“Jesus Christ will be in agony until the end of the world” – Blaise Pascal
“We shall not be blamed for not having worked miracles, or for not having been theologians, or not having been rapt in divine visions. But we shall certainly have to give an account to God of why we have not unceasingly mourned.” – St John Climacus
Recently I have had occasion to consider the role of joy in the Christian life. While I don’t believe that any particular emotions as such are intrinsic to Christianity, I sometimes feel that there is in the Church’s culture a kind of low-level idolatry of affective joy that makes it a good in itself and, more poisonously, demonizes those who do not share in it. This rather shallow (and ultimately false) view of joy as relentless and mandatory happiness has at times eclipsed the demands of the Cross, and has little to offer the suffering, the infirm, the distressed, the depressed, the sorrowful, the anxious, and the temperamentally gloomy. Are they to be excluded from heaven if they cannot force a smile? This soft and implicit Pelagianism of the emotions is a greater discouragement to souls than an honest reckoning with the sorrows of life and the terrible demands of the Cross.
So, I thought I would put down a few very brief meditations on true and false joy. I would not wish to speak in absolute and general terms, but rather, out of the fullness of my heart, and all that I – a mere layman – have gleaned from seven years in the faith, the reading of Scripture, and the study of the Church’s spiritual history.
St. Paul tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit; he does not promise us that we shall have all those fruits at all times, or that they grow in us for own profit alone. If I may alter the metaphor a bit for illustrative purposes (without in any way denying the truth St. Paul teaches), I would say that joy is the flower, and not the root or the fruit, of the Christian life as such. It is chiefly given to us by God so that we might advance His Kingdom. Like the pleasant blooms of spring, joy is meant to attract souls who do not yet know the grace of God, and thereby to spread the life of the spirit. As soon as we have it, we must give it away. It is like an ember in our hands – giving light and heat, but liable to burn us if we hold on to it. For who are we to keep it, we who are nothing? And so, we should not be surprised if even this true joy is fleeting, and given to us only in rare occasions as a special grace. For the joy of God is not like the joy of the world. The former is rare as gold, and the latter as common as fool’s gold.
And as fool’s gold will not purchase what true gold can buy, so does a false joy fail in this paramount duty of conversion. We should not force ourselves to seem happier than we really are; a certain virtuous attempt at good cheer in the face of sorrow is always welcome, and we generally should not air our griefs too freely. I believe this virtue, built upon a detachment from our worldly disposition, is what the Apostle refers to when he tells us to “Rejoice always.” But let us not delude ourselves into thinking that this human cheer can ever compare with the supernatural joy that comes only from God, and which many just souls have not been granted. To do so approaches dishonesty, both to ourselves and to our neighbor. Let us not pretend that our faith cheers us more than it really does; let us instead recognize that it promises us suffering, and a yoke that, though light, is nevertheless still a yoke. And under that yoke, someone else will lead us where we do not wish to go.
Joy is only true if it comes from, is ordered to, and brings us back to the Cross. The joy that God gives is always stained with the Precious Blood. But even then, we are not entitled even to this joy in our present life; rather, we are given the Cross as our inheritance. For what is the world if not a land of false joys? They come from nothing, they come to nothing; in their essence, they are nothing. Well and truly does the Sage condemn it all as vanity. Well and truly does the Psalmist speak of it as “the valley of the shadow of death.” Well and truly do we address the Mother of God from “this valley of tears.” We can do no other.
This life of the Cross is a gradual annihilation – what the French call anéantissement – a fearsome but salutary tutelage in humility and in the growing recognition of our own nothingness. To live and die on the Cross is to say every day with St. John the Baptist that “He must increase, I must decrease.” Yet how hard this is! We lose sight of the fact that at the end, when we are nothing again, we can grasp the God who is No-Thing, the One who is beyond the traps, illusions, trinkets, clutter, disappointments, and, indeed, the joys of this world. We efface ourselves now so we may one day face Him. We mourn our sins today so we may rejoice in attaining God on the last day.
That is the true joy of the Cross – that, in mounting it, we can see God. But how rare is such a grace in this life! Most of us are caught up into the business of the world. Most of our lives are a long distraction. Most of us will only achieve the vision of God after the sorrows of this life and the pains of purgatory. And so, let us never forget that to be a Christian is to let Christ suffer and die in us, so that one day, we too may rise with Him.
