On this feast of St. Anthony the Abbot, I am reminded of a peculiar episode in the life of the saint that St. Jerome records. In full, it reads:
But to return to the point at which I digressed. The blessed Paul had already lived on earth the life of heaven for a hundred and thirteen years, and Antony at the age of ninety was dwelling in another place of solitude (as he himself was wont to declare), when the thought occurred to the latter, that no monk more perfect than himself had settled in the desert. However, in the stillness of the night it was revealed to him that there was farther in the desert a much better man than he, and that he ought to go and visit him. So then at break of day the venerable old man, supporting and guiding his weak limbs with a staff, started to go: but what direction to choose he knew not. Scorching noontide came, with a broiling sun overhead, but still he did not allow himself to be turned from the journey he had begun. Said he, I believe in my God: some time or other He will show me the fellow-servant whom He promised me. He said no more. All at once he beholds a creature of mingled shape, half horse half man, called by the poets Hippocentaur. At the sight of this he arms himself by making on his forehead the sign of salvation, and then exclaims, Holloa! Where in these parts is a servant of God living? The monster after gnashing out some kind of outlandish utterance, in words broken rather than spoken through his bristling lips, at length finds a friendly mode of communication, and extending his right hand points out the way desired. Then with swift flight he crosses the spreading plain and vanishes from the sight of his wondering companion. But whether the devil took this shape to terrify him, or whether it be that the desert which is known to abound in monstrous animals engenders that kind of creature also, we cannot decide.
Antony was amazed, and thinking over what he had seen went on his way. Before long in a small rocky valley shut in on all sides he sees a mannikin with hooked snout, horned forehead, and extremities like goats’ feet. When he saw this, Antony like a good soldier seized the shield of faith and the helmet of hope: the creature none the less began to offer to him the fruit of the palm-trees to support him on his journey and as it were pledges of peace. Antony perceiving this stopped and asked who he was. The answer he received from him was this: I am a mortal being and one of those inhabitants of the desert whom the Gentiles deluded by various forms of error worship under the names of Fauns, Satyrs, and Incubi. I am sent to represent my tribe. We pray you in our behalf to entreat the favour of your Lord and ours, who, we have learned, came once to save the world, and ‘whose sound has gone forth into all the earth.’ As he uttered such words as these, the aged traveller’s cheeks streamed with tears, the marks of his deep feeling, which he shed in the fullness of his joy. He rejoiced over the Glory of Christ and the destruction of Satan, and marvelling all the while that he could understand the Satyr’s language, and striking the ground with his staff, he said, Woe to you, Alexandria, who instead of God worships monsters! Woe to you, harlot city, into which have flowed together the demons of the whole world! What will you say now? Beasts speak of Christ, and you instead of God worship monsters. He had not finished speaking when, as if on wings, the wild creature fled away. Let no one scruple to believe this incident; its truth is supported by what took place when Constantine was on the throne, a matter of which the whole world was witness. For a man of that kind was brought alive to Alexandria and shown as a wonderful sight to the people. Afterwards his lifeless body, to prevent its decay through the summer heat, was preserved in salt and brought to Antioch that the Emperor might see it.
Let it never be said that the lives of the saints are boring. Artists, like Demonologists, have throughout the centuries returned to these scenes again and again. The Centaur shows up a lot, probably because it’s a subject that permits the artist to show off his own talents at depicting both human and equine anatomy. Yet we can also detect here a certain visual sensibility that can only be described as picturesque delight and fascination.
I sometimes wonder how all creation wasn’t annihilated by the Incarnation. I find it extraordinary and edifying that God, Being Itself, Omnipotent and Omniscient, Holiness Untouchable, chose to enter this world in a way that did not overwhelm us…that actually raised us, nothing that we are, to Divinity. As T.S. Eliot puts it, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” Our continued existence after the Incarnation is a marvel of God’s infinite mercy and condescension as well as His love for us. The point is not even that we are sinful so much as that, in comparison with Infinite Being, we are cosmically insignificant. Yet God chooses to turn His gaze upon us, to love us, even to become one of us. We don’t reckon with this merciful condescension enough. The most fitting response is a profound sense of gratitude.
By contrast, the worst possible response to this love is ingratitude. How common is this sin! How often do we obscure God’s condescension with ungrateful thoughts and acts! Especially at this time of year.
Consider the Masses of Christmas. How many Catholics present themselves for communion who do not have the proper disposition to receive the grace of the sacrament? Worse, how many communions on this holy occasion are not merely unworthy, but actively sacrilegious? How many communions work death in the souls of those who receive at Christmas, a feast that should only impart grace and joy? Is there any other night when, all around the world, so many of the faithful take up the mantle of Judas and betray their Lord in the Sacrament of His eternal love? We ought to make special acts of reparation to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus throughout the Christmas season. Yet even here, we observe the tremendous condescension of God. He suffers Himself to be blasphemed in this manner the better to augment His glory in the latter end. And He endures all this for love.
I was disturbed to read on Twitter a further example of ingratitude in what should be a season of humble thanksgiving. A priest of the Lexington Diocese, Fr. Jim Sichka, posted a thread on the Feast of the Holy Family in which he wrote, among other things, that “What makes a family holy is living out the Gospel messages of love and hope, and pursuing big dreams for our children.” Without any contextual grounding in the sacraments, this vision of sanctification tends dangerously towards Pelagianism. Fr. Sichka, who is a Papal Missionary of Mercy, later buckled down on this error, writing, “Like it or not, there are many kinds of families. Every kind of family is called to be holy. And, since every person is made in God’s image, each is holy and has inherent dignity given by God.” He was not explicitly describing the baptized; it would seem that Fr. Sichko intends for us to take this statement as a universal descriptor. And while he is right to suggest that all families are called to holiness and that all possess God-given dignity, there is another, far more serious issue here.
Let us leave aside Fr. Sichko’s confusion of is and ought. The real problem here is the Pelagian notion that holiness is inherent in the human being. The opposite is true. In the state of original sin, we are naturally corrupt, deficient, concupiscent, and enslaved to the flesh, the world, and the passions. Holiness is not something we can achieve by our own effort alone. It is rather the supernatural indwelling of the Holy Ghost in us by sacramental grace, especially the grace granted in baptism. This gratuitous presence of the Holy Ghost in our souls is the only true way we can grow in virtue. We must water this growth by the salutary irrigation of deliberate ascesis. Holiness is not natural, but the supernatural repairing and building on nature.
It is astounding to find any priest suggesting that grace is unnecessary. It is unnerving to discover a priest who states in public that holiness is intrinsic to the human being. It is dismaying to read of a priest advancing opinions that will lead to lax preparation for holy communion. And it is tragic to find a priest deprecating, overlooking, or downplaying the singular grace vouchsafed to us in the Blessed Sacrament.
This is not a trivial error. It cuts to the very heart of what holiness is and how we acquire it. Is holiness the life of God within us? Or is it something less? Is it something that needs cultivation by sacramental grace and an ongoing life of ascetic endeavor? Or is it something we carry within us from birth? The answers make a difference about how we respond to the mysteries of this holy season. Christmas is preeminently a festival of grace. The utter gratuity of the Incarnation – and thus, of our redemption and sanctification in the sacraments – is the true meaning of Christmas. Pelagianism is unlike other heresies in that it adds a venomous ingredient to error; its essence is ingratitude, directly contrary to the spirit of this holy season.
