Saints: August 2012 Archives

Live With the Saints

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Here are photos of three dear friends of mine: Blessed Columba Marmion, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, and Mother Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus.

I have brought so many of My saints and blessed,
so many of My friends here in heaven with Me, into your life
to help you, to guide you, to intercede for you.
You are not always aware of their presence
nor of their intense activity on your behalf.

I give tasks to My saints.
I share with them the ministrations of My merciful love to souls.
I invite them to enter into the lives of My servants and friends on earth,
and to educate and guide
those whom I love and have called to eternal glory.

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The life of My saints in heaven
is one of cooperation with Me
in My two-fold mediation as Eternal High Priest.
Through Me, and with Me, and in Me,
they glorify and praise My Father;
and through Me, and with Me, and in Me,
they dispense graces to souls
and intervene with a perfect love
in the lives of their sisters and brothers
who walk as pilgrims on the earth.

I have charged so many of My saints
to walk with you,
to attend to your needs,
to obtain for you the graces of repentance,
and illumination, and union with Me
that My merciful Heart so desires to give you.

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Some of these saints, though not all of them, are known to you.
They have adopted you, some as a brother, others as a spiritual son.
Their interest in all that you do, and say, and suffer
is continuous and they are, at every moment, attentive to you.
Call upon My saints.
Ask for their help.
Walk in their company.
Invoke those whom I have made known to you.
Welcome those whom I will make known to you.

One day you will be united with them, in Me,
in the glory of heaven where My Face will fill your soul with an ineffable joy,
the same joy that is the delight of all My saints,
and the reward of those who have sought My Face on earth.
Invoke those whom I have already brought into your life
and remain open, for there are others whom I will present to you,
and to whom I will entrust you in the years to come.

From In Sinu Iesu, The Journal of a Priest

Prepare to Disappear

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Birth, Passion, Death

The Church gives us two feastdays of Saint John the Baptist each year: the first on June 24th to mark his nativity, and today's feast to mark his passion and death. We celebrate the nativity of Saint John the Baptist because, unlike everyone else with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, John was born in holiness. Our Lord Jesus Christ sanctified John when both of them were still hidden in the wombs of their mothers. The grace of hiddenness marks the life of Saint John the Baptist from the beginning.

Appearance and Disappearance

Jesus hidden in Mary approached John hidden in Elizabeth and, when the voice of the Holy Mother of God reached the ears of Elizabeth, the babe in her womb leaped for joy (cf. Lk 1:44). Although John, like all men, was conceived marked by Adam's sin, he was born already touched by the saving grace of Christ mediated by His Immaculate Mother. Clearly, a child born in such extraordinary circumstances was destined by the Lord for even greater things. At the peak of summer on June 24th we celebrated the appearance of John the Baptist. Today, as summer begins to fade, we celebrate his disappearance.

More Than A Prophet

"And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways" (Lk 1:76). John the Forerunner is a prophet and he is more than a prophet. By his preaching he speaks truth in the boldness of the Holy Spirit. By his captivity, passion and death, he prefigures the Suffering Servant, the immolated Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the Victim "by whose wounds we are healed" (1P 2:24). Our Lord Himself says: "A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John" (Lk 7:27-28).

This Joy of Mine

In Jesus, John the Baptist recognizes the Light, the Christ, the Lamb of God, and the Bridegroom. "Behold the Lamb of God!" (Jn 1:29). All John's joy is to gaze upon the Face of Jesus and to hear His voice. "I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. 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 329-30).

The Burning and Shining Lamp

John was to be visible only for a time. "He was a burning and shining lamp," says Jesus, "and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light" (Jn 5:25). John's shining light was hidden away in the darkness of a prison cell. The Bridegroom had arrived; the Friend of the Bridegroom had to disappear.

Silence

The voice of John the Forerunner was heard crying in the wilderness, denouncing sin, calling men to justice, and sinners to repentance. But then the voice of the Eternal Father was heard, coming from heaven: "Thou art my Son, the Beloved; with Thee I am well pleased" (Lk 3:22). After the voice of the Father revealing the Word was heard over the Jordan, the voice of the Baptist was heard less and less until, finally, it was silenced by death, a cruel and ignominious death not unlike the immolation of the Lamb, which it prefigured.

Today's feast obliges us to come to terms with the paradox of a hidden and silent life. Graced from the womb of his mother in view of an extraordinary mission, Saint John the Baptist served the designs of the Father for the length of time and in the place determined by the Father's loving providence. "Sent from God . . . he came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light" (Jn 1:6-8). When the Sun of Justice dawned, when the Dayspring appeared, the Forerunner could disappear. When the voice of the Bridegroom began to make itself heard, the Friend of the Bridegroom could fall silent.

In the Shadow of the Cross

John the Baptist knew that, like the grain of wheat which falls into the earth and dies in order to bear much fruit (Jn 12:24), he was destined to return to a life of silence and obscurity. John the Baptist shows us that every vocation is subject to mysterious and unexpected turns. He demonstrates that every vocation must fall beneath the shadow of the Cross, sometimes in dramatic ways, but more often in the humble obscurity of day to day existence.

Pray

Suffering is necessary if we are to decrease and allow the Lord Jesus to increase. To each of us Saint John the Baptist says: Prepare to disappear. And lest this should alarm us and cause us to tremble with fear and anxiety, John teaches us how to pray in the words of the psalmist:

Thou art my patience, O Lord:
my hope, O Lord, from my youth.
By Thee have I been confirmed from the womb:
from my mother's womb Thou art my protector.
Of Thee shall I continually sing:
I am become unto many as a wonder,
but Thou art a strong helper. (Ps 70:5-6)

The Cross

The hidden and silent life is a necessary and inescapable part of discipleship. A vocation that is not marked with the sign of the Cross is suspect. A life that is without its moments of obscurity, silence and apparent uselessness, does not bear the imprint of the Lamb. The more a soul is surrendered to the love of Christ the Bridegroom, the more deeply will that soul be marked by the Cross.

Ultimately, the sign that authenticates the mission of Saint John the Baptist is his participation in the Passion and Cross of Jesus, in Jesus' humiliation, in Jesus' going down into the valley of the shadow of death. And the sign that our vocation is blessed by God is that it is marked by the Cross.

The Sweetness of the Triumph of the Cross

One whose life is marked by the Cross cannot live without the Sacrifice of the Mass. Holy Mass allows us to taste the sweetness of the triumph of the Cross in the midst of every bitterness. Partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ does not spare us any suffering; it infuses all suffering with an irrepressible hope. "Therefore this joy of mine is now full" (Jn 3:29).

This is a most unusual depiction of Saint Augustine washing the feet of Christ. A friar named Strozzi painted it in 1629. Augustine, wearing an apron over his black monastic habit, is assisted by an angel. A tonsured monk looks on from a distance. With his right hand Augustine clasps the foot of Our Lord. His gaze is wholly turned towards the Face of Christ, who appears to be instructing him on what he is doing.

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I preached this homily in 2007.

1 John 4:7-16
Psalm 118: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Matthew 23; 8-12

The Doctor of Charity

The words of Saint John in today's First Lesson are the perfect expression of Saint Augustine's own experience. Augustine is called the "Doctor of Charity," and with good reason. Saint John speaks of the discovery of charity that grounds every Christian life:

"Dearly beloved, let us love one another, for charity is of God. And every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is charity. By this hath the charity of God appeared towards us, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:7-10).

He Hath First Loved Me

For Saint Augustine, however, the words of the Beloved Disciple became intensely personal: "By this hath the charity of God appeared towards me, Augustine, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that I may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though I had loved God, but because He hath first loved me, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for my sins."

