“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 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.
Earlier this week, I went to the Birmingham Oratory for the Feast of Bl. John Henry Newman. Fr. Ignatius Harrison, the Provost, was kind enough to open up the Oratory house to me. I must offer him my tremendous thanks for his hospitable willingness to let me see such an incredible (and, it must be said, holy) place. Likewise, I thank Br. Ambrose Jackson of the Cardiff Oratory for taking time out of his busy schedule to give me what was an extraordinarily memorable tour. I went away from the experience with a rekindled devotion to Cardinal Newman.
Your humble servant in Cardinal Newman’s own library. Photo taken by Br. Ambrose Jackson of the Cardiff Oratory. You can see Cardinal Newman’s violin case on the lower shelf of his standing desk at right.
There were many striking and beautiful sights at the Oratory – not the least of which was the Pontifical High Mass in the Usus Antiquior, celebrated by His Excellency, Bishop Robert Byrne. Even from so short an experience, I can tell that the Birmingham Oratory is one of the places where Catholicism is done well, where the Beauty of Holiness is made manifest for the edification of all the faithful. I walked away from that Mass feeling drawn upwards into something supernal, something far beyond my ken. This place that so palpably breathes the essence of Cardinal Newman is, as it were, an island of grace and recollection amidst a world—and, sadly, a Church—so often inimical to things of the spirit.
The Birmingham Oratory with the relics of the Blessed Cardinal displayed for veneration by the faithful. This photo was taken by the author shortly before Mass.
Yet amidst all this splendor, I found myself peculiarly drawn to one very quiet, very easy-to-miss relic. It lies in the little chapel to St. Philip Neri to the left of the altar; in this placement, one can see the influence of the Chiesa Nuova on Newman and his sons, who modeled their house’s customs on Roman models. And so it is only appropriate to find relics of St. Philip there in that small and holy place, so evocative of the great father’s final resting place.
The altar of St. Philip Neri, Birmingham Oratory. Photo taken by the author.
The collection of relics in the chapel are mostly second-class. These are not pieces of the body, but materials that touched St. Philip either in his life or after his death. One of these small items spoke to me in an especially strong way.
The little grey pouch you see to the left is St. Philip’s spectacle case. There is nothing terribly remarkable about it. It may not even be entirely intact, for all I know. A visible layer of dust covers the case, and a hard-to-read, handwritten label is all that identifies its use and provenance. No one comes to the Birmingham Oratory to see what once held St. Philip’s glasses. But of all the glorious relics I saw that day —some encrusted in gold, some taken from rare and holy men, some evoking the perilous lives of saints who lived in a more heroic age—it was this humble artifact that most fired my imagination.
A spectacle case is no great thing. It does not shift the balance of empires or change the course of history. But humility and nobility are close cousins all the same. Here we come upon St. Philip in his quotidian life. A saint so marvelously strange, so crammed with the supernatural, so flame-like in darting from one miracle to another, nevertheless bent his fingers to the perfectly ordinary task of opening this case and taking out his spectacles so that he might see just a little better. It is a true maxim that grace builds upon nature. We have been told of St. Philip’s many graces. Here we find him in his nature; frail and imperfect and in need of just a little aid, so like our own.
The supernatural never erases the natural, and God is never more glorified than in our weakness. The hands that took up this case and opened it and drew forth its contents, perhaps a little fumblingly from time to time, are the very same thaumaturgic hands that lifted a prince out of death and Hell so that he might make his final confession. We know the story of the miracle. How rarely do we ponder the everyday conditions of its operation! How rarely do we consider those hands in their ordinary life.
There is a tendency with St. Philip—as with many saints, and with Our Lord Himself—to reduce his life to one or two features. Some would make him an avuncular chap, always happy to laugh and thoroughly pleasant to be around, a jokester, a picture of joy and friend to all. On the other hand, we can get lost in the extraordinarily colorful miracles that mark St. Philip’s life, losing him in a fog of pious pictures and pablum. Neither captures his essence. The true middle way is to maintain a healthy sense of the bizarre—an approach that recognizes the extraordinary in-breaking of the supernatural precisely because it appreciates the ordinary material of St. Philip’s day-to-day existence. It was this view that Fr. Ignatius himself recommended, though perhaps with a greater emphasis on the “weird,” in his homily delivered last St. Philip’s day.
