Saints: June 2012 Archives

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen

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In a private audience yesterday with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI approved the "heroic virtue" of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, thereby officially opening the well-loved radio and television preacher's cause for canonization.

When Fulton J. Sheen was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois in 1919, he promised to make a Holy Hour each day before the Most Blessed Sacrament. He remained faithful to his promise for the entire sixty years of his priesthood. It was during his Holy Hour that he learned to listen to the voice of Our Lord and abandon himself to the love of His Heart. Archbishop Sheen was a tireless promoter of the daily hour of Eucharistic adoration, particularly among priests. Concerning this practise, he wrote:

I keep up the Holy Hour to grow more and more into His likeness... Looking at the Eucharistic Lord for an hour transforms the heart in a mysterious way as the face of Moses was transformed after his companionship with God on the mountain.
The Holy Hour is not a devotion; it is a sharing in the work of redemption. 'Could you not watch one hour with Me?' Not for an hour of activity did He plead, but for an hour of companionship.
The purpose of the Holy Hour is to encourage deep personal encounter with Christ. The holy and glorious God is constantly inviting us to come to Him, to hold converse with Him and to ask such things as we need and to experience what a blessing there is in fellowship with Him. One of the by-products of the Holy Hour was the sensitiveness to the Eucharistic Presence of Our Divine Lord.

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For the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Our monastic lectionary gives us, at the Office of Matins today, a splendid homily by the 12th century Benedictine monk, Rupert of Deutz.

But whence and how is it that a man placed at the pinnacle of honours, and greatly aware of its sacred character, should condescend to the little ones and share the sorrow of those in misery? God alone is humble by nature, showing mercy. He is mercy itself; or rather, He himself is mercy, He himself is humility.
It was necessary that the Apostle Peter, predestined and called to so great an exaltation, should have, before receiving such honours, an imposing and compelling reason to learn mercy and compassion once and for all.
For this did God allow him to fall, for this was he left to himself to the point of a triple denial. Oh, the beauty and wonder of Wisdom given in spectacle! Let us admire it, we who are experienced spectators, and with a practiced eye, let us recognize Wisdom.

We know more of Peter's threefold denial and threefold profession of love in reparation, than we do of his martyrdom. The man who, having fallen repeatedly, repeats as many acts of reparation and love, will be graced with the humility that comes of true self-knowledge, and of knowledge of the mercy of God. Never will he set himself above others in judgment. Rather with Saint Peter, and with Saint Thérèse, will he sit at the table of sinners, sharing their bread and, with them, waiting to be visited by the Mercy that will rise more surely than the dawn.

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John the Baptist and the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Today was the Vigil of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist: eight days after the feast of 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).

The Infallible Sign of the Presence of God

For what gift does the Church make us ask in the Collect of tomorrow's solemnity? For "the grace of spiritual joys." Already by his birth, Saint John the Baptist teaches us that the first of these spiritual joys is a living, personal contact with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At every moment, the Mother of God is ready to grace us with her presence. She comes always to reveal the Face of her Son, hidden now in the Eucharist as He was hidden in the tabernacle of her womb when she visited Elizabeth. The fruit of that mysterious encounter between the Infant Christ and the Infant Forerunner had the unmistakable taste of divine joy, the joy that Blessed Abbot Marmion called "the infallible sign of the presence of God."

Blood and Roses

Look at this marvelous painting by Botticelli depicting the Mother of God, the Child Jesus and His little cousin, the Baptist. What I find most striking is that at the very center of the painting is the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Virgin is holding her Child; he appears heavy in her arms. She bows low to allow the little Baptist to give her Jesus a hug and a kiss. The small boys appear to be about two years old. The Baptist has to stretch to reach the Face of Jesus; he is already dressed in his desert garb and carrying his little wooden staff. The top of the staff has the form of the Cross; the Cross thus appears directly over the head of the Infant Christ, a portent of His sacrifice. The Mother of God wears a blood red gown; something about her posture suggests an outpouring of blood, an effusion of the heart. Just behind the Virgin is a rose bush in full bloom: a symbol -- yes, you guessed it -- of spiritual joys.

Let Me Give Thy Son a Kiss

More than my words ever could, Botticelli's painting suggests that the mission of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is to introduce all of us, as she did the little Baptist, into a reverent and tender intimacy with her Son. The Mother of God bends over each of us, her garments dyed red in the Blood that flowed on Calvary, the very Blood that won for us every spiritual joy. Where the Mother of God is present, there charity is poured out and there spiritual joys abound. Put yourself today in the position of the child John the Baptist. Ask the Blessed Virgin to let you embrace her Son and offer Him a kiss. Her Immaculate Heart will not refuse you this.

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A Saint for Schoolboys

When I was growing up, Catholic schoolboys were given a choice of two patron saints: Dominic Savio and Aloysius Gonzaga. In about fifth grade the biography of Dominic Savio by Saint John Bosco became a book that I read and reread. I confess to having found Saint Aloysius somewhat less appealing. I really didn't know Saint Aloysius. Although Pope Benedict XIII named him the patron saint of youth in 1729, poor Aloysius was not always well served by those eager to promote devotion to him.

Pastel Portraits

Mass-produced holy pictures of Aloysius more often than not depicted him as a wan and wilting youth, looking impossibly fragile, listless and pale. At his feet lay the cast off crown of his noble rank and, over his head, rosy-cheeked angels hovered just waiting to crown him with heavenly glory. Clutching his lily and with eyes rolled heavenward, this representation of Aloysius rather suggested that holiness was somehow incompatible with wholesomeness or, at least, not something that people with just normal neuroses could hope to attain.

