Saints: July 2010 Archives

Suscipe

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For this feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, here is a beautiful text of Pope Benedict XVI. I am mindful in prayer today of my Bishop, who is especially devoted to Saint Ignatius, and of my friend, Father James Kubicki, S.J., Director of the Apostleship of Prayer in the United States. Be sure to visit Father Kubicki's blog, Offer It Up.

Self-Surrender

Romano Guardini relates in his autobiography how, at a critical moment on his journey, when the faith of his childhood was shaken, the fundamental decision of his entire life - his conversion - came to him through an encounter with the saying of Jesus that only the one who loses himself finds himself (cf. Mk 8:34ff.; Jn 12:25); without self-surrender, without self-loss, there can be no self-discovery or self-realization.

Falling into the Hands of God

But how should we lose ourselves? To whom do we give ourselves? It became clear to him that we can surrender ourselves completely only if by doing so we fall into the hands of God. Only in him, in the end, can we lose ourselves and only in him can we find ourselves.

Jesus and His Church

But then the question arose: Who is God? Where is God? Then he came to understand that the God to whom we can surrender ourselves can only be the God who became tangible and close to us in Jesus Christ. But once more the question arose: Where do I find Jesus Christ? How can I truly give myself to him? The answer Guardini found after much searching was this: Jesus is concretely present to us only in his Body, the Church.

Humble Obedience to the Church

As a result, obedience to God's will, obedience to Jesus Christ, must be, really and practically, humble obedience to the Church. This is something that calls us to a constant and deep examination of conscience. It is all summed up in the prayer of Saint Ignatius of Loyola - a prayer which always seems to me so overwhelming that I am almost afraid to say it, yet one which we should always repeat:

Saint Ignatius' Act of Surrender

"Take O Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding and my entire will.
All that I have and all that I possess you have given me:
I surrender it all to you;
it is all yours, dispose of it according to your will.
Give me only your love and your grace;
with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more".

Pope Benedict XVI
Address to Priests and Religious
Mariazell, Austria
8 September 2007

The Best Part of All

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In the monastic calendar, today is the liturgical memorial of:
Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus of Bethany, Hosts of the Lord


Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 33:2-11
Luke 10:38-42

A Place of Refreshment for His Heart

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were all three disciples of the Lord Jesus and, more than disciples, close friends. The house of Bethany was a place of rest for Jesus, a retreat far from the relentless demands and clamor of the multitude. At Bethany, Our Lord was sure of finding warmth, affection, and friendship: values to which His humanity was acutely sensitive. Bethany provided Jesus with more than food, drink, and a quiet place to rest. Bethany offered Jesus a place of refreshment for His Heart.

Behold, I Stand at the Door

In the monastic tradition Martha, Mary and Lazarus are venerated as the patron saints those who are charged with carrying out Saint Benedict's mandate of sacred hospitality: "Let all guests be received as Christ, for He will one day say, I came as a guest and you welcomed me." (RB 53:1). For this reason, today the Benedictine Lectionary gives the story of Abraham and Sarah extending hospitality to the three mysterious visitors by the oak of of Mamre. The feast of Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus invites us to practice hospitality of the heart. "Behold," says the Lord, "I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me" (Rev 3:20).

The Very, Very Nervous

Terry Nelson once referred to Saint Martha as the patron saint of the very, very nervous. In every family and community there are people who seem to thrive on anxiety. They seem to fret over everything. Anxiety is born of fear. Fear of what? Fear of losing control. Fear of going without something or finding oneself in need. Fear of being asked to change. Fear of failure.

A Contagious Neurosis

The anxious person is forever watching others to see what they are doing or not doing, saying or not saying. Look at Martha in today's Gospel! She had one eye on her casserole and the other on her sister. The anxious person goes so far as to think she knows what another is thinking or not thinking. In families and in communities the very, very nervous person tends to make others very, very nervous. Anxiety is a contagious neurosis. There is a reason why Lazarus stayed out of the kitchen! Surely you noticed that Lazarus is not even mentioned in today's Gospel. Our Lord was very courageous to put Himself between Martha and Mary.

