Tag Archives: saints

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis meditating on death. -Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

St. Francis meditating on death. -Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

St. Francis is perhaps the universal saint of the universal Church. All of the circumstances of his life were directed, by divine providence, to conform completely to the life of our Savior. Here, I’m providing an excerpt from a book I reprinted, The Life of St. Francis of Assisi, by Candide Chalippe, OFM. It is a truly amazing book, and I can’t recommend it enough. I have also kept the price low so that more people can take advantage of it, while maintaining readability with an excellent layout and beautiful art (not to mention retention of the footnotes, which another edition dropped since many of them attack “the heretics” (usually meaning at that time Protestants, and it was deemed to not be ecumenical).

Count Orlando had a church built in Mount Alvernia, according to the plan which the Saint had given him, which, it was confidently said, had been given to him by the Blessed Virgin, who appeared accompanied by St. John Baptist, and St. John the Evangelist.

While they were at work at his building and at the cells for the brethren, Francis explored the mountain on all its sides, to discover the sites best adapted for contemplation. He found one, where there were some large openings in the rock, great masses overhanging them, deep caverns, and frightful pits; and what seemed to him to be most curious, there was a rock so split that the interior formed a room with a smooth flooring, and a sort of ceiling which had a small opening which admitted the light. He was anxious to know whether this was the natural formation of the rock, or whether it was not the effect of an earthquake; and, after having recited the seven penitential Psalms, he begged God to grant him information on this head. An angel acquainted him, in an apparition, that this had happened at the death of Jesus Christ, when the earth shook and the rocks were rent asunder. This circumstance gave Mount Alvernia additional value in the eyes of the servant of Jesus Christ crucified. He never afterwards saw these openings without thinking of the sufferings his Divine Master endured on the cross,1 and without wishing that his feelings of compassion might break his heart. In the opinion of the holy Fathers, the rocks which were rent when Jesus Christ expired were reproaches to the Jews for the hardness of their hearts, and this reproach falls equally on Christians who are insensible to His sufferings.2

We can have no difficulty in thinking, with Cardinal Baronius, that the rocks on Mount Alvernia were split at the death of our Saviour, since the earthquake was universal, according to the opinions of Eusebius, St. Jerome, and many others, and even according to the testimony of pagan authors.

It is also very credible that the Son of God has manifested to His special servants, some of the effects of this motion of the earth, in order to impress more vividly on their minds the remembrance of His passion: and may we not think that the Lord, who is the beholder of all ages,3 as the wise man says, and who had selected Mount Alvernia as the place in which He would do His servant Francis the favor of imprinting the stigmata on him, as we shall see further on, was pleased to give this mountain some resemblance to that of Calvary, where St. Cyril of Jerusalem assures us, that in his time the rents caused by the earthquake were seen?

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Among the masses of rock on Mount Alvernia, there is one much more elevated and much larger than the rest, and which is separated from them by precipices, to which there is no access but by throwing a bridge across. There, as in an insulated citadel, a celebrated brigand had his stronghold, who was called the Wolf; on account of the plunder and murders he committed in the surrounding country, either by himself, or by the gang of which he was the chief. He often, also, by means of a flying bridge, confined travelers in this place, whom he had surprised on the high-roads, and whom he detained till their ransom was paid. The establishment of Francis and his brethren displeased him greatly: people of that sort do not like having neighbors. He gave them several times notice to begone, and he threatened them should they not obey. Their great poverty gave them nothing to fear from thieves, but there was just cause for apprehending that the murderer might massacre them all. Divine Providence, however, saved them by a change which might well be called the word of the Most High. The villain came one day determined upon expelling them, and used the most atrocious language to them. Francis received him with so much mildness, listened to him with so much patience, and induced him by degrees to hear reason, so that his anger entirely fell, and he not only consented to their remaining, but he begged that they would admit him into their poor dwelling. He witnessed during several days their angelic mode of life, and he became so changed, that he determined upon adopting a similar plan. The Saint perceiving that from a ravenous wolf he was become a gentle lamb, gave him the habit of the Order, and the name of Brother Agnello, under which he expiated his crimes by religious penance, of which he rigidly fulfilled all the duties. This fact was of such notoriety, that the rock to which he used to retire has always been called since, and is still known, by the name of Brother Wolf’s prison.

1Matt. XXVII: 51.

2S Hieron. in Amos. cap. 3.

3Ecclus. XXXVI: 19.

A light that shall fill a great space…

Five-Saints-detail-of-St-Clare-xx-Simone-MartiniToday is the Feast of St. Clare on the Traditional Calendar. The following, is an excerpt from Candide Chalippe’s “The Life of St. Francis.”

