Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Hell's Doorstep

Battlefield Mass: Korean War
When I saw For Greater Glory a couple of years ago, I was struck by the scenes showing the Cristeros at worship in their desert hideaways.  The priest at the altar was like a general leading his troops into battle -- onward and upward to Calvary, where the titanic battle for the salvation of the world was fought and won upon the Cross.  Reason number 454,823,231 to put an end to facing the priest toward the congregation at Mass.

Battlefield Mass: Iwo Jima
The Tridentine Mass on the field of battle, amid death and destruction, is simple, stark, masculine and beautiful.  Here, hell is crushed underfoot.  There is no room for the decadent displays that most of us are forced to settle for Sunday after Sunday, with their narcissistic accretions, beneath which the August Sacrifice is almost totally undetectable.

Fr. Willie Doyle, S.J., the "Trench Priest" of the First World War, describes offering Mass in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme in October of 1916:
By cutting a piece out of the side of the trench, I was just able to stand in front of my tiny altar, a biscuit tin supported by two German bayonets. God's angels, no doubt, were hovering overhead, but so were the shells, hundreds of them, and I was a little afraid that when the earth shook with the crash of the guns, the chalice might be overturned. Round about me on every side was the biggest congregation I ever had: behind the altar, on either side, and in front, row after row, sometimes crowding one upon the other, but all quiet and silent, as if they were straining their ears to catch every syllable of that tremendous act of Sacrifice - but every man was dead! Some had lain there for a week and were foul and horrible to look at, with faces black and green. Others had only just fallen, and seemed rather sleeping than dead, but there they lay, for none had time to bury them, brave fellows, every one, friend and foe alike, while I held in my unworthy hands the God of Battles, their Creator and their Judge, and prayed to Him to give rest to their souls. Surely that Mass for the Dead, in the midst of, and surrounded by the dead, was an experience not easily to be forgotten.
What could be more fitting than Holy Mass on hell's very doorstep?  Did not St. Paul say that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more?  Where is the Blood of Christ more needed than those places lashed by the fury of demons?  There is nowhere that Blood has not penetrated.  Not even Hitler's death camps.

In 1941 Karl Leisner, a young deacon of the Diocese of Münster, was thrown into Dachau for his opposition to the Nazi regime.  Already tubercular, his health deteriorated further, until it seemed that he would never fulfill his dream of becoming a priest.  But Divine Providence had other plans.

Here indeed is a subject for meditation.  Picture the young deacon lying awake in his hard bunk, staring up into the darkness.  He imagines himself at the altar, holding his Eucharistic Lord in his hands; or in the confessional, freeing souls from the bondage of sin; or at a sickbed, bringing the comfort of Extreme Unction to the dying.  But now he himself is weak, and sinking toward death, and cut off from his bishop, and apt to be put to death as an unproductive prisoner at any moment.  It seems as though God does not want him for His priest after all.  

Then, one day, a group of French prisoners is brought to Dachau.  Among them is a bishop.  Here is a man who can confer the sacred priesthood on Karl!  But bishops cannot act without jurisdiction.  Permission from the local ordinary is needed.  With the aid of the other prisoners in his block, all clergy, and the intrepid Sister Imma Mack, who regularly visits the camp, Karl petitions the local cardinal for permission to receive ordination at the hands of his fellow prisoner.  Imagine Karl struggling to be patient as he awaits the cardinal's response.  Finally, the following week, it comes.  Not only does the cardinal grant his permission; he also sends along chrism, a stole, and the book containing the Rite of Ordination, all of which are to be returned after the ordination, along with credible documentation that it has taken place.  

Now the camp is abuzz with activity.  Secret preparations are afoot for the ordination that is to take place right in the heart of Hitler's extermination complex.  Imagine prisoners -- some Catholic, some not -- in various parts of the camp, risking their lives and sacrificing precious spare moments and hours of sleep in order to work on vestments for the bishop and for Karl.  The angels must have doubled their vigilance, for no hint of what is going on reaches the enemy.  At last, all is ready, and on Gaudete Sunday, December 17, 1944, Karl becomes Father Leisner.