The rather romantic image of St. Philip Neri as always laughing, joking, and cheerful is a far cry from reality, as anyone who has immersed himself in the saint’s biographies and hagiographies will know. St. Philip, well-versed in the spirituality of the Desert Fathers, displayed a profound and salutary disillusionment with the charms of the world. Well did he know the verse that reads, “Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
St. Philip expressed this mépris du monde in a little-known song based on famous verses in Ecclesiastes. It is one of the few writings allegedly from his hand to have been preserved. While the attribution remains uncertain, the opinions expressed below conform to the Maxims of the Saint, especially his frequent attempts to provoke thoughts of death. He was known to approach worldly young men and ask what they desired. At each answer, he would like Socrates say, “And then? And then?” leading eventually on to death. At which point, many souls realized the vanity of their desires and subsequently converted. St. Philip also used to say, “The things of this world do not remain constantly with us, for if we do not leave them before we actually die, in death at least we all infallibly depart as empty-handed as we came.” And he exhorts all Christian souls, “We must not be behind time in doing good; for death will not be behind his time.”
The song can be found in an appendix to Fr. Faber’s English translation of The School of Saint Philip Neri by Giuseppe Crispino, whence I have transcribed it. The original Italian text may be seen there as well. I offer it here to my readers who many not have access to this rather obscure book for their edification and private devotions to the Saint.
Recently I got in a small argument on Twitter about the exact nature of Jansenist rigorism. It was pointed out by a friend, citing the estimable work of John J. Conley SJ, that Mère Angélique strictly forbade instruction in singing and dancing at the Port-Royal schools. Her comments on this point, taken from a letter to Madame de Bellisi, are as follows:
Singing, however innocent people like to find it, is very corrupt in its charming words, which are full of poison beneath their decent appearance. The same problem exists in simple airs where a false joy and foolishness are found. As for dancing, beyond its evil there is madness. Finally, my dear sister, according to the laws of the gospel, the morals of Christians must be as pure as they were at the beginning of the church.
Mère Angélique Arnauld, Abbess of Port-Royal Quoted in John Conley, Adoration and Annihilation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009) pg. 87
Conley goes on to point out that this attitude represents the rigorist discipline of the Jansenists, especially in contrast to the Jesuit schools where theatre, song, and dance were important elements of the curriculum.
He’s not wrong. Certainly, the Abbess’s words on singing are a bit severe, to put it mildly. Yet while Conley does a good job setting this opinion in the context of the seventeenth-century French church, he fails to consider the broader and deeper context of Catholic moral teaching. This point matters insofar as it helps us assess the extent to which we can actually classify Jansenists – and the Port-Royal community in particular – as “rigorists.” What was the traditional teaching of the Fathers, Doctors, Saints, and Councils on dancing? Can we discern a general stream of teaching here? If so, what does it say, and how does it compare with the teaching of Mère Angélique?
To make a tentative answer to this question, I have compiled a brief florilegium of quotes on dancing. Where I have specific textual citations, I have included them. I will also preface this florilegium by saying that I don’t necessarily agree with these authorities in all cases. I am not a Puritan at heart – though I did once play Reverend Shaw More in a High School production of Footloose. Quite apart from that, there is a problematic gender dynamic here; the authorities quoted below are much more attentive to women dancing than men (though once again, this is perhaps one reason that Mère Angélique, a learned nun responsible for the moral instruction of an early modern Catholic girls’ school, took the position she did). The point here is to ascertain whether or not the position of Mère Angélique was a reasonable interpretration of longstanding Catholic teachings, or whether it was a truly “rigorist” aberration and an innovation with heretical tendencies.
With those caveats, let us begin.
