Thursday, March 31, 2016

The only ladder to heaven

Apart from the cross
there is no other ladder by which
we may get to heaven.

St. Rose of Lima

St. Guy of Pomposa

Guy was born near Ravenna in northern Italy to parents who took great pride in him. Primarily to give them pleasure, he was meticulous in his dress and personal appearance. Still, one day during a festival, realizing the vanity of this way of being, and taken with deep compunction, he stripped himself of his fine garments and gave them all away to the poor.

To his parents’ further mortification, their son donned shabby garments and departed for Rome, where he received the tonsure.

On his return, he placed himself under the direction of a hermit named Martin, who lived alone on a small island in the River Po. After three years of directing Guy, the hermit sent him to the Abbey of Pomposa to learn the ways of monastic life.

There Guy so advanced in virtue that he quickly rose to high office, and was elected abbot. Such was his reputation and so many flocked to the abbey that he was obliged to build another. Even his father and his brother joined the monastery.

At certain times of the year Abbot Guy would retire into solitude a few miles from his monastery and there would submit his body to severe austerities. Particularly during the forty days of Lent the austerities were such as to resemble tortures, and yet, he was extraordinarily tender toward his monks who were devoted to him.

Guy did not escape the persecution which often comes to those seeking holiness. For unknown reasons, the Archbishop of Ravenna had developed a hatred for the holy abbot and determined to destroy his monasteries. When Guy learned of the imminent attack, he fasted for three days, joined in this mortification by the entire community of monks. When the archbishop arrived with his soldiers, he was met by Guy with such humility and respect, that he was overwhelmed and asked the abbot's pardon.

Towards the close of his life Guy again withdrew to his solitary hermitage. The Emperor Henry III, who had come to Italy to consult with the holy abbot, summoned him to Piacenza. Though he was unwilling to do so, the aged abbot obeyed, taking a tender farewell from his brothers whom he said he would see no more. Attacked by a sudden illness in Borgo San Donnino near Parma, he died three days later.

Both Parma and Pomposa claimed his relics, but the emperor settled the dispute by having his body translated to the Church of St. John the Evangelist at Speyer in Germany.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Why does God subject us to such long trials?

The longer the trial to which God subjects you,
the greater the goodness
in comforting you during the time of trial and
in the exaltation after the combat.

St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

St. Leonard Murialdo

Leonard Murialdo was born in 1828 into a wealthy, but religious, family in Turin, Italy. The eighth child in a large family, he was only four years old when he lost his father.

During his adolescent years, Leonard went through a profound spiritual crisis and an interior conversion during which period he discovered his vocation to the priesthood. He received an excellent education and seminary formation, completed his studies in philosophy and theology at the University of Turin, and was ordained a priest in 1851.

As a seminarian he had begun assisting his cousin, Don Roberto Murialdo, at the Guardian Angels Oratory in Turin and it was through him that he came to work closely with two other saints: St. Joseph Cafasso and St. John Bosco. For a time, at the latter’s request, the young priest took charge of the Oratory of St. Louis, one of Don Bosco’s educational centers for boys at the edge of the city.

He went on to take charge of a college for young working men founded by another exemplary priest, Don Giovanni Cocchi, and although taking on the daunting assignment hesitantly, and only “provisionally”, he remained at this post for the next thirty-seven years. Partly to fund the college, he founded the Pious Association of St. Joseph. From Turin this association spread throughout Italy and then to America. Leonard also founded agricultural centers for young delinquents, another field in which he was an innovator.

He was a great proponent of true social justice, and was ecclesiastical assistant to the Catholic Workers’ Union, a forerunner of Catholic Action. He was equally dedicated to the spread of piety, particularly devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He died on March 30, 1900 and his remains rest in the Church of St. Barbara in Turin.

Easter and the Marvelous World of Eggs

Opening Easter egg - Theresa's daughter
As a child, I was fascinated by the foil wrapped, chocolate eggs hidden in the bush. The intense search was rewarded by a glimmer of light and color in the greenery that never failed to make my heart skip.
Still, in our Catholic household, we actively celebrated the Resurrection of Our Lord; and it was explained to us children that the Easter egg was a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection because the egg is symbolic of new life that emerges from a confined space, such as Christ’s tomb.

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Later, for a few years, I attended a Ukrainian Catholic grade-school and there I was introduced to the fascinating art of Pysanky, or “writing on eggs”, and tried my wobbly hand at it.
As I handled the “kistka” an instrument that dispenses hot wax, as an ink pen dispenses ink, I loved every minute. The process, basically masks designs and progressively dips the egg into dies to reveal, at the end, and when the wax is melted off, a small marvel. No matter how amateur or how proficient one is at it, there’s a thrill.
Indeed, pysanky, from the word pysaty, “to write”, dates back to pre-Christian times, when eggs were celebrated for their life-giving/nutritious properties.
With the advent of Christianity, the custom was incorporated into the new faith and related to Our Lord’s Resurrection with Christian symbols replacing pagan ones.
I wasn’t to be a pysanky artist. I use a pen, rather than a “kistka”, but never forget that one time I did “write” on an egg, and felt the fascination of the ancient tradition.
It was thus, with another heart-skip that last October, while on vacation in Hot Springs, Arkansas, I met a group of bubbly Pysanky artists who convene there every year.
Inspired by Pysanky master Lorrie Popow, a life-long writer of Pysanky, just named 2015 Arkansas Living Treasure, people come from all over the world to learn this ancient art form.
Several eggs
Culture is a powerful thing. It can be used for bad, as manifested all around us today, or it can be used for good as evinced by the strength of ancient customs. Steeped in a civilization inspired by Christ, these customs not only have enriched generations past, but continue to cross oceans, resurfacing in places such as the heart of Arkansas! 
Red and Black egg
Indeed such traditions, when used and passed on with the right knowledge and linked to their deep religious meaning, can be an asset to faith, especially for children who are so visual and “hands on”.
I loved those eggs I found in the bush, and I loved those eggs I learned about in school. They never took away from faith, but rather lent a marvelous component of enjoyment and art to the sacred in my life.

 By Andrea F. PhillipsPhotos: Pysanky Eggs displayed at the 2014 convention of Pysanky painters in Hot Springs Arkansas. 

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How will we sanctify society?

Sanctify yourself
you will sanctify society.

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Rupert of Salzburg

Rupert’s origins are obscure, though there are strong indications that he was a Frenchman, and, according to a certain tradition, a scion of the old Frankish Merovingian family – and certainly a contemporary of Childebert III, king of the Franks.

Rupert was already a bishop and known for his great virtue, when he was invited by Duke Theodo of Bavaria, himself still a pagan, to evangelize his people. Although the Gospel had already been preached in Bavaria, its people were, for all intents and purposes, but nominally Catholic, as pagan practices and Arian heretical beliefs persisted in their midst, adulterating the purity of the Christian doctrine.

Rupert and his companions were warmly received in the ancient town of Ratisbon. The Duke Theodo presently received Baptism and with him a number of his nobles.

With no serious opposition to the missionaries’ work, Christianity flourished under the apostolate of Bishop Rupert and his companions who proceeded to confirm the faith of some, to evangelize many, Christianize pagan temples, and build churches. In the course of his work the saintly bishop worked countless miracles.