Let us pray then for a lively faith in the mysteries of grace, for a more ardent jealousy of the Truth, for a renewed desire to follow the Lord in all things, for a generous spirit of adoring reparation, and for an unstinting gratitude as we contemplate the Divine Love who chose to save us by His Incarnation.
don’t usually like to write two “Elsewhere” posts in a row, but
there’s a very good chapter talk on the Rule of St. Benedict
over at Vultus Christi that is, I believe, worthy of my readers’
attention. The author points to the spiritual fullness of the Rule. St.
Benedict gathers together the very best of the great spiritual traditions of
the Church. Put another, more historically correct way, his Rule has served as
the “wellspring” from which all manner of saints have drawn the
waters of life.
is the norm of the Christian life. It is the baptismal life as such, to which
every other charism must be compared. Those who do not have a priestly or
religious vocation are not exempt. Even those in the world must develop a
“monasticism of the heart,” a certain enmity towards the Flesh and a
love of God in the Mass. St. Benedict’s Rule, in its great flexibility and
simplicity, is a very good guide to achieving that inward state, itself an ever
more perfect conformity to Christ.
whole chapter is worth reading, but here’s an excerpt that struck me:
If you were or are attracted to Carmel, to Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, or to Saint Thérèse and her Little Way, know that nothing of their teaching is missing from the Rule of Saint Benedict: purification of the heart, ceaseless prayer, secret exchanges with the Word, the Divine Bridegroom, and participation by patience in the Passion of Christ.
If you were or are drawn to Saint Dominic, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Saint Catherine of Siena, know that the Rule of Saint Benedict calls you to the joy of the Gospel, to the love of chastity, to the quest for Truth, to confidence in the mercy of God for sinners, and to the ceaseless prayer of the heart represented by the Holy Rosary.
If you were or are fascinated by the Little Poor Man of Assisi, the Seraphic Saint Francis, know that the Rule of Saint Benedict offers you complete disappropriation to the point of having neither your body nor your will at your own disposal; that the Twelfth Degree of Humility is configuration to the Crucified Jesus; and that the adorable Body of Christ, the Sacred Host, shows you the perfection of monastic holiness in silence, hiddenness, poverty, and humility.
If you were or are charmed by Saint Philip and the Oratory, know that the Rule of Saint Benedict calls you to good cheer, to gentlemanly courtesy, to an ever greater infusion of the charity of God, that is the Holy Ghost.
Catholic who wants a deeper spiritual life cannot neglect the monastic tradition.
It brought forth all the others, and continues to enrich them. I have written
in the past on the likeness between St. Philip and St. Benedict.
Much more could be said for the monastic roots of each of the spiritual
families listed above.
can’t help but notice that one major stream of Latin Catholic spirituality is
absent from this list: Ignatian spirituality. Perhaps this is because the
Ignatian charism depends upon a subjective, individualistic, and pscyhologized
spiritual experience rather than the objective, external, communitarian piety
of liturgy that stands at the heart of St. Benedict’s Rule. This is not to say that
Ignatian spirituality is necessarily worse or that it cannot produce saints.
Nor is it to say that St. Ignatius could have produced his school without the
preceding sixteen centuries of spiritual development. But the assumptions of
Ignatian spirituality are so divorced from the monastic tradition as to
constitute a sui generis chapter in the history of Latin Spirituality.
St. Ignatius inaugurated a real break from the Western tradition of prayer and
ascesis, a break that was, in fact, little more than an epiphenomenon of the
advent of modernity in the prior century.
these historical-theological considerations are secondary to a deeper
admiration for the piece. May St. Benedict pray for all of us who would seek
the Face of God.
August is the Month of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. While I was too busy moving and adapting to life in Pennsylvania to write anything for Assumption Day, my good friend Keanu Heydari wrote a beautiful meditation on the meaning of the Assumption as well as on Our Lady’s co-redemptive role more generally. I offer it to my readers for their edification and delight as well as for the honor of Our Lady’s Sorrow and Immaculate Heart. Here’s a particularly puissant excerpt:
In this remarkable passage, as the Venerable Fulton Sheen has argued, John’s Jesus invokes the archetypical womanhood of Mary as the New Eve. Mary is the woman. Jesus affirms her role in undoing our devastated humanity in the Garden by affirming her role as the New Eve. Moreover, the Lord makes a startling claim about the dignity of Mary’s personhood and her role in the narrative arc of cosmic salvation as Coredemptrix and Mediatrix. What is true about Christ is also just as true of the Virgin. Only Mary could confess that she, in the purest way, was truly of the flesh of the Son of Man.
Keanu hits upon a fundamental truth of Catholicism, the Marian-Ecclesial analogy with Christ. What is predicated of Christ can be predicated of both the Church, His Bride, and, in a special way, His Mother. This is not to suggest that anyone other than Jesus Christ as a discreet person is the Logos, but to note that all that He is by nature, we can become by Grace – and Mary first of all.
Over at Church Life Journal, Andrew Kuiper has a tour-de-force article on the history and theology of Catholic Kabbalah. His review of four Catholic Kabbalists – Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Reuchlin, Giles of Viterbo, and St. John Fisher – is a model of intellectual history. He does a great job showing the continuing relevance of Kabbalah for Catholic (and other Christian) thinkers throughout the centuries.
The piece is amply cited and provides several helpful theological considerations. I thought Kuiper’s nod towards Sophiology was particularly enlightening. If Christian Kabbalah has a place in Catholic theology today, I predict that it will be in the writings of latter-day Sophiologists.
If I were to offer a criticism of Kuiper’s piece, it would be a very minor one at that: he makes no reference to the works of Margaret Barker. Her research has shed a new light on the roots of Christianity and Jewish mysticism (in both its Merkabah and later Sephirotic developments) in the memory of the First Temple. Reading Kabbalistic texts through a Temple lens can ease their Christian interpretation. But I digress.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the article, for a historian of the period, is Kuiper’s various references to the Kabbalistic books written by these Christians of the 15th and 16th centuries. I would particularly keen on finding the text of Giles of Viterbo’s Shechina or Pico’s Heptaplus. Some of these hard-to-find volumes have never been translated into English.
It is not easy to summarize the teachings of the Jewish mystics, nor their Christian interpreters. Kuiper does both with commendable attention to detail and obvious competence, all while keeping things clear and concise enough for a lay reader. This article also provides a badly-needed defense of the respectability of Kabbalah as a field of study. Its bastardization in recent times, exemplified most clearly by Madonna et al., has led some to question whether Kabbalah is anything more than a gnostic mishmash of magic with Hebrew letters. I have heard colleagues dismiss it entirely as a field of serious inquiry for a historian or theologian. This tendency seems especially strong with Christian academics, many of whom retain outdated ideas about Jewish mysticism or who simply haven’t up with the post-Scholem rediscovery of Kabbalah. Kuiper’s intervention is a broadside against this boring complacency. It’s not exactly “a cruel angel’s thesis,” but it is one worth defending.
The Bishop of Northampton has announced that G.K. Chesterton’s cause for canonization has been dropped. There will be no St. Gilbert Keith Chesterton, his portly visage peering out of a halo over an altar in some out-of-the-way country church. There will be no Gilberttide Novenas, with each day dedicated to some tired and over-labored paradox the man squirted out for an article on H.G. Wells some time in the late Edwardian period. There will be no holy relics passed around – “The pipe he used to smoke with the Blessed Belloc!” – nor even little medals or fat statues cramming the shelves of the stores that specialize in such pious kitsch.
