Welcome to the HMS YIMCatholic Open House


The crew has been scraping the barnacles off our keel and holystoning our decks like there was no tomorrow getting ready for this day. Open House! Everything that was stowed has been unpacked. Everything that was over at Blogger is now here, just in a different way. Come aboard and let me show you around. [Read more...]

About This Blog (And Blogger) in 1000 Words or Less

I became a Catholic when I was confirmed at the Easter Vigil in the year of Our Lord, 2008. I was baptized, though, when I was 10 years old in a Non-denominational Christian church located in my hometown. With my family, I attended regularly (pretty much if church was open, we were there!) until I graduated from high school and joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17. [Read more...]

For All the Saints: Francis of Assisi, Deacon

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

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

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

from a review of The Life of St. Francis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That went something like this,

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

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

St. Francis, pray for us.

For All the Saints: Thérèse of Lisieux, The Sincere Lover of Christ

The Little Flower lying on her bed of thorns

 

It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by, but it’s the Little Flower’s Feast Day again. This time last year, I shared a post in which Thérèse was likened to, and bettered, both Confucius and Lao Tzu. And now, as then, I turn to thoughts on her penned by my friend John C.H. Wu. [Read more...]

Because Vincent de Paul Was Once A Muslim’s Slave

Life got you down? Things perhaps haven’t turned out as you planned? Do you think everyone else has got it so easy? Your neighbors, for example, or those fortunate people who come into a considerable sum of money?

And how about those saintly types? They are simply walking on air, those guys, living lives of complete and blessed beatitude, right? Hold up!

While in Heaven the saints enjoy the beatific vision, but while they were here on earth? They were slogging it out with the rest of us. And that even includes those who were fortunate enough to be blessed with an earthly inheritance.

Take St. Vincent de Paul for instance (today is his feast day). Following his being ordained a priest, in the year of Our Lord 1605, he received news that someone had left him an inheritance. Saints be praised! Come and see where this development led him.

Once Upon a Time, over four hundred years ago…

The young priest’s life flowed on peacefully for the next five years, and then a startling adventure befell him. An old friend of his died at Marseilles, and Vincent received news that he had been left in the will a sum of fifteen hundred livres, which in those days was a considerable deal of money. Vincent’s heart was full of gratitude. What could he not do now to help his poor people. And he began to plan all the things the legacy would buy till it struck him with a laugh that ten times the amount could hardly get him all he wanted. Besides, it was not yet in his possession, and with that reflection he set about his preparations for his journey to Marseilles.

He probably went the greater part of the way on foot, and it must have taken him about as long as it would take us to go to India. But he was a man who had his eyes about him, and the country which he passed through was alive with the history he had read. Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and the scandal, now two hundred years old, of the two popes, would be brought to his mind by the very names of the towns where he rested and the rivers which he crossed, but at length they were all left behind, and Marseilles was reached.

His business was soon done, and with the money in his pocket he was ready to begin his long walk back to Toulouse, when he received an invitation from a friend of the lawyer’s to go in his vessel by sea to Narbonne, which would cut off a large corner(of his journey). He gladly accepted and went on board at once. But the ship was hardly out of sight of Marseilles when three African vessels, such as then haunted the Mediterranean, bore down upon them and opened fire.

The French were powerless to resist, and one and all refused to surrender, which so increased the fury of the Mohammedans that they killed three of the crew and wounded the rest. Vincent himself had an arm pierced by an arrow, and though it was not poisoned, it was many years before the pain it caused ceased to trouble him. The ‘Infidels’ boarded the ship, and, chaining their prisoners together, coasted about for another week, attacking wherever they thought they had a chance of success, and it was not until they had collected as much booty as the vessel could carry that they returned to Africa.

Vincent and his fellow-captives had all this while been cherishing the hope that, once landed on the coast of Tunis, the French authorities would hear of their misfortunes and come to their aid. But the Mohammedan captain had foreseen the possibility of this and took measures to prevent it by declaring that the prisoners had been taken on a Spanish ship. Heavy were their hearts when they learned what had befallen them, and Vincent needed all his faith and patience to keep the rest from despair.

The following day they were dressed as slaves and marched through the principal streets of Tunis five or six times in case anyone should wish to purchase them. Suffering from wounds though they were, they all felt that it was worth any pain to get out of the hold of the ship and to see life moving around them once more. But after awhile it became clear that the strength of many was failing, and the captain not wishing to damage his goods, ordered them back to the ship where they were given food and wine, so that any possible buyers who might appear next day should not expect them to die on their hands.