In his generosity, Theodo gave Rupert the region of Juvavum, present-day Salzburg in Austria, for his apostolic see. Returning to France, the abbot-bishop convinced another twelve men, as well as his niece St. Erentrudis, to join him in his mission. With his niece he founded a Benedictine monastery for women in Nonnberg, and with the twelve men a Benedictine monastery for men, St. Peter at Salzburg. The saint spent his life dedicated to the work of not only evangelizing and guiding his flock, but also of civilizing his people. He also did much to promote the salt mines in the region for which he renamed the city Salzburg.

Rupert died in Salzburg around the year 710. Many churches in the region are named after this Apostle of Austria and Bavaria, and the first Abbot-Bishop of Salzburg.

A Prayer for Easter

A Prayer for Easter

From Holy Saturday to Pentecost we sing or recite one of the Church’s most joyful anthems, the Regina Coeli (O, Queen of Heaven), customarily said in place of the Angelus at twelve noon.
According to the Golden Legend, a thirteenth century work on the lives of the Saints, Pope St. Gregory the Great in the 6th century was leading a procession asking for relief from a pestilence afflicting the population of Rome.  Being carried in the procession was an icon of the Blessed Virgin reputedly painted by St. Luke.  Suddenly, the air was filled with a heavenly perfume dispelling the pestilence.  Looking up, St. Gregory beheld angels singing: “O, Queen of Heaven rejoice, Alleluia! For He whom you deserved to bear, Alleluia! Has risen as He said, Alleluia! " To which the holy Pope added: “O, pray to God for us, Alleluia!”
At the same time, the holy pontiff saw the angel of death sheathing his sword atop the Hill of Hadrian, today the Castle of Sant’Angelo.
Since then this story has been associated with the origins of the Regina Coeli.
The idea is to rejoice with Our Blessed Lady that her Son, after a grueling passion and frightful death, is alive again.  While the prayer of the Angelus celebrates Jesus’ Incarnation, the Regina Coeli celebrates His Resurrection and “congratulates” the Mother on her Son’s victory over sin and death.

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Regina Coeli (QUEEN OF HEAVEN)

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Regina Coeli, laetare, alleluia
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia
Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
Let us pray:
O God, who gave joy to the world through the
Resurrection of Thy Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we
Beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin
Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting
Life. Through the same Christ Our Lord.  Amen.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Secret of Mary

Considering Our Lady’s action upon the three Fatima children in a broader sense, the changes she brought about in them was something extraordinary — something far beyond their capacity. From this, we gather that Our Lady suddenly and suavely transformed them through her repeated apparitions.
 Bl. Francisco Marto  Bl. Jacinta Marto
Here we discover something akin to the “Secret of Mary,” of which Saint Louis de Montfort speaks. We see grace working profoundly in souls, and we see how it works silently, without the person perceiving it. As a result, the person feels truly free. More than ever, the person feels inspired to practice virtue and reject the evil chains of sin; consequently, their love of God blossoms.
Their desire to serve Him increases, and so does their hatred of sin. This marvelous transformation of soul occurs in such a way that the person does not experience the systematic uphill struggle of those who follow the classical system of the spiritual life to obtain virtue, sanctity, and Heaven. Much to the contrary, Our Lady changes them suddenly.
The changes in the two children Our Lady called to Heaven, Jacinta and Francisco, was particularly striking. What does this mean? Does this mean Our Lady will perform the same transformation upon us?
Is it a foretaste of how Our Lady intends to change Humanity when she fulfills her Fatima promises?
Can I say that the transformation in the souls of Jacinta and Francisco are the beginning of Our Lady’s reign? Is this not her triumph over the souls of Jacinta and Francisco, heralds of Our Lady’s message, who helped others accept the Fatima message through their prayers and sacrifices? And who still help us today through their prayers in Heaven?
If this is true, it is logical that Jacinta and Francisco be our intercessors before Our Lady and obtain the coming of her reign in our hearts. Is this not the mysterious transformation that we call the “Secret of Mary”?
I firmly believe that we must ask Jacinta and Francisco to transform us, to grant us the same gifts they received, and to guide us, whose mission it is to live and to preach the Fatima message.
Adapted from a lecture of Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira on October 13, 1971.

The heart of man

The heart of man is, so to speak,
the paradise of God.
Since His delights are to be with you,
let yours be found in Him.

St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

St. Tutilo

Tutilo was an Irish man who, while visiting the renowned Benedictine Abbey of St. Gall in present-day Switzerland, delayed his departure – and stayed his whole life.

Said to have been a large, powerful, handsome and quick-witted Irishman, Tutilo was also genial in that he was a teacher, an orator, a poet, an architect, a painter, a sculptor, an accomplished illuminator, a musician, even a mathematician and astronomer. His numerous talents and gifts led to his being much in demand and, by permission of his abbot, he fulfilled many artistic commissions outside the monastery. One of these was his sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Cathedral at Metz, considered to be a masterpiece.

He was a member of the abbey at the zenith of its influence throughout all of Europe. Many of the Gregorian chant manuscripts that survive to this day, and some of the most authentic, are undoubtedly Tutilo’s own work.

Of all his many talents, the one Tutilo loved the most was music. According to tradition, he could play and teach all of the instruments in the monastery and had a fine musical voice.

King Charles had a great admiration for the gifted monk and remarked that it was a great pity for so much talent to be hidden away in a monastery. But the saint himself shrank from publicity and when obliged to go to the great cities he strove to avoid notice and compliments. All he wanted was to use his gifts for the service of God. Though Tutilo was the epitome of today's "Renaissance man", sanctity was his real crown.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The True Meaning of Easter

The Resurrection represents the eternal and definitive triumph of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the complete defeat of his adversaries, and the supreme argument of our faith. Saint Paul said that, if Christ had not resurrected, our faith would be vain. The whole edifice of our beliefs is founded on the supernatural fact of the Resurrection. Let us then meditate about this highly elevated subject.
*      *      *

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Christ Our Lord was not resurrected: He resurrected. He was dead. Lazarus was resurrected. Someone other than him, in this case, Our Lord, called him back to life. As for the Divine Redeemer, no one resurrected Him. He resurrected Himself, needing no one to call Him back to life. He took his life back when He so willed.

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Everything that is said about Our Lord can be analogically applied to the Holy Catholic Church.  We often see, in the history of the Church, that precisely when She seemed irremediably lost and all the symptoms of catastrophe seemed to undermine Her, events took place that kept Her alive against all the expectations of Her adversaries.  A rather curious fact is that sometimes it is the Church’s enemies that come to Her aid, rather than Her friends.  For example, in a most sensitive time period for Catholicism like Napoleon’s era, an extremely unusual episode took place: a conclave was convened for the election of Pius VII under the protection of Russian troops, all of them schismatic and under the command of a schismatic sovereign.  In Russia itself, the practice of the Catholic religion was curbed in a thousand ways.  Yet, in Italy, Russian troops ensured the free election of a Sovereign Pontiff precisely at the moment when a vacancy in the See of Peter would have caused such grievous damages for Holy Church that, humanly speaking, she might never have been able to overcome them.

