Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Poor Richard III, still getting the short end of the stick

"Richard III" Society of Antiquaries, ca. 1515 AD

Imagine you are the devout Catholic king of a famous country until one day you are killed in a battle, which your side loses.  Imagine further that the guy who led the other side in the battle becomes king.  That much seems seems fair enough.  The other guy's son also becomes king after him, which also seems fair.  However, one of the most important things the son does is to start a new religion that everybody in the kingdom is forced to join.   Meanwhile, your body is never recovered from the battlefield, and remains lost for centuries.  Finally, your body is found, under a parking lot.  [A reader kindly points out that Richard's body was indeed recovered from Bosworth field and buried in Greyfriars church, Leicester.   Henry VIII, the son of the guy who defeated Richard, dissolved the friary in 1538 and sold the real estate to developers.  The developers demolished the buildings and sold off the stones, making it much harder to figure out where Richard's body lay, which is how eventually a parking lot came to be placed above it.] 

Everyone agrees that your bones should be interred with suitable ceremony.   Would you want that ceremony to be according to the rites of the Catholic religion, the religion you practiced devoutly, or according to the rites of some crazy new religion started by the son of the guy who defeated you in the battle in which you got killed?   You'd want Catholic rites, right?   Well, so undoubtedly would King Richard III (1452 - 1485 AD), to whom all the things in my imaginary story actually happened, but that's not what he's going to get.

Hail, St. Jerome, translator and scholar

"St. Jerome", El Greco ca. 1600 AD

St. Jerome (347 AD - 420 AD) was the leading Biblical scholar of his day, and St. Jerome's translation of the Bible into Latin, known as the Vulgate, was not only a tremendous contribution to the Church but also a remarkable scholarly achievement, which displays not only deep knowledge of Biblical languages, but also a thorough understanding of the geography and history of the Holy Land.

The Vulgate formed an important part of the framework from which the Romance languages grew.   Words borrowed from Greek such as episcopus, presbyter, diaconus, Christus, Paraclitus, baptisma, anathema and Christian coinages such as Salvator, Incarnatio, Resurrectio, Trinitas, compassio, ingratitudo, immortalilas, impossibilitas would not have gained universal currency without the Vulgate.  More on the literary influence of St. Jerome here.

St. Jerome was a prickly man who did not relish criticism, a trait which made him many enemies and which shows clearly in his correspondence.  The following is taken from a letter from St. Jerome to St. Augustine of Hippo concerning the Septuagint.   St. Augustine considered the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek made by 70 translators in the 2nd century BC, to have been inspired, whereas St. Jerome believed only the scriptures themselves to have been inspired, not the translation. 

" ... [Y]ou ask why a former translation which I made of some of the canonical books was carefully marked with asterisks and obelisks, whereas I afterwards published a translation without these. You must pardon my saying that you seem to me not to understand the matter . .  . Do you wish to be a true admirer and partisan of the Seventy translators? Then do not read what you find under the asterisks; rather erase them from the volumes, that you may approve yourself indeed a follower of the ancients. If, however, you do this, you will be compelled to find fault with all the libraries of the Churches; for you will scarcely find more than one manuscript here and there which has not these interpolations."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mortification and Self-Denial - Still good for you

"St. Francis of Assisi," Church of San Francesco, Brescia 1235 AD
St. Francis was a big believer in mortification and self-denial

The Redemptorists, the religious order founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori, compiled selections from the great saint's ascetical writings into a single volume with 12 chapters called "The School of Christian Perfection," which you can buy here.   Each chapter is organized around a particular virtue or salutary spiritual practice, and there are 12 chapters so that a reader can focus on a different one every month of the year.  This is what the Redemptorists themselves do (or, perhaps, used to do).

