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Sunday, December 30, 2012

To the Sinners, to Make Much of Time

---I hope Robert Herrick will not sue me---

Gather ye sinners while ye may
             Old time is still a-flying
And this lamb that ye behold today
            Tomorrow will be a lion

The great big lie, the worldly riches
            Will never be fulfilling
Like the chasing of the wind
Vain is all your tilling

Come to Christ, the only Way
            Faith, hope and love will fill your morrow
Earthly wisdom is deceiving
And much knowledge brings much sorrow

Tarry not, but know thy Saviour
            before ‘tis late for day is spent;
Night will come with all its terror
            and His knocking forever end

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Twenty One Saint Everyone Must Know III - I


XXI - XIX Saints Gregory the Great, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp
XVIII - XVI Saints Jerome, John Chrysostom, Elijah
XV - XIII Saints Therese of Lisieux, Teresia Benedicta, Teresa of Avila
XII - X Saints John of the Cross, Benedict of Nursia, Thomas Aquinas
IX - VII Saints Sultana Mahdokht, Dominic, Monica
VI - IV Saints Augustine, John the Apostle, John the Baptist

St. Paul
 3-St. Paul (5 AD – 67 AD) [Martyr]
The “Apostle to the Gentiles” has seen his share of “trouble,” “hardship,” “persecution,” “famine,” “nakedness,” “danger” and “sword” (Galatians 2:8, Romans 8:35). While others boast in their lineage and all matters that pertain to the “flesh,” St. Paul finds all these “rubbish” for the sake of “knowing” Christ (Philippians 3:8).  His sole desire is to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering” (Philippians 3:10). Pain is not something that an average person would seek. Rather, only those who have tasted the profound and intense love of Christ can wish to share with His suffering. Victory cannot be achieved without a fight, nor can any prize be won without a struggle. Eternity is no different. It is “through many hardships” that “we enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The suffering we experience in our lives serves many purposes given that we suffer for righteousness’ sake. One purpose is that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3,4). In turn, “hope” in Christ “will never put us to shame” (Romans 5:5). St. Paul thinks that suffering “for Christ” is “granted” to us as a gift and not a punishment (Philippians 1:29). Of course, that does not mean that we suffer aimlessly. Instead, we unite our suffering with Christ’s pain on the cross to “fill up” in our “flesh what is lacking in Christ’s affliction for the sake of His Chruch” (Colossians 1:24). Indeed, it is a great gift and privilege to suffer with Jesus for the sake of the salvation of humanity. In this sense, all those who suffer with Christ are co-redeemers because they participate in His sacrifice on the cross.  This is the ultimate purpose of suffering in a believer’s life. The tiniest pain a person undergoes is magnified a hundred fold when it is united with Christ’s suffering on the cross for the salvation of souls. We “glory” and “rejoice” in our sufferings knowing that our eternal reward is far greater than the biggest pain in our lives (Romans 5:3, Mathew 5:12). Having said all this, it would be foolish to attempt to understand anything that St. Paul has written without seeking his help and his intercession. His writings “contain things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (1 Peter 3:16). For this reason, anything St. Paul has written is not meant for “private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).  Instead, we must “keep the traditions” that he “passed down” to us, whether orally, “by word of mouth,” or in his writings through his “letters” (1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15).  Throughout the centuries, St. Paul has been a great teacher and preacher.

St. Peter
2-St. Peter the Apostle (1 BC – 64 AD) [Martyr]
The first Pope who is ordained by Our Lord is definitely a worthy servant of God whose intercession we should beseech at all times (Mathew 16:18). St. Peter knows from experience that we human beings are frail, flimsy and fragile. For this reason, he “rejoices” every time he sees a sinner standing up again and resuming his fight for his salvation (Luke 15:7). In fact, he is more than willing to help you back up on your feet and “encourage” you when you find yourself empty of any strength to bear your cross (1 Peter 5:12). The interesting thing about St. Peter is that he is not just the first Bishop of Rome, but also the first bishop of a very important See, the See of Antioch, which has had a tremendous influence on the Christian school of thought. When Our Lord gives Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” He is making a direct reference to an incident that takes place in the Book of Isaiah (Mathew 16:19). During the reign of Hezekiah, Shebna’s poor performance and selfish pursuits as the “steward” of the King’s household incurs God’s punishment on him (Isaiah 22:15). God promises that He will “depose” Shebna “from his office,” and install a new steward over the “master’s household” (Isaiah 22:18,19). The new steward is Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who is given the “key to the house of David,” and “what he opens, no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (Isaiah 22:22). Christ expresses the identical sentiment towards St. Peter when he gives Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Moreover, Christ clearly says that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mathew 16:19). This is a key passage to understanding the nature of Peter’s relationship with Our Lord. God is the Master, and the Church is His household. Christ give Peter the “keys” to indicate that St. Peter is the steward of God’s household, the Church, which is a clear indication that St. Peter, as Christ’s steward here on earth, has a primacy over the House of God, the Church. In the year 64 A.D, the flames devour Rome, and Nero attempts to find a scapegoat that will bear the blame. He uses this incident to rid Rome of all Christians. St. Peter finds an escape route, and he flees the persecution that Nero hurls down at Christians by crucifying them. On his way, St. Peter encounters the risen Lord walking the opposite direction, towards the city of Rome. He poses a question to the Risen Christ using the same words from John 13:36, “Quo Vadis,” (where are you going) to which Our Lord answers “Romam vado iterum crucifigi,” (I am going to Rome to be crucified again). Seeing this, St. Peter gains the courage to go back and face crucifixion. However, he feels unworthy to take the cross in the same posture as Our Lord. Instead, he chooses to be crucified upside down.

Blessed Virgin Mary
1-The Blessed Virgin Mary (late 1st c. BC – early 1st century AD)
Our Holy Mother is the Queen of all Saints. Her powerful intercession on our behalf is never rejected or turned down by the Blessed Trinity. She plays a special role in the Salvation History. She brings Christ into this world willingly (Luke 1:38); she will happily take your pleas and your petitions to Him. If you’re looking for Scriptural proof, look no further than the wedding at Cana (Click here and here). As soon as the wine runs out, she intervenes and petitions her son and her God to perform “the first of his miraculous signs” (John 2:11).  Of course, in order for our prayers to be answered, first we must follow her advice and “do whatever He tells” us (John 2:5).  The Immaculately Conceived “woman” is so powerful that “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm” announce her appearance (Revelation 11:19, 12:1).  Satan knows the privileges she enjoys in heaven, which is precisely why he will convince you to stop saying your Hail Marys.  After his failed attempt of destroying the holy “Mother” of the “Lord,” he goes “off to make war against the rest of her offspring – those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Luke 1:43, Revelation 12:17). As a result of God’s love for us, He does not leave us without a heavenly mother. Rather, He gives us Our holy “mother” as a wonderful gift for us to enjoy her maternal love and care (John 19:27). Often times, Catholics make a claim that seems to dismay our Protestant friends. We think that “She will crush” the “head” of the “Serpent” (Genesis 3:15). St. Jerome uses “She,” referring to the Blessed Virgin, in the Protoevangelium (Genesis 3:15), when he translates the original text into Latin during the 4th century to indicate the one who will destroy Satan. Of course, he does not mean that Mother Mary has powers of her own and through her own strength she overcomes Satan. Instead, it is by her obedience and submission to the will of God, who uses her to fulfill His plan of salvation, that she is able to crush Satan under her feet. Through her cooperation with God’s salvific plan, Our Holy Mother participates in the act of Redemption of mankind. God chooses her to bring about Christ on earth, who in turn saves mankind through the cross. Having this enormous privilege, which no other human being has even come close to, the Blessed Virgin enjoys a special intercessory powers that no other Saint has had or ever will have. Do not be afraid to ask Our Holy Mother for her prayers because she loves you more than your earthly mother will ever be capable of loving you. This “woman,” who is prophesied about in Genesis, gives birth to the Saviour willingly and generously (Genesis 3:15, John 2:4, Galatians 4:4). No other character, aside from Our Lord, did the Scriptures refer to more than the Theotokos, the Mother of God. I’ll be sure to revisit her again in some future blog post.