Such are the marvelous means that Divine Providence employs to demonstrate that God has the supreme government of all things.  However, let us not think that the Church owed Her salvation to Constantine, Charlemagne, John of Austria, or Russian troops.  Even when She seems to be entirely abandoned and when She lacks the most indispensable natural resources for survival, let us be certain that Holy Church will not die.  Like Our Lord, She will rise with Her own, divine strength.  And the more inexplicable the seeming resurrection of the Church may be from the human standpoint (we say seeming, because, unlike Our Lord, the Church will never die a real death), the more glorious Her victory will be.
In these murky and sad days, let us thus confide.  However, in order to restore all things in the Kingdom of Christ, let us confide not in this or that power, man, or ideological current but in Divine Providence, which will once again force the sea to open wide, move mountains and cause the whole earth to tremble if necessary to fulfill the divine promise:
“The gates of Hell shall not prevail against Her.”

Why Mary is called "the moon"

For this reason she is called "the moon"

that as the moon is between the sun and the earth,
and reflects upon the latter what she receives from the former,
so Mary receives the celestial influences of grace from the divine Son, 

to transfuse them into us who are upon the earth. 

St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

St. John of Egypt

John of Egypt was born in present-day area of Asyut and was trained as a carpenter. At the age twenty-five he submitted himself to the direction of a hermit who spent several years training him in the virtues of obedience and self-denial.

John came to love obedience and obeyed unquestioningly no matter how unreasonable the task thrust upon him. At the command of his spiritual director, he once spent an entire year watering a dry stick, thrust into the mud, as if it were a flowering plant.

As a reward for his humility and prompt obedience the Lord granted John extraordinary gifts such as the gift of prophecy, the power of reading thoughts, and miracles.

After spending four or five years visiting various monasteries, John retired to the top of a steep hill in which he opened three small cells: one for a bedroom, one for a workroom and living room, and another for an oratory. He then walled himself in leaving a small window through which he received necessaries and spoke to visitors.

During five days of the week he conversed with God, but on Saturdays and Sundays he received visitors, men only – no women – who wished to consult him on spiritual and temporal matters. He predicted future military victories to Emperor Theodosius the Great.

Though he founded no religious community he is considered as a father of ascetics.

Shortly before his death he was visited by Palladius to whom he prophesied that he would become a bishop. Palladius left an interesting account of their meeting.

The holy recluse died at the age of ninety. Three days before his death he shut the small window to his cell, and demanded to be left alone. He was found dead in a position of prayer.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Do not touch me..."

Jesus said to her [Mary Magdalen]: 
"Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father" (John 20:17).
He meant: 

Depend no longer on this fallible sense.
Put your trust in the word, get used to faith.
 Faith cannot be deceived. 

With the power to understand invisible truths,  
faith does not know the poverty of the senses.
It transcends even the limits of human reason, 

the capacity of nature, the bounds of experience.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Braulio of Zaragoza

Braulio was a brilliant scholar and a pupil of St. Isidore, who founded a university in Seville, Spain. He eventually became a mentor to his mentor, and went on to advise not only ecclesiasts but kings.

At the death of his brother, Bishop John of Zaragoza, Braulio was nominated as his successor, a dignity he accepted. As bishop, he labored with zeal for his people, and also to extirpate the last vestiges of Arianism, still festering among them despite the conversion of King Recaredo.

He took part in the Council of Toledo, and was charged by the same council to write a response to Pope Honorius I who had accused the Spanish bishops of pastoral negligence. His defense was both dignified and convincing.

The good bishop spent many a night in prayer in the Church of Our Lady of the Pilar, which houses a miraculous statue delivered to St. James, the first apostle of Spain, by Our Lady herself.

He abhorred luxuries of all kinds, wore a hair shirt beneath the vestments of his office, and led a simple, austere life. An ardent preacher and a keen apologist, Braulio's deep sincerity was as convincing as his clear arguments. His generosity to the poor was only matched by the care he took of his flock.

Towards the end of his life he was afflicted by the loss of his sight, a heavy cross for anyone but especially burdensome to a scholar. As death approached, he gave up his spirit to his Lord while reciting the Psalms.

Friday, March 25, 2016

A thief escorted the King of kings into Paradise

A dying man asked a dying man for eternal life.
A man without possessions asked a poor man for a Kingdom. 
A thief at the door of death asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise.
One would have thought a saint would have been the first soul
purchased over the counter of Calvary by the red coins of Redemption.

But in the Divine plan it was a thief
who was the escort of the King of kings 
into Paradise.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

A sinner's path to conversion, starting on Good Friday

A French Medieval Tale

Letter B
etween Normandy and Brittany, in a faraway place and time, there lived a lord of awesome renown. He possessed a castle near the sea that was so strong, so fortified, and so well defended that he feared no king or prince, duke or count. He was rich, and of great stature and handsome bearing. Despite his distinguished noble lineage, however, he was vain, cruel, treacherous, and proud, fearing neither God nor man. He spread terror about the land, ambushing and killing pilgrims and merchants on the roads and byways. He observed no fasting or Castleabstinence, attended no Mass,
and heard no sermons. No one had ever known another person as wicked as he.
One Good Friday, having awakened in a jovial mood, he summoned his cooks, shouting, “Prepare the game I hunted yesterday, for today I want my dinner early.”
Upon hearing this, one of his knights exclaimed: “My Lord, today is Good Friday, everyone is fasting and abstaining, and lo, thou wishest to eat meat! Believe what we say: God will eventually punish thee!”
“By the time that happens, I shall have assaulted and hanged many people!” replied the lord scornfully.
“Art thou so certain that God will continue tolerating this much longer?” inquired the knight. “Thou shouldst hastily repent, beg for pardon, and weep for thy sins. A man of great sanctity, a hermit-priest, dwells deep in the neighboring woods. Let us go there for confession.”
The lord reacted sharply: “I? I go to confession?” Then swearing, he remarked, “I would go there only if he had something I could despoil him of.”
His vassal responded patiently, saying: “Accompany us, at least.”
Smiling ironically, the lord protested: “I acquiesce for your sakes. But I will do nothing for God.”  And so they took to the road.

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The Hermit
Arriving at the hermit’s retreat, in the heart of the quiet and solitary forest, the knights entered the abode of the holy man. But their lord remained outside on his horse.
After confessing their sins as sincerely and diligently as they could, the knights pleaded with the hermit: “Father, our lord, who remained outside, is not in a good state of soul. Please entreat him to come in for confession.”
King and HermitLeaning on his staff, the hermit went out to meet the lord. Addressing him with calm dignity, he said: “Welcome, Sir. Being a knight, thou must surely be courteous. Accept my invitation, then. Dismount, and let us go inside to speak.”
With a churlish oath rising to his lips, the lord answered impatiently: “Speak with thee? What for? Speak about what? We have nothing in common! Besides, I am in haste and wish to take my leave.”
Undismayed, the hermit insisted: “For the sake of the order of chivalry, please come in to visit my chapel and my abode.”
Overcome by the hermit’s insistence and especially by the forcefulness of his personality, the lord grumbled to himself: “What a misery I fell into agreeing to come hither this morning!” Very much against his pleasure, he conceded. Hoping he would somehow succeed in quickly ridding himself of this bothersome hermit, the lord dismounted.
The hermit took him by the arm and led him into the chapel. When they were before the altar, the man of God said to him: “Sir, consider thyself my prisoner. Kill me if thou wishest, but I shall not freely let thee go from hence before thou hast told me all thy sins.”
The lord, almost beside himself, glared at the hermit with incredible fury. After a few alarming moments of suspense, the lord exclaimed: “I will tell thee nothing! Moreover, I do not see why I should not slay thee right here and now!”
The holy hermit risked his life once again. “Brother, tell me, then, just one sin, and God will help thee confess the others.”  Swearing anew in exasperation, the lord barked, “Wilt thou not leave me alone? All right, I will confess. But I shall repent of nothing, absolutely nothing!”
With mighty arrogance, he told all the sins of his stormy life at one fell swoop.