Good. The Bishop has decided wisely. The cause never should have been opened in the first place. Its continuation would represent, if not an abuse of the process, then a serious misstep in the liturgical and devotional life of the Church.
Quaeritur: Why do we raise saints to the altar?
Respondeo: There are three reasons.
1) To hallow and liturgically organize a pre-existing popular cult of a holy person.
2) To recognize that said holy person is in Heaven.
3) To raise up a holy soul as an example to the Faithful.
The third is insufficient on its own. The second is implied and proven in the act of canonization itself, though the inquiry into a saint’s alleged miracles is adjunct to it. The first is thus the most important, foundational reason for the whole process.
As the Bishop pointed out in his statement, there is essentially no local cult of G.K. Chesterton in either his diocese or, I would wager, in the rest of the United Kingdom. There is such a cult in America. I was once part of it, as a member, officer, and president of UVA’s G.K. Chesterton Society. I was thus shocked to discover when I moved to England that nobody – not even most Catholics I knew – read or particularly cared about Chesterton. The British, for reasons I have never really understood, ignore much of their own “spiritual heritage,” as Americans might think of it. Even the relics of St. Edmund Campion barely raised an eyebrow when they visited Oxford in Hilary Term 2018. In the chapel where they were offered for public veneration after a sparsely-attended Mass, I watched as less than half the room went forward to pay their respects to the Jesuit martyr. Can you imagine the crowds that the same small relic would draw in Chicago or Virginia or California?
I digress. The point is that instituting an official cult of Chesterton where no such popular cult exists is to vitiate the process of Beatification.
I remain agnostic as to whether Chesterton is in heaven. I hope he is, and I pray that he might achieve the Beatific Vision if he hasn’t already. But we’ll never know until we get to heaven ourselves, now that the cause won’t advance.
But, is Chesterton an example to the faithful? My own thoughts on the matter are mixed. Clearly, he was a great apologist who presented an appealing if idiosyncratic vision of orthodox Christianity. His conversion was to be commended, as all conversions are. There are, of course, some moral objections one could make. Lingering questions remain about Chesterton’s attitude towards Jews, though the issue is probably overblown. Some have pointed to his large frame as a sign of intemperance and gluttony. However, I think there is perhaps another matter at stake.
It must be said that Chesterton was, as far as we can tell, a very good man. He could be riotously funny. He was probably just the sort of fellow with whom one would enjoy getting a pint. But that quality of conviviality, even when wedded to right doctrine, does not equate to sanctity. If anything, it speaks to the opposite quality, a lack of the salutary ascesis proper to the Christian life. We hear much today of Chesterton’s alleged quote: “In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe and the Cross can all fit together.” Let us leave aside the question of whether the man actually said it (I have struggled to find the source), and accept that he did. The question we should be asking is whether it’s true. And if it is, is it really the sort of thing worth saying anyway? What are pints and pipes but little human vices and pleasures, the things of this world, the ordinary hobbies we enjoy from time to time? A Catholicism that fits them in is probably what most of us (myself included) can strive for, what most of us achieve. But surely that’s not the heroic, sacrificial faith of the Fathers. Would any of the Desert monastics or the martyrs say such a thing? Would any of them really consider it truly pious, if acceptable? Surely we can do better than a religion of the pub stool. Let us aim higher. Let us not canonize this symbol of comfortable Catholicism.
Perhaps the best reason to refrain from canonizing Chesterton was offered in 2013 by Melanie McDonagh:
The first argument against making him a saint is that he was a journalist (the profession he called the easiest in the world); it’s a contradiction in terms. And canonising the man would make his output unreadable. It would invest all the pieces he wrote in railway waiting rooms and Fleet Street bars with the leaden quality of official sanctity. He wrote some of the best literary criticism of the last century — give The Victorian Age in Literature a go — and it would forever be burdened with the approbation of the Catholic Church, which would put a great fat halo between the reader and the text.
I hate even the secular canonisation of the writers I love best — Flann O’Brien is a recent victim — with all the rites of summer schools, conferences and journals. It puts too much weight on their lightest utterances, ossifies their personalities and turns their perfectly lucid writing into the stuff of PhDs. In the case of Chesterton this phenomenon has an especially deadly quality, because the conferences and journals are bound up with contemporary Christian apologetics, a bit like what happened to C.S. Lewis. You might still just about be able to read the Father Brown stories with pleasure if they were billed as being by St Gilbert Keith Chesterton — but it would be despite the billing, by pushing it to the back of your mind. It would be a downright hurdle for secular readers.
Melanie McDonagh, “Why G.K. Chesterton shouldn’t be made a saint.”
Chesterton should not be canonized because doing so would establish him as an authority. Never mind that Chesterton’s famous aphorisms and paradoxes were so often little more than the trite (or even false) quips of a journalist. I have in mind quite another matter; canonization would effectively insulate Chesterton from serious criticism, literary or otherwise. Is that really an effective tribute to a man who was, by all accounts, a brilliant mind? Are we doing him any great service by placing his work under the light of a nimbus? Wouldn’t we rather be paying him the greatest of all insults to a writer, namely, to place him beyond serious and fair consideration? On the other hand, perhaps McDonagh is right – canonizing Chesterton could instead spark a lugubrious academic cottage industry, just as the (American) Evangelical discovery of C.S. Lewis has turned that first-rate children’s novelist and second-rate Anglican theologian into big business. I can only imagine Chesterton would find it all extremely drab.
We should not be too quick to canonize, especially when it comes to writers. I love the books of Flannery O’Connor and find much that is edifying in her fiction. I believe she probably died a holy death. But I don’t think she should be canonized; if a cause were to open, it should be based entirely on the merit of her sufferings.
Julien Green thought that the very act of writing a novel – a good one anyway, that deals with real human experience and the truths of the human condition – inevitably implicates the author in mortal sin. One has to imagine evil, and in portraying it, one engages with it at some level. I don’t know whether that’s true. I have no novels on my CV. But his statement speaks to a deeper point about the act of writing. We cannot escape from the fallibility and fragility of our own humanity, nor a certain fallenness inscribed into the fractured and slipshod structures of our language. This is why criticism is a good thing. Criticism, even pointed criticism, is a sign that one takes an author’s work seriously. It also keeps an author within the bonds of a community of writers, each of whom shares the same basic limitations even as their individual geniuses differ. These are truths that Chesterton himself understood; he, too, was a literary critic.
But the work of canonized writers retains an implicit authority. Sure, philosophers and theologians might dispute over a point in St. Thomas, but rarely do they state outright that the Angelic Doctor is wrong (and he was on several occasions). One could point to other examples. There is a degree to which such deference is acceptable. One of the Church’s great strengths is her long memory and the deposit of theology that acts as a shield around the deposit of faith. Yet this quality of authority is entirely inappropriate with a figure like Chesterton, whose voluminous works largely consist of trivial journalism. True, he made a few good points in Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. There are strange parts of Orthodoxy, too, that make little sense and must be taken for what they are – Chesterton’s deeply personal attempt to understand his faith. And some of his writings are simply bad, wrong, or unreadable. If we take Chesterton seriously as a thinker and a writer, we should say so.
