Happy Birthday to St. Joan of Arc

600 hundred years ago, the Maid of Orleans was born. True, her Feast Day is on May 30th, but today is her birthday all the same. Happy Birthday Joan…I’m glad you were on the planet!

Many of us can’t get behind “crazy” people who hear voices and form impromptu armies and such, can we? But that is what Joan did. She must have been at the right place and at the right time, God willing, because folks listened to her and followed her into battle. [Read more...]

Joan of Arc, Joan Jett and More

I skipped Music for Mondays yesterday. So in this holiday shortened week I’ve got some more Joan of Arc music for you, and more good girls we love. I shared the first part of this series last week. Truthfully, that is where most of the good stuff was. Today I’ve got a few more stragglers, and then I move on to other good girls that kick ass, like St. Joan. Huh? [Read more...]

In Praise of Joan of Arc (Music for Mondays)

The other day, during my commute home from work, I heard a catchy tune that mentioned St. Joan of Arc (the patroness of this blog) in the lyrics. I thought to myself, I should put that in the next MfM post. Then a friend posted another song about Joan on her Facebook page yesterday and I got to work in earnest. [Read more...]

These Nuns Didn’t Occupy Wall Street…They Bought It

There are other ways to Occupy Wall Street, you know. As owners in the boardroom. I’ve shared thoughts along these lines by folks like John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group of Investment Companies. He argues, and pretty convincingly, that the problem for a long time now is that a heretical form of capitalism, managers capitalism, has risen to prominence. [Read more...]

The Loneliness of the Military Historian

A poem by Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood

Confess: it’s my profession

that alarms you.

This is why few people ask me to dinner,

though Lord knows I don’t go out of my way to be scary.

I wear dresses of sensible cut

and unalarming shades of beige,

I smell of lavender and go to the hairdresser’s:

no prophetess mane of mine,

complete with snakes, will frighten the youngsters. [Read more...]

Because My Boys Needed to Know About Hildegard of Bingen

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

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

Because the Disciples Were Just Like You (Friday Funnies)

Let me start this post with a hat-tip to Brandon Vogt, convert and Catholic blogger over at The Thin Veil. You may recall that Brandon hosted one of our book club meetings once.

He posted a link on his Facebook page today to a blog of a fellow named Don Miller who, you guessed it, I had never heard of before today. This is reason #1367 for why I didn’t give up Facebook for Lent.

Is Don Miller a Catholic? I don’t think so, but as I’ve explained here before I don’t hold that against anybody, especially when they are as funny as what I will be sharing with you here. See, he put together a wee list of traits of true disciplines of Christ. Guess what? You’ll make the cut. Take a look,

Here are some actual characteristics of the disciples I think we can safely trust. If you resonate with any of these, you’re in a good spot and likely following Jesus:

1. You think Jesus wants to take over the government so you cut off a soldiers ear in order to get the fighting started. (The neo cons are definitely disciples!)

2. You keep pestering Jesus about who he will give more power to in heaven.

3. You have no theological training but own a small fishing business which somehow makes you qualified because you “get it.”

4. The Holy Spirit crashes into one of your mini sermons so everybody can speak different languages and outsiders think you’re drunk.

5. People ask you if you know Jesus and you freak out and say no and run away.

6. You hear they killed Jesus on a cross and you figure the whole thing was a wash and you got duped.

7. You choose other disciples by playing rock, paper scissors.

8. You teach bad theology and have to have somebody else come over and correct you.

See? You’ll do just fine too. Trivia Question Bonus Round: Can you identify which disciples met these particular characteristics? Put them in the combox below by number. The answers may surprise you. Then head on over and read the whole post at Don’s blog.

Update: The Horror!

Because of the Way This Desert Father Handled a Calumny

—Feast of St. Joseph  

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

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

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

Abba Macarius said this about himself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun Tzu

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says

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.

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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