The Penance
Heartbroken at the sight of such callous impenitence, the hermit began to weep. Then he ventured another request. “Sir, give me at least the consolation of allowing me to subject thee to a penance.”
“Penance? Art thou trying to make a fool of me? What penance wouldst thou give me?”
“In atonement for thy sins, offer God a fast on every Friday for the next three years,” the monk stated.
“Fast? For three years?” protested the lord. “Hast thou taken leave of thy senses? Never!”
“One month, then,” the holy man said indulgently.
“Then, for the love of God, go to a church and recite a Pater Noster and an Ave.”
“I would find that very boring,” scoffed the lord, “and a waste of time as well.”
King at the river“For Almighty God’s sake, do at least one kind deed. Take this little barrel to the nearby brook, fill it with water, and return it to me!”
“Hah! If I can so easily rid myself of thee, I consent. Give me the barrel. On my word, I shall fill it to the brim and quickly bring it back, and then I can be on my way at last.”
With great strides, the lord hastened down to the stream and dipped the barrel in the clear water – but not a single drop went in. Puzzled, he tried again, first one way, and then another, but the barrel remained completely empty.  “What!” he exclaimed. “What is this supposed to mean?”
Again he dunked the barrel in the water, but to no avail. Baffled and gritting his teeth in anger, he sprang to his feet and ran swiftly back to the anchorite’s dwelling. Upon finding him, he exclaimed: “By all the saints in Heaven, thou hast placed me in a great predicament with this accursed barrel! I am unable to put a single drop of water in it!”
The hermit listened to him and then lamented: “Sir, what a sad state thine is! A child could have brought this barrel back to me brimful with water. But thou, thou hast not been able to fetch a single drop! This is surely a sign from God to thee on account of thy sins.”  In an outburst of anger and pride, the lord retorted, “I swear to thee that I will not wash my head, or shave, or trim my fingernails until I have filled this barrel and fulfilled my word. Even if I have to go around the whole world, I will yet fill this barrel to the brim!”
With the little barrel hanging from his neck, the lord departed, taking with him only the garments he wore and having no escort – except for God and his guardian angel.
At every brook, river, and lake he encountered, he attempted to fill the barrel, but always in vain.  In hot and cold weather alike, through wet and dry, he journeyed on, across mountains and valleys, through forests and fields, tearing and bloodying his skin on brambles and stones.  His days were painful; his nights worse yet. Famished, he was reduced to begging for food. At times he unwillingly fasted for two or three days on end, not being able to obtain even a piece of stale bread to appease his hunger.
Seeing this man, so tall and vigorous, but so unkempt and bronzed by the sun, people were wary and fearful of receiving him. So, many a night he found no lodging and had to sleep exposed to the elements. In addition, he faced mockery and insults, but he stubbornly went on. Nothing and no one was able to curb his pride or to soften even slightly his cruel heart.
He journeyed through England and France, Spain and Italy, Germany and Hungary. There is scarcely a country he did not cross and virtually no waters he did not try in his efforts to fill the little barrel. But all was in vain.
Such long, arduous, and fruitless journeying gradually took its toll. He wasted away and became almost unrecognizable, with his hair disheveled, his skin clinging to his bones, his eyes sunken, and his veins protruding. So weakened, he needed a staff to steady himself. The empty little barrel had become an enormous burden for him, yet he continued to carry it tied about his neck.

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Another Good Friday
After nearly a year of these fruitless efforts, he decided, in both anger and frustration, to return to the hermit’s abode. It was an exhausting journey, but at last he arrived, exactly on Good Friday!
RepentantThe holy hermit failed to recognize the man who came to his door, but upon seeing the little barrel, he asked: “What has brought thee here, dear brother? And who has given thee this barrel? It has been a year now since I gave it to a fair lord. I know not whether he is alive or dead, for he has not returned.”
Enraged, the stranger replied: “I am that lord, and this is the state to which thou hast reduced me!” Then he told the hermit all his misadventures, still without showing any sign of repentance!
The man of God listened attentively and grew indignant at such hardness of heart. “Thou art the worst of men! A dog, a wolf, or any other animal would have filled this barrel! Ah, well do I see that God has not accepted thy penance, for thou hast done it without contrition.”
Seeing the lamentable state of that hardened soul, he began to weep. “O God, look upon this creature Thou hast made and that so madly gambles with the salvation of his soul. Ah! Holy Mary, obtain mercy for this man. Sweet Jesus, shouldst Thou have to choose between the two of us, unleash Thy wrath upon me, but save this creature.”
Mystified, the lord stared at the weeping and praying hermit, and he thought: “There is nothing linking me to this man but God. Yet he suffers and weeps at the sight of my sins. Indeed I must be the worst of men and the greatest of sinners, for he is desolate and ready to sacrifice himself on my account. Ah! Make me repentant, O God, so that this holy man may have at least the consolation of my contrition. O King of Mercy, I beg Thee, forgive me for everything of which I am guilty!”
Thus did God do His work in that soul. The lord’s hardened heart was finally moved, and his contrition was so deep that his eyes began to well up with tears. A large teardrop spilled from his eye, ran down his face, and fell right into the little barrel that still hung about his neck. Lo, that single tear was enough to fill the barrel to its very brim! It was a sign that God had forgiven him his sins.
At that, the hermit and the lord embraced, shedding tears of joy.“Father, if you permit, I want to confess again,” said the lord with unaccustomed but sincere meekness, “but this time with contrition for my many sins.” And so, falling to his knees, he confessed, deeply repentant and weeping abundantly.
After absolving the lord, the hermit asked him if he wished to receive Communion. “Yes, Father. But hurry, please, for I feel that I am about to die.”
Overflowing BarrelHaving received Holy Communion, the lord was completely purified and clean, no stain of sin remaining in his soul.  “Father, thou hast done me all manner of good. In return, my whole being is thine. I am in thy hands. The end approaches. Pray for me.”  Then the lord sank into the hermit’s arms and breathed his last. At that moment, the chapel filled with light, and angels descended to lead that soul to Heaven in a magnificent cortege, wonders the hermit could see on account of his exalted virtue.
Following this, there remained before the altar only the body of the lord, clothed in rags and with his little barrel hanging from his neck.

This account is based on the books Beauté du Moyen Age by Regine Pernoud (Gautier-Languereau, 1971), and Poetes et Prosateurs du Moyen Age by Gaston Paris (Hachette, 1921).The Little Barrel - Illustrated by Helene A. Catherwood & A. Phillips

St. Lucy Filippini

Lucy was born in 1672 in Tarquinia in Tuscany. Orphaned early in life, she was raised by her aristocratic aunt and uncle.

Her early inclination to piety was strengthened by a great seriousness of purpose and her remarkable gifts attracted the attention of the Cardinal-Bishop of the diocese, Marcantonio Barbarigo, who persuaded the young lady to take advantage of an institute for training teachers in Montefiasconi. Lucy excelled in the institute and won all hearts by her modesty and charity, her intense conviction of spiritual things, her common sense and her courage.