If you'd started "The School of Christian Perfection" at the beginning of the year and concentrated on a different chapter each month by now you'd be up to Chapter 9, which is entitled "Mortification."  Although we don't hear mortification discussed much nowadays, according to St. Alphonsus, "[i]n as far as it is necessary to avoid sin, every Christian is bound to  practice mortification."  St. Alphonsus compares mortification to a somewhat bitter and distasteful but necessary medicine, and notes that "[o]ur Lord once said to St. Francis of Assisi: 'If you desire me, take the bitter things of life as sweet and the sweet as bitter.'"

What's the point of mortification?  St. Alphonsus says it "elevates the soul," citing St. Francis de Sales, who wrote: "[t]he soul can never ascend to God unless the body is brought into subjection by penance."  Mortification also helps us master our self will, which is the destroyer of all virtues.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux said: "he who ... follows the suggestions of self-will subjects himself to a veritable fool."

Mortification and self-denial may be out of fashion, but you may be surprised to learn that the Church continues to recommend these practices.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (published 1992 AD), “[t]he way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes” (n. 2015)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Very rare bird sighted

Lady Amherst's pheasant
(also a rare bird)

That rarest of birds on primetime network tv, a character who is a practicing Catholic, has, according to reliable reports, been spotted recently.   The character even quotes St. Thomas Aquinas.  The show is called Madame Secretary, and the executive producer, Barbara Hall, is a convert, which helps to explain this marvel:  more here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Archbishop gives "Calvary" thumbs up!

Archbishop Chaput

Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, like most archbishops, doesn't review many movies, but he has reviewed "Calvary" and recommends the movie emphatically.   "Calvary" stars Brendan Gleeson, and it's the story of a good priest in Ireland in the wake of the sex abuse scandal.  From Archbishop Chaput's review:

From the first frame to the last, “Calvary” has an understated power – a blend of everyday pain, faith, despair, humor, candor, bitterness, and forgiveness – that brands itself onto the heart with spare simplicity. It’s also the best portrayal of a good priest in impossible circumstances I’ve seen in several decades.

Full review here.

I don't go to the movies often, because I find they're usually not worth the ticket price, but Calvary may be an exception.

Which pilgrimage should you make?

Cool people get Holy Land

From Crux, a quick quiz to help you figure out where you should make your next pilgrimage.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Converts - why do they do it?

Evelyn Waugh and family, circa 1949 AD
Parts of this family look happy

Philip Trower, English author and convert, has written an essay about his conversion in which he suggests that all converts become Catholic for the same reason:

"…they come to realise that the Church is what it claims to be: the sole authorised guardian and disseminator of the one true revelation of God to men through which they can know with certainty the purpose of their existence and their final destiny.”

The English poet Sally Read says something very similar:

“I realized that there was only one Church and the way to be closest to Christ was to be a Catholic, because it’s the Eucharist and taking Communion.”

Evelyn Waugh, a far more famous English author and convert, substantially concurs.  Waugh, who converted in 1930, once explained that he had concluded by the age of 16 that “Catholicism was Christianity,” but then ignored religion for the next decade.   Finding that life was “unintelligible and unendurable without God,” Waugh converted.   For Waugh, his faith was not merely a source of comfort; it was, in his view,  “the essence.”

There have been many converts and we can never know all of their reasons for converting, but, at least amongst English writers, the reasons do appear remarkably alike.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hail, Hyacinth and Protus, martyrs

St. Protus and St. Hyacinth

Today is the feast of St. Protus and St. Hyacinth.  According to tradition, Protus and Hyacinth were brothers, and chamberlains to Saint Eugenia, the daughter of the governor of Egypt.  They were baptized along with Eugenia by Helenus, Bishop of Heliopolis, which is near Cairo.  Since her pagan father was a powerful government official, and very much opposed to her baptism, to avoid notice Eugenia had slipped out of her father's house disguised as a man.

Eventually, Eugenia's father converted to the Faith, became bishop of Alexandria and was martyred.  Eugenia then moved to Rome, accompanied by Protus and Hyacinth.  During the persecution of  Emperor Valerian (reigned 257 AD –259 AD) Protus and Hyacinth were arrested, and, refusing to deny their faith, they were first scourged and then beheaded on September 11, 258.  St. Eugenia would be martyred later that same year, on the feast of the Nativity.  Eugenia had dreamt that she would be martyred on this feast, and her dream proved to be accurate.