The discovery of the love of God came late in Augustine's life. It is always late. One cannot discover the love of God too soon. And so, the Doctor of Charity laments his tardy discovery of the One Thing Necessary:

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new!
Too late have I loved Thee.
And lo, Thou wert inside me and I outside,
and I sought for Thee there, and in all my unsightliness
I flung myself on those beautiful things which Thou hast made.
Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee.
Those beauties kept me away from Thee,
though if they had not been in Thee, they would not have been at all.
Thou didst call and cry to me and break down my deafness.
Thou didst flash and shine on me and put my blindness to flight.
Thou didst blow fragrance upon me and I drew breath,
and now I pant after Thee.
I tasted of Thee and now I hunger and thirst for Thee.
Thou didst touch me and I am aflame for Thy peace....

(Confessions, Book X:38)

28 August: Saint Augustine

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Here are some lovely texts for the feast of Saint Augustine.

At First Vespers

Holy Father Saint Augustine,
Hearken to thy children's cry;
Plea for us as now thou standest
Near the throne of God on high:
Guide thy flock, O loving Shepherd,
Who to us in Christ art nigh.

Holy poverty's true lover,
All Christ's poor ones hymn thy praise,
Truth's own champion and defender,
Loved by all who seek her ways;
Scripture's God-enlightened teacher,
All her wealth thy pen displays.

Lighting depths obscure and hidden,
Thou dost break us heavenly bread
From the doctrine of our Saviour,
From the gracious words He said;
With the Psalms life-giving nectar
All who learn of thee are fed.

For the white-robed canon's choir
Laws of wisdom thou didst frame:
Those who love thy words and keep them,
Thy sure patronage may claim;
Safe, they tread the ways of Sion,
Calling on thy worthy name.

Glory to the King of Ages;
Praise and triumph to his reign;
Joining with the choir of Angels,
Let us sound our answering strain;
E'en now, 'neath our Patron's banner,
Citizens of heaven's domain. Amen.

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A Learned Rabbi

Today is the feast of Saint Bartholomew, the apostle whose other name is Nathanael. A native of Cana in Galilee and a friend of the Apostle Philip, Nathanael was a rabbi learned in the Scriptures. Tradition says that he preached the Gospel in Armenia and India. Apart from that we know little about him. In art, one can recognize him by the flaying knife that he holds in his hand, a symbol of his gruesome martyrdom.

Come and See

Philip introduced Nathanael to Jesus. Philip simply repeated the words of Jesus to Andrew and Simon Peter: "Come and see" (Jn 1:39). The most effective apostolate is the one by which souls are brought directly to Jesus by means of a simple invitation. Arguments, disputes and debates are to no avail; it is the experience of Christ that convinces and converts. How often has exposure to the Most Holy Eucharist -- the sacramental experience of the living Christ truly present -- been the occasion of a complete conversion!

A Man Without Guile

Our Lord saw in Nathanael a man free of the torturous complications that so often affect pious people. Nathanael had the prized virtue of simplicity; Jesus called him "a true Israelite in whom there is no guile" (Jn 1:47). Nathanael had no hidden agenda. What came out of his mouth was what he held in his heart.

O Doctor Mellifluus

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Inflamed With Zeal

The liturgy describes Saint Bernard as a man all ablaze with zeal for the house of the Lord. The little phrase, "inflamed with zeal," tells us, in effect, that God gave Saint Bernard to the Church as a new Elias, the ardent prophet given to Israel of old. When Elias was on Mount Horeb, the Lord visited him in "the whistling of a gentle air" (1 K 19:12). "And when Elias heard it, he covered his face with a mantle, and coming forth stood in the entering in of the cave, and behold a voice unto him, saying: 'What dost thou here, Elias?" And he answered: 'With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts'" (1 K 19:14).

By way of Psalm 68:9, one of the great prophetic psalms of the sufferings of Our Lord, the same expression, "inflamed with zeal," identifies Saint Bernard with Our Lord Jesus Christ in the mysteries of His Passion. After Jesus had driven the moneychangers out of the temple, His disciples remembered that it was written, "The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up" (Ps 68:9). The same burning zeal for the glory of the Father was to consume Jesus in the holocaust of His Sacrifice on Calvary.

The Mystical Embrace

The traditional iconography of Saint Bernard shows the monk held fast in the embrace of Jesus Crucified, who detaches His arm from the cross to draw Bernard to himself. The theme of the amplexus, or mystical embrace, is repeated in depictions of Saint Bernard again and again. The fire that burned in the pierced Heart of the Crucified passed into Bernard, filling him with an astonishing capacity to suffer and to love for the Church, Christ's Bride and Mystical Body.

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Good Zeal

Zeal, then, characterizes Saint Bernard. A burning passion for Christ and for the Bride of Christ, the Church, consumed him. In Chapter 72 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict distinguishes between two kinds of zeal. The first he calls "an evil zeal rooted in bitterness, which separates from God and leads to hell" (RSB 72:1).

Evil zeal -- coldhearted, pharisaical, and grim -- always leads to rancour and strife in a community. Good zeal "separates from vice and leads to God and to eternal life" (RB 72:2). The Holy Ghost infuses the grace of good zeal into souls. Good zeal is gentle, and winning, and sweet. It is warm and attractive. It inflames others but it doesn't scorch them. It attracts souls by means of a gentle, steady radiance.

Burning and Shining

The fire of a prophetic charism made Saint Bernard burn and shine in the Church. In the 5th Chapter of Saint John, Our Lord, speaking of the Baptist, says, "He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light" (Jn 5:35). Like the Holy Forerunner, Saint Bernard was, and remains even today, a burning and shining lamp set upon a lampstand in the Church so that all might enjoy his brightness. By burning, he enkindled others; by shining, he enlightened others.

Those who read the works of Saint Bernard know that his fire has not been extinguished nor has his flame become less bright. When the Holy Ghost sets a heart aflame, nothing earthly can extinguish the blaze. "Love is strong as death," says the Canticle, "the lamps thereof are fire and flames. Many waters cannot quench charity, neither can the floods drown it" (Ct 8:6-7). Many waters and great floods have come and gone, assailing the Church over the centuries, and sweeping away the grandest monuments in their torrents. Still, after the nine centuries that separate us from Saint Bernard, his fire burns with the same intensity and his light is undimmed.

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The Most Contagious Man of His Century

It was said in the twelfth century that Saint Bernard was -- spiritually -- the most contagious man alive. So powerful was his very presence that when Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux passed through a village or town, women would hide their husbands and sons, fearing that their menfolk, seduced by Bernard's preaching, might abandon wives and mothers, children and homes to follow him into the cloister. And so it happened! When Saint Bernard preached in the universities, the lecture halls would be packed with eager young listeners. Scores of students would follow him, like a kind of monastic pied-piper, begging for the grace of the holy habit and for a place in his abbey. When Saint Bernard preached, fire leaped out of his mouth into the hearts of his hearers and, when he explained the Scriptures, souls were flooded with light.

The Mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Like John the Baptist hidden in his mother's womb, Saint Bernard received the grace of Christ and grew in it, day by day, through the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "This, he says, "is the will of Him who wanted us to have everything through Mary.... God has placed in Mary the plenitude of every good, in order to have us understand that if there is any trace of hope in us, any trace of grace, any trace of salvation, it flows from her.... God could have dispensed His graces according to His good pleasure without making use of this channel (Mary), but it was His wish to provide this means whereby grace would reach you." This not mere theological speculation on the part of Saint Bernard, it is testimony to his personal experience. For Saint Bernard the Virgin Mother is the Mediatrix of All Graces. All that comes to us from Christ, our one Mediator with the Father, comes, necessarily, through Mary, Mother of us all, and Mediatrix with the Son.