A unique photo: Blessed Father Karl Leisner, moments after his ordination at Dachau.
Here was a thing unheard of inside a death camp and, so far as known, absolutely unique.  Imagine the bishop and the newly ordained priest in their simple yet lovingly-made purple vestments; the candle-lit faces of the other prisoners; the Litany of the Saints being sung; the smell of holy chrism pervading the air of Dachau itself.  Here, surely, is a little taste of what the Harrowing of Hell must have been like: when Christ descended into hell to liberate the souls of the Just; whereupon, in that moment, that part of hell ceased to be hell.  Now Christ stooped down to hell on earth to raise up a priest out of its depths.  

But Father Leisner's ministry would consist mainly in suffering.  His health would not permit him to offer his first and only Mass until December 26th -- fittingly enough, the feast of St. Stephen.  Meanwhile, the fortress of death where he was consecrated to God was doomed.  Only a few months later, on May 4, 1945, the Allies liberated Dachau.  On August 12, 1945, Father Leisner -- now Blessed Karl Leisner -- closed his eyes forever on this fallen world that had been his battlefield.

When we find ourselves wondering where God is in the midst of our trials and tribulations, perhaps it would pay to think about Holy Mass on the battlefield, and the priestly ordination at Dachau.  The God Who has never failed to make His presence known and felt on the very doorstep of hell is surely with us now in our own troubles.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Aeterne Rerum Omnium

Conversion of the Paravars of India

Prayer of St. Francis Xavier, Apostle to the Far East, for Unbelievers

Aeterne rerum omnium effector Deus, memento abs te animas infidelium procreatas, easque ad imaginem et similitudinem tuam conditas. Memento Iesum, Filium tuum, pro illorum salute atrocissimam subiisse necem. Noli, quaeso, Domine, ultra permittere, ut Filius tuus ab infidelibus contemnatur, sed precibus sanctorum virorum et Ecclesiae, sanctissimi Filii tui Sponsae, placatus, recordare misericordiae tuae et, oblitus idololatriae et infidelitatis eorum, effice ut ipsi quoque agnoscant aliquando quem misisti Dominum Iesum Christum, qui est salus, vita et resurrectio nostra, per quem salvati et liberati sumus, cui sit gloria per infinita saecula saeculorum. Amen.

O God, everlasting Creator of all things, remember that the souls of unbelievers were made by Thee and formed in Thine own image and likeness. Remember that Jesus, Thy Son, endured a most bitter death for their salvation. Permit not, I beseech Thee, O Lord, that Thy Son should be despised any longer by unbelievers, but do Thou graciously accept the prayers of holy men and of the Church, the Spouse of Thy most holy Son, and be mindful of Thy mercy. Forget their idolatry and unbelief and grant that they too may some day know Him Thou hast sent, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Life and Resurrection, by whom we have been saved and delivered, to whom be glory for endless ages. Amen.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Seventy Years

FDR's address to the nation on June 6, 1944.


My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.


And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.


Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.


They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.


They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.


For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.


Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.


And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.


Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.


Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.


And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.


And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.


With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.


Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"I Don't Care What Your Faith Is!"

I recently had a conversation with a dear friend on the subject of religious strife.  At one point, in connection with his status as a fallen-away Protestant and mine as an observing Catholic, he said to me: "I don't care what your faith is!"

I think he meant this in the spirit of tolerance, which too many people in what now passes for Christendom think is the highest good.  I think he meant to say that he accepts me even though I believe a lot of stuff he disagrees with.  But the words are wrong on so many levels, beginning with the fact that they happen not to be true.  For one thing, my friend has explicitly acknowledged that he comes to discuss things with me precisely because of my religious convictions, which he knows are central to who I am, even though he does not share them.  For another, the essence of this statement is a callous indifference that I don't believe he really has toward me or, for that matter, anyone else.  For still another, it is contrary to the good will in respect of God and the hunger for truth that I know he possesses.  

