Because of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Thoughts On War

Have I mentioned lately that I’ve been taking a shine to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas? It’s difficult not to, seeing how much of the Angelic Doctor’s work undergirds many of the doctrines of Holy Mother Church.

Did you realize that another title given to St. Thomas Aquinas is that of the Common Doctor? That was the sobriquet that Blessed Pope John XXIII bestowed upon him when he addressed a Thomistic Conference back in September of 1960. Regarding Aquinas he writes,

His teaching was, more than any other, fully in keeping with the truths that God has revealed, with the writings of the Holy Fathers, and with the principles of right reason and therefore Holy Church has adopted it as her own, and has given the name of common or universal teacher to its author.

So you should be very interested in much of what the Angelic Doctor has to say on every subject under the sun. His writings are so voluminous that if he hasn’t weighed in on a particular subject, it probably didn’t exist at the time.

But war existed, see, and here then is an excerpt of his thoughts, which are indeed the Churches’ thoughts, on that interesting and troubling subject of war. You will find them to be grounded in reality, because Aquinas, as Jacques Maritain says, is “the greatest master in realism—an integral realism, as aware of the reality of the spirit as well as of the body—who ever lived.”

QUESTION XL.
OF WAR.


Article I.—Is it always a sin to go to war?

R. There are three requisites for a war to be just. The first thing is the authority of the prince by whose command the war is to be waged. It does not belong to a private person to start a war, for he can prosecute his claim in the court of his superior. In like manner the mustering of the people, that has to be done in wars, does not belong to a private person. But since the care of the commonwealth is entrusted to princes, to them belongs the protection of the common weal of the city, kingdom, or province subject to them. And as they lawfully defend it with the material sword against inward disturbances by punishing malefactors, so it belongs to them also to protect the commonwealth from enemies without by the sword of war. The second requisite is a just cause, so that they who are assailed should deserve to be assailed for some fault that they have committed.

Hence it is no justification for an enterprise of violence commenced by private individuals in a civilized State, to call it a war. Every State is bound to suppress private war within the limits of its own jurisdiction; as also to take away all pretext for such war by due redress of wrongs.
Hence Augustine says: “Just wars are usually denned as those which avenge injuries, in cases where a nation or city has to be chastised for having either neglected to punish the wicked doings of its people, or neglected to restore what has been wrongfully taken away.” The third thing requisite is a right intention of promoting good or avoiding evil. For Augustine says: “Eagerness to hurt, bloodthirsty desire of revenge, an untamed and unforgiving temper, ferocity in renewing the struggle, lust of empire,—these and the like excesses are justly blamed in war.”

§ i. To the objection from the text that “all that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” it is to be said, as Augustine says, that “he takes the sword, who without either command or grant of any superior or lawful authority, arms himself to shed the blood of another.” But he who uses the sword by the authority of a prince or judge (if he is a private person), or out of zeal for justice, and by the authority of God (if he is a public person), does not take the sword of himself, but uses it as committed to him by another.

§ 2. To the objection from the text, “I say to you not to resist evil,” it is to be said, as Augustine says, that such precepts are always to be observed “in readiness of heart,” so that a man be ever ready not to resist, if there be occasion for non-resistance. But sometimes he must take another course in view of the common good, or even in view of those with whom he fights.

Augustine says: “He is the better for being overcome, from whom the license of wrong-doing is snatched away: for there is no greater unhappiness than the happiness of sinners, the nourishment of an impunity which is only granted as a punishment, and the strengthening of that domestic foe, an evil will.”

Article III.—Is it lawful in war to use stratagems?

R. The end of stratagems is to deceive the enemy. Now there are two ways of deceiving in word or deed. One way is by telling lies and breaking promises, and no one ought to deceive the enemy in this way; for “there are certain laws of war, and agreements to be observed even among enemies,” as Ambrose says. In another way one may be deceived by the fact that we do not open our purpose or declare our mind to him. That we are not always bound to do. Even in sacred doctrine many things are to be concealed from unbelievers, that they may not scoff at them, according to the text: “Give not what is holy to dogs.” Much more are our preparations to attack our enemies to be hidden from them. Such concealment belongs to the nature of stratagems, which it is lawful to use in just wars. Nor are such stratagems properly called frauds, nor are they inconsistent with justice, nor with a well-ordered will. For it would be an inordinate will for any one to wish nothing to be concealed from him by other people.

