Monday, December 28, 2009

Woodward: Feast of St. Thomas Becket

From Robert Hugh Benson's invaluable little book on "the holy blissful martyr":

And so the miracles went on. The Christian world went wild with enthusiasm, as is proper when a saint goes to God by the road of blood. Faith was kindled, and God rewarded it according to His promise. Devotions sprang up; pilgrimages began; men returned from Canterbury bearing little leaden phials filled with "St. Thomas' water"--that is, water in which a minute drop of the holy blood had been mixed; and the shrine of Canterbury began to take its place with the great centres of the world's devotion--with Rome, Jerusalem, and Compostella. Still the fame increased. Even Gilbert of London, once his friend and lately his enemy, was healed of disease by a drop or two of "Thomas' water"; as Henry himself, a little later, when his sons rebelled against him, gained the upper hand, as he himself confesses, through the intercession of the Saint whom he had done to death. On the Continent altars were dedicated to his honour; and particularly worthy of notice is one little chapel in Notre Dame de Fourvieres at Lyons which the Saint himself, years before, had been asked to consecrate. He had consecrated the rest of the church, but, upon being asked to name a saint for this chapel, had refused, saying it must be kept for the honour of the next martyr that should die. That honour was his own, and the chapel was dedicated to himself.

We live, and have long lived, in a time when the encroachment of government power on the rights of religious expression has seemed like a remote -- almost a quaint -- feature of earlier, more brutal periods of history, and nothing that we should ever fear ourselves. I am not confident that we will be living in such a time much longer, or that our children will ever be able to live in the kind of confidence we have. If there is today a prayer appropriate to the feast of Thomas Becket, it is surely the prayer that today's churchmen will have the courage to stand fast, as St. Thomas did, in defense of Christ's kingdom against the assaults of a godless secular power.

I'll recommend once again (with the same reservations I had a couple of years ago) the famous movie version of the story. It's a bit preachy, and a bit melodramatic. But it portrays forcefully the moment in the life of any man of principle when he must say, "This far and no farther."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

The kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord
and of His Christ.
And He shall reign forever and ever.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Venerable Pius XII: "The Love Which Breathes From the Gospel"

In order that we really may be able, so far as it is permitted to mortal men, "to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth" of the hidden love of the Incarnate Word for His heavenly Father and for men infected by the taint of sins, we must note well that His love was not entirely the spiritual love proper to God inasmuch as "God is a spirit." Undoubtedly the love with which God loved our forefathers and the Hebrew people was of this nature. For this reason the expressions of human, intimate, and paternal love which we find in the Psalms, the writings of the prophets, and in the Canticle of Canticles are tokens and symbols of the true but entirely spiritual love with which God continued to sustain the human race. On the other hand, the love which breathes from the Gospel, from the letters of the Apostles and the pages of the Apocalypse, all of which portray the love of the Heart of Jesus Christ, expresses not only divine love but also human sentiments of love.

--Haurietis Aquas, 1956

Venerable John Paul II: Incarnation and Redemption

The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly--and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being-he must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must "appropriate" and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself. How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he "gained so great a Redeemer," and if God "gave his only Son " in order that man "should not perish but have eternal life."

--Redemptor Hominis, 1979

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Woodward: Feast of St. Juan Diego

Happy Juan Diego, true and faithful man! We entrust to you our lay brothers and sisters so that, feeling the call to holiness, they may imbue every area of social life with the spirit of the Gospel. Bless families, strengthen spouses in their marriage, sustain the efforts of parents to give their children a Christian upbringing. Look with favour upon the pain of those who are suffering in body or in spirit, on those afflicted by poverty, loneliness, marginalization or ignorance. May all people, civic leaders and ordinary citizens, always act in accordance with the demands of justice and with respect for the dignity of each person, so that in this way peace may be reinforced.

--Pope John Paul II, Homily on the Canonization of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Woodward: Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Perhaps the greatest of many great gifts to the Church from my favorite Pope, Bl. Pius IX:

Let all the children of the Catholic Church, who are so very dear to us, hear these words of ours. With a still more ardent zeal for piety, religion and love, let them continue to venerate, invoke and pray to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, conceived without original sin. Let them fly with utter confidence to this most sweet Mother of mercy and grace in all dangers, difficulties, needs, doubts and fears. Under her guidance, under her patronage, under her kindness and protection, nothing is to be feared; nothing is hopeless. Because, while bearing toward us a truly motherly affection and having in her care the work of our salvation, she is solicitous about the whole human race. And since she has been appointed by God to be the Queen of heaven and earth, and is exalted above all the choirs of angels and saints, and even stands at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she presents our petitions in a most efficacious manner. What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard.

--Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus

Here are two very no-nonsense little commentaries on the dogma, by two world-famous Catholic preachers who were very good at talking to Protestants.

A Protestant is apt to say: "Oh, I really never, never can accept such a doctrine from the hands of the Church, and I had a thousand thousand times rather determine that the Church spoke falsely, than that so terrible a doctrine was true." Now, my good man, WHY? Do not go off in such a wonderful agitation, like a horse shying at he does not know what. Consider what I have said. It is, after all, certainly irrational? is it certainly against Scripture? is it certainly against the primitive Fathers? is it certainly idolatrous? I cannot help smiling as I put the questions. Rather, may not something be said for it from reason, from piety, from antiquity, from the inspired test? You may see no reason at all to believe the voice of the Church; you may not yet have attained to faith in it--but what on earth this doctrine has to do with shaking your faith in her, if you have faith, or in sending you to the right-about if you are beginning to think she may be from God, is more than my mind can comprehend. Many, many doctrines are far harder than the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine of Original Sin is indefinitely harder. Mary just has not had this difficulty. It is no difficulty to believe that a soul is united to the flesh without original sin; the great mystery is that any, that millions on millions, are born with it. Our teaching about Mary has just one difficulty less than our teaching about the state of mankind generally.