I gave him the first response my mind could lay hold of: "I care what your faith is!"  I meant it, and mean it, with all my heart.

People who say things like "I don't care what your faith is!" are either malicious or not thinking what they are saying.  A Catholic who can say this cannot be living his faith.  It means he does not take seriously that the entire business of our lives is, first, to save our own souls, and second, to help others to save theirs, and that the Catholic faith is the means by which this is to be accomplished.  If I were to say to my friend what he said to me, what I would really be saying is: I don't care whether you go to heaven or burn forever in hell when you die; it's all one to me.  What a horrible thing to say to anyone, let alone to a friend!  In fact, it's hard to decide which would be worse: that, or affirmatively to wish for his eternal damnation.  I doubt this is what he really meant to say to me, though it is in effect what he did say; he simply did not know any better.  But if I, who do know better, were to say that to him, he should not be pleased; on the contrary, he should be very hurt.

What does it mean for me to care about my friend's faith, or lack of faith?  Does it mean I want him to conform to me?  Not at all.  I want him to conform to God, because God made him to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.  I have neither the right nor the desire to do what not even God will do, and shove the Faith down his throat.  He has to want it for himself.  But I would be faithless both to him and to God if I tried to get out of sharing with him the greatest treasure I possess.

If some little bit of joy falls into our hands and we want to share it with our friends -- a bottle of good wine, or some fudge, or a piece of good news or a funny story -- how much more should we want to share the joy that the world cannot take away?  If we have the Catholic faith, then we have a gift beyond price that we were given out of pure gratuity and on account of no merit of our own whatsoever.  With that gift comes the solemn obligation to share it -- if we need more motivation beyond love for friends and family and associates.   Of course we cannot bludgeon them into accepting it -- nor should we want to.  But they deserve to have the option of knowingly accepting or rejecting it, and we have no business withholding it from them.  I not only do care what your faith is; I must care what your faith is.               

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter


I will deliver them out of the hand of death. I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite....
Hosea 13:14

This is the Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb, a fresco by Bl. Fra Angelico (1442).  Fra Angelico liked to place Dominican saints in his scenes from Scripture.  Obviously, there were no Dominicans personally present at the Resurrection, but including one in this scene shows that he placed himself there spiritually by contemplation.  We are all called to become saints, and mental prayer is an essential element in the process.  This saint has a star over his head, so it is probably Holy Father Dominic himself.

Today only marks the beginning of Easter, which is an octave.  The really important feasts are octaves: thus the Church pauses time so that we may contemplate their meaning from various angles.  Easter means that hell and death and destruction and chaos are vanquished.  Therefore, no matter what happens, never despair.  The devil does not get the last word.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday: The Harrowing of Hell


I will deliver them out of the hand of death. I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite... 
Osee (Hosea) 13:14 (Douay-Rheims translation)

Because Christ also died once for our sins, the just for the unjust: that He might offer us to God, being put to death indeed in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit, in which also coming He preached to those spirits that were in prison: which had been some time incredulous, when they waited for the patience of God in the days of Noe, when the ark was a building: wherein a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. 
1 Peter 3:18-20 (Douay-Rheims translation)

...He suffered, died and was buried.  He descended into hell...
From the Apostles' Creed

In this age of modernist obfuscation and general graying out of vivid supernatural reality, the Harrowing of Hell is probably the most ignored of the creedal doctrines.  Yet as Catholics, we are bound to believe that sin shut the gates of heaven against the souls of men; that it was only Christ's Passion and Death on the Cross that opened heaven; that until then, the souls of the Just were imprisoned; and that, after His death, Christ liberated these souls.  Perhaps one reason we do not devote more time to considering this stupendous event is because it has been obscured by the modern obsession with avoiding any and all mention of Hell: its edge has been blunted by the milquetoast English rendition of the event as "He descended to the dead."  This bland, pedestrian translation fails to confront us with the startling fact of Christ in Hell; we are not inspired to inquire further into its meaning.  It seems obvious that while His Body lies in the tomb, the Son of God is among the dead, having died on the Cross; but how can He, pure and sinless, be in Hell, and why?

