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Posted by on Sep 17, 2013

St. Hildegard of Bingen

St. Hildegard of Bingen

 

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen

St. Hildegard of Bingen lived in the 12th century. A remarkable woman, she founded a Benedictine convent, served as abbess of her community, studied medicine and physiology, including the use of medicinal herbs, composed and played hauntingly beautiful religious music, wrote poetry and morality plays, produced artistic works, and was a prophetic leader and preacher within the Church of her day.

Hildegard was also a mystic, having had visions beginning around the age of three. When in her early 40s, she began writing of her visions and their meaning. These were presented in three major works: Scivias (Know the Ways of the Lord), Liber Vitae Meritorum (Book of the Rewards of Life), and Liber Divinorum Operum (The Book of Divine Works).

Many of her musical compositions have survived to the present and have been recorded by contemporary artists and orchestras. Her music goes beyond the traditional chant of her day, with a much broader range of notes in her melodies than was common at the time.

Hildegard saw humans as the thinking heart of all creation, called to work with God in shaping our world. Humans, and indeed all of creation, are “living sparks,” “rays of his splendor, just as the rays of the sun proceed from the sun itself.” She taught that our separation from God through sin brought harm to us as humans and to all of creation, but through Christ, we have the way for all to return to our original state of blessing.

In her words:

All living creatures are sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun. If God did not give off these sparks, how would the divine flame become fully visible?

Hildegard is honored as a Doctor of the Church. We celebrate her feast on September 17.

St. Hildegard, pray for us as we seek to see God’s face in each other and in all of creation.

 

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Posted by on Oct 15, 2011

“… Love calls for love in return.” Teresa of Avila

“… Love calls for love in return.” Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila - by Francois Gerard

The great Carmelite reformer, mystic, and saint, Teresa of Avila, was known for sometimes blunt statements about the spiritual life and life in community. She insisted that the spiritual life was not about being gloomy or depressed. (“God, deliver me from sullen saints.”) Life in community required all to share in the daily work of the community so all might share in the joys of relaxation and the natural world. She knew that the fundamental reality for Christians is the love of Christ, a love that reaches beyond church buildings and monasteries into all of creation.

One of her statements, a sentence from a larger work, struck me today.

“Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favors, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return.”

What does this mean in my life or in your life? Take some time to reflect on this with me. Be practical. Some might find it means minding a tongue that can speak spitefully or spreading gossip. Some might find it mean patiently reading a story to a small child for the fifth time in one day. For some it might mean getting up and out to door to work. Others might be called to smile at a panhandler and offer a friendly greeting rather than walking past with eyes averted.

Then move to the larger world – regional, national and international concerns. What does love mean in these contexts? How responsible am I for what happens in my city, county, state or nation? Does it matter whether I get involved in political debates or not? Do I have any responsibility to those less well-off than I or to the children of other families? Do we as a nation (community) have responsibilities to protect and support those to whom we are not related by blood? What does love demand of us? What does it mean to love? Can I act in love and still support the national and international status quo?

I don’t have answers to these questions for everyone. I don’t even have answers to all of them for myself. I know I fail all too often to “love in return” in practical ways. Yet I believe these questions must be raised and it seems to me that Teresa of Avila’s reflection on God’s love offers a challenge for us today.

“… love calls for love in return.”

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Posted by on Sep 3, 2011

St. Gregory the Great on the Bible

St. Gregory the Great on the Bible

St. Gregory the Great by Zurbarán

St. Gregory the Great  was Pope from 590 to 604, guiding the Church through the ending of the Roman Empire and helping set its course as a stable institution through the Middle Ages. He was responsible for sending the first missionaries to Great Britain, regulating the liturgy, promoting choral music, and many other accomplishments. He is recognized as a Doctor of the Church for his leadership.

His insight into the role of the Bible in the lives of Christians is worth noting:

The Holy Bible is like a mirror before our mind’s eye. In it we see our inner face. … We can learn our spiritual deformities and beauties. And there too we discover the progress we are making and how far we are from perfection.