At the teachers' institute, Lucy met Blessed Rose Venerini, whose educational experience Cardinal Barbarigo had likewise recruited. In Montefiascone the two holy women trained schoolmistresses and co-founded the Maestre Pie or the Pious Matrons. Together they trained girls in the art of running a good home, weaving, embroidery, reading and Christian doctrine. Their work prospered. Both shared a tremendous gift for effective communication.

In 1707, at the express desire of Pope Clement XI, Lucy went to Rome and founded the first school of the Maestre Pie. The school flourished and children flocked to it from all over the region. Though only able to remain in Rome for six months, when Lucy left the Eternal City she was known as the “Maestra Santa”, the Holy School Mistress.

Unfortunately, the task sapped Lucy’s strength and she became seriously ill in 1726. Though she had good medical care, she never quite regained her health and died a most holy death on March 25, 1732, the day she had predicted.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

An Unforgettable Holy Week in Seville

Holy Week in Seville, SpainBy Thomas Ryder

In 2013, I visited Seville, Spain during its famous Holy Week, when a magnificent, centuries-old reenactment of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ takes to the streets.
Passion Week in Seville is a ray of hope for Christianity in a world that has become a Babel of dissenting ideas and beliefs. What a wonderful experience to see people of faith, multitudes prayerfully following mile-long candle processions through the night, and three-ton floats with life-like representations of the Passion of Christ and the Suffering Virgin.
For the Catholic Spaniard, nothing but the best is used for the Lord and His Mother. So the floats are artistically covered in silver and gold, and the various statues of the Dolorous Madonna wear mantles of embroidered beauty, thought only possible in heaven.

WOC Devotional Set Flag

More than seventy confraternities, some several centuries old, process through the streets of charming Seville during Holy Week. An authentically popular movement, the confraternities are composed entirely of laity. Thus, what I witnessed was genuine devotion and piety rising to heaven like incense in this age of the iPod.
I saw an entire city put aside earthly concerns, and, for a full week follow its Redeemer and its heavenly Mother, day and night through the streets of ancient Seville. If ever I felt Catholicity, it was in the middle of the night, pressed on all sides by a crowd waiting for Christ and the Mater Dolorosa to pass. But you had to have been there. . .
Love and sorrow, life and death, blood and tears, flesh and spirit, earth and eternity, were there at dawn under the moonlight as all waited for the long procession of Jesus del Gran Poder to pass. It is an amazing Faith that gives the title “Of the Great Power” to one condemned to die. As all eyes focus on the end of the street, first the shadow of a figure bent under a cross appeared around the corner, then the holy Face and bearing. A superbly carved statue of a virile Man, his expression is heart-grabbing. Preceded by a musical band that played a tune at once solemn and strong, He slowly passed through a profoundly respectful crowd.
Suddenly a “saeta,” an improvised song, broke out, a man singing from a balcony with all the passion his heart and lungs could muster: “. . .because Christ lives. . . I have seen Him, I have seen Him walking through the streets of Seville. . .”
Half an hour later a second float approached covered in decorative gold. One hundred lit candles only allowed viewers a glimpse of the outline of a Mater Dolorosa. As the float passed, the blaze made it difficult to focus on the beautiful, tear-stained face of the suffering mother, a sword plunged into her heart.
“Why so many candles in front of her,” I asked of the person next to me.
“So she can’t see the suffering of her Son, who goes ahead,” is the simple, love-filled answer.
As I flew back to the States, thinking of the great loss that it is for the world to have abandoned the true Faith, I felt as if an angel whispered a thought: world powers come and go, each convinced that it can do away with God, but, in the end, Truth remains and Christian Civilization, sublime and sacred, will once again reign supreme.
Never doubt it.


He hung on a cross that day, writhing in pain and discomfort, the infamous highwayman.

On his left hung another man, covered in the matted blood of his wounds. Yet, with the exception of a few intermittent words, there was no sound from him.

As time passed, the thief became more and more engrossed in the silent crucified beside him, and less and less in his own plight.St Dismas Picture

Indeed life is ironic, mused Dismas, this man who had lived in the open, and was acclaimed as a healer and even as a king, now hung beside him who had spent his life lurking and hiding.

And now they were lifted up, both on a high parallel. He could see the roof tops of the city, he could see the highways he had stalked, and he could see the way they had walked. Now he looked down on those gathered around this place of execution, the Roman soldiers, the Pharisees, the curious, the friends of the man beside him…and a young man supporting a lady directly beneath them...

And then he knew her; that upturned face, that maidenly majesty now wracked by sorrow, her tear-filled eyes fastened on the man on his left–Yes, he knew that face.

As the wheels of time rolled back in his mind,  his heart gave a jolt as he remembered that blessed day in the desert, decades ago, when a young family making its way to Egypt, sought refuge for the night in his family’s hovel. The man was strong and kind, the woman was the fairest his child’s eyes had seen, and she carried a golden haired babe, as if nothing in the universe was more precious.

He remembered the lady’s gaze on him, her beautiful eyes full of concern for the leprous sores on his young body. Then she and his mother talked. And next, he was being bathed in the same water the lady had just washed her infant son.

And then the sores were gone.  His mother wept for joy, and kissed the lady’s hands, and the baby’s feet. And even his robber-father was moved, and offered the strong man and his family the best in the house.
Now, in one revealing flash, he knew the identity of the wounded man on his left.  He looked again at the lady, and her eyes, those same sweet eyes of old, were on him once more.
He felt his heart quiver, as the power of gratitude filled his being and softened his criminal soul.  And then came tears, rivers of tears.  When he could speak, he turned to the left,

“Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

And the Lord turned his face to him, His divine eyes on him, and he heard the most beautiful voice he had ever heard, a voice at once full of pain and full of strength, full of sweetness and full of majesty, a judge’s voice, and a father’s voice,

“Amen, amen I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise.”

By Andrea F. Phillips
Based on: A Legend of St. Dismas and Other Poems,
Copyright by P. J. Kenedy and Sons. 1927, p. 18.

Why do we seek knowledge?

Some seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge:
that is curiosity.
Others seek knowledge that they may themselves be known:
that is vanity.
But there are still others who seek knowledge in order to serve and edify others,
and that is charity.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Irenaeus of Sirmium

Sirmium, then the capital of Pannonia, is in present-day Serbia. Apart from his position as bishop, Irenaeus seems to have been a man of local importance. Arrested during the terrible persecution of Diocletian, Irenaeus was brought before the governor, and commanded to offer sacrifice to the gods. At his refusal, he was stretched on the rack, but did not relent. His mother, wife (at that time the laws of celibacy were different) and children hung about his neck begging him to save himself and not to abandon them.

Steeling himself against their entreaties, the holy prelate maintained silence, and was again imprisoned, willingly submitting himself to the cruelty of the torments by which the pagans hoped to shake him. Publicly interrogated a second time – once more without effect – Bishop Irenaeus was sentenced to death by drowning for disobedience to the imperial edict.

At his protest that death by drowning was unworthy of a confessor of Christ, he begged to face the cruelest torments. He was finally beheaded.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How do we touch the most responsive chord in the Sacred Heart of Christ?