How Many Cares and Troubles

At the same time, Saint Martha was a goodhearted woman. Though she tended to be a busybody, she was generous and willing to do absolutely anything to make Jesus feel at home in her house. Our Lord desired more for her. He saw a woman weighed down by the duties she had assumed. He rebuked Martha, going so far as to tell her what was wrong in the way she was behaving: "Martha, Martha, how many cares and troubles thou hast! But only one thing is necessary" (Lk 10:41-42). Our Lord invited Martha to an inner freedom from disquiet, a freedom that would allow her love to soar to divine heights on the wings of confidence and trust.

Love for Me

Jesus wanted the hospitality of Martha's house to be the outward expression -- the sacrament -- of the inward hospitality of her heart. He desired to raise Martha to a higher love, to the love that listens in silence, to the love that fixes its gaze on his face. Martha's love had busy hands and scurrying feet. Jesus desired to give her love ears and eyes: ears to listen to His word and eyes to contemplate His Face. More than anything else, Jesus wanted Martha to let go of the need to control, to supervise, and to fret over others, so that she could open to Him the door of her heart. "If a man has any love for me," He says, "he will be true to my word; and then he will win my Father's love, and we will both come to him, and make our continual abode with him" (Jn 14:23).

Only One Thing

To some, Mary of Bethany appears dreamy-eyed and passive. On the contrary, by taking her place at the feet of Jesus, she was boldly occupying a post normally reserved to men. Only men were deemed capable of conversing with men. It was fitting for a son of the Law to sit at the feet of his rabbi; women were to stay in the background, listening from behind the curtains. Look at Sarah and Abraham in the First Reading: "And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him" (Gen 18:10). What may have irked Martha in Mary's behaviour was that she was putting herself forward so, and usurping the place reserved for male disciples. Martha thought it unseemly. But Our Lord approved entirely. "Mary has chosen for herself the best part of all, that which shall never be taken away from her" (Lk 10:42).

See, How He Loved Him

Concerning Saint Lazarus, we are certain of one thing. Our Lord cherished him. There was a bond of intimate friendship between them. At the death of Lazarus Jesus "was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, 'Where have you buried him?' They said to him, 'Lord, come and see.' Then Jesus wept. So the Jews said, 'See how he loved him'" (Jn 11:33-36).

Lazarus: A Patron Saint of Reparation

In the monastic tradition, Saint Lazarus is the patron of converts and penitents. Jesus delivered him out of the putrefaction of the tomb where, after four days, he had already begun to stink. To everyone's surprise, Lazarus came forth from the tomb, still bound in his burial shroud, but fragrant with new life. "Unbind him, and let him go" (Jn 11:45), said Jesus. Where did Lazarus go at that moment if not straight into the arms of Jesus, his beloved Friend and Saviour? Lazarus spent the rest of his "second life," his "new life," living differently. Saint Lazarus is close to all who are delivered by the merciful Christ into a new life and called by Him to spend the days given them in reparation and in joyful penitence.

I Have Learned to Believe

Between today's Gospel episode and the death of her brother Lazarus something changed in Martha's life. It was to Martha that Jesus spoke the liberating words, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn 11:25). Martha responded: "Yes, Lord, I have learned to believe that thou art the Christ; thou art the Son of the Living God; it is for thy coming the world has waited" (cf. Jn 11:27). Again it is Martha who said to her sister Mary: "The Master is here, and bids thee come" (Jn 11:28).

From Anxiety to Abandonment

Martha, the patron saint of the very, very nervous, changed. I would like to think that, little by little, she became less controlling, less anxious, and less judgmental. I would like to think that she became a peaceful soul, content to live from moment to moment in abandonment to Divine Providence. And I would like to think that in the end, she no longer intimidated Lazarus to the point of making him stay out of the kitchen. She may even have come to accept that Mary's way was different from hers and that, because it pleased the Lord, she had something to learn from it.