There is a legend that after her baptism St. Eugenia went right on disguising herself as a man, and even became an abbot.   According to the legend, while an abbot and still dressing like a man, St. Eugenia cured a woman of an illness.  Perhaps from gratitude, or maybe because she found people who could cure illnesses irresistibly attractive,  the woman made sexual advances, which St. Eugenia rebuffed.   Not one to accept rebuff with grace, the woman publicly accused St. Eugenia of adultery.  At the time, this was illegal, so St. Eugenia was taken to court, still dressed as a man, where she faced her judge, who, as luck would have it, was her father, the governor.   St. Eugenia's female identity was revealed and she was exonerated.

St. Eugenia may have been forgotten by most Catholics, but she is recognised by the LGBT community as a "transgender saint."  You may peruse a calendar of such saints here;  Saints Hyacinth and Protus are also included on the calendar because, according to the calendar compiler, they were eunuchs.  Even if Saints Hyacinth and Protus were eunuchs, it is unclear this would qualify them as transgender, varied and multifarious though the taxonomy of that type appears to be.  

Though the lives of many early saints are surrounded by legends, some facts concerning St. Hyacinth and St. Protus can be established with certainty.  According to the Depositio Martyrum, (ca. 336 AD), the most ancient listing of martyrs,  St. Protus and St. Hyacinth were buried in the Cemeterium of Basilla on the Via Salaria, later named the Catacomb of St. Hermes.  In 1845 a Jesuit priest discovered the still undisturbed grave of St. Hyacinth in this catacomb. It was a small square niche in which lay ashes and pieces of burned bone wrapped in the remains of costly fabric.  Evidently the saint had been burnt; most probably both martyrs had suffered death by fire.  The slab on the niche bore the original Latin inscription that confirmed the date in the Depositio Martyrum:




(Buried on 11 September Hyacinthus Martyr).

The priest also found fragments of Protus's grave nearby.

 "Battle of San Jacinto" Henry Arthur McArdle

By the way, in Spanish, St. Hyacinth is San Jacinto.  San Jacinto is where the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution was fought on April 21, 1836.  The battle lasted only 18 minutes, and was a clear victory for the Texans, who thereby won their independence from Mexico.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hail, Gorgonius of Rome, martyr

Arm reliquary of St. Gorgonius of Nicomedia, Minden Cathedral

Gorgonius is not a popular name for boys these days, at least not in my neighborhood, but back in the third century AD Gorgonius must have been as popular as Jackson, Aidan and Liam (the top 3 baby names for boys in 2013) because six martyrs named Gorgonius are venerated by the church.

There is some confusion about which Gorgonius was which.  In the old calendar, today was the feast of St. Gorgonius of Rome, about whom very little is known for sure.  The Jerome Martyrology, attributed to St. Jerome but actually the work of Gallic monks in the fifth and sixth centuries, tells us that Gorgonius was buried between two laurel trees on the Via Labicana near Rome.  Other than that, all we have is this not very specific and poorly written epigram of Pope Damasus I (reigned 366 AD - 384 AD):

This martyr's tomb beneath a great hilltop holds Gorgonius, guardian of the altars of Christ. Whoever comes to seek here the thresholds of the saints will find that in the nearby dwelling abide the blessed whom likewise, as they went, piety bore to heaven.

St. Gorgonius of Rome is often mixed up with St. Gorgonius of Nicomedia, which is understandable, since the Nicomedian Gorgonius has a much more interesting story.  According to the most blood-curdling version, one day, after making the usual sacrifice of animals to the gods, the emperor Diocletian's haruspices (priests and entrail diviners) attempted to divine the future by examining the sacrificed animals' entrails, as they usually did, since it was their job.   For some reason, on this occasion, the haruspices failed.  This displeased Diocletian, which put the haruspices in a tough spot, so, thinking fast, they blamed the Christians in Diocletian's household.  Diocletian followed the old religion, and considered Christians troublemakers, so it made sense to him that Christians were to blame for his haruspices' problems.  Diocletian immediately ordered everyone in his court to perform a sacrifice to the gods, knowing this would expose the Christians, since they would have to refuse.