Early next morning several small boats could be seen putting out from the shore, and one by one the intending purchasers scrambled up the side of the vessel. They passed down the row of captives drawn up to receive them; pinched their sides to find if they had any flesh on their bones, felt their muscles, looked at their teeth, and finally made them run up and down to see if they were strong enough to work. If the blood of the poor wretches stirred under this treatment they dared not show it, and Vincent had so trained his thoughts that he hardly knew the humiliation to which he was subjected.

A master was soon found for him in a fisherman, who wanted a man to help him with his boat. The fisherman, as far as we know, treated his slave quite kindly; but when he discovered that directly the wind rose the young man became hopelessly ill, he repented of his bargain, and sold him as soon as he could to an old chemist, one of the many who had wasted his life in seeking the Philosopher’s Stone.

The chemist took a great fancy to the French priest and offered to leave him all his money and teach him the secrets of his science if he would abandon Christianity and become a follower of Mohammed, terms which, needless to say, Vincent refused with horror. Most people would speedily have seen the hopelessness of this undertaking, but the old chemist was very obstinate, and died at the end of a year without being able to flatter himself that he had made a convert of his Christian slave.

The chemist’s possessions passed to his nephew, and with them, of course, Father Vincent. The priest bore his captivity cheerfully, and did not vex his soul as to his future lot. The life of a slave had been sent him to bear, and he must bear it contentedly whatever happened; and so he did, and his patience and ready obedience gained him the favour of his masters.

Very soon he had a new one to serve, for not long after the chemist’s death he was sold to a man who had been born a Christian and a native of Savoy, but had adopted the religion of Mohammed for worldly advantages. There were many of these renegades in the Turkish service during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and nearly all of them were men of talent and rose high.

Vincent de Paul’s master had, after the Turkish manner, married three wives, and one of them, a Turk by birth and religion, hated the life of the town where she was shut up most of the day in the women’s apartments, and went, whenever she could, to her husband’s farm in the country, where Vincent was working. It was a barren place on a mountain side, where the sun beat even more fiercely than in Tunis; but at least she was able to wander in the early mornings and cool evenings about the garden, which had been made with much care and toil.

Here she met the slave, always busy—watering plants, trimming shrubs, sowing seeds, and generally singing to himself in an unknown tongue. He looked so different from the sad or sullen men she was used to see that she began to wonder who he was and where he came from, and one day she stopped to ask him how he happened to be there. By this time Vincent had learned enough Arabic to be able to talk, and in answer to her questions, told her of his boyhood in Gascony, and how he had come to be a priest.

“A priest! What is that?” she said.

And he explained, and little by little he taught her the doctrines and the customs of the Christian faith.

“Is that what you sing about?” she asked again. “I should like to hear some of your songs,” and Vincent chanted to her,

“By the waters of Babylon,” feeling, indeed, that he was “singing the Lord’s songs in a strange land.”

And day by day the Turkish woman went away, and thought over all she had heard, till one evening her husband rode over to see her, and she made up her mind to speak to him about something that puzzled her greatly.

“I have been talking to your white slave that works in the garden about his religion—the religion which was once yours. It seems full of good things and so is he. You need never watch him as you do the other men, and the overseer has not had to beat him once. Why, then, did you give up that religion for another? In that, my lord, you did not do well.”

The renegade was silent, but in his heart he wondered if, indeed, he had “done well” to sell his soul for that which had given him no peace. He, too, would talk to that Christian slave, and hear if he still might retrace his steps, though he knew that if he was discovered death awaited the Mohammedan who changed his faith.

But his eyes having been opened he could rest no more,and arranged that he and Vincent should disguise themselves and make for the coast, and sail in a small boat to France. As the boat was so tiny that the slightest gale of wind would capsize it, it seems strange that they did not steer to Sicily, and thence journey to Rome; but instead they directed their course towards France, and on June 28, 1607, they stepped on shore on one of those long, narrow spits of land which run out into the sea from the little walled town of Aigues-Mortes.

Vincent drew a long breath, as after two years captivity he trod on French soil again. But he knew how eager his companion was to feel himself once more a Christian, so they only waited one day to rest, and started early the next morning through the flowery fields to the old city of Avignon. Here he made confession of his faults to the Pope’s legate himself, and was admitted back into the Christian religion. The following year he went with Father Vincent to Rome, and entered a monastery of nursing brothers, who went about to the different hospitals attending the sick and poor.

It is very likely that it was Father Vincent’s influence that led him to take up this special work, to which we must now leave him, for on the priest’s return to Paris, he found a lodging in the Faubourg SaintGermain, close to the Hopital de la Charity—the constant object of his care for some months.