Food for the "Second Life"

The Eucharistic hospitality of God awaits us at the altar. The door of the "banqueting house" (Ct 2:4) is already open to us, as it was open to Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. In it there is room for all of us. The Most Holy Eucharist communicates peace to the anxious and busy soul. The Blessed Sacrament is the Food of Love given to those who, like Mary, are bold enough to sit at the feet of Christ. The adorable Body and Precious Blood of Christ are sustenance for a new life of reparation and penitence, for that "Second Life" granted each of us by Divine Mercy. "He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love" (Ct 2:4).

Saints Joachim and Anna

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The Communion of the Saints

We live in the company of the saints. We are in communion with them, and communion implies communication. There is, at every moment, a mysterious exchange taking place between us and the saints who surround us. The Letter to the Hebrews says that we are “watched from above by such a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).

Naming Your Baby

The names of saints are more and more rarely being given to Catholic babies. While there is a part of ignorance here -- today’s parents were the victims of the disastrous lack of catechesis that followed the Second Vatican Council -- there is something more. The pressure to secularize every area of life is picking up momentum. Change what people say, and you will change what they think. The modification of vocabulary -- and in this case the suppression of the glorious heritage of Catholic saints’ names -- will lead to a modification of values and, ultimately, of morality.

Living With the Saints

Monasteries have the splendid custom of attributing a saint’s name or a biblical name to every room and place -- from the cells to the workrooms to the storage rooms. The significance of this age-old custom is as beautiful as it is profound: the monastery is inhabited not only by the visible people who live within its walls, but also by its invisible residents, the angels and the saints. The naming of a room for a saint is a confession of faith; it flies in the face of secularist ideologies that would have us believe that reality stops with what is visible.

Recovery of the Sacred

The movement to secularize every thing and every place is as pernicious as it is aggressive. It is part of the “smoke of Satan” that Pope Paul VI saw penetrating the Church to foment confusion. It is important that we respond to the crisis with courage and with conviction. The invasion of the secular must be countered by a concerted recovery of the sacred, and by re-claiming all things for Christ under the patronage of his saints and his mysteries: our cities, our towns, our homes, our institutions, our rooms, and, yes, our children.

The Motu Proprio and the Saints

Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Letter, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum generated some helpful comparative studies of the Rite of Blessed John XXIII (the Mass actually celebrated during the Second Vatican Council) and the 1970 Rite of Pope Paul VI. One of the observations made is that the newer rite, in a misguided attempt to render the Mass less offensive to Protestant sensibilities, removed several key allusions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the saints, and to their intercession (eg. Confiteor; Suscipe, Sancta Trinitas; Libera nos). In no way was this manipulation of the texts authorized by the Conciliar Fathers. It grieved and alienated the venerable Orthodox Churches (honoured by the inclusion of Saint Andrew the Apostle in the Libera nos), who interpreted it as a rejection of the patrimony of the undivided Church.

Saint Sharbel Makhlouf

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Today's Saint

Saint Sharbel the Miracle-Worker has followed me from the earliest days of my monastic journey. I remember learning of his beatification at the close of the Second Vatican Council in December 1965. Saint Sharbel's three inseparable loves, depicted in this image -- the Most Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Word of God -- are the mystical treasure of those who seek, in some way, to follow him in a life of silence and adoration.

Collect from the Missale Romanum 2002

O God who called your priest, Saint Sharbel to the singular combat of the desert and imbued him with every manner of piety, grant us, we beseech you, that by striving to be imitators of the Passion of the Lord we may be found worthy of becoming sharers in his kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.

