Saints: October 2012 Archives

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Saint Luke, Evangelist

The Evangelist

Saint Luke comes to us today as the evangelist of the Holy Spirit, as the evangelist of the little and of the poor, the evangelist of the Virgin Mary, and of the holy angels. He comes to us as the iconographer of the healing Christ, the Divine Physician of our souls and bodies. Saint Luke comes to us as the advocate and friend of the women disciples of the Lord, and as the witness of the Acts of the Apostles and of the life of the infant Church. He comes to us as the poet of the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Nunc Dimittis, as the evangelist of the sacred liturgy, the one who closes his Gospel with the radiant image of a joyful Church semper in templo benedicentes Deum, “continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:52).

Iconographer of the Holy Mother of God

According to an old tradition, Saint Luke, in addition to being a physician (Col 4:14), was a painter. It is recounted that Saint Luke depicted the Virgin Mother with the Infant Christ in three icons. He showed them to her. The Mother of God looked at them with joy and then blessed them, saying, “May the grace of Him to Whom I gave birth be within them.” The iconography of Saint Luke himself makes for a fascinating study; he is nearly always portrayed painting the Blessed Virgin and her Son. Paintings of a saint painting!

Saint Luke at the Cross

I know also of one painting of Saint Luke, different from all others and profoundly moving. It is by the Spanish artist Francisco Zurbaràn and dates from 1660. Zurbaràn shows Saint Luke standing on Calvary; he is holding an artist's palette in his hands and contemplating Jesus Crucified with rapt attention. Saint Luke is memorizing the scene so as to depict it in a painting, just as he depicts it in his Gospel.

A Rosary of Icons

Open the Gospel of Saint Luke and what do you see? Icons of the Virgin Mother and the Child Christ, of the healing Christ, of Christ in prayer, of the suffering Christ, of the Crucified Christ, and of the mysterious risen Christ appearing on the road to Emmaus. These Gospel icons, written by Saint Luke with an extraordinary spiritual sensitivity, invite us to the contemplation of the Face of Christ in much the same way, as do the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

The Lectio Divina of the Icon

Irish Benedictine Dom Gregory Collins has written an extraordinary little book on icons: “The Icons and Lectio Divina: Ancient and Post Modern Insights.” Dom Gregory applies the four moments of lectio divina to the practice of prayer before an icon. Lectio becomes a reading of the imagery, an attempt to “receive” the message it expresses through colour and form.

Meditatio takes the images received and turns them over in the mind; it can also mean focusing on a single detail of the icon: the face, the eyes, a hand, a gesture. Meditatio before an icon allows one to linger for a long time in the transforming presence of the light of God. “We all,” says Saint Paul, “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

Oratio is the prayer that, like a flame, shoots up in the heart. Gazing upon the icon, like repeating the sacred text, feeds the flame of oratio. Finally, one is surprised by a holy stillness. The “fiery darts of prayer” are absorbed into something more obscure: contemplatio. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12).

Dom Gregory’s insights may help us to read the Gospel of Saint Luke more deeply, searching on each page for the icon that slowly emerges from between the lines and behind the words, becoming visible to the eyes of faith. “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me” (Ps 26:8-9).

We Become What We Contemplate

Philosophers, psychologists and saints agree that we become what we contemplate. Look at goodness and you will become good. Look at beauty and you will become beautiful. Look at truth and you will become true. Look at purity and you will become pure. Saint Clare of Assisi, herself so marked by Gospel of Saint Luke, wrote to Agnes of Prague: “Gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him” (Second Letter to Agnes of Prague).

Contemplating the Mysteries With Saint Luke

Understood in this way, the contemplation of the “icons” of Saint Luke’s Gospel, especially through the prayer of the Rosary, is transforming. The Rosary is, I have always believed, a uniquely Lukan prayer. Consider Saint Luke’s icon of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26 38) and, with Mary, become “Yes” to the Word. Look at the Visitation (Lk 1:39 56) and learn the language of Mary’s praise. Look at the Child lying in the manger (Lk 2:16) and become little and poor.

Look at the merciful Christ (Lk 4:40 - 5:26) and become merciful; at the healing Christ (Lk 7:1-10) and become an instrument of healing; at the solitary Christ in prayer (Lk 11:1), and learn to converse with the Father.

Look at the icon of Christ in Gethsemane (Lk 22:39-46), agonizing and comforted by an angel, and enter into his submission to the Father’s will. Look at the crucified Jesus (Lk 23:33-47) and learn from him to forgive and to show mercy, even in the hour of darkness. Look at the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32) and know that he walks with you always, opening the Scriptures, breaking the Bread, causing your hearts to burn with a mysterious fire. Finally, look at the icon of the Church in the last sentence of Saint Luke’s Gospel -- “They were continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:53) -- and learn to bless God always and everywhere, learn to give the last word to praise.

To the Altar

The Benedictine vocation is that of the Church in the temple at Jerusalem: to bless. The transformation that begins in the contemplation of Saint Luke’s Rosary of Gospel icons is perfected, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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A Family Story

My Irish grandmother's Christian name was Margaret Mary. As one might expect, a framed picture of the Sacred Heart figured prominently in her kitchen. She, like so many Irish Catholics of her generation had an unshakeable faith in the promises of the Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary. In my "Treasury of the Sacred Heart" published in Dublin by Charles Eason, Middle Abbey Street, in 1860, I read the promise in which my grandmother invested her hope: "I shall bless the houses where the representation of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed."

Precious Inheritance

Shortly before her death at the age of 93, Grandma asked me if I wanted anything belonging to her. "Only your picture of the Sacred Heart," I said. She had me write my name on the back of it. The day after she died I took the picture to be reframed; it was placed on her coffin in church. After the funeral, I took the picture home and it stayed with me for about a year.