His [St. Francis’] discourses, backed by his example, and his prayers and exhortations, animated by an ardent zeal, were so efficacious, that in the town and county of Assisi a very great number of persons was converted, and the fire of divine love was kindled in every heart. “Then,” says St. Bonaventura, using the words of the Holy Scriptures, “the vine of the Lord spread its branches1 and bore flowers of a most agreeable odor, and produced fruits of glory in abundance.” There were many young girls who made vows of perpetual virginity; amongst whom, says the same holy doctor, the Blessed Clare appeared as the most beautiful plant in the garden of the celestial Spouse, and as a star more brilliant than all the others.

This illustrious maiden was the daughter of a rich and noble family of Assisi.2 The Cavaliere Favorine, or Favarone, her father, was descended from the ancient and powerful houses of Scifi and Fiumi. Her mother, of equal high birth and exalted piety, was called Hortulana. She had the talent of joining the care of her household to the practice of good works, and to regulate her time so well, that she found enough in which to visit, with the consent of her husband, many holy places: she even made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. If this practice is no longer usual in these days, particularly as regards distant countries, it arises from the circumstances of the times being very different, and from there having been a great change in manners. But Christian piety does not permit us altogether to condemn (independently of abuses) voyages or journeys of devotion, since they are sanctioned by the examples of the Saints, have been approved by the Fathers of the Church, and since at one time they were directed as sacramental penances for certain sinners.3

Hortulana had three daughters, Clare, Agnes, Beatrix. Being about to be confined for the first, and praying to God before a crucifix in a church for a safe delivery, she heard a voice, which said to her: “Woman, fear not, thou wilt bring forth, without danger, a light which will illuminate a vast space.” This was the reason she gave the name of Clare4 to the daughter to whom she gave birth, in the hopes of seeing the accomplishment of what it might signify.

Indeed, from her earliest years, her virtue shone as an Aurora, the prognostication of a fine day. She received with docility the instructions of her mother, and her whole conduct was the fruit thereof; the exercise of prayer became familiar to her; she every day recited the Lord’s Prayer a number of times, which she marked with small stones,5 in order to be exact in the daily number she had assigned for herself. In that she resembled the solitary of the desert of Scethé,6 who kept an account of the number of his prayers, offering them to God three hundred times each day. Naturally tender and compassionate to the poor, she aided them voluntarily, and the opulence of her family enabled her to assist them abundantly. But, in order to render her charities more agreeable to God, she sent to the poor, by confidential persons, the nicest eatables which were served to herself. The love of God, with which these holy practices inflamed her heart, inspired her with a hatred of her own body, and showed her the vanity of all the things of this world. Under her own costly dresses, which her situation in society obliged her to wear, she constantly had a hair-shirt; and she cleverly refused a proposal of marriage which her parents wished her to accept, recommending to God her virginity, which she intended to preserve in entire purity. Although she was at that time confined in the bosom of her family, and solely intent on sanctifying herself in secret before the eyes of God, her virtue became the subject of admiration, without her being conscious of it, and drew down upon her the esteem and praise of the whole town.

The great celebrity which the sanctity of Francis gained in the world, could not be unknown to the young Clare. Aware that this wonderful man renewed a perfection in the earth which was almost forgotten, she wished much to see him and to have conversation with him. Francis also, having heard the reputation of Clare’s virtues, had an equal desire to communicate with her, that he might tear her from the world and present her to Jesus Christ. They saw and visited each other several times. Clare went to St. Mary of the Angels with a virtuous lady, a relation of hers, whose name was Bona Guelfuccii; Francis also came to see her, but always taking the necessary precautions to have the pious secret kept. She placed herself entirely under his guidance, and he soon persuaded her to consecrate herself to God. An interior view of eternal happiness inspired her with such contempt for the vanities of the world, and filled her heart with such divine love, that she had a complete loathing for finery, which it was not as yet permitted her to throw aside; and from that time she entered into engagements to live in a state of perpetual virginity.

The holy director did not choose that so pure a soul should continue longer exposed to the contagion of the world. She had herself come to him some days before Palm Sunday to hasten the execution of her intention; he told her to assist at the ceremony of the delivery of palms dressed in her usual ornaments, to leave Assisi the following night, as our Blessed Saviour had left Jerusalem to suffer on Mount Calvary, and to come to the church of St. Mary of the Angels, where she would exchange her worldly ornaments for a penitential habit, and the vain joys of the world for holy lamentations over the Passion of Jesus Christ.