I realize that many of my readers, especially British ones, will think I am belaboring the point. If there is no popular cult, then are we really in danger of such an uncritical turn? I would direct such readers to the G.K. Chesterton Society’s website. I would direct them to the inclusion of Chesterton in Bishop Barron’s Catholicism: The Pivotal Players alongside objectively more important figures like St. Augustine, St. Benedict, and Cardinal Newman. I would direct them to that inexcusably hagiographic study of Chesterton’s milieu, Joseph Pearce’s Literary Converts. There may be no local cult per se, but there is a Chestertonian cult of personality spread across the Anglophone church. Especially in America.
The hallowed place Chesterton holds in the hearts of American Catholics is a reflection of a deeper American fetishization of English Christianity. This tendency tends to erect little idols of men such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Mons. Robert Hugh Benson (a deeply bizarre man of unsavory connections), and others.
I believe this tendency reflects a deep cultural anxiety proper to both Americans in general and American Catholics in particular. Unlike Europeans and South Americans, we live in an unhallowed, “historically empty” landscape. We US Catholics carry on an agon with European culture, especially British culture, because we feel deep down that we have never developed an authentically rooted version of American Catholicism. There are few saints native to our shores; the recent popular cult of St. Kateri Tekakwitha is a positive development, as we move beyond the lineup of immigrant clergy who used to make up most of the canon of American saints. If Fr. Augustus Tolton is canonized, all the better. But there remains an unspoken if everywhere manifest anxiety about the authenticity of American Catholicism. Its identity is new, still forming, and thus up for grabs. One effect is a relentless, internecine preoccupation with the culture wars. Liberals and conservatives in the Church largely map on to our broader political axis. But there’s another method of identity-formation, deployed primarily by those on the right end of that spectrum. We borrow the British writers as if they’re our heritage. But this borrowing blinds us to the faults of the men (and it is largely men) whom we take as representatives of a common spiritual ancestry with the Brits. Lewis and Tolkien are emblematic of this trend, and he’s not even Catholic. Yet they are invoked breathlessly by conservative Catholics and Christians in the same way that Harry Potter has become a shibboleth of secular liberals. Chesterton’s memory is in danger of becoming just another tribal marker.
I don’t claim any special insight beyond my compatriots. However, I do think that living in England for the better part of two years has disillusioned me of my former support for this tendency. Chesterton is bigger (in many ways) than the narrow role he has been asked to play by American conservatives. Let him rest in peace, let us read him on his own terms, and let us preserve the altars of the Church from a dubious canonization.
“Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God.” – Revelation 21:3
St. Philip’s feast always falls within that sunny period of the Church’s year when, passing from Easter to Ascensiontide and following on to Pentecost and Corpus Christi, we find our days running over with the majesty of these great mysteries. The days grow longer, and so they seem to grow more golden with the ever-descending light of the Holy Ghost. We are in a season of peculiar glory. The culminating lesson of these mysteries is clear: God has made his dwelling among men, and in the midst of His people shall He reign.
St. Philip knew this truth well. His whole life could well be described as a journey between Pentecost and Corpus Christi, the two feasts that most clearly teach us of God’s enduring presence in His Church. It was on the Vigil of Pentecost, 1544, that St. Philip received the grace that would define his vocation and the character of his sanctity. While praying in the catacombs of San Sebastiano, the Holy Ghost descended into St. Philip’s heart visibly and sensibly in the form of a ball of fire. This experience, which provided as much heat and pain as rapturous joy, marked the true beginning of St. Philip’s active ministry. In St. Philip, the Holy Ghost once again made His dwelling among men.
From then on, St. Philip’s whole life would be marked by a singular union with the Holy Ghost. He became the “tabernacle of the Most High” and a living fountain of graces. His many miracles testify to the indwelling of the Spirit within him. So does his manifest oddity, his clear and salutary estrangement from the ways and works of ordinary men. The prophet writes, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” So does the Holy Ghost speak from the heart of St. Philip. For this reason, the Church applies the words of St. Paul to the new Apostle of Rome:
The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit of God dwelling within us
Introit for the Feast of St. Philip Neri
St. Philip’s priestly life was marked by the overwhelming presence of God. Everything about him spoke to the present reality of the supernatural. This reality took two chief forms. The most famous were the astounding miracles wrought by St. Philip – most notably the raising of Prince Paolo Massimo from the dead. But there was also St. Philip’s profound adoration of the Eucharist. His popularization of the Forty Hours’ Devotion was but the visible extension of his love of the Blessed Sacrament. So too were the Eucharistic ecstasies to which he was increasingly susceptible as he became older. St. Philip knew no sweeter hours than those that he spent at Mass as an old man, kneeling in darkness before the altar, lost in the rarefied heights of a contemplation we can barely begin to fathom.
In recalling the holiness of Saint Philip, it occurs to me that it was essentially this: he was all priest. He was always and everywhere a priest. His priesthood suffused his very being, making him incandescent with the fire of the Cross and of the altar.
St. Philip’s extraordinary endowment with the Spirit was ordered towards his life as a priest – namely, towards the glory of God in the Eucharist. This is the case with all of us. The Spirit, God in us, is given precisely for us to receive the Eucharist, God with us. Confirmation, like all the other sacraments, exists with the Eucharist as its proper telos.
How fitting, then, that St. Philip should pass into eternal life when he did. May the 25th, 1595, was the feast of Corpus Christi. As Fr. Faber has it,
Day set on Rome! its golden morn Had seen the world’s Creator borne Around St. Peter’s square Trembling and weeping all the way, God’s Vicar with his God that day Made pageant brave and rare!
“St. Philip’s Death,” F.W. Faber
Providence often grants the saints a Christ-like death. It is a sign that, even in suffering and death, God is still dwelling with us. St. Benedict died in choro during a liturgy, just as Christ died in the fulfillment of His high priesthood. Many martyrdoms were accompanied by strange signs and mystical evocations of the Sacrifice of Christ. It should be no surprise that God would take St. Philip in a similarly edifying manner.
In his death, St. Philip reminds us that we are all meant to imitate Christ in His Sacrifice, that is, in the Blessed Sacrament. There is no more perfect pedagogue in the life of the Spirit than the Son, who has presented Himself to us on all the altars of the world. Would that we might take this lesson to heart!
St. Philip died when he did because, by a singular grace of Providence, God was pleased to mark His servant’s passing with the Church’s celebration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Just as St. Philip honored the Eucharistic God in his life, so did the Eucharistic God honor him in his death.
We, too, can honor the saint best by cleaving to the Lord. St. Philip’s words to a spiritual daughter are as true today as they once were:
“Let us concentrate ourselves so completely in the divine love, and enter so far into the living fountain of wisdom, through the wounded Side of our Incarnate God, that we may deny ourselves and our self-love, and so be unable to find our way out of that Wound again.”
St. Philip Neri
God dwells with us just as He once dwelt in the blessed heart of St. Philip. He comes to us just as He came once to the priestly hands of St. Philip. Let us abide in Him, just as St. Philip did once and does forevermore in the heights of Heaven.
In the wake of recent tragic events, here is a litany (adapted from here) to the saints of France. May they pray for us, for France, and for the faithful of that great nation.
