Because It Was Time: A Confession on Why I Killed Santa Claus

There is a killing that I won’t need to bring to my parish priests’ attention the next time I enter the confessional. I killed Santa Claus a little over a year ago in my own household, and I have absolutely no regrets about doing so either.

Because it had to be done, see? Like when Old Yeller saved the day and protected the family from a rabid wolf. [Read more...]

Thanks to St. John of the Cross, Master of Paradoxes

In the past, I have shared my affinity for both the writings of John C.H. Wu (the Chinese Chesterton, here with his family and Pope Pius XII) and St. John of the Cross. Do you remember when I shared my friend John’s thoughts on Thérèse of Lisieux? He compared her to Lao Tzu and Confucius.

As this is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, I would like to share with you some of John Wu’s thoughts about this Doctor of the Church as well as this diagram of St. John’s Ascent of Mt. Carmel. [Read more...]

Because of Francisco De Osuna and a Minor Miracle

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

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

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

I remember thinking to myself, I don’t know what St. Teresa is talking about (contemplative prayer? What’s that?), but if she liked de Osuna’s book enough to give it such a ringing endorsement, then I need to get a copy of it too, post haste! And the “harm of romance novels” comment resonated with me too, as I sheepishly realized how much of my reading time had heretofore been wasted on a lot of superfluous junk. Since this time, my night stand has been cluttered with “spiritual books”, and lots of them, instead. I wonder if she introduced de Osuna’s book to another Doctor of the Church too, you know, her friend and colleague St. John de la Cruz.

It turns out that Paulist Press published this book as a part of their excellent The Classics of Western Spirituality Series and it’s readily available. A visit to Amazon.com, a few clicks of the mouse, and a credit card authorization later, and The Third Spiritual Alphabet was on its way to me.

Within a week it arrived, all 609 pages of it. And let me tell you, de Osuna did not disappoint. I broke out my pencil for underlining purposes early, and often. Here are some examples of his thoughts from a few of the chapter and section headings,

Communion to God is Open to All; As Gifts Increase, So Do Our Debts; How We Should Give Thanks In Adversity; Blindness is Necessary to See God; How We Cannot Know God in Himself While We Live; Imitating Our Lord in the Desert of Recollection.

And here are a few of his thoughts on recollection that I underlined,

p.170: …we note that the devotion is called recollection because it gathers together those who practice it and, by erasing all dissension and discord, makes them of one heart and love. Not content with just this, recollection, more than any other devotion, has the known, discernible property by which someone who follows it can be greatly moved to devotion when he sees another person also recollected.

Having just left the greater Los Angeles area for my hometown in the hills of Tennessee, these words on the next page struck a chord with me too,

p.171: This devotion encourages us to retire from the traffic of people and noisy places to dwell in more secluded regions and to go out only now and then. If we do leave, we find ourselves anxious to return to our retreat to enjoy recollection, and we are just as eager as when we began the practice. We are like an eel that slips around in the fisherman’s hands so it can wriggle back into the water.

He could say that again. He goes on to say,

In recollection news and vain gossip have no appeal, nor do we like to hear anything that does not advise us to withdraw further into our hearts…for (the recollected) only wish is to see God with their hearts.

And Fray Francisco doesn’t pull any punches on what it takes to get from A to Z in the practice of this devotion. These are his thoughts from p. 175 that maybe only a Marine Corps Drill Instructor can appreciate,

You should also remember that no one masters any art without arduous practice, and the more one practices and becomes accustomed to something, the more quickly he masters it. Do not be so foolish as not to respect in this devotion and art the two things we observe in all occupations. First, learn it so that you are its master; do not be content to remain a beginner all your life like stupid, listless people who are forever learners, never attaining the science of truth because they are insufficiently attentive to their tasks. They are like the one in the gospel of whom it is said, “This man began to build and could not finish( Luke 14:30).”

How ignorant is the man who starts to build a house but does not concentrate on finishing it as quickly as possible so he can enjoy it soon! …If you wish to build the house of recollection for your souls, brother, you will profit immensely by remembering your intention. Plan to finish it.

Aye, aye sir! Now that I’ve given you a taste of my pal Fr. Francisco, I promise to share more of his thoughts in future posts. I can assure you of this because of the minor miracle that I will briefly describe for you now.

You may not have noticed that I’ve been blogging here for just over a year and this is only the second time that I am writing about my friend Fr. Francisco. I mentioned him briefly in the YIMC Book Club discussion of Mere Christianity when we were reading C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on pride. The principal reason for me keeping Fr. Francisco hidden from view is simple: I misplaced his book!

I had searched up and down my house, and my office, for it too. I reckon that it has been missing from my shelves for well over a year. Miraculously, and admittedly this is a minor miracle, not a supernatural one, the book reappeared in the back seat of my car last night. Here is the story.

Our family attended a Christmas party last night, see, and we took two cars because my wife had to go early to help set up. She took my eldest son with her to help her carry things. In Marine Corps jargon, her and my son were the Weathers “advance party” to the event. I followed in trace with the “main body” which included myself and my two younger children.

With the advent of cellular phones, this “advance party(AP) – main body (MB)” jargon makes sense to me because the AP called the MB about five times between the time the AP left and the MB crossed the line of departure. The message traffic went sort of like this,

AP to MB: “Could you bring my make-up bag? I left it in my other purse. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do.”

AP to MB: “MB, MB, could you stop by the ATM and get some money so we can buy some raffle tickets? I’m out of cash. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do. Over.”

