Saints: January 2013 Archives

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Several years ago, on a visit to the Irish College in Rome where the ever gracious Father Bernard Healy, then a student there, I was able to take a picture of this original photograph of Dom Columba Marmion. The Abbot of Maredsous disguised himself as a cattle trader in order to cross the Channel during World War I. It was on this occasion that, when asked for his passport, Dom Marmion replied with a smile, "I'm Irish, and the Irish need no passport, except to get into hell, and it's not to hell that I'm going!" He was allowed to cross the border.

Death is not improvised. We die as we have lived. Life fully lived, with one's eyes fixed on the Face of Jesus, even in this valley of tears where faith alone pierces the night, is an apprenticeship in the art of dying well, l'art de bien mourir. For many years, on the anniversary of the death of Dom Marmion, I would open his biography by Dom Raymond Thibaut, and turning to the last chapter, I would re-read the account of his holy death on January 30, 1923. Today I am sharing these moving pages with all of you, dear readers.

I Will Love Thee, O Lord
Tuesday the 30th was to be the last day of his earthly life. As on other days, he was able to receive the Bread of Life. On this feria in Septuagesima week the Mass was that of the preceding Sunday, Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis. "The sorrows of death," thus begins the Introit, "encompassed me; in my affliction I called upon the Lord, and He heard my voice from His holy temple . . . I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength: the Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer."
Trust
For him it was that all his sons repeated the liturgical words of the Gradual, so applicable to that hour: "Thou art, O Lord, a helper in due time of tribulation: let them trust in Thee who know Thee: for Thou hast not forsaken them that seek Thee."
Evening Was Come
Dom Columba had "sought" the Lord; he had made that "sincere seeking after God" required by Saint Benedict the law of his whole life. Had he not been of those who, according to the words of Saint Paul in the Epistle of the Mass, had run in the race that he might receive the prize? Or again, according to Our Saviour's own parable, repeated in the Gospel of the day, was he not among those labourers whom the Father of the household sent to his vineyard, there to work unremittingly for the glory of their Master? Now "evening was come," and the faithful servant, after having borne "the burden of the day and their heats," was about to receive his wages.
His strength continued to ebb, and it was clear that the end was near. In the afternoon Dom Marmion's confessor came to comfort him with these words:
"Mon Révérendissime Père, you are soon going to appear before Our Lord Jesus Christ; show Him now that unshaken confidence that you have preached so often."
Mercy
The dying monk was no longer able to articulate a distinct reply. But no words could have been more fitting at that moment than those just spoken to that soul ready to vibrate at every word of faith. His prayer, moreover, responded to this suggestion; he was many times heard to repeat that verse of the Magnificat: "He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy." Recordatus misericordiae suae.
Into Peace With Thee
In the evening, about five o'clock, the community assembled for the Recommendation of the Departing Soul, while the dying abbot held the blessed candle in his hand. Dom Robert de Kerchove, the Father Abbot President of the Congregation, recited the prayers to which the community responded. A touching sight was this crown of sons encircling a venerated father with their prayers, and inviting all the heavenly court to come to aid and meet a soul on its passing to eternity. And how striking were certain of the invocations, considering the circumstances:
"O God most merciful, O God most loving and kind, look favourably upon Thy servant Columba, and deign to hear him. Lord, have pity on his sighs, have pity on his tears, and since his only hope is in Thy mercy, grant him the grace to enter into peace with Thee. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . ."
Cast Me Not Away From Thy Face
The prayers, being ended, the community withdrew; only a few privileged ones remained. Supplications for the dying man were continuous and grew ever more earnest; in low tones those near him repeated the Litany of Our Lady, the Psalms most appropriate for the occasion: Qui habitat in adjutorio Altissimi; the Benedictus. From time to time those texts on which his soul had been nourished were suggested to him: "O Jesus, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. . . . No man cometh to the Father but by Me. . . . Gladly will I glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may dwell in me. . . . Lord, cast me not away from Thy face!"
Heart of Jesus
The last prayer proved to be the Litany of the Sacred Heart, where are summed up all the acts of confidence of a believing, loving soul: "Heart of Jesus, salvation of them that hope in Thee. . . . Hope of them that die in Thee. . . ." And then: "Jesus, Mary, Joseph"; and finally, the supreme invocation, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus . . . !"
The Moment of Eternity
About half-past nine his breathing became sensibly fainter, his face grew pallid, the moment of eternity had come. The dying abbot's brow was asperged with holy water, the crucifix was held for him to kiss. Shortly before ten o'clock one last effort, a contraction of the lips: the soul had escaped from its mortal frame.
The prior at once recited the Subvenite: "Come, ye saints of God . . . come forth to meet him, ye angels of the Lord! . . . May Christ Who hath called thee, receive thee forever into His kingdom. . . ."

