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.

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 Yes, You Can Go Without Food For A Day (Or Two)

The Season of Lent has begun and Catholics are required to fast today (Ash Wednesday) as well as on Good Friday. We are, however, allowed to break the Lenten fasts on Sundays throughout the season. And you don’t have to fast if you are ill, nursing, below 10 years old, etc.

So although 40 days of sacrifice seems like a lot, fasting from food for only two days is a walk in the park compared to what the saints listed below did. Because I found the following examples of saints who survived for long periods of time on the Eucharist…alone.

These accounts are from an old book published in 1894 called, A Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic, and Dogmatic. Though not an exhaustive list (St. Catherine of Siena is missing, for example), it may help you put to bed the notion that you personally cannot fast for the required two days that we are obligated to adhere to for Lent, not to mention simply refraining from eating meat on Fridays.

My Flesh is Meat indeed, and My Blood is Drink indeed.

John vi. 48-55: Jesus said, I am the bread of life. A man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.

John vi. 35: Jesus said to the people, “I am the bread of life. He that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.”

John iv. 13, 14. Jesus said unto the woman of Samaria, “Whosoever drinketh of the water of this well shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.

And now for some miraculous examples:

St. Catherine Fieschi of Genoa supported by the Eucharist (a.d. 1447-1510). All through Advent and all through Lent, Catherine Fieschi took no food at all except that administered to her in the mass. In fact, for twenty-three years, from St. Martin’s Day (Nov. 11) to Christmas Day, and from Quinquagesima Sunday to Easter Day, she took no food except “this heavenly manna,” administered to her daily, and her only drink was a glass of water mixed with vinegar and salt.

If ever she attempted to swallow any other food or drink, her stomach rejected it. Sometimes she made great efforts to retain what she had thus swallowed, especially before her confessor, but in these cases her efforts were followed by alarming illness, almost to the verge of death.—Acta Sanctorum, Sept. 14.

St. Gerasimus, a recluse of Palestine, ate nothing but the bread given him in the Eucharist all Lent (a.d. 475). St. Gerasimus was noted for his extraordinary abstinence. He fasted always all Lent, taking no nourishment of any kind, except the eulogie or sacred bread administered to him in the Eucharist.—Lives of the Fathers of the Eastern Deserts.

Remember my friendly flying saint?

St. Joseph of Cupertino

St. Joseph of Cupertino lived for five years on the Eucharist only (a.d. 1603-1663).

St. Joseph of Cupertino lived five years without eating, and fifteen years “without drinking. In these long abstinences, he was sustained by the eulogie, which was administered to him daily. It was often noticed that before the sacrament he looked pale and haggard, weary and spiritless; but when he left the altar he was brisk, animated, and full of vigour.

The body of Christ was food indeed, and the blood of Christ was drink indeed. On one occasion the superior insisted on his taking a little food; he took it in obedience to the superior, but the moment he swallowed it, his stomach rejected it again.—Dominic Bernini, Life of St. Joseph of Cupertino.

St. Nicholas de Flue for twenty years ate and drank nothing but the Eucharist (a.d. 1417-1487).

This must be given in the ipsissima verba of John de Muller himself, Protestant historian of the Swiss Confederation: “Nicolas de Flue, during the twenty years he lived [in Ranft], took no other food or drink other than the Holy Eucharist he received every month. This was done by the grace of Almighty God who created from nothing the heavens and the earth, and can keep them as he pleases. This miracle was examined during his life, and is proven “to posterity, by his contemporaries, and held undisputed”(1487).—John de Muller, Histoire de la Suisse, vol. v. p. 248.

Oswald Isner, cure at Kerns, writes in 1447: “When Father Nicholas began his life of total abstinence, and had reached the eleventh day, he sent for me and asked me privately if he should take food or continue to abstain. He wished to live wholly without food, that he might more sever himself from the world. I felt his members, and found only skin and bone; all the flesh was dried up entirely, the checks were hollow, and the lips wonderfully thin.

St. Nicholas de Flue

I told him to persevere as long as he could without endangering life. For if God had sustained him for eleven days, He could sustain him eleven years. Nicholas followed my advice; and from that moment to the day of his death, a period of twenty and a half years, he took no sort of food, and drank nothing. As he was more familiar with me than with any other person, I often spoke to him on the subject. He told me he received the sacrament once a month, and felt that the body and blood of Christ communicated vital force which served him for meat and drink. Otherwise he could not sustain life without nourishment.

