For Thoughts on Faith Like These by Thomas Merton

Divine_Mercy-779948“Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Now, as Pope Benedict has declared the coming year as the Year of Faith, Fr. Louis explains clearly and simply what faith means. What follows are thoughts from the prologue of his “The Silent Life,” published in 1957.

I came across these words a few years ago, when I was reading all I could that Merton had written. When I read them, I couldn’t help changing the words “monk” and “monasticism” to “Catholic” and “Catholicism”, because when I did, they helped answer the statement “Why I Am Catholic” very effectively. Fr. Louis has the floor,

Let us face the fact that the monastic vocation tends to present itself to the modern world as a problem and as a scandal.

In a basically religious culture, like that of India, or of Japan, the monk is more or less taken for granted. When all society is oriented beyond the mere transient quest of business and pleasure, no one is surprised that men should devote their lives to an invisible God.

In a materialistic culture, which is fundamentally irreligious, the monk is incomprehensible because he “produces nothing.” His life appears to be completely useless. Not even Christians have been exempt from anxiety over this apparent “uselessness” of the monk, and we are familiar with the argument that the monastery is a kind of dynamo which, though it does not “produce” grace, procures this infinitely precious spiritual commodity for the world.

The first Fathers of monasticism were concerned with no such arguments, valid though they may be in their proper context. The Fathers did not feel that the search for God was something that needed to be defended. Or rather, they saw that if men did not realize in the first place that God was to be sought, no other defence of monasticism would avail them.

Is God, then, to be sought?

The deepest law in man’s being is his need for God, for life. God is Life. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). The deepest need of our darkness is to comprehend the light which shines in the midst of it. Therefore God has given us his first commandment:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength.

The monastic life is nothing but the life of those who have taken the first commandment in deadly earnest, and have, in the words of St. Benedict, “preferred nothing to the love of Christ.”

But Who is God? Where is He? Is Christian monasticism a search for some pure intuition of the Absolute? A cult of supreme Good? A worship of perfect and changeless Beauty? The very emptiness of such abstractions strikes the heart cold. The Holy One, the Invisible, the Almighty is infinitely greater and more real than any abstraction of man’s devising. But he has said: “No one shall see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Yet the monk persists in crying out with Moses: “Show me Thy face” (Exodus 33:13).

The monk, then, is one who is so intent upon the search for God that he is ready to die in order to see Him. That is why monastic life is a “martyrdom” as  well as a “paradise,” a life that is at once “angelic” and “crucified.”

St. Paul resolves the problem: “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

The monastic life is the rejection of all that obstructs the spiritual rays of this mysterious light. The monk is one who leaves behind the fictions and illusions of a merely human spirituality in order to plunge himself in the faith of Christ. Faith is the light which illumines him in mystery. Faith is the power which seizes upon the inner depths of his souls and delivers him up to the action of the divine Spirit, the Spirit of liberty, the Spirit of love. Faith takes him, as the power of God took the ancient prophets, and “stands him upon his feet” (Ezekiel 2:2) before the Lord. The monastic life is the life in the Spirit of Christ, a life in which the Christian gives himself entirely to the love of God which transforms him in the light of Christ.

“The Lord is a Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3: 17-18).

What St. Paul has said of the inner life of every Christian becomes in all truth the main objective of the monk, living in his solitary cloister. In seeking Christian perfection the monk seeks the fullness of the Christian life, the complete maturity of the Christian faith. For him, “to live is Christ.”

Amen. It’s time to harness our inner monks and crank up the dynamo of prayer.

For All the Saints: Francis of Assisi, Deacon

"Cigoli, san francesco" by Cigoli - Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“Cigoli, san francesco” by Cigoli – Web Gallery of Art:   Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s the feast of St. Francis of Assisi today, in case you didn’t notice. True story: My grandfather was a Catholic and his name was Francis too, and he was named after the fellow you’ll be reading about below. As it happens, that is also how I came to be named, but the Catholic connotation of that Christian name lay dormant for some great length time. My grandfather died, see, when I was a wee tot and my memories of him bear no mark of his (and now my) religion at all.

Dipping into my favorite electronic library, I came across this little review of “Mrs. Oliphant’s” Life of St. Francis in an English journal called “The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art.” Wow, they don’t write journals with titles like that anymore! Now, I have no idea who the author of the following thoughts is, but the introductory paragraphs of the essay below start with the chagrin St. Francis causes amongst our non-Catholic Christian brethren. Because there really is no one closer to St. Francis in devotion to Christ, than perhaps the Blessed Virgin herself.