Ex Oriente Lux

Saint Sharbel (also spelled Charbel) of Lebanon is one of those in whom the Holy Spirit fashioned a heart of flesh, a heart exquisitely sensitive to the mystery of Divine Love. The hermit priest Sharbel was beatified by Pope Paul VI on December 5, 1965, at the close of the Second Vatican Council. It was as if Paul VI wanted the Council to end with Rome gazing Eastward.

Another Saint Anthony of the Desert

Just before the beatification, a prelate at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome said to Bishop Francis Zayek, the shepherd of Maronite Catholics in the United States, "Reading about the holy hermits of the desert, we used to consider many reported facts as mere fables. In the life of Blessed Sharbel, however, we notice that these facts are authentic and true. Blessed Sharbel is another Saint Anthony of the Desert, or Saint Pachomius, or Saint Paul the Anchorite. It is marvelous to observe how you, Maronites, have preserved the same spirituality of the fathers of the desert throughout the centuries, and at the end of the nineteenth century, 1500 years later, produced a Sharbel for the Church."

A New Turning

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, a Trappist monk was emerging from a long period of spiritual depression. Thomas Merton had been in the Abbey of Gethsemani for nine years. He wrote in his journal, "Sharbel lived as a hermit in Lebanon -- he was a Maronite. He died. Everyone forgot about him. Fifty years later, his body was discovered incorrupt and in short time he worked over 600 miracles. He is my new companion. My road has taken a new turning. It seems to me that I have been asleep for 9 years -- and before that I was dead." Sharbel, the 19th century hermit of Lebanon, pulled America's most famous 20th century monk out of a spiritual crisis. That is the communion of the saints!

Like a Lebanon Cedar

On October 9, 1977, Pope Paul VI canonized Sharbel, citing the psalm, "The just will flourish like the psalm tree and grow like a Lebanon cedar" (Ps 91:13). The New York Times gave extensive coverage to the canonization in Rome and to the corresponding festivities in Lebanon, days of celebration that brought Orthodox and Catholic Christians together with Muslims.

Holiness in Clusters

Saint Sharbel's influence continues to grow. In Russia he has an immense following of Orthodox Christians. Muslims continue to seek his intercession, going in pilgrimage to his tomb. In Lebanon and in the Lebanese diaspora he continues to teach the way of silence, the way of the Cross, the way of humble love. On May 10th, 1998, Pope John Paul II beatified Saint Sharbel's professor, the monk, Father Nimutallah al-Hardini. Holiness grows in clusters.

A Eucharistic Death

Saint Sharbel suffered a stroke on December 16th, 1898 while celebrating the Holy Liturgy. He was reciting the prayer, "Father of Truth, behold your Son, a sacrifice pleasing to you. Accept this offering of Him who died for me." He fell to the floor holding the Holy Eucharist in his hands. He died on December 24th. Sharbel had lived twenty-three years in solitude. A lifetime of saying "Yes" to Love prepared him for a fully Eucharistic death and an abiding mission in the Church, one that, even today, is prophetic.

Prayer of Saint Birgitta

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I have long taken comfort in this prayer of Saint Birgitta of Sweden. Saint Birgitta shares July 23rd with Saint John Cassian.

O Lord, make haste and illumine the night.
Say to my soul
that nothing happens without Thy permitting it,
and that nothing of what Thou permittest is without comfort.
O Jesus, Son of God,
Thou Who wast silent in the presence of Thy 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 Thou my petition and show me the way.
As the wounded go to the doctor in search of aid,
so do I come unto Thee.
O Lord, give Thou peace to my heart.

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Living for the Unseen Bridegroom

Moved by the Holy Spirit, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha consecrated her virginity to Christ. The strangeness of this new way of life -- fidelity to an unseen Bridegroom -- flew in the face of her native culture. The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary was always in Kateri's hand. She spent long hours in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

Kateri sought solitude with the Bridegroom Christ in the forest she loved and knew well. She fashioned small crosses of wood and set them up in the woods, making little shrines to the saving Cross of her Beloved Jesus. Like the desert mothers of old, graced with compunction, she wept bitterly over her sins and over the sins of her people.

