For All the Saints: Joseph of Leonissa

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph of Leonissa (Feb. 4, 1612). He was from a small town in Italy that, at the time, lay within the borders of the Papal States. At the age of seventeen, he became a Capuchin friar. I hadn’t planned on posting on this saintly fellow, but I found something that I believe I am supposed to share with you. I can’t explain it really, I just feel drawn to share an account that involves Joseph.

But first, a little background. He is best known for heading to Constantinople to minister to the Christian galley slaves of the Sultan there. He didn’t do that on a lark, either. He studied the Turks, and Islam, before heading on this mission.

Art credit: Getty Images

One day, he got the idea that he would preach to the Sultan himself, was captured, tortured and then miraculously released after hanging from hooks through his foot and his right hand (comfortable, and humane) over a smokey fire for three days. You can read more about that episode from the article on him at the Catholic News Service. Suffice it to say it’s a miracle he survived.

Like I said, I really wasn’t going to post anything about this particular saint. But then I found something about him on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, you remember, my wacky hobby nowadays? And one thing led to another.

It is an episode in Joseph’s life that I found in a book entitled The Agonizing Heart, by Fr. François René Blot. I added this volume to our shelf promptly because the subtitle of the book is Salvation of the Dying, Consolation of the Afflicted. So, it sounds like a book that has a broad appeal, since all of us are dying, or consoling someone who has lost someone who has died.

This particular story comes from Section II in the book, Meditations For One Day In Each Month. The selection that concerns our saint of the day is the meditation for the month of December, on the Blessed Virgin Mary. It turns out that Joseph of Leonissa is also know for two things that stand out in my mind: he preached while holding a crucifix, and he had a strong devotion to Our Lady.

What could be more agonizing than losing your child in premature death? A horrible accident for example, or to a disease, and heaven forbid, to a homicide. That is the episode that unfolds in the account that involves our Saint of the Day below. Take a look,

from La Vie du B. P. Joseph de Leonissa
by Daniel de Paris

The talent of consoling the afflicted is one of the gratuitous graces which God gives to whom He wills for the benefit of others, but compassion towards the afflicted is the duty of every Christian, according to the words of St. Paul, ‘Weep with them that weep’ (Rom. xii. 15).

The Blessed Father Joseph had this talent to a remarkable degree. He was ever ready to weep with those who wept, and to lead them to adore the secrets of Divine Providence. On one occasion, when he was preaching the Lent at Jane (ed. a nearby town), he heard that a young man had just been killed in a quarrel, and that his mother, a widow, was inconsolable in her grief.

Father Joseph, with true compassion for her affliction, went to visit her, and to share it; but he found her in a state of frenzy, and full of thoughts of revenge. The servant of God did not begin by blaming her anger; on the contrary, he acknowledged that she had good cause for her tears.

“You weep,” said he, “your tears are reasonable, and God does not blame them. But now that you have given all that nature can expect from a mother’s heart, it is time to think of what grace claims from a Christian. You must let yourself be ruled by faith; look at Jesus on the Cross” (he showed her the crucifix), “and consider the tears of the Blessed Virgin His Mother, and her humble submission to the will of God. Will you not follow so beautiful an example? ”

“Your son has fallen a victim to the hatred of his enemies, but the Son of Mary suffered from the cruelty of His own people. The one was, like all Adam’s children, a sinner, the other was the God-Man, the Saint of Saints, and He died only to restore those who were dead in sin. In short, your son died in a personal quarrel, your Savior died for the sins of others. Yet Mary did not yield to such an excess of grief, she did not call upon Heaven to destroy those wicked deicides; she imitated the clemency of her Son, Who even on the Cross prayed for His murderers; every day she still intercedes for sinners. You have acted as an afflicted mother, but is it not now time to behave after her example, as a Christian mother, who conforms herself in all things to the will of God?”

The tears of a too human sorrow were changed into tears of holy compunction, and the poor mother seemed absorbed in the love shown by Jesus on the Cross. The holy man led her to something yet more perfect. As the Blessed Virgin loves those who have crucified her Son so much that she seeks their salvation, she also learned charity towards those who had taken the life of her child. She invited them to her house, even before the funeral, and assured them that she forgave them for the love of Jesus and His holy Mother.

I’ve been reading a book written by John C.H. Wu where he writes that,
Some time or other, the Holy Spirit moves you to whisper to Christ, “Lord, what shall I render to You for Your wonderful love of me? He answers you in a whisper, “Do not always say ‘me, me, me…’ Remember there is a big Me in you. Love Me, love My brothers.”

And of course, He also says,

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

St. Joseph of Leonissa, pray for us.

Our Lady of Sorrows

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For All the Saints: Angela of Foligno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed Angelo of Foligno, pray for us.

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For All the Saints: Simeon Stylites the Elder

Someone who you may have never heard of in the Communion of Saints is also celebrated by the Church today. Would you believe a guy who sat atop a pillar for over 35 years? I can’t make this one up folks so I’m going to share the citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent about my steadfast and devoted friend named St. Simeon “Stylites.”

When I first heard about the Stylites, I was taken aback.  I thought how could someone do such a thing? If my own child came to me with an idea to do something like this, would I support them? Or would I be like St. Francis of Assisi’s father and be outraged. I hope not. Come and see how this story unfolds,

St. Simeon was the first and probably the most famous of the long succession of stylitoe, “pillar-hermits,” who, during more than six centuries, acquired by their strange form of asceticism a great reputation for holiness throughout eastern Christendom. If it were not that our information, in the case of the first St. Simeon and some of his imitators, is based upon very reliable first-hand evidence, we should be disposed to relegate much of what history records to the domain of fable; but no modern critic now ventures to dispute the reality of the feats of endurance attributed to these ascetics.