Martyrs Close to Home

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The photograph shows statues of the martyrs Blessed Margaret Ball and Blessed Francis Taylor at Saint Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin.

Blessed Margaret Ball

Blessed Margaret Ball was born Margaret Birmingham near Skreen in County Meath in 1515. Her father, Nicholas, had left England because, with other members of his family, he did not accept the religious reforms of Henry VIII; he settled on a farm in Corballis, County Meath. At the age of 15, Margaret married Alderman Bartholomew Ball of Balrothery, who operated the bridge over the Dodder which still carries his name. Margaret had ten children, though only five survived to adulthood. Her husband was elected Mayor of Dublin in 1553, making Margaret the Mayoress.

Betrayed by Her Son

With the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, Margaret's son Walter renounced his Catholic faith and became a Protestant. His mother, in an attempt to win him back to the one, truth faith, invited him to meet "a special friend"; when Walter arrived at his mother's house, he found Archbishop Dermot O'Hurley, celebrating Holy Mass with his mother and other family members in attendance. He had his mother arrested and thrown into Dublin Castle. Margaret could have secured her freedom if she took the Oath of Supremacy, but she refused to deny her Catholic faith. She died in 1584, aged 69 years, and crippled with arthritis after three years in the cold, damp dungeons. Magnanimously, she left her property to the Protestant son who had put her in prison.

Blessed Francis Taylor

Two generations later the same pattern was repeated by Francis Taylor, Margaret Ball's grandson-in-law, who was born about 1550 in Swords, County Dublin. Francis was elected Mayor of Dublin 1595. He was later condemned to the dungeons of Dublin Castle after exposing fraud in the parliamentary elections to the Irish House of Commons. For seven years he refused to deny his Catholic faith by taking the Oath of Supremacy which could have obtained his freedom. Blessed Francis Taylor died in Dublin Castle on 29 January 1621.

It is not good for man to be alone

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Priestly Union with the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today's feast of the Espousal of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Joseph compels me to reflect on the grace of mystical espousal with Our Lady, something to which every monk and priest should aspire, for God Himself has said, that "it is not good for man to be alone." (Genesis 2:18) Essentially, a man to whom the Holy Ghost vouchsafes this grace shares his entire life with Mary. Like Saint Joseph, he lives for her; he lives with her; he lives by her. Like Saint Joseph, he has no secrets from her; owns nothing that is not hers as well; and is of one mind and heart with her in all things. The Blessed Virgin Mary completes the man espoused to her.

The Saints

Among the saints marked by this grace are Saint Robert of Molesme (1028-1111), Saint Hermann Joseph (1150-1241), Saint Edmund of Canterbury (1175-1240), Blessed Alain de la Roche (1428-1475), and Saint John Eudes (1601-1670).

Saint John Eudes

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 a spousal intimacy with the Mother of God.

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Something to Which All Priests Should Aspire

Saint John Eudes, a friend of Mother Mectilde de Bar, and one of the stars shining in the constellation of holy priests in 17th century France, 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.

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In 1979, while visiting the Abbey of Chambarand in France, the chaplain, Dom Irénée, was kind enough to drive Father Jacob and me to the magnificent Abbey of Saint-Antoine, a holy place hidden in the heart of the Isère. Yes, the relics of Saint Antony of Egypt are in France!

The abbey, with its church in flamboyant gothic, was built in 1297 to receive the relics of the Father of Monks. In 1777 the abbey was made over to the Order of the Knights of Malta, and in 1896 it was entrusted to Dom Adrien Gréa and his fledgling Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception. What I remember best of that visit thirty-two years ago was stopping to pray before the altar containing the relics of Saint Antony. Never would I have imagined the possibility of such a grace!

