Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Fr Alexander Crow, Martyr. ----- 'Mary's Meals'

You will notice at the top of the side-bar, the prayer for the beatification of the Venerable Bishop Richard Challoner, Vicar Apostolic of the London District in England, from 1758-1781. Among his many literary works was ‘Martyrs to the Catholic Faith’ Memoirs of Missionary Priests and other Catholics of both sexes, that have suffered death in England on religious accounts from the year 1577 to 1684’. This is an impressive and broadly based work, briefly relating the lives and circumstances of death of some three hundred martyrs, ‘carefully collected from the accounts of eye-witnesses, contemporary authors, and manuscripts kept in the English convents and Colleges abroad.’ Reading these accounts is truly humbling, and is a reminder that today there are many Catholics in the world suffering terrible persecution and death for their faith. ‘Please God, give them courage and faith in their suffering, and may we all be loyal soldiers of Christ.’ This post is primarily on one of the English martyrs included in Bishop Challoner’s book, the Rev. Alexander Crow.

                                 'Ecce Homo' - Munkacsy Mihaly (1844-1900)

Alexander Crow,  Priest.

Alexander Crow was born in Yorkshire, and for some time followed a trade in York.   ‘But going beyond the seas, out of his zeal to God and his country,’ says my manuscript, ‘he fell to his studies at Rheims, and became a priest, being, both for his said zeal and virtue, well esteemed of by his superiors, and by them sent on an orderly mission into England for the salvation of souls, anno 1584.  After he had laboured here some time, with much edification to all that knew him, he was taken at South Duffield, coming hither to christen a child of one Cecily Garnet; and at the assize held at York in November was arraigned and condemned for being a priest and remaining in England contrary to the laws of the realm.  He was hanged, drawn, and quartered at York, the 30th November 1586,’ according to this relation;  but Yepez, Wilson, Molanus, Raissius, and the manuscript annals, say 1587, being about the age of thirty-five.
    The manuscript annals give this short account of Mr Crow, anno Eliz.29:- ‘On the 30th day of the month of November, Alexander Crow, a priest of Douay College, after he had strenuously laboured in those difficult times in gathering together the sheep of Christ that had been scattered, falling into the hands of the wolves stoutly laid down his life for Christ and His sheep, being put to death at York in the like manner as the other martyrs above mentioned.’
    But the Bishop of Tarrasona, in his history above quoted, has something very remarkable relating to Mr Crow which we must not omit.  His words are as follow:- 

             ‘Another thing, not less worthy of notice happened to a priest of the Seminary of Rheims, named Alexander Crow, in the year 1587.  This priest and soldier of Jesus Christ was a prisoner in York Castle, where, after much ill-treatment, he received sentence of death; whereupon he began to be exceedingly comforted, and to show so great joy in the court that all that were present took notice of it; and returning to the prison (where he was lodged with another Catholic), he could not contain himself all that day, so great was the satisfaction he conceived by thinking that he was to die the next morning. When the night came, and the time of going to bed, he told the other Catholic to take his rest; but for my part, said he, for this one night which remains of life, I am willing to watch in prayer with Christ our Lord.  And when the other Catholic insisted that either the Father should come to bed also, or should admit him to bear him company in his watching, he would not consent, but bid him go to bed and leave him alone.  The Catholic submitted, and went to bed, and the priest, lighting a taper that was there, and setting it upon the stool, knelt down, and began to enter into very quiet prayer, as his companion took notice, who remained awake to see what passed.

                  Christ's Crowning with Thorns - Carravagio (c. 1604)

 ‘After an hour of silent prayer, the Father began to speak as if he were holding a colloquy, and by little and little to enter into a heat, so that his voice began to change like a man that was disturbed.  At length, getting up, he went to the bed where his companion lay, and touching him with his hand, asked him if he were asleep; his companion answered no. The priest begged of him then that he would recommend him, to the best of his power, to our Lord, because he stood in need of his prayers.  So he returned again to his place, and began in the same manner, to be troubled as before, giving signs in his exterior of being in great anguish, and, as it were, out of himself, till at length he put out with his own hand, like a man in anger, the taper that was burning by him.  With all this his trouble did not cease, but he still continued, as it were, in a conflict and agony, sometimes speaking low, and begging the assistance of our Lord and the Saints, at other times raising his voice as one angry and in a rage; and this lasted for the space of half an hour after he had put out the light, whilst the poor gentleman in bed was not a little terrified at seeing and hearing what passed, and begged of our Lord as well as he was able, to deliver him from this affliction, for he plainly perceived that he was in a conflict.
    ‘At length he saw him coming towards the bed, reciting with much joy the psalm,’Laudate Dominum de Coelis, etc. – Praise ye the Lord in the Heavens, &c., continuing it to the end; and then, as one inebriated with an abundance of consolations, he broke out into other praises of our Lord God, admiring His unspeakable mercies and His divine sweetness towards the children of men.  He set himself down on the bed by his companion, not having been able for many days to lift his feet up from the ground for the great weight of the bolts and chains, and remained as one asleep
for a quarter of an hour; but at length he broke out again into the praises of God, and asked his companion if he had not been frightened.  The gentleman answered that he had, and withal begged of him that he would tell him what was the meaning of that great noise and of those changes and alterations he had discovered that night.  The priest answered, that though as to his own part it would signify little to relate it, yet, as it might be of some comfort to the Catholics to know what had passed, he would tell him the whole matter.