When we appeal to the throne of grace
we do so through Mary,
honoring God by honoring His Mother,
imitating Him by exalting her,
touching the most responsive chord in the Sacred Heart of Christ
with the sweet name of Mary.

St. Robert Bellarmine

St. Toribio of Mogrovejo

Born in Mayorga de Campos near Valladolid of a noble Spanish family, and named for the fifth-century saint, Turibius of Astorga, Toribio did not intend to be a priest though his family was notably religious. For his professional career he chose the law in the practice of which he shone. As professor of law at the University of Salamanca, he attracted the attention of King Phillip II who appointed him General Inquisitor.

As the seat for the Archbishopric of Lima in Peru, became vacant, the king turned to Judge Toribio de Mogrovejo as the only man with enough strength of character to rein in the scandals in the colony. Shocked at the prospect, he prayed, and in writing to the king pleaded his own incapacity and other canonical impediments, among them the canon forbidding laymen from being promoted to such dignities. Finally, compelled by obedience, Toribio accepted the charge. After a suitable time of preparation, he was ordained to the priesthood, consecrated bishop, and immediately nominated for the Archdiocese of Lima. He was forty-three years of age.

Arriving in the Peruvian capital in 1581, he soon took in the arduous nature of the task thrust upon him by Divine Providence. The attitude of the Spanish conquerors toward the natives was abusive, and the clergy were often the most notorious offenders.

His first initiative was to restore ecclesiastical discipline, proving himself inflexible in regard to clerical scandals. Without respect to persons or rank, Toribio reproved vice and injustice and championed the cause of the natives. He succeeded in eradicating some of the worst abuses, and founded many churches, convents and hospitals as well as the first seminary in the New World.

Learning the local dialects, he traveled throughout his enormous diocese (170,000 sq. miles), often on foot and alone, traversing the difficult Andes, facing all sorts of obstacles from nature and men. He baptized and confirmed half a million souls including St. Rose of Lima, St. Martin de Porres and St. John Massias.

From 1590 onwards he had the great help of another zealous missionary, St. Francis Solano.

Years before he died, he had predicted his own death. In Pacasmayo he contracted fever but labored to the very end. Dragging himself to the sanctuary in Sana, he received Holy Viaticum and died soon after on March 23, as those around him sang the psalm, “I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord".

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Reflections on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Editor’s Note
So many times I have listened to the testimonies of non-Catholics, baffled by the sufferings in their lives. I recall a certain lady tearfully speaking to me of her son’s suffering with an unrelenting illness as “persecution from the Evil One.” My response to the suffering mother was: “M’am, in our Catholic Faith, we look at suffering as a purification, a means to atone, a powerful prayer. We unite our suffering to the redemptive suffering of Our Lord Jesus; we look at suffering even at times as a gift from the Father since only suffering has the power to turn people from perdition to salvation.” The lady in question, looking at me as if having heard a revelation, said: “That makes a lot of sense; thank you so much!”

The following Lenten reflections deal with suffering, in the Catholic sense mentioned above. It was by the Cross that our good Lord opened the gates of Heaven for us and it will be through the victory over suffering, in other words, through suffering well accepted, that we will some day be able to enter those Heavenly gates.

Though true piety can produce and stimulate emotion, piety is not, principally, emotion. Piety begins in a well-formed intelligence, that is, an intelligence schooled in catechetical study and an exact knowledge of our Faith. These truths should govern our interior life. Piety resides in the will. We should seriously desire what we know well. It is not enough, for example, to know that God is perfect. We need to love the perfection of God and, consequently, we should desire some of this perfection for ourselves. This is what it means to desire sanctity.

“To desire” does not mean to feel vague and sterile whims. We only seriously desire something when we are prepared to make every sacrifice to obtain what we desire. Thus, we only seriously desire our sanctification and to grow in love of God when we are ready to make every sacrifice to obtain this supreme goal. Without this willingness, any “desire” is but an illusion and a lie. We may feel greatly moved when we contemplate the truths and mysteries of Religion, but, if we do not derive serious and effective resolutions from them, these mysteries will be of no help to our piety.

This is especially the case during the days of the Passion of Our Lord. It is not enough to follow the various episodes of the Passion with a feeling of compunction, which feeling, though excellent, is not enough. During these days, we should give Our Lord sincere proofs of our devotion and love. These proofs can be given by firmly resolving to change our lives and to fight for the Church.

The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. When Our Lord asked Saint Paul on the way to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Our Lord was telling him that by persecuting the infant Church, Saul was persecuting Him, Christ.

To persecute the Church is to persecute Jesus Christ, and if the Church is persecuted today, it is Christ that is persecuted. In a certain sense the Passion of Christ is being repeated in our days.

Go to:  Part I

How to breathe the spirit of divine grace

Those who open their mouth
to confess their faith
breathe the spirit of divine grace,
which is the life of the soul.

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Nicholas Owen

Perhaps no single person did more for the preservation of the Catholic Faith when its practice was forbidden in England than Nicholas Owen.

A “diminutive man” according to one report, and called “Little John” on that account, Nicholas Owen was possibly a builder by trade. He worked for eighteen years with the clandestine Jesuit missionaries Fathers Henry Garnet and John Gerard and built expertly concealed hiding places for priests and Catholic fugitives.

In an age of license, Nicholas led a singularly innocent life, untainted by the allurements of the world. His confessor affirms that he preserved his baptismal innocence unto death.

Every time Nicholas was about to design a hiding place, he began the work by receiving the Holy Eucharist, accompanied the project by continuous prayer and offered the completion of the work to God alone. No wonder his hiding places were nearly impossible to discover.

After working in this fashion for some years, he was received into the Society of Jesus by Father Garnet as one of England’s first lay brothers. For reasons of concealment, his association with the Jesuits was kept a secret.

He was arrested with Father John Gerard on St. George’s day in 1584. Despite terrible torture, he never revealed the least information about the whereabouts of other Catholics. He was released on a ransom paid by a Catholic gentleman, as his services in contriving hiding places were indispensable.

The unique and successful escape of Father Gerard from the Tower of London was most certainly planned by Owen, although the escape itself was carried out by two others.

Finally, on January 27, 1606, after a faithful service of twenty years, Nicholas Owen fell once more into the hands of his enemies. Closely pursued by government officials, he and three other Jesuits successfully avoided detection for eight days, hidden in a couple of priest holes at Hindlip Hall in Worcester- shire. Concealed in the two small cramped spaces in which they could neither stand upright nor stretch their legs, they received nourishment through small drinking straws hidden in the building’s own structure. Attempting to protect the two priests by drawing attention to himself, Owen left his hiding place first. His fellow lay brother was arrested with him as soon as he emerged from hiding; Fathers Garnet and Oldcorne were seized soon after.

His enemies exulted when they realized they finally had their hands on the great builder of hiding places. Father Gerard wrote of him: "I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who labored in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular.”

Brother Nicholas was hung upon a wall; during “interrogation” periods, iron gauntlets were fastened about his wrists from which he hung for hours on end, day after day. When this torture proved insufficient to make him talk, weights were added to his feet. Finally, the pressure caused his entrails to burst forth, causing his death. He revealed nothing.
First Photo by: Quodvultdeus

Monday, March 21, 2016

Virtue is nothing without this

Virtue is nothing
without the trial of temptation,
for there is no conflict without an enemy,
no victory without strife.