This concludes the list of Saints that everyone must know and whose intercession we must all seek. May the prayers of these holy men and women protect us from all harm and guide us into eternal joy with Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Twenty One Saints Everyone Must Know VI - IV


XXI - XIX Saints Gregory the Great, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp
XVIII - XIV Saints Jerome, John Chrysostom, Elijah
XV - XIII Saints Therese of Lisieux, Teresia Benedicta, Teresa of Avila 
XII - X Saints John of the Cross, Benedict of Nursia, Thomas Aquinas
IX - VII Saints Sultana Mahdokht, St. Dominic, St. Monica

St. Augustine of Hippo
6-St. Augustine (354 AD – 430 AD) [Doctor of the Church]
The few lines I will write here will do a great injustice to a man like St. Augustine because I can never describe the magnitude of the influence he has had on the entire development of human thought. He is a Doctor of the Church, and his contributions to the doctrine of the Catholic faith are too numerous to be counted. St. Augustine is born to a Christian mother, St. Monica, and a non-believing father who is later baptized on his deathbed. Throughout his life, he embraces and repudiates various philosophies. In his late teens, he is drawn to the Manichean heresy, a sect that combines Christian elements with that of Babylonian, Judaic and Gnostic religions. Manichaeism sees the universe as a duality consisting of matter and spirit. All matter is evil, while all spirit is good. As time passes, St. Augustine’s continuous fascination with sin and the meaning of evil prompts him to reject the simplistic explanations of Manichaeism.  By profession, he is a teacher of Rhetoric. Throughout his life, he is caught up in a life of licentiousness and promiscuity. However, his burning desire for the Truth remains with him, and he realizes that his lower appetites are a barrier to his pursuit of the metaphysical Truth. He studies the Bible thoroughly. While in Rome, he and his friend Alypius host a friend who tells them about the life St. Anthony, a desert monk. Suddenly, St. Augustine feels his heart burning within him for a life of asceticism and renunciation. He leaves his friend Alypius and goes to the garden alone. There, he begins to weep greatly to express the great conflict in his heart between his carnal desires and his pursuit of the Truth. The most difficult obstacle for him to overcome is achieving continence. The thoughts passing through his head at this time are ‘How long shall I go on saying “tomorrow, tomorrow”? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?’ (Confessions VIII, 12). While he asks these questions, he hears the voice of a child. Let me give you his own account:

I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, Take up and read; take up and read. Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in while the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him, “Go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me” (Mathew 19:21). And by such oracle was he immediately converted unto You. So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles , when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell—“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:13-14). No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended—by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart—all the gloom of doubts vanished away (Confessions VIII, 12).

Thus St. Augustine is thoroughly converted to Christianity. After being baptized by St. Ambrose of Milan, he embraces a life of celibacy. His writings have influenced the western hemisphere for centuries. If anyone is seeking Truth earnestly, I recommend this Saint. He is my personal favourite.


St. John the Apostle
5-St. John the Apostle (c. 6 AD – c. 100 AD)
This man truly understands love because it is the concept that he discusses the most in his gospel and three letters. For St. John, love is not strictly an emotional undertaking that is expressed by words and feelings. Instead, it is the active participation in Christ’s sufferings.  We do not love with “words,” but with “actions” (1 John 3:18).  This is where the line is drawn between true love and some fake, sentimental feeling. True love demonstrates itself in our deeds. We make a conscious decision to obey Our Lord regardless of how we feel or think. Moreover, all love is to be measured against the ultimate act of love performed by God on the cross for us. If it is anything less than sacrificial, then it is inferior to what Christ gave us because “there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for a friend” (John 15:13).  Somewhere else, St. John writes, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This is further proof of Christ’s divinity. If “God is love,” and no one has “greater love” for us than Christ, then Christ is God. After embracing this profound love, a human soul finds itself prepared to give itself for the benefit of others. As a result, we waste ourselves for others.  Our identity is shaped by this love. We demonstrate it at work, in school, on the streets and at home. Another important concept in St. John’s writings is the idea of being “born again” (John 3:5). The first birth is from our parents; the second birth is achieved by “water” and “Spirit,” which is the Sacrament of Baptism (John 3:5).  Baptism washes our soul from Original Sin, and it allows us to enter the Kingdom of God. It is the doorway to other Sacraments, namely the Eucharist. St. John’s gospel imitates the style of the Book of Genesis and its creation narrative. The first creation in Genesis is a physical one, which is later subject to the Fall of humanity through which death and suffering enter the world. However, the second creation narrative written by St. John is a spiritual creation that reveals the work of God in humanity. God’s aim is to save humanity, and He does not accomplish it by fixing the old, but rather, He recreates humanity again.  Those who are not “born again” will die twice, while those who are “born again” will die only once. First death is the separation of soul and body, and the second one is the eternal separation of the soul from God. Therefore, born once, die twice; born twice, die once. Without the second birth, no one can “enter” heaven (John 3:5).  St. John is the “disciple whom Jesus loved the most” (John 13:23). 


St. John the Baptist
4-St. John the Baptist (5 BC – 28 AD) [Martyr]
Few men can be compared with this fearless prophet. St. John the Baptist’s ascetic way of life underlines his vision for the future Kingdom where he will be spending his eternity. Rather than wasting time worrying about what to “eat,” what to “drink” or what to “wear,” he runs off to the desert seeking God’s “Kingdom” and His “righteousness” (Mathew 6:33). His diet consists of “locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6). When standing in front of vicious tyrants, we find him unafraid of declaring God’s judgment and righteousness. King Herod falls in love with Herodias, his brother’s wife, while his brother is still alive. St. John tells him that “it is unlawful” to “take his brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18).  Herodias in turn holds a “grudge” against John and convinces Herod to “chop off” his head as a reward for the sexual favour rendered to Herod by Herodias’ daughter (Mark 6:19,27). The sense of perversion and depravity in Herod’s circle is especially underlined when the niece gratifies her uncle’s sexual cravings and convinces him to marry her mother.  Nonetheless, the “greatest man born of a woman” announces the truth of God bravely and earnestly regardless of how unpopular and rejected it may be (Luke 7:28). How many of us today are ashamed to speak out against abortion, contraception or homosexual acts because our position is unpopular? St. John is especially singled out because he is one of the three characters from the New Testament whose coming is prophesied in the Old Testament. Of course, the other two characters are the Blessed Virgin and Lord Jesus. To be grouped among the holy names of Jesus and Mary is a tremendous honour bestowed on a human being. As already noted, St. John’s coming is already foreshadowed by Prophet Elijah. The two characters have many common attributes. Moreover, the Old Testament announces the coming of St. John on more than one occasion. Prophet Malachi says that a “messenger” will “prepare” the way for God (Malachi 3:1). Again, Isaiah says about St. John that there is going to be “a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way for the Lord’” (Isaiah 40:3). May the intercession of this holy prophet, martyr and saint grant us the courage to declare God’s words everywhere we go.
 