V. Kyrie, eléison. R. Christe, eléison. V. Kyrie, eléison.
V. Christe, audi nos. R. Christe, exáudi nos.
V. Pater de cælis, Deus. R. Miserére nobis.
V. Spíritus Sancte, Deus. R. Miserére nobis.
V. Sancta Trínitas, unus Deus. R. Miserére nobis.
Holy Mary, pray for us. Holy Mother of God, pray for us. Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us. St. Michael, pray for us. St. Gabriel, pray for us. St. Raphael, pray for us. All you Holy Angels and Archangels, pray for us. St. John the Baptist, pray for us. St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin, pray for us. All you Holy Patriarchs and Prophets, pray for us. Holy Mary, pray for us. Holy Mother of God, pray for us. Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us. Our Lady of Paris, pray for us. Our Lady of La Salette, pray for us. Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, pray for us. Our Lady of Rocamadour, pray for us. Our Lady of Pontmain, pray for us.
St. Peter, pray for us. St. Paul, pray for us. St. Andrew, pray for us. St. James, pray for us. St. John, pray for us. St. Thomas, pray for us. St. James, pray for us. St. Philip, pray for us. St. Bartholomew, pray for us. St. Matthew, pray for us. St. Simon, pray for us. St. Jude, pray for us. St. Matthias, pray for us. St. Barnabas, pray for us. St. Luke, pray for us. St. Mark, pray for us. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us. All you holy Apostles and Evangelists, pray for us. All you holy Disciples of the Lord, pray for us. All you holy Innocents, pray for us. All you holy Virgins, pray for us.
St. Abbo of Fleury , pray for France and the whole world. St. Adelaide of Italy , pray for France and the whole world. St. Adelelmus of Burgos , pray for France and the whole world. St. Adelelmus of Flanders , pray for France and the whole world. St. Adelin of Séez , pray for France and the whole world. St. Aderald , pray for France and the whole world. St. Aimo , pray for France and the whole world. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque , pray for France and the whole world. St. Albert of Montecorvino , pray for France and the whole world. St. Alexander (martyr) , pray for France and the whole world. St. Andrew of Trier , pray for France and the whole world. St. Anselm of Canterbury , pray for France and the whole world. St. Anthony the Hermit , pray for France and the whole world. St. Antoninus of Pamiers , pray for France and the whole world. St. Artaldus , pray for France and the whole world. St. Ascelina , pray for France and the whole world. St. Auspicius of Toul , pray for France and the whole world. St. Auspicius of Trier , pray for France and the whole world. St. Aventinus of Tours , pray for France and the whole world. St. Leonie Aviat , pray for France and the whole world. St. Aymard of Cluny , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Baldwin of Rieti , pray for France and the whole world. St. Madeleine Sophie Barat , pray for France and the whole world. St. Bernard of Clairvaux St. Bernard of Thiron , pray for France and the whole world. St. Siméon-François Berneux , pray for France and the whole world. St. Berno of Cluny , pray for France and the whole world. St. Bertrand of Comminges , pray for France and the whole world. St.Joan Elizabeth Bichier des Ages , pray for France and the whole world. St. Julie Billiart , pray for France and the whole world. St. Jean-Louis Bonnard , pray for France and the whole world. St. Pierre Dumoulin-Borie Bourgeoys , pray for France and the whole world. St. Jean de Brébeuf , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Canus Natus , pray for France and the whole world. St. Clotilde, pray for France and the whole world. St. Noël Chabanel , pray for France and the whole world. St. Peter Chanel , pray for France and the whole world. St. Jane Frances de Chantal , pray for France and the whole world. St. Colette of Corbie , pray for France and the whole world. St. Jean-Charles Cornay , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Antoine Daniel , pray for France and the whole world. St. Marie-Nicolas-Antoine Daveluy , pray for France and the whole world. St. Denis, pray for France and the whole world. St. Dionysius of Vienne , pray for France and the whole world. St. Domnin, pray for France and the whole world. St. Pierre-Henri Dorie , pray for France and the whole world. St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, pray for France and the whole world. St. Louis Gabriel Taurin Dufresse, pray for France and the whole world.
St. Ebontius , pray for France and the whole world. St. Élisabeth of the Trinity, pray for France and the whole world. St. Elzéar of Sabran , pray for France and the whole world. St. Émilie de Villeneuve , pray for France and the whole world. St. Émilien of Nantes, pray for France and of the whole world. St. Estelle , pray for France and the whole world. St. John Eudes , pray for France and the whole world. St. Peter Julian Eymard , pray for France and the whole world.
SS. Peter Faber, Felix, Fortunatus, and Achilleus, pray for France and the whole world. St. Floribert of Liège, pray for France and the whole world. St. Pierre Fourier, pray for France and the whole world. St. Andrew Fournet , pray for France and the whole world. St. Frederick of Liege , pray for France and the whole world.
St. François-Isidore Gagelin , pray for France and the whole world. St. Charles Garnier , pray for France and the whole world. St. Gaugericus , pray for France and the whole world. St. Geneviève, pray for France and the whole world. St. Gens, pray for France and the whole world. St. Gérard of Brogne , pray for France and the whole world. St. Goneri of Brittany , pray for France and the whole world. St. Goswin , pray for France and the whole world. St. René Goupil , pray for France and the whole world. St. Guarinus of Sitten , pray for France and the whole world. St. Théodore Guérin , pray for France and the whole world. St Guirec , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Hilary of Poitiers , pray for France and the whole world. St. Hugh of Noara , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Laurent-Joseph-Marius Imbert , pray for France and the whole world. St. Isabelle of France , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Joan of Arc, pray for France and the whole world. St. Joan of France, Duchess of Berry , pray for France and the whole world. St. Isaac Jogues , pray for France and the whole world. St. John of the Grating , pray for France and of the whole world. St. Judoc , pray for France and the whole world. St. Julian the Hospitaller , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle , pray for France and the whole world. St. Catherine Labouré , pray for France and the whole world. St. Benedict Joseph Labre , pray for France and the whole world. St. Jean de Lalande , pray for France and the whole world. St. Gabriel Lalemant , pray for France and the whole world. St. Lambert of Vence, pray for France and the whole world. St. Jeanne de Lestonnac, pray for France and the whole world. St. Leudwinus, pray for France and the whole world. St. Louis IX, King of France, pray for France and the whole world.
St. Magloire, pray for France and the whole world. St. Jeanne-Marie de Maille , pray for France and the whole world. St. Malo, pray for France and the whole world. St. Joseph Marchand, pray for France and the whole world. St. Marie of the Incarnation, pray for France and the whole world. St. Louise de Marillac, pray for France and the whole world. SS. Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin, pray for France and the whole world. St. Maurice of Carnoet Méen, pray for France and the whole world. St. Louis de Montfort, pray for France and the whole world.
St. Nazarius, pray for France and the whole world.
St. Odo of Cluny, pray for France and the whole world. St. Ormond, pray for France and the whole world.