I was reminded of this double reality when I saw St. Philip’s spectacle case. Prosaic relics carry this two-fold life within them more vividly than those upon which our ancestors’ piety has elaborated in glass and gold. Even Cardinal Newman’s violin case is not so markedly dual in this way; after all, every instrument belongs to that human portion of the supernatural we call “art.” Music, paintings, and other aesthetic forms all lift the human soul out of itself and into another world. In some ways, they are cousins both to Our Lady and to the Sacraments, God’s masterpieces of the sensible creation. Yet a spectacle case—how utilitarian. How plain. How merely functional. There is no poetry in a spectacle case. One can imagine writing a poem about a violin—the sinuous form of the wood almost suggests it, and more so when it carries a connection with so great a man as Newman—but a spectacle case? Drab as this one is, its beauty comes only from the story it tells, from the life it once served, from the little help it gave its owner in his acquisition of beatitude.
Too often we wish to be God’s violins. In our quest for holiness, we wish to be admired, to cast our voice abroad, to give and seek beauty. These are not necessarily unworthy goals. But they are not the most important thing. Too infrequently do we turn our mind to the spectacle case. All too rarely do we seek our holiness in the gentle, quiet, everyday task of being useful, unnoticed, and present to God precisely when He needs us.
St. Philip knew how to be both, when he needed to be. May we learn to be like him in this as in so many respects.
The effigy of Holy Father Philip, Chapel of St. Philip Neri, Birmingham Oratory. Photo taken by author.
Bl. John Henry Newman, Doctor of Conscience and Doctor of Tradition, remains one of my dear friends in Heaven. Some of his prayers and devotions are as puissant today as they were when they were first composed. I am consoled by and draw courage from this extended passage of the Meditations and Devotions:
I have always thought this portrait captures the humanity and essential kindness of Cardinal Newman. (Source)
GODhas created all things for good; all things for their greatest good; everything for its own good. What is the good of one is not the good of another; what makes one man happy would make another unhappy. God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it me.
God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him.
Let us put ourselves into His hands, and not be startled though He leads us by a strange way, amirabilis via, as the Church speaks. Let us be sure He will lead us right, that He will bring us to that which is, not indeed whatwethink best, nor what is best for another, but what is best for us.
O, my God, I will put myself without reserve into Thy hands. Wealth or woe, joy or sorrow, friends or bereavement, honour or humiliation, good report or ill report, comfort or discomfort, Thy presence or the hiding of Thy countenance, all is good if it comes from Thee. Thou art wisdom and Thou art love—what can I desire more? Thou hast led me in Thy counsel, and with glory hast Thou received me. What have I in heaven, and apart from Thee what want I upon earth? My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the God of my heart, and my portion for ever.
God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. Ishall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.
O Adonai, O Ruler of Israel, Thou that guidest Joseph like a flock, O Emmanuel, O Sapientia, I give myself to Thee. I trust Thee wholly. Thou art wiser than I—more loving to me than I myself. Deign to fulfil Thy high purposes in me whatever they be—work in and through me. I am born to serve Thee, to be Thine, to be Thy instrument. Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see—I ask not to know—I ask simply to be used.
One of my favorite essays to write on this blog so far has been my study of the way that St. Philip Neri embodied certain Benedictine qualities. In that piece, I argue that sometimes we can gain a deeper understanding of a saint by looking at their likenesses with saints of a different religious family or by the influence of other saints in their lives. As an extension of that essay, I’d like to introduce my readers to a Venerable whom they have probably never heard of, one who followed St. Philip in a very Benedictine spirit: the Venerable Serafina di Dio, O.C.D.
Ven. Serafina di Dio (1621-1699), Neapolitan Carmelite mystic. (Source)
The Life of a Mystic
Prudenza Pisa was born in the Kingdom of Naples in 1621. She clashed with her father at a young age when she refused to marry the young man he had chosen as her husband. She also cut her hair and donned pentiental garb. These actions did not go over well, and she soon found herself expelled from the household. Prudenza resided during this rather fraught period in what was essentially the family chicken coop. Yet she grew closer to her mother, who brought her meals secretly. Prudenza saw these sufferings as an opportunity for growth in trust of God. She also set herself to the good works of visiting the sick. In the Neapolitan Plagues of 1656, she continued her ministry even as the illness claimed her beloved mother. Her behavior at this terrible juncture was edifying:
Seraphina prepared her mother for death and actually closed her eyes when she died on August 5th 1656. Christian burial was not allowed during the plague. With her own hands, she dug a shallow grave in the backyard and personally buried her mother.