AP to MB: “Could you bring XYZ with you? I just realized I forgot it. Over.”

MB to AP: “Negative AP, we are enroute and only 5 mikes (minutes) from your location. Over.

AP to MB: “OK then, disregard. Over and out.”

Granted, my wife and I don’t really talk like this on our cell phones. But really, isn’t this the way these AP to MB conversations go? Surely you have experienced this too. After that first exchange about the makeup bag, I found that bag and took it directly to the back seat of my car. I know what is of vital importance to a mission being successful or not, and a missing makeup bag would have been unimaginable. I absolutely did not want to forget that, thus I put it right there on the empty back seat of my car and walked away knowing that all would be well.

The MB arrives at the party and finds it well attended and packed to the gills with people enjoying themselves immensely and noted a long, snake-like, slow-moving, line of people waiting their turn for the food. I tracked down my wife, who was busy helping out, etc. I informed her that I had the makeup bag in the car and to let me know when she needs it and I’ll go get it. She said, “why didn’t you bring it in?” and discretion being the better part of valor, I turned tail and went and got it, ASAP.

As I approached my car, unlocked the doors, and rounded the rear bumper to open the passenger door on the side of the car where I had deposited the make-up bag, I was shocked to see Fr. Francisco’s book sitting there pretty as you please. When I unlocked the car, the dome light comes on automatically and I just stared through the window at that book for probably 15 seconds before I opened the door. I was thinking to, “where did you come from?” That seat had been empty when I threw the makeup bag there less than an hour earlier.

I was happy though, and thanked the Lord that it reappeared. It turned out that my youngest son had somehow noticed that something was bulging in the pouch on the back of the front passenger seat. He may have thought that I was hiding a Christmas present in there or something. I’m sure he was disappointed when it turned out to be one of his Dad’s dog-eared and well worn old books. So he just tossed it onto the seat and never said a word.

Sometimes that is how minor miracles work themselves out. Regardless, I’m just glad Francisco is back and I look forward to sharing more of his thoughts with you in future posts.

Because the Saints Are Alive

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

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

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

I should have known better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God.

For All the Saints: Philip of Heraclea & Companions

There are many saints on the calendar for today, but I’d like to share with you this story about St. Philip, the Bishop of Heraclea, and his two companions, the priest Severus, and the good deacon Hermes (named after the Roman god of fleet feet).

People are still being martyred in the present day. Physically, believe it or not in many parts of the world, and mentally elsewhere. Prepare for it because it is likely to happen to you, and maybe it already has, in some way, shape or form.

The following account is from the work of another saint, Alphonsus de Liguori’s Victories of the Martyr’s. Does St. Al’s name sound familiar to you? It should because I shared something else he wrote right before I went on vacation this past summer.

Would you think me macabre if I told you that I find tales of this sort motivating? Well, I do. Because these three men didn’t abide by the dictum that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Instead, they are faith-filled and fearless men. After all, as a famous Marine once screamed, “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” So let’s wade in to a triple play of Christian courage, shall we?

ST. PHILIP, BISHOP OF HERACLEA, AND HIS TWO COMPANIONS, ST. SEVERUS AND ST. HERMES.

St. Philip was elected Bishop of Heraclea, the metropolis of Thrace, in consequence of his extraordinary virtue; and so fully did he correspond to the expectation of his people, that, while they tenderly loved him, there was not one among his flock who was not the object of his most affectionate pastoral solicitude. But there were two of his disciples whom he loved with peculiar affection—Severus, a priest, and Hermes, a deacon, whom he afterwords had companions of his martyrdom.

In the persecution of Diocletian he was advised to retire from the city. This, however, he refused to do, saying that he wished to conform to the dispensations of God, who knows how to reward those who suffer for his love, and that consequently he feared not the threats or torments of the tyrant.

The audacity of this Bishop. And fearless? The governor decides to lie in wait and call his bluff.

In the year 304, the saint was one day preaching to his people upon the necessity of patience and resignation, when a soldier, by the order of Bassus, the governor, entered the church, and having commanded the people to retire, shut the doors and sealed them; upon which Philip said to him: “Dost thou think that God dwelleth in these walls, and not rather in our souls?”

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to hear strains of Tom Petty singing I Won’t Back Down. Man, Philip might even have looked like Tom Petty! Back to the story,

Philip, although unable to enter the church, was unwilling to abandon it altogether, and remained at the door with his people. Separating the good from the bad, he exhorted the former to remain constant in the faith, and called upon the latter to return to God by sincere repentance.

“Seperating the good from the bad…” Ahem, Phil, shouldn’t you really just chill out brother?! I mean, the governor’s soldier-boy is here and he’s mighty important, and looking kind of serious. What if the governor himself comes?

Bassus, (I warned you Phil!) finding them assembled, caused them to be arrested, and having demanded who was their master, Philip answered: “I am he.”

The governor said: “Hast thou not heard the edict of the emperor, that in no place shall the Christians be assembled, but shall sacrifice to the gods, or perish?” He then commanded that the gold and silver vessels, together with the books that treated of the Christian law, should be delivered up; otherwise that recourse would be had to torture.

I told you a bluff was going to be called. But Philip has a mind of his own, see, and a heart that belongs to the Lord because,

Philip replied: “For my part, I am willing to suffer in this my body, tottering with age, whatever thou canst inflict; but abandon thou the thought of having any control over my spirit. The sacred vessels are at thy disposal; but it shall be my care to prevent the holy books from falling into thy hands.”