Wait a second…for six hundred years there were hermits climbing pillars and living atop them? Holy renunciation! That is seriously hard corps. And think of all the folks who aided and abetted these “stylitoes.” Impressive charity, that. Tell me more about this Simeon character.

Simeon the Elder, was born about 388 at Sisan, near the northern border of Syria. After beginning life as a shepherd boy, he entered a monastery before the age of sixteen, and from the first gave himself up to the practice of an austerity so extreme and to all appearance so extravagant, that his brethren judged him, perhaps not unwisely, to be unsuited to any form of community life.

I told you he was gungy, which is Marine slang for “gung-ho.” Get outta here Simeon because you’re making us look bad! Blaise Pascal wrote, “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” Simeon didn’t have this problem.

Being forced to quit them he shut himself up for three years in a hut at Tell-Neschin, where for the first time he passed the whole of Lent without eating or drinking. This afterwards became his regular practice, and he combined it with the mortification of standing continually upright so long as his limbs would sustain him.

The whole season of Lent. When I was in the Marines, I stood for long periods during inspections. Then I went on to serve as a Marine Security Guard where standing watch for 8 hours at a time in some posts at the Embassy was just another day at the office. Simeon, I’m starting to like you. Because when I thought 8 hours was a long time, you were just getting warmed up.

In his later days he was able to stand thus on his column without support for the whole period of the fast. After three years in his hut, Simeon sought a rocky eminence in the desert and compelled himself to remain a prisoner within a narrow space less than twenty yards in diameter.

I know what you’re thinking. This guy is a showboat. But you’ve got Simeon all wrong, because he was devoted to the LORD. He didn’t change his mind about this and people noticed.

But crowds of pilgrims invaded the desert to seek him out, asking his counsel or his prayers, and leaving him insufficient time for his own devotions. This at last determined him to adopt a new way of life.

I think he prayed for a solution, and one was provided.

Simeon had a pillar erected with a small platform at the top, and upon this he determined to take up his abode until death released him. At first the pillar was little more than nine feet high, but it was subsequently replaced by others, the last in the series being apparently over fifty feet from the ground.

OK, so from nine feet up, his benefactors could throw him a jug of water, or a bunch of grapes. But it was still a little to crowded and noisy, see. So he just kept getting help to go higher. How did he pay the workers? How did he get food and water, relieve himself? We’ll see later when I take you to the movies.

However extravagant (!) this way of life may seem, it undoubtedly produced a deep impression on contemporaries, and the fame of the ascetic spread through Europe, Rome in particular being remarkable for the large number of pictures of the saint which were there to be seen, a fact which a modern writer, Holl, represents as a factor of great importance in the development of image worship.

And people kept coming out to see him, seeking his counsel, and asking him to pray for them and bless them. The accessible hermit. Here is how,

Even on the highest of his columns Simeon was not withdrawn from intercourse with his fellow men. By means of a ladder which could always be erected against the side, visitors were able to ascend; and we know that he wrote letters, the text of some of which we still possess, that he instructed disciples, and that he also delivered addresses to those assembled beneath.

Probably with a voice trumpet or something. Can you even imagine such a spectacle today? What about sunscreen and umbrellas Simeon? What about lightning? Stop worrying will you? Have a little faith.

Around the tiny platform which surmounted the capital of the pillar there was probably something in the nature of a balustrade, but the whole was exposed to the open air, and Simeon seems never to have permitted himself any sort of cabin or shelter. During his earlier years upon the column there was on the summit a stake to which he bound himself in order to maintain the upright position throughout Lent, but this was an alleviation with which he afterwards dispensed.

I’m glad he cut himself some slack. Sheeesh! And the high and the mighty came calling, just as they did with the Desert Fathers. Centuries later, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a poem about him too.

Great personages, such as the Emperor Theodosius and the Empress Eudocia manifested the utmost reverence for the saint and listened to his counsels, while the Emperor Leo paid respectful attention to a letter Simeon wrote to him in favour of the Council of Chalcedon.

Why would they bother? Well, as you’ll see, Simeon was up there for quite some time. And besides, he must have been talking some sense and providing good counsel.

Once when he was ill Theodosius sent three bishops to beg him to descend and allow himself to be attended by physicians, but the sick man preferred to leave his cure in the hands of God, and before long he recovered.

What, and climb down from his perch every time he got the sniffles? Simeon was no “sick-bay commando” folks.

After spending thirty-six years on his pillar, Simeon died on Friday, 2 September, 459 (Lietzmann, p. 235).

Talk about staying power. 36 years is not a fad folks. That is an institution. Later on, another Simeon would break his record, by another 32 years for a total of 68! And there was something of a bidding war for his relics,

A contest arose between Antioch and Constantinople for the possession of his remains. The preference was given to Antioch, and the greater part of his relics were left there as a protection to the unwalled city. The ruins of the vast edifice erected in his honour and known as Qal ‘at Sim ‘ân (the mansion of Simeon) remain to the present day. It consists of four basilicas built out from an octagonal court towards the four points of the compass.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for this photograph (see below) being described here.

In the centre of the court stands the base of St. Simeon’s column. This edifice, says H.C. Butler, “unquestionably influenced contemporary and later church building to a marked degree” (Architecture and other Arts, p. 184). It seems to have been a supreme effort of a provincial school of architecture which had borrowed little from Constantinople.

How about watching this short film about the Stylite? It’s only 43 minutes (and change) long. It’s called Simon of the Desert and it’s the 1964 classic by Luis Bunuel. It even has subtitles, and a surprise ending.

One of the really beneficial things about being a Catholic Christian is learning about all of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Communion of Saints. Their witness and example run the gamut of,  and make manifest, the individual ways that Christ calls us to serve Him.

St. Simeon, pray for us.

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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...]

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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...]

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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, 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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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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