Yet her active life was soon to draw to a close. One of her uncles, a prominent priest, died of the same plague. He had been planning to found a convent of enclosed nuns on Capri. She carried on this noble work after his departure. She gathered together various companions from Naples and, on 29th of May, 1661, took the habit of the Discalced Carmelites at Naples Cathedral. It was then that she took the name of Serafina of God. Later that year, the community moved to Capri. Their residence soon proved inadequate, and they constructed a much larger monastery dedicated to the Most Holy Savior. Mother Serafina’s leadership bore fruit in another six Carmelite convents in the Kingdom of Naples, a remarkable flourishing clearly drawing its power from the Holy Ghost.
The (very Dominican) arms of Pope Benedict XIII, friend of Ven. Serafina di Dio (Source)
Ven. Serafina was not without trials. Although she wrote an attack on Quietism, she was herself accused of this noxious heresy. For six years, the Inquisition conducted an investigation into her writings and activities. For two, she was confined to her cell without the benefit of Holy Communion. But at last, her name was cleared, in no small part because of the intervention of her friend, Archbishop Vincenzo Maria Orsini, the future Pope Benedict XIII.
There can be little doubt that these troubles arose from within her own religious family. Although Mother Serafina was entirely blameless in conduct, her manner of spiritual leadership won her many enemies among her more lax daughters. Perhaps some of the trouble could have been anticipated from the fact that her recruits were customarily drawn from the ranks of the Neapolitan aristocracy, not a class generally known for its ascetic rigor. The Carmelites treated their foundress poorly. For example, while Serafina was ill in her confinement, she begged to see some of the sisters. They did not come. Yet the patience with which she bore these final trials remains exemplary. As one biographer notes, “Two days before she died she asked the Prioress to look after the sisters who had been so contrary to her, making excuses for their behavior.” This mercy converted the hard of heart, for, as the same writer says, “After her death on March 17, 1699, some of the sisters who were most against her became some of the most enthustiastic promoters of her Cause.”
-the prayer of faith
-the love of God and the practice of the divine presence
-the common life
-conformity to the will of God.
Alas, I don’t believe any of these have been translated into English. Perhaps some intrepid early modernist will someday render these works into the Anglo-Saxon tongue.
Serafina was also a visionary mystic. She went about life with a constant ability to fall into meditation. In Serafina’s own words:
“…Anything I looked at I was able to turn into a meditation… When I saw it raining, I thought of the refreshment which the rain brought to the earth and that without it the earth would be arid. I would say: ‘If the water of divine grace did not fall on the soul, it would dry up without providing the fruits of good works.’ … The sight of fish swimming in the sea made me remember how the saints are immersed in God… And in such wise everything, even the slightest things, served me for my spiritual nourishment.”
The greatest misfortunes could not turn her from the praise of God. For in all things, she perceived the benevolent Providence of God. Her unfailing rule was that “All that God did and allowed was beautiful, good, ordered for our good.” Even the terrible things in life thus became for Serafina an occasion of magnification and blessing.
Serafina was also a visionary mystic. At one point, “She was so overwhelmed with her vision of the Godhead that she wondered what else could be reserved for her in heaven.” The experiences she was granted were extraordinary, though she took pains to keep them discreet. Yet we do have letters attesting to some of her ecstasies.
One figure who emerges as particularly important in her religious life is St. Philip Neri. The Oratorian Fr. Francesco Antonio Agnelli tells us that she honored St. Philip by, for instance, devoutly kissing the feet of the crucifix thirty-three times in his honor; she was repaid for this act of love with a vision of the glorified St. Philip prostrate and kissing the feet of Jesus thirty-three times in her name (Agnelli 194).
Serafina’s spiritual father was Fr. Vincenzo Avinatri of the Naples Oratory. She wrote him letters describing the visions she had of St. Philip. In one such letter, she reports that
“I saw the Saint, with the great Mother of God, in a flame of fire, and surrounded with light…with a sweet countenance, he told me many beautiful things…He showed me what his sons ought to be, and the dignity of the Congregation, made, so to speak, in the likeness of God and of the three Divine Persons, and especially of the Person of the Holy Spirit…Without speaking, he had explained to me the perfection we must have in order to be sons of light. It would be a monstrous thing if fire generated snow, if light brought forth darkness, if crystal produced mud…How much greater wonder would it be, if in any of the sons of St. Philip, who are called sons of the Holy Spirit, there should be any defect!” (qtd. in Agnelli 195-96)
In another vision that came to her on the vigil of St. Philip’s day, she was carried way into a heavenly rapture and saw the Saint aflame with a supernal light. And in view of St. Philip, she saw her own heart on fire, as well. But it did not glow as brightly as his; therefore, she prayed to the Saint that she might receive a more perfect and ample share of Divine Love. As Agnelli describes it,
Then the Saint united his heart with hers, and thus united they sent forth a great flame; she felt so much love that she could not express it, and the Saint invited her to rejoice in the presence of the Lord, and to sing His praises, desiring her to repeat with him these words, Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Magnus Dominus et laudabilis nimis [Holy, holy, holy, great is the Lord and worthy of all praise], adding that it is impossible to find in the most devout Canticles words more pleasing to God. (Agnelli 194-95).
