Recently in Personal Musings Category

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This photograph was taken on the day of my First Holy Communion. Left to right: my dear little neighbour friend Brigitte Folz, at that time recently come from Germany; myself, my little sister Donna Marie; my brother Daniel; and little Monika Folz.

A Certain Thursday in June

I received my First Holy Communion 54 years ago today, on June 4th, 1959, from the hands of the Right Reverend Monsignor Vincent J. McDonough in Saint Francis Church, New Haven, Connecticut.

June 4th fell that year on Thursday, the Octave Day of Corpus Christi, and the day before the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I was far from imagining then the place that every Thursday -- day of the Priesthood and of the Most Holy Eucharist -- and the mystery of the pierced Heart of Jesus -- would come to hold in my life.

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We second graders had prepared for the great day by singing a little gregorianish hymn (in Latin!) from our "music readers." I still remember it, and can still sing it lo all these years later:

Veni, Domine Jesu,
Veni, Domine, Jesu,
Veni, veni, veni,
Et noli tardare!

I remember the thrill and the fear of kneeling before the white marble neo-gothic high altar on a prie-dieu covered in white satin, and the glint of the large golden ciborium in Monsignor's hands. Returning from the altar one had to keep one's hands folded while walking straight on the white line inlaid in the church's tile floor. The Sisters of Mercy prepared us well for our First Holy Communion, and even instructed on how to make a suitable thanksgiving with our little faces hidden in our hands. Inevitably, there was the temptation to "peek" through one's fingers.

Adoration,Thanksgiving and Reparation

I celebrated this 54th anniversary in adoration, thanksgiving, and reparation, mindful of all the times I have received Holy Communion over the past 54 years. I am grateful to Our Lord for having brought me, after 54 years, to to this day in my life, and to this hour, and to this place. In spite of myself, my life these 54 years has been a Eucharistic life, not because I have made it so, but because Our Lord is faithful, and merciful, and relentless in the pursuit of the little ones upon whom He has set His Heart.

I can only ask Him today, in His merciful love, to make the remaining years, or days, or hours of my life wholly Eucharistic. I count on Him to make me the adorer and the priest whom He created me and called me to be.

Sitting on the basket

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Catholic Schadenfreude

I grieve over the prevalence of the culture of Schadenfreude that modern technology facilitates. Schadenfreude is a kind of perverse delight taken in the weaknesses, falls from grace, or misfortunes of another. Why is there a frenzied rush, even among some Catholics, to point to the latest scandal, to comment on it, and discuss it? What is there in us that prompts us to take a morose delight in uncovering the sins of others? I often think of this wonderful story from the sayings of the Desert Fathers:

Brother, Be Careful
There was a brother who kept a woman in his cell. The other fathers decided to go and expel him from the monastery. An abba heard about this and visited the brother beforehand. The brother hid the woman in a basket, before the abba came in the door. The abba then proceeded to sit on top of the basket and converse with the brother until the other fathers came to visit. The abba ordered the other fathers to search the cell and find this woman. Not finding her, because the abba (who had a gift of seeing hidden things) was sitting on the basket containing her. The abba then chastised the fathers for falsely accusing the brother and judging him. They asked for forgiveness and left. Then the abba got off the basket and told the brother, "Brother, be careful" and left.

Interventions

There are, of course, grave situations in which one is bound, as a matter of justice or to protect the vulnerable, to intervene in the matter of another's sin, but this should always be done with the utmost discretion and respect for all concerned. In the Gospel, Our Lord provides us with a plan of intervention:

If thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. (Matthew 18:15-17)

First of all, then, one must approach the offender and speak to him privately. If this fails to touch his heart, one should repeat the intervention in the presence of two or three witnesses. Only if this also fails to move the sin-sick brother's heart, should one have recourse to the Body of the Church. Only if he hardens his heart against the Church, that is, against the Body of Christ, should he be counted as the heathen and publicans. Most importantly, all of this takes place personally and in real time, not in the media that technology has placed at our finger tips as a two-edged sword.

The Scarlet Letter

Is it not reprehensible -- especially when one has no personal, face-to-face and heart-to-heart, knowledge of the individual concerned -- to call attention to the weaknesses and sins of a man? We live still in the accusatory culture of The Scarlet Letter. Even in Catholic circles, Calvinism (or Jansenism, which is a kind of Catholic Calvinism) thrives. How different this is from the merciful culture of the Desert Fathers, so imbued with the spirit of the Gospel.

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Nothing Worse
The old men used to say, "There is nothing worse than passing judgement".
Abba Makarios
They said of Abba Makarios that he became as it is written a god upon earth, because just as God protects the world, so Abba Makarios would cover the faults that he saw as though he did not see them, and those which he heard as though he did not hear them.
If You Are Chaste
Abba Pastor said, "Judge not him who is guilty of fornication, if you are chaste, or you will break the law like him. For He who said, "Do not commit fornication," said also "Do not judge."
Abba Moses
A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, "Come, for everyone is waiting for you". So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, "what is this, father?" The old man said to them, "My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another." When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.
Where Do You Want Me to Throw Him?
One day Abba Isaac went to a monastery. He saw a brother committing a sin and he condemned him. When he returned to the desert, an angel of the Lord came and stood in front of the door of his cell, and said, "I will not let you enter." But he persisted saying, "What is the matter?" And the angel replied, "God has sent me to ask you where you want to throw the guilty brother whom you have condemned." Immediately he repented and said, "I have sinned, forgive me." Then the angel said, "Get up, God has forgiven you. But from now on, be careful not to judge someone before God has done so."
Abba Poemen
A brother asked Abba Poemen, "If I see my brother sin, is it right to say nothing about it?" The old man replied, "Whenever we cover our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people about our brother's guilt, God will do the same about ours."

Abba Poemen said, "If I see my brother sin" -- today one may not see one's brother sin, but one can read about it, often in lurid detail. How much more, then, are we bound to cover our brother's sin and observe silence concerning his guilt.

A Favourite Story of Mine

I could bring forth saying after saying and story after story from the lives of the Desert Fathers, for theirs was a culture of mercy, marked by the meekness of the Heart of Jesus. There is, nonetheless, one final story from the Orthodox Christian East that I must share because I so love it.

Once there was a priest who got drunk on Saturday night and stayed very drunk well into Sunday morning. His intoxication notwithstanding , the poor priest rose the next day and staggering, set out for church to serve the Divine Liturgy. An Angel, sent by the Lord, stopped him in his tracks, however, and tied him to a tree, lest he go into the church, and approach the altar, and bring disgrace upon himself and upon his holy priesthood.
When his wife went into church, she saw him at the altar, serving the Divine Liturgy, and was struck by the unusual radiance and beauty of his countenance. Leaving church, after the Divine Liturgy, she was making her way home when she came upon her husband tied to a tree! "Batushka!" she said, "how is it that you are tied to this tree when I saw you, only moments ago, serving at the altar?" "Matushka!" he replied, "An Angel of the Lord stopped me on my way to church and tied me to this tree, promising to assume my likeness and replace me at the altar this morning, lest my drunkenness bring shame upon me and upon my holy priesthood." "Verily," said his wife, "I saw you at the altar, but your countenance was like that of an angel, and the beauty of it more than I ever remember seeing."

In a Vessel of Clay

The story does not recount whether or not the wife untied her husband from the tree. The meaning of the story is that, no matter how sinful a priest may be, the indelible character of the holy priesthood engraved upon his soul by the Holy Ghost is, at all times and in all circumstances, worthy of profound respect. A poor drunken priest, a vessel of clay, was deemed worthy by God of the ministrations of an Angel, for the sake of the inestimable treasure hidden within.

Massacre of the Innocents

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A Hellish Crime

The massacre of innocent children and of others ten days before Christmas, in my own home state of Connecticut, is evidence enough of the implacable hatred of the Evil One, the incorporeal Herod, who everywhere seeks and finds breaches in the souls of men, in families, and in society, into which he sends his infernal troops, full of contempt for human life, to plunder, ravage, and destroy. The devil, mocking the liturgical calendar of the Church, follows his own calendar of feasts of death and seasons of destruction.

With the Mother of Sorrows

And so do we find ourselves, in these last days of Advent, faced with the most bitter irony of praying the Stabat Mater Dolorosa. The Mother of God, and hundreds of thousands of mothers with her, never leave their station at the Cross, where the blood of an incalculable number of lambs is mingled with the tears of their hearts and with the Blood of the One Lamb that, alone, can wrest the world from the powers of darkness.

Plunged in grief the mother stood,
Weeping where the crimsoned wood
Held on high her dying son.

Through her soul, whose mourning low,
Told how grievous was her woe,
Sorrow like a sword had gone.

Oh! how sad, how sorrow laden,
Stood the meek and blessed maiden,
God's true mother undefiled.

Trembling, weeping, whelmed in woes,
Witnessing the dying throes
Of her own immortal child.

Who is he who would not weep,
Could he know what anguish deep,
Pierced the mother of the Lord?

Who from sorrow could refrain,
Gazing on that mother's pain,
Weeping with her son adored?

She beheld the torments sore,
He for his own people bore,
Bowed beneath that scourging dread.

She beheld her only-born,
Death struck, utterly forlorn,
When his parting spirit fled.

Come, O mother, love's sweet spring,
Let me share thy sorrowing,
Let my tears unite with thine.

Let my heart be all on fire,
Still to seek with fond desire
Christ, my God, my love divine.

Holy mother, this impart,
Deeply print upon my heart,
All the wounds my saviour bore.

Let me share his pains with thee,
Who so tenderly for me
Deigned his sacred blood to pour.

Let our tears in mingling tide
Flow for Jesus crucified,
Till life cease within my breast.

By the cross to take my station,
Sharing thy sweet lamentation,
This is my most fond request.

Holiest of the virgin train,
Do not thou my prayer disdain;
Come and share thy griefs with me.

Let me trace his sufferings o'er;
Bear the very death he bore,
When they nailed him to the tree:

Tell his wounds within my heart,
In his chalice take my part,
All for love of thy dear Son.

Wrapt in flames of love divine,
Keep me still, O mother mine,
When the judgement day draws on.

Lord, when these my days are done,
Let thy mother lead me on
To the palm of victory.

When this mortal body dies,
May my soul to heaven uprise,
Glorified and blest for thee. Amen.

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The New Adam

Caravaggio's Madonna dei Palafrenieri, first exhibited in Saint Peter's Basilica in 1606, is wonderfully disturbing. While Grandmother Saint Anne looks on, the Virgin Mother Mary allows the Child Jesus to place His little foot on top of hers; together the Mother and the Child crush the head of the serpent under their feet. The nakedness of the Child Jesus suggests that He is indeed the New Adam who, by His innocence, inaugurates a new creation: the Kingdom of God where only little children are allowed to enter.

Sexual Abuse: The Dark Sin

The darkness of this painting, so typical of Caravaggio, and the sinister writhing of the serpent combine with the purity of the Infant Christ to speak poignantly to the tragic drama of the sexual abuse of children. Adults who were sexually abused as children never really recover from the serpent's venomous bite. The poison has a delayed release. Its effects are experienced over time, triggering emotional chaos, spiritual distress, and even chronic physical illness. The serpent, moreover, hides in the darkness, biding its time in anticipation of new attacks.

Therapy

While therapy or some form of counseling is certainly helpful in dealing with the long-term effects of the serpent's bite, it is not sufficient. Rarely is a complete healing possible through therapy alone. In my experience, most persons struggling with the effects of sexual abuse will suffer recurrent crises, although with time these may become less frequent and less debilitating. The benefit of therapy is in helping the individual to identify what things trigger crises, what things feed into the chaos, and what strategies are effective in countering recurrent difficulties.

Supernatural Means

Ultimately, one is obliged to confront the evil, in its origin and in its effects, on spiritual ground and with supernatural means. This is where the adult living with the effects of sexual abuse as a child finds it necessary to identify with the Infant Christ in entrusting himself entirely to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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The Lord God said unto the serpent, I will put enmity between Thee and the Woman, and between thy seed and her Seed, which same shall bruise thy head, alleluia. (Antiphon at the Benedictus on December 8th, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception)

Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary

Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary leads one to place one's own foot on hers in total confidence. So long as the serpent's head remains under the foot of the Immaculate Virgin and one's own foot rests on hers, the effects of the abuse are held in check. The serpent may writhe and hiss, but ultimately the All-Holy Mother of God and her Seed, that is the Infant Christ and those who belong to Him, will crush its head.

The Immaculate Conception

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is of all days the most favourable to make or to renew a personal consecration to the Immaculate Mother of God, especially if one struggles with the long-term effects of sexual abuse. The renewal of one's consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary opens again and again the floodgates of the graces given her by God for distribution to the weakest and most wounded of her children.

The Rosary: Where Hope Flowers

One will also find in the humble prayer of the Rosary an indispensable protection and a source of inner healing. The mysteries of the infancy and childhood of Christ are supremely effective in countering the effects of a childhood marred by abuse. In the presence of the Immaculate Virgin and her Child there flowers the hope of a serene and fruitful life. "Give glory to the Lord for thy good things, and bless the God eternal, that He may rebuild His tabernacle in thee" (Tobias 13:12).

Prayer and Fasting

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In the Sight of the Nations

The impending presidential elections in the United States, and also the plight of Christians affected by the conflict in Syria, have motivated many to give themselves to prayer and fasting, begging God, through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, to manifest His power and His mercy "in the sight of the nations" (Psalm 97:2). These, however, are not the only situations that cry out for prayer and fasting.

Against the Lord and Against His Christ

There is not a nation on earth where Christ is not suffering in the members of His Body. There is not a nation on earth where the Catholic faith is not threatened by the machinations of the wicked. The prophecy of the psalmist unfolds, even as I write: "Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord and against his Christ" (Psalm 2:1-2).

Shall the Son of Man Find Faith on Earth?

While certain political situations are, without any doubt, critical at the moment, there is, I believe, one single crisis underlying all others and causing them. It is the loss of faith. I am haunted by Our Lord's words: "The Son of man, when he cometh, shall He find, think you, faith on earth? " (Luke 18:8). The Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI sounds the alarm.

Ignorance and Loss of Faith

Families that have preserved the Catholic faith and transmitted it from one generation to the next for well over a thousand years -- and this, often at great cost -- are seeing more and more adults to whom the Faith means little or nothing, and children deprived of the sacraments, and growing up in complete ignorance of the religious heritage that is rightfully theirs. The reasons for this are many and complex: among them are, I think, the modernist sabotage of liturgical reform following the Second Vatican Council; the destruction of sound catechesis and sacramental preparation; the pervasive climate of dissent that began in 1968 with the widespread refusal of the teaching of Humanae Vitae; and the shamelessly anti-Catholic bias of the secular media.

Maternal Side

My maternal ancestors are rooted in the region around Alife in Campania (Italy). The diocese of Alife was, according to a well-established tradition, evangelized by Saint Peter the Apostle himself, as he made his way to Rome. This means, in effect, that on my mother's side, my family can claim 2000 years of Catholic and Apostolic Christianity. It does not mean, necessarily, that the flame of the faith burned tall and bright in every generation; it does, however, mean, the the light of the faith was transmitted, even if only in the form of a spark, from one generation to the next down through the ages.

Paternal Side

My father's side of the family can claim a faith going back to the evangelization of Ireland by Saint Patrick in the 5th century. The cruel persecution of Catholics in Ireland under Elizabeth I, and then Oliver Cromwell, and the centuries of Penal Laws that followed, did not succeed in tearing the Faith out of the hearts of the Irish. Dungeon, fire, exile, sword, famine, and emigration were not able to snuff out the Catholic faith of the Irish. Only in the past forty years have we begun to see children of Irish heritage deprived of the very soul of that heritage: the Catholic faith incarnated in an heroic devotion to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to the Priesthood, and to the Rosary.