                                           Way of the Cross - Tiepolo (1696-1770)
‘After a while, said he, that I had been in quiet prayer, my flesh began to creep upon me and my hair to stand on end, and I perceived myself quite changed, and on a sudden I saw before my eyes a most ugly monster which began to terrify me, and when I least looked for it assaulted me with these words:  Thou thinkest tomorrow to be a martyr, and to go straight to heaven, but I assure thee it will not be so, for I know thou art condemned to hell, and that the sentence is passed against thee in God’s tribunal, which cannot be recalled;  and tomorrow, though thou shalt be drawn to the gallows, thou shalt not be executed, but they will keep thee two years longer in prison with these bolts and chains which thou hast on, and will give thee only two morsels of black bread and a little water every day, and thou shalt be abhorred by all, and shalt lead the most miserable life that ever man led upon earth; therefore that thou mayest be delivered from so great sufferings it will be better for thee at present to put an end to thy life by a knife or a halter, and not to wait for tomorrow.  And though I shook him off, said the Father, many times, answering what God put in my mind, he never left off importuning me, and whatever way I turned my eyes, he placed himself always before me, giving me intolerable trouble with his horrid figure.  And when I extinguished the light, it was that I might no longer see so frightful a sight; but he still continued terrifying and molesting me very much, and the conflict went on still increasing, till our merciful Lord, taking pity on my weakness, sent me succour from heaven.  And this was, that at the time when I found myself in the greatest straits, I saw a great light come in at the door with two persons, who, as I believe, were our Lady and St John the Evangelist, who by their presence gave me unspeakable comfort; and then the monster that had troubled me began to draw back and tremble; and one of them said to him, Begone from hence, thou cursed creature! Thou hast no part in this servant of Christ, who will shed his blood tomorrow for his Lord, and will enter into his joy.  Immediately the monster disappeared, and they likewise, leaving me so full of consolation that I cannot express it.  Upon this, I came with great joy of heart and canticles of praise in my mouth, and sat me down here in this manner that you saw, not being sensible whether I was on the ground or in bed, in heaven or in earth.  This one thing I beg of you for Christ’s sake, that you do not speak one word of this to any one till you see my race finished, and till I am delivered of the burden of the flesh.  Having said this, they both glorified our Lord, and so continued till the morning, discoursing together with great satisfaction of heavenly things, &c.

                                        Crucifixion of Christ  -  Tintoretto (1568)

 ‘But the impudent enemy was not contented with having failed in this first attempt, but returned again to persecute this soldier of Christ, who being now upon the ladder at the gallows in profound prayer, before the hangman had put the rope about his neck, the devil, envying the happiness with which God rewarded His servant, and the consolation that he gave him in prayer, flung him down off the ladder; but yet he received no manner of hurt, though the fall was very high and with great violence, as it appeared to the standers-by.  This gave occasion to the heretics that were there to cry out that the Papist was in despair, and that he wanted to kill himself. But the Father mounted the ladder again, and told them with great serenity of countenance and of heart, smiling, It is not as you think, my brethren, that I had a mind to kill myself, but it was the enemy who wanted to rob me of this glorious death, and out of envy flung me off the ladder, and this is not the first time he has sought to deprive me of the crown which God gives me, who has permitted him to do what he has done in your presence that you might know how little he is able to do;  for how much so-ever he has sought it, he has not been able to do me any hurt either in soul or body, neither can he do any hurt to the servants of God more than their Lord is pleased to permit for their greater good; and upon this occasion, speaking more at large and with greater liberty to the people, he delivered many things of edification, exhorting them to the Catholic faith;  and passing through the usual course of the ordinary butchery, he gloriously finished his career, and went to enjoy his God for ever.’

                     Resurrection of Christ - Gerard Seghers (1591-1651)

 'Mary's Meals'

 Just a few words about a book I read recently, entitled 'The Shed that Fed a Million Children', by Magnus Macfarlane-Barrow.  The author, born in Aberdeen, and now living with his wife and family at Dalmally in Argyll, tells the extraordinary story of the work of 'Mary's Meals', a charity set up by him, supported by family and friends, some years ago, with the ambitious but simple aim of providing food and education to starving and illiterate children throughout the world. Initially the author's experience of this type of work, involved  organizing the collection and transportation of clothing, medical supplies, and food, to Romania, followed by similar missions to the Balkan countries. The logistics involved considerable organizational planning over many years, leading ultimately to the decision to diversify and expand the mission through the medium of the re-named 'Mary's Meals'.
Incredibly, through belief and deep spiritual conviction, backed up by great courage and perseverance, and the  support of individuals and local communities, the system is now in place whereby 'Mary's Meals' provides a million children worldwide, with one good meal a day and basic education, without which they would be trapped in a life-circle of ignorance and poverty. Many will know of the work of 'Mary's Meals' and many I'm sure support this as far as their means allow, however I strongly recommend to all this inspiring and heart-warming book which once started is hard to put down! It is available through Amazon and no doubt other booksellers, with all royalties from the sale of the book going direct to Mary's Meals.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

'Making Dogma out of Unsettled Science'

Grateful acknowledgement to Fr. George W. Rutler, for the following article published on December 14 in Crisis Magazine.