Here are some of the Proper Texts for the Mass of Saint Antony, Abbot:

Collect

O God, who bestowed on the blessed abbot Antony
the grace of serving you in the desert by a strange and wonderful way of life,
grant that, through his intercession, we may renounce ourselves
and love you always above all things.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever.

General Intercessions

That the Church in East and West may be blessed
with a new generation of God-seeking men and women,
hungry for the living Word of God
and courageous in spiritual combat,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That the leaders of nations
may be assisted in their efforts to secure a just and lasting peace
by the prayer and penance
of those called to a life hidden with Christ in God,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That, by the intercession of Saint Antony,
the grieving may go away rejoicing,
the angry turned to kindness,
those grown slack strengthened,
and those troubled by doubts pacified,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That we who have assembled to listen to the Word
may, like Saint Antony, rejoice to confess the presence of Christ
and be transformed by His all-powerful and life-giving Spirit,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

Collect at the General Intercessions

O God, who by Your Holy Spirit,
so opened the ears of your servant Antony
to the Gospel proclaimed in midst of Your Church,
that nothing of its saving message escaped him,
mercifully grant that we, like him,
may listen attentively to Your Word,
treasure it in quiet hearts,
and pray without ceasing
to withstand the temptations of the evil one
and to give You glory
in the solitude of hearts made pure by Your grace.
Through Christ our Lord.


Our Father Saint Antony

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Saint Antony and Signor Siciliano

Isn't this a wonderful painting of Saint Antony? Flemish Jan Gossaert painted it in Rome in 1508 as the right panel of a diptych. The left panel (not shown) depicts the Mother of God. What interests me is the relationship between Saint Antony and the donor, one Antonio Siciliano.

The Ear of the Heart

Notice the holy abbot's right hand gently touching Signor Siciliano's shoulder. In his left hand Saint Antony holds the book of the Scriptures and his prayer beads. Antony's face is sweet and gentle. His ear is exposed: that ear through which the Word of God entered his mind and descended into his heart.

The donor, in contrast, appears sincere, but stiff; he is looking toward the Madonna on the other panel. His rigid piety lacks the seasoned humanity of the old abbot, tried by temptation and marked by compassion.

Signor Siciliano's dog is wearing a stylish red collar. He is gazing at his master, fascinated by what is going on. Picture yourself in the place of Signor Siciliano. Let the hand of Saint Antony bless and guide you today.

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A Certain Primacy Among the Saints

The liturgy today makes it clear that Saint Antony of the Desert holds a certain primacy among the saints. The 1970 Missal gives a complete set of proper texts; the reformed Lectionary gives proper readings. (Is there a possibility of mutual enrichment here?) Antony is a primary reference, a model of how we are to hear the Word of God, an inspiration in spiritual combat, a radiant icon of holiness for the ages.

No Rest From Spiritual Combat

The feast of Saint Antony, falling between the Christmas festivities and Septuagesima, is an invitation to shake off the sluggishness that comes with winter, a bracing reminder that there is no rest from spiritual combat, and that "the monk's life ought at all seasons to bear a Lenten character" (RB 49:1). It is the custom in some monasteries on the feast of Saint Antony to go out to the barn to bless the animals. He is the patron of horses, pigs, cattle, and other domestic animals. Icons of Saint Antony often show his little pet pig nestled in the folds of his tunic. Our dog Hilda received her Saint Antony Day blessing very meekly.

Ice on the Holy Water

Making a trip to the barn in the mid-January cold may be as much of a blessing for the monks as for the animals. It is a wake-up call. One has to use the aspergillum to break the ice that forms on the Holy Water. One sees the animals shudder when the cold water hits them. These are very physical reminders of a spiritual truth. We cannot afford to become cozy and comfortable in a spirituality of feather comforters for the soul. From time to time we, like the barn animals, need the salutary shock of cold Holy Water splashed in our face!

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The Life of Antony

More than forty years ago Trappist Father Marius Granato (+ 10 November 2003) of Spencer introduced me to the Life of Antony by Saint Athanasius. Heady reading for a fifteen year old boy! Shortly thereafter a wise Father told me that one should read the Life of Antony once a year. These seasoned monks knew exactly what they were doing: they were proposing a model of holiness perfectly adapted to the ideals of a youth starting out on the spiritual journey. After all, the Life of Antony begins with an account of his boyhood. He was about "eighteen, or even twenty" when, going into church one day, he heard the Gospel being chanted, and understood that it was Christ speaking to him. "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me" (Mt 19:21).