The Real Threat: Loss of Faith

My intention is not to minimize the gravity of the upcoming presidential elections or the sufferings of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. It is, rather, to suggest that the loss of faith, particularly in the old Catholic nations of Europe, and among the descendents of CatholIc immigrants in the United States, represents a greater threat to peace, to freedom, and to the protection of human life from conception until natural death, than does anything else. The conscience of voters cannot be formed in a kind of pre-election crash course. Catholic consciences flourish in Catholic families, and Catholic families flourish in a Catholic culture.

The Shortness of Life on Earth

Children deprived of the Catholic heritage that is rightfully theirs will, sooner or later, suffer from a chill in their hearts and a terrible darkness in their spirits. I have no doubt that God, in His infinite goodness, will devise a way to reach out to them in their distress, and that the Blessed Virgin Mary will offer them the care of her Maternal Heart in this earthly vale of tears. All the same, I fear for them because this life is short, and because this planet has become a precarious place to live, and because the human heart can, alas, become accustomed to living in the chill and darkness of a practical atheism, and so grow hardened in sin.

Yes, Pray and Fast

I would propose that as we pray and fast in the days ahead, we meditate the prayer of Azarias in the Book of Daniel, and make its sentiments our own:

Blessed art thou, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and thy name is worthy of praise, and glorious for ever: For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us, and all thy works are true, and thy ways right, and all thy judgments true. For thou hast executed true judgments in all the things that thou hast brought upon us, and upon Jerusalem the holy city of our fathers: for according to truth and judgment, thou hast brought all these things upon us for our sins. For we have sinned, and committed iniquity, departing from thee: and we have trespassed in all things: And we have not hearkened to thy commandments, nor have we observed nor done as thou hadst commanded us, that it might go well with us.
Wherefore all that thou hast brought upon us, and every thing that thou hast done to us, thou hast done in true judgment: And thou hast delivered us into the hands of our enemies that are unjust, and most wicked, and prevaricators, and to a king unjust, and most wicked beyond all that are upon the earth. And now we cannot open our mouths: we are become a shame and reproach to thy servants, and to them that worship thee. Deliver us not up for ever, we beseech thee, for thy name's sake, and abolish not thy covenant. And take not away thy mercy from us for the sake of Abraham thy beloved, and Isaac thy servant, and Israel thy holy one:
To whom thou hast spoken, promising that thou wouldst multiply their seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is on the sea shore. For we, O Lord, are diminished more than any nation, and are brought low in all the earth this day for our sins. Neither is there at this time prince, or leader, or prophet, or holocaust, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, or place of firstfruits before thee,That we may find thy mercy: nevertheless in a contrite heart and humble spirit let us be accepted. As in holocausts of rams, and bullocks, and as in thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day, that it may please thee: for there is no confusion to them that trust in thee.
And now we follow thee with all our heart, and we fear thee, and seek thy face. Put us not to confusion, but deal. with us according to thy meekness, and according to the multitude of thy mercies. And deliver us according to thy wonderful works, and give glory to thy name, O Lord: And let all them be confounded that shew evils to thy servants, let them be confounded in all thy might, and let their strength be broken. And let them know that thou art the Lord, the only God, and glorious over all the world.

The Grace of Things Unplanned

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Control

Recently, I was led to think about the significance of surprises or, if you will, the grace of things unplanned and unforeseen. Having persevered this far in monastic life, I can, I think, begin to identify some of the pitfalls inherent to it. One of these is the compulsion to want to control every detail, to leave nothing unplanned, and to strive to tidy up what is a messy business, that is, life with others here below.

The desire for the tranquility of order is virtuous and praiseworthy. But, like all virtuous and praiseworthy things, it becomes unbalanced and vicious when carried to an extreme. The conventual routine of monastic observance is made for monks, not monks for the conventual routine of monastic observance.

Surprises as Intrusions

With the passing years, one becomes more aware of one's weakness, one begins to feel in one's bones the increased fatigue that is the price of fidelity. Patience and good humour seem to be in shorter supply than when one was young and adventurous. One begins to view surprises as intrusions. One begins to resent the unexpected, and to fear the unknown. One's capacity for delight in things spontaneous and unplanned gives way to a dour refusal to adapt, to change, and to bend.

The Trellis

A certain stiffness sets in, not only in one's joints and bones, but also in one's thinking and in a kind of desperate clinging to the pathetic security of little rules and customs. The very things that were designed to serve as a light trellis to support the wild vine of life and keep its fruits from rotting on the ground become more important than the vine and its fruit.

Holy Abandonment

It is helpful, I think, to consider that God allows surprises, that He sends us things unplanned and unforeseen as graces to keep us flexible and supple in His hands. Father de Caussade's abandonment to Divine Providence extends to all of those things that catch us by surprise, that oblige us to revise our plans, and release our grip on the rails we have created for our own security.

And All Shall Be Well

There is a fine line between the preservation of order and peace and the petrification of routine and the paralysis of fear. Without falling into an unreasonable cult of spontaneity and the culture of indiscipline and disorder in the name of openness and creativity, one must be humble enough to allow God to be God, always and everywhere. Surprises are salutary. Things unforeseen put us in our rightful place. And, in the end, as Dame Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be well."

In the Crucible of Love

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Stability Amidst Life's Chances and Changes

One of the most encouraging things about the lifelong journey of Mectilde de Bar is that she was often obliged to leave one place for another, to begin afresh, and to adapt to new circumstances. Again and again she experienced change, keeping always her heart fixed where true joys are found: in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, as in the heavenly sanctuary not made by hands. For me, Mother Mectilde is the model of what the Church asks in the Collect of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:

Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis, da populis tuis id amare quod praecipis, id desiderare quod promittis: ut inter mundanas varietates ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia.
O God, who makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will, grant to Thy people to love that which Thou commandest and desire that which Thou dost promise; that so, among the changing things of this world, our hearts may be set where true joys are to be found.

Trust and Perseverance

In times of social upheaval and unrest, as in times of upheaval and unrest in the Church, such as I lived through in the 1960s and 70s, the ideal of monastic stability is often shattered against the jagged rocks of reality. Happily, God calls a man, not to an ideal, but to utter trust in Him and to humble perseverance in the face of things as they are -- imperfect, gritty, and disappointing -- even if this means beginning afresh over and over again. For me, Catherine Mectilde de Bar is a model of just this. God can and does, in fact, use such paradoxical and disconcerting circumstances as a crucible in which he hammers out something something new, something purified, something conceived in the infinite love and wisdom of His Heart.

The Humble and Costly Yes

There are those, who judging the twists and turns of another's life, through the lens of their own experience and prejudices, see only discontinuity where God sees, rather, the continuity of a humble and costly "yes," repeated again and again, to the unfolding of His plan. For the one engaged in such a circuitous and unconventional journey, there will be the subtle but cruel humiliations of the raised eyebrow, the sceptical glance, the condescending smirk, and the whispered (or not so whispered) inference. Religious types can be pitiless when it comes to such things.

Naysayers and Friends

By God's providence, Mother Mectilde was surrounded, not only by critics and naysayers, but also by supportive and faithful friends who believed in her vocation and made sacrifices in order for her work, Our Lord's work, to prosper. Thus, when it became clear that, because of the lack of space at the house in the rue du Bac, the little community had to relocate once again, this time to a rented house belonging to Madame de Rochefort in the rue Férou, close to the church of Saint-Sulpice. There, on 12 March 1654, the Father Prior of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Dom Roussel, who, by this time had nuanced his opinion of Mother Mectilde's community, established the monastic enclosure.

Memorable Day

On the same day, the mother of Louis XIV, Anne of Austria herself, arrived at the new monastery with an imposing retinue of courtiers. She directed Dom Roussel to afix the cross to the wall above the door of the house, and established it officially as a royal foundation. Dom Roussel blessed the bell, the oratory, and the regular places. During a Solemn Mass, a Carmelite of Les Billettes, one Père Léon, preacher to the Queen, delivered the sermon. At the end of Holy Mass, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the monstrance.

The Amende Honorable

That afternoon, la musique du Roi, Louis XIV"s own musicians, presented their homage to Jesus Christ, the Eucharistic King enthroned upon the altar. Then, before Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Anne of Austria advanced to the middle of the choir, knelt in adoration, and with a cord about her neck and a burning taper in her hand, read the Amende Honorable, or act of reparation, composed by Mother Mectilde. As the Queen gave utterance to Mother Mectilde's prayer, it was the voice of France that reached the ears of God, making reparation for the countless offenses, sacrileges, and outrages perpetrated against the Sacred Host.

The Painting

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Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) immortalized the solemn scene in the painting reproduced above. Looking at it from left to right, we see two gentleman courtiers, finely dressed. The one whose face is in shadow is whispering a comment to the other, while he points to the altar. His companion is listening to him, but appears more recollected and moved. His head is bowed; his face bears an expression of sweetness and compunction. I wonder how this moment affected his life thereafter. Kneeling in front of the gentlemen are two ladies in waiting; they too appear awed by what is taking place. They have to take their cue from the Queen. There are six Benedictines, each one with the cord that symbolizes identification with the Suffering Servant about her neck, and a burning candle, the symbol of readiness and love, in her hand.

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Anne of Austria

Anne of Austria has removed her crown and placed it on the cushion at her feet, leaving her bareheaded. She too wears the cord about her neck, and carries the burning candle, a sign of her self-offering in adoration and in reparation. For all her royal finery, her face reveals an inward simplicity of soul. One senses that she is a good woman.

Face to Face

Mother Mectilde is the figure next to the Queen. In Mother Mectilde's features, there is gentle majesty. Her whole being appears drawn to the altar, to the monstrance, to the Eucharistic Face of the Son of God. Of all the faces depicted in the painting, that of Mother Mectilde is, I think, the most expressive. The little nun crouching next to the altar represents l'anéantissement, en-nothingment, profound humility in the presence of the Divine Majesty.

Our principal application in prayer must be to hold ourselves before the greatness and supreme majesty of God in the Most Holy Sacrament, with the most profound respect, with total confidence and abandonment, with submission, accepting simply all the dispositions of Divine Providence, each one according to her degree of grace, either by making acts [of prayer] or in some other way. (M. Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement)

To be continued.

Accedite ad eum et illuminamini

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Morning Musings on the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians 5,16-24
I say then: Walk in the spirit: and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh: For these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would.But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.

Abide in Christ

What does Saint Paul mean when he enjoins us to "walk in the spirit"? He means, I think, that we are to abide in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Does not the same Apostle say elsewhere, "But he who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit with Him"? (1 Corinthians 6:17) And does not Our Lord Himself say, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. " (John 15:4-5)

Now the works of the flesh are manifest: which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.

There are some souls whose fear of falling into the "works of the flesh" is greater than their desire to live in union with Christ. Desire Christ, putting nothing before His love, preferring Him to all else, and the works of the flesh will dry up and fall away by themselves.

Gaze Upon Christ

I have known souls whose concentration on sin is more intense than their concentration on the Face of Christ and on the merciful love of His Heart. These souls are never at peace. They are forever examining themselves, and searching for evidence of sin and imperfection where they should be searching for evidence of the grace of Christ and His readiness to raise up the fallen, heal the broken-hearted, and bind up their wounds.

It is more effective, and more fruitful, to love virtue than to live, at every moment, in the fear of vice. By this I do not mean that one should not fear vice and hate sin; I mean, rather, that to focus on such things is unhealthy for the soul and breeds a spirituality of pessimism and gloom.

Castitatem Amare

Take, for example, Saint Benedict's approach to the virtue of chastity. In the entire Rule of Saint Benedict there are but two words relative to this virtue: castitatem amare. Whereas other monastic rules treat of chastity at great length, Saint Benedict says simply and succinctly: castitatem amare, to love chastity. These two words say all that needs to be said on the subject. There is nothing negative here; no stifling prohibitions and no minute regulations. Saint Benedict's approach is entirely positive. He presents chastity as beautiful; it is this that makes it worthy of love. All virtue is a participation in the beauty, the truth, and the goodness of God. Saint Benedict understands that one who loves the beauty of chastity will rise to a higher love: the love of the beauty that shines on the Face of Christ.

But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences.

The Fruits of the Holy Ghost

Saint Paul gives us here the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost. The tree upon which these fruits grow has seven branches, these being the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. And the root and trunk of the tree are none other than the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

When I was a young monk, the same Dom R.C. whom I have mentioned elsewhere, and who had such a beneficial influence on me, told me that he liked to ruminate the list of the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost. He was practising a spiritual hygiene of thought. He was, in effect, fulfilling what Saint Paul enjoins us to do:

For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things. The things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these do ye, and the God of peace shall be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

Spiritual Hygiene

This spiritual hygiene of thought has another side to it: there are things that are not fitting, or helpful, or worthy of the thought and conversation of Christians: "fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness." It is a pity when talented writers and speakers waste their gifts on calling attention to the sins and weaknesses -- generally sins and weaknesses of the flesh -- of fellow Christians and, notably, of the clergy, instead of employing their gifts to call attention to the beauty of God in his saints.

Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:2-4)

The Lord is Wonderful in His Saints

Attention to virtue fosters virtue. Attention to vice foments bitterness, sadness, discouragement, unrest, and rash judgment. One needs, I think, to take a lesson from the liturgical calendar and rejoice, day after day, in the beauty of Christ who is, as the Invitatory Antiphon puts it, "wonderful in His saints."

Solace for the Sizzling

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Saint Laurence is the patron saint of those who have sizzled (or may be sizzling) on the gridirons of lust. I have long appreciated the oration in honour of Saint Laurence that the Church recommends to her priest in the daily Thanksgiving After Mass of the Roman Missal:

Grant to us, O Lord, we beseech Thee,
to extinguish within us the flames of vice,
even as Thou didst strengthen blessed Laurence
to overcome his fiery torments.
Through Christ our Lord.

Continence is a gift, not an achievement. One becomes chaste by grace, not by dint of stress and strain. Mother Church has known this all along. This, I suppose, is why she bids her priests pray daily for the angelic virtue. What I like about the official prayers for chastity (found in the Roman Missal) is that they are utterly realistic. It is assumed that one is engaged in spiritual combat. Out of weakness or weariness or a combination of both, one may at times emerge from the battle scarred and bruised.

What is the secret of chaste living? 1) You have to want it, 2) you have to ask for it, and 3) you may have to wait for it. Does not Sirach say, "Humble thy heart and endure . . . and in thy humiliation keep patience" (Eccl 2:2-4)?

It pleases God to bestow the gift of chastity through the hands of the All-Pure Mother of God. In this particular combat, the rosary is the mighty weapon of the weak. That being said, let's look at the prayers for chastity given by the Church in the Roman Missal. It is recommended that most of these find a place in the daily prayer rule of the priest.

From the Preparation for Mass

Ure igne Sancti Spiritus

Refine our hearts and affections, Lord,
in the fire of the Holy Spirit,
so that our bodies may be chaste and our hearts clean
to serve Thee according to Thy pleasure.

Rex virginum, amator castitatis

With the heavenly dew of Thy blessing,
God, King of virgins and Lover of stainless chastity,
quench the wildfire of lust in my body,
leaving all of me, body and soul, steadfast in purity.
Deaden within me the stings of desire and all lustful excitements.
Give me true, complete, and abiding chastity,
and therewith all those other gifts of Thine in which Thou truly delightest,
enabling me to offer daily sacrifice in praise of Thee
with a chaste body and clean heart.

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This is the view tonight from my window at the Monastère Sainte-Anne-de-Montmahoux in France. Although I planned to remain until Friday, I received news this morning of the death in County Leitrim of my dear old Cousin John McKeon. I last saw John on the occasion of his 89th birthday only a few weeks ago. I am John's next-of-kin in Ireland, and so must return there tomorrow to make arrangements for his funeral and burial. I would ask the readers of Vultus Christi to say a prayer for the happy repose of his soul.

Meeting the Saints

How and when did Saint Benedict come into my life? He was not among the saints whom I came to know as a small boy in my parish church. Little children readily engage with images. The statues that graced my parish church -- I can still see them in my mind's eye from left to right -- were of Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Patrick, Our Blessed Lady, the Sacred Heart, Saint Joseph, Saint Thérèse, and Saint Anne. There were five stained glass windows: the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Stigmatization of Saint Francis. These were the images that, at a very early age, drew me into the mysteries of the faith, bringing heaven very close to earth, and making it possible for me to hold conversation with the saints in glory.