The Liturgy

Again like Saint John the Baptist, Bernard saw himself as "the friend of the bridegroom who rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice" (Jn 3:29). Saint Bernard heard the voice of the Bridegroom in Sacred Scripture proclaimed, and sung, and held in the heart during long hours of the Opus Dei. The friend of the Bridegroom never seeks to draw the bride to himself or to possess her in any way; his whole desire is to hear the bride say: "As the apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my Beloved among the sons. I sat down under His shadow, whom I desired, and His fruit was sweet to my palate. He brought me into the cellar of wine, he set in order charity in me" (Ct 2:3-4).

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Compassion

The friend of the Bridegroom is jubilant when the bride is brought into the banqueting house; there, the banner of love is raised over her head. Bernard, the friend of the Bridegroom became the servant of the Divine Hospitality; he was, in truth, the herald of the Bridegroom-King sent out of his cloister into the streets and lanes of the city, into the highways and the hedges, at the hour of the wedding banquet, to bring in "the poor, and the feeble, and the blind, and the lame" (Lk 14:21).

The misery of mankind was never far from Saint Bernard's heart, never absent from his prayer. Having experienced the sweet compassion of the Mother of God in his own life, Saint Bernard looked upon the world even as she does from her place of glory in heaven, with "eyes of mercy." Addressing Our Lady in a sermon for her Assumption, he asks her to obtain "pardon for the guilty, health for the sick, courage for the fainthearted, help and deliverance for the endangered."

The Bread of Life and the Water of Wisdom

Ecclesiasticus describes Divine Grace coming in the form of a mother and of a virgin bride to meet Bernard. What is warmer than the welcome of a mother? And what more enthusiastic than that of a young bride? Again, the grace of Christ came to Saint Bernard through Mary. "With the bread of life and understanding, she shall feed him, and give him the water of wholesome wisdom to drink: and she shall be made strong in him.... And in the midst of the Church she shall open his mouth, and shall fill him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, and shall clothe him with a robe of glory" (Eccl 15: 3-5).

Devotion to Sacred Scripture

"By what doth a young man correct his way? By observing thy words" (Ps 118:9). The Abbot of Clairvaux knew that when God speaks, He communicates Himself. For Saint Bernard to be steeped in the Word of God was, as Origen teaches, to be steeped in the very Blood of Christ. Saint Bernard's lifelong attraction to Sacred Scripture was an expression of his lifelong attraction to the Sacred Side of Jesus, the wellspring of purity and of love.

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The Prayer of Christ

The effect of the monastic life, with its relentless immersion in the Word of God, is that the soul loses herself, her own words, desires, inclinations, and aspirations in the prayer of the Heart of Jesus to the Father. One seasoned in monastic life begins to be able to say, "It is no longer I who pray, but Christ who prays in me." In the presence of the Father, the soul shaped by the monastic tradition has no words apart from the words of the Word, uttered in the power of the Holy Ghost.

And this, of course, is the great reality of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When the priest goes to the altar as the representative of Christ and of the Church, he lifts his hands in prayer. At that moment, it is no longer we who pray for ourselves and by ourselves. It is Christ the Eternal High Priest who, through the priest standing before the altar, prays for us to His Father.

In every Mass, too, the embrace of Jesus Crucified is offered to each of us as it was offered to Saint Bernard. Detaching His arm from the cross, Our Lord draws us sacramentally to the wound in His Sacred Side. Through that mystic portal we pass over to the Father, in the Holy Ghost. The secret of Saint Bernard was this: guided by the Virgin Mother of Jesus, he yielded to the embrace of the Crucified and drank deeply from His open Side. May Mary, "our life, sweetness, and our hope," obtain that same grace for us today.

So intimate an alliance

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Priestly Union with the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today, 19 August, is the feast of Saint John Eudes, priest and ardent mystic of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Saint John Eudes is numbered among the few saints who lived a mystical espousal with the Most Holy Mother of God. Already as a young man, John Eudes placed a wedding band on the finger of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was a portent of things to come. As a priest, a reformer of the clergy, and an outstanding preacher, he experienced the fruitfulness that results from what one must dare to call a spousal intimacy with the Mother of God.

Something to Which All Priests Should Aspire

Saint John Eudes presents this grace as something to which all priests should aspire. To describe it he uses the French word alliance: covenant, bond, or union. Significantly, the same word is used to designate a wedding ring. I decided to translate the following passage from his Memorial on the Life of Ecclesiastics:

The Eternal Father
Consider that priests have a special alliance with the most holy Mother of God. This because, just as the Eternal Father made her participate in His divine paternity, and gave her the power to form in her womb the same Son whom He begets in His bosom, so too does He communicate to priests that same paternity, giving them power to form this same Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and in the hearts of the faithful.
The Son
As the Son made her [the Virgin Mary] His cooperator and coadjutrix (helpmate) in the work of the redemption of the world, so too does He make priests His cooperators and coadjutors in the work of saving souls.
The Holy Ghost
As the Holy Ghost, in an ineffable manner, associated her [the Virgin Mary] with Himself in the most divine of His operations, and in the masterpiece of His that is the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, so too does He associate priests with Himself to bring about an extension and a continuation of this mystery in each Christian, in whom the Son of God, in some manner, incarnates Himself by means of Baptism and by the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Mediatrix of All Graces
Just as the Eternal Father gave us His Son through her [the Virgin Mary], so too does He give Him to us through His priests. Even as all the graces that come forth to us from the Heart of God pass through the hands of Mary, so too are they given us by the ministry of priests. This in such wise that, just as Mary is the treasurer of the Most Holy Trinity, priests too bear this title.
The Sacrifice of Christ
Finally, it is through her that Jesus was offered to His Father at the first and last moment of His life, when she received Him in her sacred womb, and when she accompanied Him to the sacrifice that He made of Himself on the cross; and it is by means of priests that He is immolated daily upon our altars.
Mother of the Sovereign Priest
This is why priests, being bound by so intimate an alliance and so marvelous a conformity to the Mother of the Sovereign Priest, have very particular obligations to love her, to honour her, and to clothe themselves in her virtues, in her spirit, and in her dispositions. Humble yourselves that you should find yourselves so far removed from this. Enter into the desire to tend thereto with all your heart. Offer yourselves to her, and pray her to help you mightily.

An Irish Priest for Priests

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August 16th, 1917: The Anniversary of Father Willam Doyle, S.J.

When Father Willie Doyle entered my life, something happened. It was the beginning of one of those heavenly friendships that make a difference. The anniversary of his death compels me to seek his intercession with confidence. I recommend his friendship and his intercession to all the readers of Vultus Christi.

The marvelous blog, Remembering Father Willlie Doyle, gives the following information on the death of the soldier priest:

It is worth noting that there is some dispute about the exact date of Fr Doyle's death. The earliest sources seem to agree that it was the 16th. Recent references suggest that he died on the 17th while some veterans of the war came forward in the 1940's to state that Fr Doyle was killed on the 15th. Given the horrendous conditions in the war, it is not surprising that such confusion exists.

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Pope Benedict XVI to the Church in Ireland

Reading the Holy Father's message to the Church in Ireland, I cannot but relate it to the sufferings, prayers, and holiness of Father William Doyle.

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember "the rock from which you were hewn" (Is 51:1). Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.

Serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 16th Irish Division

Father Doyle, serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 16th Irish Division, fell in the Battle of Langemarck doing his duty to God and the many soldiers, of all armies, who also died in the Third Battle of Ypres. Although I have written of Father Willie Doyle elsewhere on Vultus Christi, I want, once again, to make these pages from Alfred O'Rahilly's splendid biography of Father Doyle (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1920) available to the Spiritual Mothers of Priests and to all my readers.

Priestly Sanctity and Reparation

Fr. Doyle had a very high ideal of the sacerdotal vocation. This he showed not only by his efforts to procure labourers for the great harvest, but especially in his own life. His daily Mass, for instance, was celebrated with a fervour which was apparent even to strangers. Phrases, such as Kyrie Eleison, Sursum Corda, Dominus Vobiscum, which by their very iteration tend to become mechanical utterances, seemed on his lips to be always full of freshness and meaning.

The Office: Every Word A Precious Coin

Similarly he always strove to prevent the recitation of the Office from becoming mere routine; he regarded it as a minting of merit, every word a precious coin. He so valued the Sacrament of Penance that he resolved to go daily to Confession. This lofty priestly ideal is made abundantly evident by his growing preoccupation with the work of promoting priestly sanctity and his increasing realisation that, like the great High Priest, he should be "a propitiation for the sins of the people." (Hebr. 2. 17.)

Priest and Victim

We see this idea in the following note: Sacerdos et victima -- Priest and Victim: After the words, Accipe protestatem offere sacrificium Dei*, the ordaining bishop adds, Imitamini quod tractatis. Jesus is a Victim, the priest must be one also. Christ has charged His priest to renew daily the sacrifice of the Cross; the altar is a perpetual Calvary ; the matter of the sacrifice, the victim, is Himself, His own Body, and He is the sacrificer. 'Receive, O Eternal Father, this unspotted Victim.' Can a priest worthy of the name stand by and watch this tremendous act, this heroic sacrifice, without desiring to suffer and to be immolated also? 'With Christ I am nailed to the Cross.' (Gal. 2. 20.) . . . Would that I could say a pure holy spotless victim. Let Jesus take me in His hands, as I take Him in mine, to do as He wills with me."
This idea is quite scriptural. "I beseech you," writes S. Paul, "that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God." "Be you also," says S. Peter (I. 2, 5), "as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Priesthood of the Lay Faithful

This association of priesthood and sacrifice applies also to those who are not priests, to all the faithful, who constitute "a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people." (I Peter 2. 9.) "Pray, Brothers," says the priest at Mass, "that the sacrifice which is mine and yours may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty" And all through the Canon of the Mass the words emphasize the intimate union between celebrant and people in the great mystery which is being enacted. The assistants join not only in offering up the Divine Victim but also, as a water-drop in wine, in offering themselves as 'a living sacrifice.'

Extending and Supplementing the Sacerdotal Work

Thus the Sacrifice of the Mass is the living source from which our reparation derives its efficacy and inspiration. Co-operation in the great mystery of the Redemption, says Blessed Marie-Thérèse Dubouché, the foundress of the Congrégation de l'Adoration Réparatrice, is "the act of the Sacrifice of the Mass continued by the members of the Saviour at every moment of the day and night." And this ideal of co-sacrifice with Christ leads naturally from an appreciation of the sublime function of the priesthood to the idea of a spiritual crusade, extending and supplementing the sacerdotal work and atoning for the inevitable negligences and even scandals which occur in its performance.

Prayer for Priests

This is the devotion which, during the last three years of his life, strongly took hold of Fr. Doyle, namely, prayer for priests to aid them in their ministry and reparation in atonement for the negligences and infidelities of those whose calling is so high. We have already seen how earnestly he besought prayers for his own work. Saint Teresa of Avila exhorts her nuns to this apostolate of prayer. "Try to be such," she says, 3 "that we may be worthy to obtain these two favours from God: (1) that among the numerous learned and religious (priests) whom we have, there may be many who possess the requisite abilities . . . and that our Lord would improve those that are not so well prepared, since one perfect man can do more than many imperfect ones; (2) that our Lord may protect them in their great warfare, so that they may escape the many dangers of the world." She considered that her Carmelites, enjoying the seclusion and immunity of the cloister, owed this duty to the Church Militant.

Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil-Martiny

This ideal is still more conspicuously enshrined in some recent religious institutes, particularly in the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus founded by Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil-Martiny. These sisters are "to ask by fervent prayers, by sufferings and even by their lives, if necessary, for the outpouring of grace on the Church, on the Catholic priesthood and on religious orders." In his Brief to Mgr. van den Berghe, 14th March, 1872, Pius IX welcomed the new foundation. "It is not without consolation of heart," said the Pope, "that we have heard of your plan to arouse and spread in your country that admirable spirit of sacrifice which God apparently wishes to oppose to the ever increasing impiety of our time. We see with pleasure that a great number of persons are everywhere devoting themselves entirely to God, offering Him even their life in ardent prayer, to obtain the deliverance and happy preservation of His Vicar and the triumph of the Church, to make reparation for the outrages committed against the divine Majesty, and especially to atone for the profanations of those who, though the salt of the earth, lead a life which is not in conformity with their dignity."

Reparation: Horizons Opened Up for the Weak

The seal of the Church has therefore been set on this apostolate of prayer and reparation. There is, needless to say, no question of pride or presumption, no attempting to judge others. It is merely the just principle that those who are specially shielded and privileged should aid those active religious - priests, brothers and sisters - who have great responsibilities and a difficult mission, and should by their faithfulness atone for the shortcomings of those who are exposed to greater temptations. "More than ever," says Cardinal Mermillod, "is it necessary to console the wounded Heart of Jesus, to pray for the priesthood, and by immolation and adoration, without measure or truce to give our Saviour testimony of affection and fidelity." "There is much which needs reparation," writes Mgr. d'Hulst, "even in the sanctuary and the cloisters, and indeed especially there. Our Lord expects compensation from souls who have not abused special graces." "How grievous are these scandals!" he exclaims in another letter. "Only the thought of reparation can soften the bitterness of them. To take expiation on oneself is to be like Him of whom it is said: Vere languores nostros ipse tulit et dolores nostros ipse portavit, "Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows." (Isaias 53, 4) If this thought had thoroughly entered into us, without running after great penances, should we not give quite another reception than we usually do to sufferings, vexations, and the dulness and bitterness of our poor lives? And then the thought of reparation is so beneficial to poor souls like ours! It is a great mistake to think it is the privilege of the perfect. On the contrary, it pleases our Lord to open up these horizons to the weak, to give them courage by turning their attention away from their own wretchedness. If I am incapable of satisfying God in myself, I will try to make up to Him for others. If I cannot lament my own ingratitude sufficiently, I will learn to do so by lamenting for others."

Secret Apostolate of Victim Souls for Priests

These consoling words will help to convince those whose ideal of holiness is unconsciously individualistic and self-centred, that the ideal of reparation by no means implies the possession or the delusion of perfection. Of course in all this there may creep in some spirit of censorious self-sufficiency, though indeed there is not much danger of it in the hidden humble lives of those victim-souls who are devoted to the secret apostolate of prayer for God s ministers and reparation for those scandals and infidelities which occur from time to time in the Church. It has, therefore, seemed right to show briefly here, by way of preface to Fr. Doyle's private notes, how explicitly this work of priestly sanctification and reparation has been recognised by the Church and adopted by saints and mystics.