A Book For All Ages

Why counsel an annual reading of the Life of Antony? Because it is a text that, in some way, grows with us. If it is suitable for the eager young seeker, it is just as suitable to the Christian wrestling with the oppressive noon-day devil or with the cunning demons of midlife. For the Christian faced with the onset of old age, it is a comforting book.

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He Never Looked Gloomy

The portrait of Saint Antony at the end of his life shows a man transfigured: "His face," says Saint Athanasius, "had a great and marvelous grace. . . . His soul being free of confusion, he held his outer senses also undisturbed, so that from the soul's joy his face was cheerful as well, and from the movements of the body it was possible to sense and perceive the stable condition of the soul, as it is written, 'When the heart rejoices, the countenance is cheerful." Antony . . . was never troubled, his soul being calm, and he never looked gloomy, his mind being joyous" (Life of Antony, 67).

The Lectionary

The Proper Readings given today in the reformed lectionary provide us with a rich lectio divina:

Spiritual combat (Eph 6:10-11).
Struggle with the powers of darkness (Eph 6:12-13).
Constant prayer in the Spirit (Eph 6:18).
Watchfulness (Eph 6:18).
God as chosen portion and cup (Ps 15:5).
God present and giving counsel, even in the night (Ps 15:7-8).
The voice of Christ calling to disappropriation (Mt 19:21).
The perfect life that leads to treasure in heaven (Mt 19:21).
The camel and the eye of the needle (Mt 19:24).

But With God All Things Are Possible

And finally, there is the very last line of the Gospel, the one line that fills us with an irrepressible hope: "With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible"; (Mt 19:26)." It is this line that sends us to the altar today for the Thanksgiving Sacrifice.

Become Like a Consuming Fire

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The First Benedictine Oblates

In the Benedictine tradition, January 15th is the feast of the young disciples of Our Father Saint Benedict, Maur and Placid. Who are Maur and Placid and how do we know them? Saint Gregory the Great introduces them in his Life of Saint Benedict. He explains that after the holy Benedict had established his twelve monasteries at Subiaco, noble Christians came from Rome, presenting their sons to be raised and educated among the monks. These boys, offered by their parents to God, were the first "Oblates." Among them were Maur, an adolescent, the son of Euthicus, and Placid -- practically a toddler -- son of the patrician Tertullus. Maur quickly became Abbot Benedict's helper whereas Saint Gregory specifies that Placid was in "early childhood."

A Little Hand Wrapped in the Corporal

Picture for a moment the rite of their Oblation. It is intimately tied into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We know exactly what was done from Chapter 59 of the Rule.

If it happens that a nobleman offers his son to God as a monk, and the child is still of tender age, the parents should make out the petition. . . . They should wrap this petition and the boy's hand together with the Mass offering in the altar cloth (the corporal) and offer him in that way" (RB 59:1).

I see Maur, a serious lad, conscious of what is happening when his hand is wrapped together with the offerings of bread and wine in the altar cloth. And I see, little Placid; his father probably had to lift him up in his arms to reach the altar. The poor little fellow must have been in awe of the solemn fuss being made of him.

A Eucharistic Vocation

The vocation of the Benedictine Oblate is essentially Eucharistic. The very word "oblate" is used to refer to the bread and wine placed upon the altar, the oblata, as well as to those who are ritually identified with the offering, the Oblates themselves. The Benedictine Oblate lives from the altar, and returns to the altar. Like the bread and wine destined to become the Body and Blood of Christ, the Oblate is offered at the altar and then given from the altar to live out his mystical identification with Christ, the hostia perpetua, by a life of conversion and obedience.

When Saint Benedict Prayed By Night

Saint Benedict obviously recognized the potential in Placid and Maur. Saint Gregory tells us that he chose the boy Placid to accompany him in a long nocturnal prayer on the mountain. "Accompanied by the little Placid," he says, "Benedict climbed the mountain. Once at the summit, he prayed for a long time." The solitary prayer of Saint Benedict imitates that of Jesus. "Jesus, rising early before dawn, went off to a deserted place where he prayed" (Mk 1:35). It is worth pondering how Placid's experience of seeing Saint Benedict pray by night must have marked him for life. Little boys are sensitive to such things.