'In the Broadway production of Pygmalion, Professor Higgins regretted how proper English is considered freakish, and “in America, they haven’t used it for years.” The problem glares in the speech of television commentators, for whom coiffures are more important than diction, while grammar is banished from the social media, our urban landscape has become a jungle of incomplete sentences and dangling participles. By the time one reaches California, the subjunctive has completely disappeared. To have been reared speaking English is a blessing, for it is a language hard to learn by adoption and even native speakers can find its subtleties daunting. Consider, for instance, the differences between affect and effect, whether and if, since and because, which and that, nauseous and nauseated, farther and further, continual and continuous, disinterested and uninterested; and that is just for starters. Many English speakers think that the Greek derivative parameter means perimeter; and that leads to all sorts of problems.

A perimeter is a border, and a parameter — besides its technical mathematical meaning — is a physical property that determines the character of something. It is a measurable factor in the sense of a criterion or framework, a part of a whole. I mention this only because I want to speak of a matter of religion and science, and their parameters complement and serve each other, but are not to be confused. This was well expressed by Galileo’s friend Cardinal Baronio, or at least we may infer that Baronio was the one Galileo was quoting when he said: “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of not a few scientists who — following in the footsteps of Galileo — renounce neither reason nor faith. On the contrary, in the end they find value in both, in their reciprocal inventiveness. Christian thought compares the cosmos to a ‘book’ — Galileo also said the same — and considers it to be the work of an Author who is expressing himself by means of the ‘symphony’ of creation. Contrary to received histories, Giorgio de Santillana, no propagandist for Christianity by any means, said in his 'The Crime of Galileo', which has remained with me since I first read it when I was sixteen: “We must, if anything, admire the cautiousness and legal scruples of the Roman authorities.“ Most of the big ecclesiastical players knew their parameters: “…like Galileo, Copernicus had foreseen resistance not at all from the Church authorities but from vested academic interests.”

In 1576 Gregory XIII licensed a chair  of “Controversies” in the Roman College. The Religious orders and societies tended to line up according to their preferred philosophical systems, the Dominicans being Aristotelian and more disposed to geocentricism. The Jesuits and the Oratorians (of whom Baronio was one) leaned more toward the Augustinian tradition. Saint Augustine warned against resolving difficult questions such as those posited in astronomy by appeal to divine revelation: “We do not read in the Gospel that the Lord said, ‘I will send the Paraclete to teach you the course of the sun and the moon’; in fact, he wanted to create Christians not mathematicians.

                                                                         Pope Sylvester II

The first French Pope, Sylvester II, who reigned during the turn of the second millennium (and upbraided the superstitious Romans who read dire portents in the number 1000) saw harmony and not fracture in his life as Supreme Pastor and his avocation as scientist. (He invented the hydraulic pipe organ, introduced Hindu and Arabic numerals and the decimal system to Europe along with an improved abacus and an astrolabe, and transformed cartography by his use of the armillary sphere.) Copernicus had the same balance, and it is important to remember that he was first of all a priest, and dedicated his prime text “On the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs” to Pope Paul III.

                                                      'Nikolas Copernicus' by Matejko

Here the Church nursed science when the Protestant leaders were condemning anything that did not accord with their reading of Scripture. Martin Luther had called Copernicus “that madman [who] wants to throw the art of astronomy into confusion” by denying that Joshua told the sun, and not the earth, to stand still. The Spanish theologians Diego De Zúñiga and Melchior Cano invoked against Protestant literalists the Augustinian exegetical principle that excluded the human language of Scripture from scientific proof texts. Though a pious Lutheran, the heliocentrist Johannes Kepler, shunned by his co-religionists, found friends among the Jesuits and had the honor of being plagiarized by the Catholic Galileo. Pope Urban VIII, somewhat offended when he sensed that his protégé Galileo had satirized him as “Simplicio” in his 'Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems', patiently urged Galileo to stay on the right track of speculation, and not to declare theory a fact.

                              'Galileo Galelei, 1636.'  by Justus Sustermans

 It may reasonably be said that Galileo was right and wrong, and so were some of his opponents, among whom St. Robert Bellarmine did not distinguish himself. Right in asserting the motion of the earth, which opponents denied, Galileo was wrong about the “solar stasis,” or immobility of the sun, which his opponents accepted. Both succumbed to error when they paraded theory as fact and scorned opponents as “deniers.” That alchemy of pride turns science into a false cult of scientism, which is unscientific science, while clerics abusing their authority descend to a false cult of clericalism, which is irreligious religion. A salutary example of how to order things rightly by humility was Christopher Clavius, the German Jesuit astronomer and mathematician, one of the commissioners for the Gregorian calendar, revered throughout Europe, who was a firm geocentrist. Telescopic observations with Galileo changed his mind, albeit with reservations, and he remained aloof from polemics.