And did I mention that St. Vincent is an Incorruptible?

You can read the rest of St. Vincent de Paul’s story in The Book of Saints and Heroes by Leonora Lang on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

This was originally posted on November 12, 2010. Happy Feast of St. Vincent de Paul!

For Evelyn Waugh’s Prayer of a Convert

Psst…I finished reading Evelyn Waugh’s novel Helena. I think it is fantastic and I enjoyed it immensely. Reading it makes we want to head with my family to the Holy Land on pilgrimage, bankrupting us in the process. St. Helena, as the empress dowager, never faced that particular financial aspect of her own journey to Palestine.

Careful, because if you read this book you too may feel compelled to do the same. As I was racing through the pages, I came upon a section that I call “the Prayer of the Convert.” It applies to those who were born into the Church as well, the cradle Catholics who wandered away from their faith and have been called back to it. Waugh was a convert like me, see, and so was St. Helena, who begs the intercession of the magi when she attends Mass on the eve of the Epiphany in the cave where Our Lady gave birth to Our Lord,

“This is my day,” she thought, “and these are my kind.”

Perhaps she apprehended that her fame, like theirs, would live in one historic act of devotion; that she too had emerged from a kind of ουτοπια or nameless realm and would vanish like them in the sinking nursery fire-light among the picture-books and the day’s toys.

“Like me,” she said to them, “you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before; even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed and a new defiant light blazed among the disconcerted stars.

“How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculations, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts!

“You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you. What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments in which there began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!

“Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room at the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life there was room for you too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass.

“You are my especial patrons,” said Helena, “and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have had a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.

“Dear cousins, pray for me,” said Helena, “and for my poor overloaded son. May he, too, before the end find kneeling-space in the straw. Pray for the great, lest they perish utterly. And pray for Lactantius and Marcias and the young poets of Trèves and for the souls of my wild, blind ancestors; for their sly foe Odysseus and for the great Longinus.

“For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”

Amen, brother Evelyn—Amen.

Sassetta’s Journey of the Magi

Gone Readin’ Helena by Evelyn Waugh

Why haven’t I been posting much lately? You can blame Fr. Steve Grunow, who suggested the book you see above to me a few days ago. I’ve never read anything by Evelyn Waugh, and I’m not ashamed to say that for most of my life I figured Evelyn was a lady, and I wasn’t much interested in what she had to say.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve got me a college degree and all, and after I became a Catholic and snooped around a bit I learned that Evelyn was a man, a Catholic, and he wrote some great novels that were turned into classics for Masterpiece Theater. Still, I was about as excited to read anything written by him as I was interested in say…watching paint dry, or grass grow. Yawn.

But then I found that neat book about the True Cross by Louis de Combes, and Fr. Steve suggested Waugh’s book. I checked the catalog at the library, noted a copy was on the shelf, and I strolled over there and picked it up pronto. I haven’t been able to put it down since. Here’s a taste:

“Chlorus, is it true what they are saying in Ratisbon: that you are going to be Caesar?”

“Who say that?”

“The governor’s wife, the widow of the banker, all the ladies.”

“It may be true. Aurelian and I have spoken of it before. After the battle, he spoke of it again. He has to go to Syria now, to tidy up trouble there. After that he will return to Rome for his triumph. Then we shall see.”

“Do you want it?”

“It’s not what I want, ostler; it’s what Aurelian wants that counts, he and the army and the empire. It is nothing to be shy of, just another, larger command—Gaul, the Rhine, Britain, possibly Spain. The empire’s too big for one man; that’s been proved. And we need a secure succession, a second-in-command who’s been trained to the job, knows the ropes, can step in straight away when the command falls vacant; not leave each army to declare for its own general and fight it out as they’ve done lately. Aurelian is going to talk to the senators about it when we go to Rome.”

See? Clear thinking like that is what I was just talking about a few days back. And does everything go according to plan? As if!

I’m not going to tell you anything more about the book but this: Helena has just embarked on her quest to find the True Cross and you can forget about me posting anything remotely intelligible until I finish this book. Color me gone!

For All the Saints: John Chrysostom



Today is the feast of St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church. Of course, there was a little snippet on him over at Universalis and sundry other places, like here. But my curiosity gets the best of me, see,  and I want to know more. That is one of my many faults.