Placid Rescued From the Water

The most famous story of Maur and Placid has to do with the little fellow going to fetch water in the lake. He falls into the water. Saint Benedict is made aware of the situation by a kind of charismatic clairvoyance. He sends Brother Maur to rescue the child Placid. Maur, having received his abbot's blessing, runs over the surface of the water, grabs Placid by the hair, pulls him out, and then runs back over the water to dry land, carrying the little one in his arms. Saint Benedict attributes the miracle to Maur's obedience. Maur says it was due to the virtue of Saint Benedict. Then the little Placid pipes up and settles the debate. "When you pulled me out of the water, he says, I saw over my head Father Abbot's hood, and I saw that it was he who pulled me from the water."

They Persevered

What is most significant, I think, in the story of Maur and Placid is that these two lads persevered in seeking God. If Maur and Placid persevered over a lifetime in seeking God, they surely suffered temptation and darkness, never despairing of the mercy of God. Maur and Placid, tested by suffering, became able to help those who are being tested. Perhaps this is why they became patrons of Benedictine novitiates everywhere.

Two Wise Old Nonni

The sign of the mature monk -- the nonnus, to use Saint Benedict's word for a senior in the monastery -- or of the mature nun -- the nonna -- is in their capacity for compassion, in their ability to identify with weakness, to sympathize with suffering, and above all in their refusal to judge.

We know nothing of the old age of Saints Maur and Placid but I see them as two wise old nonni. I see their youthful faces grown wrinkled and their beards white but in their eyes dances the flame of their first love, the interior fire kindled from the altar, set ablaze by the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist on the day of their Oblation. It is the fire of the Eucharist that, burning in us, will consume all that is harsh, unbending, and ready to judge, leaving only the pure flame of a mercy that gives warmth and light. The Eucharistic vocation of Saints Placid and Maur bears witness to what Abba Joseph said to Abba Lot: "You cannot be a monk unless you become like a consuming fire."

Saint Hilary of Poitiers

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The Holy Father gave this teaching on Saint Hilary of Poitiers at the General Audience of 10 October 2007. The archives of the Holy Father's General Audience are a precious resource during this Year of Faith.

God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. . . . This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others. (Saint Hilary of Poitiers)

There is such peace and security for souls in this teaching of Saint Hilary on the fatherhood of God. Much of the inward suffering of people is rooted in their ignorance of God as Father. Were the Fatherhood of God preached in our churches -- better known, and experienced in prayer -- we would see innumerable graces of inner healing, liberation from anxiety, and growth in love.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, I would like to talk about a great Father of the Church of the West, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, one of the important Episcopal figures of the fourth century. In the controversy with the Arians, who considered Jesus the Son of God to be an excellent human creature but only human, Hilary devoted his whole life to defending faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God and God as the Father who generated him from eternity.

Quest for the Truth

We have no reliable information on most of Hilary's life. Ancient sources say that he was born in Poitiers, probably in about the year 310 A.D. From a wealthy family, he received a solid literary education, which is clearly recognizable in his writings. It does not seem that he grew up in a Christian environment. He himself tells us of a quest for the truth which led him little by little to recognize God the Creator and the incarnate God who died to give us eternal life.

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Exile

Baptized in about 345, he was elected Bishop of his native city around 353-354. In the years that followed, Hilary wrote his first work, Commentary on St Matthew's Gospel. It is the oldest extant commentary in Latin on this Gospel. In 356, Hilary took part as a Bishop in the Synod of Béziers in the South of France, the "synod of false apostles", as he himself called it since the assembly was in the control of Philo-Arian Bishops who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. "These false apostles" asked the Emperor Constantius to have the Bishop of Poitiers sentenced to exile. Thus, in the summer of 356, Hilary was forced to leave Gaul.

On the Trinity

Banished to Phrygia in present-day Turkey, Hilary found himself in contact with a religious context totally dominated by Arianism. Here too, his concern as a Pastor impelled him to work strenuously to re-establish the unity of the Church on the basis of right faith as formulated by the Council of Nicea. To this end he began to draft his own best-known and most important dogmatic work: De Trinitate (On the Trinity). Hilary explained in it his personal journey towards knowledge of God and took pains to show that not only in the New Testament but also in many Old Testament passages, in which Christ's mystery already appears, Scripture clearly testifies to the divinity of the Son and his equality with the Father. To the Arians he insisted on the truth of the names of Father and Son, and developed his entire Trinitarian theology based on the formula of Baptism given to us by the Lord himself: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".