First of all, what is the Hell to which Christ descends?  We think primarily of the Hell of the damned, from which there is no escape, and from whose punishments there is no reprieve.  Before the coming of Christ, sin barred the gates of heaven to men.  The souls of the Just could not get into heaven until after Jesus had sacrificed Himself to pay the penalty for our sins.  As St. Thomas Aquinas says in the Summa Thelogica:
[T]hrough Christ's Passion the human race was delivered not only from sin, but also from the debt of its penalty.... Now men were held fast by the debt of punishment in two ways: first of all for actual sin which each had committed personally: secondly, for the sin of the whole human race, which each one in his origin contracts from our first parent, as stated in Romans 5 of which sin the penalty is the death of the body as well as exclusion from glory, as is evident from Genesis 2 and 3: because God cast out man from paradise after sin, having beforehand threatened him with death should he sin.
So what happened to all the good people who lived before Jesus' time, and died without ever having the opportunity to believe in Him or receive the Sacraments?  They dwelt in a place of waiting -- variously called, among other things, the Bosom of Abraham, or the Limbo of the Fathers, or the Limbo of Hell.  There they did not suffer the torments of the damned, but they did suffer privation.  Aquinas elucidates:
After death men's souls cannot find rest save by the merit of faith, because "he that cometh to God must believe" (Hebrews 11:6). Now the first example of faith was given to men in the person of Abraham, who was the first to sever himself from the body of unbelievers, and to receive a special sign of faith: for which reason "the place of rest given to men after death is called Abraham's bosom," as Augustine declares (Gen. ad lit. xii). But the souls of the saints have not at all times had the same rest after death; because, since Christ's coming they have had complete rest through enjoying the vision of God, whereas before Christ's coming they had rest through being exempt from punishment, but their desire was not set at rest by their attaining their end. Consequently the state of the saints before Christ's coming may be considered both as regards the rest it afforded, and thus it is called Abraham's bosom, and as regards its lack of rest, and thus it is called the limbo of hell. 
Aquinas goes on to explain that the Limbo of the Fathers is not qualitatively the same as the Hell of the damned, because the damned suffer eternal torment without hope of reprieve, whereas the Just before the coming of Christ suffered no sensible torments and had hope for a release from imprisonment.  On the other hand, situationally, the Limbo of the Fathers was probably the same as the Hell of the damned:  
For those who are in hell receive diverse punishments according to the diversity of their guilt, so that those who are condemned are consigned to darker and deeper parts of hell according as they have been guilty of graver sins, and consequently the holy Fathers in whom there was the least amount of sin were consigned to a higher and less darksome part than all those who were condemned to punishment.
So, as Aquinas says
Directly Christ died His soul went down into hell, and bestowed the fruits of His Passion on the saints detained there; although they did not go out as long as Christ remained in hell, because His presence was part of the fullness of their glory.
We come to the reasons for the Harrowing of Hell, which we have already begun to touch on.  The Angelic Doctor gives three reasons why it was fitting for Christ to descend into Hell.  Firstly, to bear the penalty for sin -- namely, death of the body and descent into Hell -- in order to free us from penalty (though we are not yet delivered from the penalty of bodily death).  Secondly, to force Hell to disgorge its righteous captives.  And thirdly, to show forth His power and glory even in the domain of the devils.