In other words, you can kill the body, but not the spirit. Hmmm, where have I heard that before? Right! Matthew 10:28. And what effect does this have?

Bassus, infuriated at this answer, called forward the executioners, and caused the saint to undergo a cruel and protracted torture.

He didn’t waste any time, did he? Kind of like NPR in the firing of Juan Williams.

The deacon, Hermes, witnessing the agonies of his bishop, told the governor that, although he were possessed of all the holy books, good Christians would never fail to teach Jesus Christ to others, and to render him the honor he deserves. After these words the holy deacon was most cruelly scourged.

Oh, you expected kow-towing and capitulation, did you? Heh, civilians. Not to be outdone by the bishops subaltern,

Bassus commanded that the sacred vessels should be removed from the sacristy, that the Scriptures should be burned, and that Philip, with the other prisoners, should be led by the soldiers to the forum, to be executed, in order that the pagans should be gladdened and the Christians affrighted by the spectacle.

Power…it’s all about the power. And our shining heroes would have nothing to do with bending their knees unto the temporal power of a mere despot.

Philip, having arrived at the forum, and being informed of the burning of the Scriptures, spoke at length to the people of the eternal fire prepared by God for the wicked.

Get that? Philip believes in Hell. And the really crazy thing? He prefers Heaven. And just when he was getting, ahem, warmed up,

During this discourse, a pagan priest, called Cataphronius, came carrying some meats that had been sacrificed to the idols. Hermes, seeing him, exclaimed: “This diabolical food hath been brought, that we, being forced to eat it, may be contaminated!” St. Philip desired him to be calm.

The good Bishop, in the face of certain death, tells the good Deacon to remain calm. I wonder what scheme the governor is planning next.

In the mean time the governor, arriving at the forum again, commanded the holy bishop to sacrifice to his gods.

Why be subtle, right? And was Philip impressed? Not hardly.

The saint asked: ” Being a Christian, how can I sacrifice to marble?” “Sacrifice at least to the emperor,” said Bassus. “My religion,” said the saint, “commands me to honor the princes, but teaches me that sacrifice is due to God alone.”

An in an effort to seem reasonable, the governor said,

“But doth not this beauteous statue of Fortune,” said the governor, “deserve a victim?”

The saint replied: “It may receive that honor from thy hands, since thou dost adore it; but it shall not from mine.”

Uh-oh, the governor thought, this wise-acre of a Christian is calling my bluff! I blinked once but I’ll give him another chance.

“Let then,” urged Bassus, “this fine figure of Hercules move thee.”

Whereupon Philip makes an audacious speech and,

Here the holy bishop, raising his voice, rebuked the insanity of those who worship as gods statues that, being taken from the earth, like earth should be trodden upon, not adored.

Much to the consternation of the governor, who seems to be begging now as we see when,

Bassus, turning to Hermes, asked him if he at least would sacrifice. The holy deacon resolutely answered that he was a Christian, and could not do so; and having been told that, should he continue obstinate, he would be cast into flames, replied: “Thou dost threaten me with flames that last but for a short time, because thou art ignorant of the strength of those eternal flames in which the followers of the devil shall burn.”

Uh-oh, stand-by for the good part,

Bassus, exasperated at the constancy of the saints, remanded them to prison. As they went along, the insolent rabble frequently pushed the venerable and aged bishop, so as to throw him down, but he with joyous looks quietly raised himself again.

Those would be the actions of the crowd of reasonable, though “god-fearing” idolators. Warms the cockles of your heart, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile the term of Bassus’ government having expired, Justin, his successor, arrived at Heraclea.

And then term limits kicked in and everyone lived happily ever after. Right? Dream on, because the new guy on the job has something to prove. Because,

He was a much more cruel man than his predecessor. St. Philip, having been brought before him, was told that if he would not sacrifice, he should, notwithstanding his extreme age, have to suffer tortures that were intolerable even to youth.

And here, the drama continues to unfold.

The venerable bishop replied: “Ye, for fear of a short punishment, obey men: how much more ought we to obey God, who visits evil-doers with eternal torments? Thou mayest torture, but canst never induce me to sacrifice.”

Justin: “I shall command thee to be dragged by the feet through the streets of the city.”

Philip: “God grant that it may be so.” The bloody threat was executed; yet the saint did not die in that torment, but his body was torn to pieces, and in the arms of the brethren he was carried back to prison.

Why am I thinking of the movie Hard to Kill? Surely the old Bishops companions will bend to the governor’s will after this near death experience.

After this, the governor called before him Hermes the deacon, whom he exhorted to sacrifice, in order to escape the torments that were being prepared. But the saint replied : “I cannot sacrifice and betray my faith; do, therefore, according to thy pleasure—tear my body to pieces.”

“Thou speakest thus,” said Justin: “because thou knowest not the pains that await thee; upon a trial thou shalt repent.”

Hermes: “Atrocious though they may be, Jesus Christ, for whose love I am about to suffer, will render them not only light, but sweet.”

Justin sent him also to prison, where the saints remained for seven months.

Justin must have been thinking that these guys are on to something. Maybe he wanted to study it, or maybe more pressing matters came about which led him to forget about these three pesky Christians. The parishoners were probably underground by this time. After seven months of waiting,

Thence he sent them before him to Adrianople, and upon his arrival again summoned Philip to his presence, intimating to him that he had deferred his execution in the hope that, upon mature consideration, he would sacrifice.