Enter Abbot Marmion

Saint Benedict came into my life when I was about fifteen years old. The monastic ideal had already laid hold of my soul, and my search was well underway. Visiting Saint Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, U.S.A., I was introduced to Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, by Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion. Heavy reading for a fifteen year old in the torment of the 1960s! I remain grateful to Father Marius Granato for putting Dom Marmion's classic into my hands, It was in Christ, the Ideal of the Monk that I came to know Saint Benedict in the best way possible: by coming to know his Holy Rule.

Saint Benedict and the Holy Rule

Blessed Abbot Marmion and Saint Benedict joined me on my journey, then, at the same time. I still remember the fire that burned in my heart as I turned the pages of Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, and received the impression of its teaching, like letters engraved on a clean wax tablet. In reading Saint Benedict, as transmitted by Blessed Abbot Marmion, I could almost hear the sound of the Master's voice. The Rule began to fascinate me and to fashion me. For me, as for Bossuet, it was un mystérieux abrégé de l'Évangile, "a mysterious abridgment of the Gospel".

Stormy Years

By the time I had turned eighteen -- a mere three years later -- I had resolved to become a monk, a son of Saint Benedict. These were, of course, frightfully stormy years in the Church: not at all a good time for a young man desirous of engaging with an ideal in all its shining purity. The very things that I thrilled to discover in my reading were, at the same time, being contested and rejected by those to whom they had been given in heritage.

The storms unleashed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, and by the tumultuous events of 1968, tore through the cloisters of nearly every monastery in North America and, in so doing, tore through the very hearts of those who dwelt in them. One had the impression that nothing was absolute, nothing immutable, nothing sacred. The tyranny of relativism replaced the tyrannies of legalism and rubricism that the reformers decried so bitterly. Things happened and attitudes prevailed that were in no way compatible with the vocation that Thomas Merton had described so eloquently in The Silent Life.

Stranger in Babylon

These years corresponded, as well, with the emergence of the charismatic renewal among Catholics. It was, as I remember it, rather Protestant in ethos and in sensibility. While I saw many souls opened to a deeper experience of prayer, I saw just as many distance themselves from the sacraments, from the liturgy in all its richness, and from devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady. (Some of these elements later came back into focus in charismatic circles.) Having found my soul's true voice in Gregorian Chant as a small boy, and having been nourished from my adolescence on the Divine Office in English, and on Pius Parsch's The Church's Year of Grace, the experience of the charismatic renewal left me feeling like a stranger in Babylon. I was far more interested in the grace that, for me, seeped out of the antiphons at First Vespers of a particular feast than in what I experienced at prayer meetings. It was all very disconcerting.

The Threshold Once Crossed

At nineteen I had my first experience of Benedictine life, completing a novitiate of two years, wrestling, like Jacob, with angels in the night, and humbled by recurrent health problems. During that time my love for Saint Benedict and the Holy Rule grew exponentially. It was clear, in spite of all the halts and detours, that Saint Benedict had taken me into his family, that he recognized me as his son, and that he would not abandon me.

Gratitude

All these many years later, I can say that Saint Benedict has been a patient companion and loving father through my life. Amidst the choices, changes, and challenges that have marked my route, one phrase from the Holy Rule, the last of the Instruments of Good Works in Chapter IV has kept me on course: Never to despair of the mercy of God. For this alone I am grateful to Saint Benedict this evening, and for this I hope to thank him one day in paradise.

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The Grace of the Liturgic Word

In offering Holy Mass and in preaching here at the Monastère-Sainte-Anne de Montmahoux, I am profoundly moved at the gracious condescension of God who deigns to speak to us though the texts and chants of the Sacred Liturgy. How important it is to go to the Holy Sacrifice fully expecting to hear the Word of God and to experience an inbreaking of His merciful love. Yesterday in my homily I reminded the Sisters of that life-changing episode in the life of Saint Antony of Egypt, the Father of Monks: entering church at the moment of the Holy Gospel, he heard the word of Jesus addressed to him personally and was compelled, by the grace that always accompanies the liturgic Word, to leave church straightway and conform his life to what he heard.

A Long and Crucifying Fidelity

The Sisters here at Montmahoux are embarking on a new phase of their monastic development. The story of a vocation unfolds over a lifetime; it is a story written by the hand of God in a series of chapters, each one of which is rich in surprises, in sorrows, and in joys. More often than not the development of a vocation over a lifetime involves setbacks, contradictions, and apparent -- I say apparent -- instability. Happily, God does not judge the changes and chances in one's life as men do. Good people, and even members of the monastic establishment, can be harsh in judging as instability what God may well see as a long and crucifying fidelity to the underlying values of Benedictine life: the search for God in humility and obedience, perseverance in His praise, and the resolve never to despair of His mercy.

The Germination of New Life

Each of the Sisters here began her monastic journey in a different monastery. Each one was led, after a number of years, to embrace another expression of the same fundamental Benedictine vocation. And each one found herself again, after a number of years, called to collaborate in giving life to a new monastery, a mature expression of the seed of life that, silently and imperceptibly, has been germinating for so long in her heart. I am sympathetic to the monastic journey of these women because it so closely resembles my own. As I discern the provident Hand of God in their life, I am able to see more clearly that same provident Hand in my own.

Stability

Just as an apparent stability can veil an underlying instability, so too can an apparent instability veil an underlying stability. Many years ago, when I was very young, foolish, and immature, I encountered, at Subiaco in Italy, a wise old monk of the French Abbey of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire. I opened my soul to him, and told him of my search for place and a community in which and with whom I could, as the Holy Rule says, "truly seek God." The wise old monk comforted me, explaining that, at the end of the day, the only stability that matters is stability in the Heart of Jesus.

Risk-Takers

There are those who look upon new monasteries with suspicion, forgetting that, in every generation, the age-old and deeply rooted Benedictine trunk puts forth new shoots and branches. Some of these will thrive and become strong; others will flourish for a time and then be pruned away. Some of the grand abbeys that are today renowned for their solidity and prestige began as little nuclei of risk-takers advancing step by step in obscurity, in poverty, and in uncertainty.

Spiritual Contraception

Far more dangerous to the Church than the burgeoning of new monastic communities is the systematic practise of spiritual contraception by which every fragile manifestation of new life is either thwarted or aborted. While prudence, discernment, and a healthy scrutiny are always necessary, it is equally necessary to reject the mentality of spiritual contraception by which new endeavours of life for God alone are snuffed out while still in their embryonic stage, thereby depriving the Church of signs of vitality that are, at the same time, signs of an irrepressible hope.

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This photograph was taken on the day of my First Holy Communion. Left to right: my dear little neighbour friend Brigitte Folz, at that time recently come from Germany; myself, my little sister Donna Marie; my brother Daniel; and little Monika Folz.

A Certain Thursday in June

I received my First Holy Communion 53 years ago today, on June 4th, 1959, from the hands of the Right Reverend Monsignor Vincent J. McDonough in Saint Francis Church, New Haven, Connecticut.

June 4th fell that year on Thursday, the Octave Day of Corpus Christi, and the day before the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I was far from imagining then the place that every Thursday -- day of the Priesthood and of the Most Holy Eucharist -- and the mystery of the pierced Heart of Jesus -- would come to hold in my life.

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We second graders had prepared for the great day by singing a little gregorianish hymn (in Latin!) from our "music readers." I still remember it, and can still sing it lo all these years later:

Veni, Domine Jesu,
Veni, Domine, Jesu,
Veni, veni, veni,
Et noli tardare!

I remember the thrill and the fear of kneeling before the white marble neo-gothic high altar on a prie-dieu covered in white satin, and the glint of the large golden ciborium in Monsignor's hands. Returning from the altar one had to keep one's hands folded while walking straight on the white line inlaid in the church's tile floor. The Sisters of Mercy prepared us well for our First Holy Communion, and even instructed on how to make a suitable thanksgiving with our little faces hidden in our hands. Inevitably, there was the temptation to "peek" through one's fingers.

Adoration,Thanksgiving and Reparation

I celebrated this 53rd anniversary in adoration, thanksgiving, and reparation, mindful of all the times I have received Holy Communion over the past 53 years. I am grateful to Our Lord for having brought me, after 53 years, to to this day in my life, and to this hour, and to this place. In spite of myself, my life these 53 years has been a Eucharistic life, not because I have made it so, but because Our Lord is faithful, and merciful, and relentless in the pursuit of the little ones upon whom He has set His Heart.

I can only ask Him today, in His merciful love, to make the remaining years, or days, or hours of my life wholly Eucharistic. I count on Him to make me the adorer and the priest whom He created me and called me to be.

I Will Betake Myself to Thy House

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Falling between the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, is the feast of The Holy House of Loreto. Here, then, is Caravaggio's Madonna of Loreto, an extraordinarily moving painting. Caravaggio painted it in 1604, when he was thirty-three years old.

I have visited Loreto twice in my life; once in 1975, and again in 2005. I have experienced the grace and mystery of the Holy House miraculously transported by angels to the place prepared for it by God. One of the most striking things about Loreto is the number of saints who have gone there in humble pilgrimage, desiring to adore the mystery of the Word Incarnate and to linger in the sweet presence of His Virgin Mother.

I cannot resist sharing the texts of the Proper Mass of The Holy House of Loreto, one of those lovely Masses celebrated by special grant in certain places.

Introit

This is a fearsome place:
it is the house of God, the gate of heaven;
it shall be named the palace of God (Gen 28:17).
V. O Lord of hosts, how I love thy dwelling-place!
For the courts of the Lord's house, my souls faints with longing (Ps 83:2-3).

Collect

O God, who in thy mercy didst sanctify the Blessed Virgin Mary's house
by the mystery of the Word made flesh,
and didst miraculously place it in the heart of thy Church,
grant that we may shun the abodes of sinners
and become worthy to dwell in thy own holy house.
Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord
who is God living and reigning with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever.

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The Real Saint Francis

There is no denying it: Saint Francis appeals to all sorts of people. Animal lovers, pacifists, environmentalists, non-Christians, secular humanists, and even atheists acknowledge that Francis -- or, at least, their idea of Francis -- has something to say today. Poor Saint Francis; he is more often portrayed in the middle of a birdbath than at the foot of the Cross. Francis, apart from Jesus Crucified, is completely unintelligible. A certain superficial and worldly iconography of the saint betrays the real Francis by presenting him as an amiable non-conformist; a gentle poet in love with the sun, the moon, the rain, and the earth; a magnet to birds and the tamer of a wolf.

The Embrace of Crucified Love

The world shrinks from showing us the real Francis: a man drawn into the embrace of Crucified Love and marked by Love’s own wounds; a man who went about weeping uncontrollably and saying over and over, “Love is not loved! Love is not Loved!”

The Saint With a Skull at His Feet

Francis was the first saint I came to know after Mary and Joseph. I grew up in Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in New Haven, Connecticut and, like my father and his mother before him, went to Saint Francis School. Our church’s statue of Saint Francis fascinated me. Flanked by Saint Patrick on one side of him and Saint Anthony on the other, he stood above a flaming bank of flickering red vigil lights. The statue showed him mysteriously wounded, dark eyed, with a human skull at his feet and the book of the Gospels in his pierced hands. We little boys were fascinated by the skull. It was a long time before we discovered that it wasn’t real; it was nonetheless a very convincing plaster imitation.

Days of Grace

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I have always experienced the last days of September and the first week of October (September 29 -- October 7) as a moment of spiritual enchantment within the Church Year. Is it the intoxicating effect of Saint Michael's Summer with the peculiar quality of its light? Is it the procession of saints that passes before our eyes, or should I say, through our hearts? These are days almost excessively rich in grace.

Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael descend first on September 29th, in a cloud of incense and a blaze of light. Christ Himself is all their beauty: decus angelorum. Ask them to teach you to gaze with faith and with holy desire upon the Face of Christ, the Human Face of God.

Saint Jerome follows on the 30th, absorbed in the Scriptures, with his lion plodding sleepily along beside him, stopping only for those who need a word of encouragement in the labour of lectio divina. Ask him to obtain for you the grace to practice lectio divina as a Holy Communion with Christ.

On October 1st a young Carmelite smiles: Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Doctor of the Church. As she passes she lets roses fall; she says nothing, but in her eyes shines a message of confidence for the sinners whose company she has always preferred. Ask her for an increase of hope.

The Holy Guardian Angels makes themselves very close on the 2nd; they shine with the reflected glory of the Father's Face. They are grand, strong, fearless, and faithful. Ask them to wake you to the adorable presence of God at every moment and in every place.

On the 3rd there arrives an Irish Benedictine Abbot, ruddy-faced and stout, wreathed in smiles. It is Blessed Columba Marmion, destined to become, I think, the Doctor of Divine Adoption. There is no better spiritual director than Blessed Abbot Marmion. Ask for his counsel. Read his books. Learn his doctrine.

October 4th is ablaze with the Fire and Blood of Love Crucified; Saint Francis of Assisi is weeping. "Love is not loved," he says and, as every tear drop falls it becomes a splash of perfect joy. Ask that the Wounds of Christ be impressed deep within your heart.

On October 5th there arrives a bespectacled, bearded gentleman holding a rosary. His name is Blessed Bartolo Longo, the Apostle of Pompei. Set free by the Holy Mother of God from the most frightful bondage to Satan, he emerged from a place of great darkness into a place of purity and light. Ask him for the grace of a deep and abiding devotion to the Most Holy Rosary.

Saint Bruno passes on the 6th: silent, enclosed in the immensity God. He is the friend of all who, by choice or by circumstances, live alone. Ask him to teach you the secrets of his solitude.

Finally on October 7th, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Victory, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary appears beautiful as a dove, like a rose growing by the rivers of water, mighty like to the tower of David whereupon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men. The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary decapitates pride. It quiets the most violent passions and restores purity to hearts steeped in sin. It defeats armies and puts down the assaults of hell. It bestows the grace of ceaseless prayer. Ask the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary for the grace to cling to her by clinging to the humble prayer she so loves.

A Little Boy and the Statue He Loved

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Michael Dennis Kirby
March 20, 1959 -- November 25, 1998

Michael's Statue

When I was growing up, there was a statue of Saint Vincent de Paul in the bedroom of my younger brother Michael, and it was his statue.

Little Michael had shortened Saint Vincent de Paul's rather long name to “Saint-Vincent-de.” He met “Saint Vincent-de” when he was taken to the Hospital of Saint Raphael in New Haven, Connecticut for a surgical procedure on his arm. He couldn’t have been more than five years old at the time. Saint Raphael’s was staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth (Convent Station, NJ), spiritual daughters of Saint Vincent.

The Saint Who Loved Children

A lifesize statue of Saint Vincent de Paul figured prominently in the hospital. The statue depicted him with three poor children; one child was in his arms and the two others were huddled in the folds of his cloak. For some reason, little Michael was very taken with this saint who loved children, and wanted to have a statue of his own.

Mom and Dad found exactly the right statue at the Saint Thomas More Book Shop on Chapel Street in New Haven, and bought it for him. For many years “Saint Vincent-de” watched over Michael from atop a chest of drawers, becoming chipped and battered, but no less loved.

How did a seventeenth century French priest become a comforting presence in the life of a little boy in New Haven, Connecticut? There were, of course, the obvious mediations: the Hospital of Saint Raphael and the impressive statue. But none of this would have happened had Saint Vincent de Paul not opened his heart to the Word of God, to the Charity of Jesus Christ, and to the voices of the little and the poor.

Images of the Saints

How important a Catholic work it is to make images of the saints available to little children. Holy Images -- what Adé Béthune, following Saint Leo the Great, called "sacred signs" -- can powerfully influence their lives, and stimulate their imaginations to pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful. Every little boy should have his favourite saint, and an image of him (or her) close at hand.