To Obtain Grace for Other Priests

This ideal appealed greatly to Fr. Doyle. On 28th July, 1914, the anniversary of his Ordination, he wrote: "At Exposition Jesus spoke clearly in my soul, 'Do the hard thing for My sake because it is hard.' I also felt urged to perform all my priestly duties with great fervour to obtain grace for other priests to do the same, e.g. the Office, that priests may say theirs well." On the Feast of St. Teresa, October, 1914, there is this simple but eloquent record: "Last night I rose at one a.m. and walked two miles barefooted in reparation for the sins of priests to the chapel at Murrough (Co. Clare), where I made the Holy Hour. God made me realise the merit of each step, and I understood better how much I gain by not reading the paper; each picture, each sentence sacrificed means additional merit. I felt a greater longing for self-inflicted suffering and a determination to do more little things.'"

Chosen by God for Priests

During his 1914 retreat this ideal came home to him as a special mission. "The great light of this retreat, clear and persistent," he writes on 1st December, "has been that God has chosen me, in His great love and through compassion for my weakness and misery, to be a victim of reparation for the sins of priests especially; that hence my life must be different in the matter of penance, self-denial and prayer, from the lives of others not given this special grace they may meritoriously do what I cannot; that unless I constantly live up to the life of a willing victim, I shall not please our Lord nor ever become a saint - it is the price of my sanctification; that Jesus asks this from me always and in every lawful thing, so that I can sum up my life 'sacrifice always in all things.'"

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League of Priestly Sanctity

On the following Christmas Day (1914) Fr. Doyle records a further step. "During midnight Mass at Dalkey Convent I made the oblation of myself as a member of the League of Priestly Sanctity.* During my preparation beforehand a sudden strong conviction took possession of me that by doing so, I was about to begin the 'work' which - had spoken of. Our Lord gave me great graces during the Mass and urged me more strongly than ever to throw myself into the work of my sanctification, that so I may draw many other priests to Him. He wants the greatest possible fervour and exactness in all priestly duties."

* The League of Priestly Sanctity, to which reference is here made, was founded in the North of France in the year 1901, under the direction of Père Feyerstein, S.J. (+ 1911). Fr. Doyle became Director-General for Ireland and strove to spread the League among Irish priests. In an explanatory leaflet which he issued, it is described as "an association of priests, both secular and regular, who, in response to the desire of the Sacred Heart, strive to help each other to become holy and thus render themselves worthy of their sublime calling and raise the standard of sacerdotal sanctity." Two special objects are enumerated: "(1) The assistance of priests, and especially those of the League, in living a life worthy of their high calling. (2) The atonement for outrages to the Sacred Heart in the Sacrament of His love. This Sacrament, needless to say, is committed to priests in a special manner; and there ought to be a priestly expiation for irreverence, negligence, and particularly sacrilegious Masses, which the Divine Heart has to endure from the very ministers of His altar.

Fr. Doyle had this League very much at heart and had prepared several schemes for its spread and improvement when his appointment as military chaplain interrupted the work. But while engaged in this novel sphere of activity, the ideal of a life of reparation remained uppermost in his mind and once more the special form which it took was expiation for the negligences and sins of God's anointed. He recorded this resolution on 26th July, 1916: "During a visit our Lord seemed to urge me not to wait till the end of the war, but to begin my life of reparation at once, in some things at least. I have begun to keep a book of acts done with this intention. He asked me for these sacrifices, (1) To rise at night in reparation for priests who lie in bed instead of saying Mass. (2) At all costs to make the 50,000 aspirations. (3) To give up illustrated papers. (4) To kiss floor of churches. (5) Breviary always kneeling. (6) Mass with intense devotion. The Blessed Curé d'Ars used to kneel without support while saying the Office. Could not I?"

Reparation and Penance for the Sins of Priests

"This is my vocation," he notes on 8th February, 1917, "reparation and penance for the sins of priests; hence the constant urging of our Lord to generosity." Appropriately enough the last entry in his diary was made on 28th July, 1917, the tenth anniversary of his ordination. Fr. Doyle's last recorded thought was about his sacrificial ideal of priestly immolation.

All That Happens, Sent by Jesus

"The reading of La vie réparatrice (Canon Leroux de Bretagne, Desclée 1909) has made me long more to take up this life in earnest. I have again offered myself to Jesus as His Victim to do with me absolutely as He pleases. I will try to take all that happens, no matter from whom it comes, as sent to me by Jesus and will bear suffering, heat, cold, etc., with joy as part of my immolation, in reparation for the sins of priests. From this day I shall try bravely to bear all 'little pains' in this spirit. A strong urging to this."

Solace for the Sizzling

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Saint Laurence is the patron saint of those who have sizzled (or may be sizzling) on the gridirons of lust. I have long appreciated the oration in honour of Saint Laurence that the Church recommends to her priest in the daily Thanksgiving After Mass of the Roman Missal:

Grant to us, O Lord, we beseech Thee,
to extinguish within us the flames of vice,
even as Thou didst strengthen blessed Laurence
to overcome his fiery torments.
Through Christ our Lord.

Continence is a gift, not an achievement. One becomes chaste by grace, not by dint of stress and strain. Mother Church has known this all along. This, I suppose, is why she bids her priests pray daily for the angelic virtue. What I like about the official prayers for chastity (found in the Roman Missal) is that they are utterly realistic. It is assumed that one is engaged in spiritual combat. Out of weakness or weariness or a combination of both, one may at times emerge from the battle scarred and bruised.

What is the secret of chaste living? 1) You have to want it, 2) you have to ask for it, and 3) you may have to wait for it. Does not Sirach say, "Humble thy heart and endure . . . and in thy humiliation keep patience" (Eccl 2:2-4)?

It pleases God to bestow the gift of chastity through the hands of the All-Pure Mother of God. In this particular combat, the rosary is the mighty weapon of the weak. That being said, let's look at the prayers for chastity given by the Church in the Roman Missal. It is recommended that most of these find a place in the daily prayer rule of the priest.

From the Preparation for Mass

Ure igne Sancti Spiritus

Refine our hearts and affections, Lord,
in the fire of the Holy Spirit,
so that our bodies may be chaste and our hearts clean
to serve Thee according to Thy pleasure.

Rex virginum, amator castitatis

With the heavenly dew of Thy blessing,
God, King of virgins and Lover of stainless chastity,
quench the wildfire of lust in my body,
leaving all of me, body and soul, steadfast in purity.
Deaden within me the stings of desire and all lustful excitements.
Give me true, complete, and abiding chastity,
and therewith all those other gifts of Thine in which Thou truly delightest,
enabling me to offer daily sacrifice in praise of Thee
with a chaste body and clean heart.

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I preached this homily in 2007, and decided to post it again today.

2 Corinthians 9:6-10
Psalm 111: 1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9
John 12:24-26

Live With Christ and Laurence

I wish that I could put you all in a bus today and accompany you to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City just to see there the small round glass medallion dating from the fourth century that depicts Saint Laurence. The medallion bears the simple inscription: “Live with Christ and Laurence.” What some would see as a simple cultural artifact is for us a witness to the unchanging faith of the Church. The saints are those who have passed into eternal life with Christ. “Live with Christ and Laurence.” To live with Christ is to live in the society of the saints. Not only do we remember each year the anniversary of their birthday into the life of heaven; we seek their intercession and rely on it. We make our pilgrimage through this life in their company, having “over our head,” as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).

A Saint Painting A Saint

I also wish that I could transport all of you to the Chapel of Pope Nicholas V in the Vatican to see there the series of frescoes that Blessed Fra Angelico painted to depict the life of Saint Laurence. This in itself is remarkable: a saint painting a saint.