Pope St. Leo the Great

St. Enda of Aran

In the land evangelized by St. Patrick, there emerged in subsequent centuries a number of saints, who by the sanctity of their lives firmly established Christianity in Ireland. Among these is to be numbered the great St. Enda of Aran.

Enda was born in the sixth century to Oriel of Ulster, son of Conall Derg of Ergall, to whose principality he succeeded upon his death. One of his sisters was married to Oengus the king of Munster; another, the holy Fanchea, was abbess of a monastery. It was the pious exhortations of the latter that compelled him to leave the world and embrace the monastic life. He embarked on a pilgrimage to Rome to venerate the relics of the Apostles and was there ordained a priest.

Upon his return to Ireland, he built a church in Drogheda along the River Boyne and founded a religious community. From his brother-in-law, King Oengus of Munster, he obtained the grant of the wild and barren isle of Aran (Aranmore) in the Bay of Galway, where he founded the famous Monastery of Killeaney. Such was the fame acquired by this monastery and its abbot, that the island was called “Aran of the Saints”. Many of the great Irish saints had some connection with Aran and St. Enda: St. Brendan the Voyager, St. Kiaran of Clonmacnoise, St. Columba of Iona, St. Finnian of Clonard and others. So numerous were the pilgrims to Aran that St. Columba called it “The Rome of Pilgrims”.

Enda divided the island into ten parts, in each of which he built a monastery and over which he set superiors. His monastic settlement was known for its austerity, holiness and learning, and became a burning light of sanctity for centuries in Western Europe.

This father of Irish monasticism died in advanced old age and was buried on Aran Mor.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday: the faithful hold their palms, emblem of triumph, to protest against the insults offered to Jesus by His enemies