So I headed to my favorite electronic library and found this gem of a story in The Lives and Legends of the Great Hermits and Fathers of the Church With Other Contemporary Saints by a “Mrs. Arthur Bell.” By who? Make that by Nancy R.E. Meugens Bell. Trust me, she is very accomplished. Check out her titles on Amazon. Who better to get this story about the “Golden mouthed” Doctor than by someone who had a pen that never rested?

I gather that the shorter title of the book is The Saints in Christian Art (whew!) and what follows is from Chapter VIII,

St. John Chrysostom

The most popular, and at the same time, perhaps, also the most saintly of the four Greek Fathers, St. John Chrysostom, or the golden-mouthed—so called on account of his great eloquence—was born at Antioch about 347, and was brought up as a Christian by his widowed mother Arethusa.
He was educated as a lawyer, and had already won great renown as a pleader at the bar, when at the age of twenty-six he resolved to renounce the world.

Russian icon
St. John in prayer

When the young John declared that the only true way of serving God was to lead a life of solitary penitence, Arethusa, a woman of cultured intellect, and endowed with the yet rarer gift of practical commonsense, tried in vain to convince him that his resolution was at the best a selfish one. He escaped from Antioch and hid himself in the desert, where he remained for nearly six years, weakening himself so much by fasting and self-inflicted penance that he was at last obliged to return home to save his life.

Back again in Antioch, he attracted the notice of the Bishop, St. Meletius, who persuaded him to live with him for three years, ordained him Reader, and endeavored to win him from his undue love of silence and solitude. For a time it seemed as if he had succeeded, but in 374 St. John fled once more to the desert, where he joined a community of anchorites, celebrated even in that day of asceticism for the severity of their self-discipline.

It was not, indeed, until he was already past forty that the real work of the life of St. John Chrysostom began, when the holy Bishop Honorius, to whom the Christians owed so much, induced him finally to abandon his retreat and become a preacher of the Gospel in his native city. Ordained priest in 386, a white dove, it is said, hovering above his head at his consecration, St. John of the Golden Mouth very quickly proved how true had been his mother’s judgment concerning him, for he won over to the Church such numbers of converts that the building in which he preached was soon too small to hold his congregation. When the people of Antioch fell under the just displeasure of the Emperor, it was St. John who composed the speech of St. Flavianus, which so touched the heart of the Emperor that he granted a full pardon to the offenders.

Again, when the Roman supremacy was divided between the sons of Theodosius I., and Arcadius became the Emperor of the East, the voice of St.Chrysostom was often fearlessly raised against the luxury of the Court. He became indeed so great a power in the land that in 397, by the advice of Eutropius, the favourite eunuch of Arcadius, he was made Archbishop of Constantinople on the death of Nectarius.

The thought of losing their beloved teacher so moved the people of Antioch that they refused to let him go, and it was not until an armed escort was sent to fetch him that he was able to start for his new sphere of action. Arrived in the capital of the East, St. John at once set to work to practice the doctrines he had preached as a priest. He reduced the number of the servants in his palace, leading a life almost as austere as he had done in the desert, and giving away so much money in charity that he became known as St. John the Almoner.

St. John
the Almsgiver

by Titian

Not long after his accession to the archiepiscopal throne, occurred one of the most striking incidents of his remarkable career: his rescue of Eutropius from the fury of the mob. The eunuch, who had so long virtually ruled the Empire, was suddenly disgraced, the Empress Eudoxia having complained to her husband of a real or imaginary insult he had offered to herself. Pursued by the officers of justice sent to arrest him, the unhappy man fled to the cathedral for sanctuary, and took refuge beneath the altar at which the Archbishop was officiating. St. John Chrysostom, unmoved by the clamors of the people, or by the fact that a troop of soldiers with drawn swords surrounded the building, ascended the pulpit, that he might, says Gibbon, “be distinctly seen and heard by an innumerable crowd of either sex and every age, and pronounced a reasonable and pathetic discourse on the forgiveness of injuries and the instability of human greatness. The agonies of the pale and affrighted wretch,” continues the historian, “groveling under the table of the altar, exhibited a solemn and instructive spectacle, and the orator, who was afterwards accused of insulting the misfortunes of Eutropius, labored to excite the contempt that he might assuage the fury of the people.”

Eutropius escaped for the time, only to be impeached for high treason and beheaded a few months later, but the fame of the man who had been able to hold spell-bound by his eloquence, so many thirsting for vengeance, and to induce even the Emperor to respect the sanctuary of the Church, became so great that St. John, in his turn, aroused the jealousy of Eudoxia, who, having got rid of Eutropius, now determined to bring about also the exile of his rescuer. St. John, it is said, had aroused her special animosity by his sermons against extravagance in dress, which she chose to think were intended to apply specially to her.

