, to the love that is of friend and son. I call filial love perfect, because thereby, a man receives his inheritance from Me, the Eternal Father, and because a son’s love includes that of a friend, which is why I told thee that a friend grows into a son. What means does he take to arrive thereat ? I will tell thee.”

“Every perfection and every virtue proceeds from charity, and charity is nourished by humility, which results from the knowledge and holy hatred of self, that is, sensuality. To arrive thereat, a man must persevere, and remain in the cellar of self-knowledge in which he will learn My mercy, in the Blood of My onlybegotten Son, drawing to Himself, with this love, My divine charity, exercising himself in the extirpation of his perverse self-will, both spiritual and temporal, hiding himself in his own house, as did Peter, who, after the sin of denying My Son, began to weep. Yet his lamentations were imperfect and remained so, until after the forty days, that is until after the Ascension.”

“But when My Truth returned to Me, in His humanity, Peter and the others concealed themselves in the house, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit, which My Truth had promised them. They remained barred in from fear, because the soul always fears until she arrives at true love. But when they had persevered in fasting and in humble and continual prayer, until they had received the abundance of the Holy Spirit, they lost their fear, and followed and preached Christ crucified. So also the soul, who wishes to arrive at this perfection, after she has risen from the guilt of mortal sin, recognising it for what it is, begins to weep from fear of the penalty, whence she rises to the consideration of My mercy, in which contemplation, she finds her own pleasure and profit. This is an imperfect state, and I, in order to develop perfection in the soul, after the forty days, that is after these two states, withdraw Myself from time to time, not in grace but in feeling. My Truth showed you this when He said to the disciples ‘I will go and will return to you.’”

“Everything that He said was said primarily, and in particular, to the disciples, but referred in general to the whole present and future, to those, that is to say, who should come after. He said ‘I will go and will return to you;’ and so it was, for, when the Holy Spirit returned upon the disciples, He also returned, as I told you above, for the Holy Spirit did not return alone, but came with My power, and the wisdom of the Son, who is one thing with Me, and with His own clemency, which proceeds from Me the Father, and from the Son. Now, as I told thee, in order to raise the soul from imperfection, I withdraw Myself from her sentiment, depriving her of former consolations.”

“When she was in the guilt of mortal sin, she had separated herself from Me, and I deprived her of grace through her own guilt, because that guilt had barred the door of her desires. Wherefore the sun of grace did not shine, not through its own defect, but through the defect of the creature, who bars the door of desire. When she knows herself and her darkness, she opens the window and vomits her filth, by holy confession. Then I, having returned to the soul by grace, withdraw Myself from her by sentiment, which I do in order to humiliate her, and cause her to seek Me in truth, and to prove her in the light of faith, so that she come to prudence. Then, if she love Me without thought of self, and with lively faith and with hatred of her own sensuality, she rejoices in the time of trouble, deeming herself unworthy of peace and quietness of mind.”

“Now comes the second of the three things of which I told thee, that is to say: how the soul arrives at perfection, and what she does when she is perfect. This is what she does. Though she perceives that I have withdrawn Myself, she does not, on that account, look back, but perseveres with humility in her exercises, remaining barred in the house of self-knowledge, and, continuing to dwell therein, awaits, with lively faith, the coming of the Holy Spirit, that is of Me, who am the fire of charity.”

“How does she (the soul) await me? Not in idleness, but in watching and continued prayer, and not only with physical, but also with intellectual watching, that is, with the eye of her mind alert, and, watching with the light of faith, she extirpates, with hatred, the wandering thoughts of her heart, looking for the affection of My charity, and knowing that I desire nothing but her sanctification, which is certified to her in the Blood of My Son. As long as her eye thus watches, illumined by the knowledge of Me and of herself, she continues to pray with the prayer of holy desire, which is a continued prayer, and also with actual prayer, which she practises at the appointed times, according to the orders of Holy Church.”

“This is what the soul does in order to rise from imperfection and arrive at perfection, and it is to this end, namely that she may arrive at perfection, that I withdraw from her, not by grace but by sentiment. Once more do I leave her, so that she may see and know her defects, so that, feeling herself deprived of consolation and afflicted by pain, she may recognise her own weakness, and learn how incapable she is of stability or perseverance, thus cutting down to the very root of spiritual self-love, for this should be the end and purpose of all her self-knowledge, to rise above herself, mounting the throne of conscience, and not permitting the sentiment of imperfect love to turn again in its death-struggle, but, with correction and reproof, digging up the root of self love, with the knife of self-hatred and the love of virtue.”

More from St. Catherine’s Dialogue can be found on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. I’ll post more on this subject with thoughts from my Franciscan mentor, Francisco de Osuna.

Because Blogging For Christ Is Like Being St. Philip

Above is a snapshot of the last 500 visitors to this space. If a picture is worth 1000 words, then this one is worth 1500. As such, I’ll be brief. After baptizing the Ethopian eunuch, the Holy Spirit whisked Philip away to evangelize somewhere else. That is what it is like to be a Catholic working in the apostolate of St. Blogs.

the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away suddenly and the eunuch saw no more of him, but went on his way rejoicing.—Acts 8:39

I could kid myself that no one reads the stuff that is shared here, or on the other hand, that I “know” many of the readers who stop by. But the humbling truth is, I don’t know you. I didn’t e-mail you to please stop in. Something, or more accurately, someone, prompted you to stop in here today. You may have had no intention to do so, and yet you wound up here.