St. Paternus of Auch Patiens, pray for France and the whole world. St. Vincent de Paul, pray for France and the whole world. St. Paulinus of Trier , pray for France and the whole world. St Mary Euphrasia Pelletier , pray for France and the whole world. St. John Gabriel Perboyre , pray for France and the whole world. St. Peter of Juilly , pray for France and the whole world. St. Peter of Tarentaise , pray for France and the whole world. St. William Pinchon , pray for France and the whole world. St. Prosper of Aquitaine , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Quintian of Rodez , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Raymond of Barbastro , pray for France and the whole world. St. Raymond of Toulouse , pray for France and the whole world. St. Richard of Vaucelles , pray for France and the whole world. St. Richardis, pray for France and of the whole world. St. Roch , pray for France and the whole world. St. Émilie de Rodat , pray for France and the whole world. St. Benildus Romançon , pray for France and the whole world. St. Elizabeth Rose , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Francis de Sales , pray for France and the whole world. St. Saturnina , pray for France and the whole world. St. Augustin Schoeffler , pray for France and the whole world. St. Serenus the Gardener, pray for France and the whole world. SS Severinus, Exuperius, and Felician, pray for France and the whole world. St. Sigo , pray for France and the whole world. St. Bernadette Soubirous , pray for France and the whole world. St. Stephen of Obazine , pray for France and the whole world. St. Theobald of Dorat , pray for France and the whole world. St. Theodard , pray for France and the whole world. St. Theophilus of Corte , pray for France and the whole world. St. Thérèse of Lisieux , pray for France and the whole world. St. Thérèse Couderc, pray for France and the whole world. St. Claudine Thévenet , pray for France and the whole world. St. Joan Antidea Thouret , pray for France and the whole world. St. Tironensian Order , pray for France and the whole world. St. Torpes of Pisa , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Marie Thérèse Vauzou , pray for France and the whole world. St. Venant de Viviers , pray for France and the whole world. St. Théophane Vénard , pray for France and the whole world. St. Veranus of Vence , pray for France and the whole world. Sy. Emily de Vialar , pray for France and the whole world. St. John Vianney , pray for France and the whole world. St Vincent of Digne , pray for France and the whole world.
St. Walric, abbot of Leuconay , pray for France and the whole world. St. William of Æbelholt , pray for France and the whole world. St. William of Breteuil , pray for France and the whole world. St. William of Donjeon , pray for France and the whole world. St. William of Gellone , pray for France and the whole world. St. William of Pontoise , pray for France and the whole world. St. Wivina, pray for France and the whole world.
St. Zachary of Vienne, pray for France and the whole world.
Louis XVI, pray for France and the whole world. Marie-Antoinette, pray for France and the whole world. Cardinal Bérulle, pray for France and the whole world. Monsieur Olier, pray for France and the whole world. Madame Élisabeth, pray for France and the whole world. Mère Thérèse de Saint-Augustin, pray for France and the whole world. Mère Mectilde de Bar, pray for France and the whole world. Mère Yvonne-Aimeé de Jésus, pray for France and the whole world.
All ye holy martyrs, pray for France All ye holy kings and queens, pray for France and the whole world. All ye holy bishops, pray for France and the whole world. All ye holy priests and deacons, pray for France and the whole world. All ye holy monks and nuns, pray for France and the whole world. All ye holy virgins, pray for France and the whole world. All ye holy men and women, pray for France and the whole world.
PRAY FOR FRANCE.
Ye holy men and women, Saints of God, R. intercede for us. Be merciful R. spare us, O Lord. Be merciful R. graciously hear us, O Lord. From all evil, R. deliver us, O Lord. From all sin, R. deliver us, O Lord. From Thy wrath, R. deliver us, O Lord. From sudden and unprovided death, R. deliver us, O Lord. From the snares of the devil, R. deliver us, O Lord.
From anger, hatred, and all ill-will, R. deliver us, O Lord. From the spirit of fornication, R. deliver us, O Lord. From lightning and tempest, R. deliver us, O Lord. From the scourge of earthquake, R. deliver us, O Lord. From plague, famine and war, R. deliver us, O Lord. From everlasting death, R. deliver us, O Lord. . Through the mystery of Thy holy Incarnation, R. deliver us, O Lord. Through Thy coming, R. deliver us, O Lord. Through Thy nativity, R. deliver us, O Lord. Through Thy Baptism and holy fasting, R. deliver us, O Lord. Through Thy Cross and Passion, R. deliver us, O Lord. Through Thy Death and Burial, R. deliver us, O Lord. Through Thy Holy Resurrection, R. deliver us, O Lord. Through Thy wondrous Ascension, R. deliver us, O Lord. Through the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, In the day of judgment, R. deliver us, O Lord.
SUPPLICATION FOR VARIOUS NEEDS
We sinners, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst spare us, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst pardon us, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst bring us to true repentance, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst govern and preserve Thy Holy Church, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst preserve the Bishop of the Apostolic See, and all orders of the Church in holy religion, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst humble the enemies of Holy Church, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst grant peace and true concord to Christian kings and princes, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst grant peace and unity to all Christian peoples R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst call back to the unity of the Church all who have strayed from her fold, and to guide all unbelievers into the light of the Gospel R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst confirm and preserve us in Thy holy service, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst lift up our minds to heavenly desires, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst render eternal blessing to all our benefactors, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst deliver our souls and the souls of our brethren, relations and benefactors from eternal damnation, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst grant and preserve the fruits of the earth, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst grant eternal rest to all the faithful departed, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. That Thou wouldst graciously hear us, R. we beseech Thee, hear us.
Son of God, R. we beseech Thee, hear us. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, R. spare us, O Lord. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, R. graciously hear us, O Lord. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, R. have mercy on us. Christ, R. hear us. Christ, R. graciously hear us. Kyrie, eleison. R. Kyrie, eleison. Kyrie, eleison. R. Kyrie, eleison. Christe, eleison. R. Christe, eleison. Christe, eleison. R. Christe, eleison. Kyrie, eleison. R. Kyrie, eleison. Kyrie, eleison. R. Kyrie, eleison.
Our Father (in silence until) And lead us not into temptation, R. but deliver us from evil.
V. O God, come to my assistance; R. O Lord, make haste to help me. V. Let them be confounded and ashamed; R. those who seek my life. V. Let them be rebuffed and disgraced, R. those who wish me evil. V. Let them be turned away blushing for shame, R. those who say unto me: Aha! Aha!. But let all those who seek Thee: R. rejoice and be glad in Thee. And may they always say: “Great is the Lord”, R. all those who delight in Thy salvation. V. But I am afflicted and poor , R. O God, help me. Thou art my helper and deliverer, R. O Lord, do not delay. Amen. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. V. Save Thy servants. R. My God, who hope in Thee. V. Be unto us, O Lord, a tower of strength. R. In the face of the enemy.
V. Let not the enemy prevail against us. R. Nor the son of iniquity have power to harm us. . V. O Lord, deal not with us according to our sins. R. Nor render unto us according to our sins.
V. Let us pray for our Sovereign Pontiff Holy Father Pope Francis.
R. That The Lord preserve him and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies. V. Let us pray for our benefactors. R. Deign to grant, O Lord, for the sake of Thy Name, eternal life to all those who do good to us. V. Let us pray for the faithful departed. R. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon them.
R. Amen. V. May they rest in peace. R. Amen. V. For our absent brethren. R. Save Thy servants who hope in Thee, O my God. V. Send them help, O Lord, from Thy holy place. R. And from Sion protect them.
V. O Lord, hear my prayer. R. And let my cry come unto Thee. V. The Lord be with you. R. And with thy spirit.
Collects: Let us pray:
O God, Whose property is always to have mercy and to spare, receive our petition; that we and all Thy servants who are bound by the chain of sin may, by the compassion of Thy goodness mercifully be absolved.
