Tag Archives: saints

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


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.