 


Monday, December 10, 2012

Twenty One Saints Everyone Must Know IX - VII


XXI - XIX Saints Gregory the Great, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp
XVIII - XVI Saints Jerome, John Chrysostom, Elijah
XV - XIII Saints Therese of Lisieux, Teresia Benedicta, Teresa of Avila
XII - X Saints John of the Cross, Benedict of Nursia, Thomas Aquinas

St. Sultana Mahdokht with her brothers and St. Abda
9-St. Sultana Mahdokht (? - 319 AD) [Martyr]
 On the Iraqi-Turkish border, approximately 60 KM northeast of the city of Dohuk is a valley called Sapna. The valley is towered by Matena Mountain from the north and Cara Mountain from the south. Nestled in this green valley is an old Chaldean village called Araden. The name of the village comes from old Aramaic language meaning the Land of Eden or Garden of Eden, signifying the beautiful natural scenery that adorns the area.  There is a church in this village that dates back to the early 4th century, around the year 325 A.D.  It is named after St. Sultana Mahdokht, whose Feast Day is celebrated on January 12th in the liturgical calendars of the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of the East. Sultana Mahdokht is the sister of Meharnarsa and Adorfrowa. Their father is Prince Pholar, who is in charge of the Dorsas principality during the reign of King Shapur II of the Sassanid Empire.  Pholar is given orders by King Shapur to round up all Christians for interrogation, and put them to death if they do not renounce Christ. Sultana’s beauty and education gain fame throughout the entire Persian Empire, and she is scheduled to appear before the King’s representative who is to assess her and report back to the King. After the meeting takes place, the representative is extremely impressed with the character, beauty and knowledge of the princess and her brothers. On their way back home, they begin racing; the horse of the youngest, Meharnarasa, falls down and the prince’s thighbone is almost completely detached from the rest of his body sending him into a coma. While in this dire condition, the Bishop of a nearby village appears in the scene and is taken with compassion for the wailing princess and her brother. He kneels down and begins praying for the injured prince.  A short while afterwards, the prince is revived and the leg is reattached to the body by the prayers of the Bishop. Meharnarsa tells his brother and sister about the vision he has while in a coma. He sees the Bishop kneeling before the throne of Christ asking for the prince’s life, a request to which Christ consents. Sultana and her two brothers embrace the faith and ask to be baptized. They find themselves a cave somewhere nearby to dwell in where they remain hidden from their father’s search and rescue attempts. All sorts of spiritual gifts are given to them while living in this cave, including the gift of healing and prophesy. Three years later, as their end draws near, God sends them two angels to notify them of their imminent martyrdom. This is when a wandering horse leads two stable boys belonging to their father to the cave. The three Saints recognize the horse and the stable boys and ask the two boys to inform their father of what they have seen. Prince Pholar makes numerous failed attempts to retrieve his lost children. At this point, King Shapur has heard about Sultana’s beauty and has declared to Pholar his intentions to marry her. In every attempt Pholar makes to bring his children back, a miraculous intervention transpires that prevents his troops either from harming Sultana and her brothers or apprehending them and bringing them into custody. Finally, after the power of God becomes clearly manifest in the three Saints, they give themselves up for decapitation in the presence of their mournful father. The troops hesitate to carry out the sentence, which is issued directly by the King after finding out about their apostasy from Zoroastrianism and embracing the Christian faith. The three Saints offer to protect anyone who decapitates them. The eldest son is beheaded first, then Mehernarsa and finally Sultana Mahdokht embraces her fate joyfully instead of denouncing Christ and marrying the King of Persia. Their remains are kept in the church mentioned above located in the village of Araden. This church is built on the same ground where these holy martyrs are slain.  St. Sultana Mahdokht has performed miracles that are too many to be listed here. My own mother has seen the fruits of devotion to this holy Saint in a form of a healing from an illness the doctors could not resolve. St. Sultana Mahdokht has granted prayers of barren women who could never conceive. Her prayers of intercession have healed many sick people in the village as well as devotees from other places. May her prayers accompany us everywhere and give us the same courage to witness for Christ as she so bravely has done 17 centuries ago.  The village of Araden happens to be my village where I come from.


St. Dominic
8-St. Dominic (1170 AD – 1221 AD) The truth is we do not know much about this Saint. Of all his writings, little to nothing has survived to this day. However, his legacy has come down to us in a form of a vibrant and lively Order named after him.  His orthodoxy in a time of rampant heresy throughout Europe is inspiring.  He travels through Europe establishing different priories and houses for the Order of Preachers to defeat the Cathari heresy, which has its root from the different Gnostic philosophies that appear in the 1st century A.D. The Catharis round up multitudes of converts by utilizing on the wickedness of some clergy in the Church and using the sinful behaviour of Catholic clerics as a catalyst to spur the adherents of the Catholic faith into abandoning the Church and joining their heresy. Closely tied to Manichaeism, the Catharis teach that the universe consists of a duality, which is made of matter and spirit. Everything physical is wicked and must be treated as sinful, whereas only the spirit is good, and it must be protected from the flesh. Contrary to this view, the Catholic Church teaches that God created all things. Therefore, all things are good, including our bodies and all physical matter around us as well. However, due to Original Sin, our bodies have become corrupt. This corruption is not so extensive that our bodies cannot be salvaged. Rather, through God’s grace offered to us by the Sacraments, we are able to salvage our bodies and temper their rebellious passions, mending their unruly cravings, thereby redeeming our bodies and spirits as well. In fact, all matter in this universe is redeemed too. In Christianity, evil is not really a substance per se. Instead, evil is a corruption of good. The Dominican theology has been taught for 2000 years by the Catholic Church. St. Dominic’s inspiring sermons have won back many wayward Christians who have abandoned the Church. His order has produced numerous Saints, among which the most famous being St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Louis de Montfort, and St. Rose of Lima. May the zeal of this fervent preacher inspire us to love the sinners and desire their salvation.