Laurence and the Poor

In one scene of the series he shows Saint Laurence coming out of a basilica to meet the poor who are waiting for him. Laurence is youthful; he is dressed as a deacon for the liturgy. His dalmatic is deep rose in colour, suggesting joy, and trimmed in gold, hinting at the glory that is already transforming him. On the ground in front of him is a crippled man holding out his hand and begging for alms. To his right is an old man with a white beard, quite bent over, and leaning on his walking stick; he too is asking for alms. To Laurence’s left stands an impoverished widow in a dark dress and, just behind her, a young mother with a baby in her arms. Again to his left, is a man in need of medicine, pointing to a wound in his knee. On both sides of Laurence are little children; two of them, having already received their alms, are walking away, while a third is still waiting to receive something.

The Cheerful Giver

The fresco is a kind of homily on today’s First Reading and Responsorial Psalm. Laurence is the cheerful giver, beloved of God (cf. 2 Cor 9: 7). “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (2 Cor 9:9, Ps 111:9). Blessed Fra Angelico painted theology: by showing the open basilica in the background, he is indicating that the Church is the servant of the hospitality of God, that her doors are open to all.

From Christ to Christ

By painting Saint Laurence in his dalmatic, he is suggesting that Laurence has just come from Mass where it is the deacon’s function to sing the dismissal, “Ite, missa est,” “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” or “Go, it is the sending forth.” The mission of the Church begins at the altar; leaving the altar, Laurence goes straight out the front door of the basilica to the poor who wait for him. He goes from Christ to Christ.

Bride of the Eternal One

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An Extraordinary Woman

Seventy years ago today, on August 9, 1942, the Carmelite Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, known in the world as Dr. Edith Stein, met death in the infernal concentration camp of Auschwitz. Edith Stein was a Jew, born into an Orthodox family on October 12, 1891. It was the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. For a time, suffering from depression, and determined nonetheless to seek her own truth, she abandoned all outward religious practice. Edith asked for Baptism after reading the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila. "This," she said, "is the truth."

The Prayer of Esther

The liturgy places the impassioned prayer of Esther on the lips of Teresa Benedicta in Auschwitz. “As a child I was wont to hear from the people of the land of my forefathers that you, O Lord, chose Israel from among all peoples, and our fathers from among all their ancestors, as a lasting heritage, and that you fulfilled all your promises to them. Be mindful of us, O Lord. Manifest yourself in the time of our distress.“(Est 4:3, 12).

Salvation From the Jews

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is of the lineage of Miriam, of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Judith and Esther, of the same people as the Blessed Virgin, Miriam of Nazareth, of whom was born Yeshouah who is called the Christ. The words of Our Lord in today’s gospel strike us with a particular resonance. “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jn 4:22).

The Root

Saint Paul reminds us that, “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). God’s choice of Israel remains; His love for Israel stands firm forever. How could God not cherish with a love of predilection the race that gave His only begotten Son flesh and blood? Gentile Christians are the wild olive shoot, grafted in place to share the richness of the olive tree. Lest we be tempted to boast, Saint Paul says: “Remember, it is not you that supports the root, but the root that supports you” (Rom 11:18).

Through the Eyes of a Bridal Love

Through the gift of the Law and the message of the prophets, God Himself undertook Israel’s education and preparation for a universal mission, for an abiding vocation. The Law and the prophets admonish Israel to fear the Lord God, to follow all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord God with heart and soul, to keep His commandments and laws. All of this is a response to merciful love. The vocation of Israel is to discover the holiness of God revealed in the Torah, to contemplate Him through the eyes of a bridal love. The God to Whom belong the heavens and the earth set his heart on Israel; God chose a people to be uniquely His own in view of a covenant by which Israel would become the beloved, the bride of the Eternal One.

To Be Led By the Hand of God

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"Whatever did not fit in with my plan
did lie within the plan of God.
I have an ever deeper and firmer belief
that nothing is merely an accident
when seen in the light of God,
that my whole life down to the smallest details
has been marked out for me
in the plan of Divine Providence
and has a completely coherent meaning
in God's all seeing eyes.

To be a child of God,
that means to be led by the Hand of God,
to do the Will of God, not one's own will,
to place every care and every Hope in the Hand of God
and not to worry about one's future.
On this rests the freedom and the joy of the child of God.
But how few of even the truly pious,
even of those ready for heroic sacrifices, possess this freedom.

When night comes, and you look back over the day
and see how fragmentary everything has been,
and how much you planned that has gone undone,
and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed:
just take everything exactly as it is,
put it in God's hands and leave it with Him.
Then you will be able to rest in Him --really rest --
and start the next day as a new life."

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D.
October 12, 1891 -- August 9, 1942

A Deacon Exorcist and Martyr

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The image depicts a 16th century wood polychrome statue of a smiling Saint Cyriacus. Note the lovely green dalmatic and golden maniple he is wearing.

Saint Cyriacus

As one of the great deacon martyrs of the Church, alongside of Saint Stephen, Saint Lawrence, and Saint Vincent of Saragossa, Saint Cyriacus deserves to be better known. Cyriacus was a Roman nobleman who, after accepting the Gospel of Christ and receiving Holy Baptism, renounced his considerable wealth, and gave it away to the poor. Ordained a deacon of the Church of Rome, Cyriacus served under Popes Saints Marcellinus and Marcellus (296-309). At the time, deacons played a vital role in the life of the Church, being wholly occupied in preaching, in sacramental and liturgical ministrations, and in the care of the poor and sick.

Servant of the Poor and Exorcist

The deacon Cyriacus became famous for the conversions to the faith that he brought about, for the healing of the sick, and the liberation of souls in the grip of the powers of darkness. All Rome spoke of the zeal of Cyriacus, of his charity, and the power of his prayer. During the time the Emperor Diocletian was building his famous baths, Cyriacus ministered as an angel of mercy and an envoy of the love of Christ among the enslaved prisoners there condemned to forced labour.

Deliverances and Conversions

When Artemesia, Diocletian's daughter fell ill, he was told that Cyriacus alone would be able to heal her. Diocletian freed Cyriacus and begged him to heal his daughter. Cyriacus prayed, chased from Artemesia the demon that was afflicting her, and so restored her to health. As a result, Artemesia asked for Holy Baptism, and Diocletian gave Cyriacus a house in Rome.

Word of the prodigy reached Persia, where Jobias, the daughter of King Shapur II was suffering from the same kind of demonic affliction. Diocletian and his wife Serena decided, then, to send Cyriacus to Persia. There, true to his charism, he liberated Jobias. This miraculous healing caused the entire family of King Shapur II to ask for Holy Baptism. King Shapur, in an effort to keep Cyriacus in Persia, offered him great wealth. Cyriacus, however, after fasting for forty-five days, returned to Rome.

Martyrdom

In 303, together with other Christians of Rome, including Saints Largus and Smaragdus, who refused to participate in idolstrous practices, he was tortured and beheaded under the reign of Maximian. His body in rests in the church of Santa Maria in Via Lata near the Piazza Venezia, and in the abbey of Altorf in Alsace. In 1994, by disposition of Camillo Cardinal Ruini, Vicar of Rome, a vial of the holy martyr's blood was given to the sanctuary of Torre le Nocelle, where it is the object of fervent veneration.

Cultus

Saint Cyriacus is venerated as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers; his feast is kept on 8 August. He is a patron saint of deacons and of exorcists and, even today, obtains by his intercession, the deliverance of souls from harassment by evil spirits.