The magistrates, wishing to verify the fact, sent guards for an entire month to surround the retreat of the saint both night and day, to see that no one brought him food. The prince-bishop of Constance sent his suffragan, the bishop of Ascalom, with strict orders to unmask the imposture, if he could detect any. The suffragan took up his abode in a chapel adjoining the cell of Nicholas, And entering the cell, asked him, “What is the first duty of a Christian?”

“Obedience,” said Nicholas. “If obedience is the first duty of a Christian. I command you to eat these pieces of bread, and to drink this wine,” said the bishop. Nicholas besought the bishop not to insist on this order, but the bishop would not give way. Nicholas was obliged to obey; but the moment he swallowed a mouthful of bread, his agony was so great, that the bishop pressed him no longer, and said he only wished to prove whether Nicholas was possessed with a devil; but his obedience had shown him to be a child of grace.

The Archduke Sigismond of Austria sent the royal physician Burcard von Hornek. to examine into the case, and he remained in the cell several days and nights. The Emperor Fredrick III, sent delegations to search into it, but one and all confessed it was a real fact, wholly without delusion.’

Nicholas took part in the service of the parish church every Sunday, and in the great annual procession at Lucerne and he tried to be as little different from other men as possible.

St. Sabis and his Armenian disciples live on the Eucharist (a.d. 480-531).

St. Sabas and several Armenians retired to a desert, where they lived in what is called a laura—that is, a number of separate huts—but every Saturday and Sunday they met in a common oratory. All Lent they lived in the desert in absolute solitude till Palm Sunday, without seeing a soul, or taking any food except the Eucharist, which they received twice a week.—Father Giry, St. Sabast etc.

“Meat indeed”

St. Silvinus, bishop of Regionnaire, lived for forty years on the Eucharist (a.d. 718).

St. Silvinus was noted for his austerities, and for forty years ate no bread except that which he received in the Eucharist. Sometimes he took a few herbs or a little fruit. He never slept in a bed, but always on the bare ground, wholly without covering, even in winter. He treated his body as a slave, surrounded it with bands of iron, macerated it with scourges, and carried enormous stones, which he deposited as a trophy before the doors of the basilica of St. Peter.
—Bollandus, Acta Sanctorum, Feb. 17, p. 23.

Grace of Valencia used to live all Lent on the Eucharist only (a.d. 1494-16U6).

For seven years Grace of Valencia drank nothing, not even one drop of water; this was before she entered the order of St. Francis of Paula; and for the last twenty-one years of her life, she abstained wholly from drink of any kind. She often went four or five days on “angels’ food;” that is, the eulogie, or sacred bread of the Eucharist.—K. P. d’Attichy, Jitstoire Generate de I’Ordre des Freres Mincurs,

Miscellaneous examples of saints going for long periods on the strength afforded by the Eucharist.

Father Sebastian of Perouse says, in his Life of Colomba of Riett, “The holy Eucharist was well-nigh her only food; but this sacred bread sustained her forces and her courage.”

Elizabeth of Waldsech, In Suabia (a.d. 138G-1420). Her biographer says that Elizabeth of Waldsech often lived a whole day on the bread she received in the Holy Sacrament.

John The Good Of Mantua (a.d. 1222). John the Good of Mantua fasted from Easter to Pentecost; the days prescribed by the Church before Easter and before Christmas; besides every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday throughout the year. On the first of these fasts, between Easter and Pentecost, he took no food except that supplied in the Holy Communion. On Ash Wednesday he took three ounces of bread, which lasted him for three days. On the Christmas fastdays, his daily allowance of food was three beans. His weekly fasts were restricted to bread and water. He never touched meat from year’s end to year’s end.—Histoire des Homines Illustres de tOrdre des Ermites de St. Augustin.

St. Rita of Cascia

Marianne De Jesus(a.d. 1645). Marianne at first restricted her diet to bread, fruit, and vegetables; she then gave up the bread, and at last confined herself to the eulogie or sacred bread as her only food. “This,” says her biographer, “is by no means unusual in the lives of saints. Her drink was a glass of water at noon, but later in life she dropped this luxury, and suffered dreadful thirst. On one occasion a cup of water was brought her; she raised it to her feverish lips, and then suddenly put the cup down without touching a drop. She entreated to be allowed to serve the table at the daily meals, that she might mortify her flesh by seeing and handling food without touching a morsel.” — Las Betits Bollandistes, vol. vi. p. 232.