There is a caution here relevant to the current debates, or refusal to debate, about global warming, previously global cooling and now preached as climate change. Its details are proper to physical science, but its moral imperative is rooted in revelation, just as is the very fact of creation in contradistinction to infinity. The human race was given authority to name all living creatures. Stewardship of creation is evidence of human dignity. “Ecology” is the understanding of all things animate and inanimate as part of God’s “household” just as economics is the ordering of that domain. Theories about climate change impose serious moral responsibilities, and require that the parameters of religion and science be identified, lest saving souls be overshadowed by saving the planet, which is an ambiguous concept anyway.

This point is lost on those who acknowledge no creator of creation and consequently make ecology a new theology. In that case, creation is perceived as its own creator with a system of dogmas and heresies, propaganda and censures, and its own secular liturgy, as when a crowd recently prostrated themselves on the floor of a chapel in Paris, chanting and praying for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to save Planet Earth. That salvation was called the most important challenge facing the human race, as though the terrorists who had murdered over a hundred Parisians just days before were regrettable irritants.

Jesus loved the lilies of the field, more beautiful than Solomon in all his glory, but he beautified this world incomparably by passing through it with a reminder of its natural impermanence: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). The Church has dogmas and properly so, but they do not include making a dogma of unsettled science, just as in religion “private revelations” are not binding on the faithful. Science, by its nature is unsettled and today’s certitudes may be disproved tomorrow, and the anthropogenic theories held by even a majority of climatologists may fade like the geocentric theories of astronomers in the days of Clavius.

There are legitimate ways to consider the significance of carbon emissions in relation to variations in solar activity, changes in the terrestrial orbit and axis, fluctuations in gamma ray activity, and tectonic shifts, and the solid fact that Earth has been warmer than it is now in 7,000 of the last 10,000 years, but hypotheses should not be pronounced as conclusions. And if the Church’s “voice crying in the desert” is to be prophetic, it should not cry wolf. Nor should the Church allow herself to be appropriated by political elites and business interests and what Santillana in the instance of the Renaissance called “vested academic interests,” whose tendency is to exploit benevolent, if emotive, environmentalists.

 So it was perplexing that on the recent Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the feast itself was upstaged by an unprecedented light show cast on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica, sponsored by the World Bank Group, an environmental foundation called Okeanos, and Vulcan, Inc., a Seattle-based private company dedicated to exposing “sins against the climate.” Sins? These interests may have good intentions, but the parameters of banking, business and academe do not include imputing sin. There may be offenses and even crimes against the balance of the ecosystem, but not sins, unless science really has become a religion. The irony is that many who impute sins to those who disrupt the balance of nature, also defend and promote unnatural acts among humans. Although the Immaculate Conception was neglected by the New Age light show with its flying birds and leaping porpoises, it is consoling to remember that the Virgin Mary was completely free of sins against the climate, and departed this world without leaving any carbon footprint.

In the saga of environmentalism, the eleventh century Anglo-Scandinavian King Canute is often mistakenly evoked as a symbol of arrogance for setting up his throne on an English beach, possibly at Westminster or West Sussex or Southampton, and ordering the tides to roll back. The details are vague but the real point of the story is that Canute actually choreographed that drama to instruct his flattering courtiers in the limits of earthly power against the seas and skies. The tides did not withdraw, the king and his court got wet, and Canute pronounced: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but he whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.” That was better than any gigantic light show, and better still, King Canute then placed his crown on the great crucifix in Winchester Cathedral and never wore it again. In matters of unsettled science, it would be edifying to see the members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the directors of the World Bank Group, corporate executives, and academics, do the same.
(Acknowledgement:  Fr. George W. Rutler and 'Crisis' magazine).


                            'The Nativity of Christ' by Vladimir Borovikosky

"Come, ye monarchs and emperors, come, all ye princes of the world, come and adore your highest King, who for love of you is now born, and born in such poverty in a cave.  But who appears?  No one.  The Son of God has indeed come into the world; but the world will not acknowledge him."
                                                      'Thoughts from St Alphonsus' 

'Wishing all a joyful and happy Christmas and New Year'

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

'ADVENT' by Caryll Houselander

                                                        'Annunciation' by El Greco

Caryll Houselander,  (1901 - 1954) was an English lay Roman Catholic ecclesiastical artist, mystic, popular religious writer and poet. 'The Reed of God' was one of many books she wrote, and in this she included the following article on Advent.I find her views deeply spiritual but always practical, simple but profound.

                                                                        Caryll Houselander

'ADVENT'  by Caryll Houselander

Advent is the season of the seed:  Christ loved this symbol of the seed.

