Saints: May 2009 Archives


He Abjured Protestantism

May 30th is the feast of someone very dear to me -- for the obvious reason -- Saint Luke Kirby, priest and martyr. Born in 1549 in England under Edward VI -- an England severed from its Catholic roots -- Saint Luke was educated at Cambridge. He abjured Protestantism and was reconciled to the Catholic Church at Louvain. He studied for the priesthood at Douai College, then in Rome, and was ordained at Cambrai in 1577 for the English mission.

A Catholic Priest

As the world measures such things, Father Kirby's missionary apostolate was a failure because it lasted but a few hours. He set out for England in the same valiant band that included Saint Edmund Campion, Saint Ralph Sherwin, and others, and made his way eventually to Dunkirk. He was arrested immediately upon landing at Dover in June 1580. His crime: simply being a Catholic priest. The threat he posed to national security: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered according to the Roman Missal. The young Father Kirby risked his life, and lost it, to bring the Sacrifice of the Mass to England.


A Missionary-Monk

The Year of the Priest will begin on Friday, June 19th, Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It may well spark a greater interest in models of priestly holiness. Today, for example, is the dies natalis of Father Leopoldo Pastori (1939-1996), an Italian missionary monk in Guinea-Bissau.

The Will of the Father

Born in Lodi, Italy on February 9, 1939, Leopoldo entered the PIME Fathers (Pontifical Institute for the Foreign Missions) in September 1957. On May 1, 1961, he received the clerical habit. In his photo album of pictures taken that day, Leopoldo wrote:

Come Gesù giovinetto, mi porto all' altare del Padre e con Gesù offro la mia giovinezza per fare la volontà del Padre. Non c'è cosa più bella al mondo che fare sempre e ovunque la volontà di Dio: fonte di pace e di consolazione.

"Like the young lad Jesus, I bring myself to the altar of the Father and with Jesus I offer my youth to do the will of the Father. There is nothing more beautiful in the world than always and everywhere to do the will of God: the wellspring of peace and of consolation."

To Love the Madonna and Make Her Loved

Maria! Ecco un tesoro che vengo a scoprire continuamente. La mia vestizione è stata tanto bella e felice perché mi ero preparato con la Madonna. Maria ! Se ho un desiderio forte, è quello di amare tanto e di far amare la Madonna.

"Mary! Behold a treasure that I am coming to discover continually. My vestition was so beautiful and happy because I prepared myself with the Madonna. Mary! If I have one strong desire it is this one: to love the Madonna so much, and to make her loved."

Changing Times

Leopoldo was ordained a priest on June 29, 1969. Instead of being sent straightaway to the foreign missions, he was assigned to the PIME Minor Seminary built by Blessed John XXIII in Sotto Il Monte. The ideological climate was marked by May 1968. A popular slogan among confused young clerics was, "Obedience is no longer a virtue." Leopoldo remained constant, faithful to his life of prayer and to the ascetical disciplines he had chosen for himself.

To the Missions

In 1972, Father Leopoldo went for the first time to visit the PIME missions in Guinea-Bissau. In 1974, at thirty-five years of age, he was assigned to those same missions. To his friends he wrote, "I am leaving in the name of Jesus and for love of Him; only in this why can I feel that my life is right." He devotes himself to the poor, visits the sick, and forms a local orchestra for young people. His afternoons are given to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and to reading. Father Leopoldo wrote:

Il lavoro è importantissimo, l'impegno e le attività importantissimi, necessari, ma se non c'è un'unione insistente, profonda e frequente con Gesù, soprattutto nell'Eucarestia, tutto il resto non serve a niente, finisce solo in una delusione, in mani vuote, nel cercare continuamente di seminare ma seminare a vuoto.

"Work is most important, duties and activity are most important and necessary, but if there is not an insistant, profound, and frequent union with Jesus, above all in the Eucharist, all the rest is worth nothing, it ends only in a delusion, in empty hands, trying continually to sow the seed, but sowing in a void."


In July 1977 Father Leopoldo is found to be suffering from hepatitis. He is hospitalized in the international clinic in Dakar. He accepts the solitude of his hospitalization, prays constantly, and seeks union with Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. He goes to the Benedictines in Cap-des-Biches for a month of convalescence. In March 1978 he returns to Italy to serve as rector of the seminary at Sotto Il Monte. He remains there until 1996.

Prego sempre che il Signore, dopo questo forzato "esilio", mi dia la grazia di ritornare ancora in Guinea. Il vescovo mi aspetta.

"I am always praying that the Lord, after this forced exile, will give me the grace to return again to Guinea. The bishop is waiting for me."


On September 23, 1990, Father Leopoldo receives his missionary crucifix for the second time. He returns to Guinea on December 16, 1990. He will remain there for five and a half years: the most fruitful years of his life.