St. Monica praying for her son, St. Augustin
 7-St. Monica (331 AD – 387 AD)
She is the mother of St. Augustine. St. Monica always reminds me of a faithful mother who can never bear the thought of her son, the child who has issued forth from her womb, suffering eternal damnation because of his rejection of the Gospel. This painful truth makes her cry and weep intensely. She visits St. Ambrose repeatedly to petition him to intervene in her son’s case. Finally, St. Ambrose famously responds, “woman the child of those tears will never perish” (Confessions, III, 12).  For 20 years she continues praying, crying and imploring God to save her son. This sentiment embodies the perfect love of a mother and the sweet maternal instinct in a woman who has set her priorities straight. It is good for a mother to offer food and other necessities to her children, but their eternal destiny comes first and foremost. It is more important than even the children’s life on this earth. Out of her loving concern for her rebellious son, she travels to Rome, then Milan. After her son is baptized into the Catholic Church, she speaks these words to St. Augustine, “Son, for myself, I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. What I want here further, and why I am here, I know not, now that my hopes in this world are satisfied. There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God has exceeded this abundantly, so that I see you despising all earthly felicity, made His servant—what do I here?” (Confessions IX, 10).  Shortly after, she fell ill, and on her deathbed, she says to her two sons, “Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord's altar, wherever you be” (Confessions IX, 11). 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Twenty One Saints Everyone Must Know XII - X



XXI - XIX Saints Gregory the Great, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp
XVIII - XVI Saints Jerome, John Chrysostom, Elijah
XV - XIII Saints Therese of Lisieux, Teresia Benedicta, Teresa of Avila


St. John of the Cross
12-St. John of the Cross (1542 AD - 1591 AD) [Doctor of the Church] Along with St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross is responsible for reforming the old Carmelite order and founding the Order of the Discalced Carmelites. The term discalced refers to a person who is barefooted, which in turn signifies the poverty in which the members of this Order live. The charism of this Order is mainly contemplative prayer. St. John of the Cross writes his spiritual masterpiece, the Dark Night of the Soul, to elaborate on the spiritual experience that we encounter in our path to a complete union with God. After achieving some success in our spiritual undertaking and having attained some mastery over the Seven Deadly Sins, God retracts His Spirit and leaves us in a complete desolation and aridity. This happens after the soul has tasted the profound love of God and the beauty and wonder of His delightful presence. As a result, the “wounded soul” is plunged deep into despair and misery (Dark Night of the Soul, Book II, Chapter xiii, Paragraph 8). Contrary to what a believer may think when undergoing such experience, God is actually infusing an abundant grace into this soul to provide it with enough strength enabling it to overcome its weaknesses and imperfections. At the time, the soul may imagine all sorts of horrifying possibilities while attempting to explain the aridity it experiences. It may think that God, her sole lover, has “abandoned” her due to her imperfections and wickedness (Dark Night of the Soul Book I, Chapter x, Paragraph 1). This prospect sends the soul into frenzy. It becomes terrified, scared and frightened of what its end might be. Little does the soul know that God is actually crowning her with new graces to bring her closer to a full union with Him. According to St. John, some souls experience two such Nights (not restricted to a period of time between evening and morning but rather it may be an extended period of time). The first one is harsh, and it is the lot of many. However the second one is far more severe and few people experience it. The entire process is intended to purify, purge and cleanse the soul of its imperfections. The first Night, which is the less severe, serves to cleanse the senses, while the second Night, frightening and dreadful as it may be, purges the spirit, bringing it even closer to God. If you are experiencing such Nights, then St. John of the Cross urges you to offer yourself completely and wholly to God’s work in you. Remain passive and docile to God’s work until He decides it is time to offer you some consolation or delight, depending on which Night you are experiencing, to help you continue on the path towards Him. St. John of the Cross has been a personal guide for me in certain periods of my life. For that, I am forever indebted to him.


St. Benedict of Nursia
11-St. Benedict of Nursia (480 AD – 547 AD)
St. Benedict is another man whose writings never made it down to our time. His only writing that has survived is his Rule, the Rule of St. Benedict. Everything we know about St. Benedict is passed down to us in a book written by St. Gregory the Great titled The Dialogues. St. Benedict is widely recognized as the founder of western monasticism. His ascetic lifestyle is very similar to the life of the Desert Fathers who wander into the desert to live a life of solitude, austerity and prayer. His authority over evil spirits is noteworthy.  At one time while he is tempted with the sin of flesh, he finds a thorn bush and throws himself on it while naked (do not try this at home) “and there wallowed so long that, when he rose up, all his flesh was pitifully torn” (Dialogues II, 2). Thus he is determined to defend his purity. Of all the great miracles this holy man has performed, nothing surpasses the establishment of the first monastic Order in the west. The Benedictines today are widespread throughout Europe and North America as well as wherever the Catholic Church is present. I like St. Benedict because his lifestyle is closely related to that of St. John the Baptist and Prophet Elijah, which we will read about shortly.  His renunciation of worldly pleasure of any sort is truly commendable. Another story that has been engraved onto my mind is that of his sister, St. Scholastica. After many years of separation, the two finally meet again together alone in a building not very far from his Abbey. The two spend a great deal of time speaking of spiritual matters and things of heaven. The time comes when St. Benedict has to leave, but his sister insists that he stay a little longer. St. Benedict refuses to stay a second longer. St. Scholastica puts her head down in prayer, and as soon as she raises it, storms and thunders fill the sky, making it impossible for her brother to depart at that hour. Seeing this, St. Benedicts looks at his sister and says, “God forgive you, what have you done?” (Dialogues, II, 33). They end up spending the entire night comforting each other with matters of heaven. The next day, St. Scholastica leaves to her Nunnery, and three days later, her brother sees her soul going up to heaven like a dove.


St. Thomas Aquinas
10-St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 AD – 1274 AD) [Doctor of the Church]
It is only apt that I should include the Angelic Doctor in this list because, along with St. Augustine, his writings are the most frequently cited sources in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. His Summa Theologica treats almost every subject under the sun that deals with the science of philosophy. For centuries, atheists have been attempting to disprove God’s existence. Unfortunately for them, they have to wrestle against the five proofs St. Aquinas has posited in his Summa. So far they’ve been unsuccessful. Any theist wanting to bolster his arguments is bound to resort to St. Aquinas in one way or another. The most prominent of those today who engage the atheists in public debates (I would count Dr. William Lane Craig being the most voracious of them) use the same arguments, perhaps sometimes tailored and modified in one way or another. St. Aquinas’ thorough knowledge of the Scriptures has gained him a great deal of affection and respect not just among the Catholics, but also among the Protestants as well. One thing about St. Thomas is that he is always very protective of his chastity. His family attempt to dissuade him from pursuing religious life. They send a prostitute to his chamber to seduce him. He takes a burning log and chases her out of the room. Once he returns to his room, two angels appear to him and gird him with a chord of chastity, a testament of his purity of body and soul. St. Aquinas is the Patron Saint of all scholars and students.