I say it distinctly--there may be many excuses at the last day, good and bad, for not being Catholics; one I cannot conceive: "O Lord, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was so derogatory to Thy Grace, so inconsistent with Thy Passion, so at variance with Thy word in Genesis and the Apocalypse, so unlike the teaching of Thy first Saints and Martyrs, as to give me a right to reject it at all risks, and Thy Church for teaching it. It is a doctrine as to which my private judgment is fully justified in opposing the Church's judgment. And this is my plea for living and dying a Protestant."

--John Henry Cardinal Newman

Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting. Furthermore, suppose that you had the infinite power to make your mother anything that you pleased, just as a great artist like Raphael has the power of realizing his artistic ideas. Suppose you had this double power, what kind of mother would you have made for yourself? Would you have made her of such a type that would make you blush because of her unwomanly and un-mother-like actions? Would you have made her exteriorly and interiorly of such a character as to make you ashamed or her, or would you have made her, so far as human beauty goes; the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you but even to your fellow men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood?

Now if you who are an imperfect being and who have not the most delicate conception of all that is fine in life would have wished for the loveliest of mothers, do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother? If you who hate selfishness would have made her selfless and you who hate ugliness would have made her beautiful, do you not think that the Son of God, who hates sin, would have made His own mother sinless and He who hates moral ugliness would have made her immaculately beautiful?

--Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Woodward: Feast of St. Edmund Campion

On this day in 1581, the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn, the appointed location for the execution of criminals in London. The official charge of which he had been convicted was treason, but as he himself made eloquently clear both before and at his execution, he was in fact put to death for being a Catholic priest.

Campion had become famous (or infamous, depending on one's religious affiliation) during the year preceding his arrest and trial for the daring way in which he invited -- taunted, in fact -- Queen Elizabeth I to persecute him. He was a man of wide and deep learning, and a man of supreme confidence in his God, his Church, and his own ability to preach and defend the faith. He challenged the members of the Queen's Privy Council, the doctors of England's two universities (Oxford and Cambridge), and the law courts to listen to his defense of Catholicism and the rights of Catholics, and to offer arguments against him. No one took up the challenge. Instead he was hunted down, captured, and tortured. Even in the course of his "interrogation" (according to some reports), Queen Elizabeth offered him riches and offices if he would renounce his Catholic faith and come into the Anglican Church. He turned down the offer.

He must certainly be counted, not only among the Catholic Church's bravest martyrs, but among her most charming as well. Here is the way in which he concluded his challenge to the Protestant establishment of England in what has come to be known as Campion's Brag:

I doubt not but you, her Highness' Council, being of such wisdom and discreet in cases most important, when you shall have heard these questions of religion opened faithfully, which many times by our adversaries are huddled up and confounded, will see upon what substantial grounds our Catholic Faith is builded, how feeble that side is which by sway of the time prevaileth against us, and so at last for your own souls, and for many thousand souls that depend upon your government, will discountenance error when it is bewrayed [revealed], and hearken to those who would spend the best blood in their bodies for your salvation. Many innocent hands are lifted up to heaven for you daily by those English students [Catholic seminary students at the English College in Douai, France, where Campion studied], whose posterity shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over, but either to win you heaven, or to die upon your pikes. And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practice of England—cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: So it must be restored. If these my offers be refused, and my endeavours can take no place, and I, having run thousands of miles to do you good, shall be rewarded with rigour, I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almighty God, the Searcher of Hearts, who send us his grace, and see us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if modern-day apologists -- Catholic and non-Catholic -- could all be that self-confidently humble, and that gracious?

I have one more reason to venerate St. Edmund Campion (who was beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970). He should, I think, be the patron saint of Latin teachers, on the strength of this exchange that occurred as he stood in the cart waiting to be hanged. (The account is from Evelyn Waugh's admirable biography.)

Campion stood in prayer. The lords of the Council still shouted up questions to him about the Bull of Excommunication [Pope Pius V's excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I], but now Campion would not answer and stood with his head bowed and his hands folded on his breast. An Anglican clergyman attempted to direct his prayers, but he answered gently, "Sir, you and I are not one in religion, wherefore I pray you content yourself. I bar none of prayer; but I only desire them that are of the household of faith to pray with me, and in mine agony to say one creed."

They called to him to pray in English, but he replied with great mildness that "he would pray God in a language which they both well understood."

That passage may be the best example I've ever seen of Hemingway's famous definition of courage: "grace under pressure."

I'll conclude with Campion's advice to those who are tempted by the world's riches and rewards, written in that language that Campion and God "both well understand."

Christus dives est, qui vos alet. Rex est, qui ornabit. Lautus est, qui satiabit. Speciosus est, qui felicitatem omnium cumulos largietur. Huic vos adscribite militanti, ut cum eo triumphos, vere doctissimi vereque clarissimi, reportetis.

[Christ is rich, who will nourish you. He is a king, who will provide for you. He is an elegant host, who will entertain you abundantly. He is beautiful, who will shower you with every happiness. Enlist therefore in his army, so that with him, truly most learned and truly most illustrious, you may carry home the victory.]

St. Edmund Campion, pray for us.