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Posted by on Oct 15, 2010

St. Teresa of Avila – On Prayer

St. Teresa of Avila – On Prayer

 
 

St. Teresa of Avila by Peter Paul Rubens

“Contemplative prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”

St. Teresa of Avila is considered an expert on prayer. In her many writings, she describes a four step  process of growth in prayer, beginning with mental prayer and culminating in deep mystical experiences. Her writings are based on her personal experience and are deeply insightful.

Most of us pray on the first level, that of mental prayer. This is the type of prayer described in the above quotation. In this stage, prayer is a question of consciously choosing to pay attention and spend time with God, remembering and meditating on the love of God as seen through the life of Christ and His passion.  This level of the journey of prayer requires our choice and active participation. God is there waiting for us to come calling, but God will not force us to stop and spend time in the divine company.

The good news is that prayer in this sense does not require hours of preparation nor does it remove the one who prays from the surrounding world. It’s wonderful when it’s possible to retreat to a place of solitude and spend time with the Lord, but when responsiblities of life and work don’t permit more than a few minutes of alone time, one can still speak with the Lord quietly in thanks or to ask for help. That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about St. Teresa of Avila, she was very practical about prayer opportunities. As I stand with my hands in the dish water every evening, I remember her advice to one of her sisters: “God can be found even among the stew pots of the kitchen.”

Today as we celebrate her feast, may we remember to give thanks for the gifts God gave her and the insights she shared with us about God’s love. Let’s especially be grateful that our relationship with God is to be that of a close friend with whom we look forward to spending a few minutes of our time.

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Posted by on Jul 15, 2010

Saint of the Day – St. Bonaventure, the Athiests and the NeoPagans

Saint of the Day – St. Bonaventure, the Athiests and the NeoPagans

Forest, by mohan p

There is a growing cottage industry of books attempting to prove or disprove the existence of God. Today, on this spot on the Church calendar devoted to St. Bonaventure (July 15), reflection on his blending of the rational and the spiritual is even more important than when he formulated it seven centuries ago.

Unfortunately, we live in a time of two simplistic approaches. One claims that religion is literally a superstitious hangover from the time of Bonaventure – the late Middle Ages – and has no basis in rational scientific thought. The inhumanity to which we have been reduced by the rational technological world destroys our spirit just as surely as the dogma of the religious. The scientific rationalists show that there is no empirical proof for the existence of God and the literalist acceptance of the Bible only heaps on further irrationality. The spiritualists of the New Age, on the other hand, are concerned about energy flows, the design of built spaces and the sacred diffuse life force emanating from the planet, with its animate and inanimate manifestations.

As much as we might like to think that these debates are new, they are as old as recorded civilization. Christianity is unusual in the sense that it holds and affirms the supra-rationality of faith in the unknowable and then elaborates the faith experience and its doctrinal content in a rational manner. To say it in more simple terms, the Christian experiences and creates reality within the faith experience itself. Given the inherent order of creation itself, this experience reveals and elaborates that core capability of the human, which is critical reason. Creation is sacred and diaphanous and faith enlightens our minds and leads them to the perfect knowledge revealed in Christ.

These view are presented mystically, poetically, and rationally in St. Bonaventure’s Itinerarium Mentis Ad Deum (The Mind’s Road to God). This small book is in many ways a meditation on the the vision of Christ by St. Francis on Mount Alverno, in which the saint becomes so identified with the Risen Christ that he receives the stigmata and the five wounds appear on his body.

How can thinking people believe is the post modern question. How can people with systematic rationalized collections of belief be spiritual is the New Age question. In the post modern age, empirical science is truth. In the New Age there is my truth, my karma, and your truth, your karma. No faith is required. No revelation is possible. There is no enlightenment and encounter with the Divine – a Divine that we cannot control with mathematical models or the arrangement of crystals.

Bonaventure provides a guide to living for the post-modern / New Age Christian – delightfully encountering the “vestigia Trinitatis,” the footprints of the Trinity in creation, learning and understanding in enlightenment, and caught up in the wonder of the divine.

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Posted by on Apr 21, 2010

Quote of the Day – St. Anselm of Canterbury

Quote of the Day – St. Anselm of Canterbury

St. Anselm of Canterbury

April 21 is the feast of St. Anselm of Canterbury, Doctor of the Church and the first scholastic philosopher of Christian theology. For Anselm faith and reason were not mutually exclusive. In fact, they went hand in hand. The following quote sets forth his approach to faith and its exploration.

“Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand.”

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Posted by on Oct 15, 2009

“Let Nothing Disturb You” – St. Teresa of Avila

“Let Nothing Disturb You” – St. Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila's Vision of the Dove - Peter Paul Rubens

Teresa of Avila's Vision of the Dove - Peter Paul Rubens

On this feast of St. Teresa of Avila, when all is so uncertain in our world and so many worries seem to plague us all, I offer her reminder of what really matters. This quote is sometimes called her “Bookmark” because after her death in 1582 it was found written on a piece of paper in her prayer book.

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away,
God does not change.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone is enough.

In the original Spanish:

Nada te turbe,
Nada te espante;
Todo se pasa.
Dios no se muda.
La paciencia todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene nada le falta:
sólo Dios basta.

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Posted by on Apr 29, 2009

St. Catherine of Siena – April 29

St. Catherine of Siena – April 29

st-catherine-of-siena

April 29 is the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, O.P. Catherine Benincasa was born in 1347 in Siena, Italy. She was the 25th and final child born to her parents. Her father was a wool dyer and her mother was mistress of a large and active household. (Catherine was actually a twin, but her sister died shortly after birth.)

As a girl, when asked who my patron saint was, the only St. Catherine I knew at the time was Catherine of Siena. So I decided to take her as my patroness. That was fine with my mother, since I hadn’t been particularly named with a saint in mind! I didn’t know much about her, but she seemed like a strong, intelligent, interesting woman, so I stuck with her.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned much more about her and have become much more impressed with her spunk, her intelligence, her courage and her great faith. She was a woman who took matters into her own hands at a time when parents, and particularly fathers of families, made life-determining choices for their children. She cut her hair rather than get married. She accepted her parents’ decree that she should become a servant of the family if she wouldn’t behave as a daughter was expected to behave. She spent many years devoted to prayer alone in a small room at home. She was a mystic who allowed the love of God to flow forth through her to those in the world around her. She ventured out into a turbulent world, becoming an advisor to popes and other leaders of church and state. She cared for plague victims and organized others to do so as well. For most of her life she couldn’t read or write, but that didn’t stop her. She dictated and sent letters to people great and small. She recorded her insights into the spiritual life in works that are read to this day. Her influence has lasted far beyond her short 33 years.

In 1970, she became one of the first two women honored as Doctor of the Church for her writings.

I asked several people who are familiar with the work of St. Catherine of Siena to share a short idea or two with us about her. These are the responses I received, in order received.

From Susan T. Mahan, Ph.D.
I like the fact that Catherine did not seek to be the center of attention even though she had an exceptional spiritual life. When her family was angry at her for refusing to marry and isolated her; then made her work as a servant and wouldn’t let her out of the house, she totally accepted it and prayed her way through the day. She was not resentful but saw the gift in her circumstances. She also followed her inner discernment as to what the Lord wanted for her and trusted Him. She did not bend to what others expected – her family, her social class, even the Pope.

From Michael Fones, O.P.
What I really admire about Catherine was her ability to cross boundaries and categories that normally would have been off limits to women – and often, even men. She traveled extensively, at a time when travel was unusual and dangerous. Because of her holiness, she was brought in to mediate between factions at odds with one another. She was, as Jesus said of those who are born from above, like the wind; you couldn’t tell where she came from or where she was going. I find her fascinating because of her single-minded devotion to the Blessed Trinity, and the intense personal relationship she had with God, which is so beautifully expressed in her masterpiece, the Dialogue.

From Sr. Barbara Long, O.P.
I think the most interesting things for me are all of her efforts in striving to bring peace to the Church and the warring city states of Italy. At the end of her life, she thought that she was a failure, and yet look what a legacy she has left us.

In these our turbulent times, the example of St. Catherine of Siena is one upon which we should all draw.

Image by Bro. Robert Lentz, OFM

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Posted by on Jan 13, 2009

Saint of the Day – St. Hilary of Poitiers – January 13

Saint of the Day – St. Hilary of Poitiers – January 13

St. Hilary of Poitiers

St. Hilary of Poitiers

St. Hilary of Poitiers was born to a non-Christian family in the early years of the 4th century. He was from a noble family and received an excellent education. On his own, he began a search to understand the fundamental questions of existence, including the source of the created world and his place within it. He found answers to his some of his questions in the story of Moses and the burning bush, with God’s self identification as “I am Who I Am.” Answers to the questions about God’s plan and purpose for people were found in the Gospels, particularly the Prologue of the Gospel of John.