Surely, you’ve had plenty of time to see the reasonableness of the governments position. But Philip plays the man and,

The saint boldly replied: “I have already told thee that I am a Christian, and I will always say the same. I will not sacrifice to statues, but only to that God to whom I have consecrated my entire being.”

I sense the denouement coming on.

Angered by this reply, the judge ordered him to be stripped and scourged until the bones and bowels were laid bare. The aged bishop suffered this torture with so much courage, that Justin himself was astonished.

Justin must have been thinking “why won’t you die?!”

Three days afterwards he was again summoned before the tyrant, who inquired why it was that with so much temerity he continued to disregard the imperial edicts.

The saint replied: “That which animates me is not rashness, but the love I bear my God, who one day shall judge me. In worldly matters I have invariably obeyed the rulers, but now the question is, whether I will prefer earth to heaven. I am a Christian, and cannot sacrifice to thy gods.”

These Christians are damned inflexible. Well, inflexible maybe, but surely not damned. Maybe they’re just gung-ho.

Seeing that he could not shake the constancy of the holy bishop, Justin, turning to Hermes, said: ” This old man is weary of life, but thou shouldst not be so reckless of it: offer sacrifice, and consult thy safety.”

Justin figures ol’ Phil is suicidal, so he appeals to the younger Deacon. Would you believe that Hermes takes this as an opportunity to school Justin in reality?

Hermes began to show the impiety of idolatry, but Justin hastily interrupted him, saying: ” Thou speakest as if thou wouldst persuade me to become a Christian.”

“I earnestly desire,” said the saint, ” that this should happen not only to thee, but to all those who hear me.”

Wow! Way to be a witness Deke, and way to try and save a soul too! Not that Justin cared, but that is never the point is it? Hermes and Philip didn’t answer to Justin, but to Our Lord.

Finally, the tyrant, perceiving that he could not win over these generous confessors, pronounced sentence in the following manner:

“We command that Philip and Hermes, for having contemned the imperial edicts, shall be burned alive.”

Time to get this over with.

Sentence having been pronounced, the saints proceeded to the place of execution, evincing by their holy joy that they were two victims consecrated to the Lord. But from having been tortured in the stocks their feet were so sore that the holy bishop had to be supported, while Hermes with great difficulty followed, saying to Philip : “Let us hasten, Father, nor care for our feet, since we shall no longer have need of them.”

Now that is hard corps!

When they came to the place of their martyrdom, according to the custom of the country, they were placed standing in a trench, and covered with earth up to the knees, in order that they might not be able to flee from the fire. Upon entering the trench, Hermes smiled with holy joy, and the fire having been kindled by the executioners, the saints began to thank Almighty God for their death, terminating their prayer and their martyrdom with the usual “Amen.”

Remember the priest, Severus? He was left behind, and not too happy about it. So he started praying,

Severus, who was the other disciple of St. Philip, had been left in prison while his holy bishop consummated his martyrdom in the flames; and having been informed of his glorious triumph, was deeply afflicted at not having been able to bear him company; hence he earnestly besought the Lord not to think him unworthy of sacrificing his life for his glory. His prayers were heard, and on the following day he obtained the desired crown.

And there is a somewhat miraculous twist to the story still because,

After the execution, their bodies were found entire and fresh as in full health, without any trace of fire.

And St. Alphonsus de Liguori (a Doctor of the Church) has this to share to round out this story,

St. Hermes, though a simple deacon, was a distinguished man. He had been first magistrate of the city of Heraclea, and had fulfilled the duties of his office with so much wisdom that he conciliated the esteem and veneration of all his fellow-citizens. After having renounced everything to devote himself to the service of the Church, he took the resolution to live only by the labor of his hands, like the great Apostle (St. Paul), and he had a son named Philip whom he brought up in the same principles.

While the executioners were setting fire to the pile in which he was to be consumed, and perceiving one of his friends in the crowd, he called him and said: “Go, and tell my son: ‘These are the last words of your dying father—words that he leaves you as the most precious marks of his affection. You are young: avoid as dangerous everything that can weaken your soul; above all, avoid sloth; keep the peace with every one.’” The flames having risen prevented him from continuing. These details are given by Ruinart. —ED.

Gung-ho for Christ until the end. Semper Fidelis, Philip, Hermes, and Severus and if you please, pray for us.

Because I’m Billy Jack (Not Francis of Assisi)

A while back, I wrote a post where I said that I became a Catholic because I discovered that Christ, and His Church, wanted 100% of me. My whole heart, soul, mind and strength. The full-spectrum of Frank, warts and all. I needed to change, but I didn’t have to stop being a man.

I’m especially thankful for this, as I don’t fit the mold of modern-day milquetoast Christian guy. Namby-pamby, pacifistic, always gentle and kind. The ancients counseled “Know thyself,” and I know this about myself: I’m more like Billy Jack than I am like St. Francis of Assisi.

Remember Billy Jack? The movie character brought to life by Tom Laughlin?  He made four movies as this character. The first was Born Losers where we meet Billy and his back-story. Fresh out of the Army, Special Forces. A former Green Beret, see? Eager to turn his sword into a ploughshare. “I ain’t a gonna study war no more,” as the ditty goes.

But then some bad guys roll into town on their choppers and start terrorizing the locals. Raping, pillaging, and generally carrying on in a despicable manner, disturbing the peace with impunity. Enter Billy Jack, who moves to protect the weak with his gifts of strength and skill. Does he go over the top with his vigilantism? Of course (it’s a movie, after all)!