On the 18th of March, being Palm Sunday, Clare, magnificently dressed, went with other ladies to the cathedral church, and as she remained in her place out of bashfulness while the others crowded forward to receive the palms, the bishop came down from the altar, and carried a palm branch to her, as a symbol of the victory she was about to gain over the world.

The following night, accompanied as propriety required, she arranged her flight as her spiritual Father had directed, and according to the earnest wish of her soul. Not being able to get out by the front door of which she had not the key, she had the courage and strength to break open a small door which had been blocked up with stones and wood, and she repaired to the church, where Francis and his brethren, who were saying their matins, received her with great solemnity, bearing lighted tapers in their hands. They cut off her hair before the altar, and after she had taken off her ornaments with the help of the females who accompanied her, she received the penitential habit, consecrating her virginity to Jesus Christ, under the protection of the Queen of virgins, while the religious chanted hymns and canticles.

It was a touching scene to see a young noble lady, only eighteen years of age, in solitude in the middle of the night, renounce all the advantages and allurements of the world, put on sackcloth and a cord, and devote herself to a rigorous system of penitential exercises, solely for the love of God. Similar sacrifices can only be made by a supernatural virtue; they prove that the religion which inspires them is divine; and justly does St. Ambrose consider them to be far above the most heroical pagan virtues.7

It must be remarked, moreover, that the church of St. Mary of the Angels, which was the cradle of the Order of the poor evangelical brethren which Francis had just established, was also the place where Clare made profession of the same poverty, that she subsequently prescribed to the Order of women, which she instituted together with the holy Patriarch. This gives to the two Orders the pleasing consolation of knowing that they belong to the Mother of God from their origin, and that she is specially their mother.

As soon as the ceremony was over, Francis, who was always guided by the spirit of wisdom, took the new bride of Jesus Christ, followed by her companions, to the monastery of Benedictines of St. Paul, there to remain until divine Providence should provide a dwelling for her.

When morning dawned, and her parents learnt what had occurred during the night, they were overwhelmed with grief. They equally disapproved of what Clare had done, and of the manner in which she had carried her intention into execution; and they went in great numbers to the monastery of St. Paul, to compel her to leave it. At first they spoke to her in mild and friendly terms; they represented to her that she was choosing a vile and contemptible state of life, which was disgraceful to her family, and that there was no precedent in the whole country of such an occurrence. After which they attempted by violence to force her from the monastery; which they might easily have done, because in those times the religious females did not keep strict enclosure, besides which her relations were all military men, accustomed to acts of violence.

Clare uncovered her head to show them that she was shorn; and she protested, clinging to the altar, that nothing in the world should tear her from Jesus Christ. Either because they had too much respect for religion to venture to violate so holy an asylum, or that God restrained them by His power, they molested her no farther. She had only to resist the fresh efforts they made to induce her to return to her father. But the love of God gave her courage to resist with such determined firmness, that, giving up all hopes of conquering her, they left her in peace.

A short time after, Francis removed her from the monastery of St. Paul to that of St. Angelo de Panso, of the same Order of St. Benedict, near Assisi, to which she drew her sister Agnes. The conformity of their inclinations and manners, which rendered them tenderly united, had made them sensibly feel their separation.

Clare was greatly grieved that Agnes, at so tender an age, should be exposed to the dangers of the world. She prayed fervently to the Almighty to cause her sister to feel the sweets of His grace, so that she might grow disgusted with the world, and become her companion in the service of Jesus Christ. Her prayer was soon favorably heard, for, a fortnight after her consecration, Agnes came to her, and declared that she was decided to give herself wholly to God. “I return Him thanks,” replied Clare, “for that He has thus relieved me from the uneasiness I was in on your account.”

The indignation of the family was extreme, when it became known that one sister had followed the other. On the morrow, twelve of its principal members hastened to the monastery of St. Angelo. At first they feigned to have come in a peaceful mood; but, having been admitted, they turned to Agnes, for they had no longer any hopes of Clare, and said: “What business have you here? Come immediately home with us.” She replied that she did not choose to leave her sister, when one of the knights, forgetting himself altogether, attacked her furiously, struck her with his fist, kicked her, pulled her down by the hair, and the others carried her off in their arms. All that this innocent lamb could do, thus torn by the wolves, was, to cry out, “My dear sister, come to my aid; do not let them separate me from Jesus Christ.” Clare could give her no assistance, but by praying to God to render her steadfast, and to check the violence of her ravishers. This prayer was followed by a miraculous effect, similar to what the Church records in the Life of the illustrious virgin and martyr, St. Lucia.8

