Saints: February 2009 Archives

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A Tale of Two Cardinals

Before writing about Saint Peter Damian whose feast we are keeping today, I want to acknowledge the birthday of the Venerable John Henry Newman, born in London on February 21st in 1801. I picture the two cardinals in Paradise; the one quintessentially British, given to careful reflection and sober understatement; the other, Italian, blazing like lightning and hurling thunderbolts in his zeal for reform.

When Grace Perfects Nature

Although both men received the cardinal's red hat, their tastes and temperaments could not have been more different. In art, the fierce and passionate Peter Damian -- a man rather given to extremes -- is often depicted brandishing a discipline or knotted scourge. I see the gentle Newman, on the other hand, seated in his study with a comfortable cup of tea near at hand. It's all splendidly Catholic.

Love of Christ and of the Church

Today's Collect expresses the two guiding principles of Saint Peter Damian's life:

Grant us, we beseech Thee, almighty God,
to follow the counsel and example of the blessed bishop Peter,
that by preferring nothing whatever to Christ
and always set upon the service of Thy Church,
we may come, at length, to the joys of eternal light.

The Monk

The first principle comes directly from the fourth chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict: "To set nothing before the love of Christ" (RB 4:21). Before being or doing anything else, Peter Damian was a monk, a son of Holy Father Benedict. He belonged to the white-habited Camaldolese who, down through history, have given so many holy monks and solitaries to the Church.

The Bishop

The second principle of Peter Damian's life -- being ready always to serve the Church -- is inseparable from the first. "To set nothing before the love of Christ" translated, for Peter Damian, into a passionate devotion to the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Church.

The Reformer

The Church that Peter Damian loved and served was beset with troubles and scandals of all sorts: sacred offices being bought and sold, a clergy addicted to gambling, wine, concubinage, and other vices best left unmentioned, and the widespread collapse of monastic discipline. He wrote a book on the sexual immorality of the clergy that is shocking -- even by today's troubling standards.

The Affairs of the Church Are the Affairs of Christ

For all of that, Saint Peter Damian also had time to write a little book for cave-dwelling hermits who wondered if, in their celebration of the Divine Office, they should say or omit the Dominus vobiscum. For Peter Damian, the affairs of the Church were the affairs of Christ. "The love of Christ put before all else" made him a man of the Church, an apostle and a prophet.

Reform Begins in Silence

In every age of the Church there are conditions that, while they demand reform, also stir up a lot of talking. True reform comes not from much talking, but from much silence. Holy Father Benedict says that "if you talk a lot you will not escape falling into sin" (RB 6:4).

A tongue obedient to the Holy Spirit can do immense good; a tongue that wags this way and that is, as Saint James says, "a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (Jas 3:8). Authentic prophecy begins in silence; true reform begins with holding one's own tongue.

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The Work of Redeeming Love

There comes a moment when even the conversation of the saints and prophets must return to the silence whence it springs. In that silence, redeeming Love carries out the work of making whole all that is fragmented, of healing the weak and wounded members of Christ's Mystical Body.

Ye, Who Would Weed the Vineyard's Soil

Cardinal Newman has a little poem that addresses the tension between zeal and meekness, speaking and silence. I wonder if in paradise he has recited it for Saint Peter Damian.

CHRIST bade His followers take the sword;
    And yet He chid the deed,
When Peter seized upon His word,
    And made a foe to bleed.

The gospel Creed, a sword of strife,
    Meek hands alone may rear;
And ever Zeal begins its life
    In silent thought and fear.

Ye, who would weed the Vineyard's soil,
    Treasure the lesson given;
Lest in the judgment-books ye toil
    For Satan, not for heaven.

Off Sardinia.
June 20, 1833

Josefa Menendez: Confidence and Hope

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At that time Jesus answered and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones. Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in thy sight. (John 11:25-26)

Josefa Menendez (1890-1923), a Coadjutrix Sister of the Society of the Sacred Heart, is surely numbered among those little ones to whom it pleased the Father to reveal things hidden from the wise and prudent.

In many ways this "mystic in an apron" resembles Saint Faustina Kowalska. Josefa was a simple soul, docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and capable of listening to the inner voice of her Bridegroom. Our Lord spoke to Sister Josefa of his merciful love for souls and, very often, of priests and of the desires of His Sacred Heart for their holiness.