The Fathers of the Church
“For there are excessive banquetings, and subtle flutes which provoke to lustful movements, and useless and luxurious anointings, and crowning with garlands. With such a mass of evils do you banish shame; and ye fill your minds with them, and are carried away by intemperance, and indulge as a common practice in wicked and insane fornication.” – St. Justin Martyr, Discourse to the Greeks, Ch. IV
“Since, then, all passionate excitement is forbidden us, we are debarred from every kind of spectacle.” – Tertullian, The Shows, Ch. XVI
“Are we not, in like manner, enjoined to put away from us all immodesty? On this ground, again, we are excluded from the theatre, which is immodesty’s own peculiar abode, where nothing is in repute but what elsewhere is disreputable.” – Tertullian, The Shows, Ch. XVII. While this florilegium will not go deeply into the (extensive) Patristic condemnation of the theater, I will note that the nuns and solitaires of Port-Royal also adhered to this neglected teaching. Their position caused some tensions with one of their most famous students, the celebrated playwright Jean Racine.
“Now the pomp of the devil is the madness of theaters and horse-races, and hunting, and all such vanity: from which that holy man praying to be delivered says unto God, Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. Be not interested in the madness of the theatre, where thou wilt behold the wanton gestures of the players, carried on with mockeries and all unseemliness, and the frantic dancing of effeminate men.” – St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 19.6
“Whence comes the dance? Who has taught it to Christians? Truly, neither Peter, nor Paul, nor John, nor any man filled with the Spirit of God; but the hellish dragon!” – St. Ephrem the Syrian
“With unkempt hair, clothed in bodices and hopping about, they dance with lustful eyes and loud laughter; as if seized by a kind of frenzy they excite the lust of the youths…With harlots’ songs they pollute the air and sully the degraded earth with their feet in shameful postures.” – St. Basil of Caesarea
“There ought then to be the joy of the mind, conscious of right, not excited by unrestrained feasts, or nuptial concerts, for in such modesty is not safe, and temptation may be suspected where excessive dancing accompanies festivities. I desire that the virgins of God should be far from this. For as a certain teacher of this world has said: “No one dances when sober unless he is mad.” Now if, according to the wisdom of this world, either drunkenness or madness is the cause of dancing, what a warning is given to us amongst the instances mentioned in the Divine Scriptures, where John, the forerunner of Christ, being beheaded at the wish of a dancer, is an instance that the allurements of dancing did more harm than the madness of sacrilegious anger.” – St. Ambrose, Concerning Virgins, Book III, Ch. 5.25
“What say you, holy women? Do you see what you ought to teach, and what also to unteach your daughters? She dances, but she is the daughter of an adulteress. But she who is modest, she who is chaste, let her teach her daughter religion, not dancing. And do you, grave and prudent men, learn to avoid the banquets of hateful men. If such are the banquets, what will be the judgment of the impious?” – St. Ambrose, Concerning Virgins, Book III, Ch. 6.31.
“Our rest is from evil works, theirs from good; for it is better to plough than to dance.” – St. Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 92, Paragraph 2.
“Avoid also indecent spectacles: I mean the theatres and the pomps of the heathens; their enchantments, observations of omens, soothsayings, purgations, divinations, observations of birds; their necromancies and invocations….. You are also to avoid their public meetings, and those sports which are celebrated in them….. Abstain, therefore, from all idolatrous pomp and state, all their public meetings, banquets, duels, and all shows belonging to demons.” – Apostolic Constitutions, Book II, Paragraph 62.
“For where dancing is, there is the evil one. For neither did God give us feet for this end, but that we may walk orderly: not that we may behave ourselves unseemly, not that we may jump like camels.” – St. John Chyrsostom, Homily 48 on St. Matthew’s Gospel, Ch. IV.
“Christians, when they attend weddings, must not join in wanton dances, but modestly dine or breakfast, as is becoming to Christians.” – Council of Laodicea, Canon LIII
“Since therefore the more these things contribute to usefulness and honor in the Church of God, so the more zealously must they be observed, the holy council ordains that those things which have in the past been frequently and wholesomely enacted by the supreme pontiffs and holy councils concerning adherence to the life, conduct, dress, and learning of clerics, as also the avoidance of luxury, feastings, dances, gambling, sports, and all sorts of crime and secular pursuits, shall in the future be observed under the same or greater penalties to be imposed at the discretion of the ordinary.” – Council of Trent, Session XXII, Decree Concerning Reform, Ch. I
While I have not been able to find the specific quotes from medieval councils, I appeal to historian Ralph G. Giordano, who has helpfully summarized high medieval ecclesiastical discipline on this matter. He writes, “Actually, during the thirteenth century, all social dancing as part of religious ritual was eliminated from the Catholic Church. In 1215, the Lateran Council declared ‘lascivious’ dancing a sin requiring confession to a parish priest. In 1227, the Council of Trier specifically excluded ‘three-step and ring dances.’ Similar edicts were issued by the Synod of Cahors (1206), the bishop of Paris (1209), a Hungarian church council (1279), and the Council of Wurzburg (1298). All the edicts upheld the common decision to prohibit dancing in any churchyards, the churches, or as part of religious processions” (See Giordano, pp. 49-50).