The seed he said, is the word of God sown in the human heart.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed.”

“So is the Kingdom of God as if a man should cast seed into the earth.”

Even His own life blood:  “Unless the seed falling into the earth die, how shall the earth be sown?”

The Advent, the seed of the world’s life, was hidden in Our Lady.

Like the wheat seed in the earth, the seed of the Bread of Life was in her.

Like the golden harvest in the darkness of the earth, the Glory of God was shrined in her darkness.

Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence.

It is the season of humility, silence, and growth.

For nine months Christ grew in His Mother’s body. By His own will she formed Him from herself, from the simplicity of her daily life.

She had nothing to give Him but herself.

He asked for nothing else.

Working, eating, sleeping, she was forming His body from hers. His flesh and blood.  From her humanity she gave Him His humanity,

Walking in the streets of Nazareth to do her shopping, to visit her friends, she set His feet on the path of Jerusalem.

Washing, weaving, kneading, sweeping, her hands prepared His hands for the nails.

Every beat of her heart gave Him His heart to love with, His heart to be broken by love.

All her experience of the world about her was gathered to Christ growing in her.

Looking upon the flowers, she gave Him human sight.  Talking with her neighbours she gave Him a human voice. The voice we still hear in the silence of souls saying: “Consider the lilies of the field.”

                           'Our Lady of the Magnificat' by Sandro Botticelli

Sleeping in her still room she gave Him the sleep of the child in the cradle, the sleep of the young man rocked in the storm-tossed boat.

Breaking and eating the bread, drinking the wine of the country, she gave Him His flesh and blood; she prepared the Host for the Mass.

This time of Advent is absolutely essential to our contemplation too.

If we have truly given our humanity to be changed into Christ, it is essential to us that we do not disturb this time of growth.

It is a time of darkness, of faith. We shall not see Christ’s radiance in our lives yet; it is still hidden in our darkness; nevertheless, we must believe that He is growing in our lives; we must believe it so firmly that we cannot help relating everything, literally everything, to this almost incredible reality.

This attitude it is which makes every moment of every day and night a prayer.

In itself it is a purification, but without the tense resolution and anxiety of self-conscious aim.

How could it be possible that anyone who was conscious that Christ desired to see the world with his eyes would look willingly on anything evil? Or knowing that He wished to work with his hands, do any work that was shoddy, any work that was not as near perfection as human nature can achieve?

Who, knowing that his ears must listen for Christ, could listen to blasphemy or to the dreary dirtiness of so much of our conversation, or could fail to listen to the voice of a world like ours with compassion?

Above all, who, knowing that Christ asked for his heart to love with, for his heart to bear the burden of the love of God, could fail to discover that in every pulsation of his own life there is prayer?

This Advent awareness does not lead to a selfish preoccupation with self; it does not exclude outgoing love to others – far from it. It leads to them inevitably, but it prevents such acts and words of love from becoming distractions. It makes the very doing of them reminders of the presence of Christ in us.

It is through them that we can preserve the secrecy of Advent without failing to offer the loveliness of Christ in us to others.

           Everyone knows how terrible it is to come into contact with those people who have an undisciplined missionary urge, who, having received some grace, are continually trying to force the same grace on others, to compel them not only to be converted but to be converted in the same way and with precisely the same results as themselves.

            Such people seem to wish to dictate to the Holy Ghost. God is to inspire their neighbour to see things just as they do, to join the same societies, to plunge into the same activities. They go about like the scriptural monster, seeking whom they may devour. They insist that their victims have obvious vocations to assist in, or even to be completely sacrificed to, their own interests. Very often they unwittingly tear out the tender little shoot of Christ-life that was pushing up against the dark, heavy clay, and when the poor victim has been devoured, he is handed over, spiritless and broken, as a pre-digested morsel for the next one-hundred-per-cent zealot who comes along.

            Our Lady’s example is very different to this.

            When a woman is carrying a child, she develops a certain instinct of self-defence. It is not selfishness; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of self like a little tent around the child’s frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish, and some day to bring forth, the life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in its heart.

            This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the Life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.

            We could scrub the floor for a tired friend, or dress a wound for a patient in a hospital, or lay the table and wash up for the family; but we shall not do it in a martyr spirit or with that worse spirit of self-congratulation, of feeling that we are making ourselves more perfect, more unselfish, more positively kind.

            We shall do it just for one thing, that our hands make Christ’s hands in our life, that our service may let Christ serve through us, that our patience may bring Christ’s patience back to the world.

            By His own will Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent; He was absolutely helpless; He could go nowhere but where she chose to take Him; He could not speak; Her breathing was His breath; His heart beat in the beating of her heart.

            Today Christ is dependent upon men. In the Host, He is literally put into a man’s hands. A man must carry Him to the dying, must take Him to the prisons, workhouses, and hospitals, must carry Him in a tiny pyx over the heart onto the field of battle, must give Him to little children and ‘lay Him by” in His ‘leaflight’ house of gold.