The Father and the Son

The Father and the Son are of the same nature. And although several passages in the New Testament might make one think that the Son was inferior to the Father, Hilary offers precise rules to avoid misleading interpretations: some Scriptural texts speak of Jesus as God, others highlight instead his humanity. Some refer to him in his pre-existence with the Father; others take into consideration his state of emptying of self (kenosis), his descent to death; others, finally, contemplate him in the glory of the Resurrection.

A Spirit of Reconciliation

In the years of his exile, Hilary also wrote the Book of Synods in which, for his brother Bishops of Gaul, he reproduced confessions of faith and commented on them and on other documents of synods which met in the East in about the middle of the fourth century. Ever adamant in opposing the radical Arians, Saint Hilary showed a conciliatory spirit to those who agreed to confess that the Son was essentially similar to the Father, seeking of course to lead them to the true faith, according to which there is not only a likeness but a true equality of the Father and of the Son in divinity. This too seems to me to be characteristic: the spirit of reconciliation that seeks to understand those who have not yet arrived and helps them with great theological intelligence to reach full faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On the Psalms

In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return home from exile and immediately resumed pastoral activity in his Church, but the influence of his magisterium extended in fact far beyond its boundaries. A synod celebrated in Paris in 360 or 361 borrows the language of the Council of Nicea. Several ancient authors believe that this anti-Arian turning point of the Gaul episcopate was largely due to the fortitude and docility of the Bishop of Poitiers. This was precisely his gift: to combine strength in the faith and docility in interpersonal relations. In the last years of his life he also composed the Treatises on the Psalms, a commentary on 58 Psalms interpreted according to the principle highlighted in the introduction to the work: "There is no doubt that all the things that are said in the Psalms should be understood in accordance with Gospel proclamation, so that, whatever the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, all may be referred nevertheless to the knowledge of the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, Passion and Kingdom, and to the power and glory of our resurrection" (Instructio Psalmorum, 5). He saw in all the Psalms this transparency of the mystery of Christ and of his Body which is the Church.

Saint Hilary and Saint Martin

Hilary met Saint Martin on various occasions: the future Bishop of Tours founded a monastery right by Poitiers, which still exists today. Hilary died in 367. His liturgical Memorial is celebrated on 13 January. In 1851 Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the universal Church.

Baptismal Faith

To sum up the essentials of his doctrine, I would like to say that Hilary found the starting point for his theological reflection in baptismal faith. In De Trinitate, Hilary writes: Jesus "has commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 28: 19), that is, in the confession of the Author, of the Only-Begotten One and of the Gift. The Author of all things is one alone, for one alone is God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist (cf. I Cor 8: 6), and one alone is the Spirit (cf. Eph 4: 4), a gift in all.... In nothing can be found to be lacking so great a fullness, in which the immensity in the Eternal One, the revelation in the Image, joy in the Gift, converge in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit" (De Trinitate 2, 1). God the Father, being wholly love, is able to communicate his divinity to his Son in its fullness. I find particularly beautiful the following formula of St Hilary: "God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. Those who love are not envious and the one who is the Father is so in his totality. This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others" (ibid., 9, 61).

The Way to Christ Is Open to All

For this reason the Son is fully God without any gaps or diminishment. "The One who comes from the perfect is perfect because he has all, he has given all" (ibid., 2, 8). Humanity finds salvation in Christ alone, Son of God and Son of man. In assuming our human nature, he has united himself with every man, "he has become the flesh of us all" (Tractatus super Psalmos 54, 9); "he took on himself the nature of all flesh and through it became true life, he has in himself the root of every vine shoot" (ibid., 51, 16). For this very reason the way to Christ is open to all - because he has drawn all into his being as a man -, even if personal conversion is always required: "Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to all, on condition that they divest themselves of their former self (cf. Eph 4: 22), nailing it to the Cross (cf. Col 2: 14); provided we give up our former way of life and convert in order to be buried with him in his baptism, in view of life (cf. Col 1: 12; Rom 6: 4)" (ibid., 91, 9).