Article IV.—Is war lawful on feast-days?

R. The observance of feasts does not bar the taking the means even to the bodily welfare of man. Hence our Lord rebukes the Jews, saying: “Are you angry at me because I have healed the whole man on the sabbath-day?” Therefore it is that physicians may lawfully apply remedies to men on a feast-day. Much more is the good estate of the commonwealth to be maintained, whereby many murders are prevented, and countless ills both temporal and spiritual—a more important good than the bodily well-being of a single man. And therefore, for the defence of the commonwealth of the faithful, just wars may lawfully be prosecuted on feast-days, if necessity so requires: for it would be tempting God for a man to want to keep his hands from war under stress of such necessity. But when the necessity ceases, war is not lawful on feastdays.

§ 4. “And they determined in that day, saying: Whoever shall come up against us to fight on the sabbath-day, we will fight against him.

Interested in reading more? Head on over to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. Also, for those who wish to explore this further, Catholic Answers has a Primer on Just War Doctrine.

Update: “Justice has been done,” states President Obama, and just-war scholars agree.

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Because Christ is a Warrior (Then, So Am I)

Hi, remember me? I’m the guy who said Christ is a Royal (Then, So Am I). Now I have to write another post with a similar title because I observed that many of the same folks who weren’t interested in the Royal Wedding last week also seem to be conflicted about the actions of S.E.A.L. Team Six a mere forty-eight hours later.

Perhaps I’ll be starting a whole new series of blog posts around this theme of who Jesus Christ is, and how it relates to YIMCatholic. Sure, Eric Sammons already wrote a book about this, but that only covers Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew.

But you see, the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ, and if you are a part of His Church, then as members of His Mystical Body, you too are just what St. Teresa of Avila, aka “Big Terry,” says you are:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

St.Thérèse of Lisieux
as St. Joan of Arc

If you think Frank has gone a little batty with the assertion that the Church is Christ, then look at our blog patron’s statement that is right there in paragraph 795 of the Catechism as well,

About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter. —St. Joan of Arc

This assertion, then, has ramifications for each and every one of us regarding our earthly vocations. I’ve seen many who have written posts after the death of Osama Bin Laden with plenty of Bible quotations that play up the docile, meek, and seemingly pacifistic side of Christianity. I can just as easily break out scripture references that proclaim Our Lord as a warrior, or that liken Him to one.

If the Bible is like an encyclopedia, than G.K. Chesterton’s point is well made:

For it is the test of a good encyclopedia that it does two rather different things at once. The man consulting it finds the thing he wants; he also finds how many thousand things there are that he does not want.

Hmmm, there G.K.C. goes again, knocking the cover off the ball. Perhaps he is also talking about the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Or the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Because as important as the imagery is along the spectrum between the end points of pacifism and just war, it’s also important that we remember that the Church is composed of living, breathing, members of the Mystical Body of Christ. And these members cross the broad spectrum of all mankind.

Like last week, some of them are actual Royals in addition to being in the royal priesthood that Christians all belong to. And like the week before, some of them are homeless. And this week, we must remember that some of the members of Christ’s body are soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

Christ, then, in the form of the Church, continues to achieve His earthly mission to bring all people to salvation through the agency of many human beings, whom He created. And some of His children are called to the professional vocation of warrior. As the Holy Spirit spoke through King David in Psalm 144,

Blessed be the Lord my God, who teacheth my hands to fight, and my fingers to war.

David seemed pretty thankful in the opening line of that Psalm, didn’t he? Here is what the Catechism has to say on the duties and responsibilities of the faithful who fill this role,

2310 —Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense. Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.

And that is exactly what the members of S.E.A.L. Team Six did this past weekend. It’s what they, and all the other members of the armed forces, have been doing, and will continue to do, as long as our country is in existence. Were they Christians? I don’t know. Were any of them Catholics? I have no idea. But do we need people like them doing what they do? Think about it.

I’ll wrap this post up with another paragraph from the CCC (emphasis mine) and another quote from St. Joan,

2005 Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord’s words “Thus you will know them by their fruits”- reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges:

“Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.’”

That is my prayer as well, so help me God.