Passionate and Strong-Willed

The real Aloysius was energetic, strong-willed, virile, passionate, and dashing. He was also gentle, tender-hearted and capable of magnificent acts of self-sacrifice and abnegation. There is a splendid sculpture of him by Pierre LeGros (1666-1719) that shows Aloysius carrying a victim of the plague in his arms. I wish that you could all see a photograph of it. There is a Pietà-like quality to it: tenderness and strength all at once. Aloysius carries the full weight of the sick man's body and the head of the sick man rests in the crook of Aloysius's neck. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A Little Boy Who Prayed

Aloysius (or Luigi, to call him by his proper name) gave up a life of princely opulence to live in The Company of Jesus -- in both senses of the expression. His father had destined him for something entirely different. Even as a little boy Luigi was being groomed for a brilliant military career. Dressed in a tiny made-to-order suit of armour, he would march alongside the troops in military reviews. He did this to please his father. Small boys so want their father's approval. All the while there was something else at work in little Luigi's heart. More than anything else he was drawn to prayer.

Prayer, Plotting, Sex, and Violence

Luigi began praying the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary when he was eleven years old. He took his life with God as seriously as any cadet takes his military training. His personal rule of life, even as boy, included daily Mass, weekly Holy Communion, and fasting three days a week. In a milieu where the sexual seduction of young boys by adult women and men was hardly a secret, Luigi kept a rigorous modesty of the eyes, determined to protect his innocence. He prayed, and distanced himself from the plotting, sex, and violence that sizzled all around him.

The Insatiable Desire for God

I have been thinking of late of the determining factor in discerning a vocation to the monastic life. Saint Luigi was not, of course, a monk; he was a Jesuit. All the same, what I see in him is what I see in every young man who knocks at the door of the monastery: an insatiable desire for God. The insatiable desire or God, a desire that no created thing can satisfy, is what compels small boys -- and old men -- to pray much. Men in the turbulence of middle-age are easily drawn away from prayer into other pursuits, but small boys and old men pray more easily.

The secret of perseverance in monastic life -- and in the priesthood, as well -- is to remain a small child while growing old. The small child prays simply, without observing himself and noting every change in his spiritual temperature. He prays the way he plays. And the small child, like the old man, is capable of praying much. This is, I think, the best way to grow old: by praying more and more. God desires to be desired. Saint Luigi, pray for us, that we may grow old while praying much, and pray much as we grow old.

The Joy of Innocence

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Sexual Exploitation, Then and Now

The young Luigi Gonzaga preserved his innocence in a milieu where boys were often the victims of sexual predators -- both women and men -- and where the sexual exploitation of youngsters was a divertissement of the decadent. His angelic purity ought, more than ever, to be presented as a gift of incredible beauty and as costly prize. Luigi was not one to shrink from spiritual combat. Even as a boy, he went forward with courage and grace, his eyes set on "the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not" (Heb 11:1).

Introit (Psalm 8:8, Ps 148:2)

Thou hast made him a little less than the angels:
Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Ps. Praise the Lord, all his angels: praise ye Him all His hosts.

There are two allusions to the angels in this relatively brief chant. Our Lord gives us the key to understanding the angelic quality of Saint Aloysius when he says: "See that you despise not one of these little ones; for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of My Father who is in heaven" (Mt 18:10). Look at the eyes of Aloysius; they reflect the Face of the Father.

The Collect is splendidly realistic. Not all of us have followed Saint Aloysius along the path of "a wonderful innocence of life." Some of us may have lost that innocence by weakness in the face of occasions of sin, others by a calculated choice. Still others had that "wonderful innocence" taken from them. One has to have read certain pages of the Journals of Julien Green to understand the repercussions over a lifetime of an innocence lost.

The Church addresses the dilemma in her prayer: eius meritis et precibus concede, ut innocentem non secuti, poenitentiam imitemur. "Grant through his merits and prayers, that we who have not followed him in his innocence, may imitate him in his penance." Penitence here means more than acts of asceticism; it refers to the change of direction by virtue of which one begins to live with, as Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity would say, with one's eyes in the eyes of Christ.

The liturgy places the Gradual in the mouth of Saint Aloysius. It is a chant of thanksgiving for the gift of divine intimacy, and for the shining innocence that is its fruit.

Gradual (Psalm 70:5-6; Ps 40:13)

Thou, my Lord, the hope of my youth,
Thou hast upheld me from birth,
Thou hast guarded me ever since I left my mother's womb.
V. Thou dost befriend my innocence,
and wilt have me stand continually in Thy presence.

Alleluia Verse (Ps 64:5)

Blessed is the man on whom Thy choice falls,
whom Thou bringest near to Thyself,
bidding him dwell in Thy palace.

Here the Church remembers Aloysius as one chosen by God and brought near to Himself to live always in the courts (or palace) of the Lord. The underlying idea is that Luigi, destined to live in a Renaissance palace, lives out his days instead in the courts of the Lord, in the household of the King.

Offertory Antiphon (Ps 23:3-4)

Who dares climb the mountain of the Lord,
and appears in His sanctuary?
The guiltless in act, the pure in heart.

Returning to Psalm 23, the source of the Introit, for the Offertory procession, the Church engages in a question and answer. This is sung at the very moment the priest ascends to the altar, climbing the mountain of the Lord and appearing in His sanctuary. One hears above this antiphon, in a kind of mystical counterpoint, the promise of Our Lord in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). Look at the eyes of Luigi in the portrait above; it is the gaze of a clean heart, the gaze of one who sees God.

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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