Early Modern Saints
“Dancing, so dangerous to Christian morals, should be banished entirely by the faithful, as it originates many sins against purity, and causes extravagances, evil deeds, and assassinations.” – St. Charles Borromeo
Another saint who will appear later in this list also notes that St. Charles Borromeo once gave someone (probably a cleric) a penance for dancing that lasted three years, and said he would excommunicate the sinner if he ever danced again.
“Believe me, my daughter, these frivolous amusements [balls and dances] are for the most part dangerous; they dissipate the spirit of devotion, enervate the mind, check true charity, and arouse a multitude of evil inclinations in the soul, and therefore I would have you very reticent in their use.” – St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Ch. XXXIII. I have discussed St. Francis’s notable aversion towards dancing before.
I could certainly end my florilegium here and prove the point. However, for good measure, let’s continue to see if Port-Royal represents a particularly rigorous vision of dancing even in light of subsequent Catholic development.
St. Louis de Montfort, who clashed with the Jansenists in his own day, managed to agree with the Abbess of Port-Royal on this point. He writes, “Soldiers join together in an army to overcome their enemies; wicked people often get together for parties of debauchery and dancing, and evil spirits join forces in order to make us lose our souls.” – St. Louis de Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary, Forty-Sixth Rose.
In the very same chapter, the Saint continues, “Before the Holy Rosary took root in these small towns and villages, dances and parties of debauchery went on all the time; dissoluteness, wantonness, blasphemy, quarrels, and feuds flourished.” He takes it as self-evident that dancing is an occasion of sin.
But lest we fall into the trap of attributing this attitude merely to Gallic severity, let us turn our eyes south to Naples. When we consider that famously anti-Jansenist (even allegedly laxist!) moral theologian and Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus Liguori, what do we find?
“Parents should prohibit their children from all games, which bring destruction on their families and on their own souls, and also dances, suggestive entertainment, and certain dangerous conversations and parties of pleasures. A father should remove from his house books of romances, which pervert young persons, and all bad books which contain pernicious maxims, tales of obscenity, or of profane love.” – St. Alphonsus Liguori, “Letter to Parents”
St. Anthony Mary Claret, by no means a Jansenist, claimed that “The Devil invented balls for girls to be lost, and extended them throughout the world like an immense net in order to catch the young people and submit them to his tyrannical domination.”
And returning to France, we come to the Curé d’Ars. What has this patron of parish priests, this great and ever-to-be-esteemed shepherd of souls, this jewel of the ultramontane church to say on our chosen subject?
St. Jean-Marie Vianney was absolutely resolute in his opposition to dancing of any kind. He even set up a statue of St. John the Baptist under an arch in his church, whereat he painted the words, “My head was the price of a dance.” He preached against it vehemently on more than one occasion. I shall here select only one of many, many warnings he gave against dancing (which he seems to have taken as almost intrinsically sinful, given the number of sins to which it gave occasion) in his sermons.