Give It Away

Some time later, on the eve of my cousin Patrick's wedding, my grandmother came to me in a dream and said, "I want you to give my picture of the Sacred Heart to Patrick as a wedding present." And so, I wrapped it carefully and presented Patrick and Cheryl with it on their wedding day. Patrick took one look at the wrapped package and said, "I know what it is. It's Grandma's picture of the Sacred Heart."

Saint Margaret Mary

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October 16, 2012 is the sixth anniversary of my pilgrimage to Paray-le-Monial, la cité du Sacre-Coeur in the company of dear friends. Ma joie demeure. Little did I suspect then that six years later I would be living in a former monastery of the Visitation, where Saint Margaret Mary was greatly loved and honoured. Today that monastery of the Visitation is called Silverstream Priory.

The Mystical Invasion

Saint Teresa of Jesus died in 1582. Thirty-two years later, Mother Catherine Mectilde de Bar was born in 1614. And in 1647, sixty-five years after the death of Saint Teresa and thirty-three years after the birth of Mother Mectilde, Saint Margaret Mary was born. The spiritual climate in Europe, following the Council of Trent, was one of extraordinary effervescence. Henri Brémond in his monumental Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France speaks of a "mystical invasion." Saint Teresa's Carmel had crossed the Pyrenees, introducing men and women of all states of life to the way of interior prayer. The Jesuits had launched their missions to North America or, as they called it, "New France." Men and women of God, too many to be counted, undertook great things for His glory. It was the golden age of great friendships in God. In 1610, the young widow, Jeanne-Françoise de Chantal, together with Francis de Sales, established at Annecy the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, declaring "that no great severity shall prevent the feeble and the weak from joining it."

The Choice of God

When Margaret Mary Alacoque entered the Visitation Monastery of Paray-le-Monial, it was assumed that she, like so many other women, would disappear into the cloister, leaving behind no more than the sweet lingering fragrance of another life given to Christ. But, as always, "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Cor 1:27-29).

Contemplating the Pierced Side

The icy wind of Jansenism was blowing through the chinks in more than one cloister. It chilled the heart with the fear of a distant and vindictive God, eclipsing the mission of Jesus sent by the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, "to proclaim release to the captives . . . to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Lk 4:18). While the hearts of many around her grew cold, Saint Margaret Mary fixed her gaze upon the wounds of Jesus Crucified. Like Saint John the Apostle, like Saints Bernard, Lutgarde, Gertrude, Mechthilde, and countless others before and after her, the humble Visitandine of Paray-le-Monial was compelled by the Holy Spirit to look upon Jesus' pierced Side. "They shall look on Him whom they have pierced" (Zech 12:10, Jn 19:37).

A Priest, A Friend

In the Jesuit priest, Saint Claude La Colombière, Margaret Mary found a friend, one capable of standing with her at the Cross, of listening with her to the murmurings of the Holy Spirit, of gazing with her at the pierced Side of Jesus, and of entering with her to dwell in his Heart. The words of the apostle Paul seem to be those of Saint Claude to Margaret Mary: "It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; He has put his seal upon us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (2 Cor 1:22)

The Eucharistic Heart of Jesus

In contemplating the pierced Side of the Crucified, Saint Margaret Mary discovered what many had forgotten: "the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ" (Eph 3:18). It was given her to "know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" and fills "with all the completion God has to give" (Eph 3:19). She discovered, moreover, that the open Side of Jesus beckons to all from the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, and that His Eucharistic is, at every moment, ablaze with love.

"Behold this Heart," He said, "which, not withstanding the burning love for man with which it is consumed and exhausted, meets with no other return from the generality of Christians than sacrilege, contempt, indifference, and ingratitude, even in the Sacrament of my Love. But what pierces my Heart most deeply is, that I am subjected to those insults by persons specially consecrated to my service."

Reparation

Reparation, Saint Margaret Mary understood, is an imperative of love. The Side of Jesus remains open in the Most Blessed Sacrament, and men pass it by -- some with a cold indifference, others with a merely formalistic token of acknowledgement, and still others without the slightest indication of grateful adoration -- and among these, alas, are priests and consecrated souls.

In this age of locked churches, of tabernacles forsaken from one Sunday to the next, of the Sacred Species so often handled casually and without reverence, and in the wake of public sacrileges perpetrated against the Blessed Sacrament, reparation to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus is, more than ever, necessary.

The Cenacle, the Cross, the Altar

Saint Margaret Mary invites us to re-discover the Heart of Jesus ablaze with love in the Most Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic Christ, the Christus Passus, abides in our midst as Priest and Victim. There He perpetuates the oblation made first in the Cenacle, and then from the altar of the Cross.

In every age souls, like Saint Margaret Mary, have been polarized by the mysteries of the Cenacle and of the Cross actualized in the Most Holy Eucharist. In some way, the Holy Spirit continually reproduces Saint John's icon of the Church contemplating the pierced Side of Jesus on Calvary: "Standing by the Cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. . . . and the disciple whom He loved" (Jn 19:25-26).

I Look Round for Pity

The Sacred Heart is at the center of the Most Holy Eucharist both as sacrifice and as sacrament. The sacred action of the Mass perpetuates the Sacrifice of Calvary by which Christ, obedient unto death, hands Himself over to His Father and to those who partake of His Body and Blood. The priestly Heart of Jesus that beats with love in the Sacrifice of the Mass where He offers Himself as Victim, lives and burns with the same fire of love in the Sacrament of the Altar. From the tabernacle, as once from the Cross, He seeks souls to console Him, saying in the psalmist's words: "I look round for pity, where pity is none, for comfort where there is no comfort to be found" (Ps 68:21).