She was thus adopted by the saint as a kind of daughter in the Spirit. She also looked upon Oratorians as her own sons. This spiritual affinity was later attested by a physical resemblance with St. Philip. When an autopsy was conducted on Mother Serafina’s body, the examiners found signs of transverberation in her heart.
It may seem odd for a visionary to become so friendly with St. Philip and his sons. After all, St. Philip himself was notorious for his skepticism when it came to visions. He had treated the Ven. Ursula Benincasa with unrelenting verbal abuse to test her inspiration – a test she passed, even if the holy man never quite came around to endorsing her. St. Philip taught that, “As for those who run after visions, dreams, and the like, we must lay hold of them by the feet and pull them to the ground by force, lest they should fall into the devil’s net.” Though a man of tremendous supernatural gifts himself, he knew that the spiritual world was a minefield of dangers. False visionaries abounded in his day, and his prudent words have retained their perennial wisdom down into our own era.
To properly understand the nature of Ven. Serafina’s visionary mysticism, and why we can properly say it breathes of a Philippine spirit, we must look at it in the context of her leadership of a Carmelite monastery.
A Liturgical Mysticism
The troubles in Serafina’s life began because of her governance. As one biographer has it,
As often happens, Sr. Seraphina’s strongest talents and graces became her heaviest crosses. In her foundations she shared her convictions about religious life with her sisters. She firmly believed that the best guarantee of authenticity of one’s religious experience was a dogged faithfulness to the traditional forms. She was immersed in the church’s liturgy, the celebration of the Eucharist, the Divine Office, the liturgical year, and the feasts of the Saints. She was often led to intimate communion with Christ Jesus at the liturgy beginning with the midnight office. She also stressed the need for silence and solitude as requisites for prayer. [emphasis mine – RTY]
Her tenacious devotion to the traditional forms of worship and to the great prayer of the Church, the Liturgy and Divine Office, shows that the Ven. Serafina was in every way a monastic. Indeed, these salutary measures evince a Benedictine sensibility.
An 18th century portrait of the Ven. Serafina di Dio. Note the prominent place of the Blessed Sacrament in this composition. (Source)
Her ecstasies were not a superfluous and shallow add-on to this liturgical life. She built the house of her prayer upon the rock of tradition, and it was illumined with the uncreated light of the Holy Ghost.
Serafina’s mystical life was tied to her experience of the liturgical calendar. For instance, any of her most profound encounters with St. Philip took place on the vigil and day of his feast (Agnelli 194-95). A cynic would see in this timebound quality a mark of the merely human dimension of religion, a fine example of confirmation bias. But those who have learned of divine things will discover a deeper reality. In Serafina they will see a soul that has grown attuned to the Wisdom of God, made manifest in time through the Incarnation of Christ and the Liturgy of the Church.
High Altar of the Chiesa Santissimo Salvatore, Capri. Although it has not been a Carmelite monastery since Napoleonic times, this is the altar where the Ven. Serafina would have received communion. (Source)
These are quintessentially sound foundations for the spiritual life. Her strictly liturgical and monastic way engendered serious opposition among her daughters, but it also gave her the strength to bear that opposition with true Christian patience. One can only imagine the terrible suffering that two years without the Blessed Sacrament must have inflicted on such a soul. Yet, by grounding herself in the Liturgy, she was able to nourish that innate trust in Providence already evident in her earliest days. Surely, that sustained her in the darkest days of her old age.
The Long Road to Sainthood
It seems somehow appropriate that, as an adopted daughter of St. Philip, the Ven. Serafina should not yet have been canonized. Many of his spiritual children have had a similar fate. Witness the stalled cases of Ven. Cardinal Cesare Baronius, Bl. Juvenal Ancina, Bl. Anthony Grassi, and Bl. Sebastian Valfre, just to name a few of the many early modern Oratorians who have not yet reached the highest altars of the Church.