Looking for a Catholic who took the gospels literally? You’ve found him. These thoughts were penned in the Year of Our Lord 1872, or about half a heartbeat ago in the cosmic scheme of things. Have a look,

from a review of The Life of St. Francis

The Franciscan Order met a crying want of the age which the older religious communities failed to satisfy. But there is nothing to show that Francis had any such conscious purpose in originating it. From first to last he was the child of impulse, but of impulses which were always benevolent, generous, and devout. “He thought little of himself, even of his own soul to be saved;” his one idea and master-passion was how best to work for God and to help men.

The first murmurs were already beginning to be heard of the great democratic movement which has since overspread Europe, and the feudal system, still surviving in full force, was more and more felt to be an oppressive burden on the poor. Nor was the only power that could then act as a counterpoise itself irreproachable. There was a very general outcry against the pride of a wealthy and dominant hierarchy accused of caring more for its own aggrandizement than for the souls of men. And that cry had taken shape in strange forms of heresy, old and new, which threatened social as well as ecclesiastical order, and which Church and State—so far as the two can then be distinguished—were banded together to trample out with ruthless and indiscriminate severity.

But the Church, if she was to retain her moral supremacy, required a machinery which could convince as well as crush; there was needed a popular ministry to satisfy the wants of popular devotion, and a popular theology to meet on its own ground the advances of popular heresy. And this was the double work which Francis, however unconsciously, was destined to accomplish, though he might have seemed from his antecedents about the unlikeliest man in Europe for the purpose.

In the little city of Assisi, which lies beneath the Eastern slope of the Umbrian Apennines, there lived a worthy merchant, Pietro Bernadone di Mericoni by name, to whom was born in 1182 a son named Francesco, and known among his companions by the common Italian sobriquet of Cecco. The boy grew up to be the pride of his parents, the spoiled child of fortune, the darling of society, the idol of a glittering circle of youthful friends, gayest among the gay, of singular personal beauty, fascinating manners, and brilliant but genial wit.

At the age of twenty he was struck down by a severe illness, and from that hour is dated his “conversion—from a life of carelessness, not apparently of vice—the first result of which was his joining, in obedience to a dream, the army of the “Gentle Count” “Walter of Brienne, in the strife of Guelph against Ghibelline. But a second dream turned him back at Spoleto, and for a time he resumed his old life, but not in the old spirit. “Why so grave, Francis?” said his wondering companions; “are you going to be married?” The question suggested the reply: “I am; and my bride is—Poverty.”

Those strange nuptials have been immortalized by the greatest of French orators and of Italian poets, and the pencil of Giotto has familiarized to our eyes what the glowing words of Bossuet and Dante have made musical to our ears. The events which followed in rapid succession must be briefly dismissed here. In obedience to another vision Francis undertook to rebuild the little church of St. Damiano, outside the walls of Assisi, and incurred the fierce anger of his father, who had already been sorely troubled by his eccentricities, by selling some of his bales of cloth for the purpose. He was seized as a lunatic, and imprisoned for several months in his own home.

At length, after signing a renunciation of his patrimony, and stripping off his costly garments, he went forth, homeless and friendless, like the patriarch of old, forgetting his own people and his father’s house, and not knowing whither he went. But he now remembered an incident which had occurred some time previously, and had deeply impressed him. He had met a leper near Assisi, and, conquering his natural disgust, had sprung from his horse and embraced him. Those who know the peculiar care bestowed by the Church of that age on these unhappy outcasts, whom Christ, according to the Vulgate reading of Isaiah’s prophecy, had made types of Himself, will not wonder at the sequel. The seeming leper vanished, to appear again to Francis in a dream; for it was indeed none other than the Divine Sufferer of whom the prophet spoke.

To the lepers’ hospital at Assisi accordingly Francis now betook himself, and thence he came forth to supplicate alms to rebuild the church of St. Damiano, and another church outside the city formerly dedicated to St. Peter, but now restored under the name of La Portiuncola, or Our Lady of the Angels, and which is still the central home of the Franciscan Order.

The time for establishing that Order had now come. We must pass over the touching story of the conversion of his two first companions, Bernardo di Quintavalle and Pietro di Catania, who settled in a little hut on the plains of Assisi to form the first nucleus of the new community. In a few weeks the numbers had increased to twelve, and already Francis heard in spirit “the tread of multitudes”—French, Spaniards, English, Germans—thronging to join them. He traced out a cross on the ground stretching to the four points of the compass, and despatched his little band in four companies on their mission of mercy to the bodies and souls of men.