Update: Father Steve Grunow of Word on Fire on the Death of a Terrorist. Also, a primer on Just War Doctrine.

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Because Christ Waits Patiently

St_Macarius_the_Great_with_Cherub

 

I saw this posted yesterday somewhere: “Forget Christmas or Easter. Independence Day is the most important holiday of the year and will have a greater impact on world history as it serves to remind people for millenia that nations are ruled by the consent of the governed.” My first thought? This person is delusional. My second thought? I need to pray for them. [Read more...]

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Because My Boys Needed to Know About Hildegard of Bingen

I received a note the other day in my e-mail inbox informing me of a movie that would soon be released on DVD. I noted the title of the film and realized that it was still playing in one of the theaters in our town.The movie I’m referring to is Visions: From the Life of Hildegard of Bingen.

Now, my plan was to take my wife with me to this film, but she and my daughter were engaged in another endeavor. [Read more...]

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For Bernard of Clairvaux’s Bible Reading Program to Make Sense of the World

Back in October of last year, I shared thoughts written by a Doctor of the Church with you. It was from a homily St. Bernard of Clairvaux had written and preached to the brothers in his order about one of the books in the Old Testament. As I was re-reading the homily today, these words of truth leapt off the screen,

there are two evils that comprise the only, or at least the main, enemies of the soul: a misguided love of the world and an excessive love of self…

I named the post where these words can be found For Solid Food Like This (Hold the Milk). As posts of mine go, it was unread for the most part. Last week I suggested that we all could spend an extra hour a week reading the Bible. But Frank, you may be thinking, where do we start? I think St. Bernard might have an idea or two.

In that homily, which is on the title of The Song of Songs, he recommends two of my favorite books from the Old Testament to tackle: The Book of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.

Comparing these two books to loaves of rich bread, here is what he says to us about them in regard to his quote above,

These are two loaves of which it has been your pleasure to taste, loaves you have welcomed as coming from the cupboard of a friend.

Of course, he is addressing the brothers in the Cistercian order. As such, he is no longer talking to mere babes in Christ, but to soldiers of Christ. No longer folks who believe, but folks who have committed their whole life to Christ and His Church. And today, he is speaking then to Christians who are ready to take the training wheels off their bicycles and really begin to ride. But why these two particular books? Here’s what Doctor Mellifluus has to say,

The Book of Proverbs: Uproots pernicious habits of mind and body with the hoe of self-control.

Have we thrown self-control and self-discipline to the wayside? It appears that St. Bernard is describing the merits of this book as the first phase of recruit training to me. The process where we scrub off our old, worldly selves and become immersed in the culture of our new family. More than just a thought, where in our minds the light-bulb comes “on”, this book deals in concrete actions that teach us how to become practicing Christians and children of God. The military analogy that pops in my mind? Marines aren’t born, they’re made. The same is true for Christians. And what of the second book?

Ecclesiastes: by the use of enlightened reason, quickly perceives a delusive tinge in all that the world holds glorious, truly distinguishing between it and deeper truth. Moreover, it causes the fear of God and the observance of his commandments to be preferred to all human pursuits and worldly desires.

To me this is St. Bernard’s “know your enemy” book recommendation, comparable to Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The shocker to many is that the Church doesn’t discard the use of reason, but she embraces it. Many have thought, “Why is Ecclesiastes even in the Canon of Scriptures?” Because the Patriarchs deemed this inspired book’s merits far outweighed its demerits, and for the very reasons that St. Bernard cites above.

Qohelth describes the world as we know it. Writing as if he is King Solomon, “the Teacher” profiles all of the paths that people take in the world, and describes in pithy phrases the stark truth: all of these ways lead to dead-ends except one. Which is why the good Doctor can say this without batting an eye about these two books,

the former is the beginning of wisdom, the latter its culmination, for there is no true and consummate wisdom other than the avoidance of evil and the doing of good, no one can successfully shun evil without the fear of God, and no work is good without the observance of the commandments.

Tempted to skip these two books and head straight to the Song of Songs? I wouldn’t recommend it and neither does St. Bernard.

Taking it then these two evils have been warded off by the reading of choice books, we may suitably proceed with this holy and contemplative discourse which, as the fruit of the other two, may be delivered only to well prepared ears and minds.