Sto acclimatandomi bene in questa nuova casa, con una bellissima chiesa. Mi trovo bene. Per ora faccio la vita del missionario-monaco, attorniato da un silenzio profondo, cadenzato dal richiamo di tanti uccelli, cicale, grilli, e dai canti notturni dei villaggi vicini. . . . A poco a poco mi inserisco nel lavoro, che è soprattutto di animazione spirituale, approfondimento dei contenuti missionari alla gente.

"I am acclimatizing myself well in this new house with a most beautiful church. I am well here. For the moment I am leading the life of a missionary-monk, surrounded by a profound silence, marked by the calls of so many birds, cicadas, crickets, and by the nocturnal songs of the villages . . . . Little by little I insert myself into the work: mostly spiritual direction, the deepening of the missionary message to the people."

Father Leopoldo has deep spiritual affinities with Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, and with Blessed Charles de Jésus (de Foucauld), whom he calls, quoting Pope Paul VI, "one of the greatest missionaries of the century."

Five Hours of Prayer Daily

Prayer holds the first place in Father Leopoldo's missionary life:

Sto cercando di vivere il mio ideale: essere missionario-contemplativo per annunziare Cristo in modo credibile ("Redemptoris Missio", n. 91). Do molto tempo alla preghiera davanti all'Eucarestia, almeno cinque ore al giorno, come facevano i primi missionari del Pime. E sto provando, dato che Gesù vuole crescere e io diminuire, che la preghiera sta diventando continua, di giorno e, quando mi sveglio, di notte!

"I am seeking to live my ideal: to be a missionary-contemplative so as to announce Christ in a credible manner ("Redemptoris Missio," n. 91). I give much time to prayer before the Eucharist, at least five hours a day, as did the first PIME missionaries. And I am experiencing, given that Jesus wants to increase and wants me to decrease, that prayer is becoming continual, by day, and when I wake up, by night."

Saint Pachomius, Abbot

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St Bakhoumious.jpg

The antiphon Ad Benedictus this morning, with its lilting seventh mode melody, is an apt portrayal of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the life of Saint Pachomius. The text is Isaiah 35:1.

Laetabitur deserta et exsultabit solitudo et florebit sicut lilium, alleluia.

Thrills the barren desert with rejoicing, the wilderness takes heart, and blossoms, fair as the lily, alleluia.

Julian Green wrote a book entitled "Chaque homme dans sa nuit," -- Each Man in His Night; one might also speak of "each man in his desert." Irrigated by the living water of the Holy Spirit life's deserts become gardens, and joy comes to inhabit the solitudes of the heart.

The Collect is a jewel:

Deus, qui beatum Pacomium abbatem
ad doctrinae virtutumque culmina pervenire fecisti,
concede, quaesumus, ut eius exemplo,
panem Verbi tui primum quaeramus
a quo mentes lumen accipunt et corda quietem

O God, Who didst raise the blessed abbot Pachomius
to the heights of doctrine and of virtue,
grant that we, by following his example,
may seek before all else the bread of Thy Word:
light for our minds, and stillness for our hearts.

-- Or, one may want to render that last line, "by which our minds are illumined and our hearts quieted."

The example of the Desert Fathers, of desert-dwellers, of hermits, and of monks speaks to all of us. There is no desert that cannot be reclaimed for Christ; there is no barrenness that cannot be made fertile by the action of the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual Fecundity

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John 15:9-17

Go and Bear Fruit

In the Roman Missal the Mass for the feast of Saint Matthias the Apostle begins, not with an antiphon drawn from the Psalms as it usually does, but with a word of Our Lord: "You did not choose Me, says the Lord, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide" (Jn 15: 16). The same word is given us again in the Gospel. How extraordinary that while we are yet on the threshold of the Holy Sacrifice, Jesus should address a word -- and such a word -- to us. Before we had a chance to open our mouths, He spoke to us. He revealed to us the choice of His love and His desire, even more, His design that we should bear fruit, fruit that will abide.

The Gospel of Life

A Christian cannot be barren. "My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, He takes away" (Jn 15:2). Spiritual sterility is incompatible with the choice of God. God wants us fruitful; he wants us to be bearers of life, givers of life, witnesses to the life that courses from the True Vine into every branch and tendril.

The Contraceptive Mentality

Just as there can be in the natural order a "contraceptive mentality" that thwarts and inhibits the transmission of the gift of life, so too there can be in the supernatural order a "contraceptive mentality" that thwarts and inhibits the transmission of the life of grace. There is such a thing as "sterilization" of the soul -- a reversible state because of God's ever-ready mercy -- but a frightening reality nonetheless.