As the relations of Agnes dragged her down the mountain, tearing her clothes, and scattering her hair along the road, because she continued violently to resist, she became suddenly so heavy, that they were unable to raise her from the ground, even with the help of persons who flocked from the fields and the vineyards. They were blind to the finger of God in so extraordinary an event, and they even made a jest of it; for ill-disposed persons, like the Pharisees of the Gospel, do not submit to the evidence of miracles, but carry their impiety to the length of turning all miracles into ridicule. The one which God was pleased to operate in the person of Agnes, threw her uncle, whose name was Monaldi, into such a rage, that he raised his arm to strike her in such a manner as would have killed her, if the Divine power had not arrested the blow by bringing such an excessive pain into the limb as to disable it, and which lasted a considerable time. This is a grand lesson for those parents who prevent their children from consecrating themselves to God in a religious state. If they do not experience in this world the effects of His anger,9 they ought to fear the consequences of the anathema in the next with which the Council of Trent menaces, not only them, but those also who compel their children to embrace a religious state.

Clare came to the field of battle, where she found her sister half dead. She entreated the relations to retire and to leave her in her care, which they regrettingly did. Agnes then rose with great ease, glad to have had a share in the cross of Jesus Christ. She returned to the monastery with her sister, to consecrate herself to God under the direction of Francis, who cut off her hair with his own hands, and instructed her in the duties of the state she was about to enter. Clare, not having her mind quite at ease in the monastery of St. Angelo, removed to the house which adjoined the church of St. Damian, the first of the three which he had repaired, and where he had foretold that there would be one day a monastery of poor females, who should lead a sanctified life, and whose reputation would cause our Heavenly Father to be glorified.

Clare had scarcely fixed herself there, when the fame of her sanctity spread all around, and produced wonderful effects. The influence of grace was so great, that there were many persons of all sexes and all ages, of all states of life, nobles and rich, who took to a religious life. They mutually excited each other in families, as St. Jerome tells us that it occurred in all Africa, when the illustrious virgin, Demetrias, moved by the exhortation of St. Augustine, took the holy veil.10 It was even seen that married persons separated by mutual consent, and entered separate convents: and those who could not do this, strove to sanctify themselves in the world. The virtues of the holy spouse of Jesus Christ, as a precious perfume, attracted pure and innocent souls, who made the house of St. Damian a numerous monastery, and the origin of the Order of the Poor Sisters, or of St. Clare, the second of the three which were established by St. Francis. He appointed Clare abbess of St. Damian, although her humility made her wish to be the servant of the others, and he only overcame her repugnance by enforcing that obedience which she had promised him.

It was there that this holy abbess was enclosed during a period of forty-two years in the practice of the most eminent perfection, and which we shall have an opportunity of referring to, when we come to speak of her rule. life_of_st.francis

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1Is. XXVII:6, and XXXV:2; Eccl. XXIV, 23.

2It has been said that about the year 1487 there were still at Assisi some descendants of the family of St Clare.

3See P. Morin Comment. Hist. de Poenit.

4In Italian, Chiara (Clare) means light. -Editor’s note.

5Heretics only, and bad Catholics can disapprove of the order and arrangement adopted for private and public prayers. The Church has regulated the Divine Office in number and time, and she causes the same words to be frequently repeated to honor God and His Saints. See on this subject the learned Mabillon, when treating of the Crown and of the Rosary or Beads (Chapelet, of the Blessed Virgin. -Act. SS. Ord. S. Bened. sec. 5, Præfet. no. 125, et seq. And Bellarmine, de actu Sanctorum lib. 3, cap. 8.

6Hist. Lausiac. cap. 23.

7St. Ambrose lib. I, de Virginibus, cap. 4.

8Offic. S. Luciæ, Surius, cap. 3, Dec. n. 9.

9Conc. Trid. sess. 23, de Regul. cap. 13.

10Div. Hieronym. Epist. 97, ad Demetriad.

The Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Instrumentum Laboris

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The Conversion of St. Paul -Caravaggio

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The Crucifixion of St. Peter -Caravaggio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We, just yesterday, had the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, which is a holy day of obligation in most of the world, but for some reason not here in the USofA. Not sure why, apart from the general trend to not disturb people’s comfortable lives by the spectre of going to Mass on a weekday. This year of course that was not a problem.

One of the things I find fascinating is that the very same feast is celebrated in all the Eastern Rites of the Church as well, according to their own liturgical customs and traditions, which is to say they did not copy it from the Roman Rite, the same feast developed organically in their own traditions. Thus, the feast of St. Peter and Paul is also a feast for the unity of the whole Church with its head, which is why it is a holy day of obligation (again, except here).