John preaching in Constantinople
by Ambrose Dudley

Aided by the influence of Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, who was also incensed against the Archbishop on account of his admission to communion of certain so-called heretics, the Empress succeeded in obtaining a decree of banishment against him, and he was driven out of Constantinople in 403, after preaching a farewell sermon full of the noblest resignation to the will of God, in which he declared himself ready to die a thousand deaths for his people, if he could only save their souls.

“Violent storms encompass me on all sides,” he exclaimed, “yet I am without fear, because I stand upon a rock. Though the sea roar, and the waves rise high, they cannot sink the vessel of Jesus. I always say,” he added, “O Lord, may Thy will be done: not what this or that creature wills, but what it shall please Thee to appoint, that shall I do and suffer with joy. This is my strong tower; this is my unshaken rock; this is my staff that can never fail.”

The soldiers sent to see that the Emperor was obeyed were only able to fulfil their duty through the aid of the victim himself, who managed to elude the vigilance of his friends and to deliver himself into the hands of his enemies. He had not, however, been gone from the city many days before a terrible earthquake took place, which so alarmed the guilty conscience of the Empress that she entreated Arcadius to recall St. John, crying in her terror,’ If he do not return our Empire is undone.’ The Emperor consented, and the Archbishop was brought back again in triumph, all the inhabitants of the town going out to meet him. He was, however, again banished in the following year, and he was never afterwards allowed to return.

St. John and Eudoxia
by Jean Paul Laurens

When, on the death of Eudoxia, the broken-hearted widower Arcadius wrote to the celebrated hermit, St. Nilus, asking his prayers for the Empire, the holy man replied: “How do you hope to see Constantinople delivered from the destroying angel of God after . . . having banished the most blessed John, the pillar of the Church, the lamp of truth, the greatest light of the earth!”

Meanwhile many powerful statesmen had endeavored to obtain the recall of St. John, but their importunity, unfortunately, only led to fresh proceedings against him. He had taken refuge at Nicaea, and was there fervently preaching the Gospel, when orders were received that he should be removed to the little town of Cucusus, in a remote district of the Taurus Mountains. There he was received with the greatest enthusiasm by the inhabitants, and was allowed to remain unmolested for a short time, converting many Persians to Christianity, and writing numerous beautiful letters and essays, full of touching resignation, proving how true was his own assertion: “no one can harm the man who does himself no wrong.”

The three years spent at Cucusus and the neighboring town of Arabissus, were, says Gibbon, “the last and most glorious of the life of the great teacher. His character was consecrated by absence and persecution . . . every tongue repeated the praises of his genius and virtue, and the respectful attention of the Christian world was fixed on a desert spot among the mountains of Taurus.”

The Emperor Honorius, recognizing how great a mistake had been made in banishing such a man, endeavored to get his cause brought before what the historian calls ‘the supreme tribunal of a free and general council.’ But it was all in vain; the enemies of the Saint were too powerful, and the weak-minded Arcadius could not be induced to interfere in his behalf. The agitation in favor of St. John resulted merely in a fresh edict of banishment against him. He was to be removed at once from the new home he had learnt to love, to the yet more remote town of Pytius on the Euxine. It is even believed by some that secret orders were given, to the officers sent to take him there, to bring about his death on the road, if possible, and so end all further trouble on his behalf.

Worn out with all he had gone through, and with a constitution weakened by his early austerities, the much-persecuted Saint, though as yet only sixty years old, was in no fit state to travel, and he died on the road after terrible sufferings. It is related that on the eve of his death he was allowed to rest for a few hours in a little wayside shrine above the remains of the martyr St. Basiliscus, who appeared to him in a dream, and said to him: “Be of good courage, Brother John; tomorrow we shall be together.” This greatly cheered the Archbishop, and when he awoke he begged his guards to let him remain in the shrine for a few hours longer, in the hope of thus winning permission to die in peace.

They refused, and compelled him to proceed, but he had not gone far before it became evident that he was dying, and touched, perhaps, at last by his patient suffering, the men carried him back to the shrine and laid him down on it. With a touching desire to do honor to the moment of his meeting with the Lord he had served so well, St. John persuaded his companions to allow him to put on his white robes. His last prayer is said to have been the beautiful one still in use in the English Church, ending with the petition, “granting us in this world knowledge of Thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting,” and when the Amen had been said he died with the words “Glory be to God in all things” trembling on his lips.

