Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Cistercian Wisdom

The love of God is born in us by grace, fed with the milk of reading, nourished with the food of meditation, strengthened and enlightened by prayer.

You have one cell outwardly, another within you. The outward cell is the house in which your soul dwells together with your body; the inner cell is your conscience and in that it is God who should dwell with your spirit, he who is more interior to you than all else that is within you. The door of the outward enclosure is a sign of the guarded door within you, so that as the bodily senses are prevented from wandering abroad by the outward enclosure, so the inner senses are kept always within their own domain.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Beheading of John the Baptist

The purported head of Saint John the Baptistenshrined in its

own Roman side chapel in the San Silvestro in Capite, Rome

According to the synoptic Gospels, Herod, who was tetrarch, or sub-king, of Galilee under the Roman Empire, had imprisoned John the Baptist because he reproved Herod for divorcing his wife and unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. On Herod's birthday, Herodias' daughter (whom Josephus identifies as Salome) danced before the king and his guests. Her dancing pleased Herod so much that in his drunkenness he promised to give her anything she desired, up to half of his kingdom. When Salome asked her mother what she should request, she was told to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although Herod was appalled by the request, he reluctantly agreed and had John executed by beheading in the prison. Jewish historian Josephus also relates in his Antiquities of the Jews that Herod killed John, stating that he did so, "lest the great influence John had over the people might incline them to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise), so Herod thought it best to put him to death." He further states that many of the Jews believed that the military disaster that fell upon Herod at the hands of Aretas, his father-in-law, was God's punishment for his unrighteous behavior.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Today, August 28, the Church honors St. Augustine. St. Augustine was born at the town of Thagaste (now Souk-Ahras in modern day Algeria) on November 13, 354 and grew to become one the most significant and influential thinkers in the history of the Catholic Church. His teachings were the foundation of Christian doctrine for a millennium.

The story of his life, up until his conversion, is written in the autobiographical Confessions, the most intimate and well-known glimpse into an individual's soul ever written, as well as a fascinating philosophical, theological, mystical, poetic and literary work.

Augustine, though being brought up in early childhood as a Christian, lived a dissolute life of revelry and sin, and soon drifted away from the Church - thinking that he wasn't necessarily leaving Christ, of whose name he acknowledges "I kept it in the recesses of my heart; and all that presented itself to me without that Divine name, though it might be elegant, well written, and even replete with truth, did not altogether carry me away" (Confessions, I, iv).

He went to study in Carthage and became well-known in the city for his brilliant mind and rhetorical skills and sought a career as an orator or lawyer. But he also discovered and fell in love with philosophy at the age of 19, a love he pursued with great vehemence.

He was attracted to Manichaeanism at this time, after its devotees had promised him that they had scientific answers to the mystery of nature, could disprove the Scriptures, and could explain the problem of evil. Augustine became a follower for nine years, learning all there was to learn in it before rejecting it as incoherent and fraudulent.

He went to Rome and then Milan in 386 where he met Saint Ambrose, the bishop and Doctor of the Church, whose sermons inspired him to look for the truth he had always sought in the faith he had rejected. He received baptism and soon after, his mother, Saint Monica, died with the knowledge that all she had hoped for in this world had been fulfilled.

He returned to Africa, to his hometown of Tagaste, "having now cast off from himself the cares of the world, he lived for God with those who accompanied him, in fasting, prayers, and good works, meditating on the law of the Lord by day and by night."

On a visit to Hippo he was proclaimed priest and then bishop against his will. He later accepted it as the will of God and spent the rest of his life as the pastor of the North African town, where he spent much time refuting the writings of heretics. 
Augustine also wrote, The City of God, against the pagans who charged that the fall of the Roman empire, which was taking place at the hands of the Vandals, was due to the spread of Christianity.  

On August 28, 430, as Hippo was under siege by the Vandals, Augustine died, at the age of 76. His legacy continues to deeply shape the face of the Church to this day.