This last point is worth lingering over.  Because the wills of the damned are confirmed in evil at the moment of their deaths -- just as the wills of the righteous are confirmed in goodness and charity at the moment of their deaths -- Christ did not rescue any of the damned from Hell.  In His essence, He visited only the Limbo of the Fathers; but the effects of His power reached every part of Hell.  Aquinas:
A thing is said to be in a place in two ways. First of all, through its effect, and in this way Christ descended into each of the hells, but in different manner. For going down into the hell of the lost He wrought this effect, that by descending thither He put them to shame for their unbelief and wickedness: but to them who were detained in Purgatory He gave hope of attaining to glory: while upon the holy Fathers detained in hell solely on account of original sin, He shed the light of glory everlasting.
In another way a thing is said to be in a place through its essence: and in this way Christ's soul descended only into that part of hell wherein the just were detained. so that He visited them "in place," according to His soul, whom He visited "interiorly by grace," according to His Godhead. Accordingly, while remaining in one part of hell, He wrought this effect in a measure in every part of hell, just as while suffering in one part of the earth He delivered the whole world by His Passion.
He puts it briefly in another place thus:
When Christ descended into hell, all who were in any part of hell were visited in some respect: some to their consolation and deliverance, others, namely, the lost, to their shame and confusion.
With Christ's visitation, the spoliation of Hell was complete.  A final extract from the Angelical that is worth many hours of meditation (emphasis added): 
When Christ descended into hell He delivered the saints who were there, not by leading them out at once from the confines of hell, but by enlightening them with the light of glory in hell itself.
Think of it.  Hell is the privation of God and His glory.  For the imprisoned elect who found themselves in the presence of the living God and beheld the light of His glory, Hell, in that moment, ceased to be Hell.  Hell was overthrown.  No wonder it is written in Philippians 2:10-11 "That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father."

Today at Matins (Office of Readings) according to the revised Breviary, we read the following ancient, anonymous Holy Saturday sermon:
Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, He has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won Him the victory. At the sight of Him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
I am your God, who for your sake have become your Son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by My own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of My hands, you who were created in My image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
For your sake I, your God, became your Son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden. See on My Face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in My image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree. I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Has Sprung

Today at 16:57 Universal Time, the sun crossed the celestial equator.  That means the point on the earth where the center of the sun was directly overhead was on the equator; the sun reached zenith at the equator; the Southern and Northern Hemispheres were equally illuminated; and the periods of daylight and nighttime today are roughly equal.  In other words: it is now Spring.  From this point forward, the hours of daylight will exceed the hours of nighttime.  When the Summer Solstice occurs on June 21st, the daylight will begin to recede, until the Autumnal Equinox; then, the nights will lengthen, until the Winter Solstice.

As I have commented many times before in this space, and will go on commenting, the changes of season are freighted with a spiritual significance that has been obscured since the iconoclasts took their scissors and blue pencils to the liturgical calendar in the wake of Vatican II.  The Annunciation, March 25th, coincides with the Vernal Equinox; Good Friday is also held to have taken place on March 25th, followed by Easter Sunday.  This was to show that the winter of satan's reign was ended, and the Kingdom of God, with its light and warmth and abundance of life, was begun.  The Summer Solstice, when daylight begins to decrease, coincides with the Nativity of John the Baptist; the Winter Solstice, when daylight begins to increase, coincides with the Nativity of Christ, to underscore the Baptist's saying that he must decrease, while Christ increased.  As far as the Autumnal Equinox is concerned, my own entirely personal opinion is that, since this falls during the time for harvest, it stands for the harvest of souls at the end of time, when the wheat is gathered into the Master's barn, and the tares are bundled up and burned.  

The modernists would have us believe that this is all just man projecting his religious yearnings onto impersonal nature and seeing what he wants to see.  The reality, however, is that not one single thing exists outside of God's plan and loving providence, in which there are no gaps or deficiencies that He needs us to supply for.  It is all meant to communicate God's love to us, and to lead us to Himself.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Chastisement

Put not your trust in princes: in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.  
Psalm 145:2-3

A reminder that today is the one-year anniversary of Benedict XVI's abdication inspired some reflections on the wild ride we have had since that day, both in the Church and in secular society. 