The next movie he made was simply titled Billy Jack, and now he is seriously trying to make himself into a pacifist Christian guy, like he believes he is supposed to do. A square peg trying to fit into a round hole. But Billy is a warrior, and though in his heart he deplores violence, sometimes he realizes that is what is called for. Like in this scene below,

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That could easily be me. I’m not saying it’s pretty, but the Marine in me, the berserker, can admit that it is pretty true. The difference between me now, and Billy Jack/former Frank, is that a) I know that standing up to bullies and hooligans is not forbidden “Christian man” behavior, and b) if my switch gets tripped and I go nuclear, as Billy Jack does in the clip above, the confessional is only a few blocks away if my conscience screams, “You went too far!”

I understand the use of deadly force. I understand that it is hard to control violence, and that lines are crossed daily, from the misapplication of force, changing lives for the worse forever. But I’m also a man, a husband, a father, and a warrior. A protector of not only my family, but of the innocent, a champion of the oppressed, a friend to the unloved. This is what I, with the help of the Church, am teaching my two boys. Teaching them what it means to be a strong Christian, a strong Catholic man. And I trust that my daughter will benefit from this too.

There has been lots of press lately about young people taking their own lives when they were bullied to the point of no return. If they weren’t physically assaulted, then they were attacked verbally. I’m left with a question to parents of children everywhere: Where are the Christian kids who aren’t afraid to back up the bullied kids? Who aren’t afraid to befriend them? Who actively rally around them and protect them?

Obviously, it takes fortitude to go against the mainstream, especially in the peer-pressure-cooker pack of the school-age set, both in public and private schools. Sometimes, it takes young men with the mindset of Billy Jack to police the halls of the world and keep the peace. Thankfully, there are Warrior Saints I can share with my children too.

We have to teach our children this fortitude, along with the rest of the Cardinal virtues of justice, temperence, and prudence. These complement and put into action the Theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Teaching our children only the latter (the Theological virtues), while neglecting the former, will leave them ill-equipped to be faithful examples of lived Christianity in our world today.

We are called to love, and to pray for peace. But we are not to turn our backs on injustice, or flee from standing up for what is right, or run away from defending the weak.

I pray that my children, and yours, will do the right thing: love and protect all of their peers—the popular, the average, and the unpopular, and that they be virtuous in this life. Amen.

For Thoughts On Death by Robert Bellarmine

—Feast of St. Robert Bellarmine
Today we celebrate the feast of the saint whose portrait you see here. You can read all about his life elsewhere. What I’m interested in is what this Doctor of the Church has to say about death, and as a consequence, his thoughts on life.
I’ve shared Blaise Pascal’s thoughts on death before in this space. Yeah, Frank, we noticed and could you please talk about something else?! Sorry, but I just had a loved one pass away very recently, so death is on my mind. And who better than St. Robert Bellarmine to instruct us on this subject?

It turns out he was a great orator, someone whom Catholics, and Protestants flocked to hear speak. Truthfully, I know next to nothing about him except that he died on this day back in Annos Domini, 1621.I could spend a lifetime reading the works of the Doctors of the Church and still barely scratch the surface of the writings of all of those of the Church’s ranks  who are now at home in the Church Triumphant.

But lately, I’ve resolved that I will make an effort to familiarize myself with the writings of those who have gone before us and are in the Communion of the Saints. Especially on their feast day. As such, I invite you to tag along with me now and read the preface to one of St. Robert Bellarimine’s easier to find essays.

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Because I Believe in Miracles

Feast of St. Peter Claver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because St. Anthony Helped Me Find John C.H. Wu

Anyone remember Webster’s first post on minor miracles? Something a little more than a coincidence led me to John C. H. Wu and I’m not ashamed to go “on the record” and say that. While browsing the shelves of my local public library, I came upon this little volume called St. Anthony’s Treasury. It’s a wee little book of prayers that is about the size of a pocket New Testament, like the ones the Gideon’s publish.

Catholic prayer books in the public library? That’s a minor miracle in itself, right? I know it was a gift from a patron. How? Because in pencil on the top right-hand corner of the blank page facing the inside cover is written carefully the word “gift.” The library, see, doesn’t have the money to purchase every published book under the sun. Especially not little Catholic prayer books like this one.

So I checked the book out, with the intention of looking over the prayers and devotions later. I was on my break and as I walked back to my office I learned about the First Friday Devotions right there on page 76. I always wondered what that devotion was all about. As someone who pretty regularly attends daily Mass, First Fridays are the same as every Friday, or so I thought. Now I know better.

When I got back to the office, I tossed the book into my book bag and forgot about it. And when I got home that evening, I dropped my bag in its customary resting place.  I forgot about it again until I needed to put my lunch into it the next morning. My routine? Grab my lunch, stuff it in the bag, grab my coffee, and out the door. Just another day, so far.

I work downtown and park in a garage that is about a ten minute walk from my office. So I get out of the car, throw my bag over my shoulder, lock the car and start walking. Oh yeah, then I dug into the bag and pulled out St. Anthony’s Treasury to read while I walked. Who knows? Maybe I’d learn something new.

The day before, I had checked the contents and skipped to the first devotion that caught my eye. For my walk, however, I started in the foreword, which is where I used to never look. You know, from before, when I was a “know-it-all.” I used to never read introductions, prefaces, or forewords, because I just wanted to get right to the action. I learned over the years that this wasn’t always a great idea.