The Order was now formed, but it had no legalized existence, and the members were simple laymen. Francis, therefore, who was no “nonconformist,” but a devoted son of the Church, resolved in Izio to repair to Rome, and ask for the sanction of the Pope. Innocent III., whom he and his companions found pacing at sunset along the stately terraces of the Lateran, looked with amazement on these strange visitors, in their rough shepherd’s dress, and remanded them till the morning.

That night, we are told, he dreamt, like the Syrian King of old, of a palm-tree which rose beneath his feet, and its branches stretched over the earth, and the weary and world-worn from every nation came to repose beneath its shade. And again he dreamed that the great Lateran Church was falling to the ground, and was propped up by the poor beggar in big brown shepherd’s dress who had stood before him the previous evening. He hesitated no longer, and, in spite of the remonstrances of his cardinals, dismissed his visitors with his blessing and a solemn, though as yet unwritten, approbation of their stern rule of poverty.

That went something like this,

The return of Francis to Assisi was like a triumphal procession. Bells were rung and litanies chanted, and crowds came forth to meet him, and the church of the Portiuncola was at once formally made over to him. The conversion of St. Clare soon followed, and the Church of St. Damiano was assigned to the female community of Poor Clares, the “Second Order” of Franciscans, instituted under her rule.

And now Francis, who but two or three years before had been hooted as a madman through the streets of his native city, was preaching in the cathedral, though only a deacon, to enraptured crowds, who hung upon his every word. We must pass rapidly over the first General Chapter of the Order, the second journey of Francis to Rome to obtain a fuller confirmation of the rule from Honorius HL, and his meeting there with St. Dominic, when the founders of the rival Orders vowed before the altar an eternal friendship, to note his first acquaintance with Cardinal Ugolino, afterwards Pope Gregory IX., who remained ever afterwards the warm friend and patron of Francis and his community.

St. Francis, pray for us.

For Thoughts On Being a Christian by the “Chinese Chesterton”

All wisdom is from the Lord God, and hath been always with him, and is before all time. —Sirach 1:1

I came across the following thoughts in my friend John C.H. Wu’s book The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love. Author Frank Sheed called John, a Benedictine Oblate, “the Chinese Chesterton.” The following selection may help you understand why. [Read more…]

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.

To Find Peacefulness of Soul, Be Confident in the Mercy of the Lord

What follows are a few thoughts on Christian peace of the soul by my friend John C.H. Wu. They are from the chapter in his book “The Interior Carmel” that reflect upon the beatitude “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” How soon we forget this calling of ours! Not only our vocation as peacemakers, but our destiny to become the adopted children of God.

The Source of Peace

John C.H. Wu

Nothing conduces to peace more than self-abandonment to the good pleasure of God. In The Imitation of Christ there is a conversation between Christ and the Disciple. Christ says: “Son, suffer Me to do with thee what I will: I know what is best for thee.” The Disciple answers: “Lord, what Thou sayest is true; Thy care over me is greater than all the care I can take of myself…If Thou wilt have me to be in darkness, be Thou blessed; and if Thou wilt have me to be in light, be Thou again blessed; if Thou vouchsafest to comfort me, be Thou blessed; and if it be Thy will I should be afflicted, be Thou equally blessed” (III,17).

When King David was in danger of death, he could still sing as if he were in the greatest secruity and prosperity:

Many say: “Who will show us good things?”
Lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us,
O Lord!
Thou hast given greater joy to my heart
Than that of men, who abound in corn and wine.
As soon as I lie down, I fall asleep in peace.
For thou alone, O Lord, makest me to dwell in
security
(Psalm 4.7-9).

Is it not clear that his inward peace flowed from his absolute confidence in God?

Christian peace is rooted in faith, nourished by hope, and perfected by love. It is a peace which is not achieved directly by man, but given by God to those who are disposed to receive it. It issues from the indwelling Holy Trinity in the center of your soul. When you realize that God has found a home in your spirit, which is the apex of your soul, you feel a security which the world can neither give or take away.

Perfect love casts out fear, as St. John says; and the reason is that “God is love, and he who abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4.16). If God abides in you, you have nothing to fear any longer, seeing that “Greater is he that is in you, than he who is in the world” (1 John 4.4). Then you will feel with St. Paul:

If God be for us, who is against us? Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword?…For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.31-39).