Reflection Transformed into Prayer

Fidelity to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore, St Hilary asks, at the end of his Treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain ever faithful to the baptismal faith. It is a feature of this book: reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer returns to reflection. The whole book is a dialogue with God.

I would like to end today's Catechesis with one of these prayers, which thus becomes our prayer:

Keep, I pray You, this my pious faith undefiled, and even till my spirit departs, grant that this may be the utterance of my convictions: so that I may ever hold fast that which I professed in the creed of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let me, in short, adore You our Father, and Your Son together with You; let me win the favour of Your Holy Spirit, Who is from You, through Your Only-begotten Son. Amen.


The Man Enchanted With Christ

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A Saint With Holy Siblings

Saint Gregory of Nyssa is often overshadowed by his illustrious brother Saint Basil the Great and his remarkable sister Saint Macrina. Happily, our Benedictine calendar brings him into the light by celebrating his feast during the Octave of the Epiphany on January 10th in communion with the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Saint Gregory is best known for his Life of Moses, especially in monasteries where it is often given as a Lenten book.

The Holy Father's Presentation of Saint Gregory

Pope Benedict XVI gave a splendid introduction to the life and teaching of Saint Gregory of Nyssa on August 29th and September 5th, 2007. He quoted Saint Gregory's teaching on prayer:

"Through prayer we succeed in being with God. But anyone who is with God is far from the enemy. Prayer is a support and protection of charity, a brake on anger, an appeasement and the control of pride. Prayer is the custody of virginity, the protection of fidelity in marriage, the hope for those who are watching, an abundant harvest for farmers, certainty for sailors" (De Oratione Dominica 1: PG 44, 1124ab).

Becoming God's Friend

Who is Gregory of Nyssa? A contemporary author has this to say about him: “Athanasius was the hammer, Basil, the stern commander, Gregory of Nazianzus the tormented singer, and it was left to Gregory of Nyssa to be the man enchanted with Christ” (Robert Payne, The Holy Fire, p. 168). The man enchanted with Christ. I love that. Saint Gregory wrote that, “the one thing truly worthwhile is becoming God’s friend.”

Never Cease to Desire God

Gregory’s elder sister Macrina introduced him to the spiritual life and remained his counselor and inspiration until her death. Gregory and Macrina were more than brother and sister; they were friends in the Holy Spirit. Macrina’s death plunged him into grief. Out of the darkness of that crisis Gregory emerged shining with the light reflected from Christ, the Human Face of God. “This is the true vision of God,” he says: “that those who lift their eyes toward Him never cease to desire Him.”

Advancing While Motionless

The spirituality of Gregory of Nyssa is one of desire. The journey toward God goes from desire to desire. In his Life of Moses, Gregory has God say, “O Moses, you are straining with so great a desire for that which is before you and there is no weariness in your progress. Know that the spaces around you are so vast you will never reach the end of your journey. Here there is only motionlessness. I set you on the Rock; and now there occurs the most astonishing thing of all: for here to be in motion, and to be unmoving, are the same thing. Here he who advances stops, and he who stops advances, and he advances by the very fact that he is motionless.” The next time you feel that in your silent prayer nothing is happening and that you are getting nowhere, remember that. You advance by the very fact that you are motionless.

And His Wife Theosebia

Gregory was a married man. His wife Theosebia was his companion on the Godward journey. Notwithstanding his marriage, Gregory was chosen to be bishop of Nyssa or, more exactly, was pressured into it by his holy but somewhat overbearing brother Basil. Gregory described his ordination as the most miserable day of his life. To brilliant ecclesiastical careers and churchy business he preferred a contemplative solitude shared with his wife.

Falsely Accused and Vindicated

Gregory had no talent for administration. He was lacking in diplomacy and tact. He got himself into a terrible mess over the handling of Church funds, was falsely accused of embezzling Church money, arrested, and thrown in jail. Then he escaped and went into hiding while a synod made up of Arian bishops and officials of the court set about deposing him. He wrote that, during this time, he had more happiness as a fugitive than when wearing his magnificent episcopal robes as bishop of Nyssa. After the storm blew over, Gregory returned to his flock at Nyssa. He attended the Second Council of Constantinople in 381 where he was acclaimed as a pillar of the Church.

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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