So to the foreword it was. Written by a Robert Nash, S.J., he reminds us that St. Anthony is renowned as an “expert in the art of finding lost articles.” Does everyone know St. Anthony’s Prayer? You have lost something, say, and can’t find it anywhere. So you ask St. Anthony of Padua to help you out by calling on him like so,

St. Anthony!, St. Anthony!
Please come down.
Something is lost,
And can’t be found.

But, as far as I knew, I hadn’t lost anything on this day, so I kept on reading Fr. Nash’s foreword which was a lamentation on the huge numbers of people who have lost their faith and don’t really seem to care about it. It sounded like he was sulking, really, and I was just going to turn the page when I ran smack dab into these words,

The pagan philosopher Dr. Wu read…this in the Life of St. Thérèse. “What a wonderful girl!” he exclaimed. “If this saying of hers is an expression of the meaning of Catholic faith I see no reason why I should not become a Catholic.”

Having done a few posts on a guy named Wu, I was intrigued. The Wu I knew, though, became a Jesuit priest way before Thérèse of Lisieux had been born. As I walked, I resolved to see if I could find any information on this “pagan philosopher” named Wu, because from the quote Fr. Nash used, he sounded like a smart guy to me.

Now, this foreward is in the edition of St. Anthony’s Treasury that was published in 1975 by the Anthonian Press out of Dublin Ireland. I had some pretty good clues on this Wu person, and a Google search later, I had discovered that the guy who uttered these words was no pagan. Heck, by 1975, my friend John had been a Catholic for 38 years, and had published numerous books about the Faith. He had been an envoy to the Vatican in the early 1940′s, for crying out loud, and this Fr. Nash had no idea!

Something had been lost, alright, but it wasn’t my car keys. It was the Catholic legacy of John C.H. Wu that had been lost. Perhaps St. Anthony was pointing me in this direction so that John’s legacy can be rediscovered? That’s what I believe, anyway. Especially when I realized that most of his books are out of print, and used copies of them are few and far between. And expensive! Which got me thinking too.

Take a look at this map below.

This is the map of the world shaded by percentage of the population that identifies themselves as being Christian. See the big light colored space? Like all the way from Casablanca on the coast of Morocco to the islands of Japan? Less than 10 percent of the people in these areas are Christians. And the most populated country on that map is the Peoples Republic of China, right next to the second most populated country, the Republic of India.

Which leads me to make this appeal to the good folks at Our Sunday Visitor. Would OSV please consider republishing the works of John C.H. Wu if they still own the rights to them? I think the market for John’s books is pretty large. Heck, I love what he has written too and I’ve only read The Science of Love so far. He is the “Chinese” Chesterton after all. Just imagine the souls that could be reached in Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Arabic, and other lanquages.

What do you say OSV? Can you bring John’s work back to the presses (or to Kindle)? St. Anthony has found him, but we here at YIMCatholic do not have a printing press. Thanks in advance for taking up this cause. If anyone reading this post knows anyone who can help make this happen, I would be much obliged.

For All the Saints: The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne

Guest post by William “Mac” McCarthy

Blogging makes surprising connections. Back in the day when I was a lapsed Episcopalian and he was the rare Catholic at our New England school, Mac lived down the hall from me. Forty years later, now an attorney in Bakersfield, California, he read YIM Catholic and quickly promised me a write-up on an extraordinary group of Catholic martyrs, whom we honor on July 17.

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”

During the French Revolution’s Reign of terror, on the evening of July 17, 1794, in Paris’s Place de la Nation, a hardened crowd waited at the guillotine for the carts carrying that day’s “batch” from the Palais de Justice. A heavy stench from the putrefying blood in the pit below the scaffold hung over the plaza. During the five weeks the guillotine had stood in the Place de la Nation, a thousand severed heads had fallen into the blood-stiffened leather bag of Sanson, the Paris executioner. The blood pit had been enlarged once already but had quickly filled up again.

Usually, raucous jeers from where Rue du Faubourg St. Antoine emptied into the plaza would signal the approach of the tumbrels carrying the condemned. Not this night. A strange hush spread into the plaza. Then there was something else. Singing. Serene, female voices intoning a cool, effortless chant of verse after verse of the Te Deum.

When the tumbrels rolled up to the scaffold, the crowd grew silent. The singers were sixteen sisters from the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Compiegne. They wore long white choir mantles (cloaks) over brown robes similar to nuns’ habits. Such attire had long since been outlawed in the new order. But these women were not of the new order. Their religious clothing and singing in Latin embodied the lost time before the storming of the Bastille and the start of the revolution on July 14, 1789. Also, while plenty of priests and some nuns had been executed individually, never had an entire religious community been carted up to the guillotine. Their radiant, happy faces were wrong for this place. They should have looked sad. They were about to die. They looked joyous. The other twenty-four condemned prisoners with them looked unhappy.

The reason for the Carmelites’ happiness was their belief that the guillotine was the answer to their prayers. Every day for almost two years, since about the time of the September 1792 massacres, the sisters had made a daily act of consecration in which they offered their own lives to God as a sacrifice to restore peace, help France, and stop the killing. For Christ, their heavenly Spouse, to actually accept their offer of themselves in holocaust and grant them their martyrdom gave them great joy.