Thursday, December 6, 2012

Twenty One Saints Everyone Must Know XV - XIII



XXI-XIX: Saints Gregory the Great, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp
XVIII-XVI: Saints Jerome, John Chrysostom, Elijah 




St. Therese of Lisieux
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15-St. Therese of Lisieux (1873 AD – 1897 AD) [Doctor of the Church]
St. Therese of Lisieux is another Carmelite Saint.  Born Marie Francois Therese Martin, she enters the convent at the early age of 15. While still at home with her father, she tells him about her wish to enter a convent. They both break down in tears. Composing himself, her father picks up a flower from the ground and says to her that in the same fashion that God cares for the flower, likewise he cares for us as well. St. Therese recalls this conversation and says that when she hears her father speaking, it is like he is telling her life story. She takes the flower as a symbol of her, as she later becomes known as The Little Flower. Initially, of course, her application to enter the convent is rejected because of her young age. Determined to join the Order, St. Therese travels to Rome with her father where she is granted a private audience with the Pope along with the rest of the pilgrims from Lisieux. There, she kneels at the feet of the Holy Father and begs him to let her enter the convent. Pope Leo XIII defers the matter to the superior of the convent. Finally, she is accepted into the convent at the young age of 15. While in the convent, St. Therese embraces the “little way,” or the faithful obedience to Christ in the smallest and most menial tasks. Her outlook on the path to holiness was based on two understandings. First, God’s love is expressed through His mercy and forgiveness. Second, all attempts to become perfect are futile. The first precept, removes any fear a person may have of God. St. Therese sees fear as a stumbling block in our path to be closer to God. Hence, trusting in His endless love and mercy grants us the joy and strength we need to persevere in our fight. She has a special devotion to Jesus the Child who dispels any unreasonable fear of an omnipotent God. The second principle leads a soul to trust in God’s mercy and not depend on her virtues and righteousness regardless how far she travels on the journey towards holiness.  The “little way” makes us more attentive to everyone around us, rather than traveling far seeking grand designs and ambitious undertakings to satisfy God. After much suffering and pain, St. Therese dies at the age of 24 with a fervent spirit of faithfulness and a heart burning with love for Christ. 


St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross
14-St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (1891 AD – 1942 AD) [Martyr] Originally, her name is Edith Stein. She is born to a Jewish family, but she becomes an atheist by the age of 16. St. Teresia is a remarkably intelligent woman. She completes her PhD in Philosophy by the age of 25. Six years later, after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, Edith Stein converts to Catholicism in 1922. St. Teresia wishes to join the Carmelites but is prevented by her Spiritual Director whose inclination was that she goes out in the world and engages the field of education for the benefit of all women. She takes on a teaching position at the Institute of Pedagogy in Munster in 1932. However, state-imposed anti-Semitic laws are passed in 1933, and St. Teresia is stripped of her teaching position. In that same year, she joins the Discalced Carmelite Order in Cologne. For fear of the growing anti-Semitism, the Order transfers her to their Monastery in Netherlands. In 1942, the Dutch Conference of Catholic Bishops sends a letter to all Catholic parishes to be read publically condemning the horrors of Nazism. This prompts the Nazi regime to retaliate by arresting all Jewish converts to Catholicism who are previously exempt.  At the age of 50, she is rounded up and sent to Auschwitz, where she is gassed, along with her sister who is also a convert. St. Teresia’s courage to embrace the faith and her willingness to die for the sake of Truth is truly inspiring. Her work on the writings of St. John of Cross (The Science of the Cross: Studies on St. John of the Cross) confirm her understanding of suffering and pain, "One can only gain a scientia crucis (knowledge of the cross) if one has thoroughly experienced the cross. I have been convinced of this from the first moment onwards and have said with all my heart: 'Ave, Crux, Spes unica' (I welcome you, Cross, our only hope)." May the Lord grant us the same courage and insight as this wonderful Saint. 


St. Terese of Avila
13-St. Teresa of Avila (1515 AD – 1582 AD) [Doctor of the Church]
St. Teresa is the founder of the Order of the Discalced Carmelite for women. This holy woman enjoys a great sense of humour. She asks God for a Spiritual Director and a man who will help her establish the Order for men as well. Shortly after, St. John of the Cross, who was noticeably short, shows up. She playfully calls him “half a friar.” He becomes her Spiritual Director. St. Teresa is a mystic who writes prolifically on prayer. Although her spirituality is almost identical to St. John’s, she notes some slight differences in the stages that a soul passes through prior to reaching a union with God. She outlines these stages in her book, The Interior Castle. Rather than seeing the road to heaven as an exterior undertaking or an external endeavour, she describes it as an internal journey where a Christian must explore his soul like a castle.  We must look deep down in this castle’s innermost chambers to find the pearl that resides inside, which is Christ. God created the human soul in “His own image” (Genesis 1:27).  Therefore, there is nothing “comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul” (Interior Castle, Book I, Chapter i, 1).  This interior castle consists of numerous chambers that are divided into Seven Dwelling Places. The more progress we make in our spiritual life of prayer, the closer we reach the Seventh Dwelling Place where Christ resides and where the complete union happens. In the first two Dwellings, the soul contends against Mortal Sin. There is nothing more frightful, “black, foul smelling, filthy and wretched” than a soul that is in “Mortal Sin” (Interior Castle, I, i, 3). She has lost all its glory and magnificence that God has bestowed on her. As the soul engages in spiritual warfare to gain back its beauty, which is done through spiritual prayer and the Sacraments, the Devil wages endless battles against her. For St. Teresa, the deciding factor that determines the outcome of each spiritual battle a soul engages is humility. There is no greater virtue than humility because it is only through “humility” that “the Lord allows Himself to be conquered with regard anything we want from Him” (Interior Castle, IV, ii, 9).  When the soul reaches the Third Dwelling Place, a purgative and dry process lays ahead of the soul that is very similar to St. John’s Dark Night of the Soul. Like St. John, St. Teresa says that these periods are meant to cleanse us and purge us of our sinful habits. She also makes a distinction between the cleansing of the senses and the cleansing of the sprit, which occurs in a later Dwelling. Finally, when the soul reaches the Seventh Dwelling Place, which very few souls achieve, a complete union or spiritual marriage with God takes place. God takes the soul as a bride, granting her the wondrous beauty, love and splendid majesty of the Creator.  St. Teresa is an excellent guide for the weakest of all beginners to the most trained and skilled of all believers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Twenty One Saints Everyone Must Know XVIII - XVI


XXI - XIX: Saints Gregory the Great, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp



St. Jerome
18-St. Jerome (347 AD – 420 AD) [Doctor of the Church]
St. Jerome is a great ascetic who lives a hermetical lifestyle in the deserts and monasteries for some periods of his life. He is a prolific writer best known for his translation of the Septuagint into Latin. His writings also include commentaries on Scriptures, letters to friends and heretics, and the collections of previous Church Fathers. Most of his writings have a rhetorical/polemic nature, whereby usually he defends the orthodox doctrines of the Church against heretics and schismatic groups. It is not possible to discuss his works in any comprehensive manner in this tiny blog post. However, to have a taste of this fervent and passionate defender of orthodoxy, one of his letters will suffice. In response to a monk named Jovinanus, whose theological stances have been condemned by the Council of Milan in 390 AD. Copies of his writings are sent to St. Jerome, and a request is made that Jerome composes a refutation as a response to Jovinian’s errors. Jovinianus makes several statements that depart from the positions of the universal Church. He claims that consecrated virgins and married women are equal in God’s eyes; everyone receives an equal reward in heaven; food eaten in thankfulness is as rewarding as fasting and abstinence. To begin with, St. Jerome labels Jovinanus as the “Epicurus of Christianity” and designates his style of writing as “barbarous,” while his “language” is “vile” and nothing more than a “heap of blunders” (Against Jovinanus, Book I, chapters 1). St. Jerome goes on to explain the classical Catholic position on Consecrated Virginity and marriage.  He says that we do not follow the heretical teachings of Marcion and Manichaeus who “disparage marriage”; nor do we fall for the errors of Tatian, who deemed “all intercourse” and all “food” to be “impure” (Against Jovinanus, I, 1). Instead, we consider marriage to be “honourable among all, and the “bed” to be “undefiled” (Against Jovinianus, I, 1). However, “while we honour marriage, we prefer virginity.” St. Jerome is echoing the sentiment St. Paul expresses on the subject in 1 Corinthians 7. After presenting his thorough refutation of the heretic, St. Jerome concludes his treatise with a warning to the Romans, where Jovinianus was spreading his heresy. He tells the Christians in Rome to “beware” of Jovinanus’ name because it is derived from the “idol,” Jove (Against Jovinianus, II, 38). St. Jerome’s vigorous defense of Church teachings and doctrines reveal his great zeal for the Lord and His Bride, the Holy Catholic Church. 


St. John Chrysostom

17-St. John Chrysostom (347 AD – 407 AD)  [Doctor of the Church]  
St. John is a great preacher of the gospel whose eloquence and skill of persuasion earn him the title ‘golden mouth.’  As a Church Father, St. Chrysostom is greatly venerated for his contributions to liturgy and theology as well. He preaches powerful sermons against all the corruption in the Church and within the civil authority, which is what ends up causing him his episcopacy in the See of Constantinople.  Demonstrations occur in Antioch to protest the heavy taxes levied by Emperor Theodosius I. The demonstrators go as far as destroying statutes of the emperor. To appease Theodosius, the Bishop of Antioch goes to Constantinople, leaving the pulpit to Chrysostom.  During the period of the Bishop’s absence, St. John composes and delivers 21 homilies that describe proper Christian behaviour and its incompatibility with the destructive attitude witnessed earlier. As a result of these homilies, people of Antioch reflect deeply on their behaviour and a large number of pagans convert to Christianity. The emperor’s anger is also abated. Later, St. Chrysostom is made the Archbishop of Constantinople, which at the time is a very prestigious See, and his departure from Antioch is done in secret because it would stir protests due to his popularity and prominence as a preacher. As an Archbishop, he refuses to entertain any extravagant and luxurious gatherings of clergy and civil servants as well. His support of Origin puts him at odds with the Archbishop of Alexandria, while his severe denunciations of lavish dressing and immodesty of women clothing stirs Eudoxia, the wife of the Eastern Emperor, into hostility and malignity towards him. Eudoxia and the Patriarch of Alexandria, along with others, form an alliance against St. John, resulting in his removal and banishment. However, the people of Constantinople love John too much to let him go. They protest against the sentence, and St. John is brought back to his position.  Shortly after, a silver statue of Eudoxia is erected very close to his cathedral, and grand ceremonies are celebrated for the occasion. St. John of course, cannot ignore this extravagancy. Instead, he writes a sermon comparing Eudoxia to Herodias and himself to St. John the Baptist in an analogy. This time, he is banished to the Caucuses. He continues to write letters that greatly influence public opinion as well as ecclesial authorities in influential Sees such as that of Rome and Milan. The latter intervene, but they are unsuccessful in bringing him back. Moreover, his letters irritate his enemies further, banishing him further to Pitiunt. He does not reach this destination. He dies on the way there. What I admire about this Saint is his courage, eloquence and knowledge of the Scriptures. 


Prophet Elijah
16-Prophet Elijah (9th century BC)  
Prophets of the Old Testaments are all considered Saints in the Catholic Church. St. Elijah is a powerful figure from the Old Testament whose sanctity and holiness enable him to be assumed into heaven without experiencing physical death. His assumption serves as a precedence of the Blessed Virgin’s assumption, which takes place approximately 9 centuries later. St. Elijah is also a type of St. John the Baptist, meaning that as a character in the Old Testament, his significance is not limited to the Old Testament, but rather he serves as a foreshadow for another character who will appear in the New Testament. St. Elijah preaches against the idolatry and sinfulness of Israel that has fallen into the hands of a deprave king, King Ahab. Likewise, St. John preaches against King Herod who, as I previously note, marries his brother’s wife while his brother is still alive. Prophet Elijah leads an ascetic lifestyle alone in the desert for most of the time. St. John also lives in the “wilderness,” eating “locust and wild honey” (Mathew 3:4). Prophet Elijah is opposed by a woman named Jezebel, the wife of the King, and St. John is also opposed by Herod’s prospective wife, who instructs her daughter to request John’s head on a platter.  Moreover, the Scripture itself testifies to John having the “power and spirit of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Elijah demonstrates strength and fortitude not just in the austerity of his lifestyle, but also in his convictions and faith. With a simple prayer, he blocks “rain” and brings it back (1 Kings 17:1). The oath he uses frequently is “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, whom I serve” (1 Kings 17:1, 18:15).  The oath underlines the nature of God that Elijah is serving. He is a living God who is active and at work in His creation. He is a personal God who communicates and speaks to His children. Prophet Elijah also includes the phrase, “whom I serve” in his oath to denote that personal relationship that he has with God. It is a relationship that is not delusional or a thing of his fancy. Instead, it is a concrete exchange between the Creator, who is invisible albeit real, and His creature whose faith grants him a sense of certitude in that which is indiscernible to the human senses. Another remarkable aspect of Elijah is his complete disregard for comforts of the flesh in order to maintain the spiritual strength necessary to carry out his mission in life. Rather than living in a luxurious house and enjoying the high prestige granted to Ba’al’s priests, he prefers to live in the desert and in caves as long as he remains faithful and obedient to the LORD. Consequently, God does not reject any of his prayers, including when Elijah requests “fire” from heaven for his “sacrifice” to be “burned” as a proof that the LORD is God (1 Kings 18:38).



Sunday, December 2, 2012

Twenty One Saints Everyone Must Know XXI - XIX

The Church, or the community of believers, is surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses,” righteous souls of brothers and sisters who have passed on to the glory and whose presence sustains their brothers and sisters on this earth (Hebrews 12:1). These souls are the various Martyrs and Saints whose witness for Christ strengthens their contemporary brothers and sister, while also planting the seed of the Church among the heathens. Today, the Saints still shower us with their prayers and intercession, helping us in our journey to our heavenly home. Their protection and intercession is a gift of God who promises that “watchmen” will always be “posted” around the “walls of Jerusalem,” which refers to the Church of the New Testament (Isaiah 62:6). These “watchmen” will never be “silent day or night” (Isaiah 62:6). They will not “give themselves rest,” nor will they give the Lord any “rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth” (Isaiah 62:7). Having been promised this heavenly assistance from Our Lord, it is important to get acquainted with these prayer warriors who constantly intercede for us while we continue our fight against the Devil, the world and ourselves. There are 21 Saints that everyone must know and whose intercession all believers must seek. Here they are.