When Josefa's writings were edited in 1938, none other than Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, wrote to the Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart: "May [the publication of these pages] efficaciously contribute to develop in many souls a confidence ever more complete and loving in the infinite mercy of this Divine Heart towards poor sinners such as we all are."

For this Thursday of Adoration and Reparation for Priests, allow me to share a page or two from the writings of Josefa Menendez, together with some comments of my own:

To Them I Confide My Secrets
[Priests] live nearest me; they share in my choicest graces, and to them I confide my secrets, My desires . . . and my sufferings also. I have committed to them the care of My little children, their brothers, and through their ministry they must, directly or indirectly, guide them and transmit my teaching to them.

One of the dangers of the ecclesiastical state is the gradual concession to routine that makes a priest act like a functionary, even in carrying out the most sacred mysteries. Once a priest stops resting his head on the Heart of Jesus, he risks losing all contact with the stream of living water that he is called to transmit to souls.

When One Avoids Converse With Jesus
If these chosen souls know Me truly; they will make me known to others; if they love Me, they will make others love Me. But how can they teach their brethren if they hardly know Me themselves? I ask you: Can there be much love in the heart for One who is barely known? Or what intimate converse can be exchanged with One who is avoided . . . or in whom one has little confidence? . . .

Two things assure the fruitfulness of one's priesthood: frequent conversation with Jesus, particularly by means of daily Eucharistic adoration, and confidence in the abiding gift of His Divine Friendship.

Nothing New
This is precisely what I wish to recall to the minds of My chosen ones. Nothing new, doubtless, but they have need to reanimate their faith, their love, and their trust.

One of the indications that a charismatic locution may be authentic and trustworthy is that it announces nothing new. It is the transmission of the Eternal Word in other words. "Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today; and the same for ever. Be not led away with various and strange doctrines." (Hebrews 13:8-9)

Let Love Triumph Over Fear
I look for greater love and confidence in the way they treat Me. Let them seek Me within their own hearts, for they know that a soul in the state of grace is the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit. And there, let them consider Me as I truly am, their God, but a God of love. Let love triumph over fear, and above all let them never forget that I love them.

Nothing so paralyzes the élan of soul Godward as does fear. It is touching that Josefa has Our Lord say to His priests, "Above all let them never forget that I love them."

Miseries, Failings, and Destitution
Many are convinced that was because of this love that they were chosen, but when they are cast down at the sight of their miseries, of their faults even, then they grow sad at the thought that I love them less than before. How little such souls really know Me. They have not understood My Heart. For it is their very destitution and failings that incline My goodness towards them. And, when acknowledging their helplessness and weakness, they humble themselves and have recourse to Me trustfully, then indeed they give Me more glory than before their fault.

Was it not so with Saint Peter after his triple denial of the Lord? He humbled himself, and had recourse to Jesus trustfully, thereby giving Him more glory than before his sin. "And he said to Him: Lord, Thou knowest all things: Thou knowest that I love thee." (John 21:17)

Confidence in Prayer
It is the same when they pray, either for themselves or for others; if they waver and doubt, they do not glorify my Heart, but they do glorify It, if they are sure that I shall give them what they ask, knowing that I refuse them nothing that is good for their souls.

Priests are called to intercessory prayer in union with the Eternal High Priest who, standing in the heavenly sanctuary before His Father, "always living to make intercession for us." (Hebrews 7:25)

The Man Who Knew the Heart of Jesus
When the Centurion came to beg Me to cure his servant, he said very humbly: "I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof" . . . and faith and trust prevailing, he added: "Say but the word, and my servant shall be healed." This man knew My Heart. He knew that I could not resist the prayer of one who trusted me absolutely. He gave me much glory, for to humility he joined confidence. Yes, this man knew my Heart, yet I made no manifestations to him as I have to My chosen ones.

It pleased our Lord to recall to Josefa episodes familiar to her from her meditation of the Gospels and from the liturgy. This too is an argument in favour of the authenticity of her special graces: they draw upon and send her back to the Word of God and to the liturgy of the Church.

Hope Obtains Innumerable Graces
Hope obtains innumerable graces for self and for others. I want this to be thoroughly understood, so that My Heart's goodness may be revealed to those poor souls who as yet do not know Me.

The priest must be, above all, a man of hope. He must hope for those who dare not hope, and trust in the goodness of the Heart of Jesus for those who have yet to discover it.

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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