Ego sum vitis, vos palmites

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John 15 After Holy Communion

We held the blessing of grapes after Holy Mass, using the Latin text given in Father Weller's Roman Ritual. It brought to mind a time and place in my own spiritual journey, now over forty years ago, when, at 16 and 17 years of age, I used to read John 15 nearly every day as my thanksgiving after Holy Communion. I had a paperback pocket version of the New Testament. A dear friend had made me a special cover for it. After Mass, I would eagerly pull it out and go straight to the discourse of the vine and the branches. I never tired of reading it and, in those moments after Holy Communion, I could almost "taste" it.

I am the true vine; and my Father is the husbandman.
Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Now you are clean by reason of the word, which I have spoken to you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.
If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth.
[If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you.
In this is my Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit, and become my disciples.
As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father's commandments, and do abide in his love.

The Magic of Daisy Street

I wonder why I was so affected by this particular passage. Perhaps it was because the reality of a grape vine entered into my consciousness at a very early age. There are still (somewhere) photos of me, at one year of age, being lifted in my father's arms to grasp the bars of the grape arbor in the backyard of my maternal great-grandparents, Giuseppe and Rosina Martino. Their little house on Daisy Street in the Highwood section of New Haven was magical to me. Not only was there the grape vine -- under which family meals would take place after a white sheet had been suspended above the table to prevent bugs from falling into the food -- there was also a deliciously mysterious cellar where the wine was kept, and where great bunches of basil and oregano were hung upside-down from the ceiling to dry. The fragrance of that cellar has followed me all my life. To this day whenever I smell the fragrance of basil, I am transported back to Daisy Street in the 1950s. Yes, it's all rather Proustian, I know, but apart from that, the experience somehow opened my heart to John 15.

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The liturgy of the feast of Saint Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr, inspired some random thoughts on chastity, the joyful virtue.

Chastity leads to hope and to joy;
unchastity leads to despair and sadness.

Chastity delights God;
unchastity delights the devil.

Chastity opens the soul to God;
unchastity opens the soul to the devil.
Therefore, as Saint Benedict says, Castitatem amare,
"Love Chastity."

Chastity facilitates growth in all the other virtues;
unchastity stunts growth in all the virtues
and, if unchecked, will contaminate and destroy them.

Chastity opens the door to Divine intimacy;
unchastity closes the door to Divine intimacy,
attracts evil spirits,
and provides ground for familiarity with them.

Chastity confers spiritual authority
and causes the soul to radiate a supernatural peace.
Unchastity destroys spiritual authority
and causes the soul to emit a sense of disquiet, trouble, and sadness.

Chastity is its own reward
in that it disposes the soul for familiar and continuous communion with God.
Unchastity is its own punishment
in that it makes the soul heavy and insensible to spiritual joys.

Unchastity infects the will with weakness,
pollutes the memory,
and darkens the imagination.
Even the body is affected adversely by unchastity;
it gives rise to psychosomatic complaints, fatigue, and restlessness.
It weakens the body's resistance to illness
by strengthening the soul's collusion with sin.

Ultimately, unchastity foments unbelief, despair, and hatred of God.

To set out on the path of chastity
is to set out on the path of joy
that leads to the ineffable sweetness of union with God.

The soul is created for Truth.
The soul yearns for Truth
and recognizes Truth when she encounters it.
The soul that feeds upon Truth
grows strong in goodness
and radiates a supernatural beauty.
Unchastity blinds the soul to Truth.

The chaste soul holds fast to Our Lord's words,
"The truth shall set you free."
Unchastity produces, in the worst cases,
an aversion to the Truth
and a contempt for Truth that causes the soul to repulse it.

Chastity flourishes in the light
and turns to it like the sunflower to the sun.
Unchastity darkens the mind
and causes the soul to prefer the cover of darkness to the light of Truth.

This is why unchastity always goes hand-in-hand with the vice of lying.
Unchastity finds it necessary to spin a web of lies around itself;
it thrives in the climate provided by error, lying, and deceit.

Chastity goes hand-in-hand with love for Truth.
It delights in what is beautiful
and pursues what is good.
It generates a climate of joy
in which the other fruits of the Holy Ghost
thrive and abound.

If you would be happy,
be chaste.

Holy Innocents

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Rubens' Virgin and Child surrounded by a wreath of chubby, pink Innocents (c. 1618) is delightful. Notice the almost mischievous smile of Baby Jesus. Does He want to leave His Mother's arms to play with His little friends? Or do His little friends want to climb up into the Virgin Mother's lap?

Snow blanketed Eastern Oklahoma on Christmas Eve, and so, in the warmth of the oratory of the Cenacle, the altar aglow with candles, I celebrated Matins, the Mass in Nocte, and, yes, even Lauds. Christmas Day began with Prime and the Mass of dawn.* After Sext, the Mass of the day, and None, I went to the kitchen to prepare Christmas dinner. By Vespers I realized that I had a serious cold or bronchitis and so, leaving Vespers to the choirs of angels, took to my bed. The following morning I called my good friend Dr. Loper who was kind enough to make a house call and prescribe an antibiotic. It will be several days before I will have enough voice to resume singing the Office . . . but in the meantime life goes on.

Dr. Loper came to the Cenacle for Prime and Chapter this morning. This was his first experience of Chapter. The section of the Holy Rule appointed for 28 December is Chaper 70, "That No One Venture to Punish at Random"! When I comment on the Holy Rule, I always try to identify the phrase or phrases that best capture the essence of the section that has been read. Today's key phrases would be: With all moderation and discretion, and Do not to another what you would not want done to yourself.

Moderation in all things is a characteristically Benedictine virtue The Benedictine -- monk, nun, or oblate -- avoids the excessive and the superfluous, and seeks to maintain in all things the good measure dictated by wisdom and prudence. For Saint Benedict, discretion was an all-encompassing virtue, gracing the way of monastic conversion with order, harmony, and balance. Where there is order, harmony, and balance, there will be beauty.

For most of my life, I have been working at acquiring the virtues of moderation and discretion. Not easy when one has the mercurial temperament of a Southern Italian and Celtic ancestry! Excess is in my blood. While the Irish monks of old were known for their excessive austerities and harsh penances, my ancestors of the Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies were known for . . . well . . . other excesses better left unnamed.

There is a reason why we Benedictines listen to the reading of the Holy Rule day after day, and this over a lifetime. The Rule reveals its wisdom only to those who, being thoroughly familiar with the letter of the text, are disposed to go beyond it, to the grand principles holy living that it embodies.

* Brother Juan Diego, being the only novice at present, asked if he might return to his family in Florida until such time as a novitiate of several men might be constituted. When he began the novitiate, we both thought that he would be able to soldier on, but it became apparent that, within the context of enclosed monastic life, he needed more companionship and exchange than I alone could provide.

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This lengthy entry is not entirely new, but it does contain some new autobiographical elements. I decided to share with you, dear readers, the development of my call to live under the Rule of Saint Benedict, in Eucharistic adoration, while offering spiritual support to my brother priests and deacons here in the Diocese of Tulsa.

A continuity with the earliest glimmers of my Benedictine vocation is evident to those who have learned to read events -- even when they are marked by suffering, twists, and uncertainties -- with the eyes of the heart. There is much here that I would have preferred to keep as "the secret of the King," but there are also details that may well redound to His glory and, at the same time, respond to the queries and (not always accurate) speculations of those who want to know the details of my mission as it unfolds.

The Beginning of a Friendship

How did I first come to know Marie-Adèle Garnier? (See the previous entry for details about her life.) I was introduced to her by Blessed Columba Marmion! In order to reconstruct the genesis of our “friendship” -- for one can have a friendship with the saints in heaven -- I must return to my first exposure to monastic life in 1969.

Young Men and the Books They Read

I discovered Abbot Columba Marmion’s writings when I was fifteen years old. I was visiting Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. Father Marius Granato, O.C.S.O., charged at that time with helping young men -- even very young men -- seek God, put Christ, the Ideal of the Monk into my hands. He even let me take the precious green-covered volume home with me. With all the ardour of my fifteen years I devoured it. No book had ever spoken to my heart in quite the same way.

My Spiritual Father

I read and re-read Christ, the Ideal of the Monk. At fifteen one is profoundly marked by what one reads. The impressions made on a soul at that age determine the course of one’s life. As I pursued my desire to seek God, I relied on Dom Marmion. I chose him not only as my monastic patron, but also as my spiritual father, my intercessor, and my guide.

Dom Denis Huerre, O.S.B., in his biography of Père Muard, the founder of the Abbey of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire, discusses Père Muard's extraordinary spiritual kinship with Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. (She is, in fact, the secondary patron of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire.) Dom Denis concludes that it is not we who choose the particular saints with whom we desire to cultivate a special friendship; it is, rather, these particular saints who choose us. This, I am convinced is part of God's plan for the holiness of each one.

Spiritual Affinities

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I became an avid reader of everything written by or about Abbot Marmion. In one of these books I encountered Marie-Adèle Garnier, Mother Mary of St. Peter, the foundress of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Tyburn, O.S.B. The little bit I read about her was very compelling: her focus on the Sacred Heart of Jesus and on adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist, her love of the Mass and the Divine Office, and her profound attachment to the Church. We were, without any doubt, united by a certain spiritual affinity.

Dom Marmion's Letters

Blessed Marmion's Letters of Spiritual Direction, edited by Dom Raymond Thibaut under the title Union With God, contain several pages of the Abbot's correspondance with Mother Mary of St. Peter. Among other things, Dom Marmion wrote:

"The very real imperfections which you confess to me do not make me doubt the reality of the grace you receive. God is the Supreme Master, and He leaves you these weaknesses in order that you may see that these great graces do not come from you, and are not granted to you on account of your virtues, but on account of your misery. You are a member of Jesus Christ, and the Father truly gives to His Son what He gives to His weak and miserable member. Do not be astonished, do not be discouraged when you fall into a fault, but draw from the Heart of your Spouse -- for all His riches are yours -- the grace and virtue that are wanting to you."

Saint Luke Kirby and Mother St. Thomas More Wakerley

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In 1972, during my frightfully precocious initial experience of traditional Benedictine life, I wrote to the Tyburn Benedictines for the first time. (In photos from that period I am a very thin bespectacled 20 year old, looking rather like a young Pius XII in a Benedictine habit!) My purpose in writing to Tyburn was to learn more about Mother Mary of St. Peter, and also to request information on Saint Luke Kirby, one of the Tyburn martyrs whose surname I bear. I received a lovely reply written in what appeared to be a frail and trembling hand: a letter from Mother M. St. Thomas More Wakerley. Mother St. Thomas More sent me the information I had requested on Saint Luke Kirby as well as the red-covered biography of Mother Mary of St. Peter by Dom Bede Camm, O.S.B. The book was re-edited in 2006 by Saint Michael's Abbey Press.

Friends of the Sacred Heart

I read and re-read the book, finding that Marie-Adèle Garnier and I moved, so to speak, within the same constellation of mysteries: the Heart of Jesus, the Eucharist, the Sacred Liturgy, the Priesthood, and the Church. Blessed Abbot Marmion’s writings continued to nourish me, as did those of Saint Gertrude the Great and other Benedictine and Cistercian friends of the Sacred Heart. Dom Ursmer de Berlière’s book (in the “Pax” Collection) on the Sacred Heart within the monastic tradition added kindling to the fire. At about the same time, I read the life of other Benedictine mystics of the Sacred Heart: among them were Père Jean-Baptiste Muard, founder of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire, Mère Jeanne Deleloë, and Blessed Giovanna Bonomo.

Stability in the Heart of Jesus

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In 1975, having wisely taken time out from the cloister, I made a pilgrimage to the cradle of Benedictine life at Subiaco. There I met a wise old monk who had been Master of Novices at La-Pierre-Qui-Vire. When I asked him for counsel concerning my monastic journey, he said to me, “Frère, tu dois faire ta stabilité dans le Coeur de Jésus -- Brother, you must make your stability in the Heart of Jesus.” These words were to sustain me in the years ahead. I know that Marie-Adèle Garnier would have understood them perfectly.

The Open Heart of Jesus Crucified

On August 4, 1979, together with Father Jacob, now a Dominican, and another brother, now a Franciscan, I went on pilgrimage to Montmartre in Paris. There, in the crypt of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, at the altar of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and trusting in her intercession, we consecrated ourselves to the Heart of Jesus and to His designs on our life. Within me the desire was growing for a simple Benedictine life, characterized by the worthy celebration of the Divine Office and by adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist. The wounded Side of Our Lord exercised a supernatural power of attraction over me. The text of our Act of Consecration was printed on a leaflet with a drawing depicting a monk being drawn to the open Heart of Jesus Crucified. The attraction to the pierced Heart of Jesus and to His Holy Face was constant and undeniable.

Life Together

For several years I lived with Father Jacob and others in a small monastic community where, every evening after Vespers, we had adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In the end it was decided that we should be absorbed by the monastery that was sponsoring and guiding us: the Cistercian Abbey of Notre Dame de Nazareth in Rougemont, Québec. It was a painful detachment for all concerned. Again, Mother Mary of St. Peter would have understood.

All that has gone before

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A wise and dear friend wrote me from her cloister for the feast of the Epiphany. By God's providence, our lives, with their changes and chances, have been intertwined for over twelve years. Reflecting on the mystery of my call to Tulsa, she says:

Do you you know the poem The Wise by Brother Antoninus, O.P.? It is a favorite of mine and I thought of you as I read it today. All that has gone before in your life was not so much a search, but a preparation. What you have been called to fits perfectly.

I thank my friend for her message. Here is the poem:

The Wise

Miles across the turbulent kingdoms

They came for it, but that was nothing,

That was the least. Drunk with vision,

Rain stringing in the ragged beards,

When a beast lamed, they caught up another

And goaded west.

For the time was on them.

Once, as it may, in the life of a man,

Once, as it was, in the life of mankind,

All is corrected. And their years of pursuit,

Raw-eyed reading the wrong texts,

Charting the doubtful calculations,

Those nights knotted with thought,

When dawn held off, and the rooster

Rattled the leaves with his blind assertion---

All that, they regarded, under the Sign,

No longer as search but as preparation.

For when the mark was made, they saw it.

Nor stopped to reckon the fallible years,

But rejoiced and followed,

And are called "wise", who learned that Truth,

When sought and at last seen,

Is never found. It is given.

And they brought their camels

Breakneck into that village,

And flung themselves down in the dung and dirt of that place,

And kissed that ground, and the tears

Ran on their faces, where the rain had.


In Thanksgiving

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Msgr Brankin Writes:

May I add to all the friends and readers of Vultus Christi just how terrible this accident was? Fr. Kirby's car spun out of control, crossing three lanes of the most heavily travelled expressway in the city, and continuing its slide, cross over an exit ramp (fully 6 lanes). Flying backwards, Father Kirby's car flew backward off the road into a ditch where it landed in a concrete drainage culvert, bounced out, and came to rest about 15 feet away.

When I arrived at the scene, I was astounded that Fr. Kirby was not killed, not even hurt, not so much as a scratch.

You must understand that this was certainly a miracle. There is no way that I could imagine a car tailspinning out of control through six lanes of traffic without hitting or being hit by another car. I do not believe that Father could have flown off the road into the culvert and not broken his legs and hips.

Let me say that Our Lady's hand was very much protecting Fr. Kirby against the snares and dangers laid by the Devil.

Msgr Patrick Brankin

And My Account

Last night, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, at about 9:00, while driving home from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, I had a spectacular automobile accident. It would seem that the surface of the highway was slippery due to a very light mist of rain. I completely lost control of the car. It careened across several lanes of oncoming traffic, went head on toward an exit sign, and then spun around to fly off an embankment into a ditch.

I was saying the rosary at the time of the accident. In my pocket was an image of the Servant of God Father Lukas Etlin, that Father Abbot Marcel Rooney had just given me. (Father Lukas, a monk of Conception Abbey, born in Switzerland in 1864, died on December 16, 1927 in Stanberry, Missouri, as a result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident.)