The Burning Furnace of Love

One cannot look long at Jesus Crucified without "the eyes of the heart" (Eph 1:18) being drawn to His pierced Side, and without entering, drawn on by the Holy Spirit, through the door of His pierced Side, into what men and women of every age have experienced as a "burning furnace of love." The "unsearchable riches" (Eph 3:8) of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, contemplated "for now, as in a mirror darkly" (1 Cor 13:12), are given us, until the return of the Lord in glory, in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist. And so, we go to the altar and to the tabernacle again and again to taste "with all the saints" (Eph 3:18), the "perfect love that casts out fear" (1 Jn 4:18).

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Just the other day someone suffering from scrupulosity wrote me, asking for counsel. Reading through the Letters of Saint John of Avila, our new Doctor of the Church, I came upon this consoling text. I want to share it with the readers of Vultus Christi. The headings are my own.

Trust in the Love of God

It is very plain, my dear, that you cannot bear being put to the test, nor have you yet emerged from spiritual childhood, for when your heavenly Bridegroom ceases to smile on you, you immediately imagine He is displeased with you. Where are the signal favours which you received from His blessed Hand as a pledge of His special love for you? Ought you so soon to forget how He has cherished you? Or to believe that God would lightly withdraw affection He bestowed so fully? Why did He grant so many proofs of it, if not to make you trust Him?

Excessive Sadness: Not the Way to Go

Be assured that He loves you, even if He does not show it at the present moment. You need not fear deception on this point, for, as I have often told you, our love for God should not cause us excessive sadness whenever we commit some venial sin. If this were necessary, who would ever be at rest or peace, for we are all sinners? May our Lord give you grace to lean on Him and rejoice in Him, placing your wounds in His, that you may be healed and comforted, however violent
and painful your hurt may be.

Raking Up a Dust Heap

How long will you continue your minute self-examinations? It is like raking up a dust heap from which nothing can come but rubbish and unpleasantness. Feel sure of this, that it
is not for your own merits, but for those of Jesus crucified, that you are loved and made
whole. Do not give way to such discouragement about your faults, the results will show
you how displeasing it is to God. It would be far better to be courageous and strong-hearted. Meditate on the benefits you have received through Jesus Christ in the past and possess now; reflect on them in such a manner as to lead you to sorrow for your sins against Him and to avoid offending Him, without losing your peace and patience if you happen to fall.

God Loves You Because He Is Good, Not Because You Are

As I have often repeated, God loves you as you are. Be content that His love should come from His goodness, and not from your merits. What does it matter to a bride if she is not beautiful, if the bridegroom s affection for her makes her seem so in his eyes? If you look only on yourself, you will loathe yourself and your many defects will take away all your courage.

He Looks at You Through the Apertures of His Wounds

What more have you to wish for? In heaven there is One to Whom you appear all fair, for
He looks at you through the apertures of the Wounds He received for you: by these He
gives you grace, and supplies what is lacking in you, healing you and making you lovely.
Be at peace : you are indeed the handmaid of the crucified Christ: forget your past misdoings as if they had never been. I tell you, in God's name, as I have done before, that such is His holy will.

Do Not DIstress Yourself

Run swiftly on your way with a light foot, like one who has thrown a heavy burden off his shoulders, which hindered his course. If the longed-for quiet does not come at once, do not distress yourself; sometimes one travels farther in a storm than in a calm, and war gains more merits than peace. He Who redeemed you will guide you aright so that you may be safe. Trust in Him; He has given you many reasons to do so; and when
you consider your own defects, consider also the depths of His mercy which will help you far more than thinking about your deficiencies.

Sheltered Beneath God's Everlasting Love

May God s mercy shelter you beneath His everlasting love, as I desire, and pray, and trust
that it may, and for this I bid you hope. Recommend me to the same Lord for the sake
of His love.

Counsels of Saint John of Avila

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The Quest for a Spiritual Father

It often happens that souls will lament their failure to find a spiritual father or, more often than not, the spiritual father of their dreams. There can be mixed motives in the quest for a spiritual father. The best spiritual father is the one provided by God. If He doesn't provide one who meets our criteria, it may be because He wants us to have one who meets His. In the meantime, we have the saints and Doctors of the Church. Not only will they give us wise counsel, so often as we open their writings; they will also support us with their intercession in heaven, and obtain for us graces for which we, of ourselves, would never think of asking. Here are some spiritual counsels of Saint John of Avila. May they be as helpful to you as they have been to me

Trust in God's judgment, and not in your own, since He understands what is best for you, and knows the present and future state of your soul. Do not weary yourself to death with anxiety, for, as the Gospel says : "You cannot with all your taking thought and caring add one cubit to your stature." (Matthew VI. 27.)
Why, then, rely so much on yourself, since God bids you confide in Him? Why struggle so to work out your salvation in your own way, while, after all, God's abundant mercy will avail us far more than our imagined righteousness, when at the last we stand before His judgment?
Close your eyes to all that affrights you and trust in the Wounds of Christ, Who received them for your sake, and you will find rest.
The more hopeless you feel of a remedy for your troubles, because you know not where to look nor what to do for one, the more hopeful is your state. This is because when human counsel and strength fail, God stretches forth His hand, and that is the hour he was waiting for, in which best to show His mercy. This is to show us that the remedy comes not from our own power, but from the loving and gracious will of God.
Therefore the more our misfortunes accumulate, the more ready and prepared our souls are, to receive God's mercy, for the greatness of our misery moves His compassion, and causes Him to show the more pity for us.

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When you place yourself in God's presence, endeavour rather to listen to Him, than to speak to Him, and strive more to love Him, than to learn from Him. (Saint John of Avila)

I would be remiss were I not to offer the readers of Vultus Christi a text of Saint John of Avila, whom the Holy Father today proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. This particular letter is taken from the collection translated and selected from the Spanish by the Benedictines of Stanbrook in 1904, with a preface by Dom Gasquet. The subtitles are my own.