Through his studies of Scripture, he became a Christian. By this time he was also married and had a daughter. He was elected bishop of Poitiers around 350 AD. This was a time in which the Arians were quite influential, having even converted the emperor, Constantius. Hilary refused to join in the condemnation of Athanasius and was sent into exile in the East. While in exile, he continued to speak out against Arianism and wrote many scholarly works in defense of traditional Christian understandings of the Trinity and other points of Christian faith.

Eventually, Hilary was allowed to return to Poitiers. He’d been causing too much trouble with his teaching and preaching in the East! When he returned home, he continued to teach and preach. He also began writing hymns. Although hymns had been a part of Christian life since its earliest years, his are the first we have with a known author.

Hilary died in Poitiers in 367 or 368. He was named Doctor of the Church in 1851 by Pope Pius IX.    

A quote from his work on the Trinity:

“For one to attempt to speak of God in terms more precise than he himself has used: — to undertake such a thing is to embark upon the boundless, to dare the incomprehensible. He fixed the names of His nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whatever is sought over and above this is beyond the meaning of words, beyond the limits of perception, beyond the embrace of understanding.”

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Posted by on Oct 15, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Teresa of Avila – October 15

Saint of the Day – St. Teresa of Avila – October 15

St. Teresa of Avila - by Peter Paul Rubens

St. Teresa of Avila - by Peter Paul Rubens

St. Teresa of Avila, also known as St. Teresa of Jesus, was a Carmelite nun, reformer of her order, mystic, and writer.  She is one of only three women who have been named “Doctor of the Church.” She had a lively intellect and loved people and parties. She wasn’t afraid to argue with the Lord or to oppose those of her time who believed her reforms unnecessary and even dangerous. She experienced many years of illness, including three of paralysis. She found prayer difficult for many years and even refused to try. It wasn’t until she was middle-aged that she began her great work of prayer, reform and teaching.

Many books and articles have been written about St. Teresa of Avila. I refer you to them and to her own writings for details about her life and contributions.

I also invited Mother Marija of Holy Annunciation Monastery in Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania to share a thought with us about St. Teresa. Her response:

The invitation: “What is one thing you would like people to know about St. Teresa of Avila?”  To be true to Teresa one must be faithful to Teresa’s own thought, at least as well as another can understand and convey it. Our Holy Mother St. Teresa, is a Doctor of the Church, so she needs no other “recommendation” in her teaching capacity. Her own mystical life is self-described in her writings: Life, The Way of Perfection (written for her daughters the Carmelite nuns), and the Interior Castle,  which book describes – even maps out – the journey of a soul through seven stages of the inner life to union with God. Again, Teresa had the Carmelite nuns in mind when writing this book, as the epilog expressly tells us. So what would I like people to know about Teresa? Simply that she is a true guide for a life of prayer – a “life”, meaning that prayer for Teresa is the WAY to God. Our Lord is, of course, the WAY and Teresa’s way of prayer is friendship with Jesus. The Way of Perfection, a life of Prayer and finding Jesus as the Way for each of us seems for Teresa  to be identical. After all, she is Teresa of Jesus.

Thank you, Mother, for your contribution. May God bless you and all who seek to serve Him through a life of prayer and friendship with Jesus.

The books of St. Teresa of Avila are still in print today. You can find them listed in our discovery engine at http://www.theologika.net/search. Just enter her name and you’ll get links to her works.

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Posted by on Oct 1, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Therese of Lisieux – October 1

Saint of the Day – St. Therese of Lisieux – October 1

St. Therese 

St. Therese of Lisieux is known as “The Little Flower” because before she died she promised that after her death she would send down a shower of roses on the earth. She is known for her “little way” to God – a way that everyone can follow, doing the smallest everyday things in love as a way to God.

I asked the sisters at several Carmelite monasteries to share their reflections on St. Therese for her feast day and received these gracious responses.