Immediately, upon "landing," I looked to make sure that I still had my beads! Then, calmly, I called Msgr. Brankin and informed him of what had happened. I turned off the motor of the car and walked to the top of the embankment. Msgr. Brankin and Bishop Slattery were there within a few minutes. Someone driving by apparently called the Tulsa police. A very kind officer arrived on the scene. He could not have been more professional or more solicitous. The car is a total wreck, but I emerged from the accident without so much as a bump or a scratch.

I am certain that I was protected by the the Most Holy Virgin Mother of God, conceived without sin, and by the intercession of Father Lukas Etlin, and I offer heartfelt and humble thanks.

Remembering Montmartre

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Twenty-nine years ago today, a few young men prayed this Act of Consecration together in the crypt of the Basilica of Montmartre in Paris. I was among them. Our Lord is faithful, faithful even in the face of all our weaknesses, and infidelities, and betrayals. In the end, if we persevere in believing in His fidelity, His merciful love will triumph in our lives, and He will do in us and for us all that we, of and by ourselves, were unable to do.

Lord Jesus, we come to this holy place, to this Mount of Martyrs,
as so many saints have done,
to adore Thee, to thank Thee for the wonders of Thy love,
to implore Thy mercy and, above all,
to offer ourselves to Thy Heart. . . .

Lord Jesus, we seek Thy Face;
we consecrate ourselves to Thy Sacred Heart,
praying Thee so to unite us to Thyself
that Thou wilt live, and suffer, and pray
in us and through us
for the glory of the Father and the salvation of the world.

Lord Jesus, unite us to Thy faithful and perfect "Yes" to the Father,
that was consummated upon the Cross.
Thus wilt Thou unite us to the Holy Sacrifice offered throughout the world,
and give us to discover anew the hidden fecundity of the Cross.

Lord Jesus, we are certain of being heard
because we come to Thy Sacred Heart through the Heart of Mary
whom Thou didst give us from the Cross to be our Mother.
Mary is the faithful Virgin, Our Lady of Compassion,
standing with Thy Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross.
Let us know how close to us she is, and how present in our life.


The Struggle of Prayer

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Relinquishing Control

What does it mean to pray for someone or something?
If I pray to obtain control over someone or something, I am wasting my time.
Prayer is the expression of my desire to relinquish all control over persons, things, and circumstances into the merciful and loving hands of God.

Adoration of the Divine Will

If I pray to have some power over persons, things, or the course of events, my prayer is futile; it is, in some way, an anti-prayer.
Prayer is the struggle to let go of every desire to have power over others, over things, and over the course of events.
Prayer is adoration of the Divine Will in all its manifestations.

The Lord's Doings

At Vespers this evening I chanted the utter perfection of all that God does: Magna opera Domini, exquirenda omnibus, qui cupiunt ea (Psalm 110:2). Knox translates: "Chant we the Lord's doings, delight and study of all who love Him." And then, in the following psalm, singing of the just man, I read, Ab auditione mala non timebit. Paratum cor eius, sperans in Domino (Psalm 111:7). "No fear shall he have of evil tidings; on the Lord his hope is fixed unchangeably." Both verses enchanted me . . . and instructed me.

How Do I Pray?

How often do I bring to prayer a problem to be resolved, a person I would like to see changed, a suffering that I want to forestall? I tell God how best to resolve the problem. I advise Him on how best to change the person who is the object of my intercession. I bargain with Him in order to avoid the suffering that I fear: a suffering that may well be imaginary and that, more often than not, is merely the projection of an anguish lurking somewhere in my subconscious.

In Manibus Tuis

It is right to bring persons, things, and events to prayer, but the purpose of prayer is not to wrest control from the hands of God in order to assure that I get my own way, but, rather, to surrender all control in an act of childlike trust in the mercy, wisdom, and power of the Father. I remember the exhilaration I once experienced while standing in the middle of the choir singing the Offertory Antiphon, In te speravi. It contains the line, Tu es Deus meus, in manibus tuis tempora mea, "Thou art my God, my destiny is in Thy hands" (Psalm 30:16). The liturgy is an infallible school of what is essential in prayer.

The Rosary

There is another form of prayer that is admirably suited to "letting go," and that prayer is the Holy Rosary of Our Blessed Lady. It is as if each Ave, recited with one's gaze fixed on the face of the Blessed Virgin, relaxes one's hold over things, be it real, or imagined, or even desired, in such a way as to make it easier to relinquish everything into the hands of God. I have been praying my Rosary before the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help during this her Novena. "Hold on to me just as the little Jesus holds on to my thumb," she seems to be saying, "and let go of all the rest."

Catherine in My Life

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Images

Today's feast of Saint Catherine brought to mind how she has moved about in my life at various times. Having grown up in a city graced with a magnificent Dominican church, I knew of Saint Catherine from having seen her in a stained glass window. As a little boy I was profoundly affected by pictures, especially "holy pictures." Images engraved themselves in my memory. I remember having seen Saint Catherine crowned with thorns, and clutching the cross. In my "Lives of the Saints for Children" there was a romantic picture of Christ the King of Glory appearing in the sky over a young Catherine's head. If I recall rightly, her little brother was with her.

The Fire of Love

I must have read about Saint Catherine in my Missal or in The Church's Year of Grace by Pius Parsch, one of my favourite books from about age ten on. Years passed. I entered the monastery. One day I began reading the autobiographical notes of Cardinal Charles Journet. He described his own encounter with Catherine. He related how she erupted into his life as a seminarian, irrigating the dessicated theology of the "manuals" then in use, with a river of fire and of blood. Seminarians at the time were not allowed to read the mystics. They were deemed distractions from "serious theology." The young Abbé Journet read Saint Catherine of Siena in secret. She saved him from the banalization of the Mystery and invited him to surrender not only his mind to the light of God, but also his heart to the Fire of Love.

In the Train to Lourdes

Several years later I was in a train going from Paris to Lourdes. Across from me in my compartment was an elderly Dominican Father engrossed in reading and in telling his beads. I had just finished saying part of the Office, when the Dominican smiled and offered me a "holy picture" from his own breviary. It depicted Saint Catherine of Siena reciting the breviary with Our Lord as they walked side by side. The elderly Dominican turned out to be Père Henri-Marie Manteau-Bonamy, the famous Mariologist.

Praying With Christ

There again, the image from Père Manteau-Bonamy's breviary affected me deeply. I don't know what has become of it. Someday perhaps I shall find it between the pages of a book. The truth it portrayed still challenges and comforts me. When I pray the Divine Office alone in my tiny domestic oratory, I softly sing my verse and then read the following one silently, allowing Our Lord to sing it. Thus do we form a single choir, a single body praising the Father together in the Holy Spirit. I never pray the Office alone. Christ is always present, singing His part, sustaining my weakness, and making my poor prayer all His. Had Père Manteau-Bonamy never given me that "holy picture" of Saint Catherine reciting the breviary with Our Lord, I would not, I think, be praying in quite the same way all these years later.

A First Saturday

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Was anyone else struck by the Holy Father's allusion, in today's Regina Caeli message, to the "Marian dimension" of Pope John Paul II's death on the First Saturday of the month? "Many notice," he said, "the singular coincidence, that brought together in itself the Marian dimension — the First Saturday of the month — and the dimension of Divine Mercy." This discreet allusion to Our Lady of Fatima and to her role in the life and in the piety of John Paul II is, to my mind, very significant.

I recall what Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 2000:

I would like finally to mention another key expression of the “secret” which has become justly famous: “my Immaculate Heart will triumph”. What does this mean? The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world—because, thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time. The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise.

Wednesday, April 2nd, will be the anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II in 2005. Friday, April 4th, will be the anniversary of the death of Blessed Francisco Marto in 1919, and of Saint Gaetano Catanoso, the Apostle of the Holy Face, in 1963. Saturday, April 5th, will be the First Saturday of the month. I'm looking forward to a very special week.

Irish Catholic Kvetch

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Saint Patrick's Day Secularized

I wanted to buy a few cards for Saint Patrick's Day to send to family and friends both in Ireland and in the U.S. The cards I saw in local shops were entirely secular, apart from a few sentimental "Irish Blessing" motifs. Many were in poor taste. Some were downright offensive. Even our local Celtica shop had precious little in the way of images of Saint Patrick. I irked the chirpy sales lady by saying that her so-called Saint Patrick's Day cards were . . . heathen!

Remembering Adé

My mentor of thirty-five years ago, Catholic artist Adé Béthune, found her vocation when Dorothy Day asked her to make some good images of the saints. Adé's saints appeared in the pages of the Catholic Worker. They were later printed as greeting cards and holy pictures. Conception Abbey's Printery House has some decent Saint Patrick's Day cards. There may be other sources too. Terry N. would know. For the most part what I saw today was . . . heathen!

Preacher's Woes

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To Preach or Not to Preach

I was sorely tempted not to preach this morning. Preaching seven days a week is a huge investment of time and energy; at the same time it is an inestimable grace. I believe that the Word of God sanctifies the preacher's heart and his lips so often as he delivers it in the grace of the Holy Ghost.

A Necessity Lieth Upon Me

All the same, there are days when everything in me wants to slack off. And then I hear Saint Paul saying, "For if I preach the gospel, it is no glory to me, for a necessity lieth upon me: for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor 9:16) — and so I "preach the word, being instant in season, and out of season: reproving, entreating, and rebuking in all patience and doctrine" (cf. 2 Tim 4:2).

The Grace of Holy Preaching

A stellar French Dominican of the last century used to say that the grace of la sainte prédication, holy preaching, was given to the preacher in proportion to the spiritual desire and openness of his hearers. Most priests have experienced this. There are situations in which the grace of the Word seems blocked by an almost perceptible resistance to it in the assembly. There are also situations in which the grace of the Word flows abundantly under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, causing the preacher's heart to "overflow with a goodly theme."

A Cast of Characters

On any given day, I am faced, while I preach, with a poor disgruntled soul who mutters disapproval in a stage whisper or noisily turns pages. That hurts. And it's rude. Another uses the time of the homily to read the commentary in Magnificat. (Shouldn't the editors write something about not reading Magnificat during the homily, at least when one is seated under the priest's nose?) Especially discouraging to me is the defiant sour puss whose entire body is a study in passive aggression. Nearly every day I see one or two dear souls who doze while I speak. That doesn't really annoy me. Sleepiness is a weakness that I fully understand. There are also those who register a benign indifference. I can cope with that. And, thank God, there are a few who listen attentively, giving the occasional indication that something has touched their hearts.

Visited by the Word

This morning I battled with the temptation not to preach. The devil uses all his tricks to silence a preacher of the Word: discouragement, wounded self-love, a sudden onslaught of inexplicable weariness, the fear of rejection, and the insinuation that it is all useless. The power of the Holy Name of Jesus, today's glorious feast, triumphed over my reluctance and fears, and so I preached in spite of myself. As I was walking to my car after Mass, a lady with a lovely smile stopped me and said, "Father, thank you for your words today." By the light shining in her eyes, I knew that the Word had visited her. And I gave thanks.

Weary With Holding In

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I offered the Sunday Vigil Mass in a suburban parish last Saturday in order to help out a friend and brother priest. Father is very dedicated and I have immense esteem for him. The observations that follow are no reflection on him. He inherited a difficult situation and hasn't yet completed his first year in the parish. But, like the prophet Jeremias, I am "weary with holding in." Disclaimer: the images below are in no way related to the place or persons mentioned in this rant. Any resemblance is purely coincidental.

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Chatter

The first thing that disconcerted me was the idle chatter in church before Mass. It was like being in a theatre waiting for the lights to dim and the curtain to go up. People seated in little groups around the church held exchanged news and joked with absolutely no regard for the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the sacredness of the place, or the few faithful who were actually trying to pray. I knelt in the back of the church surrounded by prattle on all sides and felt an immense sadness in my heart. The words of the Mass of the Sacred Heart came to mind: "I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none; and for one that would comfort me, and I found none" (Ps 68:21). Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament was alone among his own: ignored and treated with ingratitude and indifference in His own house. The chatter resumed immediately after Mass.

The Place

The unfortunate architecture of this particular church does not easily lend itself to recollection or to a spontaneous focus on the presence of our Lord. In spite of the large crucifix above the tabernacle, there is something about the building that is inimical to prayer. But there is more: the faithful seem to have lost any awareness of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. There is no "eucharistic amazement." One does not find there the hush ordinarily commanded by an experience of the sacred.

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Reverence

Not that long ago there was still a lively sense of reverence among Catholics. People would sign themselves with Holy Water upon entering the church. They would genuflect before entering the pew, then kneel in adoration for a few moments. It was not uncommon to see people lighting candles before Mass or visiting the side altars and the shrines of their favourite saints. Some folks would pray the rosary quietly. Others would read over the Mass of the day in their missals. All of this has been swept away. When Pope John Paul II proclaimed the "Year of the Eucharist" his stated aim was the recovery of "Eucharistic amazement" — call it reverence, awe, or the spirit of adoration — in the whole Church. Instead of things improving in the average parish, they seem to be getting worse.

A number of factors have contributed to this desolate situation. I will enumerate a few of them:

1) The loss of any notion of sacred space. I think this is directly related to the removal of the Communion Rail or other effective delineation of the sanctuary of the church. Time to rally 'round the rood screen again! The Tractarians were right.

2) Mass "facing the people." This, more than anything else, undermined and continues to undermine the faithful's experience of the Mass as a Sacrifice offered to God in adoration, propitiation, thanksgiving, and supplication. The altar has become the big desk of the clerical CEO behind it: The Presider. It has become a stage prop for the "performing priest," complete with The Microphone.

3) Holy Communion in the hand. I see it every time I offer Mass in a parish church: the casual approach prevails. If one receives the Holy Mysteries like ordinary bread and a sip of ordinary wine, one begins rather sooner than later, will-nilly, to think of them as mere bread and wine.

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4) No bells. Instead of ringing a sacristy bell to announce the beginning of Mass, the organist leaned into His Microphone and said, "Let us stand to greet Father Kirby." Sorry. That is not what the Entrance Procession is about. It is a humble, joyful, and orderly movement into the Holy Place, a crossing-over from chronos (worldly, stressful, clocked time) to kairos (the heavenly, tranquil, timeless moment of God), an entering into the adorable presence of the God who is like a consuming fire, a making-ready for the inbreaking of the Kingdom of Heaven. A bell says it better.

Same thing during the Eucharistic Prayer. People need to be warned of the imminence of the most sacred moment of the Mass, even when the Eucharistic Prayer (Canon) is prayed aloud and in the vernacular. A bell does the job quite nicely. And another thing: saying the whole Eucharistic Prayer aloud and in the vernacular does not automatically guarantee "full, conscious, and actual participation" in the Holy Sacrifice. Silence, on the other hand, at least for certain parts of the Eucharistic Prayer, effectively opens a door onto the Holy Mysteries.

5) Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Alas, they are not extraordinary. They are ubiquitous and, I think, superfluous. Does expediting the distribution of Holy Communion really constitute grave necessity? In the church where I offered Mass last Saturday there were four Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, all of whom were women. Three were wearing casual slacks and one was showing cleavage. They could have been serving lemonade at the parish garden party. It was frightfully inappropriate.

Could there not be properly instituted acolytes for the service of the Holy Mysteries where such are needed? These would be adult men — few in number — suitably vested in amice, alb, and cincture and, most of all, schooled in reverence, attention, and devotion, and carefully trained for the service of the sacred liturgy.

This brings up yet another issue? Where have all the men gone? At last Saturday's Mass, the four Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, the Server, and one Lector were all women. I am not a misogynist. But honestly, this situation does nothing to foster priestly vocations.

6) The Music. Dare I call it that? Oh, the music! Show-tuney, trite, tired, and sickeningly sentimental with the organist/crooner singing into His Microphone. Might we not try singing the Mass itself: the Ordinary and the Propers? More than anything else celebrants must begin taking their sacerdotal obligations seriously by learning to cantillate the dialogical parts of the Mass, the orations, the Preface Dialogue and Preface, and the other elements that belong uniquely to them as priests.

I am not a gloomy person by nature, but last Saturday's Mass left me very sad indeed. "For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?" (Lk 23:31).

Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum

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What do these Catholic bloggers do when they meet? Pray. Sing. Talk. Eat. Pray. Sing. Talk. Eat. Did I mention the singing? This photo of Father Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. of Rifugio San Gaspare, Richard Chonak of Catholic Light, and myself was taken in the entrance garden of the little church of the Monastery of the Glorious Cross, O.S.B. in Branford, Connecticut.

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Yesterday we sang the beautiful Ordinary XII (Pater cuncta), together with the Introit Salus autem and the Alleluia Te martyrum from the Mass of SS. Pontian and Hippolytus. Mass at the Monastery of the Glorious Cross is at 11:50 on weekdays and at 11:00 on Sundays and Solemnities. When I am not serving as chaplain the times of Mass may vary, so call ahead.

The monastery church had to be designed in an existing space. The building is the former Connecticut Hospice. The low ceiling posed real problems. We opened it up with two light wells: one directly over the altar, and another directly over the place where Holy Communion is distributed. The low walls surrounding the sanctuary were another challenge. They contain all sorts of pipes and wiring and could not be removed. We integrated them into the design to form a very effective delineation of the the sanctuary. The Benedictine nuns are in two choirs to the right and left of the sanctuary. The lay faithful have chairs and kneelers facing the sanctuary.

The crucifix came from the workshops of the Nuns of Bethlehem and of the Assumption. The icons of the Saviour and of the Mother of God are by a Benedictine of Jesus Crucified in France.

We are presently holding a Novena of Masses for the happy repose of the souls of all those who died in the monastery building while it was The Connecticut Hospice.

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Yes, I do celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem. The wrought iron gates in front of the tabernacle are closed during the Holy Sacrifice and remain open outside of Mass. The conical chasuble of red wool is the work of Vincent Crosby. He explains the conical form of the chasuble:

The chasuble originated in the everyday dress of the Roman citizen at the beginning of the Christian era. It was known as the paenula, the outer garment that entirely enveloped the figure and hung in radiating folds. It had a cone-like or conical shape. To free the hands it was necessary to gather up the material into graceful folds across the forearms.

Over the centuries the shape of the chasuble has altered, reflecting changes in liturgical theology and presidential style. But the classic form of the conical chasuble remains the authentic shape of the Eucharistic vestment.

For the artist, it is a more interesting garment to design because unlike the more static “gothic” chasuble, the conical chasuble changes as it responds to the human body. It is also a more rewarding garment to wear because of the beauty of its folds.


More Solace for the Sizzling

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Space for Grace

So, is it sufficient to want chastity, to ask for it, and to wait for it? Yes. But if you really want it, after asking for it, you will need to make room for it in your life. This will lead you to make certain detachments. Some things — perhaps a lot of things — will have to go into Savonarola's bonfire of the vanities or, at least, into the dumpster. The gifts of God are for those who wait for them with empty hands.

Doing Something

It is important to pose concrete gestures. Make your desire for continence real and, in some way, physical. Fasting, abstinence, and vigils belong to the classic repertoire of Christian asceticism. They do not produce chastity nor do they guarantee it. They merely dispose one to receive it humbly as a grace graciously given by God.

The Little Way

Privilege the Little Way. Do not be anxious to meet self-imposed deadlines. Dismiss the desire to set up standards that, being unrealistic, are really traps. Proceed humbly but resolutely. Remain at peace. It is not necessary to do everything at once; it is necessary to do something, to do one little thing at a time. After a while you will surrender to the mysterious rhythms of Divine Grace and, as Saint Benedict says, your heart will be opened wide "to run in a sweetness of love that is beyond words" (RB Pro:49).

The Egg and the Ox

Getting rid of things linked to certain sinful patterns of thinking and acting makes room for Divine Grace. Detachment, even from small things, can be the first step toward inner liberation from sin. The response of God is magnificently disproportionate to the smallest token of one's desire to receive His gifts in poverty of spirit. Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort used to say with a bit of peasant humour: Pour un oeuf, Dieu donne un boeuf, that is, "in exchange for an egg, God gives an ox!"

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Our Lady

Ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to show you what things you need to liquidate. She will counsel you every step of the way. Often, her inspirations will come to you during the rosary. Mary will lead you gently but firmly, pointing out the things that need to disappear from your life. "He that hearkeneth to me," she says, "shall not be confounded, and that work by me shall not sin" (Eccl 24:30).

Anoint Thy Head

Above all, keep a sense of humour. Laugh at yourself. Do not dramatize. Do not go all sour on life's simple joys. Be grateful for all things beautiful. Celebrate important moments with roses and wine. Practice a bracing mortification, but do not play at being the ascetic. "But thou, when thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee" (Mt 6:17-18).

Overflowing Thanksgiving

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Ireland

Reflecting on my recent pilgrimage to the Shrine of our Lady of Knock in County Mayo, Ireland, I understand that the grace given me there had to with thanksgiving more than anything else. The priest who heard my confession at Knock exhorted me to give thanks for everything. A few days later, the saintly abbess of the Drumshanbo Monastery of Perpetual Adoration in County Leitrim repeated the same message, saying quite simply that it was the Lord's word to me: give thanks for all things, be grateful. As a result of these two counsels given me in Ireland, I have found myself praying very often in thanksgiving for all that God has permitted or ordained in my life, from the moment of my conception right up to the present.

A Monastery of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving prolongs the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and goes hand in hand with adoration and reparation. Convinced of this, a correspondent of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, named Virginie Danion, was inspired in 1869 to establish a Monastery of Thanksgiving in the Morbihan in Brittany. Miss Danion saw that, while many souls were drawn to adoration and reparation before the Blessed Sacrament, few were drawn to thanksgiving. The words of Jesus to the leper made clean pierced her heart: "Were not ten made clean? and where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God but this stranger" (Lk 17:17-18).

Encouraged by Saint Peter Julian, Mademoiselle Danion and a few companions consecrated themselves to a life of uninterrupted thanksgiving before the Blessed Sacrament. Several years ago the remnant of the Community of Thanksgiving was amalgamated with the Congregation of the Filles de Jésus of Kermaria. Has its distinctive charism of thanksgiving disappeared? I would love to know what has become of the monastery.

I Thank You for Everything

Preaching a retreat last week to the Bridgettines in Connecticut, I invited them to do the same: to give thanks always, everywhere, and for all things. Their foundress, Blessed Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad prayed:

O my God, I thank You for everything You have given me,
I thank You for everything You refuse me,
and for everything You take away from me.

Grace Bestowed in Abundance

I write this brief note today because the last line of the Epistle at today's Mass (2 Corinthians 4:7-15) is this: "Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God."

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Yesterday I returned from preaching a retreat to the Bridgettine Sisters (Order of the Most Holy Saviour) at the Convent of Saint Birgitta, Vikingsborg, in Darien, Connecticut. Saint Birgitta's overlooks a charming inlet of the Long Island Sound. I was without an internet connection all week!

I delivered my conferences without extensive written notes, having only my Bible in hand, and the Constitutions of the Order. The grace of "holy preaching" comes easily when the hearts of one's hearers are open and eager to receive the Word. What were the subjects addressed?

Compunction, Conversion, and Reparation
Gratitude
Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience
Eucharistic Adoration
The Sacred Wounds of Christ
The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Bridgettines in Darien — three Indians, three Mexicans, and one Italian — are admirable in their fervour, their simplicity, and their joy. The chant of the Hours imparts a characteristically monastic rhythm to their day. In addition to the Divine Office, the Bridgettines devote a significant amount of time each day to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed. The Sisters' work of ecumenical hospitality has been somewhat curtailed since the fire that ravaged their guesthouse last July 11th. Restoration of the lovely old house is still in progress.

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I began each retreat conference with a prayer of Saint Birgitta of Sweden. It is a prayer that I cherish. Pray it, and you will know why:

O Lord, make haste and illumine the night.
Say to my soul
that nothing happens without Your permitting it,
and that nothing of what You permit is without comfort.
O Jesus, Son of God,
You Who were silent in the presence of Your accusers,
restrain my tongue
until I find what should say and how to say it.
Show me the way and make me ready to follow it.
It is dangerous to delay, yet perilous to go forward.
Answer my petition and show me the way.
I come to You as the wounded go to the doctor in search of aid.
Give peace, O Lord, to my heart.

Rome Unvisited

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Tomorrow I will be leaving Rome. I expect to be away from the Eternal City for the remaining summer months. I will know better what my fall schedule will be sometime in August. I have been asked to accept a number of engagements in September, October, and November. Oscar Wilde expresses some of the sentiments that rise in my heart as I spend the day sorting through my things and packing.

Rome Unvisited

I.
The corn has turned from grey to red,
Since first my spirit wandered forth
From the drear cities of the north,
And to Italia's mountains fled.
And here I set my face towards home,
For all my pilgrimage is done,
Although, methinks, yon blood-red sun
Marshals the way to Holy Rome.
O Blessed Lady, who dost hold
Upon the seven hills thy reign!
O Mother without blot or stain,
Crowned with bright crowns of triple gold!
O Roma, Roma, at thy feet
I lay this barren gift of song!
For, ah! the way is steep and long
That leads unto thy sacred street.

II.

And yet what joy it were for me
To turn my feet unto the south,
And journeying towards the Tiber mouth
To kneel again at Fiesole!
And wandering through the tangled pines
That break the gold of Arno's stream,
To see the purple mist and gleam
Of morning on the Apennines
By many a vineyard-hidden home,
Orchard and olive-garden grey,
Till from the drear Campagna's way
The seven hills bear up the dome!

III.

A pilgrim from the northern seas--
What joy for me to seek alone
The wondrous temple and the throne
Of him who holds the awful keys!
When, bright with purple and with gold
Come priest and holy cardinal,
And borne above the heads of all
The gentle Shepherd of the Fold.
O joy to see before I die
The only God-anointed king,
And hear the silver trumpets ring
A triumph as he passes by!
Or at the brazen-pillared shrine
Holds high the mystic sacrifice,
And shows his God to human eyes
Beneath the veil of bread and wine.

IV.

For lo, what changes time can bring!
The cycles of revolving years
May free my heart from all its fears,
And teach my lips a song to sing.
Before yon field of trembling gold
Is garnered into dusty sheaves,
Or ere the autumn's scarlet leaves
Flutter as birds adown the wold,
I may have run the glorious race,
And caught the torch while yet aflame,
And called upon the holy name
Of Him who now doth hide His face.

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Birthday

Today, June 2nd, is my 55th birthday! When I went downstairs for collazione this morning, I discovered that Fra Bernardo Maria had baked a lovely breakfast cake for the occasion. Perfect with morning coffee!

At 8:45 Fra Ryan Maria and I set out out for the Church of Saints Marcellinus and Peter on the Via Merulana. Sister Barbara, A.S.C.J. joined us on the way. Thus did three happy Americans celebrate the festival of two glorious Roman Martyrs. After Mass, Sister Maria, a Polish religious belonging to the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth, joined us outside the church. Learning that it was my birthday, she said that she had the devotion of saying as many Gloria Patris as the person being celebrated has years!

A Priest and an Exorcist

Under the Emperor Diocletian, Peter, an exorcist of the Church of Rome, was sent to prison. There he converted the jailer and his entire family to the faith of Christ. They were all baptized by the priest Marcellinus. Condemned to death by the judge Serenus, Marcellinus and Peter were beheaded after atrocious torments.

Keeping Festival

The festival of Saints Marcellinus and Peter is kept as a solemnity in their church. Hence there was a Gloria and Credo at Mass. Fra Ryan Maria read the first and second readings.

At the end of Mass, the parish priest asked me to read the traditional prayer of supplication to the Holy Martyrs. Their reliquary was set amidst crimson flowers and a blaze of candles on the altar. Romans are unabashedly devoted to their saints: a salutary lesson for those who have espoused a dreary liturgical minimalism!

Marcellinus and Peter are named in the Roman Canon. I have a longstanding devotion to the saints of the Roman Canon and it was with no little emotion that I pronounced the names of Marcellinus and Peter at Mass this morning.

Confession

After Mass I went off to the Chiesa Nuova to make my confession! A great way to celebrate 55 years of mercy upon mercy! "Confess ye unto the Lord for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever" (Ps 117:1).

Bonjour, tout le monde!

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Bonjour, tout le monde. Je m'appelle Jean et j'habite tout près du monastère Saint–Benoît à Nans–sous–Sainte–Anne dans le Jura français. Je suis allé à la messe hier soir avec Maman et Papa et, après, le Père m'a pris en photo.

Little Jean was remarkably well behaved at Mass last evening in the Monastère Saint–Benoît at Nans–sous–Ste–Anne. He followed everything attentively and even imitated some of my gestures at the altar, folding his hands in prayer. Jean's grandfather Michel was killed in a tragic accident last week and the Mass was offered for the repose of his soul.

I left France this morning and, with Thérèse Dussud at the wheel, and Soeur Marie–Isabelle in the back seat, arrived in Geneva (Switzerland) in time for my 11:00 flight to Rome. Don Carlo met me at the airport in Fiumicino.

I am back in my monastery and connected, once again, to Vultus Christi. There is a lot to write about and I do have some splendid photos to post.

The purpose of my trip to France was to give conferences in two monasteries of Benedictine nuns. I also found time time to go in pilgrimage to two Marian shrines: Notre Dame de la Sainte Espérance (Our Lady of Holy Hope) in Mesnil–Saint–Loup, and Notre–Dame du Chêne (Our Lady of the Oak) between Besançon and Nans–sous–Sainte–Anne.

Sunset in Assisi

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I took this photo after attending Vespers and Adoration with my friends Leonard and Mark at San Damiano in Assisi on Monday evening. The friars ended their evening adoration by saying the prayer of Saint Francis: " We adore Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, in this Church and all the Churches of the world, and we bless Thee, because, by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world."

This "looker" is my three year old nephew, Michael Colin Kirby.

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"We must edify others by the sweetness of Jesus. A soft answer turneth away
wrath, saith Scripture. Kind and gentle words, such as those of our dear Lord, are
an apostolate in themselves. Whereas clever sharp words, such as we have often
a strict right to use, are continually doing the devil's work for him, and damaging
the souls of others, while they are inflicting no slight wounds upon our own.

Our manner, too, must be full of unction, and be of itself a means to attract men to us,
and make them love the spirit which animates us. Coldness, absence of interest,
an assumption of superiority for some unexpressed reasons, or even an obviousness of condescension, are not unfrequently to be found in pious persons. They have not yet mastered the spirit that is in them so as to use it gracefully, or they do not
appreciate the delicacy and universality of its tenderness. They have not a true
picture of Jesus in their minds ; and thus they can hardly exhibit Him at all in their
outward conduct. Our very looks must be brought into subjection to Grace."

Father Frederick W. Faber

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Because Uncle Mark finally got his internet connection in Rome! Yes, Fabio the computer specialist came to the abbey yesterday to do mysterious things to Uncle Mark's computer, and Angelo the electrician (from a place called the Vatican) was there today! Uncle Mark is very happy and so am I!

A note from Don Marco

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Dear friends, I thank Lisa for giving you news of my arrival in Rome. I do not have internet access as yet and so have to write to you in the Comments section. The technician is supposed to be coming today to set things up.

I have been given a different cell: this one is enormous: my apartment in Hamden could easily fit into it twice. The ceilings are at least twelve feet high.

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Right outside my door is a lovely sculptured shrine of the Madonna of the Rosary of Pompei. That, of course, made me very happy. My cell is at least 1/4 mile from the refectory - well, perhaps I am exaggerating a bit, but not much. It is very, very far. The abbey is huge and the distances require that one leave for every exercise well in advance.

I thank you all for your prayers. Although I arrived with a sore throat and a ear ache, I quickly recovered and have been sleeping well. Twice a day in the refectory there are fresh greens from the garden: surely that helps! Soon I will be able to resume writing on Vultus Christi and I will have much to share.

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This will be my last entry until I get settled in at Santa Croce in Gerusalemmme in Rome. I leave tomorrow on the wings of Aer Lingus and will arive in Rome on the 4th. I hope to be able to celebrate Holy Mass in the Dublin airport during my layover there.

I wish that I could write more for January 3rd, the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. One of my favourite prayers is the sweet and powerful invocation of the glorious Irish and English Martyrs: Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus.

O God, who in the Holy Name of Jesus
have given us a light in every darkness,
food for every hunger,
and medicine for every affliction;
mercifully grant that we may find
no name more agreeable in the singing,
more welcome in the hearing,
and more comforting in thought
than the most sweet Name
of your Only-Begotten Son
Jesus Christ who is Lord forever and ever.

Packing for the Eternal City

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My dear friends Christopher and Lisa Hoffer–Schaefer and Nadine Casey spent their New Year's Day afternoon and evening helping me pack. I would never have been able to do it alone. We had great fun doing it. That is Chris with the roll of packing tape.

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The ladies, with characteristic efficiency, were amazing. Nadine prepared address labels for shipping. There are three boxes of books ready to be sent to Rome. The suitcases and carry–on bags are ready. This has never been known to happen in my life. I usually pack in a mad frenzy on the eve of my departure. Lisa, seen above, is the Queen of Get–It–Done.

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Nadine (above) appears to be working contemplatively. After a few hours of packing, Christopher and Lisa produced a splendid New Year's supper of salad, chicken, and shrimp. And, of course, there was the obligatory bottle of Prosecco. I thank God for the good friends He has given me.


Happy 80th Birthday, Dad!

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Who is this beautiful child with the golden ringlets and winning smile? It is my Dad. The photo must be 77 years old. Today is Dad's 80th birthday.

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Daniel Bernard Kirby was born at home, 148 Grafton Street in Fair Haven, Connecticut on December 30, 1926. His father was Daniel J. Kirby and his mother Margaret Mary Kirby, née Gilbride. Dr. E. T. Falsey delivered the baby boy, the first of six. Little Danny was baptized in Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Fair Haven and attended Saint Francis School.

As a teenager he fell head–over–heels in love with the sweetest girl in the world, Emma Rose Barbato, my wonderful Mom. It was love at first sight. An Irish boy smitten by an Italian girl! Dad served in the U. S. Army during World War II. He married Emma Rose in Saint Francis Church on October 9, 1948. Together they had five children, all of whom were baptized in the same Saint Francis Church. Dad retired as a Battalion Chief from the New Haven Fire Department in 1986.

Dad is up early every morning and out the door to Mass, either in Saint Joseph's Church or in his parish church, Saint Mary's on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven. At 80 he remains very active and is always ready to lend a hand, to run an errand, to visit the sick, and to do whatever needs to be done. Mom takes good care of him and he takes good care of her. A couple more devoted to each other you will not find!

Family and friends are gathering this afternoon at my sister Donna's home in Woodbridge, Connecticut. If you cannot be there, please leave a Happy Birthday message for Dad here. And offer a prayer for him.

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Before I go to bed, I want to say, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night! After Mass at the Glorious Cross, I joined my family (Mom and Dad) at the home of my sister Donna, her husband Wayne, and their children Sean and Lauren for Christmas dinner. Lauren's hidden talents are beginning to emerge: she is quite the decorator, the hostess, and the cook. Martha Stewart, watch out!

Tomorrow I begin a week of trying to get ready for my departure for Rome on 3 January. I have a lot of packing to do, especially of books. I will be returning to my monastery of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome for six months. If there are any Roman readers of Vultus Christi, do make yourselves known! Ci vediamo. I will continue Vultus Christi from the Eternal City, but will need a few days to recover from jet lag and to organize myself at Santa Croce. I should be back to regular posting from Rome by the Epiphany.

I Love New York

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I made a day trip into New York City today. Thanks to Deacon Richard Russo, Father Jacob Restrick, O.P. and I were able to visit the magnificent Church of Saint Jean–Baptiste on Lexington Avenue at 76th Street. The Church, completed in 1913, is served by the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, sons of Saint Peter Julian Eymard.

I have long nourished a special devotion to Saint Peter Julian Eymard, an impassioned lover of the Most Holy Eucharist. Today's visit to Saint Jean–Baptiste Church was, in some way, a pilgrimage to Saint Peter Julian.

"Have a great love for Jesus in his divine Sacrament of Love; that is the divine oasis of the desert. It is the heavenly manna of the traveller. It is the Holy Ark. It is the life and Paradise of love on earth." (Saint Peter Julian Eymard to the Children of Mary, November 21, 1851)

The principal splendour of the church is a three–storey altar crowned by an immense golden monstrance for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Curiously, although the monstrance is the architectural focus of the whole church, it is empty. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a modest, much smaller monstrance set directly on the altar where Mass is now celebrated versus populum.

In entering the church the eye is drawn immediately to the empty monstrance enthroned above the high altar; only after a few moments of careful observation does one notice the discrete monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament on the versus populum altar. The current arrangement attests to the all too familiar hermeneutic of discontinuity — or even, of rupture — that, for the past forty years, has so marked the renovation of churches.

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There were three adorers present in the church when we visited. Everything in me wanted to linger in adoration. How extraordinary to find oneself, all of a sudden, before the Eucharistic Face of Christ shining with redeeming love through the veil of the sacred species, before the immolated and glorious Lamb in whose presence one wants only to be silent and adore!

To the left of the sanctuary is a spectacular preaching pulpit adorned with gilt symbols of the Holy Eucharist. Every detail in this church proclaims and celebrates the Blessed Sacrament. We stopped for a moment of prayer at the altar of Saint Peter Julian Eymard. Beneath an exquisite marble statue of the saint holding a monstrance there is a reliquary containing a bone of his. The veneration of holy relics is very much a part of my piety. Caro cardo salutis. The grace of the saving Flesh of Christ suffuses the bodily remains of His saints with a mysterious attraction that compels one to pray. I have experienced this more than once.

The Lady Altar of the church is dedicated to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. She is depicted holding the Christ Child in her arms; He, in turn, holds the Sacred Host, radiating light. The whole effect is one of — what shall I call it? — supernatural enchantment!

"Be the apostle of the divine Eucharist, like a flame which enlightens and warms, like the Angel of his heart who will go to proclaim him to those who don’t know him and will encourage those who love him and are suffering." (Saint Peter Julian Eymard to Mme Antoinette de Grandville, July 4, 1859)

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I consider today's "pilgrimage" an Advent grace. The mystery of Christ's Eucharistic advent, coming between His first advent in the flesh and His final advent in glory, forms one single coherent adorable mystery. One cannot be drawn to one of these without, at the same time, confessing the others.

Hail to Thee! true Body sprung
From the Virgin Mary's womb!
The same that on the cross was hung
And bore for man the bitter doom.
Thou Whose side was pierced and flowed
Both with water and with blood;
Suffer us to taste of Thee
In our life's last agony.
O sweet Jesu!
O loving Jesu!
O Jesu, Son of Mary!

The Humble Prayer of Repetition

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I have wanted for some time to write again about the grace of the prayer of repetition. Today a God–seeking soul shared with me that she used to think of the prayer of repetition as second rate. Her ideal was to remain perfectly still, empty, and receptive before God. Unable to do attain her ideal, she fell to the humble prayer of repetition, and now has come to recognize its value. She often prays the Chaplet of the Eucharistic Face of Christ. Like others, she has found that this humble prayer of seeking, desire, supplication, and praise anchors her in the presence of Our Lord. The repetition of its invocations (like the prayers of the Rosary) binds her gently, but effectively, to God.

This soul's experience corresponds to my own. The prayer of repetition is pleasing to God because it is intrinsically humble. One accepts one's inability to be perfectly still, entirely receptive, and totally absorbed in adoration, and then one accepts to make use of the poor man's prayer: the same well–loved phrases burnished by repetition. As the heart is enkindled by the Holy Spirit, each repeated prayer becomes like a grain of incense thrown on an incandescent charcoal. Its fragrance is for God alone.

Folks who see themselves as theologically sophisticated and enlightened often disdain what I call les petits moyens, "the little means." They sniff condescendingly at people who pray rosaries, chaplets, and litanies. Better to pray that way, I say, than to abandon prayer altogether.

The humble prayer of repetition bears sweet fruits. One fine day — or in the middle of the night — one wakes to discover that the heart is praying by itself. Deep within, a spring has begun to flow, irrigating one's secret parts. Thus does the grace of Christ begin to heal what is wounded, to refresh what is weary, to make new what is old.

A Wonderful Day

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I offered Holy Mass in thanksgiving for my twenty years of priesthood today, gathering with family and friends in the little church of the Monastery of the Glorious Cross in Branford, Connecticut. Apart from the readings and the homily, Mass was sung in Latin from the 2002 Missale Romanum. . . all part of the hermeneutic of continuity. At the Offertory, my mother and father presented the gifts of bread and wine.

The nuns of the monastery were present, of course, together with Mother Véronique, their Prioress General from France. The Apostles of the Sacred Heart, good friends that they are, were also there.

My brother Terence (The Dog Trainer) with his wife Sandy and the two children Michael Colin (3 years) and Mary Elizabeth (1 year) drove down from New Hampshire. Terence and Michael came to church while little Mary stayed at home with Sandy who is expecting another little gift of God. Michael Colin seemed to appreciate the golden thurible with bells on it! Michael and Kerry Guidone were there with recently baptized Michael Mario who slept blissfully through the whole Mass.

Father John F. Ringley together with Ann Marie and Victoria were there to lead the singing — all out of the Graduale Romanum! They sang the complete Propers, Ordinary IX, Cum jubilo (a little tribute to Our Lady), and the splendid and rarely sung Credo VI.

So many other dear friends from near and far came to be with me today. Barbara and Katie, ever faithful friends, drove down from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I am very grateful to God and to each one. After Mass we gathered in the monastery meeting hall for cranberry nut bread and sherry. Later on in the day, my sister Donna and her husband Wayne together with Sean and Lauren, my "senior" nephew and niece, joined us. Some of us shared an exquisite dinner at New Haven's most delightful Italian restaurant: Skappo.

Thanksgiving: A Papistical Approach

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Being a Papist and not a Puritan, I have always felt somewhat ambiguous about the Thanksgiving holiday . . . not about the domestic observance of Thanksgiving, but about the attempt to interpret it liturgically. The Thanksgiving holiday originated in the sacramental void of Protestantism. When one silences the Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro of the Mass, one necessarily begins to look for something to put in its place. This, I think, is why it is so difficult to catholicize the American Thanksgiving holiday. It feels foreign to the Catholic ethos.

This year Thanksgiving squeezes out Pope Saint Clement I and Saint Columban. I suppose the best pastoral solution is to offer the Mass given in the Roman Missal under the title "In Thanksgiving to God." That is something I am perfectly willing to do. The nuns I serve as chaplain are very keen on having proper readings. So be it. I choose my battles. But I will miss preaching on the magnificent page of The Apocalypse appointed in the Lectionary.

One of the nicer things about Thanksgiving is that it always occurs on a Thursday. This does open the door to the Cenacle and to the mystery of the Eucharist. It does rather call for a catechesis on Holy Mass as the Great Sacrifice of Thanksgiving offered from the rising of the sun to its setting. So inspired, I will take a thoroughly papistical approach to this Protestant holiday.

I do cherish the Thanksgiving dinner lovingly prepared by Mom and the blessing pronounced by Dad. I do enjoy being with my family. It's like having a big Italian Catholic Sunday Dinner on Thursday. But I'll never be a Puritan.

Houseguest

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I borrowed the logo from my brother Terence's dog training business for this entry because I don't have a photo of Dulcie (named for a Barbara Pym character). Dulcie, my parents' 8 year old American Pit Bull Terrier spent the past four days with me while my folks were in Baltimore. She is the gentlest, sweetest dog I have ever known. Dulcie greets me with an affectionate lick as soon as I wake up. She sits quietly under my desk while I work at the computer and rests at my side while I say my prayers. While I am at the monastery celebrating Holy Mass she waits patiently for me in the car. Dulcie also expresses joy (or some comparable doggy emotion) with a great glorious howl of glee. More priests should have dogs. They keep one human and grounded. N.B. Santa Croce in Gerusalemme has two dogs: Morris and . . . Bernardo, of course.

Visit of the The Webmaster

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As I was teaching my weekly liturgy class to the nuns of the monastery and their friends this morning, I glanced out the window and saw a tall, bearded gentleman making his way into the church. Holy Mass began — the feast of Saint Gertrude the Great and my 20th anniversary of priesthood — and I sensed a certain connection with the gentleman in question. After Holy Mass, various folks lingered to greet me. When the mystery visitor approached, I said, "And you are?" The answer came with broad smile: "Your webmaster!" He added in French, Les belles âmes se retrouvent!

Richard Chonak, the gracious architect of this blog made the trip down from Boston to join me at Holy Mass today. I was thrilled to meet Richard at last. After Mass we went to one of my favourite New Haven restaurants, Caffè Bravo on Orange Street, for lunch. What a perfect way to celebrate this 20th anniversary. Thank you, Richard, for adding the joy of your company to the other joys of this day!

The Trip

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My brother Terence, his wife Sandy, and their two children Michael Colin (3 years old) and Mary Elizabeth (20 months) just returned from a family holiday in Costa Rica. Terence rang me to let me know that they had arrived home safely after a thirteen hour trip. Little Michael was eager to give me details of his adventures. Part of our conversation went like this:

Michael Colin — I wish you had come to Costa Rica on the airplane with us, Uncle Mark.
Uncle Mark — Oh, thank you, Michael. What a nice thought!
Michael Colin — Butcha didn't, Uncle Mark.

From what I understand, one of the highlights of the trip was swinging through the trees of the jungle on a cable. There was also lots of time to play in the water. I look forward to seeing Terence, Sandy, and the children at Thanksgiving time. And I want to hear Michael Colin tell me more about his experiences.

Twenty Years and Twenty Mysteries

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On November 16th, I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the holy priesthood. I was ordained on the feast of Saint Gertrude the Great, the Cistercian–Benedictine mystic of the sacred liturgy and of the Heart of Jesus. In 1986 I prepared for my ordination by reading Blessed Abbot Marmion's Christ, the Ideal of the Priest, a classic that continues to inspire me.

These twenty years of priesthood appear to me related to the twenty Mysteries of the Holy Rosary: joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious. There have been joys, lights, and sorrows in my priesthood, but all in anticipation of the glory promised by Christ and given already in the sacramental foretaste of the Eucharist!

I will be celebrating Holy Mass in thanksgiving for the graces of these twenty years on Sunday, November 26th, the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, at 11:00 a.m. in the church of the Monastery of the Glorious Cross where I serve as chaplain.

Buon Onomastico, Padre Abate!

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Today is the patronal feast of the Right Reverend Father Don Simone Maria Fioraso, O.Cist., Abbot of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome.

Don Simone a native of Milan, received the abbatial blessing on September 14, 2005. His abbatial arms bear the words of Saint Bernard, Respice stellam; voca Mariam, "Look to the star, call upon Mary."

O you, whoever you are,
who feel that in the tidal wave of this world
you are nearer to being tossed about among the squalls and gales
than treading on dry land:
if you do not want to founder in the tempest,
do not avert your eyes from the brightness of this star.

When the wind of temptation blows up within you,
when you strike upon the rock of tribulation,
gaze up at this star,
call out to Mary.

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I leave today for The Liturgical Institute in Mundelein, Illinois where I will be giving a conference on — Are you ready for this? — the "theology of church acoustics."

The conference is entitled: Heaven on Earth: Building or Renovating Your Church. The Institute describes it as "a theological and practical conference about envisioning the church building as a sacrament of heaven. Includes sessions on understanding traditional architecture, choosing a church architect, finding craftspeople, acoustics and music, the nature of the image, fundraising, and a beginning–to–end walkthrough of a completed church project."