He was buried beside St. Basiliscus, but his body was translated to Constantinople in 434, where it was re-interred with great pomp in the Church of the Apostles, in the presence of the Emperor Theodosius II., who, it is related, had gone out to meet the funeral procession at Chalcedon, and there, “falling prostrate on the coffin, had implored in the name of his guilty parents, Arcadius and Eudoxia, the forgiveness of the injured Saint.”

Amongst the attributes given to St. John Chrysostom, who is more often introduced in devotional pictures in the Roman Catholic Church than any of the other Greek Fathers, are a pen, the usual symbol of a writer; a beehive, in allusion, it is supposed, to his honeyed words; and a dove, in remembrance of the incident said to have taken place at his ordination. When he holds a scroll, it generally bears the words, “God our God, who has given us for food the Bread of Life,” a quotation from one of his own homilies.

St. John Chrysostom is sometimes represented being carried along in a fainting condition by his escort of soldiers, or bound to an ass, with his head drooping from exhaustion. He is introduced with St. Athanasius, St. Leo, and St. Thomas Aquinas, amongst the Latin Fathers in the Chapel of Nicholas V, in the Vatican; in S. Giovanni Elemosinaro at Venice is a fine composition by Titian, representing the Patriarch of Alexandria as the Almsgiver seated on a raised podium, with a beggar at his feet (see above), and in S. Giovanni Crisostomo in the same city is a grand Altar-piece by Sebastiano del Piombo, considered one of his greatest works, in which St. John Chrysostom is enthroned, attended by numerous saints, including Augustine and John the Baptist (see top of the post). In a chapel on the left of the choir the golden-mouthed Father appears again, grouped with Saints Andrew, Onofrio, and Agnes.

The character of St. John has also been finely interpreted by Rubens in a painting now in private possession, in which the Patriarch holds a chalice in one hand and rests the left on the Gospels, whilst above his head hovers the dove, typical of the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Check out his homilies and more on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says About Discerning True Christians


A while back, I introduced everyone to my patron, St. Macarius the Great. He has some great homilies that help to prepare Christians for the trials and tribulations that we will encounter along this narrow path. What’s that? You don’t need to hear anything from a desert father about the inner struggle in the life of the Christian? Don’t delude yourself.

Think back over the past 9-10 years regarding scandals among the priesthood. Or better yet, look back just recently and there have been any number of implosions across the spectrum of those who profess to be good and holy Christians. I don’t have to name names, now, do I? Scandal is no stranger to the Church.
The fact of the matter is, the path of Christianity is treacherous and full of temptations, and risks of failure. As John C.H. Wu counseled yesterday, when you fall down, you have to get back up. No one is safe and as the saying goes, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” There is no dearth of scandal among members of the faithful.

But often times, we go looking for earthly heroes and alleged paragons of virtue whom we think we can follow with confidence anyway, when we should just stick with Christ. If we need additional models of Christian behavior, we should just stick with the saints, whom are our brethren in the Church Triumphant, and whose behaviors point us back to Christ anyway.

Below, my patron has a few important words on sifting the posuers from the pure at heart.

Homily XXXVIII: 
Great exactness and intelligence is required to discern true Christians, and who these are.

Many who appear to be righteous are taken for Christians. It is a task for skilled men and experts to try whether such men have really the stamp and image of the King, lest perchance they should be counterfeits of the works of skilled men, and skilled men wonder at them and criticize them. But people who are not skilled cannot test deceitful workers, for they too wear the shape of monks and Christians. For the false apostles also suffered for Christ, and they also preached the kingdom of heaven. That is why the apostle says In perils more abundant, in afflictions above measure, in prisons more abundant, wishing to show that he had suffered more than they.

Gold is easily found; but pearls and precious stones which do for a king’s diadem are seldom found, for many times none that will do are found. So Christians also are built up into the crown of Christ, that those souls may be made partakers with the saints. Glory to Him who so loved that soul, suffered for it, and raised it up from the dead. But as a veil was put over the face of Moses, that the people might not gaze upon his face, so now a veil lies upon your heart, that you may not behold the glory of God. When this is taken away, then He shines forth and manifests Himself to Christians, to those who love Him and seek Him in truth, as He says, I will manifest Myself to him, and will make My abode with him.

Let us endeavor then to come to Christ, who cannot lie, that we may obtain the promise, and the new covenant, which the Lord has made new through His cross and death, having burst the gates of hell and sin and brought out the faithful souls, and given them the Comforter within, and brought them into His kingdom. Let us reign then with Him, even we, in Jerusalem, His city, in the heavenly church, in the choir of the holy angels. The brethren who have been long time exercised and tried, these can succour the less experienced, and feel for them.