From the looks of it, you come from all over, from “every clime and place.” You are all welcome, all brothers and sisters of mine. And you are all God’s children. And you are not alone…

Thanks for stopping by. I pray your visit was a profitable one. Come back again soon.

Update: The Holy Father on Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age

Best. Photograph. Ever. The Incredibles in Action!

Credit: Mark Gormus/Richmond Times Dispatch

Ordinarily, this isn’t the kind of post I write. But this is no ordinary photograph. This is family, fun, baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. It’s also too good not to share. Life doesn’t end when you have children. It begins! And you have some cool people to share experiences with too.

FYI, Dad called the ball. Just sayin’. See the video clip at the link here.

Because Christ is A Royal (Then, So Am I)

—Feast of Bl. Marie of the Incarnation
What has the Royal Wedding got to do with anything? I ask this question because of the ambivalence to the event that I noticed across the Catholic blog-o-sphere. There was either nary a mention of it anywhere, or derisiveness when it was mentioned.

What’s the story? Jealousy of the royals? Feelings of inadequacy? Bunch of rich guys…to hell with ‘em? Was the prince’s red-coat stirring your loins for battles your ancestors fought long ago? You can’t stand monarchies, perhaps?

Or is it the spectacle that is made of it? The profligate waste of capital on a mere ceremony, that one blogger said could have been done for $100 in front of a humble priest? Seriously?! Judas would agree with you there. Catholics who are normally turning victory laps over pageantry, beautiful churches, sumptuous robes and incense all of a sudden announce that they aren’t fans of the Royals, etc., etc.

This is ironic to me because we’ll all be turning victory laps for the beatification ceremony of Blessed Pope John Paul II without batting an eyelash. It’s funny, to me at least, when blue-collar heroes like Joe Six-Pack, USMC are the ones gushing over the scriptural imagery of the Royal Wedding. It makes me want to break out a bullhorn and say, “Do you people even read the Bible?” This is the parable of the Wedding Feast folks!

Have a look at how Christ, Our King, puts it,

The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.’

Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.

He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.

I showed up to the wedding feast yesterday. I found the ceremonial wedding garment (humility), put it on, and then enjoyed the show. No, Joe Six-Pack, USMC doesn’t follow every shread of news about the Royal Family in the United Kingdom. But I can see the imagery of the Bride of Christ, and the Groom Himself all throughout the event.

Jesus is a Royal. Have you forgotten? And even though you wouldn’t have known it to look upon Him when he was on his thirty-three year mission to save the world, I’ve got news for you. You’ll know it when you meet Him the next time.

And haven’t you heard what the Holy Spirit said through St. Paul?

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-27)

Oops. Yes, staring right back at you in the mirror is another Royal. You’ve been given a peerage, and now you have to live up to it. Gulp! It’s hard to acknowledge that, but it is true. It’s exactly what the first lines of yesterday’s wedding homily made clear. “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” St. Catherine of Siena doesn’t pull any punches either.

Like in the parable of the wedding feast above, the world was invited to a wedding feast yesterday. “Some ignored the invitation and went away,” and then the losers like me were invited too. That is how Grace operates. It’s unearned. You could get all wrapped up in feelings of inadequacy in realizing that you didn’t deserve to be invited, or you can just be grateful for being invited at all, go, party, and bask in the glow of it all. And then, get back to the business of bringing others to the Feast.

Because here’s something else His Majesty, Our King said that might help us understand our calling as Royals,

Jesus said to them, “The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.” After he had said this, Jesus left and hid from them. (John 12: 35-36)

Which is why our first pope would go on to say,

But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

That, as my friend Forrest Gump would say, is about all I have to say about that.

Updates:

I’m with the Archbishop of Westminster on this one!

27 months later…It’s a Boy!

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 There Is Good News

You have heard it said, “it is always darkest before the dawn,” and you have nodded your head in agreement. At least those of you who have ever camped out know this to be true, right?

These have been dark days for our Church. Scandals, parishes and schools closing, doom and gloom, etc. But it is not always so, and no single one of us can see the “big picture.”

Jacques Maritain, writing in 1966 said,

Everything depends on the unforseeable ways of God and his secret graces, together with human liberty, comprised as it is in his eternal plan. What is certain is that the Church will emerge from this crises wonderfully purified; error will not have got the better of her.

So let me share a little good news from the local newspaper in my town. It is about the director of the RCIA program in my parish. Her name is Tanya Belanger and here is her story,

“I grew up knowing a few things: I knew that the Catholic Church was the world’s biggest cult, I knew that the Pope was the anti-Christ, and that Catholic people were non-Christian,” says Tanya Belanger.

Belanger now heads the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults faith formation program at All Saints Catholic Church in West Knoxville.

The program is designed to teach adults interested in Catholicism about the church through weekly Monday night meetings hosted in part by laypeople who want to share their faith. The current program has about 55 people attending classes, Belanger says, explaining one of the common motivators for attendance is having a family member who’s Catholic.

RCIA programs have been a part of the Catholic Church since its formation but, as Belanger explains, it “fell out of favor” for many years until the Second Vatican Counsel brought it back to the Church around 1980.

And it’s through the program that Belanger not only became a part of the Catholic Church, but ultimately ended up in charge of it.

You’ll want to read the rest here.


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