For those with eyes to see, it should be clear that we are under chastisement.   Events are accelerating.  Everything we had taken for granted up to now, from bedrock institutions to moral principles, is disintegrating.  The capital of Christian civilization, built up over two thousand years, is nearly all frittered away.  The enemies of everything we held dear now have the upper hand, and they are busily engaged in destroying.  The unthinkable daily morphs into the commonplace.  One is more and more conscious of being an outsider, even among family and friends, as one is unable to join them in embracing socialism and homosexual unions and abortion and hatred of the Catholic Church, and a host of imaginary "rights", the pursuit of which is costing us our authentic rights.

A chastisement is meant to make us straighten up and start flying right.  But at the moment, too many people like what's going on.  There are a few who recognize the evil for what it is and deliberately choose it; many more, probably most, are deluded by the pursuit of their own comfort coupled with blindness to supernatural realities.  They think this is victory for the good guys.  They think things are finally going the way they should.  They look at wholesale destruction and see creation.  They look at murder and see mercy.  They look at oppression and see liberation.  They look at lies and see the truth -- whatever truth they find most convenient.  

To too many people -- even many Catholics, including priests and bishops and religious -- what is happening does not look like divine punishment.  Since too many of us do not see this as punishment, not enough of us are straightening up.  That is why I fear we are in for something far worse than what we have seen up to now.

Who knows what form it will take?  Very likely, something that will hit us precisely where we are most complacent.  We have grown decadent in our wealth: even the poor in America have color televisions, cars, air conditioning and more than enough to eat.  And, for most of America's existence, she has enjoyed freedom from foreign invasion.  A dozen years after 9/11, we have sunk back into apathy.  Now that the United States is an oligarchy run by persons friendly to her enemies, perhaps it is only a question of time before our economy plunges into the abyss and the scourge of war lashes us in our own streets.

So, do we just give up and crawl back into our caves?  The time will come when that won't be an option.  But there is in any case no neutral ground: we have set before us life and death, and we must stretch out our hand to one of them.  We must choose life.

Should we pursue political remedies?  Of course.  I have advocated previously in this space for Mark Levin's proposed constitutional amendment convention, which the Founding Fathers had the foresight to provide for for times just like these.  But that is not going to be enough.  The chastisement will not be taken away until the reasons for it have ended.  Those reasons are in our own hearts, and our hearts need to be changed.  We need sorrow for our sins and purpose of amendment.  We need to do good and avoid evil.  We must be holy as God is holy.  For that, we need sanctifying grace.  I fear many people -- many Catholics -- are living without sanctifying grace.  I fear -- and it is horrible to consider -- that many are dying without sanctifying grace. 

God is under no obligation to give us what we need to be holy if we don't ask for it, so we must pray, especially the Rosary.  The Rosary was given to us precisely for our times.  We must pray the Rosary not only for ourselves but for others.  It is the best thing we can do.  The time is coming, and may already be here, when it will be the only thing we can do.

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Saints in Art

Today I happened upon a rather striking image of the Presentation by Bl. Fra Angelico, the great artist of the Order of Preachers:


Fra Angelico frequently includes Dominican saints in his scenes from Scripture and Tradition.  At first glance, I assumed the kneeling friar was St. Dominic.  But upon closer inspection, it is clearly not St. Dominic.

St. Dominic is usually pictured with a star over his head.  There is no star over the head of this friar.  But look closely at his scalp.  His skull is split.

This is St. Peter Martyr, also known as St. Peter of Verona.  Born in 1205 in Verona, Peter was received into the Order of Preachers at age 16 by St. Dominic himself.  He was a great preacher, mystic and miracle worker, and was appointed Inquisitor for northern Italy by Pope Gregory IX.  Among other miracles, Peter predicted his own martyrdom, which took place near Milan, Italy on April 6, 1252.  Cathar assassins waylaid him on the road, striking his head with an axe and stabbing him.  Before he died, he traced in the dust, with his own blood, the first line of the Creed: Credo in unum Deum.  At the sight of Peter's saintly death, one of his murderers, named Carino, was converted and later himself took the habit of St. Dominic.  