Rita of Cascia (a.d. 1456) took scarcely any nourishment, and the sisters of the convent always believed it was the Holy Eucharist which supplied material aliment to her.—Augustin Cavalucci, Life of the Beatified Rita de Cascia.

St. Manutius of Bayeux (a.d. 480). For forty-seven days before his death the only aliment taken by Manutiua of Bayeux was the Holy Eucharist. He died May 28, A.D. 480.—Propre de Bayeux.

St. Mary Frances of the Five Wounds (a.d. 1715-1791). This was the name taken by Anna Maria Rosa Nicoletta of Naples when she joined the Society of St. Francis d’Assisi. She was a great invalid, and lived for some considerable time on the eulogie or sacred bread alone. —R. P. Bernard Laviosa, Life of Mary Frances.


It’s not too late to skip your supper.


Update: Taylor Marshall has all the official rules on fasting and abstinence.

St. Mary Frances of
the Five Wounds

For Thoughts On Meekness Like These

I mentioned the other day that I had saved up some Christmas gift money and used it to help me buy my friend John C.H.Wu’s book The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love. The book is John’s reflection on Christianity as The Way of Love. [Read more…]

For All the Saints: Angela of Foligno

The other day I shared with you the story of St. Simeon Stylites the Elder, the original “pillar-hermit.” Simeon was a lay person, but he evidently was unencumbered by family responsibilities. Today, I want to introduce you to a saint for the rest of us. Her name is Angela and she lived in Foligno, Italy from 1248 until her death in the year 1309.

As I reported back when I shared Algar Thorold’s essay, I stumbled upon the story of this lay Catholic mystic and stigmatic and I’m glad I did. Algar busts the myth that there are two Catholic Church’s (one for the priests and religious, and one for lay people) and Angela’s life shows this as well.

That this is a myth is obvious to anyone who turns their attention to the Communion of Saints. Although there are many priests and religious in the saintly ranks, there is also a heaping helping of regular folks like you and me too. Blessed Angela is an example of a regular person who accepts the call to become a saint.

A friend of mine noted that Angela’s life reminds her of the television series Desperate Housewives except that in Angela’s case the story is that she used to be desperate until she came to rest in Our Lord’s arms. Let’s take a look at the Catholic Encyclopedia citation on her,

Umbrian penitent and mystical writer. She was born at Foligno in Umbria, in 1248, of a rich family; died 4 January, 1309. Married at an early age, she loved the world and its pleasures and, worse still, forgetful of her dignity and duties as wife and mother, fell into sin and led a disorderly life. But God, having in His mercy inspired her with a deep sorrow for her sins, led her little by little to the height of perfection and to the understanding of the deepest mysteries.

So she was well to do, and footloose and fancy free. Maybe a party girl like the one’s you knew in school. Or someone from the popular crowd who you secretly admired while you openly despised her. But she had a profound change of heart around the time she turned 40 years old. And as she details in her Eighteen Steps, it was not an instantaneous change, but one that was progressive. Thankfully, her confessor decided to document her incredible story.

Angela has herself recorded the history of her conversion in her admirable “Book of Visions and Instructions”, which contains seventy chapters, and which was written from Angela’s dictation by her Franciscan confessor, Father Arnold of Foligno. Some time after her conversion Angela had placed herself under the direction of Father Arnold and taken the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis.

Note to self:  it’s time for me to find a spiritual director too.

In the course of time the fame of her sanctity gathered around her a number of Tertiaries, men and women, who strove under her direction to advance in holiness. Later she established at Foligno a community of sisters, who to the Rule of the Third Order added the three vows of religion, without, however, binding themselves to enclosure, so that they might devote their time to works of charity.

Angela at last passed away, surrounded by her spiritual children. Her remains repose in the church of St. Francis at Foligno. Numerous miracles were worked at her tomb, and Innocent XII approved the immemorial veneration paid to her. Her feast is kept in the Order on the 30th of March.

Bl. Angela’s high authority as a spiritual teacher may be gathered from the fact that Bollandus, among other testimonials, quotes Maximilian Sandaeus, of the Society of Jesus, who calls her the “Mistress of Theologians”, whose whole doctrine has been drawn out of the Book of Life, Jesus Christ, Our Lord.