            The modern world’s feverish struggle for unbridled, often unlicensed freedom, is answered by the bound, enclosed helplessness and dependence of Christ – Christ in the womb, Christ in the Host, Christ in the tomb.

            This dependence of Christ lays a great trust upon us. During this tender time of Advent we must carry Him in our hearts to wherever He wants to go, and there are many places to which He may never go unless we take Him to them.

            None of us know when the loveliest hour of our life is striking. It may be when we take Christ for the first time to that grey office in the city where we work, to the wretched lodging of that poor man who is an outcast, to the nursery of that pampered child, to the battleship, airfield, or camp.


                                                            Blessed Charles de Foucauld

 Charles de Foucauld, a young French soldier of our own day, became a priest and a hermit in the desert, where he was murdered by some of the Arabs whom he had come to serve. His life as a missionary hermit seemed no more than a quixotic spiritual adventure, a tilting at windmills, on the desert sands, but he knew and said that it was worth while for just one thing; because he was there, the Sacred Host was there.

            It mattered nothing if the heroic priest could not utter the wonder that was in his heart; the Blessed Sacrament was there in the desert; Christ was there, silent, helpless, dependent on a creature; that which His servant could not utter in words, Christ would utter, in His own time, in silence.

            Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness.  But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worth while.

                                                    'Visitation' by Frans Francken II
There is one exquisite incident in Our Lady’s Advent in which this is clearly seen: the Visitation.

            “And Mary rising up in those days went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda.”

            How lyrical that is, the opening sentence of St Luke’s description of the Visitation. We can feel the rush of warmth and kindness, the sudden urgency of love that sent that girl hurrying over the hills. “Those days” in which she rose on that impulse were the days in which Christ was being formed in her, the impulse was His impulse.

            Many women, if they were expecting a child, would refuse to hurry over the hills on a visit of pure kindness. They would say they had a duty to themselves and to their unborn child which came before anything or anyone else.

            The Mother of God considered no such thing. Elizabeth was going to have a child, too, and although Mary’s own child was God, she could not forget Elizabeth’s need – almost incredible to us, but characteristic of her.

            She greeted her cousin Elizabeth, and at the sound of her voice, John quickened in his mother’s womb and leapt for joy.

            “I am come” said Christ, “that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.” Even before He was born His presence gave life.

            With what piercing shoots of joy does this story of Christ unfold! First the conception of a child in a child’s heart, and then this first salutation, an infant leaping for joy in his mother’s womb, knowing the hidden Christ and leaping into life.

            How did Elizabeth herself know what had happened to Our Lady? What made her realise that this little cousin who was so familiar to her, was the mother of her God?

            She knew it by the child within herself, by the quickening into life which was a leap of joy.


                                                               'El buen Pastor' by Murillo

If we practise this contemplation taught and shown to us by Our Lady, we will find that our experience is like hers.

            If Christ is growing in us, if we are at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it He is forming Himself; if we go with eager wills, “in haste”, to wherever our circumstances compel us, because we believe that He desires to be in that place, we shall find that we are driven more and more to act on the impulse of His love.

            And the answer we shall get from others to those impulses will be an awakening into life, or the leap into joy of the already wakened life within them.

            It is not necessary at this stage of our contemplation to speak to others of the mystery of life growing in us. It is only necessary to give ourselves to that life, all that we are, to pray without ceasing, not by a continual effort to concentrate our minds but by a growing awareness that Christ is being formed in our lives from what we are. We must trust Him for this, because it is not a time to see His face, we must possess Him secretly and in darkness, as the earth possesses the seed. We must not try to force Christ’s growth in us, but with a deep gratitude for the light burning secretly in our darkness, we must fold our concentrated love upon Him like earth, surrounding, holding, and nourishing the seed.

We must be swift to obey the winged impulses of His Love, carrying Him to wherever He longs to be; and those who recognise His presence will be stirred, like Elizabeth, with new life. They will know His presence, not by any special beauty of power shown by us, but in the way that the bud knows the presence of the light, by an unfolding in themselves, a putting forth of their own beauty.


                                               'The Road to Emmaus'  by Altobello Melone

 It seems that this is Christ’s favourite way of being  recognised, that he prefers to be known, not by His own human features, but by the quickening of His own life in the heart, which is the response to His coming.

When John recognised Him, He was hidden in His mother’s womb. After the Resurrection He was known, not by His familiar features, but by the love in Magdalene’s heart, the fire in the heart of the travellers to Emmaus, and the wound in His own heart handled by Thomas.

"Whoever would become a saint, must during this life resemble the lily among thorns, which, however much it may be pricked by them, never ceases to be a lily; that is, it is always equally sweet and serene. The soul that loves God maintains an imperturbable peace of heart."     
                                  ack. Thoughts from St Alphonsus.

e was hidden in His mother’s wombimHim

Monday, 5 October 2015

The Desert Fathers - 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven'.

               In these agitated days I think it time for another extract from 'The Desert Fathers', translated from the Latin by Helen Waddell. 