Trust in the Mercy of God

If we would not offend God, there are two points on which we must be particularly careful -- one is, that we should love His goodness, and the second is, that we should trust in His mercy. How great is the blindness of a heart which does not love God! And just as great is its weakness, if it does not confide in His abundant mercy. The graces we have received from Him in the past ought to incite us to love Him, for they flowed from Divine Love, which requires a like return from us. These gifts ought also to encourage us to trust in God, for surely. He Who has already bestowed such benefits on us, and has set us in the path of holiness, will give us the grace to persevere.

It Is in the Passion that I Trust

We ought also to find motives for hope in Christ's Passion: we should love Him for dying for us and trust in His mercy. Cast away, then, all doubts, faintheartedness and misgivings, for the merits of the Passion are ours, because Christ gave them to us, and we are His. It is in the Passion that I trust, on it I rely, and by it I laugh my enemies to scorn. Through it I make my prayers to the Father and offer Him His Son; I pay all my debts from Christ's merits, and have more than is requisite for the purpose. Although I have many sorrows, I find in Christ's sufferings more than a sufficient solace; they are such a source of joy that the grief caused by my own defects is dispelled.

God Is Wounded by Our Want of Trust

O God most loving. Who art Love itself, how we wound Thee if we trust not in Thee with all our hearts! If, after the favours Thou hast shown us, and more than all, after having died for us, we do not feel confidence in Thee, we must be worse than the very brutes. After all Thou hast given us in the past, can we doubt Thy loving kindness in the future, or think that Thou wilt cease to protect those Thou hast saved from hell? Wilt Thou leave Thy adopted sons to die of hunger, or cease to guide them aright in the path in which Thou didst set them when they had wandered away? When we were estranged from Thee, Thou didst give us many graces-- wilt Thou then refuse them now when our only desire is to serve Thee? Whilst we offended against Thee Thou didst cherish us; Thou didst follow after us when we fled from Thee; Thou didst draw us to Thyself, didst cleanse us from our guilt, and giving to us Thy Holy Spirit, didst fill our souls with joy, and bestow on us the kiss of peace. And wherefore didst Thou do all this? Surely it was that we might believe that, as for Christ's sake Thou didst reconcile us to Thyself when we were among Thine enemies, much more surely, wilt Thou keep us for His sake, now that we are in the number of Thy friends.

Love Trusts the Beloved

O my God and my Mercy! after the countless favours Thou hast shown us, permit not that we distrust Thee and question whether Thou dost love us and intend to save us. More evident than the sun at mid-day is the witness borne by Thy works that Thou dost cherish us and give us the hope of salvation. Let our hearts rely confidently on God, even though we feel not the sweetness of His consolations. Genuine faith believes without the need of argument or miracles; and love trusts its Beloved, even though He chastise it: true patience is content to suffer without relief, and so a real confidence in God remains unshaken by the absence of any solace from Him. Let us not ask for any signs of God's favour, but obey His command to rely implicitly on Him, and all will be well with us. If we feel weak, let us rely on God, and we shall be strong: for those who confide in Him " shall take wings as eagles and not faint." (Isaias XL. 31.) If we know not what to do, let us trust in our Creator, and He will be our Light; for, as Isaias says, "who is there amongst you that hath walked in darkness and hath no light? Let him hope in the name of the Lord, and lean upon his God." Holy Scripture also tells us: "They that trust in God shall understand the truth." (Wisdom III. 9.) Let us place our hope in our heavenly Father when we are in trouble, and we shall be set free from it, as David, speaking in His name, says in the Psalms: (XC. 14.) "Because he hoped in me I will deliver him." These words show that God only asks that we hope in Him, in order that He may deliver us, and this, because those who fall in time of tribulation, fall because their faith is weak.

Let Us Go Bravely On

St. Peter, while he felt no fear, walked on the sea as if it had been dry land; but the instant he lost confidence he began to sink, and our Lord said to him : " O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?" (St. Matthew XIV. 31.) Let us fear lest this reproof should be addressed to us. However wildly the sea of temptations may rage around us, let us go bravely on, and not let a thought of fear or mistrust enter our hearts. Rather let us confide in God's great love for us, which keeps us safe amid all perils.

God Can Overcome All Our Doubts and Temptations

I have said all this because as I wish your belief in the Catholic faith to be pure from all error, and your love for God to be without taint of tepidity, so I would have your hope in Him to be free from all distrust and fear. Believe me, God can overcome all our doubts and temptations. May He grant us the grace to be wholly converted to Him, and to place all our hope in Him, for if we gave ourselves to our Creator's care, there would be no need of help from creatures.

God Fills the Soul Who Dwells in Solitude

If at times doubts enter our mind, let us put them from us and think of other things, for if God does not give us the means to solve those doubts, we should not trouble ourselves much about them. I wish you and Don Pedro, to whom this letter is addressed as well as to yourself, to be very discreet in fasting and bodily mortifications during this Lent, but to be careful to practise the advice I have given you. Let your memories observe strict abstinence, not only from all thoughts of created things, but even from thinking of yourselves. Forgetting all things, let us go to God, and abide entirely in Him: let us fast from all consolation in any creature, so that, as our souls dwell in solitude, God may come and fill them, because they are empty of all else. When you place yourself in God's presence, endeavour rather to listen to Him, than to speak to Him, and strive more to love Him, than to learn from Him. May the same Jesus Christ, of Whom we speak, be with you and with us all. Amen.