Saturday, August 26, 2023


“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11–12

If you were to plan out the ideal future for yourself, what would it look like? Imagine if you were not constrained by budget or resources. Imagine if you could pick to do anything you wanted, to go anywhere you wanted, and enjoy any activity that you wanted. Imagine the greatest experience you could possibly have. What would that be? Most people would immediately think about indulging in the greatest pleasures imaginable. A life of the most luxurious accommodations, the best food, the most beautiful scenery and the most relaxing and enjoyable time possible. But would that truly be the “ideal future for yourself?”

The Gospel passage above is very clear. Greatness is found in servanthood. Exaltation is enjoyed only through humility. Is the ideal lifestyle one that is filled with indulgence, entertainment, luxury, and the like? Certainly not. The ideal life, the greatest life, the most exalted life is the life of the most humble service of others as possible. That’s essentially what Jesus tells us in this passage. Do you believe that?

Note that Jesus uses the words “greatest” and “must” in the same sentence. These two words are both quite definitive. There is no one greater than the “greatest,” and the path to that greatness requires, without exception, that the greatest be a servant of everyone else. In many ways, this truth defies most human conceptions of greatness. Most often, if someone is considered “great,” then they are served and treated with an honor and respect not given to most. For example, if you had someone of great importance over to your home for dinner, you would most likely wait on them. Of course, service in this context is much more than waiting on tables or providing a meal. Though that is a blessed way to serve others and to express love, Jesus’ concept of service goes far beyond this. How do we serve as one who is truly great? We do so especially by humbling ourselves. Humility is the greatest form of service we can render another.

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Thursday, August 24, 2023

Feast of Saint Bartholomew

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:45–46

Nathanael, who also goes by the name Bartholomew, reacted strongly to the news from his friend Philip that they had found the promised Messiah. Why did Nathanael react this way? Most likely because it was common knowledge among the Jews that the promised Messiah would come from Bethlehem, not from Nazareth. So Nathanael immediately raises this doubt because of Jesus’ supposed origin. Of course, Jesus actually was born in Bethlehem and only later moved to Nazareth, but Nathanael did not immediately realize this.

The first lesson to ponder is that, just like Nathanael, we can easily doubt matters of faith because we do not fully understand. Perhaps if Philip had come and said that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth, then Nathanael may have been more immediately open. But this encounter most likely unfolded as it did, with Nathanael’s initial doubt, because the Holy Spirit, Who inspired these Scriptures, wanted us to learn an important lesson. The lesson we must learn is that we must not close the door on the Truth just because something doesn’t immediately make sense to us. Doubts are never from God. The good news in this Gospel passage is that, even though Nathanael did immediately express a certain doubt, he remained open to what Philip was saying. Philip, in answer to this doubt, said the best thing he could have said. He said, “Come and see.”

Once Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus, Nathanael quickly professed his full faith in Jesus as the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel.” Jesus said very little to Nathanael to convince him of these truths. Jesus simply told Nathanael that he had seen him sitting under the fig tree and that He knew that Nathanael was a man without guile. To be without guile means that you are not two-faced; rather, you are a very honest and straightforward person. Nathanael’s immediate realization of the greatness of Jesus could have only come by the gift of grace working in his soul. He came to see Jesus and believed through the interior gift of faith.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The Queenship of Mary

The twentieth century saw a great resurgence in devotion to the Mother of God. Several decades prior to that century, on December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Four years later, the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen-year-old peasant girl, in Lourdes, France. In this apparition, when Bernadette asked who the Heavenly Lady was, she responded, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” This mystical confirmation of the papal dogma sparked great devotion to the Mother of God, and Lourdes became a frequent pilgrim site where many miracles have taken place.