There is another reason why the Church specifically honors these two saints together in one feast day. In the Neronian persecution they in fact died separately, but nevertheless, together sanctified Rome by their blood. Rome was a great persecutor, and would continue to lay up many martyrs to the faith. Yet, the blood of the two Apostles firmly established the Church in Rome, and provided strength to it while under siege for the next 250 years. The bones of St. Peter and St. Paul were cherished by Christians, and moved into the catacombs to protect them from desecration.

The two paintings above, hang in the Church of Santa Maria del Populo, in Rome, right as pilgrims would traditionally enter the city from the north. They are in a side chapel which has an interesting history. The paintings there were part of a challenge between Caravaggio and a rival artist, Caracci, who painted in what is called the “Mannerist” style, generally loathed by art historians, though it in fact has many good points, especially for faith. Caravaggio was temperamental (to say the least), and annoyed that Caracci got the altar piece, decided to show his displeasure by painting the horse so that its rear end would be facing Carraci’s painting. Nevertheless, he provides a great image, the blinding light. Paul is off of his horse and his eyes are blinded, as the light shines upon him. A light that is too pure to be perceived without an interior light, namely the light of faith.

Now, St. Thomas makes the observation, that a single heresy is sufficient to corrupt the virtue of faith, when he says:

…qui discredit unum articulum fidei non habet habitum fidei neque formatae neque informis.

…one who disbelieves [even] one article of faith does not have the habitus of faith, either formed or unformed.

-Summa Theologiae II-II Q.5 a.3

Now St. Paul, who preached the faith everywhere, was martyred at a place which is now called Tre Fontane, or the Three Fountains. When his head rolled down the hill, three fountains sprang up in the places where it had rolled. Now, I was just in Rome in February, and the fountains were not flowing. You could see clearly that at one time they were because of the moisture in the rock in that part of the Church where the fountains are preserved. I asked a priest who was knowledgeable of it, what happened to the fountains? He said that he was told they stopped flowing in [surprise] 1965.

If true, this is significant because Paul represents the age of the gentiles, but the apostasy of the end times both in the book of the Apocalypse and in private revelation is that the gentiles will give up the faith. Thus we come to the Instrumentum Laboris for yet another synod of bishops. The many issues being discussed center around some pretty serious moral issues, which constitute part of the great upheaval of Western culture, namely divorce and remarriage, or, put another way, using your spouses like used cars, trying to trade them in for a better deal. There are many who would like to see a change in the Church’s praxis to allow for the sanctioning of divorce and remarriage by saying that people who have done this, without a judgment of the Church with respect to the validity of their first marriage, may come to communion. Notably Cardnal Kasper, who demonstrated yet again he hasn’t the faintest idea of what the Orthodox actually teach. This provoked a reaction, even in the curia, with many clarifying what the issue actually is. Nevertheless, going into this synod we have an Instrumentum Laboris, which proposes to give place to those advocating these very things. I haven’t finished the whole document, but certain things stand out as particularly troubling. This first I read yesterday:

Finally, the observations insist that catechesis on marriage and family, in these times, cannot be limited exclusively to the preparation of couples for marriage. Instead, a dynamic catechetical programme is needed — experiential in character — which, through personal testimony, shows the beauty of the family as transmitted by the Gospel and the documents of the Magisterium of the Church. Long before they present themselves for marriage, young people need assistance in coming to know what the Church teaches and why she teaches it. Many responses emphasize the role of parents in the catechesis on the family. As afar as the Gospel of the Family is concerned, they have an irreplaceable role to play in the Christian formation of their children. This task calls for a thorough understanding of their vocation in passing on the Church’s teaching. Their witness in married life is already a living catechesis in not only the Church but society as well. (Instrumentum Laboris, n.19)

There is a big problem here. What is proposed is “more catechesis!” This is ultimately like throwing more money at a problem. The crisis of family is not just a question of shifting values, and false ideologies. The problem of families in the modern western world is that world was built by atheistic capitalism, which has no notion of the common good and scoffs at the traditional resources large families had to support mothers. It overlooks entirely the crisis of fatherhood. It overlooks the fact that authentic Church life requires an authentically Catholic society to function. The atheistic societies that the Vatican has been praising for 50 years cannot support the family, but only tear them down. It doesn’t address that many people actively reject what the Church teaches, and as such don’t have the virtue of faith. What is needed, is more prayer and sacrifice, a liturgy that renews people’s lives, and building holy people to merit grace for the errant. This however will not be found in the document.