St. Gregory the Great 540 - 604
21-St. Gregory the Great (c.540 AD – 604 AD) [Doctor of the Church] St. Gregory comes from a family of Saints. His mother is St. Silvia. His two aunts, Tarsilla and Emiliana, are also canonized Saints. Close to the age of 30, St. Gregory becomes the prefect of Rome; this position has lost much of its magnificence and prestige at the time, even though it remains the most important one in Rome. Upon retiring his station in the political arena, Gregory enters St. Andrew’s monastery, to which he is later appointed an Abbot. This period in Gregory’s life seems to be the most peaceful and serene time in his life.  In 590 AD when Pope Pelagius dies, Gregory is elected as next pope. He implores the Emperor Maurice not to confirm the appointment. However, his correspondence is blocked by Germanus, the prefect of the city, and rather than receiving Gregory’s petition, the emperor receives a formal schedule of the election sent by the prefect. St. Gregory never recovers the peace and quiet that he enjoys at St. Andrews after he becomes the pope. The invasion of the Lombards, one of many barbarian tribes that overrun Rome, puts an end to the imperial power, which the city has been practicing over the rest of Italy. However, Gregory’s rise to papacy not only saves Rome from falling into anonymity and mediocrity, but also shapes much of medieval ecclesiology. His correspondence with the Bishop of Constantinople and other Eastern Churches, clearly pronounce the primacy of the Bishop of Rome over the Church Universal. Aside from being venerated in the Catholic Church, St. Gregory is also honoured by the Eastern Orthodox, the Anglican Communion as well as the Lutheran churches. John the Faster, the Patriarch of Constantinople, ascribes to himself the title of Ecumenical Bishop at a local synod that is held in 588 AD. St. Gregory rejects the title and refuses to acknowledge it. Instead, he writes an Epistle that clearly spells out the primacy of his office over the rest of the Church, both Western and Eastern. He writes, “As regards the Church of Constantinople, who can doubt that it is subject to the Apostolic See? Why, both our most religious lord the emperor, and our brother the Bishop of Constantinople continually acknowledge it” (Epistle 9.12). Under his papacy, Church-State relations seem to be a thing that current governments in the west could look to as a pattern to be reproduced. Being greatly concerned with the wellbeing of his sheep, Gregory advocates a form of cooperation between Church and State to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the citizens. St. Gregory’s distinguished performance as a pope cannot be outlined in detail here. However, one important contribution he makes to Christendom is his care to evangelize the British. He sends St. Augustine of Canterbury, the Apostle to the English, to the British Isles where Christianity is restricted to isolated monasteries, which gradually decline into insignificant presence after the Roman legions retreat from the area in 410 AD.  The mission is very successful, and the Catholic faith is established as the main religion of the Isles. Paganism and other deviations from the Christian faith give way to the Catholic Church. For this reason, the British affectionately label St. Gregory as “our Pope,” “our Master,” “our Apostle,” or “our Gregory.” After fourteen years of serving as a pope, St. Gregory dies in 604 AD; he is canonized immediately after his death by popular acclamation.

St. Ignatius of Antioch
 20-St. Ignatius of Antioch (c.50 AD – 98-117 AD)  [Martyr]
It is believed that St. Ignatius is the child whom Our Lord takes in His loving arms and of whom He says, “Whosoever shall receive one such child as this in my name receives me” (Mark 9:35). He is the third Bishop of Antioch, the first being St. Peter and the second, Evodius. He is appointed to the See of Antioch by St. Peter the Apostle. St. Ignatius is also known as Theophorus, which means God-bearer. After Emperor Trajan (98 AD – 117 AD) wins a battle in Syria, he desires an empire that is more closely united. Consequently he decrees that Christians must make a sacrifice to the gods along with their pagan friends, or face death. St. Ignatius uses every means at his disposal to strengthen his flock and keep them from participating in this worship. His ministry earns him a reputation of which Trajan himself hears. Consequently, he is ordered to appear before the emperor in front of whom Ignatius calls himself Theophorus, God-bearer. Trajan asks him, “Do we not then seem to you to have the gods in our mind, whose assistance we enjoy in fighting against our enemies?” Ignatius bravely responds “You are in error when you call the demons of the nations gods. For there is but one God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that are in them; and one Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, whose kingdom may I enjoy” (Martyrdom of Ignatius, 2). With this response, Trajan orders Ignatius to be taken to Rome where he is to be offered to the beasts as a spectacle for people’s entertainment. St. Ignatius clasps his hands jubilantly and thanks God for granting him the opportunity of offering himself as a martyr. On his way to Rome, he writes seven epistles, six of which are written to churches and the seventh is written to St. Polycarp, his friend, the Bishop of Smyrna. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Ignatius entreats the Romans, who plan a rescue attempt, not to interfere with his martyrdom. He states, “All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth” (Epistle to Romans, 6). St. Ignatius finally makes it to Rome after a long and arduous journey accompanied by guards whom he likens to “leopards” (Epistle to Romans, 5). There, he is fed to the lions. He dies bravely as a true witness of Christ. His remains are taken to Antioch, and later to the Temple of Tyche, which is converted to a church by Theodosius II. This soldier of Christ is another example of bravery whose “blood” becomes the “seed of the Church” (Tertullian, Apologeticus 50). St. Ignatius is the pupil of St. John the Apostle. He is the earliest of the Church Fathers who affirm the Catholic doctrine of Real Presence (the consecration of the bread and wine at Mass turns them literally into the body and blood of Our Lord). He says that he desires “the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life” (Epistle to Romans, 7).

St. Polycarp
 19-St. Polycarp (69 AD – 155-167 AD) [Martyr]
An eyewitness account of this holy martyr’s death says that St. Polycarp dies valiantly and boldly declaring Christ as King and Lord during the reign of either Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161 AD - 180 AD) or Emperor Antonius Pius (138 AD – 161 AD). St. Polycarp is another witness to the Apostolicity of the Catholic Church. He is ordained as Bishop of Smyrna by St. John the Apostle. At the age of 86, Polycarp agrees to escape the city after much persuasion due to the explicit search warrant issued to apprehend him. Finally, when the Roman soldiers successfully locate him in a house outside of the city, rather than embracing the opportunity given to him to flee, he greets them graciously and offers them food and drink while they allow him to remain another hour to pray.  Two hours later, he is taken into the city where he is to be fed to the beasts. On his way, he crosses paths with Irenarch Herod, the officer in charge of enforcing the decree issued by the emperor that everyone must offer incense to the gods of Rome. Herod takes him into the chariot and asks him, “What harm is there in saying, Lord Cæsar, and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, and so make sure of safety?” St. Poly responds, “I will not do as you advise me” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 8). Then he is pushed out of the chariot violently. Once he arrives at the stadium where the crowds cheer wildly and viciously, thirsty to see another bloody spectacle made of the rebellious Christians who refuse to offer incense and be fed to the beasts instead, St. Polycarp hears a voice saying to him, “Be strong and show yourself a man, O Polycarp” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9).  He enters the stadium and the proconsul persuades him to “have respect” for his “old age” and agree to offer the sacrifice, upon which he will gain his freedom once again. St. Polycarp rejects the offer. The proconsul persists and urges Polycarp to “reproach Christ” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9). Polycarp’s response is “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9). When threatened with wild beasts, St. Polycarp embraces the prospect of being devoured by wild animals fearlessly. Consequently, the proconsul decides to burn him. His hands are tied and great piles of wood are gathered to carry out the endeavour, which is applauded by the cheering crowds. Once the wood is set on fire, rather than devouring the martyr, the flames spread around him in an arc, and his body appears to be like gold when it is placed inside a furnace. His body is not harmed. Also, the odour of frankincense fills the place. After a long while, the soldiers see that his body is not being consumed by fire. The proconsul orders one of the soldiers to pierce Polycarp’s body with a dagger. The soldier carries out the command, and Polycarp’s blood comes gushing down, putting out the blazing flames.  The audience marvels with a great sense of awe at the miraculous incident. St. Polycarp is also a friend of St. Ignatius of Antioch. The two meet each other while St. Ignatius is on his way to Rome to be devoured by beasts. May the prayers of this holy martyr grant us the courage to remain steadfast in our witness for Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Christ, the Fairest of all Men II: Song of Songs