Blessed Bartolo Longo

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Blessed Bartolo Longo

There is a marvelous figure of holiness inscribed on the calendar today: Blessed Bartolo Longo, the great Apostle of the Rosary and the founder of the shrine of the Madonna of the Rosary at Pompei in Italy. Born in 1841, Blessed Longo died in 1926. He was a contemporary of Saint Faustina. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1980. Several times in his pontificate, Pope John Paul II called our attention to the example of this holy layman, calling him “l’uomo della Madonna,” Our Lady’s man.

Divine Mercy Displayed

Blessed Bartolo Longo’s story is a dramatic illustration of Divine Mercy. The mystery of Mercy announced by Saint Faustina played itself out in the life of Blessed Longo. As a young man, following studies in Law, Bartolo Longo abandoned his faith and allowed himself to be drawn into paths of great spiritual darkness. He practiced spiritism, found himself entrenched in the occult, and became a practicing Satanist. Longo went so far as to have himself ordained a priest of Satan. He very nearly lost his sanity, becoming a mere shadow of himself.

Spiritually Sick

In one particular séance Longo was distressed to see the face of the deceased king of Naples and the Two Sicilies: Ferdinand II. That same night he saw the soul of his mother circling his bed, begging him to return to the Catholic faith. His practice of the occult had so affected him that he was barely recognizable to those who once knew him as a handsome young man, full of vitality and promise. A Catholic friend, seeing him in such a pitiful spiritual, psychological, and physical state, begged him to at least meet with Father Radente, a wise Dominican priest. After some time, Longo made a thorough confession and, under the direction of this priest, began the reform of his life. He entered the Third Order of Saint Dominic, receiving the name, Brother Rosario.

Conversion and Healing

Bartolo’s Dominican spiritual father told him that the Mother of God promised that anyone who promoted her Rosary would assuredly be saved. The rest of Blessed Barolo’s life was dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary. The Rosary was his lifeline. The Rosary was the anchor of his salvation. The Rosary was the means by which the Holy Mother of God brought him back from hell. It was through the prayer of the Rosary that the Blessed Virgin healed his soul, restored him to health, and entrusted him with a mission. Later Blessed Bartolo wrote, “What is my vocation? To write about Mary, to have Mary praised, to have Mary loved.”

Rosary Apostolate

Blessed Longo reached out to the desperately poor, ignorant, and needy people of the town of Pompei. He taught them to pray the Rosary. The Rosary did for that entire town what it had done for him in his personal life; it brought healing, refreshment, holiness, joy, and peace. With the help of the Countess Mariana de Fusco whom he later married on the advice of Pope Leo XIII, while preserving with her his vow of chastity, Bartolo Longo undertook the construction of the church of the Madonna of the Rosary of Pompei. The city that grew up around it became the City of the Rosary.

He founded a congregation of Dominican Sisters to care for the poor. He established a school for boys. He wrote tirelessly in the service of Madonna and of her Rosary. His beautiful supplication to the Madonna of the Rosary has been translated into countless languages. Pope John Paul II prayed it when, on October 7, 2003, he visited Pompei to conclude the Year of the Rosary. In Italy, every year on the first Sunday of October, everything comes to a halt at noon while people, young and old, poor and rich, healthy and sick, pause to pray Blessed Longo’s supplication to the Virgin of the Rosary.

Divine Mercy Available to All

Saint Faustina made known the mystery of Divine Mercy. Blessed Bartolo Longo experienced Divine Mercy in a dramatic and deeply personal way. The same Divine Mercy is available to us: the mercy that brings back from hell, the mercy that raises the soul from spiritual death, the mercy that heals, restores, forgives, and repairs the past.

The Divine Mercy comes to us through the intercession of the Mother of God and, most efficaciously, through the humble prayer of the Rosary. It comes to us in the Sacrament of Penance: the mystery of the blood and the water from the side of Christ washing over the soul. And the Divine Mercy comes to us in the mystery of the Eucharist. The Mass is the real presence of Crucified Love. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is Divine Mercy flowing from the Heart of the Lamb, making saints out of sinners.

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When it comes to Franciscan spirituality, I, being a son of Saint Benedict and an unworthy disciple of Blessed Abbot Marmion, lay claim to nothing other than ignorance. In spite of this, I thought that, in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi's feast, I might share with the readers of Vultus Christi a few texts that illustrate the centrality of the Face of Christ to the Franciscan charism.

Saint Bonaventure

Saint Bonventure, the Seraphic Doctor, in his Tree of Life, contemplates the adorable Face of Christ:

That Face, venerated by the Patriarchs,
desire of the Angels,
delight of Heaven,
was defiled by spittle from vile mouths,
struck by the blows of the inhuman,
and so as to augment the mockery, was covered with a veil by the sacrilegious.
The Face of the Lord of all creation was struck
as though He were an abject slave.
And He, serene of Countenance speaking softly,
gently had admonished one of the servants of the High Priest who had struck Him:
"If I have spoken evil, tell Me where I have erred;
if however I have spoken the truth, why do you strike me?

Blessed Columba Marmion

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He presents the monastery as a place where the Kingdom of God has already come, a place wherein every weakness can encounter mercy, wherein the human will is directed into the Will of God through the good that is obedience, and wherein every heart of stone, having become a heart of flesh through the grace of compunction, is freed at last to love and to be loved.

A Great Irish Saint

Today is the feast of a great Irish saint! Born and educated in Dublin, Joseph Marmion served as a parish priest and seminary professor before becoming a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium. Dom Columba Marmion was elected of Abbot of Maredsous in 1909. He chose to receive the Abbatial Blessing on Rosary Sunday. It fell that year on October 3rd. When Pope John Paul II beatified Abbot Columba Marmion in 2000, the liturgical memorial of the new Blessed was fixed on the date of his Abbatial Blessing, rather than on the day of his death, January 30th.