Angela has been noticed by Pope Benedict XVI as well. Back in October, while speaking during his weekly audience, he said that the lesson of her life is that “God has a thousand ways, for each of us, to make himself present in the soul, to show that he exists and knows and loves me.” Regarding her conversion and constancy, Our Pope credits Angela’s commitment to a life of prayer and quoted her words as follows,

“However much more you pray, ever more greatly will you be illuminated; however much more you are illuminated, so much more profoundly and intensely will you see the Supreme Good, the supremely good Being; how much more profoundly and intensely you see it, much more will you love it … Successively you will arrive to the fullness of light, because you will understand not being able to comprehend.”

Third Order Franciscans are still active today, though they no longer “take the habit” as recounted above. When Algar Thorold writes of Angela, it is in glowing praise because of her complete conversion, her humility, her commitment to prayer and for the miracles and visions that she was gifted with. She bore the stigmata, and you may read of her visions The Book of Divine Consolations and of her conversion in Thorold’s Essays on Catholic Mysticism.

Blessed Angelo of Foligno, pray for us.

Because of Francisco De Osuna and a Minor Miracle

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

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

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

I remember thinking to myself, I don’t know what St. Teresa is talking about (contemplative prayer? What’s that?), but if she liked de Osuna’s book enough to give it such a ringing endorsement, then I need to get a copy of it too, post haste! [Read more…]

Because the Saints Are Alive

Back in November of 2007, it never would have crossed my mind that I would stand in front of my parishes RCIA group giving a talk on the Communion of Saints. And yet three years later that is exactly where I found myself.

A few weeks ago I asked our readers here for pointers on what I should cover. Then, I put together a killer slide show and even planned to show a clip (or two) from the movie The Reluctant Saint.

I really hoped to just knock the cover off the ball with a presentation that would be no less than a tour de force which would leave everyone completely dazzled at the adventure that they individually, along with the rest of the Class of 2011, were embarking on.

I should have known better.

Have you ever heard the phrase “God writes straight with crooked lines?” And let’s not forget the secular saint named Murphy of “everything that can go wrong will” fame. Because on Sunday, my stunning slideshow was viewable only by the two or three people in the front row because my whiz-bang marvel of a Macintosh computer didn’t have the right connection cable doohickeys to hook up to the projector. Even the USB cable that was there was inoperative.Yikes!

But like they say, “the show must go on.” The RCIA Director asked me if I had a prayer to start the class with and I said yes: “Lord, Help!” like Abba Macarius taught me. Other than that, it was adapt, improvise, and overcome time as I crossed the line of departure.

I think that first class turned out ok anyway, and as I was playing to a packed room, I was glad that I had your suggestions and my slideshow/crib notes to refer to. I remember that my own RCIA class, in a different parish, had 8 people in the class between catechumans and candidates. I am happy to report that my current parish has 50 people in the class of 2011. Saints be praised! And by Monday evening, we even had the slide show bugs worked out. Whew!

The main theme of my talk was this thought: the saints are alive and they are a lot like you and me. And just like none of our own lives have turned out as we thought they would (show of hands please? Uh-huh.), neither did the lives of the saints. That wasn’t a hard leap of faith for me to make a statement like that since, right on que, even my equipment was unusable. Lord knows, I was living another unplanned moment.

As we say in the Marines, Press on. I started off with an example of the episode in the life of St. Vincent de Paul when he was captured by Barbary Pirates and sold into slavery. His example of having faith that everything would work out to God’s benefit is inspirational to me.

I introduced them to a few others of our family members too. Because as Henri Nowen once wrote,

Through baptism we become part of a family much larger than our biological family. It is a family of people “set apart” by God to be light in the darkness. These set-apart people are called saints. Although we tend to think about saints as holy and pious, and picture them with halos above their heads and ecstatic gazes, true saints are much more accessible. They are men and women like us, who live ordinary lives and struggle with ordinary problems. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s people. Some of their lives may look quite different, but most of their lives are remarkably similar to our own.

The saints are our brothers and sisters, calling us to become like them.

So I introduced them to some official saints like the flying “jack-ass for Christ” (Joseph of Cupertino), The Impaled Deacon (Benjamin), my favorite Catholic widow (Blessed Marie of the Incarnation), and the guy who helped a robber make off with his own stolen property (Macarius the Great). And of course Our Mother, Queen of All Saints. And I couldn’t help ad libing about the Desert Fathers,  Saint Al (Alphonsus de Liguori) and Big Terry (Teresa of Avila) too. I also asked the sponsors to share with the class their Confirmation names and we learned even more about our family in the Church Triumphant in that way too.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I let them know that I was a rookie Catholic just a few years removed from where they were sitting. And I told the Monday evening class an abbreviated version of how the uncanonized saint Blaise Pascal sent me running to the chartroom for a major course correction. We glanced at Thomas Merton as the college wise guy and juxtaposed that with what became of him after he became a Catholic. And I had a good time, while losing all track of time talking about the saints.