Mother Marija, 0cd of Holy Annunciation Monastery , a Byzantine Carmelite monastery, in Sugarloaf, PA, sent this note:

The invitation: “What is one thing you would like people to know about St. Therese?”  This in turn, led me to ask: “what did Therese want us to know about her life and spirituality?  What did she say?” Before she died Therese spoke  of her desire  to make known to all “little souls” (everyone)  her way of confidence and love.  Therese wanted us to know how much, how very much, we are loved by God and have nothing to fear from Him.  This being true, we might also say that God gave Therese to the Church and world as a “new” expression of the Gospel message: God is Love.

When praying the Novena of Grace in 1897, the very year of her death, Therese asked God to grant her unique request: That her mission to save souls would last until the end of time” So as we honor Therese,  we should  recognize that God wants our love and has sent Therese to us, raised her up in the Church, as a new “invitation” to know Him as Love.

The Sisters at Carmel of Reno were unable to offer a reflection on St. Therese or Carmelite spirituality at this time, but they graciously gave permission to use the icon of St. Therese doing the laundry created by the late Sr. Marie-Celeste, as illustration for this post. They also offered their best wishes and this comment.

We deeply appreciate your interest in Carmelite spirituality and  sharing the riches of theology and religious experience with the broad community on line.

St. Therese is one of my personal favorite saints, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts. For more about her life and influence, here are some options:

Maurice and Therese: The Story of a Love by Patrick Ahern

Saint Therese and the Roses by Helen Walker Homan

St. Therese of Lisieux – Saint of the Day

The Triumph of the Lowly – St. Therese of Lisieux and the Little Way

 Original icon by Sr. Marie-Celeste Fadden, Carmel of Reno – Used with permission

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Posted by on Sep 30, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Jerome: September 30

Saint of the Day – St. Jerome: September 30

St. Jerome (340 – 420) is one of the most interesting personalities among the fathers of the early Church. We generally envision saints as fairly moderate and gentle persons. It is safe to say that St. Jerome never believed in moderation. He was one of the most brilliant and well educated men of his time, a man who lived and wrote with incredible energy and passion. St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the scriptures, which is a literary and scholarly tour de force even by today’s standards, would become the intellectual standard for western civilization.

In many respects, St. Jerome embodies very basic conflicts and contradictions among Christian scholars and educated clergy.  St. Jerome’s knowledge and love of secular – in his case – pagan literature gives him a great appreciation of literature and skill in communication. However, the moral conflict of this literature with the Christian ideal and the values portrayed in scripture create a real tension. As one of the founders of western literary criticism and biblical archaeology, St. Jerome establishes a secular “scientific” standard for deciding which texts are inspired and whether to consider the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, the Septuagint, as less authoritative than the Hebrew original.

In addition, virginity and celibacy were very important to St. Jerome. He and other fathers of the Church would establish sexual abstinence as the ideal Christian lifestyle, in keeping with the pre-eminence celibacy enjoyed in certain non-Christian religions of the day. Temptations of the “flesh” became the work of the devil. Such impulses, which we today consider in a more measured and moderate way as the product of genetics, socialization, and choice, were for St. Jerome forces to be conquered through prayer, fasting, and physical punishment of the body. Today we would call it “aversion” therapy.

This tradition of seeing the natural as the lesser part of our being is not in keeping with our being made in the image and likeness of God. The fear of our erotic and sexually creative dimension, as part of our fallen and corrupted nature, appears to challenge the appropriateness of the Word becoming flesh and the redemption of humanity in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Clearly, when we look at the excesses and exploitation of people in the Graeco-Roman world, the corrective action of St. Jerome in a lifestyle that witnessed to a coming of the kingdom of justice, peace, and dignity – the sober controlled Christian life – is an understandable ideal.

Perhaps, a great deal of our problem as citizens of the era of psychology and human potential is grappling with such an outsized cauldron of talent and passion. In many respects, although he did his best to stay within certain boundaries, the combination of the terms “Saint” and “Jerome” in reference to the same person should encourage the outlandish and the fire of divine genius in us all.