“St. Augustine tells us that those who go to dances truly renounce Jesus Christ in order to give themselves to the Devil. What a horrible thing that is! To drive out Jesus Christ after having received Him in your hearts! “Today,” says St. Ephraim, “they unite themselves to Jesus Christ and tomorrow to the Devil.” Alas! What a Judas is that person who, after receiving our Lord, goes then to sell Him to Satan in these gatherings, where he will be reuniting himself with everything that is most vicious! And when it comes to the Sacrament of Penance, what a contradiction in such a life! A Christian, who after one single sin should spend the rest of his life in repentance, thinks only of giving himself up to all these worldly pleasures! A great many profane the Sacrament of Extreme Unction by making indecent movements with the feet, the hands and the whole body, which one day must be sanctified by the holy oils. Is not the Sacrament of Holy Order insulted by the contempt with which the instructions of the pastor are considered? But when we come to the Sacrament of Matrimony, alas! What infidelities are not contemplated in these assemblies? It seems then that everything is admissible. How blind must anyone be who thinks there is no harm in it…The Council of Aix-la-Chapelle forbids dancing, even at weddings. And St. Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan, says that three years of penance were given to someone who had danced and that if he went back to it, he was threatened with excommunication. If there were no harm in it, then were the Holy Fathers and the Church mistaken? But who tells you that there is no harm in it? It can only be a libertine, or a flighty and worldly girl, who are trying to smother their remorse of conscience as best they can. Well, there are priests, you say, who do not speak about it in confession or who, without permitting it, do not refuse absolution for it. Ah! I do not know whether there are priests who are so blind, but I am sure that those who go looking for easygoing priests are going looking for a passport which will lead them to Hell. For my own part, if I went dancing, I should not want to receive absolution not having a real determination not to go back to dancing…Alas! How many young people are there who since they have been going to dances do not frequent the Sacraments, or do so only to profane them! How many poor souls there are who have lost therein their religion and their faith! How many will never open their eyes to their unhappy state except when they are falling into Hell!” – St. Jean-Marie Vianney, a sermon against dancing.
Lest I be accused of failing to adequately account for the context of these disparate condemnations, I would note that the Catholic solution is almost always to say “both-and,” not “either-or.” We have seen the saints attack a wide variety of dances, including but not limited to a) pagan rituals, b) secular spectacles, c) dances in Church precincts, d) dancing in general, e) dancing at weddings, and f) dancing between young men and women. These are not mutually exclusive.
Once again, I don’t pretend to agree with all of these warnings. I have often enjoyed myself at dances. Morris Dancing was one of the most charming English customs I discovered when I moved to Oxford. I have very fond memories of going to the ballet, both as a child and as an adult. And I have written very highly of the artistic use of dance in, for example, The New Pope.
But the point at stake is not my opinion, but rather how we evaluate the Jansenists. Are Mère Angélique’s words in any way divergent from the spirit of these diverse condemnations? I should think that the only reasonable answer is no. The reforming Abbess of Port-Royal, ever the daughter of austere St. Bernard, may have seemed a rigorist in a century when this teaching was largely unfashionable. Keep in mind, too, that the abbey she reformed – Port-Royal des Champs – had for several decades before been known for its laxity, including an annual carnival ball. That past state of affairs shaped Angélique’s pastoral concern here, and if she over-reacted a bit (especially in her comments on singing), it was with the memory of her personal experience of those abuses.
But even keeping all that in mind, I can find nothing in her words about dancing that sets her apart from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. If we condemn her, how much more must we condemn the Curé d’Ars, so much closer to our own more tolerant age!
Conley’s book is very good. I don’t mean to dispute his broader argument. I am not even making a point principally addressed to academic historians of Jansenism, who will not be surprised by what they have read here. What I mean to suggest, however, is that in general we (Catholics at large) are too hasty to judge the Jansenists by anachronistic standards that do not actually conform to our own moral tradition, a tradition with elements that are genuinely more rigorous than the practice of Catholicism we know today. And a reconsideration of those elements – whether we end up adopting them or, in prudence, choose not to – is a helpful exercise in becoming more self-reflective and more historically-grounded as Catholics.
“Is it my will that a sinner should die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should be converted from his ways, and live?” – Ezekiel 18:23 DRA.
In Nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, Amen.
Stella Caeli extirpavit, quae lactavit Dominum: mortis pestem quam plantavit primus parens hominum. Ipsa stella nunc dignetur sidera compescere quorum bella plebem caedunt dirae mortis ulcere. O piisima Stella Maris, a peste succurre nobis. Audi nos, Domina, nam filius tuus nihil negans te honorat. Salva nos, Jesu, pro quibus virgo mater te orat.