Three hours earlier at the Palais de Justice, the sisters had been condemned to death. A show trial proved them “enemies of the people.” The blatantly false charges included “hiding weapons in your convent.” In answer, the 41-year old prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, lifted her crucifix from her bosom and held it up to the presiding judge saying, “The only weapon we’ve ever had in our convent is this. You cannot prove we have ever had any others.” They had no convent anyway. The revolutionary government had confiscated it and ejected them in September 1792. Carmel Compiegne and everything in it had been sold to finance the revolution.

A fellow prisoner who saw them return from hearing their death sentences reported their faces were “beaming with joy.” A Parisian working class woman who watched the Carmelites pass by on the tumbrels had shouted, “What good souls! Just look at them! Tell me if you don’t think they look just like angels! I tell you, if these women don’t go straight to paradise, then we’ll just have to believe it doesn’t exist!”

At the scaffold, the sisters performed devotions normal for dying Carmelites. The nuns renewed their monastic vows of poverty chastity and obedience. They sang the Veni Creator Spiritus:

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav’nly aid,
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made. …

One sister, was heard to cry out, “Only too happy, O my God, if this little sacrifice can calm your wrath and reduce the number of victims.”

Then Mother Teresa of Saint Augustine walked over to the foot of the scaffold steps and turned to face her spiritual daughters. In the palm of her hand, the prioress held a tiny terracotta image of the Virgin and Child, a last relic saved from Carmel Compiegne. She summoned Sister Constance, the youngest sister, who approached.

This was 29-year-old Sister Contance’s first act of obedience as a professed Carmelite. Moments before, as her sisters were renewing their vows, she was pronouncing her vows for the first time. In 1789, at the start of the Revolution, just before she completed her novice year, the revolutionary government prohibited the taking of religious vows. So, after six years as a novice, she finally made her profession in extremis. Previously, she had expressed a terrible fear of the guillotine. She would show no fear this night.

At the steps, Sister Constance knelt at her prioress’s feet and received a blessing. She kissed the clay Madonna and Child cupped in her prioress’ hand. Finally, bowing her head, she asked:

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”

Sister Constance rose from her knees. A witness described her as radiant as “a queen going to her receive her diadem.“ As she began her climb up to the scaffold, she spontaneously intoned the Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, the 117th Psalm. That psalm was sung by the Discalced Carmelite Order’s mother-foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, at the foundation of every new Carmel in 16th-century Spain. Hearing Sister Constance, her sisters immediately took up the chant:

Praise the Lord, all ye nations!
Praise Him all ye people!
For his mercy is confirmed upon us,
And the truth of the Lord endureth forever!
Praise the Lord!

At the top of scaffold steps, still joined in chant with her sisters, Sister Constance waved aside the executioner and his valet. She walked on her own to the vertical balance-plank; was strapped to it; and then lowered into horizontal position. With a swoosh and a thud, the guillotine had cut the number of voices to 15. The remaining voices rose in defiance. Even before her falling head reached Sanson’s leather bag, Sister Constance was in the arms of her heavenly Spouse in the Kingdom of the Lamb.

The exact order in which the other 15 sisters climbed the scaffold has not come down to us. We know only the last two sisters. What is known is that the guillotine mob remained silent the whole time, an almost impossible–or one could say miraculous–occurrence. The bumps, clicks, swooshes and thuds of the death apparatus told of the deadly business. But the calm, austere chant of the Laudate Dominum never stopped.

About every two minutes, one voice would fall away from the others, to be heard no more by mortal ears. Each sister, when her time came, went to her Mother and knelt; received a blessing; and kissed the Madonna and Child statuette.

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”

Here are the names of the other sisters:

Sister Jesus Crucified, choir sister, age 78. She and Sister Charlotte had celebrated their jubilee of 50 years of profession.

Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, choir sister, age 78. The martyrs arrived at the Paris Concierge (jail) from Compiegne on July 13 after a two-day journey in open carts. Sister Charlotte was unable to rise and step out of the cart with her sisters. She could only walk with a crutch, but her hands were tied behind her back. Exhausted, she sat alone in the tumbrel in the soiled straw. An angry guard jumped up and tossed her out onto the cobblestones. After lying still for a while, Sister Charlotte lifted her bloodied head and gently thanked the brutal guard for not killing her. She wanted to live long enough to make her witness with her sisters.

Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conception, choir sister, age 58

Sister Julie Louise of Jesus, choir sister, age 52. Sister Julie Louise of Jesus entered Carmel as an aristocratic young widow. Well educated and musically talented, she composed a song or poem every year for the community’s July 16 patronal festival, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This year, at the Concierge in Paris, since writing materials were forbidden in jail, she managed to obtain scraps of charcoal. She composed a long five stanza song about a happy martyrdom and set it to the tune of the bloodthirsty La Marseillaise. One line went, “Let’s climb, let’s climb, the scaffold high!” The day before they went to the guillotine, all the sisters gaily sang Sister Julie Louise’s feast day song. Their only disappointment was they would not die on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Sister Teresa of the Heart of Mary, choir sister, age 52

Sister Saint Martha, lay sister, age 52

Sister Catherine, extern, age 52

Sister Marie of the Holy Spirit, lay sister, age 51

Sister Teresa of Saint Ignatius, choir sister, age 51

Mother Henriette of Jesus, past prioress and novice mistress, choir sister, age 49

Sister Teresa, extern, age 46

Sister Saint Louis, subprioress, choir sister, age 42

Sister Saint Francis Xavier, lay sister, age 30

Sister Henriette of the Divine Providence, choir sister, age 34. This sister was the second to last to die. She was a fiery beauty, whose nine adult bothers and sisters included two priests and five nuns. Fearing her natural beauty would be a distraction, she had withdrawn from the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, a public nursing order and sought out the hidden life in the cloister at Carmel. One of her sisters became the Superior General of all the Sisters of Charity of Nevers. (This was the order of St Bernadette of Lourdes.)