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Posted by on Sep 17, 2008

St. Robert Bellarmine – September 17

St. Robert Bellarmine – September 17

Once again, the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine is upon us. Last year, Randy wrote a post about Bellarmine’s life and contributions. This year, I thought it would be interesting to hear what a few Jesuits might have to say about him. I wrote to several schools and other institutions named after Robert Bellarmine and to the Jesuit communities at several Jesuit universities. I received responses from people at many of them. Not all had comments they wanted to share, but these men did.  I offer their responses in order received, with my thanks to all those who took the time to respond.

From Alan Yost, SJ – Formerly of Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, now working in a parish in Yakima, WA.

I don’t necessarily WANT people to know this about Roberto Belarmino, but since it’s true, and in a spirit of transparency, he was one of the main protagonists in the whole Galileo affair, arguing for the Church and against Galileo regarding the earth-centered vs. sun-centered model of the universe. In retrospect, it’s a little embarrassing, but we have to remember that he was a man of his time and that he was ardent in defending his beliefs and the beliefs of the Church at the time. Recall that Pope John Paul II offered a public apology to Galileo about 400 years after the fact.

From Rev. Clyde F. Crews – University Historian, Bellarmine University

We have had as our university motto, from the very beginning of this institution, the words taken from the introit of the Feast of St. Robert Bellarmine:  In Veritatis Amore.  To be truly engaged “in the love of truth” in all its dimensions, joys, tasks, and responsibilities remains a central part of our mission.  We are also struck by the fact that St. Robert was widely known – in the context of his times – for his tolerance, fairness, kindness, and generosity – especially to those in need.

From Fred Mayovsky, SJ – Math teacher at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma

St. Robert Bellarmine defended Galileo.  OK, Bellarmine was the Pope’s man, but he handled GG with love and gentleness, guiding him (GG) as he (SRB) was telling him what he (GG) could and could NOT state.  SRB was a dove and not a hawk in bringing the Pope’s directives.  In that same vein, when I teach math and demand neatness and organized thought, I will explain HOW to do the homework and not merely expect my students to do what I “expect” but as I “direct”, so that they assimilate knowledge.

Yes, my reflections on Bellarmine, I teach at a school named after him, I teach in a spirit of which I think he would approve.  Sorry I do not have the time to ground and defend my reflections.  But they are MY reflections on a great man, and I have been trying to live by his spirit in HIS school.

From James Flaherty, SJ  Rector of the Jesuit Community at Marquette University

Bellarmine was probably the most important theologian of the Counter-Reformation era. You might check out the website of the Singapore Jesuits for further info. Just google them and look for their hagiographies on Jesuit saints.

My thanks to each of you for the insights you’ve shared. May the Lord richly bless your ministries.

 

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Posted by on Sep 3, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Gregory the Great – Preaching the Gospel to the Ends of the Earth

Saint of the Day – St. Gregory the Great – Preaching the Gospel to the Ends of the Earth

St. Gregory the Great was born in Rome around 540 AD. This was a time when the Goths and Franks were invading Rome. The emperor was in Constantinople. The Senate had been disbanded. Italy was still one country, called Rome, and late classical Latin was the language of the people.

Gregory’s family were wealthy, owning homes and property in and around Rome and in Sicily. He was raised and educated for a career in public office. He had fresco portraits of his family painted at some point, and his biographer, John the Deacon, left a description of them 300 years later as they appeared in the portraits. Gregory’s father was tall and had a light eyes and a long face. He wore a beard. Gregory’s mother was also tall, but she had a round face and blue eyes. She appeared to be a cheerful person. A portrait of Gregory himself was done shortly after his death. Again, John the Deacon left a description of his appearance in the portrait. Gregory is described as being somewhat bald, with a tawny beard. The shape of his face was somewhere between that of his mother and his father. His remaining hair was worn long and curled carefully. He had a thin, straight, almost aquiline nose and a high forehead. His lips and chin were described as also attractive and it is said that his hands were beautiful.

St. Gregory lived in a time of great turmoil. Wars, floods, famines, political changes, and religious controversies swirled through Italy and the Empire. He left a career in public service to enter a monastery when he was around 30 years old, only to be drawn back into public life by the Pope, who sent him to Constantinople to request help from the Emperor in defending Rome. Following 6 years in Constantinople, he returned to Rome. Eventually he himself was elected Pope, an office he tried to decline.