The main thing about the saints is that they put Christ first in their lives. Their stories aren’t fairytales but well documented and true. Whether we are talking about the original Apostles (all martyred except for St. John), or the ones I named above, they put into practice the following command,

Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).

And their lives were never lived only for themselves, but for something far, far greater than that.

Which brings me to the conclusion of this very long post. Toward the end of the Monday evening session, one of our Deacons brought the concept of time into focus for us all. While we live constrained by time, which for us only moves forward, God is not bound by time, or clocks, watches, or chronometers. He is timeless and all that is, was, and will be, is already known to Him. Though God Himself came into time (during the Incarnation as the Son of Man, and whenever it suits Him now) Our Lord is now seated at the right hand of the Father, and therefore no longer bound by time either. Backwards, forwards, sideways, up or down, God is not bound by time as we are.

And this is also true for the saints in the Church Triumphant in Heaven. They are in communion with God in all His glory as well. This is why we can ask them to pray for us and why they can perform miracles in our time too.

In fact, as our Deacon so clearly explained it, when we go to Mass, the entire Church is present there along with us. Not just in my parish, but at every Mass in every parish the world over. We men and women in the Church Militant (slogging it out on our pilgrimage through time on earth) are not the only ones present. Listen to the Liturgy, he explained, and hear us invoke the saints like we do in the Eucharistic prayer here,

In union with the whole Church we honor Mary, the ever-virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God. We honor Joseph, her husband, the apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul, Andrew James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude; we honor Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian and all the saints. May their merits and prayers gain us your constant help and protection. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Because the saints are alive, just as the departed faithful in Purgatory are. Which is why during the Mass we also pray for the faithful departed too,

Remember, Lord, those who have died and have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, especially those for whom we now pray, (names deceased loved ones whom the celebrant or parishioner wishes to offer before God). May these, and all who sleep in Christ, find in your presence light, happiness, and peace. Though Christ our Lord. Amen.

Afterwards, I thought of a new slide to add to the end of the presentation. I searched Google and couldn’t find what I was looking for, though I’m positive I’m not the first to think of this. But I couldn’t find what I was looking for so I made this “Venn diagram” of the Church below. Because the Church, like God Himself, is One in Three. And all of His Church members are alive and present together at Holy Mass.

Thanks be to God.

Because the Vocation You Pray For May Be Your Own

A few days ago, I wrote a post where I said that as a father and husband, I can’t literally go “to the Desert.” I quipped “maybe in the future.” Sure you will, I thought to myself. And then I found this story of a saint who did just that. Her name is Marie of the Incarnation and her Feast Day is April 18th.

Allison wrote a post on the same day about praying for vocations. Keep this in mind as you pray, because it just might turn out that the prayer may well be answered by an opened door. Who is to say what lies ahead for us? God knows. Barbara Avrillot was a mother of six, but her babies grew up and her husband passed away, opening the door to a life she had always admired. Let’s take a look.

What follows in italics is from the citation on Marie found in the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent.

Blessed Marie de l’Incarnation

Known also as Madame Acarie, foundress of the French Carmel, born in Paris, 1 February, 1566; died at Pontoise, April, 1618. By her family, Barbara Avrillot belonged to the higher bourgeois society in Paris. Her father, Nicholas Avrillot was accountant general in the Chamber of Paris, and chancellor of Marguerite of Navarre, first wife of Henri IV; while her mother, Marie Lhuillier was a descendant of Etienne Marcel, the famous prévôt des marchands (chief municipal magistrate). She was placed with the Poor Clares of Longchamp for her education, and acquired there a vocation for the cloister, which subsequent life in the world did not alter. In 1684, through obedience she married Pierre Acarie, a wealthy young man of high standing, who was a fervent Christian, to whom she bore six children. She was an exemplary wife and mother.

So she came from the upper crust of society and basically went to a boarding school (of sorts) with the Poor Clares. Sounds like something I’ve read before in a novel by Sigred Undstet. She married well and then had six children, which will definitely keep any mom busy for a while. Any dad too. Speaking of dads, he had his hands full at work. Take a look.