Kyrie Eleison Christe Eleison Kyrie Eleison
God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, have mercy on us. God the Son, Redeemer of the World, have mercy on us. God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier and Vivifier of All Things, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, Mother God, pray for us. Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, pray for us. Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us. Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us. Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us. Our Lady, Salvation of the Roman People, pray for us. Our Lady, Star of the Sea, pray for us. Our Lady, Untier of Knots, pray for us. St. John the Baptist, pray for us. St. Joseph, pray for us. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us. St. Michael and All Angels, pray for us. St. Thecla, pray for us. St. Valerian, pray for us. St. Corona, pray for us. SS. Cosmas and Damian, pray for us. St. Zacharias of Jerusalem, pray for us. St. Roch, pray for us. St. Sebastian, pray for us. St. Christopher, pray for us. St. Adrian, pray for us. St. Blaise, pray for us. St. Macarius of Ghent, pray for us. St. Patrick, pray for us. St. Pantaleon, pray for us. St. Dymphna, pray for us. St. Rosalia, pray for us. St. Anthony of Egypt, pray for us. St. Benedict, pray for us. St. Gregory, pray for us. St. Bernardine of Siena, pray for us. St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us. St. Philip Neri, pray for us. St. John Nepomuk, pray for us. St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us. St. Camillus of Lellis, pray for us. St. Aloysius Gonzaga, pray for us. St. Damien of Molokai, pray for us. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, pray for us.
O Sacred Heart, Furnace of Charity, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord. Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord. Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
O Crux, ave spes unica hoc Passionis tempore! Piis adauge gratiam reisque dele crimina.
We beseech Thee O Lord, in Thy compassion, to turn away from Thy People Thy wrath, which indeed we deserve for our sins, but which in our human frailty we cannot endure; therefore embrace us with that tenderness which Thou art wont to bestow on the unworthy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
“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.
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.
On the 30th of March, 2013, I made the profession of faith at the Easter Vigil and received the sacraments of Confirmation and First Holy Communion from then-Bishop-Elect David Talley. I can still remember the night well. It was raining hard outside, and so we had to light the Paschal fire at the church door. We catechumens and confirmandi huddled in darkness while the rites began. It was a moment of profound holiness, and an Easter liturgy I will never forget.
Much has happened since that night. I am still a sinner, much as I was then. Perhaps I am a bit more aware of the fact, though. That’s a grace in itself. I have been a student, a pilgrim, and a devotee. I have made many friends in heaven and earth who have helped me along the way to God. I am grateful for every one of them, and I hope I have been able to do the same from time to time.
Ever since 2014, I have consecrated every year of my life as a Catholic to some Holy Person. My second year was dedicated to Our Lady, the third to the Holy Ghost, the fourth to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the fifth to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Keeping in this vein, I hereby consecrate my sixth year as a Catholic to the Most Chaste Heart of St. Joseph.
St. Joseph has been a great friend to me in the past, and has proven the power of his intercession on more than one occasion. I ask my readers to join me in praying now that St. Joseph will bless this coming year with abundant graces proper to my state of life, and especially an outpouring of those virtues which he so admirably exemplified: humility, purity, simplicity, detachment, submission to the will of God, reverence, and a constant, attentive devotion to Jesus and Mary.
SHOULD it happen sometimes, my daughter, that you have no taste for or consolation in your meditation, I entreat you not to be troubled, but seek relief in vocal prayer, bemoan yourself to our Lord, confess your unworthiness, implore His Aid, kiss His Image, if it be beside you, and say in the words of Jacob, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me;” or with the Canaanitish woman, “Yes, Lord, I am as a dog before Thee, but the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”
Or you can take a book, and read attentively till such time as your mind is calmed and quickened; or sometimes you may find help from external actions, such as prostrating yourself folding your hands upon your breast, kissing your Crucifix,—that is, supposing you are alone. But if, after all this, you are still unrelieved, do not be disturbed at your dryness, however great it be, but continue striving after a devout attitude in God’s Sight. What numbers of courtiers appear a hundred times at court without any hope of a word from their king, but merely to pay their homage and be seen of him. Just so, my daughter, we ought to enter upon mental prayer purely to fulfil our duty and testify our loyalty. If it pleases God’s Divine Majesty to speak to us, and discourse in our hearts by His Holy Inspirations and inward consolations, it is doubtless a great honour, and very sweet to our soul; but if He does not vouchsafe such favours, but makes as though He saw us not,—as though we were not in His Presence,—nevertheless we must not quit it, but on the contrary we must remain calmly and devoutly before Him, and He is certain to accept our patient waiting, and give heed to our assiduity and perseverance; so that another time He will impart to us His consolations, and let us taste all the sweetness of holy meditation. But even were it not so, let us, my child, be satisfied with the privilege of being in His Presence and seen of Him.