As Pope, he is remembered for reforms of the liturgy, establishing rules of conduct for bishops, the wielding of political power in dealing with invading armies and natural disasters, his insistence on the supremacy of the papacy over the other patriarchs of the church, the notion that the Pope is the “Servant of the Servants of God,” and for establishing the papacy in the form it would take during the Middle Ages. He insisted that the Church has a responsibility to care for the poor. When famine threatened even the wealthy in Rome, he arranged for food and other supplies to be delivered from properties in southern Italy (lands that his family had given the Church) and distributed in the city. He cooked meals for the formerly wealthy himself to spare them the pain of having to ask for charity.

St. Gregory is also remembered for sending missionaries to England, the “end of the Earth” from the perspective of Rome. At that time, there was no knowledge of lands beyond the British Isles. In the rest of the Roman Empire, Christianity had been introduced. Even the Franks in Central Europe had been reached by missionaries. Given the turmoil and upheaval, it stands to reason that he might have thought, as many do today in times of natural disasters and social turmoil, that the end of the world must be near. The Gospels said that the end would not come until the Good News was preached to the ends of the Earth, however. So, perhaps with that in mind, and certainly with a fondness for the blond, blue-eyed people (the Angles) he had seen in Rome, he sent Anselm of Canterbury to preach the Good News in England.

The end of the world didn’t come in St. Gregory’s time. However, the works he did influenced the Christian community of his time and continue to play a role in even our beliefs and style of worship today.

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Posted by on Jul 15, 2008

Saint of the Day: St. Bonaventure – July 15

Saint of the Day: St. Bonaventure – July 15

Faith and reason are often seen as opposites in today’s controversies. Some people say that faith has to be subject to reason and others say that there can be no reason if one has faith. St. Bonaventure shows not only how faith and reason are reconciled but how they are fulfilled in each other and lead us to that transcendent mystical encounter beyond words and comprehension for which we were all created.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy clearly summarizes the life and teaching of St. Bonaventure:

Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (ca. 1217 to 15 July 1274), the religious name of Giovanni di Fidanza, was a Franciscan friar, Master of Theology at the University of Paris, Minister General of the Franciscan Order, and Cardinal of the Catholic Church. During his lifetime he rose to become one of the most prominent men in Latin Christianity. His academic career as a theologian was cut short when in 1257 he was put in charge of the Order of Friars Minor (O.F.M.). He steered the Franciscans on a moderate and intellectual course that made them the most prominent order in the Catholic Church until the coming of the Jesuits. His theology was marked by an attempt completely to integrate faith and reason. He thought of Christ as the “one true master” who offers humans knowledge that begins in faith, is developed through rational understanding, and is perfected by mystical union with God.

St. Bonaventure was a man of passionate intensity. In the Prologue to his famous Itinerarium Mentis Ad Deum – The Mind’s Journey to GodDr. Ambrosio’s translation conveys the Saint’s great feeling and vision:

To begin with, the first principle from Whom all illumination descends as from the Father of Light, by Whom are given all the best and perfect gifts [James, 1,17], the eternal Father do I call upon through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, that by the intercession of the most holy Virgin Mary, mother of God Himself and of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and of the blessed Francis, our father and leader, He may enlighten the eyes of our mind to guide our feet into the way of that peace “which surpasses all understanding, [Eph., 1,17; Luke, 1,79; Phil., 4,7], which peace our Lord Jesus Christ has announced and given to us; which lesson our father Francis always taught, in all of whose preaching was the annunciation of peace both in the beginning and in the end, wishing for peace in every greeting, yearning for ecstatic peace in every moment of contemplation, as a citizen of that Jerusalem of which that man of peace said, with those that hated peace he was peaceable [Ps., 119,7].  

Although the Itinerarium Mentis Ad Deum is a classic of Western philosophy, its brevity and poetic beauty sweeps the reader up into a vision and a search for the Divine while synthesizing major questions about the nature of God, the universe and our existence.

St. Bonaventure has always played a special role in my life, since I grew up in the parish of Mission San Buenaventura in Ventura, California. Mission San Buenaventura was the ninth and last mission founded by Blessed Junipero Serra, who taught philosophy in Majorca, Spain before coming to the new world. These are some pictures of the mission and its gardens.

 

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