The most troubling thing, however, is what I saw quoted on Rorate Caeli, directly from the document:

The difficulties that arise in relation to natural law can be overcome through more attentive reference to the biblical world, to its language and narrative forms, and to “propose bringing the issue to public discussion and developing the idea of biblical inspiration and the ‘order in creation,’ which could permit a re-reading of the concept of the natural law in a more meaningful manner in today’s world.” [Instrumentum laboris, 30]

In other words, the natural law, written on man’s heart, is going to be re-read. This is the type of progressive language that is typical of modernism. Re-read, rediscover, so that something contrary to what came before is now a “harmonious development”, a new fruit of “spiritual riches” to contemplate. In other words, this is more of the same.

The blinding light Caravaggio so powerfully paints cannot be seen by those who are spiritually blind. Yet it seems those are the ones writing these documents!

 

Unecumenical Saints: St. Benedict of Nursia

Much has been said by Traditional Catholics such as myself about the novelty and emptiness of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. Yet we have few better proofs of this than the saints themselves in their dealings with non-Catholics.

Today we have the example of St. Benedict:

The fortified town of Cassino lies at the foot of a towering mountain that shelters it within its slope and stretches upward over a distance of nearly three miles. On its summit stood a very old temple, in which the ignorant country people still worshiped Apollo as their pagan ancestors had done, and went on offering superstitious and idolatrous sacrifices in groves dedicated to various demons.
When the man of God [St Benedict] arrived at this spot, he destroyed the idol [he did not show it respect at an inter-religious prayer service for world peace, twice, or dialogue with the people], overturned the altar and cut down the trees in the sacred groves. Then he turned the temple of Apollo into a chapel dedicated to St. Martin [of Tours], and where Apollo’s altar had stood he built a chapel in honor of St. John the Baptist. Gradually the people of the countryside were won over to the true faith by his zealous preaching. (Emphasis mine)

-St. Gregory the Great
The Dialogue, Book II

Un-ecumenical Saints: St. Margaret Clitherow

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St. Margaret Clitherow

The English persecution produced many martyrs of the true faith, some of which many people are familiar such as St. Thomas Moore, or St. Edmund Campion. In smokers circles I have found that most know who St. John Kemble is, because of the tradition of the “Kemble Pipe”, named after the priest who had the last smoke of his pipe before being hung for the crime of saying Mass.

Yet there is one saint whom many in my estimation would do well to learn from and imitate, that is St. Margaret Clitherow. She was raised in between the restoration of Mary and the persecutions of bloody Elizabeth, as a protestant, and consequently she was not taught to read or write because the suppression of the religious orders had destroyed England’s educational system. The gold and silver gleamed more than the common good of the people for Henry and Elizabeth. According to St. Margaret’s confessor, “she found no substance, truth nor Christian comfort in the ministers of the new church, nor in their doctrine itself, and hearing also many priests and lay people to suffer for the defense of the ancient Catholic Faith.”

In the early Church, the blood of the martyrs had sunk like seeds in the earth and inspired many to seek knowledge about the Church, and to come into it themselves. This is also true of the English persecution. St. Margaret was inspired by the witness, (Grk: μαρτύρεω), and so she came into the Catholic Church. Yet though her husband remained protestant she persevered in charity, so that she had the admiration even of her protestant neighbors. She raised her children Catholic, and did not allow religious dissension in the house even though her husband persisted in the Queen’s religion, and continued to love him dearly. All of her children would later enter religious life.

St. Margaret also aided priests, making her home a hideout where Mass could be said in secret. Bloody Bess had made the immemorial Mass a crime punishable by death and just being a priest in the country was a felony punishable by hanging. We see this later with priests who shipwrecked with no intention of going to England being put to death for the crime of being a priest on English soil. Margaret had chambers built into the home, so that children could learn catechism and Holy Mass could be said in secret. Priests could hide there as they made their way around the country to keep the true faith alive. One day, the sheriffs burst into the Clitherow household, and the priest escaped in one of the chambers, but they did recover, vessels for Mass, vestments, and other things indicating that Mass was said there. Margaret was arrested, her children taken away, and she was put before a judge. She refused to plead, because she had done nothing wrong and because she knew her children would be called to testify against their mother. Many tried to persuade her to change her mind. Even the judge, as the law established by Elizabeth a year earlier declared that those who did not plead should be pressed to death unless they would change their mind. Even he however could not and so ordered her to die by being pressed to death. This involved being placed naked on a stone under the small of your back and having a heavy oak door placed upon you, and then larger stones added to it until the weight had pressed one to death. She was also pregnant, but this did not bother the executioners of bloody Bess.