John Paul II

In 1985 Pope John Paul II visited Belgium. When the papal helicopter flew over the Abbey of Maredsous on the way from Brussels to Beauraing, the Holy Father confided to one of his aides: “I owe more to Columba Marmion for initiating me into things spiritual than to any other spiritual writer.” The saints engender saints, and this in every age.

Cardinal Mercier, and Others

Cardinal Mercier, the holy Archbishop of Malines in Belgium and a contemporary of the Abbot wrote, after reading Christ, the Life of the Soul: “The perfume of Holy Scripture, to be breathed in at each page of this volume, gives the impression that it was conceived and prepared during prayer, at the foot of the altar, before being given to the public.” Pope Benedict XV kept the writings of Abbot Marmion close at hand and recommended them to the saintly head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church Metropolitan Andrei Sheptitsky of Lviv, saying: “Read this, it is the pure doctrine of the Church.”

A Lad Reads Marmion

My own introduction to Abbot Marmion came when I was fifteen years old. I was visiting Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. Father Marius Granato, O.C.S.O., charged at that time with helping young men -- even very young men -- seek God, put Christ, the Ideal of the Monk into my hands. He even let me take the precious green-covered volume home with me. With all the ardour of my fifteen years I devoured it. No book had ever spoken to my heart in quite the same way.

I read and re-read Christ, the Ideal of the Monk. At fifteen one is profoundly marked by what one reads. The impressions made on a soul at that age determine the course of one’s life. As I pursued my desire to seek God, I relied on Abbot Marmion. I chose him not only as my monastic patron, but also as my spiritual father, my intercessor, and my guide.

A Good Spiritual Director

If you are looking for a good spiritual director, choose Blessed Columba Marmion. His books are being re-edited in attractive, revised translations that present his timeless doctrine in all its freshness and beauty. From his place in heaven he remains attentive to souls and ready at every moment to direct them to Christ.

Goodness and Humour

Those who knew Dom Marmion bore witness to the vivacity of his Irish temperament and to his marvelous sense of humour, capable of humanizing even the most solemn occasions. He showed an immense goodness as abbot and priest; he had a special place in his heart for the poor, the little ones, and those wounded by life. He sought always to bring happiness to people, allowing the best human qualities to flourish. “Grace,” he often affirmed, “does not destroy nature, nor does it suppress one’s personality.”

As a novice, Columba suffered under the direction of a Master of Novices who was singularly lacking in human warmth. He never forgot this and, later in his monastic life when he was entrusted with positions of authority, he did everything possible to be jovial, joyful, and full of compassionate sympathy in his relations with others. He did this in spite of long periods of spiritual darkness, even as he struggled through the seasons of depression that marked his whole life.

Devotion to the Way of the Cross

Abbot Marmion tried always to bear his burdens of physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering without allowing them to become a weight on others. All his life, he was intensely devoted to the Passion of Christ, making the Way of the Cross every day. His meditations on the Way of the Cross in Christ in His Mysteries are, to my mind, unequalled.

Participation in Our Lord's Redemptive Passion

Blessed Columba entered deeply into the sentiments of Our Lord's Sacred Heart. Through the writings of Saint John and Saint Paul, he contemplated the Face of Christ set toward the Father's perfect will, the fulfillment of the Father's saving design of love, the Father's promise of glory. Thus did he come to see his own sufferings of body, mind, and spirit as participation in the redemptive sufferings of Christ.

The Word of God

Blessed Abbot Marmion had the gift of teaching souls to relish the Word of God. In his own experience, Sacred Scripture was, first of all, proclaimed, chanted, heard, held in the heart, and prayed, in the context of the liturgy. His astonishing familiarity with the Bible came to him not by way of study but through the Divine Office, the daily round of the Opus Dei, the Work of God celebrated in choir.

A Theology That Adores

Dom Marmion attributed to the words of the Bible the grace of a particular unction: something penetrating, a kind of sacramentality that puts us in communion with Christ himself, the Word before whom every human tongue falls silent. It was recounted that when Dom Marmion taught theology to the young monks, they would leave the classroom after his lectures in a reverent silence and go directly to the choir to adore. This is monastic theology!

The Soul of the Liturgy

As a spiritual father, Blessed Columba insisted on the primacy of the liturgy. Well before the Second Vatican Council, he preached the liturgy as "source and summit" of the life of the Church. He quenched his thirst for God in drinking directly from the liturgy's pure wellsprings and led a great number of Christians to do the same. Dom Lambert Beauduin, another father of the classic Liturgical Movement, wrote concerning Abbot Marmion: "He revealed to us the soul of the liturgy; by this I mean all the elements of doctrine and of life, that the liturgy reserves for us beneath the visible veil of its rites and symbols."

Christ, the Ideal of the Monk

In his book, Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, Blessed Columba generated a movement of return to the Rule of Saint Benedict and offered a re-reading of the text capable of irrigating the monastic life of every generation. His vision of Benedictine life is profoundly human and profoundly supernatural. He presents the monastery as a place where the Kingdom of God has already come, a place wherein every weakness can encounter mercy, wherein the human will is directed into the Will of God through the good that is obedience, and wherein every heart of stone, having become a heart of flesh through the grace of compunction, is freed at last to love and to be loved. He presents the abbot at the service of his brothers as a Father, as a Spirit-bearing Doctor, and as the Pontiff, the one who assembles the community to pass over into Christ's own worship of the Father.

The Most Holy Eucharist

Let us seek the intercession of Blessed Columba Marmion today for ourselves and for each other. He will obtain for us the grace of fixing our gaze on the Face of Christ set toward all that the Father wills, toward the mystery of the Cross through which joy has come into the world. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ, the Life of the Soul. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ in His Mysteries. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ, the Ideal of the Monk. How blessed we are to be called, with Abbot Marmion and all the saints, to the Banquet of the Lamb.