For some who had made themselves sure, and had been mightily worked upon by grace of God, have found their members so sanctified that they reckoned that concupiscence does not occur in Christianity, but that they had acquired a sober and chaste mind, and that from henceforth the inward man was raised aloft to divine and heavenly things, so that they really imagined such an one to have come already to the perfect measures. And when the man imagined that he was already near the calm haven, billows rose up against him, so that he found himself again in the middle of the ocean, and was carried where sea was sky and death was ready. Thus sin entered after all, and wrought all manner of evil concupiscence.

And again a certain class of persons having some grace vouchsafed to them, and having received a drop, so to speak, out of the whole deep sea, find it hour by hour, and day by day, such a work of wonder, that the man who is under its influence is amazed and astounded at the strange, surprising operation of God, to think that he should be given such wisdom. After this, grace enlightens him, guides him, gives him peace, makes him good in every way, being itself divine and heavenly, so that in comparison with that man kings and potentates, wise men and nobles are esteemed as least and worthless.

After a time and season things change, so that of a truth such a man esteems himself a greater sinner than all others; and again at another season sees himself like a great colossal king, or a king’s powerful friend; again at another season sees himself weak and a beggar. Then the mind falls into perplexity, why things should be thus and then thus. Because Satan in his hatred of the good suggests evil things to those who attain virtue, and strives to overthrow them. That is his occupation.

But do not submit to him, while you work at the righteousness that is accomplished in the inner man, where stands the judgment seat of Christ, together with His undefined sanctuary, that the testimony of your conscience may glory in the cross of Christ, who has purged your conscience from dead works, that you may serve God with your spirit, that you may know what you worship, according to Him who said, We worship that which we know. Obey God who guides you. Let your soul have communion with Christ, as bride with bridegroom. For this mystery is great, it says; but I speak concerning Christ and the blameless soul.

To Him be the glory for ever. Amen.

Thank you. And Abba Macarius? Please pray for us.

More wisdom from Abba Macarius can be found on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

For Letters to Sons Like These by St. Stephen, King of Hungary

“My boy, at present you have the fun and I do the work; but your labors are on the way.”

Now, that sounds like something I would say. Today is the Feast of St. Stephen of Hungary, who wrote the words you see above. What follows are a few excerpts from letters he wrote to his son Emeric (who also was canonized on the same day in 1083). St. Stephen is known as the first Christian king of Hungary, and his life is celebrated there with due pomp and pageantry yearly on August 20th.

After learning of him from the good folks at Universalis this morning, I found excepts of his “Admonitions” in an unpublished thesis titled Notes On Parental Advice in the Middle Ages  by George Valentine Kendall. I promptly added them to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. First, take a look at this long sentence in the foreword to the ten letters to Emeric,

from the Forward,

Since I perceive that all things, founded at the nod of God and disposed by his most manifest preordination, both in the spaciousness of the sky and in those most spacious climes of earth, do subsist and thrive wholly in accordance with the rationality of intelligence; and since I am sufficiently aware that all things granted by the grace of God for the use and dignity of this life – to wit: kingdoms, consulates, dukedoms, counties, pontificates and all other authorities, are ruled, defended, divided and joined together, partly by divine precepts and regulations, partly by legal, partly by juridical, partly by civil, and by the counsels and advices also of nobles and of those advanced in age; and since I know for a certainty that all classes of the world, everywhere, of whatever authority they be, do instruct, counsel and advise not only their retainers, their friends and their servants but also their sons; therefore, most amiable son, companion in this life, it irks me not to prepare for you lessons, precepts, counsels and advices whereby you may embellish the character of your own life and of that of your subjects, in such time as, most high God willing, you shall reign after me.

Maybe Blaise Pascal was taking lessons on long sentence structure from this guy! You don’t have to be a royal though to see the worth of writings such as these being left to our children, not to mention to posterity. “Ich bin ein Ungar!” or is that “Magyar vagyok!?” 


And now for the excerpts, which are really timely given our coming election cycle in the United States.

Excerpts from the Admonitions of St. Stephen, King of Hungary, to his son Emeric.

On the Nobility

The coronation of Stephen I

“They (the various nobles) are the champions of the kingdom, the defenders of the weak, the conquerors of enemies, the enlargers of monarchies. They, my son, are your fathers and brothers. Of these, truly, you should reduce none to servitude, nor call any slave; they should serve you as soldiers not as slaves, rule all of them without anger and pride and envy, peacefully, with humility, gently, holding ever in your memory that all men are of one condition; and that naught elevates, save humility; and nothing casts down, save pride and envy.