Spiritual Fecundity

Spiritual fecundity is not always visible. The children of our prayers and tears may remain unknown to us in this life but we will see their faces in heaven. Our part here below is to accept the responsibilities of spiritual fatherhood and motherhood. "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (Jn 15:16).

Families of Souls

Parents consecrated in marriage have a spiritual fatherhood and motherhood of the children they have brought into the word; it is not enough to provide housing, food, drink, clothing, healthcare, education, security, and affection. There is something more. The married couple is called to spiritual fecundity and this long after the passing of the natural seasons of bearing and raising children, right into eternity. Spiritual parenting is a coordinate of the baptismal priesthood in the state of married life. Father and Mother are sweet names in the mouths of a couple's children; they are made sweeter by the Holy Spirit who reveals their meaning in the family of souls.

The Johannine Fatherhood of the Priest

The priest is called to fatherhood; he refuses this fatherhood or minimizes it at the peril of his own soul because it was for this priestly fruitfulness that he was chosen by Christ. The priest is called to cherish the Mystical Body of Christ and to nourish it, to play an indispensable role in the transmission of divine life. Spiritual fatherhood is actualized sacramentally in preaching, in hearing confessions, and in the celebration of the other sacraments, above all in offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There is also a hidden aspect to the fatherhood of the priest: suffering and the secret prayer that pleads the Blood of Christ over every sorrow and every wound opened by sin. The fatherhood of the priest -- his Johannine fatherhood -- grows out of his contemplation of the pierced Heart of the Crucified. It is the wound from which flows life, "life in abundance" cf. Jn 10:10).

The Marian Motherhood of the Consecrated Woman

The consecrated woman, be she in a monastery or in an apostolic congregation, is called to spiritual fecundity, to the joys and sorrows of a real motherhood of souls. Just as the fatherhood of the priest is Johannine,the motherhood of the consecrated woman is Marian. The sister who hesitates before the motherhood to which Christ calls her or who, at some level, resists growing into it, is spiritually contracepting. She risks becoming the barren wife so often lamented in Scripture. The sister who says "Yes" to the fecundity willed for her by Christ enters deeply into the mystery of Mary and of the Church. The fruitfulness of spiritual motherhood is rarely visible, obliging the consecrated woman to live an intense faith, an austere hope and, at times, a crucifying love. The reality is that on the other side of eternity every sister made fruitful in Christ will be called Mother and, appearing before the face of God will be able to say, "Here am I, and the children God has given me" (Heb 2:13).

And Friends of Christ

The vocation to the fatherhood and motherhood of souls is daunting. It would be altogether frightening except for one thing. He who said, "I appointed you that you should go and bear fruit" (Jn 15:16) also says today, "I have called you friends" (Jn 15:15). The Most Holy Eucharist is the sign of that friendship and the source of all fecundity. And the Church is in every age "a fruitful vine" with her children "like olive plants around her table" (cf. Ps 127:3).

Holy Abbots of Cluny

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Today is the feast of the Holy Abbots of Cluny, Odo, Maiolus, Odilon, Hugh, and Peter the Venerable. Each of the first four has a special antiphon dedicated to him at Lauds, the Little Hours, and Vespers:

Odo arose full of the Holy Spirit,
and renewed the beauty of the monastic Order
throughout the world, alleluia.

Maiolus, overflowing with charity and with grace,
and emulating the holiness of the angels,
was lifted high above men in virtue, alleluia.

Odilo showed wondrously what was the charity of his heart,
who, while pitying sufferings of the faithful departed,
yearly decreased them by a sweet refreshment, alleluia.

When blessed Hugh was about to expire
on the day of the sacred rites of the great Sabbath (Holy Saturday),
he greeted the new light of the Paschal Candle,
earnestly praying with sighs
that he might happily reach the promised land, alleluia.

At Vigils I read from an exhortation of Saint Hugh of Cluny:

Ever since we founded this monastery, prepared and helped by the divine clemency, we have very clearly experienced in this place the presence of the compassion of Almighty God and the gaze of His fatherly devotedness.

And here is the Collect of the feast:

O God, refuge and surpassing reward
of those who walk blamelessly in Thy presence,
perfect in us, we beseech Thee,
the love of holy religion,
that by the example and intercession of the blessed Abbots of Cluny
we may run with dilated hearts along the way of charity.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Saint Athanasius

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Here are some "jottings in the margin of the Missal" as Dom Marmion would call them: just a few random thoughts on the Propers of today's Mass. I don't treat of the Gregorian melodies that clothe the Introit, Offertory, and Communion with a particularly penetrating grace; one has to sing them or hear them sung in order to experience them in all their richness.