Graciously hear, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the prayers of Thy supplicants and pardon the sins of those who confess to Thee: that in Thy bounty Thou mayest grant us both pardon and peace. In Thy clemency, O Lord, show unto us Thine ineffabile mercy; that Thou mayest both free us from sins and deliver us from the punishments which we deserve for them.
O God, who by sin art offended, and by penance appeased, mercifully regard the prayers of Thy people making supplication to Thee; and turn away the scourges of Thy wrath which we deserve for our sins.
Almighty and everlasting God, have mercy upon Thy servant, N, our Sovereign Pontiff: and direct him according to Thy clemency into the way of everlasting salvation: that, by Thy grace, he may desire those things which are pleasing to Thee, and accomplish them with all his strength.
O God, from Whom are holy desires, right counsels, and just works: grant to Thy servants the peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be devoted to the keeping of Thy commandments, and that, being removed from the fear of our enemies, our times may be peaceful through Thy protection.
Inflame, O Lord, with the fire of the Holy Spirit, our hearts and our desires; that we may serve Thee with a chaste body and please Thee with a clean heart.
O God, the Creator and redeemer of all the faithful, grant to the souls of Thy departed servants the remission of all their sins; that through pious supplications they may obtain the pardon they have always desired.
Direct, we beseech Thee, O Lord, our actions by Thy holy inspirations and carry them on by Thy gracious assistance; that every prayer and work of ours may always begin with Thee and through Thee be happily ended.
Almighty and everlasting God, Who hast dominion over the living and the dead, and art merciful to all whom Thou foreknowest shall be Thine by faith and good works: we humbly beseech Thee; that they for whom we intend to pour forth our prayers, whether this present world still detains them in the flesh, or the world to come has already received them out of their bodies, may, through the intercession of all Thy Saints, and in Thy compassionate goodness, obtain the pardon of all their sins. Through Christ our Lord.
The Lord be with you. R. And with Thy spirit.
R. Amen. V. May the almighty and most merciful Lord graciously hear us. R. Amen.
R. Amen. V. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. R. Amen.
In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.
Amen. Prayer of Pius XII for France (1937)
Mère céleste, Notre-Dame, vous qui avez donné à cette nation tant de gages insignes de votre prédilection, implorez pour elle votre divin Fils ; ramenez-la au berceau spirituel de son antique grandeur. Aidez-la à recouvrer, sous la lumineuse et douce étoile de la Foi et de la vie chrétienne, sa félicité passée. Regina pacis ! Oh ! Oui ! Soyez vraiment au milieu de ce peuple qui est vôtre la Reine de la paix, écrasez de votre pied virginal le démon de la haine et de la discorde. Faites comprendre au monde, où tant d’âmes droites s’évertuent à édifier le temple de la paix, le secret qui seul assurera le succès de leurs efforts : établir au centre de ce temple le trône royal de votre divin Fils et rendre hommage à sa loi sainte, en laquelle la justice et l’amour s’unissent en un chaste baiser. Et que par Vous la France, fidèle à sa vocation, soutenue dans son action par la puissance de la prière, par la concorde dans la charité, par une ferme et indéfectible vigilance, exalte dans le monde le triomphe et le Règne du Christ, Prince de la Paix, Roi des rois et Seigneur des seigneurs.
In Holy Week, we edge ever closer to the Paschal Mystery that begins on Maundy Thursday and does not end until the joy of Easter Morning. Or, more rightly, the joy that never ends. The Paschal Mystery is always present on our altars. Christ deigns to give us all of the glory and drama of those frightful, baffling, sacred days in the course of every single Mass. The reverse is also true. Our meditation on the events of the first Holy Week must be impregnated by a sense of the profound Eucharisticity of it all. Everywhere, be it in the shadowed garden or the iniquitous court or the clamorous street or the desolate mount where Our Lord died, we discover hints of Eucharistic air. We cannot approach these scenes without catching a whiff of incense.
This scent of paradise would seem to waft from the very wounds of Christ as from the most fragrant flowers on earth. For they are the vessels of the new creation, the blooms of the new Eden, and the stars in the new Heaven. If we would have an idea of paradise, we must study the shape and depth and hue and feel and – in the Eucharist – the taste of these wounds. They are our gates to Heaven. They are our safe passage through the sea of tohu-va-bohu, the chaos of this sinful world. Yet, one must not carry the comparison too far. If the Israelites reached the Mountain of God kept dry of the waters of the Red Sea, the Christian must do quite the opposite. He finds God by drowning in that very different red sea, Christ’s Precious Blood. He must die there in that flood, just as His Savior did. But this death brings new life – and that everlasting.
It is thus the peculiar mission of the Christian soul to devote herself to the Holy Wounds. Few devotions are more perfect, for few are so closely bound to the very quick and marrow of our salvation. Indeed, devotion to the Holy Wounds is little more than devotion to Christ precisely as Redeemer of Mankind, and thus as our Prophet, Priest, and King, as Victim and Altar, as the Word Incarnate – in short, to Christ Himself.
It also inevitably means devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. All of the Holy Wounds remind us of the Blessed Sacrament. We find them there, on the altar, and we discover the shadow of the tabernacle falling over each wound in turn.
Anyone who has seen the Medieval materials produced around this devotion (including the flag of the doomed and valorous Pilgrimage of Grace) will know that, typically, there were five Holy Wounds: two feet, two hands, and heart. One could bring this count up to six if the wound in the side were considered separately from the heart. Yet St. Bernard of Clairvaux suggests there is another wound, rarely depicted, that gave Our Lord exquisite dolors unrecognized by men. Once, in conversation with Jesus, the Mellifluous Doctor asked him about his greatest unrecorded suffering. Jesus answered,
“I had on My Shoulder while I bore My Cross on the Way of Sorrows, a grievous Wound that was more painful than the others, and which is not recorded by men. Honor this Wound with thy devotion, and I will grant thee whatsoever thou dost ask through its virtue and merit. And in regard to all those who shall venerate this Wound, I will remit to them all their venial sins and will no longer remember their mortal sins.”
From the Annals of Clairvaux
A prayer to the Holy Shoulder Wound, bearing the imprimatur of Thomas D. Beaven, Bishop of Springfield, has circulated on the internet. It reads:
O most loving Jesus, meek lamb of God, I, a miserable sinner, salute and worship the most sacred Wound of Thy Shoulder on which Thou didst bear Thy heavy Cross, which so tore Thy flesh and laid bare Thy bones as to inflict on Thee an anguish greater than any other wound of Thy most blessed body. I adore Thee, O Jesus most sorrowful; I praise and glorify Thee, and give Thee thanks for this most sacred and painful Wound, beseeching Thee by that exceeding pain, and by the crushing burden of Thy heavy Cross, to be merciful to me, a sinner, and to forgive me all my mortal and venial sins, and to lead me on toward Heaven along the Way of the Cross. Amen.
Prayer to the Holy Shoulder Wound
All the wounds of Jesus teach us something of his Eucharistic life. The wounds and the Blessed Sacrament are mutually illuminating. If we would understand the Eucharist, we can look to the wounds; if we desire to penetrate those wounds more deeply, we must adore and receive the Eucharist. This can be seen in each of the typical wounds. The feet remind us of the absolute fixity as well as the global universality of the Blessed Sacrament. The hands remind us of Christ’s priesthood. The Wounds in the side and heart of Jesus speak to the burning charity which motivated the institution of the Sacrament as well as its generative power; along with Baptism, it makes mortal men into Sons of God.