If you are peaceable then you will be called a king and a king’s son, and you will be loved by all the knights. If you are choleric, proud, envious, disinclined to peace, and if you stick up your neck above counts and princes, without doubt the strength of the military will be the weakness of the regal authorities, and they will betray your kingdom to the aliens.

Fearful of this, direct the life of your companions with the rule of virtue, that captured by your love, they may inoffensively adhere to the kingly authority, and that your realm may be wholly at peace.Than these doctrines no noble could ask more liberal, no king more efficacious.

On Justice

Hearken to this, my son; if you wish to possess the honor of kingship, love justice: if you wish to be master over your own soul, be patient. Whenever, my very dear son, a cause deserving condemnation comes before you, or some one accused on a capital charge, be unwilling to deal with it impatiently or to resolve with an oath to punish him – which course of action must be weak and unstable, inasmuch as foolish vows ought to be broken – or to decide the question yourself, lest your regal dignity be dishonored by the usurpation of inferior business, but rather send business of this sort to the judges, to whom it has been committed because they decide the case according to its own law.

Fear to be judge, but rejoice to be and to be called king. Patient
kings rule, but impatient ones tyrannize. When, however, something comes before you which it befits your dignity to judge, with patience and mercy or pity judge it, that your crown may be laudable and seemly.

Concerning the Reception of Foreigners, and the Support of Strangers.

In strangers and men from abroad there is such great utility that it can be held worthy the sixth place in regal dignity. Why did the Roman Empire first grow, and why were the Roman kings exalted and glorious, except because many noble and wise men congregated there from diverse regions? Rome, in truth, would be a hand-maiden to this day, if Eneades had not made her free.

His incorruptible right hand

For as strangers come from diverse regions of the provinces, they bring with them diverse languages and usages, and diverse learning and arms, all of which not only adorn the royal palace and render magnificent the court, but also abash the arrogance of aliens. For a kingdom of one tongue, or of one custom, is weak and fragile.

Wherefore I bid you, my son, support those persons with a good will, and treat them fairly, that they may prefer to continue with you rather than to live elsewhere. For if you destroy what I have built up or strive to disperse what I have gathered together, without doubt your kingdom will suffer the greatest damage. Lest that be, augment your kingdom daily, that your crown may be held august by all.

Procession of the
“Holy Right Hand”

On Filial Loyalty

Ancestors ought to be imitated, and sons ought to obey their parents. My customs, which you see to befit the kingly dignity, follow them without the fetter of any uncertainty. For it is a hard thing for you to maintain a kingdom of this geographical position, except you show yourself an imitator of the usage of kings who have reigned before. What Greek would rule Latins with Greek customs? Or what Latin would rule Greeks with Latin customs? None. On this account, follow my usages that you may he held eminent by your own people and praiseworthy among foreigners.

On the Importance of Your Catholic Faith

St. Stephen’s Basilica

My dearest son, if you desire to honor the royal crown, I advise, I counsel, I urge you above all things to maintain the Catholic and Apostolic faith with such diligence and care that you may be an example for all those placed under you by God, and that all the clergy may rightly call you a man of true Christian profession. Failing to do this, you may be sure that you will not be called a Christian or a son of the Church.

Indeed, in the royal palace, after the faith itself, the Church holds second place, first constituted and spread through the whole world by His members, the apostles and holy fathers, And though she always produced fresh offspring, nevertheless in certain places she is regarded as ancient. However, dearest son, even now in our kingdom the Church is proclaimed as young and newly planted; and for that reason she needs more prudent and trustworthy guardians less a benefit which the divine mercy bestowed on us undeservedly should be destroyed and annihilated through your idleness, indolence or neglect.

Inside the basilica…

My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at very time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favor not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbors or fellow-countrymen, but also to foreigners and to all who come to you. By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness. Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”.

Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak. Finally be strong lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honorable so that you never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness that so resembles the pangs of death.

All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain to the heavenly Kingdom.

****

Tragically, St. Stephen’s son Emeric died in a hunting accident, and predeceased his father. The infighting over who would succeed him troubled him for the rest of his days. Upon his own death, St. Stephen was buried alongside his son.

Ludwig von Beethoven composed an overture in honor of this saint and king. Here it is played beautifully by the Motif Orchestra conducted by Chun-Lung Hsu. I bet St. Stephen got a kick out of this performance.

St. Stephen of Hungary, pray for us!

More on St. Stephen can be found here and here on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. 


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