Saints: June 2008 Archives

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Oh, the joy of First Vespers of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist: a glorious set of antiphons and (in the monastic Office) an inhabitual sequence of psalms — 112, 145, 146, and 147. What do these four Vespers psalms have in common? The first and third begin with Laudate; the second and fourth with Lauda! In the liturgy there are no insignificant details; the details set the tone.

In my Rosary after Vespers, I stayed with the First Chapter of Saint Luke for my five mysteries; 1. The Annunciation to Zachary (Luke 1:5-22); 2. The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38); 3. The Visitation (Luke 1:39-55); 4. The Birth and Circumcision of John the Baptist (Luke 1:56-79); 5. John in the Wilderness (Luke 1:80).

John the Baptist and the Immaculate Heart of Mary

John the Baptist, while yet an infant hidden in Saint Elizabeth’s womb, was the first to experience the sweet mediation of the Virgin Mother’s Immaculate Heart. It was the God-bearing Virgin’s Heart, full of solicitude for her cousin Elizabeth, that moved her to “arise and go with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah” (cf. Lk 1:39). There the Mother of God bearing her Son beneath her Immaculate Heart, “entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk 1:40).

The Light of the Real Presence Shining in Her Eyes

This was, in a sense, the first mission of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: to carry the hidden Christ to the “little child” (Lk 1:76) destined to be the Friend of the Bridegroom (Jn 3:29), the Prophet of the Most High (Lk 1:76). With the flame of love burning in her Immaculate Heart and the light of the real presence shining in her eyes, Mary “became in some way a “tabernacle” — the first “tabernacle” in history” (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, art. 55). With the arrival of the Virgin–Tabernacle enclosing within her the “Dayspring from on high” (Lk 1:78), John the Baptist was sanctified, washed clean of original sin, and quickened by the Holy Spirit.

Jubilation

The birth of John the Baptist was an occasion of jubilation. Having already been touched by the Heart of Mary, the Cause of our Joy, the Baptist comes into the world as the Herald of Joy. His prophetic ministry, even as he advances toward a cruel death, is illumined by a supernatural joy. “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:29–30).

In plateas et vicos civitatis

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When I came to the Magnificat Antiphon at Vespers this evening, I made the delightful discovery of the text (with a splendid First Mode melody) now given for the feast of Saint Anthony in the 2007 Antiphonale Monasticum:

Exi cito in plateas et vicos civitatis,
et pauperes ac debiles, caecos et claudos compelle intrare,
ut impleatur domus mea, alleluia.

Quick, go out into the broadways and lanes of the city:
bring in the poor, the cripples, the blind and the lame,
that so my house may be filled.
(Luke 14: 21, 23)

The old Matins legend for Saint Anthony had this:

Anthony, the Ark of the Covenant

It is said that he knew all the Bible by heart; and the Pope, after hearing him preach, declared that in Anthony all the Scriptures were enshrined, as they were of old in the Ark of the Covenant.

Marketplace Preaching

So truly did he love holiness and truth that he was a relentless preacher against both vice and heresy, wherefrom he was nicknamed Everlasting-Hammer-of-the-Hereticks. All work ceased when he came to a town; and because the churches could not hold the crowds which flocked to him, he preached in the marketplaces; whereafter hereticks as well as Catholics thronged to him to be shriven.

Death in a Treehouse

When he was sick unto death, he is said to have asked that a floor be put up in a tree, whereon he could lie, in the open air, and wait for death amidst the singing of the birds.

My Treehouse

I especially like the bit about the treehouse. When I was a lad, my father built me a treehouse in a Catalpa tree in the backyard. It was very special to me: my quiet place. I loved climbing into the treehouse, closing the door, and sitting there, among the branches, with my open Bible. I also have a very distinct memory of praying to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the treehouse!


Saint Alice the Leper

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Ablaze With the Love of Christ

Today's Saint Alice of Schaerbeek, a Cistercian-Benedictine nun, was one of a constellation of holy women who in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries set the Low Countries all ablaze with love for Christ and, in particular, for the mystery of the Eucharist. Dame Alice died on June 11th, 1250; the Cistercian Order began celebrating her feast in 1702.

Deus Crucifixus

Thomas Merton wrote that the life of Saint Alice should be placed in the hands of every monk; he presented her as the perfect illustration of Chapter Seven of the Rule of Saint Benedict, On the Degrees of Humility. Father Chrysogonus Waddell ranked her with Thérèse of the Child Jesus and Elizabeth of Trinity; he saw her as the icon of that particular stream of Cistercian spirituality that Dom James Fox, abbot of Gethsemane in the 1950s, expressed in his abbatial motto: Deus crucifixus, God crucified.

A Heart Crushed and Bruised

Living according to Rule of Saint Benedict, Saint Alice was configured to Jesus Crucified by her fidelity to the will of the Father in illness. She was a woman touched by suffering in every fiber of her being: all kinds of suffering. The saint’s most obvious suffering was the leprosy with which she was stricken after entering the Abbey of La Cambre, so called in honour of “the Chamber of the Virgin Mary.” Leprosy was, and to a certain extent remains, a disease that causes people to shudder. For Alice, leprosy was but the beginning. It brought in its wake other sufferings, sufferings of the heart, of the mind, and of the soul. It brought, more than anything else, a great loneliness. Her biographer says that the first night of her reclusion “her heart was so severely crushed and bruised, that her spirit fainted away, and her mind remained forcibly in shock.”