Just as the resurrected Christ is always shown with the pierced hands and feet of His Crucifixion, martyrs are also frequently depicted in art bearing their mortal wounds, or with the weapons that dealt them their death blow.  St. Paul, for instance, usually carries the sword that cut his head off; St. John Houghton, one of the Carthusians hanged, drawn and quartered under Henry VIII, is shown with a noose; St. Maximilian Kolbe is shown wearing his prisoner's uniform from Auschwitz.  This is not only so that their images may be recognized and identified.  It is also because these symbols of their martyrdom, which seem gruesome and squalid from the world's point of view, are really trophies of victory.  They were borne out of love, and are therefore these saints' glory in heaven.

Here is St. Peter Martyr and his split skull again, in this scene of the Madonna and Child, also by Fra Angelico.  


Here we have Sts. Cosmas and Damien, St. Mark, St. John, and St. Lawrence, who carries the grill on which he was roasted alive.  The three Dominican saints are recognizable by their distinctive emblems.  A star shines over the head of St. Dominic.  St. Thomas Aquinas, who, in his humility, tries to hide behind St. John and St. Lawrence, can nevertheless be recognized by the sun shining from his breast.  And St. Peter Martyr bears the ghastly axe wound that sent him into eternal life.  Notice, too, that the halo surrounding the head of the Christ Child contains the cross, while His Mother is crowned with twelve stars, like the woman clothed with the sun in the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) of St. John.

Really good Christian art inspires, edifies, uplifts, and is rich in food for meditation.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 28th (Post-Conciliar Calendar): St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P.

Francisco de Zurbarán, The Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas (1631).  See here for an article about this painting.
Happy feast day to my friend and illustrious brother in St. Dominic, Thomas Aquinas.  On the pre-conciliar calendar, his feast is on March 7th.  Though I went through a large part of my life without a particular devotion to the Angelical, I have reason to believe that he has been quietly and secretly taking care of me in a special way.

Here is the Summa Theologica, available online in its entirety.

Here is Leo XIII's 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris, on the restoration of Christian philosophy, in which the Pope discusses the monumental importance of Aquinas and his teaching.

Here is a pretty good sermon about Thomas Aquinas, delivered in 2006.  To be well-grounded in Aquinas, says the priest, is a sure safeguard against heresy.  The hatred and denigration of Aquinas, on the other hand, is an unmistakable sign of a modernist.

And, last but not least, the Litany of Thomas of Aquin.


O THOU, the Most High, have mercy on us.
Mighty One of Jacob, have mercy on us.
Divine Spirit, have mercy on us.
Great Triune God, have mercy on us.

Glorious Mother of the King of kings, pray for us.
Saint Thomas of Aquin, pray for us.
Worthy child of the Queen of Virgins...
Aquinas most chaste...
Aquinas most patient...
Prodigy of science...
Silently eloquent...
Reproach of the ambitious...
Lover of that life which is hidden with Christ in God...
Fragrant flower in the parterre of St. Dominic...
Glory of Friars Preachers...
Illlumined from on high...
Angel of the Schools...
Oracle of the Church...
Incomparable scribe of the Man-God...
Satiated with the odour of His perfumes...
Perfect in the school of His Cross...
Intoxicated with the strong wine of His charity...
Glittering gem in the cabinet of the Lord...
Model of perfect obedience...
Endowed with the true spirit of holy poverty...

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: grant us peace.

Ant.— Oh, how beautiful is the chaste generation with glory, for the memory thereof is immortal, because it is known with God and man, and it triumpheth crowned for ever.
V. Oh! what have I in heaven, or what do I desire on earth?
R. Thou art the God of my heart, and my portion for ever.

Prayer:

O God, who hast ordained that blessed Thomas should enlighten Thy Church, grant that through his prayers we may practise what he taught, through Christ our Lord. Amen.