Still, we can pray that this Carmelite mystic will one day be recognized as the saint she was. Let us beg her intercession and emulate her profound devotion to the Liturgy of the Church.
UPDATE: A Carmelite friend pointed out to me that Ven. Serafina was in fact not subject to the jurisdiction of either Carmelite order, essentially running independent Carmelite conservatories of oblates in the Discalced habit, following an adaptation of St. Teresa’s constitutions. She was a sort of Carmelite version of St. Francesca Romana. More info can be found in the works of Smet. As such, any use of the Carmelite letters after her name may be inappropriate, but given a) the unusual nature of the case, and b) the difficulty of changing my title and thus invalidating links, I have decided to keep my text as is and merely add this disclaimer.
May the Ven. Serafina di Dio pray for us! (Source)
Recently, several people I know have been looking for jobs. Some were just fired. Others have had a long struggle seeking work. A few have been injured in ways that required them to take time off. All are in need of prayer.
Bearing these troubles in mind, I thought I would make a Triduo – a prayer of three days’ length – to St. Joseph the Worker, asking for his potent intercession, along with that of SS Anthony of Padua, Dymphna, Cecilia, John of God, Thomas More, Philip Neri, Thomas of Canterbury, Fiacre, and Martin of Tours. I hope my readers will join me in this intention.
Consider the Glorious Titles of St. Joseph
He was the true and worthy Spouse of Mary, supplying in a visible manner the place of Mary’s Invisible Spouse, the Holy Ghost. He was a virgin, and his virginity was the faithful mirror of the virginity of Mary. He was the Cherub, placed to guard the new terrestrial Paradise from the intrusion of every foe.
V. Blessed be the name of Joseph.
R. Henceforth and forever. Amen.
LET US PRAY
God, who in Thine ineffable Providence didst vouchsafe to choose Blessed Joseph to be the husband of Thy most holy Mother, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may be made worthy to receive him for our intercessor in heaven, whom on earth we venerate as our holy Protector: who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.
(Vide “The Raccolta.”)
Consider the Glorious Titles of St. Joseph
His was the title of father of the Son of God, because he was the Spouse of Mary, ever Virgin. He was our Lord’s father, because Jesus ever yielded to him the obedience of a son. He was our Lord’s father, because to him were entrusted, and by him were faithfully fulfilled, the duties of a father, in protecting Him, giving Him a home, sustaining and rearing Him, and providing Him with a trade.
V. Blessed be the name of Joseph.
R. Henceforth and for ever. Amen.
LET US PRAY
God, who in Thine ineffable Providence didst vouchsafe, &c.
Consider the Glorious Titles of St. Joseph
He is Holy Joseph, because according to the opinion of a great number of doctors, he, as well as St. John Baptist, was sanctified even before he was born. He is Holy Joseph, because his office, of being spouse and protector of Mary, specially demanded sanctity. He is Holy Joseph, because no other Saint but he lived in such and so long intimacy and familiarity with the source of all holiness, Jesus, God incarnate, and Mary, the holiest of creatures.
V. Blessed be the name of Joseph.
R. Henceforth and for ever. Amen.
LET US PRAY
God, who in Thine ineffable Providence didst vouchsafe, &c.
The Litany of Saint Joseph
For public or private use.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God, Have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us .
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Illustrious son of David, etc.
Light of the patriarchs,
Spouse of the Mother of God,
Chaste guardian of the Virgin,
Foster-father of the Son of God,
Watchful defender of Christ,
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph most just,
Joseph most chaste,
Joseph most prudent,
Joseph most valiant,
Joseph most obedient,
Joseph most faithful,
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model of workmen ,
Glory of domestic life,
Guardian of virgins,
Pillar of families,
Solace of the afflicted,
Hope of the sick,
Patron of the dying,
Terror of demons,
Protector of Holy Church,
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.
V. He made him the lord of His household,
R. And prince over all His possessions.
Let Us Pray.
O God, Who in Thine ineffable providence didst choose Blessed Joseph to be the spouse of Thy most Holy Mother, grant that as we venerate him as our protector on earth, we may deserve to have him as our intercessor in Heaven, Thou Who livest and reignest forever and ever. R. Amen.
‘Catholicity, Antiquity, and consent of the Fathers, is the proper evidence of the fidelity or Apostolicity of a professed Tradition’ J.H. Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church, 1837, p. 51