             "That part of the 'Historia Monachorum' dealing with the 'History of the Monks of Egypt', translated originally by Rufinus in Greek, was the story of a pilgrimage made through Egypt in AD 394, by a brother, possibly Timotheus, from Rufinus' own monastery on the Mount of Olives. He himself had made the same journey twenty years earlier, and Jerome had no doubts that 'translation' or not, Rufinus himself was responsible for the authorship, allowing his imagination a certain licence". Be that as it may, these stories - certainly founded on truth, convey a spirit of humility, simplicity, and trust in God, truly 'therapeutic' in our confused and materialistic world.

'We saw also the cell of the holy Paphnutius, the man of God, that was the most famous of all the anchorites in these parts, and that had lived the most remote inhabitant of the desert round about Heracleos, that shining city of the Thebaid.'

                        St Paphnutius of Thebes - etching 16/17th c.

                 Of him we had a most warrantable account from the Fathers, how at one time, after living an angelic life, he had prayed to God that He would show him which of the saints he was thought to be like. And an angel stood by him and answered that he was like a certain singing man, that earned his bread by singing in the village. Dumbfounded at the strangeness of the answer, he made his way with all haste to the village, and sought for the man. And when he had found him, he questioned him closely as to what works of piety and religion he had ever done, and narrowly enquired into all his deeds. But the man answered that the truth was that he was a sinful man of degraded life, and that not long before, from being a robber he had sunk to the squalid craft which he was now seen to exercise.

                                            Musicians - Simone Martini (14th c)

           But for this Paphnutius was the more insistent, asking if perchance some good thing might have cropped up amidst his thieving."I can think of nothing good about me,” said he: “but this I know, that once when I was among the robbers we captured a virgin consecrated to God: and when the rest of my company were for deflowering her, I threw myself in the midst and snatched her from their staining, and brought her by night as far as the town, and restored her untouched to her house. 
           Another time too, I found a comely woman wandering in the desert. And when I asked her why and how she had come into these parts, ‘Ask me nothing,’ said she, ‘nor question me for reasons, that am the wretchedest of women, but if it pleases thee to have a handmaid, take me where thou wilt. I have a husband that for arrears of tax hath often been hung up and scourged, and is kept in prison and tortured, nor ever brought out unless to suffer torment.We had three sons also that were taken for the same debt. And because they seek me also to suffer the same pains, I flee in my misery from place to place, worn out with grief and hunger, and I have been in hiding, wandering through these parts, and for three days have had no food.’
            And when I heard this, I had pity for her, and took her to the cave and restored her soul that was faint with hunger and gave her the three hundred solidi for which she and her husband and their three sons were liable, she said, not only to slavery but to torture; and she returned to the city and paid the money and freed them all.” 

            Then said Paphnutius, “I have done naught like that, yet I think it may have come to thine ears that the name of Paphnutius is famous among the monks. For it was with no small pains that I sought to fashion my life in this kind of discipline. Wherefore God has shown me this concerning thee, that thou hast no less merit before Him than I. And so, brother, seeing that thou hast not the lowest room with God, neglect not thy soul.” 
          And straightway he flung away the pipes that he carried in his hand, and followed him to the desert, and transforming his skill in music into a spiritual harmony of life and mind, he gave himself for three whole years to the strictest abstinence, busying himself day and night in psalms and prayer, and taking the heavenly road with the powers of the soul, gave up his spirit amid the angelic host  of the saints.

                                                Crucifixion - Parri Spinelli (c 1445) 

……… And again Paphnutius entreated the Lord that He would show him his like upon earth. And again the voice of the Lord came to him saying, “Know that thou art like the headman of the village close by.” And on hearing this, Paphnutius made haste to go to him, and knocked at the door of his house. And he, whose habit it was to entertain strangers, ran to meet him and brought him into his house and bathed his feet and set a table before him and made a feast. And as they feasted, Paphnutius began to question his host as to his doings, what was his desire, and what his exercises in good living. But he spoke humbly of himself, liking better to hide in his good deeds than be made a talk of, and Paphnutius urged him,  saying that it had been revealed to him by the Lord that he was worthy of the monastic fellowship. 
                   But at that he thought still more humbly of himself, and he said, indeed I know of no good in aught that is in me: but because God’s word has been said to thee, I can conceal naught from Him to whom nothing is hidden. So then I shall speak of those things that I am wont to do, set as I am in the midst of many men. It is now thirty years since a bond of continence was agreed between me and my wife and no man knows of it. I have had by her, three sons: for them only have I known my wife, nor have I known any other but her, nor herself now at all. I have never ceased to entertain  strangers and in such fashion that I let no one go to meet the coming guest before myself. I have never sent a guest from my house without provision for his journey: I have despised no man that was poor, but have supplied him with what things he needed. If I sat in judgement, I have not respected 
the person of my own son, in detriment of justice. 