Not even the atom bomb or cosmic rays can separate us from the love of God. Teresa of Avila wrote,

St. Teresa of Avila

You know that God is everywhere; and this is a great truth, for, of course, wherever the king is, or so they say, the court is too: that is to say, wherever God is, there is Heaven. No doubt you can believe that, in any place where His Majesty is, there is fulness of glory. Remember how Saint Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and eventually finding Him within himself. Do you suppose it is of little importance that a soul which is often distracted should come to understand this truth and to find that, in order to speak to its Eternal Father and to take its delight in Him, it has no need to go to Heaven or to speak in a loud voice? However quietly we speak, He is so near that He will hear us: we need no wings to go in search of Him but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us. Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest; we must talk to Him very humbly, as we should to our father, ask Him for things as we should ask a father, tell Him our troubles, beg Him to put them right, and yet realize that we are not worthy to be called His children.

It is all as simple as that. But you say, How do I know that God is delighted with me? Well, if you have anything on your conscience, go to Confession immediately and begin anew. Don’t be afraid of the priests. They are, every one of them, potentially great sinners like you and me. A holy priest, Msgr. John Murphy, who died not long ago, said in a speech on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee something to the following effect: “Those of of you who have known me well during during these years must think that you are witnessing a miracle today!” The holier you are, the greater glory you give to God; for His power is revealed in the very distance between your present attainment and what you might have been without His grace.

The point I am driving at now is that we must have full confidence in God and His priests, who are endowed with the power to bind and loosen. God cannot abide in your soul when you are in mortal sin. He is, of course, still present in other modes, but abide in you He cannot. And if He is not at home in you, you will not be at home with yourself nor anywhere else. You make a hell for yourself and for others who have to live with you.

Get up as quickly as you fall, and you will recover your past merits. You will not have to start the journey all over again; you will continue from the point where you fell. According to St. Thomas (Aquinas) and other theologians, grace may even revive in the soul in a higher degree than before its loss, provided contrition is fervent enough. This is the way to peace, because it will restore the indwelling of the Holy Trinity within us.

For those of us with a scrupulous conscience, I want to quote the words of Father Alfred Wilson, C.P., in his Pardon and Peace(1948):

Love of God is the most effective antidote to sin. If we love God intensely, we shall hate sin effectively. If you desire to hate and conquer sin, try to forget all about yourself for a time, and study instead and ponder the goodness and loveableness of God, so that your soul may be refreshed by basking in the sunshine of His love. Get out into the fresh air of God’s love and away from the fetid atmosphere of the repulsive and depressing dungeons of self and sin.

Nothing pleases God like a contrite heart coupled with a loving confidence in His mercy. If our conscience accuses us, then be sorry, go to Confession, and resolve to do better hereafter. Thus, our peace of mind is restored. If we have the testimony of a good conscience, then, as St. John says, “We have confidence towards God, and whatsoever we shall ask, we shall receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3.21-22).

Obviously it is foolish to think that sins need not be repented of and absolved, that they will dissolve themselves in the course of time. The longer they stay on your conscience, the worse trouble they will make, leaving you no peace and nagging at you constantly like a shrewish housewife. Can you enjoy peace of mind with a buzzing bee in your ear? But it is even worse to entertain a mean idea of God, as though He were not a forgiving Father.

Fr. Mateo

I have come across a very significant story in Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey’s book Jesus, King of Love. As it has helped me, it may also help some of my readers:

One of the many souls who regard Jesus a tyrant was preparing to make a general confession for the hundredth time. Restlessly, she spent the days of her retreat writing down the sins of her whole life. She neither meditated nor prayed; she was entirely absorbed in an examination which stifled her.

At last she went into the confessional. She read out the list of her sins, repeating and explaining over, and over again, in fear and trembling. When at length she thought she had finished, a voice was heard which very gently and very sadly said,

“You have forgotten something very important.”

“I thought I must have,” she answered, terror-stricken, and hastily prepared to read it all again.

“Your sin is not in your notes,” continued the Voice, “and it offends me much more than all that you have said. Accuse yourself of lack of trust.”

The voice moved her her to the depths and she sought to ascertain if it were really her confessor’s. The Confessional was empty! Jesus had come to give her a supreme lesson.


For Thoughts on Our Adversary by Fray Francisco de Osuna

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 1: The Devil’s Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Isaiah 14:12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel

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

For 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.