EARLY in the morning of this day, Jesus sets out for Jerusalem, leaving Mary His Mother, and the two sisters Martha and Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus, at Bethania. The Mother of sorrows trembles at seeing her Son thus expose Himself to danger, for His enemies are bent upon His destruction; but it is not death, it is triumph, that Jesus is to receive today in Jerusalem.
The Messias, before being nailed to the cross, is to be proclaimed King by the people of the great city; the little children are to make her streets echo with their Hosanna to the Son of David; and this in presence of the soldiers of Rome's emperor, and of the high priests and pharisees: the first standing under the banner of their eagles; the second, dumb with rage.
The prophet Zachary had foretold this triumph which the Son of Man was to receive a few days before His Passion, and which had been prepared for Him from all eternity. ' Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion! Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold thy King will come to thee; the Just and the Saviour. He is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass.' [Zach. ix. 9.] Jesus, knowing that the hour has come for the fulfilment of this prophecy, singles out two from the rest of His disciples, and bids them lead to Him an ass and her colt, which they would find not far off. He has reached Bethphage, on Mount Olivet.
The two disciples lose no time in executing the order given them by their divine Master; and the ass and the colt are soon brought to the place where He stands.
The holy fathers have explained to us the mystery of these two animals. The ass represents the Jewish people, which had been long under the yoke of the Law; the colt, upon which, as the evangelist says, no man yet hath sat, [St. Mark xi. 2.] is a figure of the Gentile world, which no one had ever yet brought into subjection. The future of these two peoples is to be decided a few days hence: the Jews will be rejected, for having refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messias; the Gentiles will take their place, to be adopted as God's people, and become docile and faithful.
The disciples spread their garments upon the colt; and our Saviour, that the prophetic figure might be fulfilled, sits upon him, [Ibid. 7, and St. Luke xix. 35.] and advances towards Jerusalem. As soon as it is known that Jesus is near the city, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those Jews, who have come from all parts to celebrate the feast of the Passover. They go out to meet our Lord, holding palm branches in their hands, and loudly proclaiming Him to be King. [St. Luke xix. 38.] They that have accompanied Jesus from Bethania, join the enthusiastic crowd. Whilst some spread their garments on the way, others cut down boughs from the palm-trees, and strew them along the road. Hosanna is the triumphant cry, proclaiming to the whole city that Jesus, the Son of David, has made His entrance as her King.
Thus did God, in His power over men's hearts, procure a triumph for His Son, and in the very city which, a few days later, was to clamour for His Blood. This day was one of glory to our Jesus, and the holy Church would have us renew, each year, the memory of this triumph of the Man-God. Shortly after the birth of our Emmanuel, we saw the Magi coming from the extreme east, and looking in Jerusalem for the King of the Jews, to whom they intended offering their gifts and their adorations: but it is Jerusalem herself that now goes forth to meet this King. Each of these events is an acknowledgment of the kingship of Jesus; the first, from the Gentiles; the second, from the Jews.
Both were to pay Him this regal homage, before He suffered His Passion. The inscription to be put upon the cross, by Pilate's order, will express the kingly character of the Crucified: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Pilate, the Roman governor, the pagan, the base coward, has been unwittingly the fulfiller of a prophecy; and when the enemies of Jesus insist on the inscription being altered, Pilate will not deign to give them any answer but this: ' What I have written, I have written.' Today, it is the Jews themselves that proclaim Jesus to be their King: they will soon be dispersed, in punishment for their revolt against the Son of David; but Jesus is King, and will be so for ever.
Thus were literally verified the words spoken by the Archangel to Mary, when he announced to her the glories of the Child that was to be born of her: ' The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.' [St. Luke i. 32.] Jesus begins His reign upon the earth this very day; and though the first Israel is soon to disclaim His rule, a new Israel, formed from the faithful few of the old, shall rise up in every nation of the earth, and become the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom such as no mere earthly monarch ever coveted in his wildest fancies of ambition.
This is the glorious mystery which ushers in the great week, the week of dolours. Holy Church would have us give this momentary consolation to our heart, and hail our Jesus as our King. She has so arranged the service of today, that it should express both joy and sorrow; joy, by uniting herself with the loyal hosannas of the city of David; and sorrow, by compassionating the Passion of her divine Spouse. The whole function is divided into three parts, which we will now proceed to explain.
The first is the blessing of the palms; and we may have an idea of its importance from the solemnity used by the Church in this sacred rite. One would suppose that the holy Sacrifice has begun, and is going to be offered up in honour of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel, even a Preface, are said, as though we were, as usual, preparing for the immolation of the spotless Lamb; but, after the triple Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus! the Church suspends these sacrificial formulas, and turns to the blessing of the palms. The prayers she uses for this blessing are eloquent and full of instruction; and, together with the sprinkling with holy water and the incensation, impart a virtue to these branches, which elevates them to the supernatural order, and makes them means for the sanctification of our souls and the protection of our persons and dwellings. The faithful should hold these palms in their hands during the procession, and during the reading of the Passion at Mass, and keep them in their homes as an outward expression of their faith, and as a pledge of God's watchful love.
It is scarcely necessary to tell our reader that the palms or olive branches, thus blessed, are carried in memory of those wherewith the people of Jerusalem strewed the road, as our Saviour made His triumphant entry; but a word on the antiquity of our ceremony will not be superfluous. It began very early in the east. It is probable that, as far as Jerusalem itself is concerned, the custom was established immediately after the ages of persecution. St. Cyril, who was bishop of that city in the fourth century, tells us that the palm-tree, from which the people cut the branches when they went out to meet our Saviour, was still to be seen in the vale of Cedron. [Cateches. x. versus fin.] Such a circumstance would naturally suggest an annual commemoration of the great event. In the following century, we find this ceremony established, not only in the churches of the east, but also in the monasteries of Egypt and Syria. At the beginning of Lent, many of the holy monks obtained permission from their abbots to retire into the desert, that they might spend the sacred season in strict seclusion; but they were obliged to return to their monasteries for Palm Sunday, as we learn from the life of Saint Euthymius, written by his disciple Cyril. [Act. SS. Jan. 20.] In the west, the introduction of this ceremony was more gradual; the first trace we find of it is in the sacramentary of St. Gregory, that is, at the end of the sixth, or the beginning of the seventh, century. When the faith had penetrated into the north, it was not possible to have palms or olive branches; they were supplied by branches from other trees. The beautiful prayers used in the blessing, and based on the mysteries expressed by the palm and olive trees, are still employed in the blessing of our willow, box, or other branches; and rightly, for these represent the symbolical ones which nature has denied us.
The second of today's ceremonies is the procession, which comes immediately after the blessing of the palms. It represents our Saviour's journey to Jerusalem, and His entry into the city. To make it the more expressive, the branches that have just been blessed are held in the hand during it. With the Jews, to hold a branch in one's hand was a sign of joy. The divine law had sanctioned this practice, as we read in the following passage from Leviticus, where God commands His people to keep the feast of tabernacles: And you shall take to you, on the first day, the fruits of the fairest tree, and branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God. [Lev. xxiii. 40.] It was, therefore, to testify their delight at seeing Jesus enter within their walls, that the inhabitants, even the little children, of Jerusalem, went forth to meet Him with palms in their hands. Let us, also, go before our King, singing our hosannas to Him as the conqueror of death, and the liberator of His people.
During the middle ages, it was the custom, in many churches, to carry the book of the holy Gospels in this procession. The Gospel contains the words of Jesus Christ, and was considered to represent Him. The procession halted at an appointed place, or station: the deacon then opened the sacred volume, and sang from it the passage which describes our Lord's entry into Jerusalem. This done, the cross which, up to this moment, was veiled, was uncovered; each of the clergy advanced towards it, venerated it, and placed at its foot a small portion of the palm he held in his hand. The procession then returned, preceded by the cross, which was left unveiled until all had re-entered the church. In England and Normandy, as far back as the eleventh century, there was practised a holy ceremony which represented, even more vividly than the one we have just been describing, the scene that was witnessed on this day at Jerusalem: the blessed Sacrament was carried in procession. The heresy of Berengarius, against the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, had been broached about that time; and the tribute of triumphant joy here shown to the sacred Host was a distant preparation for the feast and procession which were to be instituted at a later period.
A touching ceremony was also practised in Jerusalem during today's procession, and, like those just mentioned, was intended to commemorate the event related by the Gospel. The whole community of the Franciscans (to whose keeping the holy places are entrusted) went in the morning to Bethphage. There, the father guardian of the holy Land, being vested in pontifical robes, mounted upon an ass, on which garments were laid. Accompanied by the friars and the Catholics of Jerusalem, all holding palms in their hands, he entered the city, and alighted at the church of the holy sepulchre where Mass was celebrated with all possible solemnity.
This beautiful ceremony, which dated from the period of the Latin kingdom in Jerusalem, has been forbidden for now almost two hundred years, by the Turkish authorities of the city.
We have mentioned these different usages, as we have done others on similar occasions, in order to aid the faithful to the better understanding of the several mysteries of the liturgy. In the present instance, they will learn that, in to-day's procession, the Church wishes us to honour Jesus Christ as though He were really among us, and were receiving the humble tribute of our loyalty. Let us lovingly go forth to meet this our King, our Saviour, who comes to visit the daughter of Sion, as the prophet has just told us. He is in our midst; it is to Him that we pay honour with our palms: let us give Him our hearts too. He comes that He may be our King; let us welcome Him as such, and fervently cry out to Him: 'Hosanna to the Son of David!'
At the close of the procession a ceremony takes place, which is full of the sublimest symbolism. On returning to the church, the doors are found to be shut. The triumphant procession is stopped; but the songs of joy are continued. A hymn in honour of Christ our King is sung with its joyous chorus; and at length the subdeacon strikes the door with the staff of the cross; the door opens, and the people, preceded by the clergy, enter the church, proclaiming the praise of Him, who is our resurrection and our life.
This ceremony is intended to represent the entry of Jesus into that Jerusalem of which the earthly one was but the figure--the Jerusalem of heaven, which has been opened for us by our Saviour. The sin of our first parents had shut it against us; but Jesus, the King of glory, opened its gates by His cross, to which every resistance yields. Let us, then, continue to follow in the footsteps of the Son of David, for He is also the Son of God, and He invites us to share His kingdom with Him.
Thus, by the procession, which is commemorative of what happened on this day, the Church raises up our thoughts to the glorious mystery of the Ascension, whereby heaven was made the close of Jesus' mission on earth. Alas! the interval between these two triumphs of our Redeemer are not all days of joy; and no sooner is our procession over, than the Church, who had laid aside for a moment the weight of her grief, falls back into sorrow and mourning.
The third part of today's service is the offering of the holy Sacrifice. The portions that are sung by the choir are expressive of the deepest desolation; and the history of our Lord's Passion, which is now to be read by anticipation, gives to the rest of the day that character of sacred gloom, which we all know so well. For the last five or six centuries, the Church has adopted a special chant for this narrative of the holy Gospel. The historian, or the evangelist, relates the events in a tone that is at once grave and pathetic; the words of our Saviour are sung to a solemn yet sweet melody, which strikingly contrasts with the high dominant of the several other interlocutors and the Jewish populace.
During the singing of the Passion, the faithful should hold their palms in their hands, and, by this emblem of triumph, protest against the insults offered to Jesus by His enemies. As we listen to each humiliation and suffering, all of which were endured out of love for us, let us offer Him our palm as to our dearest Lord and King. When should we be more adoring, than when He is most suffering?
These are the leading features of this great day. According to our usual plan, we will add to the prayers and lessons any instructions that seem to be needed.
This Sunday, besides its liturgical and popular appellation of Palm Sunday, has had several other names. Thus it was called Hosanna Sunday, in allusion to the acclamation wherewith the Jews greeted Jesus on His entry into Jerusalem. Our forefathers used also to call it Pascha Floridum, because the feast of the Pasch (or Easter), which is but eight days off, is today in bud, so to speak, and the faithful could begin from this Sunday to fulfil the precept of Easter Communion. It was in allusion to this name, that the Spaniards, having on the Palm Sunday of 1513, discovered the peninsula on the Gulf of Mexico, called it Florida.
We also find the name of Capitilavium given to this Sunday, because, during those times when it was the custom to defer till Holy Saturday the baptism of infants born during the preceding months (where such a delay entailed no danger), the parents used, on this day, to wash the heads of these children, out of respect to the holy chrism wherewith they were to be anointed. Later on, this Sunday was, at least in some churches, called the Pasch of the competents, that is, of the catechumens, who were admitted to Baptism; they assembled today in the church, and received a special instruction on the symbol, which had been given to them in the previous scrutiny. In the Gothic Church of Spain, the symbol was not given till today. The Greeks call this Sunday Baïphoros, that is, Palm-bearing.
A meditation on Palm Sunday taken from the writing of Lent from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Dom Guéranger, O.S.B.