The shoulder wound, however, tells us something different. It points to the veil of the Eucharist. It reminds us of the hiddenness of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. It is a silent and unseen wound, and it tells us about the silent and unseen God who becomes present for us, silently and invisibly, in the Eucharist. It was this wound, so St. Bernard tells us, that caused Our Lord such terrible pain in His Passion.
Consider the duty of the Christian soul towards this admirable wound. She must make reparation to the Father for this wound on the unblemished Son; she can only do this by uniting her own sorrows to His. She must prayerfully let the Holy Spirit mold her hidden suffering into the very likeness of the shoulder wound. No suffering is too great for this transfiguration, nor any soul too far gone in sin for this empowerment. All that is needed is a penitent heart, a sacramental life, and humble prayer before the Father. The Almighty is merciful, and His mercy comes to us through the Wounds of Jesus Christ. In fact, we find here one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith. If we would behold the mercy of the Father, we must look at the wounds of the Son – they are His mercy.
The Christian must burrow into them. We must bury ourselves in the wounds of Christ. We cannot be stingy with this self-offering. Every part of the soul belongs to God. The hidden wound of the shoulder reminds us that, even those parts we wish to keep away from the eyes of the world, those most interior sins, those most private sufferings, those darkest sorrows and temptations – all these unseen afflictions of body and soul – all must be given over to God. Nothing can remain outside His grasp. In the words of the Evangelist, “there is nothing hid which shall not become manifest, nor secret which shall not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17 DRA). It is fruitless to hide from God, just as it was when our first parents fled from His voice in the Garden. And so, the hidden wound of Christ reminds us that we will be judged, even as it offers us mercy.
These considerations must spur us to a more authentically Eucharistic life. We cannot hope to save ourselves. Christ has died for us, and to take on His dying life, we must cleave to the Blessed Sacrament. Acts of Reparation, Adoration, and frequent reception of communion are all ways to press our souls into the sacrifice of Christ.
In this sacred time of year, let us make a special effort to hallow the Holy Wounds in our heart, to unite our sufferings to those endured by our Savior, and to make reparation for the offenses that sin has wrought. And above all, let us praise God the Father Almighty, the author of these Holy Wounds, for His infinite mercy.
As a continuation of the Lenten Spirituality Series, here is a passage from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s The Glories of Mary. The Friday in Passiontide is the Church’s traditional commemoration of Our Lady’s seven sorrows; it is a fitting prelude to the divine suffering of her Son in Holy Week. I am particularly fond of St. Alphonsus, as he was one of the greatest mystics of the eighteenth century.
As Jesus is called the King of sorrows and the King of martyrs, because He suffered during, His life more than all other martyrs; so also is Mary with reason called the Queen of martyrs, having merited this title by suffering the most cruel martyrdom possible after that of her Son. Hence, with reason, was she called by Richard of Saint Lawrence, “the Martyr of martyrs”; and of her can the words of Isaias with all truth be said, “He will crown thee with a crown of tribulation;” that is to say, that that suffering itself, which exceeded the suffering of all the other martyrs united, was the crown by which she was shown to be the Queen of martyrs. That Mary was a true martyr cannot be doubted, as Denis the Carthusian, Pelbart, Catharinus, and others prove; for it is an undoubted opinion that suffering sufficient to cause death is martyrdom, even though death does not ensue from it. Saint John the Evangelist is revered as a martyr, though he did not die in the caldron of boiling oil, but he came out more vigorous than he went in. Saint Thomas says, “that to have the glory of martyrdom, it is sufficient to exercise obedience in its highest degree, that is to say, to be obedient unto death.” “Mary was a martyr,” says Saint Bernard, “not by the sword of the executioner, but by bitter sorrow of heart.” If her body was not wounded by the hand of the executioner, her blessed heart was transfixed by a sword of grief at the passion of her Son; grief which was sufficient to have caused her death, not once, but a thousand times. From this we shall see that Mary was not only a real martyr, but that her martyrdom surpassed all others; for it was longer than that of all others, and her whole life may be said to have been a prolonged death.
“The passion of Jesus,” as Saint Bernard says, “commenced with
His birth”. So also did Mary, in all things like unto her Son, endure her
martyrdom throughout her life. Amongst other significations of the name of Mary,
as Blessed Albert the Great asserts, is that of “a bitter sea.” Hence
to her is applicable the text of Jeremias : “great as the sea is thy
destruction.” For as the sea is all bitter and salt, so also was the life
of Mary always full of bitterness at the sight of the passion of the Redeemer,
which was ever present to her mind. “There can be no doubt, that,
enlightened by the Holy Ghost in a far higher degree than all the prophets, she,
far better than they, understood the predictions recorded by them in the sacred
Scriptures concerning the Messias.” This is precisely what the angel
revealed to St. Bridget; and he also added, `that the Blessed Virgin, even
before she became His Mother, knowing how much the Incarnate Word was to suffer
for the salvation of men, and compassionating this innocent Saviour, who was to
be so cruelly put to death for crimes not His own, even then began her great
Her grief was immeasurably increased when she became the Mother of this Saviour; so that at the sad sight of the many torments which were to be endured by her poor Son, she indeed suffered a long martyrdom, a martyrdom which lasted her whole life. This was signified with great exactitude to Saint Bridget in a vision which she had in Rome, in the church of Saint Mary Major, where the Blessed Virgin with Saint Simeon, and an angel bearing a very long sword, reddened with blood, appeared to her, denoting thereby the long, and bitter grief which transpierced the heart of Mary during her whole life. When the above named Rupert supposes Mary thus speaking: “Redeemed souls, and my beloved children, do not pity me only for the hour in which I beheld my dear Jesus expiring before my eyes; for the sword of sorrow predicted by Simeon pierced my soul during the whole of my life: when I was giving suck to my Son, when I was warming Him in my arms, I already foresaw the bitter death that awaited Him. Consider, then, what long and bitter sorrows I must have endured.”
Wherefore Mary might well say, in the words of David, “My life is wasted
with grief, and my years in sighs.” “My sorrow is continually before
me.” “My whole life was spent in sorrow and in tears; for my sorrow,
which was compassion for my beloved Son, never departed from before my eyes, as
I always foresaw the sufferings and death which He was one day to endure.”
The Divine Mother herself revealed to Saint Bridget, that “even after the
death and ascension of her Son, whether she ate, or worked, the remembrance of
His passion was ever deeply impressed on her mind, and fresh in her tender
heart”. Hence Tauler says, “that the most Blessed Virgin spent her
whole life in continual sorrow;” for her heart was always occupied with
sadness and with suffering.
Therefore time, which usually mitigates the sorrows of the afflicted, did not relieve Mary; nay, even it increased her sorrow; for, as Jesus, on the one hand, advanced in age, and always appeared more and more beautiful and amiable; so also, on the other hand, the time of His death always drew nearer, and grief always increased in the heart of Mary, at the thought of having to lose Him on earth. So that, in the words addressed by the angel to Saint Bridget: “As the rose grows up amongst thorns, so the Mother of God advanced in years in the midst of sufferings; and as the thorns increase with the growth of the rose, so also did the thorns of her sorrows increase in Mary, the chosen rose of the Lord, as she advanced in age; and so much the more deeply did they pierce her heart.