A Great Loneliness

Alice had entered her monastery to live with others, to share life, to love and to be loved in the communion of a Eucharistic body. Cistercian-Benedictine life meant, more than anything else, life together. Because of her illness, Alice was obliged to forsake life together, the very thing she thought would be her lifelong path to God. I often think of the loneliness of Alice, of her feelings of rejection, of isolation, of fear. Unlike Blessed Damien of Molokai who lived within a community of lepers, Alice had to live a great loneliness.

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"How beautiful God is, how beautiful!
But He is sad because of the sins of men.
I want to console Him, I want to suffer for love of Him."

Blessed Francisco Marto

The Boy Who Saw the Mother of God

Blessed Francisco Marto, the boy who saw the Mother of God, was born in Aljustrel, in the parish of Fatima, Portugal on June 11, 1908. Together with his sister, Blessed Jacinta, he first learned of the things of God in his own family. Visited three times by the Angel of Portugal and then by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself over a period of six months beginning on May 13, 1917, Francisco began to pray and offer sacrifices for the conversion of sinners, for the consolation of Jesus, and in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The Consoler of the Hidden Jesus

The Angel's words, "Console your God," seem to have burned themselves into Francisco's heart. Of the three children of Fatima, his grace is, I think, the most explicitly Eucharistic. Francisco sought, more than anything else, to be the consoler of "the Hidden Jesus" by adoring Him in the tabernacle of the parish church, and by praying the Rosary. It is this call to console "the Hidden Jesus" that, more and more, has endeared Francisco to me.

The Chalice and the Precious Blood

In the autumn of 1916, the Angel of Portugal appeared for the third time to the three children. He was holding a chalice with a Host suspended above it; from the Host drops of Blood fell into the chalice. The Angel, leaving the chalice and Host suspended in the air, fell prostrate in adoration. He then gave Holy Communion to the three children. To Lucia he gave the Host. To Francisco and Jacinta he presented the chalice saying, "Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Repair their crimes and console your God."

God Was Within Me

A few days later, while discussing this mysterious Communion of Reparation from the Chalice of the Precious Blood, Francisco said to Lucia, "I felt that God was within me, but I didn't know how!"

Son of Consolation

Francisco's personal call to console the "Hidden Jesus" strikes me as being mysteriously linked to his birthday on the feast of the Apostle Saint Barnabas whose name, in fact, means "son of consolation."

Many Rosaries

Our Lady's words, that Francisco would have to say "many rosaries" before going to heaven, have given rise to all sorts of interpretations, some of which cast a shadow over the little nine-year-old boy. Fatima specialist and author Leo Madigan gives the clearest and most sensible explanation. He writes that, "Francisco would go to heaven, but there was time for many Rosaries before that happened." Our Lady words contained no veiled threat, no ominous warning. She spoke to Francisco as a mother. While waiting to go to heaven, he had time to pray many Rosaries. For Francisco, that knowledge was a gift and a joy. Francisco died, after praying his "many Rosaries," on April 4, 1919.

My Recommendation

I can recommend no better English biography of the children of Fatima than the one written by Leo Madigan: The Children of Fatima, Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta Marto, Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.

Pope John Paul II beatified Francisco and Jacinta Marto on May 13, 2000.

Saints Marcellinus and Peter

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O God, Who by the glorious confession of the holy martyrs
Marcellinus and Peter,
dost surround and protect us,
grant that we may go forward under their protection
and be sustained by their prayer.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Saints of the Roman Canon

The names of today’s martyrs are familiar to us. Saints Marcellinus and Peter are commemorated in the Roman Canon. Just think! For over 1500 years not a single Mass was offered without the names of these two saints being whispered by the priest at the altar. Saint Marcellinus was a Roman priest; Saint Peter was an exorcist . . . yes, an exorcist. Both were put to death for the faith under Diocletian in the year 303. So dear were these two saints to the Church of Rome that Constantine built a basilica in their honour.

Special to Me

Last year on this day, which also happens to be my birthday, I was privileged to offer Holy Mass in the Basilica of Saints Marcellinus and Peter on the Via Merulana, not far from Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. D. Ryan-Maria, from my own community of Santa Croce, and Sister Barbara, A.S.C.J. shared the graces of the day with me.

Invoke the Saints

The repeated invocation of the saints — simply naming them day after day — forges a wonderful friendship with them. The psalmist is right to say: “There are saints who dwell in His land; wondrous delight He gives me in their companionship” (Ps 15:3). Mother Church teaches us to speak the names of the saints: each name evokes a face, a heart, the mystery of a life and death transfigured by the Holy Spirit and taken up into the death and glory of Christ.

Blessed Companionship

The companionship of the saints is one of the boons of our Catholic faith. (I so pity the Protestants with their empty calendars looking rather like a ghost town.) It is comforting to know that no matter what temptations, trials, and struggle we are experiencing, there is in the kingdom of heaven someone who has already been through them all, someone disposed to comfort and help us. Frequent the saints, cultivate their friendship. Take a lesson from the Church who never tires of naming them in her liturgy.

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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