Prayer to Saint Cyriacus

O glorious Saint Cyriacus,
thou whom, for thy outstanding zeal and compassion,
Pope Saint Marcellinus raised to the dignity of the diaconate
in the Church of Rome,
and who, with intrepid patience,
didst endure the dislocation of thy members,
the laceration of thy flesh,
the torture of boiling water and,
finally, death itself by beheading,
look upon us who invoke thee,
and obtain for us the grace to remain steadfast in the faith,
in spite of the temptations of the Evil One,
and to live in such union with Christ Jesus
as to merit the blessedness of eternity in HIs presence.

O excellent martyr of Christ,
honoured today in all the world,
let us experience the power of thy arm.
Show us thy mercy, even as thou hast shown it in times past,
and grant us the favour we desire. Amen.

Glory be to the Father three times.


Saint John Mary Vianney, Priest

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For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:25).

A Man Sent by God

In 1827, Ars was a remote country village eighteen miles outside of Lyons in France with nothing extraordinary about it; nothing extraordinary apart from the fact that from 1827 until 1859 -- a period of thirty-two years -- the little church of Ars was never empty. Multitudes poured into the church from before the first light of day until well into the night. "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light" (Jn 1:6-8).

The Baptist

Remarkably, the parish priest of Ars was, even by name, another John the Baptist; his full Christian name was, in fact, John Mary Baptist Vianney. Baptized John Mary, he chose the name Baptist at the time of his Confirmation on a cold snowy day in 1807. He was twenty-one years old. On that one day Cardinal Fesch, the Archbishop of Lyons, confirmed three-thousand souls. The ceremony began early in the morning and continued until after 5 o'clock in the afternoon. In the wake of the French Revolution, so many souls had been deprived of catechesis and of the sacraments, that it was not uncommon for such sacramental marathons to take place. From that day forward, John Mary Vianney signed his name John Mary Baptist, or John Baptist Mary.

The identification with the Forerunner of Our Lord was a mysterious portent of things to come. Twenty years after his Confirmation as crowds of pilgrims descended upon Ars, one might have put to them the very words of Our Lord concerning Saint John the Baptist: "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in king's houses. Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet." (Mt 11:7-9). By the grace of the Holy Spirit, John Mary Baptist Vianney was a prophet -- but he was more than a prophet. He was a priest of Jesus Christ.

Nothing of the Showman About Him

Naturally speaking, there was nothing in the parish priest of Ars to draw crowds. He had nothing of the showman about him. He wasn't surrounded by publicists. There were no sophisticated lighting and sound systems. He wasn't, for example, anything at all like a Joel Osteen, or a Dr. Billy Graham, or even like the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. One would not have described him as handsome, although a childlike purity of heart shone in his eyes, and there was about his face something of a supernatural radiance, especially when one observed him in prayer. His clothes were more or less clean, but shabby; an old patched cassock and shoes totally unacquainted with polish. He wore his hair in the clerical fashion of the day: shoulder-length and pushed straight back. Once at a meeting of priests, a more fastidious clergyman refused to sit next to him for fear of catching something from Vianney's greenish, soiled hat.

Not the Typical Priest

Many of his brother priests found him eccentric, even odd. With raised eyebrows and knowing smiles, they murmured among themselves about his notoriously deficient seminary training, about his lack of sophistication, his very rudimentary Latin, and -- to their mind -- excessive piety and fasting. The numbers of penitents drawn to his confessional disconcerted them. Were they not better educated than the parish priest of Ars? Had not they more respectable credentials, a sense of propriety, and the ability to ally their priesthood with life's finer pleasures, those of the palate, of the eye, and of the mind? Why then were veritable caravans of souls making their way to the parish priest of Ars, and returning from him transformed, converted, repentant and joyful?

John Mary Vianney might have answered their queries with the words of Saint John the Baptist: "No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. 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 3:28-30).

Freely You Have Received

In these few lines one finds a portrait, not only of Saint John Mary Vianney, but of a universal, that is, a Catholic priestly holiness. The grace of the priesthood, and the charisms that, by God's gracious will, sometimes accompany it come from heaven. They are pure gift. "Every good endowment and every perfect gift," says Saint James, "is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (Jas 1:17). The priest gives what he himself has received. What were, after all, Our Lord's instructions to his first twelve priests-in-training? "Preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely have you received; freely give" (Mt 10:7-8).

Another Christ

The priest is another Christ: a representation of the Divine Original, invested by the Holy Spirit with a three-fold gift and power to teach, to govern, and to sanctify. The priest images Christ as Bridegroom of the Church; Christ as Head of the Mystical Body; Christ as Shepherd of the flock of God; Christ as Sower of the Seed. The priest makes Christ. present. He reveals his Face, His Heart, and His Hands. He acts in the Name and in the Person of Christ.

The priest bears within himself a mysterious sacramental imprint: the indelible character of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, that nothing and no one can erase. In heaven, the indelible character that marks the soul of the priest causes him a glorious joy beyond description; in hell, which God forbid, that same indelible character causes the priest an everlasting torment.

Oh, How Great Is the Priest

Saint John Mary Vianney was aware of the immense dignity of the priesthood. He was humble: not denying the gifts he has received, but glorifying their Giver. Listen to him preach on the priesthood:

A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy. Oh, how great is the priest!" he said. "If he realized what he is, he would die... God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host.

Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he said:

Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest... After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is.

Stand Up, and Kneel Down for Your Priests

It is time for all Catholics to reclaim and recover a sense of awe in the face of the priesthood. It is time for us to rediscover the beauty of the priesthood. It is time for us to stand up for our beloved priests and, even more importantly, to kneel down for them before Christ in grateful adoration and supplication.

The priesthood of Jesus Christ has, over the past decade, been dragged through the mud. The sins and weaknesses of a few -- and these cannot in any way be minimized, rationalized, or condoned: they can only be humbly confessed and mercifully forgiven. These sins and weakness have, in fact, covered the Face of Christ the Priest with filth, and caused His Bride the Church to weep tears of bitterness and shame.

Say what you will, the promises of the Lord uttered through the mouth of His prophet remain, because the Word of the Lord endures forever: "Her priests I will clothe with holiness, and her faithful will ring out their joy" (Ps 131:16).

The Priest Continues the Work of Redemption on Earth

Three years ago, in declaring a Year of the Priesthood, Pope Benedict XVI invited the whole Church to listen to the teachings of the parish priest of Ars, and to take them to heart. Here is the remedy we have been waiting for: the words of a holy priest on the priesthood:

Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love... Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth... What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods ... Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshiping the beasts there ... The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you.

A Sacerdotal Pentecost

No priest is for himself. Each and every priest is for the Church. Pray, then, and fast for priests. Beseech the Father to glorify the priesthood of His Son by a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit over the priests of the entire world. Ask boldly for a Sacerdotal Pentecost. Only by the action of the Holy Spirit will priests be "sanctified in the truth" (Jn 17:17). Only by the action of the Holy Spirit will priests recover the ardour of our first love and the zeal of the prophets and saints.

Saint Peter Julian Eymard

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A Priest-Adorer

When Blessed John XXIII canonized Peter Julian Eymard on December 9, 1962, at the close of the First Session of the Second Vatican Council, he was, I think, acting prophetically. He directed the eyes of the universal Church to the image of a priest-adorer impassioned by the Most Holy Eucharist. During the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, marked by the abundant graces of the Year of the Eucharist, Saint Peter Julian Eymard's particular expression of sacerdotal holiness came into focus more clearly for me.