Here is an extremely amusing (and, in its own way, edifying) little chapter from Introduction to the Devout Life. I’ve only just encountered it by chance. It’s passages like this that rather make one understand why Evelyn Underhill summed up his teaching in the one line, “Yes, indeed, my dear Duchess, as Your Grace so truly observes, God is love.”
One can almost hear the Gentleman Saint sipping his tea at the end of each numbered item in the list below.
CHAPTER XXXIII. Of Balls, and other Lawful but Dangerous Amusements.
DANCES and balls are things in themselves indifferent, but the circumstances ordinarily surrounding them have so generally an evil tendency, that they become full of temptation and danger. The time of night at which they take place is in itself conducive to harm, both as the season when people’s nerves are most excited and open to evil impressions; and because, after being up the greater part of the night, they spend the mornings afterwards in sleep, and lose the best part of the day for God’s Service. It is a senseless thing to turn day into night, light into darkness, and to exchange good works for mere trifling follies. Moreover, those who frequent balls almost inevitably foster their Vanity, and vanity is very conducive to unholy desires and dangerous attachments.
I am inclined to say about balls what doctors say of certain articles of food, such as mushrooms and the like—the best are not good for much; but if eat them you must, at least mind that they are properly cooked. So, if circumstances over which you have no control take you into such places, be watchful how you prepare to enter them. Let the dish be seasoned with moderation, dignity and good intentions. The doctors say (still referring to the mushrooms), eat sparingly of them, and that but seldom, for, however well dressed, an excess is harmful.
So dance but little, and that rarely, my daughter, lest you run the risk of growing over fond of the amusement.
Pliny says that mushrooms, from their porous, spongy nature, easily imbibe meretricious matter, so that if they are near a serpent, they are infected by its poison. So balls and similar gatherings are wont to attract all that is bad and vicious; all the quarrels, envyings, slanders, and indiscreet tendencies of a place will be found collected in the ballroom. While people’s bodily pores are opened by the exercise of dancing, the heart’s pores will be also opened by excitement, and if any serpent be at hand to whisper foolish words of levity or impurity, to insinuate unworthy thoughts and desires, the ears which listen are more than prepared to receive the contagion.
Believe me, my daughter, these frivolous amusements are for the most part dangerous; they dissipate the spirit of devotion, enervate the mind, check true charity, and arouse a multitude of evil inclinations in the soul, and therefore I would have you very reticent in their use.
To return to the medical simile;—it is said that after eating mushrooms you should drink some good wine. So after frequenting balls you should frame pious thoughts which may counteract the dangerous impressions made by such empty pleasures on your heart.
Bethink you, then—
1. That while you were dancing, souls were groaning in hell by reason of sins committed when similarly occupied, or in consequence thereof.
2. Remember how, at the selfsame time, many religious and other devout persons were kneeling before God, praying or praising Him. Was not their time better spent than yours?
3. Again, while you were dancing, many a soul has passed away amid sharp sufferings; thousands and tens of thousands were lying all the while on beds of anguish, some perhaps untended, unconsoled, in fevers, and all manner of painful diseases. Will you not rouse yourself to a sense of pity for them? At all events, remember that a day will come when you in your turn will lie on your bed of sickness, while others dance and make merry.
4. Bethink you that our Dear Lord, Our Lady, all the Angels and Saints, saw all that was passing. Did they not look on with sorrowful pity, while your heart, capable of better things, was engrossed with such mere follies?
5. And while you were dancing time passed by, and death drew nearer. Trifle as you may, the awful dance of death must come, the real pastime of men, since therein they must, whether they will or no, pass from time to an eternity of good or evil. If you think of the matter quietly, and as in God’s Sight, He will suggest many a like thought, which will steady and strengthen your heart.