Pierre Acarie was one of the staunchest members of the League, which, after the death of Henry III, opposed the succession of the Huguenot prince, Henry of Navarre, to the French throne. He was one of the sixteen who organized the resistance in Paris.

Tea party anyone? Being a rich and well placed gentleman, I daresay he thought he could change the world, and obviously win. This story is getting good. Stand-by for an act of God.

The cruel famine (!), which accompanied the siege of Paris (war!), gave Madame Acarie an occasion of displaying her charity. After the dissolution of the League, brought about by the abjuration of Henry IV, Acarie was exiled from Paris and his wife had to remain behind to contend with creditors and business men for her children’s fortune, which had been compromised by her husband’s want of foresight and prudence.

Ouch. Dad wound up on the wrong side in this fight and was sent away (in irons?!). The family fortune is compromised too? Uh-oh, now mom has to fight to save the estate and provide for her kids as well. I hope she is up to the challenge. Surely, it can’t get any worse than this.

In addition she was afflicted with physical sufferings, the consequences of a fall from her horse, and a very severe course of treatment left her an invalid for the rest of her life.

What the heck? And I thought Kristen Lavransdatter had it tough. But truth is stranger than fiction, isn’t it? And, ahem, “severe course of treatment” most likely means a broken leg didn’t heal well. Game over? Not with her network, nor with her example of charity and good works.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century Madame Acarie was widely known for her virtue, her supernatural gifts, and especially her charity towards the poor and the sick in the hospitals. To her residence came all the distinguished and devout people of the day in Paris, among them Mme de Meignelay, née de Gondi, a model of Christian widows, Mme Jourdain and Mme de Bréauté, future Carmelites, the Chancellor de Merillac, Père Coton the Jesuit, St. Vincent of Paul, and St. Francis de Sales, who for six months was Mme Acarie’s director.

Yeah, you read that right, St. Francis de Sales and St. Vincent de Paul were in her Rolodex and paid calls to her salon. Sheeeeesh. Wait a second. I thought the rich had as much chance of getting to heaven as a camel has to pass through the eye of a needle. What gives? I told you this was a great story. It gets better:

The pious woman had been living thus retired from the world, but sought by chosen souls, when, toward the end of 1601, there appeared a French translation of Ribera’s life of St. Teresa. The translator, Abbé de Brétigny, was known to her. She had some portions of the work read to her.

Another rich illiterate? Doubtful, because she went to school with the Poor Clares, remember? Maybe either Vincent or Francis was reading to her in the salon on a visit. Ready for a miracle? Read on—

A few days later St. Teresa, appeared to her and informed her that God wished to make use of her to found Carmelite convents in France. The apparitions continuing, Mme Acarie took counsel and began the work.

I mean, what the heck would you do? Keep shopping and go on cruises? Talk about your life-changing experiences! As Our Lord says, “knock and the door will be opened to you.” Sure, the French hated the Spanish, but when Our Lord sends Big Terry as an emissary in a vision, well, I’d obey the call too, no questions asked. But what about the wealth?

Mlle de Longueville, wishing to defray the cost of erecting the first monastery, in Rue St. Jacques, Henry IV granted letters patent, 18 July, 1602. A meeting in which Pierre de Bérulle, future founder of the Oratory, St. Francis of Sales, Abbé de Brétigny, and the Marillacs took part, decided on the foundation of the “Reformed Carmel in France,” 27 July, 1602. The Bishop of Geneva (Francis de Sales again) wrote to the pope to obtain the authorization, and Clement VIII granted the Bull of institution, 23 November, 1603.

That answers the wealth question. Put it to work for the Lord! Speaking of Clement, way back around 200 AD, Clement of Alexandria wrote a lengthy exposition entitled Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? Basically it spells it out for us regular folks that when wealth is put in its proper place (read “way out in left field”), while Christ remains in the proper place (read “at the center of our being”), things work out just dandy. Especially when you give all your wealth away, as Marie eventually does. But not yet, I don’t think her husband would agree. Anyway. . .

The following year some Spanish Carmelites were received into the Carmel of Rue St. Jacques, which became celebrated. Mme de Longueville, Anne de Gonzague, Mlle de la Vallieres, withdrew to it; there also Bossuet and Fénelon were to preach. The Carmel spread rapidly and profoundly influenced French society of the day. In 1618, the year of Mme Acarie’s death, it numbered fourteen houses.