The first Christian to be identified in this way was Peter, the emperor's major domo.  Diocletian ordered Peter to be stripped, hung upside down and whipped until the flesh came off his bones.  Salt and vinegar were then rubbed in Peter's wounds, and he was trampled, burned at the stake and then grilled on a gridiron.  Seeing Peter so heroically glorifying our Lord by his witness to the faith, other Christians stepped forwarded, including Dorotheus, the imperial chamberlain, Gorgonius, an army officer, and Migdonio, another army officer.  These all received the same treatment as Peter.  Once they were dead, Diocletian, knowing Christians would venerate the martyrs' remains, had the remains cast in the sea.  However, by miracle, the Christians recoverd the martyrs' remains.

Gorgonius's relics were at first brought to Rome.  In the 8th century AD, St. Chrodegang of Metz translated the relics to a monastery in Lorraine.   Over time, Gorgonius's relics were distributed to many churches in France, as well as to the cathedral of Minden in Germany.  Most of Gorgonius's relics in France were destroyed during the French Revolution.  That was a very dangerous time for all religious relics in France.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Increase your Catholic wordpower: Baptismal graces

"Baptism of St. Augustine of Hippo,"  Cathedral of Troyes, 1549 AD
A lot more going on than meets the eye

Baptismal Graces, according to the Modern Catholic Dictionary of our patron, Fr. John Hardon SJ, are:

"[t]he supernatural effects of the sacrament of baptism. They are: 1. removal of all guilt of sin, original and personal; 2. removal of all punishment due to sin, temporal and eternal; 3. infusion of sanctifying grace along with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit; 4. incorporation into Christ; and 5, entrance into the Mystical Body, which is the Catholic Church; 6. imprinting of the baptismal character, which enables a person to receive the other sacraments, to participate in the priesthood of Christ through the sacred liturgy, and to grow in the likeness of Christ through personal sanctification. Baptism does not remove two effects of original sin, namely concupiscence and bodily mortality. However, it does enable a Christian to be sanctified by his struggle with concupiscence and gives him the title to rising in a glorified body on the last day.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hail, Gregory, Pope and traditional composer of an extremely old yet popular song

 "Pope Gregory dictating Gregorian Chant,"

Today is the feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great (circa 540 -604 AD), who sent St. Augustine of Canterbury to evangelize England, and is also credited with standardizing the mainstream form of Western plainchant, which is named "Gregorian Chant" in his honor.  Tradition also credits St. Gregory with composing Dies Irae, a Latin hymn used for centuries in the Requiem Mass.  According to Peter the Deacon, Gregory's disciple and friend, the inspiration for Dies Irae came to Gregory by way of a dove.  Indeed, Peter the Deacon claims that all of Gregory's writings were inspired in this way, which is why Gregory is usually depicted with a dove on his shoulder.

In the wake of Vatican II the funeral rite was revised, and Dies Irae was cut.  Cardinal Anibale Bugnini, a leading figure in the reform, explained why:

"They got rid of texts that smacked of a negative spirituality inherited from the Middle Ages. Thus they removed such familiar and even beloved texts as the "Libera Me, Domine", the "Dies Irae", and others that overemphasized judgment, fear, and despair.  These they replaced with texts urging Christian hope and arguably giving more effective expression to faith in the resurrection."

 "Last Judgment," Hans Memling c 1467 AD

Judgment is undeniably a fearful thing, though in my view ignoring it altogether is mighty unwise.

The Dies Irae tune is not just very old; it's also very popular.  It's been quoted in many classical works, and it's a favorite of movie score composers.  CBC host Tom Allen has much more here: