Saints: May 2008 Archives

Evviva Santa Rita!

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In those places where Corpus Christi will be celebrated on Sunday, May 25th, tomorrow, Thursday, May 22nd, may be kept as the feast of Saint Rita of Cascia.

Visiting Saint Rita

When I was a lad growing up in Fair Haven, I would occasionally venture beyond the boundaries of my immediate neighborhood and visit a parish church on the other side of the great divide that was Grand Avenue. Saint Rose Church had a unique attraction: a life-size and very realistic statue of Saint Rita of Cascia kneeling in front of a life-size and equally realistic crucifix. To my ten-year-old eyes, Saint Rita’s glass eyes looked positively alive. More than once I thought, just for a moment, that they were moist with real tears. Saint Rita’s face was turned upward to meet the gaze of the Crucified, and embedded right in the middle of her forehead was a thorn from His Crown of Thorns.

Children Need Images

First lesson: for children, images are more important than words. Children of all ages need to be surrounded with images, with holy images, with representations of the saints. If you have outgrown your need for images, you may have outgrown your capacity for wonder and your capacity for seeing the invisible. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:4).

A Thorn in the Flesh

Second lesson: intimate participation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ — the very grace we ask for in today’s Collect — begins when our gaze meets the gaze of the Crucified Lord. When the encounter is real, the equivalent of a thorn from Jesus’ Crown of Thorns will be embedded, not in our foreheads, but in that secret place of weakness within us that God has destined to receive it. Saint Paul says: “A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor 12:7-9).

Go to the Saints

Third lesson: the saints are present to us and wait for us to approach them. Sometimes they approach us first, offering friendship, insight, and assistance. Visiting the statue of Saint Rita kneeling before her crucifix in Saint Rose Church was like visiting a favorite aunt. Go to the saints, certain of their interest in whatever interests you. You can count on their sympathy, on their readiness to listen, and on their help.

Sacred Signs

There is a cold, reasonable, and altogether too “grown-up” form of religion that fails to address the needs of the heart. Chilly and cerebral, it is foreign to the spirit of the Gospel because it is so far removed from things that children need and understand. In many places, the past forty years saw the imposition of a new iconoclasm, an elitist religion without warmth, a religion for the brain with precious little for the heart, a religion stripped of images and devoid of the sacred signs that penetrate deeply those places in the human person where mere discourse cannot go.

The Grace of Folklore

This is the religion of barren churches, white-washed and devoid of transcendence. This is the religion of those who sniff uncomfortably at what they dismiss as folklore, forgetting that folklore is, more often than not, the expression of an ancient wisdom, piety, and fear of the Lord. This is the sterile religion of those who, in the name of “discretion and good taste” displaced tabernacles, and removed crucifixes and images of the saints. You can find them now for sale on E-bay and in trendy antique shops.

A Saint on Pilgrimage

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Notre-Dame-du-Laus

Yesterday I read an account of Saint Peter Julian Eymard's pilgrimage to the shrine of Notre Dame du Laus (pronounced Loh) in 1865. The shrine, which now attracts some 120,000 pilgrims each year, was the scene of a Solemn Mass last May 4th during which His Excellency, Monseigneur Jean-Michel di Falco Léandri, bishop of the diocese of Gap, officially recognized the supernatural character of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Benoîte Rencurel (1647–1718), a Dominican tertiary.

Saint Peter Julian Eymard Invokes Benoîte Rencurel

Saint Peter Julian went to Notre-Dame-du-Laus to obtain the healing of his sister, who was gravely ill. At Laus, the saint asked for blessed oil. Returning to his sister, who was suffering from incessant vomiting and perspiration, he knelt down at the foot of her bed, and said, "My sister, we are going to begin a novena." Then he anointed her stomach with the oil. Making the Sign of the Cross, Saint Peter Julian invoked Benoîte Rencurel, saying, "Soeur Benoîte of Laus, intercede with the Blessed Virgin for me. That same evening his sister's vomiting and perspiration ceased completely. From that moment she improved day by day until her health was completely restored. The following year Saint Peter Julian Eymard returned to Notre Dame du-Laus on a pilgrimage of thanksgiving.

Caro Cardo Salutis

The physical elements of this brief account are striking: a pilgrimage to the site of an apparition of the Blessed Virgin, the use of blessed oil, recourse to a novena, the Sign of the Cross, the pious anointing, the invocation of Benoîte Rencurel, and the pilgrimage of thanksgiving. It is all splendidly Catholic. Tertullian said it long ago: "The flesh is the hinge of salvation."

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I find my consolation in the one and only companion who will never leave me, that is, our Divine Saviour in the Holy Eucharist. . . .

It is at the foot of the altar that we find the strength necessary in this isolation of ours. Without the Blessed Sacrament a position like mine would be unbearable. But, having Our Lord at my side, I continue always to be happy and content. . . . Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the most tender of friends with souls who seek to please Him. His goodness knows how to proportion itself to the smallest of His creatures as to the greatest of them. Be not afraid then in your solitary conversations, to tell Him of your miseries, your fears, your worries, of those who are dear to you, of your projects, and of your hopes. Do so with confidence and with an open heart.

Blessed Damien de Veuster, SS.CC.

A Priest–Icon of the Suffering Christ

The saints, all of them, are living illustrations of the power of the Holy Spirit. The saints are the masterpieces of the Divine Iconographer who, in every age, writes in souls the whole mystery of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the Finger of God’s Right Hand tracing on hearts of flesh the likeness of the Heart of Jesus. In Blessed Damian of Molokai the Church sets before us a priest fashioned by the Holy Spirit in a special way into the image of the suffering Christ, “despised and rejected by man, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3).

Memorial of Blessed Damien of Molokai, Priest

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I posted this reflection for the feast of Blessed Damien last May 10th, but in reviewing it, I see that its message has become, if anything, even more relevant to my own life. New readers of Vultus Christi may find it helpful.

When Providence Writes One's Life

Blessed Damien is, I think, a very suitable patron for those who lives have not turned out as they planned. By the time a child has reached adolescence, he has already dreamed dreams and nourished hopes for his life. The vivid reveries of little boys and girls take shape in a kind of autobiography written in the imagination and lived ahead of time in a world of fantasy. In that world no desire is broken, no hope dashed, no dream unfulfilled, but rarely do the life stories we write for ourselves correspond to those written for us by Providence. Events and circumstances — illness, loss, changes in fortune, failure — shatter dreams, close some doors and open others. The chance encounter with one person or the discovery of a particular book can change the direction of a life, leading to unexpected twists and turns.

The Designs of the Heart of Jesus

God intervenes in a thousand little ways, and sometimes dramatically, to realize in every generation “the designs and thoughts of His Heart” (cf. Ps 32:11). “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:8-9).

Yes to the Plan of God

The life story of each of us written in the Heart of God surpasses by far anything we could have imagined or written for ourselves. When one realizes that one’s life is not unfolding as one thought it would, two responses are possible. One can refuse the path opened by God, “kicking against the goads” (Ac 26:14), or one can say “Yes” to it.

Blessed Damien said “Yes” to God’s astonishing plan for him, a plan that led him from Belgium to Hawaii and, after ten years, to the dreaded leper colony of Molokai. The suffering Christ called Damien to a costly, sacrificial love, and to configuration with himself. He became “as one from whom men hide their faces” (Is 53:3), identified fully with the suffering Christ and with the lepers he served.

A Benedictine Without A Monastery

As a religious of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Father Damien’s life was based on the Rule of Saint Benedict. Without living in a monastery and without the benefits and protection of the cloister, Father Damien found himself living the Rule of Saint Benedict on Molokai in ways prepared for him by the Providence of God. “To relieve the poor. To clothe the naked. To visit the sick. To bury the dead. To give help in trouble. To console the sorrowful. To avoid worldly behaviour. To set nothing before the love of Christ” (RB 4:14-21). “The care of the sick,” says Saint Benedict in another place, “is to be given priority over everything else, so that they are indeed served as Christ would be served, since he himself said, ‘I was sick and you visited me’” (RB 36:1-2).

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Eucharistic Adoration

Father Damien was magnetized by the mystery of the Most Blessed Sacrament. He drew the strength to love and to serve the suffering members of his Mystical Body from adoration of the Eucharistic Body of Christ. To his brother he wrote, "Without the constant presence of our Divine Master, I would never be able to cast my lot with that of the lepers." Father Damien built chapels all over Molokai; he established perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament there. In 1888 he wrote to his provincial, “ This is the fifteenth year we observe night adoration . . . all of us lepers.”

Never To Despair of God's Mercy

In the end, all the “thoughts and designs” of the Heart of Christ were realized in the life and death of Blessed Father Damien. His feast invites us to say “Yes” to our lives, not as we would have them be, but as it has pleased to God to write them and as He is writing them even now. Say “Yes” to the triumph of love in your heart and in your life. Say “Yes,” and following Blessed Damien in Saint Benedict’s “school of the Lord’s service” (RB Pro: 45), “never despair of God’s mercy” (RB 4:74).

Veneremur Christi Vultum

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Vultus Christi reader Bailey Walker was kind enough to point out that Dominicans are keeping the feast of Saint Vincent Ferrer today. The Proper Invitatory from the Dominican Office is an invitation to adore the Face of Christ:

Venerémur Christí vultum, * Quem Vincéntius prædicávit Iúdicem esse ventúrum. Allelúia.

Let us worship the Face of Christ * Whom Vincent preached as the Judge to come. Alleluia.

The Fourth Responsory at Matins also speaks to my heart. It complements the description of Saint Vincent's ministry in the lessons drawn from the Bull of his canonization, and presents a practical rule of life for preachers and for all priests. Nearly every line of the liturgical text can be traced back to a passage in the Psalms, the Wisdom Books, or the Gospels. The Responsory is a perfect example of meditatio, that is, the repetition of the Word in other words.

At night, keeping vigil, he studies attentively,
applying himself to the sacred texts;
in the morning, like a beautiful star,
he shines with the marvelous light of doctrine; *
in the evening he banishes all kinds of illness by the healing remedy.
V. No period of time goes by in which he is not occupied in some good work.
In the evening he banishes all kinds of illness by the healing remedy.

For me, at least, this Responsory is a rather effective examination of conscience. Do I keep vigil? Is sacred study my delight? Do I apply myself to the sacred texts? Does the clear light of doctrine illumine my mornings and shine in my preaching? Do I offer myself to Our Lord at the close of day for the healing of all kinds of illnesses? Is there any period of time in which I am not occupied with some good work?

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.

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