        'Christ in the house of Simon the Pharisee' by Philippe de Champaigne (c.1656)

           The fruit of another man’s toil has never come into my house. If I saw a quarrel, I have never passed by till I brought them that were at odds to peace. No one ever caught my servants in a fault: never have my herbs injured another man’s crops: never did I forbid any man to sow in my fields, nor did I choose the richer fallow for myself, and leave the more barren to another. As much as in me lay, I never suffered the stronger to oppress the weak. Ever in my life I sought that no one should be sad because of me. If I were judge in a suit, I condemned no one, but sought to bring the dissidents to peace. And this, as God gave it, has been my way of living until now.”
            And hearing him, the blessed Paphnutius kissed his head and blessed him saying, "The Lord bless thee out of Zion and mayst thou behold the good things that are in Jerusalem. But as thou hast well and wisely performed all these, one thing thou lackest, which is the  highest of all good, that leaving all, thou should'st follow the very wisdom of God, and seek the more hidden treasure, whereto thou mayst not come unless thou deny thyself and take up thy cross, and follow Christ.”

                        Annunciation (detail) - Jacopo Pontormo (c1527)

              And when he had heard this, he delayed for naught, nor sought to set his house in order, but followed the man of God taking the road to the desert ……And when some time had gone by, and he had been led to that perfection of  knowledge who was already made perfect in deed, on a certain day Paphnutius sitting in his cell saw his soul taken up into heaven amid a host of angels that were saying, “Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest and causest to approach unto Thee: he shall abide in Thy tabernacle.”
          And hearing this, he knew that the man had been taken from this world. But Paphnutius persisted in fasting and prayer, reaching out to things greater and more perfect.

          ............ And again he prayed to God, that He would show him his fellow among men. And again a divine voice answered him saying: “Thou art like this merchant, whom thou shalt see coming towards thee: but rise up quickly and run to meet him, for the man who is thy fellow is nigh.” And going down without delay Paphnutius met a certain merchant of Alexandria, that was bringing goods worth twenty thousand pieces of gold in three ships from the Thebaid. And being a religious man and zealous after good, he had laden his young men with ten sacks of vegetables, and was bringing them to the monastery of the man of God: and this was the reason for his coming to Paphnutius. And straightway as he saw him , “What dost thou,” he said, “O soul most precious, and worthy of God?

   'St Augustine of Hippo' by Philippe de Champaigne (1645-50)    "You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You. Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us. Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.” ― Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

                      What toil is this with things of earth, when thy lot and fellowship are in heaven? Leave these to such as are of earth, and think of earth; but do thou be a tradesman of the Kingdom of God, to which thou art called, and follow the Saviour, who will soon hereafter take thee to Himself.” 
                    And he with no least hesitation bade his young men give all that remained of his goods to the poor (for he had already himself given much away). And following the holy Paphnutius to the desert, he was set by him in that place from which his predecessors had been taken up to God. And in like fashion, instructed by him in all things, he abode in the exercises of the spirit and in studies of the divine wisdom, and in a little while, he also was translated to the assembly of the just.

                     And not long after, whilst Paphnutius himself was ordering his life in these same exercises of supreme  austerity and travail, the angel stood by him, saying to him .”Come thou blessed, and enter those everlasting mansions that are prepared for thee. For behold the Prophets are at hand who shall receive thee into their company. This at first I did not reveal to thee lest perchance thou shouldst be puffed up and thy labour be lost.”

                                                 'St Jerome'- Lionello Spada (c1610)

                        And after these things, for one day he lived his life in the body, and when certain priests came to visit him, he made known to them all that the Lord had revealed to him, saying to them that no one in this world ought to be despised, let him be a thief, or an actor on the stage, or one that tilled the ground, and was bound to a wife, or was a merchant and served a trade; for in every condition of human life there are souls that please God and have their hidden deeds wherein He takes delight: whence is it plain that it is not so much profession or habit that is pleasing to God, as the sincerity and affection of the soul and honesty of deed. And when he had spoken thus about each in turn, he gave up his spirit.'

                       St Anthony the Abbot and St Paul the first hermit
 'He had reached the age of one hundred and thirteen years when Anthony, then ninety years old, came to visit him. Paul received him warmly. After they had spent the night in conversing about holy things, Paul said that his death was at hand and asked Anthony to go and get the cloak given him by Athanasius to use as a winding sheet. Anthony went to do this and, as he was on his way back he saw Paul’s soul going up to heaven. His body he found in his cell, still in the attitude of prayer. When he had chanted the customary hymns, he wrapped the body in the cloak, but had nothing to dig a grave with. Thereupon two lions came from deep in the desert and hollowed out a place large enough to hold a men’s body. Anthony buried the body arranged the grave and went away taking with him the tunic which Paul had woven for himself from palm-leaves. Thereafter he always wore this cloak on the great feasts of Easter and Pentecost.' 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia
  "There is no devotion so generally practised by the faithful of all classes as that of the Rosary.  The immense good that this noble devotion has done to the world is well known. How many, by its means, have been delivered from sin! how many led to a holy life! how many to a good death and to heaven!"
ack. 'Thoughts from St. Alphonsus'.