In 1916, three shepherd children in Fátima, Portugal received three apparitions from the Angel of Peace, the Guardian Angel of Portugal. Then, in 1917 they received six apparitions from the Lady of the Rosary, as she called herself. On the day of her final apparition, some 70,000 had gathered and all witnessed the promised miracle. A pouring rain immediately stopped, the sun danced and plunged to the earth, and everything and everyone were immediately dry. This apparition and miracle continue to fuel devotion to the Mother of God.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII issued an apostolic constitution by which he declared as a dogma of our faith “that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” Since Jesus is the King of Kings, and since He sits on His throne at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, and since his mother was assumed into Heaven, body and soul, then the logical conclusion flowing from these truths necessarily leads us to today’s memorial.

Early Church Fathers used what is referred to as “typology” to clearly establish the continuity between the Old and New Testaments. For example, though King Solomon sinned, he is also a prefigurement, or “type” of Christ because he was a peacemaker, filled with wisdom, and built the Temple. Saint Augustine, in his commentary on Psalm 127, states that our Lord is “the true Solomon” and that “Solomon was the figure of this Peacemaker.” The true Peacemaker is Christ, and just as Solomon built the Temple, so our Lord built the true Temple of His Body, the Church.

Following this form of typology, the Book of 1 Kings states, “Then Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, and the king stood up to meet her and paid her homage. Then he sat down upon his throne, and a throne was provided for the king’s mother, who sat at his right. She said, ‘There is one small favor I would ask of you. Do not refuse me.’ The king said to her, ‘Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you’” (1 Kings 2:19–20). If King Solomon, an Old Testament type of Christ, honored his Queen Mother’s requests and sat her on a throne next to his, then so much more does our Lord, the true King of Kings, do so with His mother. Therefore, today’s memorial celebrates the fact that, in Heaven, Jesus’ mother is seated on a throne next to His, and like Solomon, Jesus says with certainty to her, “Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you.”

It is for these reasons, that on October 11, 1954, four years after the proclamation of the Assumption, Pope Pius XII instituted the Memorial of the Queenship of Mary with his encyclical letter, Ad Caeli Reginam (The Queen of Heaven). This memorial was first assigned the date May 31, which followed the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. However, in 1969, Pope Paul VI moved the date to August 22, eight days after the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In large part, this was done to create an octave of anticipation and to show that the Assumption necessarily results in the Mother of God being also the Queen Mother of Heaven and Earth.

As Queen, Mother Mary not only intercedes on our behalf, she also acts as her Son’s mediator. From her heavenly throne, the Queen Mother of Heaven and Earth is entrusted with the grace of God. She is not the source, but she is privileged to be the instrument of distribution. As a loving mother, nothing pleases her more than to lavish every good thing upon her children on earth. She longs to gather all of her children together in Heaven, with and in her divine Son.

Though the liturgical and theological evolution of today’s memorial might seem complex, the heart of it is simple. We not only have a mother in Heaven, we also have a Queen Mother. As Mary is the Queen Mother of God, we must turn to her with childlike faith and simplicity. As a young child runs to a loving mother in time of need, never questioning her love, protection, and care, so we must run to her. She is our protectress, our refuge, our hope, and our sweet delight. Her affection is perfect and her motherly love unmatched.

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Monday, August 21, 2023

Pope Saint Pius X

Pope Pius X, born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, was the first Pope elected in the 20th century. He came to the papal office in 1903 and died 11 years later in 1914, just as World War I was beginning.

He was born in 1835 at Riese, near Venice, and was one of eight children. His family was poor. He felt a calling to be a priest at a young age and was ordained in 1858. After 26 years, he was named bishop of Mantua, Italy, and in 1893, he became patriarch of Venice. 

As Pope, he issued decrees making the age of First Holy Communion earlier (at the age of 7) and advocated frequent and even daily reception of the Eucharist. He promoted the reading of the Bible among laypeople, reformed the liturgy, promoted clear and simple homilies, and brought back Gregorian chant. He revised the Breviary, reorganized the curia, and initiated the codification of canon law.

Like his predecessors, he promoted Thomism as the principal philosophical method to be taught in Catholic institutions. He vehemently opposed various 19th-century philosophies that he viewed as an intrusion of secular errors incompatible with Catholic dogma, especially modernism, which he critiqued as the synthesis of every heresy.