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Confidence in Merciful Love

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Doctor of the Church, is one of several heralds of Divine Mercy sent to quicken and warm the Church of the 19th and 20th centuries with a message of confidence in the merciful love of God. Among the other heralds of Divine Mercy would be, of course, Saint Faustina (1905-1938), and Mother Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus (1901-1951).

Saint Thérèse spoke of the merciful love of God (l'Amour miséricordieux); Mother Yvonne-Aimée disseminated her miraculous little invocation of the merciful goodness (miséricordieuse bonté) of Jesus, the King of Love; and Saint Faustina, a contemporary of Mother Yvonne-Aimée, became the Apostle of Divine Mercy to the whole world.

On this Feast of Saint Thérèse, the co-patroness of Silverstream Priory, I thought it fitting to post (again) my commentary on her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love.

June 9, 1895 was the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. In the Carmel of Lisieux in Normandy, France, twenty-two year old Sister Thérèse de l'Enfant Jésus et de la Sainte Face received a very special grace during Mass: she felt compelled to offer herself as a victim to Merciful Love.

After Mass, Thérèse went to her prioress (her own sister Pauline), Mother Agnès de Jésus, accompanied by Sister Geneviève de la Sainte Face (her own sister Céline). Visibly under the sway of the grace she had experienced, she asked Mother Agnès if both she and Céline might offer themselves as victims to Merciful Love. Mother Agnès was disconcerted. She didn't quite understand what exactly Thérèse wanted to do. She trusted the discernment of Thérèse nonethless and allowed her to follow the inspiration she had received.

Saint Thérèse composed the following "Oblation to Merciful Love" and, until the end of her life, carried it next to her heart. The commentary in italics is my own.

The Act of Oblation to Merciful Love

J.M.J.T.

Offering of myself as a victim of holocaust to the Merciful Love of God

Thérèse recognizes that God, mysteriously, "needs" souls upon whom He can freely pour Himself out as Merciful Love. She gives herself over as a holocaust, that is, as a living fuel to be entirely consumed in the fire of Merciful Love. Thérèse, being a Carmelite, was a daughter of the Holy Prophet Elijah at whose prayer the holocaust on Mount Carmel was utterly consumed. "I will call on the name of the Lord I serve; and the God who sends fire in answer shall be acknowledged as God" (III Kings 18:24).

O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to Love You and make you Loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. I desire to accomplish Your will perfectly and to reach the degree of glory You have prepared for me in Your Kingdom. I desire, in a word, to be saint, but I feel my helplessness and I beg You, O my God! to be Yourself my Sanctity!

Thérèse writes with theological density and mystical intensity. Hers is the language of desire and of love. She doesn't shrink from her "work" as a Carmelite. There is nothing small or subjective here. This is about "the glory of the Holy Church." It is about saving souls on earth and liberating them from purgatory. Thérèse seems to gaze, like Saint Stephen the Protomartyr (Acts 7:55), into the open heavens. There she sees the will of God and the degree of glory prepared for her. Her desire corresponds perfectly to the desire of God: her sanctity. Her helplessness is no obstacle to this; it constitutes, on the contrary, a claim on the divine munificence of Merciful Love.

Since You loved me so much as to give me Your only Son as my Savior and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine.

This is the simple logic of the saints. Thérèse echoes John 3:16 in a personal way: "God so loved me that He gave up His only-begotten Son" to be my Savior and my Spouse. All that is His is mine. I seem to hear Saint John of the Cross: "Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me."

I offer them to You with gladness, begging You to look upon me only in the Face of Jesus and in His Heart burning with Love.

The Face of Jesus and His Heart burning with Love! For Thérèse the Holy Face of Jesus reveals the secrets of His Heart. Thérèse takes her contemplation of the Holy Face even further; she asks the Father to look upon her in the Face of Jesus and in His Heart. The psalmist says, "Thy Face is a sanctuary, to hide away from the world's malice" (Psalm 30:21) and, in another place, "Look upon the Face of Thy Christ" (Psalm 83:10).

I offer You, too, all the merits of the saints (in heaven and on earth), their acts of Love, and those of the holy angels. Finally, I offer You, O Blessed Trinity! the Love and merits of the Blessed Virgin, my Dear Mother. It is to her I abandon my offering, begging her to present it to You. Her Divine Son, my Beloved Spouse, told us in the days of His mortal life: "Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name he will give it to you!" I am certain, then, that You will grant my desires; I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire. I feel in my heart immense desires and it is with confidence I ask You to come and take possession of my soul.

One sees how much Thérèse has been formed by the eschatology of the Mass and Divine Office; she offers the merits of the saints in heaven and on earth, and of the angels. Then, at the very heart of her Oblation, she speaks of the Blessed Virgin, her "dear Mother." She abandons her offering into the hands of Mary, discretely evoking the Virgin Mother's mystical priesthood at the altar of the Cross.

Thérèse has a very personal way of expressing her relationship with Mary. Whereas most souls readily speak of going "to Jesus through Mary," Thérèse sees herself as bound to Mary through Jesus. The Son of Mary is the Spouse of Thérèse. Thérèse is certain of being loved by the Blessed Virgin because she is the spouse of her Son.

Thérèse anchors her confidence in the inexhaustible largesse of God in the promise of Jesus, "You have only to make any request of the Father in my name and He will grant it to you" (John 16:23). The Doctor of Merciful Love articulates here one of the key principles of her spirituality: "I know, O my God, that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire." God Himself is the Cause of the soul's deepest, highest, and truest desires. In spiritual direction -- it seems to me, at least -- this is the fundamental question: What do you really desire? Every desire that comes from God leads to God. As a rule, the desires that come from God are immense; they cause a certain dilation of the soul, a stretching Godward. Paradoxically, there is nothing more spacious than the "Little Way" of Thérèse. "Thou hast set my feet in a spacious place" (Psalm 30:9).

Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little victim.

Frequent Holy Communion had not yet found its place in Carmel. Thérèse was not daunted by this. Merciful Love is Omnipotent Love. Thérèse is confident that her "communions of desire" are met with desire on the part of Our Lord. Did He not say, "With desire have I desired to share this pasch with you before my passion" (Luke 22:15)? Thérèse offers herself as a tabernacle to Indwelling Love. She desires to hold the Eucharist within herself, to be a living Tent of Meeting wherein every human misery might encounter Merciful Love. She wants to remain a victim in the hands of Christ the Priest. More than anything, Thérèse desires sacramental Holy Communion; deprived of it, she is content to trust in the designs of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, for she knows they cannot be thwarted.

I want to console You for the ingratitude of the wicked, and I beg of you to take away my freedom to displease You. If through weakness I sometimes fall, may Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself.

Where there is love there will be the desire to console the Heart of God, the need to make reparation. Thérèse would be the slave of God rendered by grace incapable of displeasing Him for the sake of those who rebel against Him and spurn His Loving Mercy. Then, in the next breath, she speaks of weakness and of falls! (You have to love her!) Her profound devotion to the Holy Face makes her add, "May Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself." Do I hear an echo of Psalm 89:8? "Thou hast set our iniquities before thy eyes: our life in the light of thy countenance."

I thank You, O my God! for all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of making me pass through the crucible of suffering. It is with joy I shall contemplate You on the Last Day carrying the sceptre of Your Cross. Since You deigned to give me a share in this very precious Cross, I hope in heaven to resemble You and to see shining in my glorified body the sacred stigmata of Your Passion.

After reparation, Thérèse turns to thanksgiving. She is grateful, above all else, for suffering because suffering has made her most like her Spouse; "despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3). She identifies her own sufferings as a share in the precious Cross of Jesus. Astonishingly, she wants to resemble Him in heaven by bearing in her own flesh His holy and glorious wounds. Whereas, more often than not the wounds of those marked by the grace of the stigmata disappear at death, Thérèse claims them for herself in heaven!

After earth's Exile, I hope to go and enjoy You in the Fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your Love alone with the one purpose of pleasing You, consoling Your Sacred Heart, and saving souls who will love You eternally.

The heaven of Thérèse is not one of eternal rest in the sense of inactivity. Heaven is the full expansion of her life work. She remains the strong-willed girl from Normandy: "I want to work for Your Love alone." She has but one purpose in this: to please Jesus, to console His Sacred Heart, and to save souls who, in turn, will love Him eternally. Thérèse is the tireless missionary, labouring in the harvest until the end of time.

In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!

"With empty hands": this expresses in Theresian language the first beatitude: "Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs" (Matthew 5:3). For Thérèse, at the end of this life, there will be no meticulous bookkeeping of works and of merits. She will present to God the one thing His Loving Mercy cannot resist: the sight of empty hands, outstretched, and ready to receive from Love the eternal possession of Himself. Thérèse dares to critique -- with a subtle smile, I am sure -- the received imagery of the celestial throne and crown. Heaven is not in these "things" -- Thérèse has played her all for no-thing. She wants only her Beloved.

Time is nothing in Your eyes, and a single day is like a thousand years. You can, then, in one instant prepare me to appear before You.

Here Thérèse quotes Psalm 89:4. "For a thousand years in thy sight are as yesterday, which is past, and as a watch in the night." The purifying Love of God can prepare a soul to appear before Him in a single instant. Was she thinking of the Good Thief? "Then he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him, I promise thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:42-43). Thérèse dares to imagine a "purgatory" of one instant. She measures purgatory not in terms of time, but rather in terms of the infinite intensity of the fire of Merciful Love that burns to make souls entirely pure.

In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, Asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!

The essence of monastic holiness, which reflects and images the singleheartedness of Jesus, Beloved Son and Eternal Priest, for the sake of the whole Church, is the unification of one's whole life in a single act of perfect love. Thérèse understands that this can be realized not by straining and striving, but only by offering oneself as a victim to the Merciful Love of God. She casts herself, willingly, into the flames of the Furnace of Burning Charity that is the Heart of Jesus. There her desire for union will be realized. The waves of infinite tenderness will find in her a vessel made ready to receive them and to pour them out over other "little souls." This is the Theresian martyrdom. It evokes the death of her model and heroine Joan of Arc, but here the wood of the pyre is that of the Cross, and the consuming flames are those of Merciful Love.

May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love.

Thérèse wants to die, like Saint Joan of Arc, a martyr amidst the devouring flames of Merciful Love. Death will be the passage from Love into Love. I feel here something of the ardour of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. "Consign not to the world one who yearns to be God's; nor tempt me with the things of this life. Suffer me to receive pure light. When I come thither then shall I be a man indeed. Suffer me to be an imitator of the passion of my God" (Letter to the Romans).

I want, O my Beloved, at each beat of my heart to renew this offering to You an infinite number of times, until the shadows having disappeared I may be able to tell You of my Love in an Eternal Face-to-Face!

The leit-motif of the Holy Face returns. For Thérèse, life beyond the shadows of death will be the exchange of Love in an Eternal Face-to-Face. On August 6, 1897, less than one month before her death, Thérèse asked that the image of the Holy Face of Jesus be attached to her bed curtain in the infirmary. " We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know I part; but then I shall know even as I am known. And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity" (1 Corinthians 13:12-13).

Marie, Françoise, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face,
unworthy Carmelite religious.

This 9th Day of June,
Feast of the Most Holy Trinity,
In the Year of Grace, 1895

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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