Looking at today's Mass

In the midst of the Church
the Lord opened his mouth,
and He filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding;
He clothed him with a robe of glory, alleluia (cf. Sir 15:5).

Wisdom and Understanding

In the midst of His Church, Our Lord Jesus Christ raised up Saint Athanasius, and opened his mouth. He filled Athanasius with the Spirit, that is the Divine Breath of wisdom and understanding. Wisdom is the gift of the Holy Spirit by which a soul tastes God and the things that are God's; understanding is the gift of the Holy Spirit by which one enters into the plan of God, rejoicing in His providence, in His mercy, and in the truth of all that He has revealed and promised. The robe of grace, given in Baptism, becomes for all the saints a robe of glory.

Almighty and ever-living God,
Who raised up the blessed bishop Athanasius
as the wonderful champion of the divinity of Your Son,
mercifully grant that we,
rejoicing in his doctrine and protection,
may grow ceaselessly in the knowledge and love of You.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Saint Athanasius holds the title, "Father of Orthodoxy." The Collect calls him "the wonderful champion of the divinity of your Son." A champion he was: unafraid of engaging in battle, intransigent and stalwart when it came to the defense of catholic truth.

The Strength of the Saints

Offertory Antiphon
I have found David my servant,
with my holy oil I have anointed him;
my hand shall help him,
and my arm shall make him strong, alleluia (Ps 88:21-22).

The Offertory Antiphon applies to Saint Athanasius the prophecy concerning David: "My hand shall help him, and my arms shall make him strong" (Ps 88:22). Athanasius needed the hand of God and the might of his arms; he suffered no less than five periods of exile, almost sixteen years in all, for his uncompromising support of the Nicene Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

The Splendour of the Faith

Prayer Over the Oblations
Look, O Lord,
upon the offerings that we set before you
in commemoration of Saint Athanasius,
that his witness to the truth
may be for the salvation of those
who profess untainted the faith he taught.
Through Christ our Lord.

In the Prayer Over the Oblations we will ask that Saint Athanasius' witness to the truth may be "for the salvation of those who profess untainted the faith he taught." The untainted faith of the saints is not old, dusty, and boring; it is a splendid thing, a living reality. "Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame" (Ct 8:6).

The liturgy offers two Communion Antiphons for today's Mass. The first, given in the Roman Missal, has to be heard in the mouth of Athanasius:

Communion Antiphon in the Roman Missal
No other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid,
which is Jesus Christ, alleluia. (1 Cor 3:11)

The Church wants us to hear this at the very moment we approach the mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood. The foundation of the Church, the foundation of the doctrine that nourishes life is given whole, entire, unchanging and ever new in the mystery of the Eucharist: "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb 13:8).

Listening in the Night

Communion Antiphon in the Graduale Romanum
That which I tell you in the dark, speak in the light, says the Lord;
and that which you hear in the ear,
preach upon the housetops, alleluia (Mt 10:27).

The Communion Antiphon given in the Roman Gradual has the Lord Jesus Himself speak to us, saying, "That which I tell you in the dark, speak in the light, and that which you hear in the ear, preach upon the housetops, alleluia" (Mt 10:27). The darkness here is the obscurity of faith, the prayer in the night by which God comes closer to us than He does in what we take for light. The secrets whispered in the ear are those of the Holy Spirit, secrets that only the listening heart can hear. It is of this that Jesus speaks in today's Gospel: "When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, Who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness to me" (Jn 15:26). Saint Athanasius, receiving the witness of the Holy Spirit concerning Christ, was compelled to preach it from the housetops and, even today, his voice resounds in the Church.

Quickened and Protected

Grant, we beseech you, almighty God,
that we who, together with Saint Athanasius,
steadfastly confess the divinity of Your Only-Begotten Son,
may ever be enlivened and protected by this sacrament.
Through Christ our Lord.

In the Postcommunion Prayer we ask that, "we who steadfastly confess the divinity of your only-begotten Son, may ever be enlivened and protected by this sacrament." Note the two parts to the petition: we ask both to be enlivened (or quickened) and to be protected. This is why we go to the altar today: for an infusion of divine vitality, and for the divine protection without which the life we bear in ourselves, as in earthen vessels, is fragile and at every moment threatened.

Saint Anthony of Egypt

Saint Athanasius gave us, we must not forget, the Life of the Father of Monks in East and West, Saint Anthony of Egypt. Nothing better illustrates the principle of the Postcommunion Prayer at work. Anthony was a man fully alive in Christ. He was, at the same time, thrust into fierce spiritual combat where his only recourse was the protection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Anthony's triumph was the triumph of Christ in him. Saint Athanasius wants us to understand this above all else. That same triumph of Christ over sin, the flesh, and the devil, the glorious triumph of Christ over death, is given us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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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