She cried out “God be praised, I don’t deserve such a death as this!” Which again, the saint is worried about the next world, not this one. Death is a relief to the saint, it means that they will never offend the goodness of God again. Martyrdom moreover, satisfies for all the temporal punishment for sin. There is a justice in that, what more could God ask in payment for sin but that he lay down his life and that he separate himself from his own existence in this world. When hearing a sentence of death we fear, cry out, weep, think of our affairs in this world. The saint thinks of the divine majesty they will soon come into union with.

So when the day came she was led up to the place of execution, and many of those who looked on marveled at her countenance, and in life she had been exalted for her great charity and holiness, so that she was known as the “Good lady of York”. When she reached the place of execution she knelt down to pray, and some of the heretics asked if they could pray with her. “Neither shall you pray with me, or I pray with you. On no account shall you answer Amen to my prayers, and neither shall I answer Amen to your prayers.” Then she prayed aloud for Elizabeth to be converted back to the Catholic faith. She was martyred by the inhumane practice of pressing (by those enlightened Anglicans), and died in 1586, on Good Friday. Her children all entered the religious life.

There are a few good lessons here. The first is that the saint at her death was prepared to meet her heavenly spouse. The first thing on her mind is charity, that is charity for God. To man one has charity for the sake of God, but not for any other reason. Thus when the protestants wanted to pray with her she said no. Why did she say no? Wouldn’t it be a good thing to have the prayers of others? Well not exactly. If the people are in a state of grace due to some kind of ignorance they might merit something, but if not then their prayers are useless (that is, with respect to supernatural merit). God does not hear the prayers of sinners. Even if they were though, they might pray the wrong way because of their lack of right faith, and thus instead of meriting something for God might actually offend Him.

Secondly, she prays for Elizabeth to be converted to the true faith. The queen’s religion was not good enough to save her, or else St. Margaret would not have prayed for her. This is also a sign of charity in the soul of the saint, that she prayed for the tyrannous and bloody queen who everywhere by her edicts was having Catholics put to death, submitted priests to the most gruesome tortures and was responsible for her own death. Yet she forgives her this evil and wills for her the best thing possible, the salvation of her soul.

It is clear that such a saint presents a stark contrast to the life of today, where everyone must “get along”, and dialogue rather than the true work of Christ’s vineyard seems to reign supreme. Granted that the Church has the prudential right to determine if it will go out and evangelize a certain people or not (they couldn’t withhold it from anyone, but they could decide that a certain group for prudential reasons ought not be preached to, such as we see with the Jews in medieval Europe), to solicit prayers from non-Catholics has always been condemned by the Church. Filled with love of God, she would not allow her prayers and martyrdom to be mingled with the prayers of those who either a) were not in a state of grace and could not merit anything or b) due to incorrect faith might pray wrongly and offend God. In this she practiced true love of God and did not fall victim to the vice of human respect.

St. Margaret Clitherow, pray for us!

Building a culture of… death?

Originally published 13 October, 2008

Much is said today about a culture of life, and it is done so rightly. The culture of death is in fact a culture surrounding true death, eternal damnation and the vices that please the devil.

Nevertheless, I’ve chosen a provocative title for this post because as Catholicism is a culture of life, it is also a culture of death, that is holy death, because one can not enter eternal life except through the door opened by death itself. As through the example of our Blessed Lord, we can’t have an Easter Sunday without first having a Good Friday.

Traditionally, death has been quite visible to Catholics, and the saints are often depicted with skulls, by skulls, and at times embracing skeletons or before the Grim Reaper. At Requiem Masses (until about 40 years ago) priests wore black, to symbolize death, the shortness of life, and to remind us that our time is coming, though we know not when. To a modern Catholic, such a visage almost belongs to another religion. The first time I saw a requiem Mass with black vestments, I was still new to the Traditional Liturgy, and truthfully, it was something that almost contrasted with my experience of the liturgy in the Novus Ordo. There, for funerals they wear white vestments and release balloons as a sign the person is in heaven (which is blasphemous since the point of a funeral Mass is to pray for the soul because we don’t know where it is). Black vestments, 100% beeswax candles (a rubric for requiems), pictures in the missal adorned with skulls, all of these and the glorious Dies Irae were something I had never seen in 3 years of being Catholic, and it not only seemed like a relic, but it also seemed alien.