From zero to fourteen Carmelite houses in France due to the work of this fine soldier for Christ. Can she rest now? Go back on vacation? Why would she want to when there is still so much for this crippled mom to accomplish. Like to help fund, er, found the French Oratory and then the Ursulines.

Mme. Acarie also shared in two foundations of the day, that of the Oratory and that of the Ursulines. She urged De Bérulle to refuse the tutorship of Louis XIII, and on 11 November, 1611 she, with St. Vincent de Paul, assisted at the Mass of the installation of the Oratory of France. Among the many postulants whom Mme Acarie received for the Carmel, there were some who had no vocation, and she conceived the idea of getting them to undertake the education of young girls, and broached her plan to her holy cousin, Mme. de Sainte-Beuve.

The Ursalines were founded solely for the purpose of educating young girls. How progressive. Those wacky Catholics, always pushing the frontier of humanism and never getting credit for it. I’d like to get to know her “holy cousin” too. Marie was still married all this time but alas,

To establish the new order they brought Ursulines to Paris and adopted their rule and name. M. Acarie having died in 1613, his widow settled her affairs and begged leave to enter the Carmel, asking as a favour to be received as a lay sister in the poorest community.

OK, all the children raised? Check. No longer married? Check. Remember her life long dream of a “vocation to the cloister”? Check. Exit stage left!

In 1614 she withdrew to the monastery of Amiens, taking the name of Marie de l’Incarnation. Her three daughters had preceded her into the cloister, and one of them was sub-prioress at Amiens. In 1616, by order of her superiors, she went to the Carmelite convent at Pontoise, where she died. Her cause was introduced at Rome in 1627; she was beatified, 24 April, 1791; her feast is celebrated in Paris on 18 April.

Ever heard the expression “God writes straight with crooked lines”? What a life and what a marvelous ending! Maiden, wife, mother, wealthy patron of the Church, cloistered Carmelite, and then home with our Lord. May all our journeys end blessed as such.

Madame Acarie, please pray for vocations and also please pray for us.

You can read a full account of her life on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf in A Gracious Life by Emily Bowles.

Thanks to Thomas à Kempis for These Thoughts on Confession

Seemingly, there aren’t enough words to describe the graces we obtain from the Sacrament of Confession. And the number of opinions on this Sacrament are legion, if our poll results and the comments they have prompted are any indication. Webster and I haven’t fully plumbed the depths of this Sacrament yet. For example, we haven’t mentioned Divine Mercy Sunday or the fact that the Sacrament of Confession plays a large role in the diary of Sister Faustina.

And the fact of the matter is no saint on record has ever said,

Look at me! I soar above the heights of the world with the Lord. I have no need of the Sacrament of Confession. Yippee! 

If anything, the importance and necessity of this Sacrament are solidified and bolstered by the saints. St. Teresa of Avila, practitioner of contemplative prayer, writes at length on the importance of this Sacrament and the duty we have of finding a good confessor.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not anywhere near the level of perfection that she obtained while she was here on earth.  If Big Terry says Confession is  important, I listen up.

Although not an official saint, Thomas à Kempis discusses the importance of this Sacrament in The Imitation of Christ. Take a look at these thoughts Thomas wrote down regarding the Eucharistic celebration coupled with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  He is writing here in the character of Our Lord. Notice how similar these phrases are to the ones Sister Faustina reports in her diary (bold highlights are mine),

Do Not Lightly Forego Holy Communion

The Voice of Christ,

You must often return to the source of grace and divine mercy, to the fountain of goodness and perfect purity, if you wish to be free from passion and vice, if you desire to be made stronger and more watchful against all the temptations and deceits of the devil.

The enemy, knowing the great good and the healing power of Holy Communion, tries as much as he can by every manner and means to hinder and keep away the faithful and the devout. Indeed, there are some who suffer the worst assaults of Satan when disposing themselves to prepare for Holy Communion. As it is written in Job, this wicked spirit comes among the sons of God to trouble them by his wonted malice, to make them unduly fearful and perplexed, that thus he may lessen their devotion or attack their faith to such an extent that they perhaps either forego Communion altogether or receive with little fervor.

No attention, however, must be paid to his cunning wiles, no matter how base and horrible—all his suggestions must be cast back upon his head. The wretch is to be despised and scorned. Holy Communion must not be passed by because of any assaults from him or because of the commotion he may arouse.

Oftentimes, also, too great solicitude for devotion and anxiety about confession hinder a person. Do as wise men do. Cast off anxiety and scruple, for it impedes the grace of God and destroys devotion of the mind.