A Priest for Priests

Saint Peter Julian was a priest for priests. In every brother priest he recognized a living image of Jesus Christ. He was known even to leave his prie-dieu before the Blessed Sacrament during his designated hour of adoration in order to receive a priest in need.

Sanctuaries of Adoration

Père Eymard ardently desired to do still more. In the first place, he resolved to number among the chief Apostolic Works of the Society of the Blessed Sacrament that of receiving into its Sanctuaries of adoration all priests who might desire to spend some days at the foot of the holy tabernacle.

I Want to Get the Priests

"Sanctify the priests by the Eucharist," he wrote. "That embraces everything. With the priests, we have the parishes, the whole country." Some months before his death, he exclaimed, "Now listen! I want to get the priests. That is our principal apostolate."

"To labour for priests," he used to say, "is to labour for multipliers. Let the Holy Eucharist become the centre of their thoughts, the end of their labours, and they will have at their disposal the most efficient means for the conversion and sanctification of their people. Let them find in Jesus of the tabernacle a Friend in their loneliness, insurmountable strength in their struggles, constantly renewed vigour in their weariness, for He is the Source of grace, which produces abundant fruits."

Priest-Adorers

Saint Peter Julian entertained the idea of founding a society of diocesan priest-adorers, not unlike the Oblates associated with monasteries: "I want to form . . . secular priests, to bind them together by prayer, by determinate statutes, and to sanctify them by the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. This work is ours, but I do not want to undertake now on a large scale. Oh, when will the time come! Priests sharing in the life of the Blessed Sacrament, should live according to the Eucharistic life of Jesus, which consists above all in self-abnegation and the love of sacrifice. . . . They should perform all their duties under the protection of the Blessed Virgin, the Adoratrice of the Cenacle, for through that sweet Mother we more easily approach Jesus. Their studies, their energy, and their piety they should direct to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. They should bear in mind that adoration is their chief duty: Nos autem orationi instantes erimus -- But we will give ourselves continually to prayer" (Acts 6, 4).

Preaching Energized by Adoration

For Saint Peter Julian Eymard, Eucharistic adoration was the soul of the ministry of holy preaching. "Like Moses," he wrote, "full of zeal to announce the teaching of the Divine Master when he came down from Mount Sinai, like the Apostles coming from the Cenacle, so should the priests [of this Society] go from the church straight to the people to announce to them the Word of God: Et ministerio verbi -- to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6, 4).

Drawing Souls to the Eucharist

A priest who seeks first the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, and has learned to linger close to His Eucharistic Heart, will be given all other things besides. His ministry will be prodigiously fruitful, even if, in this present life, its fruitfulness remains hidden. The priest is the friend of the Bridegroom, pointing souls to the tabernacle and, even more, inviting them to follow him into the radiance of His Eucharistic Face and the warmth of His Open Heart. Saint Peter Julian says it this way: "They should bind themselves to defend always and under all circumstances the interests and the honour of Jesus Christ, and by every possible means to multiply visits to the Blessed Sacrament as well as frequent and daily Communion. In a word, in all their actions, they should unite with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, the Eternal High Priest, the Model of the grace of the priesthood."

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Yesterday, the Holy Father spoke of Saint Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori, Doctor of the Church, and his simple, direct teachings on prayer for Everyman. Saint Alphonsus has long been a dear friend of mine: he is the lasting glory of Baroque Naples, a city that, for all its moral miseries and human drama, was home to a great multitude of saints and mystics. Here is the Holy Father's discourse:

Dear brothers and sisters!

The Joyous Embrace of God the Father

Today marks the liturgical memorial of St. Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori, bishop and doctor of the Church, founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer -- the Redemptorists -- patron saint of scholars and moral theology and of confessors. St. Alphonsus is one of the most popular saints of the 18th century because of his simple, straightforward style and his teaching on the sacrament of Penance: In a period of great rigorism -- the result of the influence of Jansenism -- he recommended to confessors to administer this sacrament by revealing the joyous embrace of God the Father, who in His infinite mercy never tires of welcoming back the repentant son.

Prayer: Necessary and Sure Means to Salvation

Today's memorial offers us the occasion to consider St. Alphonsus' teachings on prayer, which are extremely valuable and filled with spiritual inspiration. He considered his treatise, Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection, which dates back to 1759, to be the most useful of all his writings. In fact, he there describes prayer as "the necessary and sure means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces we need to attain it" (Introduction).

He Who Prays is Saved

This sentence sums up the Alphonsian understanding of prayer. First, in saying that it is a means, he reminds us of the end to be attained: God created out of love in order to be able to give us the fullness of life; but because of sin, this goal, this abundance of life has, so to say, drifted away -- we all know this -- and only God's grace can make it available. To explain this basic truth, and to enable us to understand in a straightforward way how real the risk is of man's "being lost," St. Alphonsus coined a famous, very elementary maxim, which states: "He who prays is saved. He who prays not is damned!" Commenting on this lapidary statement, he added: "To save one's soul without prayer is most difficult, and even impossible ... but by praying our salvation is made secure, and very easy" (Chapter II, Conclusion). And he goes on to say: "If we do not pray, we have no excuse, for the grace of prayer is given to everyone ... if we are not saved, the whole fault will be ours, because we did not pray" (ibid.).

We Cannot Manage Without Praying

In saying that prayer is a necessary means, St. Alphonsus wanted us to understand that in every situation in life, we cannot manage without praying, especially in times of trial and difficulty. We must always knock at the Lord's door with trust, knowing that in all things He takes care of His children, of us. We are invited, therefore, not to be afraid of turning to Him and of presenting our requests to Him with trust, in the certainty of obtaining what we need.

What Is Truly Necessary?

Dear friends, this is the central question: What is truly necessary in my life? With St. Alphonsus I respond: "Health and all the graces we need for this" (ibid.); naturally, he means not only bodily health, but above all also that of the soul, which Jesus gives to us. More than anything else, we need His liberating presence, which truly makes our lives fully human and therefore full of joy. And it is only through prayer that we are able to welcome Him and His grace, which by enlightening us in each situation, enables us to discern the true good, and by strengthening us, makes our will effective; that is, it enables it to do the good that is known. Often we recognize the good, but we are unable to do it. Through prayer, we arrive at the point of being able to carry it out.

Weakness and the Richness of God's Mercy

The Lord's disciple knows that he is always exposed to temptation, and he never fails to ask God for help in prayer in order to conquer it. St. Alphonsus recalls the example of St. Phillip Neri -- very interesting -- who "used to say to God from the first moment he awoke in the morning, 'Lord, keep Thy hands over Philip this day; for if not, Philip will betray Thee'" (III, 3). A great realist! He asks God to keep His hand upon him. We, too, in the awareness of our own weakness, should humbly ask God's help, relying on the richness of His mercy.

By Prayer Obtain the Strength You Do Not Possess

In another passage, St. Alphonsus says: "We are so poor that we have nothing; but if we pray we are no longer poor" (II, 4). And in the wake of St. Augustine, he invites every Christian to not be afraid of obtaining from God, through prayer, the strength he does not possess and that he needs to do the good, in the certainty that the Lord does not withhold His help from whoever prays with humility (cf. III, 3).

Relationship With God and Daily Prayer

Dear friends, St. Alphonsus reminds us that our relationship with God is essential for our lives. Without a relationship with God, our fundamental relationship is missing. And a relationship with God develops by talking with God in daily personal prayer, and by participating in the Sacraments; and so it is that this relationship can grow in us, and that the divine presence that directs our path, enlightens it and makes it secure and serene can also grow in us, even amid difficulty and danger. Thank you.

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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