This is because it is alien to modern culture, and only within the Church’s classical Liturgical tradition East and West is the concept incorporated at all, with the exception of those priests who have brought it back into the Novus Ordo. The loss of the concept of death has also led to the loss of its fear, and its preparation. There was some idiotic shirt when I was growing up, which said “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Now, even from a non-religious standpoint, he who dies is just plain dead! He doesn’t get to take anything with him, neither money nor toys.

This became absolutely clear to St. Francis Borgia, a holy Jesuit whose feast we celebrated only a few days ago. He walked with the casket of Queen Isabella of Portugal, Charles V’s wife and mother of the future Philip II on procession. On the way it was opened, exposing her rotting flesh and the stench of her corpse. She was the married to the greatest monarch of all Christendom, the most renowned, the most revered.  She was seen as the ideal of a monarch, and also the incarnation of heavenly glory. When the flesh rotted from her face there wasn’t a bone’s difference between her and a peasant draped in rags. This thought was not lost on St. Francis Borgia, who contemplated the corpse when all others had run away due to the stench. He vowed never again to serve a master who should perish and rot, nor work for glory that will sit here on the earth when he rots, but rather, to serve the Lord of Heaven and Earth who alone shall not die. When his wife died, he renounced his titles and became a Jesuit.

Saints are often depicted with skulls to be a reminder of death. St. Charles Borromeo is said to have kept a skull on his desk, likewise Cardinal Baronius the great Church historian who inscribed into it an expression used by Carthusian monks when greeting each other “memento mori“. Our culture, while on the one hand exulting in death, be it in war, video games, murder, or the mass murder of our unborn children, fears it on the other. No one stops to think that the world will end, that they will end. First and foremost in this category, are the majority of baptized Catholics in our culture. Why do I mention that? Because our empirical experience can verify this. There is not enough thought of death for whatever reason one might gather. Instead, they are worried about ordering the house, investments, jobs, computers, internet, friends, parties, and in the back of their minds Mass on Sunday, and for a smaller segment, confession once in a while. Do they ever stop and think that they might die today? Might you not die from a massive heart attack as you read this? (God forbid)

How many people are there, who not only delay a thought of death until it confronts them, but also, say idiotic things like “I’ll convert on my deathbed!” I can not tell you how many people, be they Catholics or Protestants, justify their evils by claiming they will convert on their deathbed? How many more non-believers who entertain some thought of afterlife, say “well, I’ll convert on my deathbed.” What if there is no deathbed? What if you die in your sleep, a ripe 45, thinking that you’ve got 50 more years? What if you die in a car accident, which is a good chance for Americans since more of us are killed by traffic incidents than by guns, disease and natural disasters put together! There is no time to stop and say as much as “Lord I’m sorry”, and if one dies in mortal sin he will go straight to hell.

St. Alphonsus Ligouri says on this subject:

The time of death is a time of storm and confusion. At that awful hour sinners call on God for assistance; but they invoke his aid through the fear of hell, which they see at hand, and not with true contrition of heart. It is for this reason that God is deaf to their cry; it is for this reason also that they will then taste the fruit of their wicked life. What they have sown they shall reap. Ah! it will not then be enough to receive the sacraments; it is necessary at death to hate sin, and to love God above all things. But how can he, then hate forbidden pleasures, who has loved them till that moment? How can he love God above all things, who has till then loved creatures more than he has loved God? (Preparation for Death, Consideration X)

To bring Catholics back to a holy consideration of death, we must rebuild a culture of holy death, where we present to men the reality of our death, and its cruel inescapable reality. The first step as always is through the re-establishment of sacred signs. By this I mean common requiem Masses, and common does not mean every day, but frequently in a parish. We need a return of black vestments, or at the very least, funeral Masses ought to be said in purple if not black, and white completely banned. The concept of penance and prayer for the dead is essential not only in forming a healthy eschatology but also in preparing the faithful to seriously contemplate their own deaths. How will you stand before your creator? God is merciful, but He will not be mocked, for He is also just.

Lastly, it should be preached upon as often as possible, and parents should follow the lead of the Church and help their children learn to practice preparation for a Holy death. “Oh that’s so morbid!” Yes. Yet if we consider the saints, or better yet, consider the blessed Fatima children. Our Lady showed them Hell and all of its torments. The Mother of God, so pure, so loving, showed to 3 children the terror and torment of hell! If she can do that, there is simply no good reason why we can not prepare our children for a holy death, which is far less dramatic than showing them hell. These are the building blocks by which we can recover the thought of a holy death in Catholic culture, and through it recover society for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, remembering always that this is not our true home, rather, it is a temporary journey to that blessed Patria which is our eternal resting place, to which we can take nothing with us.