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I will not be posting anything on Vultus Christi while in Mundelein. Here, though, is a bit of my conference for those of you who are wondering what I am going to say

Ausculta

Is there a theology of church acoustics? Acoustics, derived from the Greek akouo, to hear, is not all that far removed from the very first word of the Rule of Saint Benedict, ausculta, “listen,” or “give heed.” “Listen, my son, to the instruction of your Master, turn the ear of your heart to the advice of a loving father” (RB Pro:1). The sacred liturgy, insofar as it springs from the mystery of the Word, calls for a unique quality of listening and engages at the deepest level man’s capacity for hearing. Could it be then that church acoustics have more to do with hearing than with speaking, more to do with listening to the word than with projecting it, more to do with enhancing silence than with enhancing sound?

The Sound of the Church

Being a theologian and not an acoustician, I will not venture into the more technical aspects of how a church might best be constructed for the transmission of sound. I must, however, argue straightaway that the acoustical quality of a church must figure into the very construction of the building, into its materials, size, dimensions, proportions, shape, and furnishings and not be left as an afterthought. “Now that we have constructed our church, let us look into fitting it with a good sound system.” Wrong! The church building is, in itself, the primary sound system with the living Church, hierarchically ordered, providing the sound.

Space for the Resonance of the Word

The Cistercian artisans of the twelfth century understood that a church building is, first of all, virginal space for the resonance of the Word. The abbatial churches of the Cistercian reform had a certain Marian quality about them; they were constructed to be indwelt sacramentally by the living Word. They were characterized by a certain noble austerity and by what, for want of a better term, I choose to call “spatial chastity.” One engaged in designing a church does well to meditate the mystery of the Annunciation. The suitability of a church building is measured, first of all, by its capacity to provide optimal resonance for the Word of God.

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On Saturday the family gathered to celebrate the 25th birthday of my eldest nephew, Sean Patrick Cable. Sean, or Sean—o as I call him affectionately, is the first–born of my sister Donna and her husband Wayne.

Pizza (or Apizz' as we say in New Haven dialect) was Sean's choice for the evening. Sean's sister, Lauren Elizabeth, made a delicious cake for the occasion and the birthday boy himself baked cookies for his guests.

Sean attended my ordination twenty years ago, entertaining himself very well during the long celebration and presenting himself afterwards for a first priestly blessing.

Sean is a graduate of Quinnipiac University. He teaches little ones in a pre–school in Woodbridge, Connecticut. The munchkins love him. Happy Birthday, Sean—o! May the next quarter of a century be rich in blessings for you.

So Sorry

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Our stblogs server was knocked out by a power failure last Friday evening. Take heart, we are back and running again! Father Jeff, I especially regret that I was unable to blog for the feast of your beloved founder, Saint Gaspar de Bufalo, on Saturday.

Much has happened in three days. On Saturday, my three year old nephew, Michael Colin Kirby, rode a two wheel bicycle for the first time. Yes, two wheels without training wheels! From the sidelines, little sister Mary (18 months) cried, "Me too! Me too!"

On Sunday, Benedictine Oblates Michael and Kerry Guidone received the blessing after childbirth — the Churching of a Woman traditionally given forty days after giving birth — in thanksgiving for their beautiful new son, Michael Mario. More on that later.

Today, the great–grand–niece of Blessed Columba Marmion came to Mass at the monastery and presented me with treasures from Dom Marmion's beatification: the Mass booklet, a green silk scarf with his image on it, a medallion, and several of his books. I have been devoted to Blessed Columba Marmion for many years and consider Mary Marmion's visit a sign of his continued intercession for me.

Blessed Encounters

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I had two encounters today that made me very happy. The first took place after Mass. I was in the sacristy removing my vestments when a smiling lady entered and, with a delicious Irish brogue, introduced herself as Mary Marmion. Yes, Marmion — as in Blessed Columba Marmion, the Irish Benedictine Abbot whose writings have so influenced me for the past forty years . Mary Marmion Corden, a native of County Louth, Ireland, now living in Connecticut, is the great–great–grandniece of Blessed Abbot Marmion. Irish Sister Mary Marcella, O.S.B. joined us for a chat. I had the privilege of blessing Mrs. Corden, invoking the intercession of Blessed Columba Marmion, of course.


The second encounter took place in my favourite neighbourhood bakery, Bread and Chocolate on Whitney Avenue in Hamden, Connecticut. Bread and Chocolate is owned and operated by Jaime and Alejandra Zapata. I was standing at the counter talking with Jaime when a woman sitting in the restaurant heard me mention Rome. She identified herself as Jewish and said that she had visited Rome, seen Saint Peter's, the Vatican Museums, etc. Susan Berman then introduced me to her mother, an absolutely radiant older lady who immediately said to me, "I am a Holocaust Survivor."

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She related something of her story. Until the Nazis forbade Jewish children to attend non–Jewish schools, her parents sent her to a Catholic Convent School. Later, she was obliged to attend an all–Jewish school at some distance from her home. She remembers seeing a great synagogue destroyed. After the Krystallnacht in 1938, she and her sister were sent to England as part of the famous Kindertransport. Her parents and youngest sister perished near the Polish border. I was astonished at the vivacity and wisdom of this lady: she said that world still had not learned its lesson, even after the Shoah, and spoke to me of the situation in Darfur. "The Lord bless her and keep her: the Lord make His Face to shine upon her, and be gracious to her: The Lord lift up his countenance upon her, and give her peace" (Num 6:24–26).

Buona festa, Don Luca!

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Padre Luca Maria Zecchetti, O.Cist. celebrates his onomastico today. Don Luca, a native of Milano, is the prior of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. He possesses seemingly boundless energy and needs it as the director of the famous children's singing group, Le Matite Colorate. He is gifted with a magnificent voice and uses it well for the glory of God and the joy of all who hear him. Don Luca also looks after the abbey's postulants and novices. Recently he undertook a journey to our new foundation, the Monastery of Santa Cruz in Guadalajara, Mexico. Join with me today in praying for him and in wishing him a happy feastday.

Does Don Luca look unhappy to you? If you are interested in an expression of Cistercian–Benedictine life that unites the traditional monastic observances with the service of the Church, write to me.

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Monday, October 9th, is my Mom and Dad's 58th Wedding Anniversary. They were married on Columbus Day 1948.

I didn't have a photo of them together to upload, so I had to use one of Mom with granddaughter Mary Elizabeth, and one of Dad with grandson Michael Colin. I am immensely proud of my parents and of the example of enduring, faithful love that they given over the years to all who know them.

Daniel Bernard Kirby and Emma Rose Barbato were both born in New Haven, Connecticut. Lucille Silvestro Zorena introduced them to each other more than sixty years ago at Saint Donato's Parish Festa. (They had probably gone for the fried dough and ended up with a lifetime of love.) Dan and Emma's marriage was the wedding of two cultures: Irish and Italian. A rich but sometimes challenging combination! They have five children: Mark Daniel, Daniel Joseph, Donna Marie, Michael Dennis (+ 1998), and Terence Gerard. They also have ten grandchildren . . . and one on the way.

Dad retired from the New Haven Fire Department as a Battalion Chief twenty years ago. Mom also retired from City of New Haven several years ago. They now live in Hamden, Connecticut with Dulcie, the sweetest pit bull in the world. They are members of Saint Mary's Parish in New Haven.

Feel free to leave anniversary greetings for them in Comments. Mom is a faithful reader of Vultus Christi and is always interested in seeing whatever comments are left by other readers.

The Joy of Letting Go

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My niece Mary Elizabeth Kirby (18 months) knows the joy of letting go. This photo reminded me of a line from the lovely Prayer for the Heart of a Child of Father Léonce de Grandmaison.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
preserve in me the heart of a child,
pure and transparent as a spring.

I baptized both Mary and her brother Michael Colin (3 years old) in Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Hampton, New Hampshire. This is not Mary's first appearance on Vultus Christi. You can be sure that it will not be her last.

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On this feast of the Holy Guardian Angels my brother Terence and his wife Sandy celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary. Terence and Sandy have two amazing children: Michael Colin (3 years old) and Mary Elizabeth (18 months old). They own and operate My Dogs Mind, a comprehensive dog training service in Hampton, New Hampshire.

Let us pray.

Visit, we beseech thee, O Lord,
the home of Terence and Sandy,
and drive far from it all snares of the enemy:
let thy holy Angels dwell therein,
to preserve them in peace;
and let thy blessing be always upon them.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

More Thoughts on Lectio Divina

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I think that the best book I ever read on lectio divina is one by Denys Gorce. I read it back in 1972 and I think it was entitled, La lectio divina dans le milieu de saint Jérôme. It left its mark on me. Then there was William of St–Thierry's classic, The Golden Epistle or The Letter to the Brothers of Mont–Dieu, and Guigo the Carthusian's Scala Claustralium, The Ladder of Monks. Sometime later in the 70s, I read the French translation of Enzo Bianchi's book on the same subject, Prier la Parole. It is now available in English as Praying the Word: An Introduction to Lectio Divina.

I find it a little disquieting that lectio divina has become a trendy phrase in some circles. There are a lot of pop–spirituality publications in Catholic bookstores that claim to present an introduction to lectio divina. Most of them, especially those written from outside the monastic tradition, fall short of doing that. Folks use the expression lectio divina without knowing what it really means. I have heard it used to describe reflections on the Word of God in a group, meditative reading of any pious text, and a systematic cover–to–cover reading of the Bible. It is none of these things. So, what is lectio divina?

The primary form of lectio divina is corporate and ecclesial; it is the Church herself hearing the Word, repeating the Word, praying the Word, and abiding in the Word, all within the context of the Sacred Liturgy (Divine Office and Mass). The corporate lectio divina of the Church, be it within the Divine Office or the Mass, has a Eucharistic finality. The movement is always from the ambo to the altar.

The secondary form of lectio divina is solitary and personal; it derives from the first and even imitates its pattern. It prepares one for the Sacred Liturgy and prolongs it.

The solitary and personal form of lectio divina is:

1. A kind of liturgy of the Word celebrated in solitude.
2. Patterned after the Church's corporate lectio divina: the Night Office (Vigils) with its rhythm of reading, responsory, and prayer, and after the Liturgy of the Word of the Mass.
3. Honours the discipline of obedience to the liturgical lectionary.
4. Best done in the same place and at the same time each day.

Congratulations!

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My sister, Donna M. Kirby Cable learned today, on the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, that she passed the Connecticut State Bar Examination. We are all very proud of Donna. Donna is married to Wayne Cable; they have two children: Sean and Lauren. The Cables live in Woodbridge, Connecticut.

A Little Boy and the Statue He Loved

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Michael Dennis Kirby
March 20, 1959 — November 25, 1998

When I was growing up, there was a statue of Saint Vincent de Paul in our home. More exactly, it was in the bedroom of my younger brother Michael, and it was his statue.

Little Michael had shortened Saint Vincent de Paul's rather long name to “Saint-Vincenty.” He met “Saint Vincenty” when he was taken to the Hospital of Saint Raphael in New Haven, Connecticut for a surgical procedure on his arm. He couldn’t have been more than five years old at the time. Saint Raphael’s was staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth (Convent Station, NJ), spiritual daughters of Saint Vincent.

A lifesize statue of Saint Vincent de Paul figured prominently in the hospital. The statue depicted him with three poor children; one child was in his arms and the two others were huddled in the folds of his cloak. For some reason, little Michael was very taken with this saint who loved children, and wanted to have a statue of his own.

Mom and Dad found exactly the right statue at the Saint Thomas More Book Shop on Chapel Street in New Haven, and bought it for him. For many years “Saint Vincenty” watched over Michael from atop a chest of drawers, becoming chipped and battered, but no less loved.

How did a seventeenth century French priest become a comforting presence in the life of a little boy in New Haven, Connecticut? There were, of course, the obvious mediations: the Hospital of Saint Raphael and the impressive statue. But none of this would have happened had Saint Vincent de Paul not opened his heart to the Word of God, to the Charity of Jesus Christ, and to the voices of the little and the poor.

I am thinking today of the important work that my friend Terry Nelson at Leaflet Missal and others like him do. They make images of the saints available to little children, influencing their lives, and stimulating their imaginations with "sacred signs." Every little boy should have his favourite saint . . . and an image of him (or her) close at hand.

Buona festa, Fra Damiano!

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Brother Damiano Maria, O.Cist. of the Abbey of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome celebrates his patronal feast today. Brother Damiano, "truly seeking God" as Saint Benedict says in the Holy Rule, brought his marvelous smile from Zambia to Rome. Together with English Brother Giuseppe–Benedetto, he made simple monastic profession on June 24, 2005. Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is an international monastic community living at the heart of the Church. Its members hail from Italy, Roumania, Mexico, the United States, England, Zambia, and Sweden. A daughter house opened this past August in Guadalajara, Mexico. The monks of Santa Croce combine the liturgical service of the Divine Majesty, lectio divina, and Eucharistic adoration with the pastoral care of pilgrims to the Sacred Relics of the Cross and Passion in the Basilica and other forms of service to the Church. If you are interested in this expression of monastic life or know someone who may be, contact me.

Priceless

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Joy of wild wind and wetness
Fresh in my face and playing in my hair
And seagulls in the waves
To feed with bits of bread.

Michael Colin Kirby turned three years old on June 2nd and began pre–school two weeks ago. Besides running on the beach, learning about dinosaurs, fishing with his Dad Terence, and spending time with Mom Sandy and little sister Mary, he kisses icons, lights candles, and attends the Divine Liturgy on Sunday with his wonderful godmother Elisa Maistrellis–Ryng.

Saluti da Benevento!

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There is something of a personal connection to San Gennaro. He was bishop of Benevento in Campania during Diocletian's persecutions in the year 305. One of my maternal great–grandfathers, Giuseppe Martino came to the United States from Gioia–Sanitica in the Province of Benevento; his wife, my great–grandmother Rosina Biondi was from Faicchio in the same province.

Giuseppe and Rosina Martino raised their family — my grandmother Adelina was the eldest — in a little white house on Daisy Street in the Highwood section of Hamden. They made their own wine, their own pasta, and their own sausage. They grew their own vegetables. To me, the cellar of that house was a magical place fragrant with dried basilico and other herbs. The wine was kept there too.

The roots of our family's Italian Catholic heritage are soaked in the blood of the martyrs. It grieves me that some of the descendents of Giuseppe and Rosina have forsaken the faith of generations. The joyful transmission of the faith is a sacred responsibility.

Fire for a World Grown Cold

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Never underestimate the effect of an image on the memory and imagination of a child. The image of the stigmata of Saint Francis of Assisi profoundly marked my childhood. Shining with jewel-like colors, a window depicting Saint Francis receiving the stigmata illuminated the south transept of my parish church. Later on, in my missal, I discovered the Collect for the Commemoration of the Holy Stigmata (formerly celebrated on September 17th). It remains, to this day, a prayer that speaks to my heart. My long association with the Poor Clares of Bethlehem Monastery in Barhamsville, Virginia, inspired me to share it with you:

Lord Jesus Christ,
who didst reproduce,
in the flesh of the most blessed Francis,
the sacred marks of thy own sufferings,
so that in a world grown cold
our hearts might be filled with burning love of thee,
graciously enable us by his merits and prayers
to bear the cross without faltering
and to bring forth worthy fruits of penitence:
Thou who art God,
living and reigning with God the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
for ever and ever.

A Special Day for Little Mary

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Call me a foolish old uncle, but I just can't help it! This is our little Mary. Before Mary's birth on March 17, 2005, my brother Terence prayed "Hail Mary" after "Hail Mary." (And Terence is not the poster boy for piety!) It was then that Terence and Sandy decided to name their little girl Mary. When Terence was a little baby, I — being not only his older brother but his godfather as well — took him to church one day and placed him on the altar of the Blessed Mother, consecrating him to her. Our Lady has looked after Terence! Little Mary too was entrusted to the Holy Mother of God on the day of her baptism in Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Hampton, New Hampshire.

Speaking of Maria Bambina . . .

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This is my very own Maria Bambina, my one–year old niece Mary Elizabeth Kirby. Little Mary is climbing into the bird seed barrel while her brother, three–year old Michael Colin Kirby is busy replenishing the bird feeder. Beautiful children!

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

Donations for Silverstream Priory

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