Transfiguring Grace

It was by the transfiguring grace of Christ that Kateri, disfigured by smallpox and nearly blind, became beautiful and fragrant. Saint Paul speaks of being “the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Cor 2:15). Kateri was the pure fragrance of holiness in the midst of her own people. In death, Kateri’s scarred face became beautiful, causing her spiritual father to cry out in astonishment. Christ is faithful to his promises and the saints are witnesses to that fidelity.

Saint John Gualbert

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Good for Evil and Blessings for Curses

Good rendered for evil; blessings for curses; pardon, peace, concord, and reconciliation. A Collect for the Memorial of Saint John Gualbert speaks the language of the Gospel, ageless and ever new.

Almighty and ever-living God,
source of peace and lover of concord,
to know Thee is to live, to serve Thee is to reign;
establish us in Thy love,
that by the example of the blessed abbot John Gualbert,
we may render good for evil and blessings for curses,
and so obtain from Thee both pardon and peace.

Victory Over Vengeance

John Gualbert's monastic vocation unfolded in dramatic circumstances. A medieval Florentine nobleman, he lived in an age and culture that, in spite of the Gospel, exalted vengeance as a matter of honour. When his elder brother was murdered, John felt compelled to avenge him.

On a certain Good Friday, riding through a narrow mountain pass, John came face to face with his brother's killer. The man was alone. The place was isolated. There was no escape. John drew his sword, ready to exact a bloody vengeance. The murderer raised his arms in the form of a cross and, in the Name of Jesus Crucified, begged John's forgiveness.

The Encounter With Jesus Crucified

Cut to the heart by the grace of the Cross, John dropped his sword, embraced his enemy, and made his way straight to a church in Florence. There, kneeling before the crucifix, John saw Jesus Crucified bow His head, acknowledging his act of forgiveness and, by the same token, forgiving him all his sins. And so, John became a monk.

A splendid stained-glass window telescopes the story into one scene. John is shown as a young nobleman. With his eyes fixed on the image of the Crucified, he is embracing his enemy, the murderer of his brother. The iconography of Saint John Gualbert makes for a fascinating study. In nearly every image the saint is represented looking at Jesus Crucified, embracing Him, or holding the Cross against his heart.

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What the World Needs

On April 1, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave a conference at Subiaco, the cradle of Benedictine life. Nineteen days later, as bishop of Rome, he assumed the name of Saint Benedict. Pope Benedict's message at Subiaco identifies what the world needs above all else. "We need," he said, "men who hold their gaze directly towards God."

Vocation

Given that our monastery here in Tulsa professes a Benedictine life marked by the particular charism of adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Christ, these words of Pope Benedict XVI are, for me, very compelling. What does one do in Eucharistic adoration if not hold one's gaze directly towards God? The other component of this particular charism is that if I seek to hold my gaze fixed on the Eucharistic Face of God, it is, first of all, for my brother priests, and especially for those whose gaze has, for one reason or another, been distracted -- literally, pulled away from -- the One Thing Necessary. This is where adoration and reparation meet.

With Unveiled Face

People are drawn to Saint Benedict because in him they see a man who "held his gaze directly towards God." People are drawn to Benedictine monasteries because in them they expect to find men and women who "with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor 3:18). People come to monasteries in search of a place where there is evidence of a divine inbreaking: traces of the Kingdom of Heaven, glimmers of the glory of God shining on the Face of Christ.

Those Who Seek God

More often than not the search for God begins with a search for those who seek God. It has always been thus in the life of the Church in both East and West. The faithful come to monasteries looking for fathers and mothers for their souls. People seek out monks and nuns hoping to see on their faces a reflection of the brightness of God. By virtue of monastic profession, we are called to hold our faces directly toward God. "For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6).

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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