In the courtroom at the Revolutionary Tribunal on the day of her martyrdom, she boldly challenged the Tribunal’s notorious public prosecutor, Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, to define what he meant by calling her community “fanatic.” In response to her repeated demands that he stop avoiding her question and answer it, the prosecutor finally said their “attachment to their religion” made them criminals and dangers to public freedom. At the guillotine, since she was the Carmel’s infirmarian, she took a place by the steps and helped her older, weaker sisters up the scaffold steps.

The psalm chant stopped only when the last Carmelite, the prioress—Mother Teresa of Saint Augustine, age 41, had climbed the scaffold steps and followed her daughters. She was the only child of an employee of the Paris Observatory. Since she was not from a wealthy family, the generous young Dauphine of France, Marie Antoinette, had paid her dowry for Carmel. The prioress was well educated and artistic. Some of her paintings still hang on the walls of French Carmels. She was only 34 when she was first elected prioress. She is believed to be the first nun to have felt the call to community martyrdom.

Before beginning her walk up the steps, the prioress made the sign of the cross and paused. A pious woman in the crowd, who saw the hesitation, understood and moved up to discreetly take the tiny terracotta Virgin and Child statuette from the hand of the great prioress of Carmel Compiegne. The statuette was kept safe and has come down to us.

Ten days after the Carmelites of Compiegne fulfilled their vow and offered themselves up in sacrifice to stop the bloodshed, Robespierre fell from power. A bloody revolutionary, he was a key architect of the Reign of Terror. The next day, July 28, 1794, he was guillotined and the Reign of Terror soon faded.

That the martyrs were able to wear parts of their forbidden habits at the guillotine, like their white choir mantles, was due to unusual coincidences or, more likely, the hand of God. After their expulsion from Carmel Compiegne, they had been forbidden to wear their habits. With no money to buy clothes, they had to accept worn out, cast-off, immodest clothing. They draped scarves over their shoulders and necks to protect their modesty.

But, on July 12, 1794, in the jail in Compiegne (a confiscated convent) they had donned what remained of their habits in order to wash their single outfits of civilian clothing. At the same time, the mayor received an order from the Paris Committee of Public Safety ordering the martyrs’ immediate transport to Paris for “trial.” The secular clothes were soaking in wash tubs. Delaying the execution of the Paris order was unthinkable (and too risky) for the Compiegne officials. Therefore, the martyrs went to Paris in what they had left of their forbidden habits. Perhaps, when their Lord decided to accept their offer of martyrdom, He also granted the martyrs the tender mercy of dying in their beloved, long, white choir mantles.

The worn-out, immodest civilian clothes left soaking in the tubs at Compiegne had yet another role in God’s plan. Confined in the Compiegne jail with the Carmelites had been 17 English Benedictine sisters. Four others had already died in jail. They had been arrested as foreigners in 1792 at their monastery in Cambrai. A granddaughter of St. Thomas More had founded the monastery when Catholic religious orders were forbidden in England. Though kept apart, Benedictines learned of the Carmelites’ daily consecration to sacrifice themselves to restore peace and free prisoners.

After the Carmelites were taken to Paris, the Compiegne jailers made the Benedictines wear the Carmelites’ abandoned civilian clothes. The Benedictines were still wearing them when they were finally allowed to sail for England in 1795. That community eventually founded England’s famous Stanbrook Abbey. Today, Benedictines at Stanbrook still honor the Carmelites as martyrs whose deaths somehow stopped the killing and saved the jailed Benedictine sisters from the guillotine. In 1895, Stanbrook Abbey returned many of the “wash tub” clothes as venerated relics to the newly reestablished Carmel Compiegne.

The martyrs were beatified by St. Pius X on May 13, 1906. Their memory is celebrated on July 17 by both branches of the Carmelites and the archdiocese of Paris.

Several successful literary and artistic works have helped spread the martyrs’ story around the world. They include Gertrude von De Fort’s famous 1931 novella, Song at the Scaffold, which in turn inspired Georges Bernanos’ Les Dialogues des Carmelites (1949), as well as Francis Poulenc’s opera (1957) and an Italian-French film (1959), both also named Les Dialogues des Carmelites.

Almost all the historical facts used in this post come from William Bush’s outstanding book, To Quell the Terror: The Mystery of the Vocation of the Sixteen Carmelites of Compiegne Guillotined July 17, 1794, ICS Publications (1999). The same goes for a lot of the wording and observations in this posting. Bush has spent many years studying the martyrs. His book has a picture of the terracotta statuette and photos of art work by the martyrs, including a beautiful pastel of Christ on the Cross by Mother Teresa of Saint Augustine. Any errors, misstatements, or unclear writing here in this post are this writer’s fault.

For a short, brilliant essay on the martyrs, Catholicism, and modern times, read “The Mantle of Elijah: The Martyrs of Compiegne as Prophets of the Modern Age” by Terrye Newkirk, OCDS. It is only 11 pages and easily downloaded from the ICS website.

“Permission to die, Mother?”
“Go, my daughter!”


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