Do not remain away from Holy Communion because of a small trouble or vexation but go at once to confession and willingly forgive all others their offenses. If you have offended anyone, humbly seek pardon and God will readily forgive you.

What good is it to delay confession for a long time or to put off Holy Communion? Cleanse yourself at once, spit out the poison quickly. Make haste to apply the remedy and you will find it better than if you had waited a long time. If you put it off today because of one thing, perhaps tomorrow a greater will occur to you, and thus you will stay away from Communion for a long time and become even more unfit.

Shake off this heaviness and sloth as quickly as you can, for there is no gain in much anxiety, in enduring long hours of trouble, and in depriving yourself of the divine Mysteries because of these daily disturbances. Yes, it is very hurtful to defer Holy Communion long, for it usually brings on a lazy spiritual sleep.

How sad that some dissolute and lax persons are willing to postpone confession and likewise wish to defer Holy Communion, lest they be forced to keep a stricter watch over themselves! Alas, how little love and devotion have they who so easily put off Holy Communion! How happy and acceptable to God is he who so lives, and keeps his conscience so pure, as to be ready and well disposed to communicate, even every day if he were permitted, and if he could do so unnoticed.

If, now and then, a man abstains by the grace of humility or for a legitimate reason, his reverence is commendable, but if laziness takes hold of him, he must arouse himself and do everything in his power, for the Lord will quicken his desire because of the good intention to which He particularly looks. When he is indeed unable to come, he will always have the good will and pious intention to communicate and thus he will not lose the fruit of the Sacrament.

Any devout person may at any hour on any day receive Christ in spiritual communion profitably and without hindrance. Yet on certain days and times appointed he ought to receive with affectionate reverence the Body of his Redeemer in this Sacrament, seeking the praise and honor of God rather than his own consolation.

For as often as he devoutly calls to mind the mystery and passion of the Incarnate Christ, and is inflamed with love for Him, he communicates mystically and is invisibly refreshed.
He who prepares himself only when festivals approach or custom demands, will often find himself unprepared. Blessed is he who offers himself a sacrifice to the Lord as often as he celebrates or communicates.

Be neither too slow nor too fast in celebrating but follow the good custom common to those among whom you are. You ought not to cause others inconvenience or trouble, but observe the accepted rule as laid down by superiors, and look to the benefit of others rather than to your own devotion or inclination.

Several of you have commented about the short lines at the confessional and long lines for Communion. Many complained about priests not motivated to hear their confessions. I’m not saying I don’t believe what I’m reading. Not every parish has uniform hours for this sacrament or uniformly motivated priests to hear them. But this hasn’t been my experience. Keep in mind, I’m a recent RCIA convert. Confession opportunities are plentiful, but especially during Lent. I intend to make full use of them and I hope you will as well.

Semper Fidelis

Because of the Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

I am sitting in a friend’s house in Southern California surrounded by books one minute into New Year’s Day. My friends are devout Catholics and have many volumes that are of interest to me. Everything from The Cure D’Ars: St. Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney to a pamphlet entitled Confession: A Little Book for the Reluctant.

There are books here, and in my public library at home, covering the whole spectrum of Catholic Christianity. I could spend weeks, months, a lifetime reading through these selections. And I intend to do so. This quote by Horace Walpole sums up my experience since I started this journey in 2006:

The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well.

Which brings me to the title of this post, taken from a book in the library here written by the physicist Richard P. Feynman. I’m not really interested in Feynman’s book, but his title is apt for my purposes: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. With the Bible and the Liturgy of the Hours in one hand, and volume after volume of great works that illuminate them both in the other, I find myself a happy Catholic ready to celebrate a Happy New Year.

St. Augustine’s Confessions ? Barely got past the dust cover, so that is on my “bucket list” of Catholic books to read. Aquinas? Looking forward to it. I’ve read de Osuna’s Third Spiritual Alphabet, and that is outstanding. Webster likes the Catholic fiction like Kristin Lavrinsdatter, while I really enjoy the nonfiction works of the Early Church Fathers.

I’ll probably read this one this year as well: , The Grunt Padrethe biography of Lt. Vincent Capadonno, USNR, a Roman Catholic Chaplain who was awarded the Medal of Honor serving with the 5th Marines in Vietnam.

Learning about our Faith is a real joy. What is on your Catholic-book bucket list for this year? Now, to bed and up early for the Tournament of Roses Parade. Happy New Year and Happy Reading!


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