In other words, don’t put the cart before the horse. Learn the fundamentals, and practice them constantly until they become second nature. No, I don’t have this completely “wired” yet and probably never will. But we have to start somewhere and practice, practice, practice.

The Book of Proverbs is pretty straight forward, and the notes in your Catholic Bible should have all the resources you need to understand it. Ecclesiastes may be a little more challenging, but there is a lot of information available to help you along with the writer’s, and thus the Holy Spirit’s, reasoning. As Our Lord says,

but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Come to the well.

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Because Mary Said “May It Be Done to Me”

Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord. Before I was a Catholic, I wouldn’t have even known what that all means. Just another one of those big ol’ words linked to Jesus’s mom that everyone knew Catholics worshiped.

Mary, schmerry, I thought, God can do anything. If Mary would have said no, big damn deal.

Sort of like asking a girl to dance at a party and you get rejected.”Sorry God, looks like she said No. Let me buy you a beer to help you put the flames out.” Next candidate please. There’s a lot of fish in the sea. [Read more...]

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Because of the Way This Desert Father Handled a Calumny

—Feast of St. Joseph  

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

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

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

Abba Macarius said this about himself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun Tzu

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says

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For All the Saints: Louise de Marillac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Louise de Marillac, pray for us.

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

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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

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For Faith in Action: Thomas Merton’s Letter to a 6th Grader

I don’t exactly remember where I found what follows, so forgive me for not providing footnotes. I was reading Jesuit Fr. Jim Martin’s, recent blog post reflecting on today’s gospel reading. The reading from Sirach applies as well.

The message is simple, yet paradoxically difficult, like most of the tenets of our faith. As Father Jim notes, it is simply “be kind.” Simple, but my kids (and I) are still working on doing this so it is not easy!

While pondering this message,  the memory of this kind letter written by Fr. Louis (Thomas Merton) to a school child popped into my head.

I mention this also because someone sent me an e-mail yesterday looking for a book recommendation, and in my haste I must have deleted it, because I can’t find it anywhere. So whoever you are, please e-mail me again because I’m not being unkind in not replying to you. I just blew it, is all. Just another plank in my eye (he thought sheepishly).

And now, Father Louis has the floor,

Thomas Merton’s Letter to a 6th Grader named Susan

In 1967, Susan Chapulis, a sixth grader studying monasticism, wrote to Thomas Merton asking for “any information whatsoever” that she could share with her class. Merton replied:

Thanks for your nice letter. You want “any information whatsoever” to help the sixth grade in the study of monasticism. Well, I’ll see if I can get the brothers down in the store to send you a little book about the monastery here. That ought to help.

The monastic life goes back a long way. Monks are people who seek to devote all their time to knowing God better and loving Him more. For that reason they leave the cities and go out into lonely places where it is quiet and they can think. As they go on in life they want to find lonelier and lonelier places so they can think even more.

In the end people think these monks are really crazy going off by themselves and of course sometimes they are. On the other hand when you are quiet and when you are free from a lot of cares, when you don’t make enough money to pay taxes, and don’t have a wife to fight with, and when your heart is quiet, you suddenly realize that everything is extremely beautiful and that just by being quiet you can almost sense that God is right there not only with you but even in you. Then you realize that it is worth the trouble of going away where you don’t have to talk and mess around and make a darn fool of yourself in the middle of a lot of people who are running around in circles to no purpose.

I suppose that is why monks go off and live in lonely places. Like me now. I live alone in the woods with squirrels and rabbits and deer and foxes and a huge owl that comes down by my cabin and makes a spooky noise in the night, but we are friends and it is all ok. A monk who lives all by himself in the woods is called a hermit. There is a Rock ’n’ Roll outfit called Herman and his Hermits but they are not the same thing.

I do not suppose for a moment that you wish to become a hermit (though now I understand there are some girl hermits in England and they are sort of friends of mine because they are hermits, so I send them stuff about how to be a hermit). But anyway, I suggest that you sometimes be quiet and think about how good a thing it is that you are loved by God who is infinite and who wants you to be supremely happy and who in fact is going to make you supremely happy. Isn’t that something? It is, my dear, and let us keep praying that it will work out like that for everybody.

Good bye now.

Which reminds me of an old Shaker hymn,

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