In a previous post, I began writing an exposition on the Song of Songs, one of the poetic books in the Bible. I stopped at the third verse. This entry is a continuation of that post, and it consists of verses four, five, six and seven of the first chapter of that Book.

Christ and His Church: let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth

As I previously noted, the Song of Songs is a poem written in a form of a romantic conversation between two lovers, the Bride and her Bridegroom. Figuratively, the poem explains the relationship between an individual soul (or the Church in its entirety) and Christ, “the fairest of all men.”

Take me away with you – let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you!

After tasting the profound love of her Bridegroom, the Bride now wishes to immerse herself further in that love. She implores her lover to “take” her “away with” Him.  She wants to leave everything behind and join her lover. This is an answer to a call that is made by the Bridegroom. Christ invites his Bride to “go into” her “room” and “close the door” behind her for a moment of solitude where the encounter between the two lovers is facilitated (Mathew 6:6). In response to this invitation, the Bride says, “take me away.” In other words, “yes, I will go into my private room where no prying eyes will disturb us. Take me to wherever you are and bring me closer to you.” The object of the sentence changes from a singular pronoun to a plural one to signify the Bride’s personal relationship with Christ as well as the communal nature of this relationship, One Church, many souls.  Moreover, the level of intimacy deepens as She begs her lover to “bring” her “into his chambers,” or to take her to his bedroom.  Of course, in this bedroom, there is not going to be sexual activity, but rather a spiritual union. If the Bride is the human soul and the Bridegroom is Christ, then their union is accomplished through the act of prayer.  Rather than bodily pleasure, the result of this union is spiritual delight whereby the soul’s desire is fully satisfied and nourished.  The lower appetites become diminished and the physical senses are suspended. They are replaced by an immense thirst for yet a deeper union with the Divine essence, which is accomplished only through Christ. The effect of this union also has a physical dimension as well.  The heart is at complete peace, while serenity and tranquility take over the mind. God created humanity for this purpose, to rejoice and delight in this encounter with the Creator of all Beauty.  Occupied with this delightful exchange, the Bride recognizes the rectitude of her Bridegroom’s lovers, “they are right to adore you.”  Instead of expressing jealousy over the multitudinous lovers, She expresses her sympathy and agreement with them because no virgin can behold the immaculate gaze of this Bridegroom and remain uninterested.     

Dark am I, yet lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon.

The Bride recognizes her physical imperfections. She realizes she is not perfect. Fortunately, these imperfections are only skin deep. They do not penetrate her inner beauty and affect her virtuous soul.  Even though she is “dark” on the outside, she is still “lovely” and beautiful in the inside.  Beauty is redefined here. It is not the physical quality or proportionate arrangement of facial features. Instead, it is the virtuosity of the spirit that “shine[s]” on the Bride’s countenance “like the sun” and makes her look “lovely” (Mathew 13:43). She compares herself to the “dark tents of Kedar.” These tents are made of black goat hair that helps absorb heat during the cold winter months, keeping the inside of the tent warm and cozy.  Likewise, the Bride’s unattractive features keep her humble and modest to the extent that she appears “lovely” despite her physical imperfections.  During the summer months, the “dark tents” provide shade from the hot sun. Similarly, the Bride’s physical imperfections prevent pride, vainglory and self-worship from entering her heart and rendering her wrathful, lustful, envious, gluttonous, greedy and slothful.

Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun. My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have neglected.

While speaking to the “daughters of Jerusalem,” the Bride turns their attention away from her exterior unappealing looks. She is “darkened by the sun,” or she has been exposed to elements for a long while. The “sun” represents all the temporal allurements and worldly cares that often keep us occupied and too busy to seek God, the source of all comfort. The reason for her coarse and unrefined features is that her “mother’s sons” are “angry” with her. They make her “take care of the vineyards,” which is a task that is rough and daunting on her body. The “vineyards” must be worked for a financial gain or a steady income.  Meanwhile, her “own vineyards,” or her spiritual needs, are “neglected” and uncared for. Her earthly relations do not care about her spiritual needs. Instead, their purpose is to use her to harvest financial benefits and reap monetary gains. This treatment has a harsh effect on her body but not on her soul.  Her soul remains unbroken and steady in its pursuit for the Bridegroom. Consequently, she goes about searching for her lover.

Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday. Why should I be like a veiled woman beside the flocks of your friends?

She asks the Bridegroom “where” he “graze[s]” his “flock” and “where” He “rest[s]” his “sheep” when it is “midday.”  Knowing that none of her earthly relations is willing to provide her with any comfort and consolation, she directs her attention elsewhere; she seeks the Shepherd “whom” she “love[s].” Fear of loneliness and physical exhaustion are the two main deterrents that make her embark on this search. She is lonely. No one wants to speak or associate with her because she is “dark” and seemingly unattractive. Also, the long hours under the “sun” have made her exhausted and fatigued.  The heavy task of pursuing earthly riches, which is forced on her, causes a great deal of exhaustion. It is important to note the time of day is “midday.” The “sun” is scorching.  As a result, she goes on a search for a lover who will give her the consolations and the comforts that her soul is seeking. She asks, “Why should I be like a veiled woman beside the flocks of your friends?” The question denotes a secrecy that surrounds her love for the “fairest of all men.” No one knows that she is in love with the Bridegroom, and she resents the fact that she is “like a veiled woman,” all alone with no one with whom she can share her feelings. Indeed, it is difficult to fall in love with Christ and not be able to share these feelings with the entire world.  The veil is a symbol that signifies all obstructions that prevent us from proclaiming our love for Christ. Rather than being with the “flocks” of her lover’s “friends,” the Bride seeks to join His own personal flock, or His Church.

I’ll stop here for today. May our Beloved, Jesus Christ the “Fairest of all Men,” nourish and satisfy our thirst for love and affection at all times.