He died in 1914 of natural causes reportedly aggravated by worries over the beginning of World War I.

Pope Pius X was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1954.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux


Bernard was born into a high-nobility family in Fontaines, France. He was the third of seven children, with five brothers and one sister. As a member of a wealthy family with high social status, Bernard likely received a comprehensive education. His devout parents instilled in him a deep faith. At a young age, he was sent to be educated by the canons of the Church of Saint-Vorles at Châtillon-sur-Seine, located about eighty miles north of his hometown. There, he studied grammar, poetry, literature, rhetoric, dialectics, Scripture, and theology. He excelled in the study of Scripture, personalizing it through prayer. He also held a profound devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, continually seeking her intercession.

When Bernard was around nineteen years old, his mother passed away. This event profoundly affected him and his entire family. He had already begun contemplating religious life, and his mother’s loss might have sparked a deeper resolve to abandon worldly pursuits and live solely for God. Back in Fontaines with his family, Bernard began to reveal his intention to enter the newly formed Cistercian monastery in Cîteaux, known as the Abbey of Notre Dame. Initially, he encountered resistance, as he would be relinquishing everything his noble family could provide. However, he remained resolute and eventually gained their support. In fact, his virtue, clarity of purpose, and evident holiness inspired thirty other young noblemen to join him, including all of his brothers except the youngest, who would join him later, as would his father. His sister would become a Benedictine nun.

The Cistercian order, established in 1098, sought to return to the ideals of the Rule of Saint Benedict. During that time, many Benedictine monasteries had deviated from the Rule by becoming involved in societal and political affairs, adopting excessively elaborate liturgies, and accumulating significant land and wealth. While the Rule of Saint Benedict prescribed a balanced life of prayer and work for all monks, many monasteries had developed a two-tiered structure. Lay brothers primarily performed manual labor and fulfilled minimal prayer requirements, while choir monks, often priests, spent less time laboring and focused more on chapel and study. The Cistercians aimed to restore a single-type monk practice. In 1113, Bernard and his brothers said good-bye to their father, younger brother, and sister, and accompanied by the rest of their noble companions, they journeyed thirty miles north to the Abbey of Notre Dame in Cîteaux. Upon their arrival, they prostrated themselves before the front gate, humbly begging Abbot Stephen Harding for admission, which he joyfully granted.

Abbot Stephen, who is now recognized as a saint, spent twenty-five years as abbot. His commitment to a more faithful living of the Rule of Benedict, holiness, and administrative skills enabled the newly founded Cistercian order to experience rapid growth. Numerous young men joined during its initial years, resulting in the establishment of many new monasteries. One of these monasteries was founded in what was then called the Valley of Wormwood. It was a desolate, swampy, rugged, and inhospitable place, but soon it would be transformed and receive the name Clairvaux, meaning “Clear Valley.” Abbot Stephen appointed Bernard as its founding abbot—a role he would fill for the next thirty-eight years.

During his time in Clairvaux, Abbot Bernard earned high respect for his holiness and leadership in monastic reform. He was a prolific writer, leaving behind roughly 530 letters and 300 sermons. Among his most influential sermons is a series of eighty-six sermons on the Song of Songs. These sermons were preached to his monks over several years and exemplify the nature of his spirituality. They delve deeply into contemplation, centering on divine love, the soul’s longing for God, the experience of spiritual union, and the transformative power of God’s grace. Additionally, he wrote more than twenty longer works of a theological and contemplative nature. Notably, his treatise “On Loving God” passionately and rationally articulates the reasons we should love God to an immeasurable degree. In all of his works, Abbot Bernard sought to teach not only the mind but also to draw the heart to conversion and love. He regularly emphasized the personal nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, our call to mystical union with Him, the need for humility, the benefits of asceticism, and the central role that the Blessed Virgin Mary must play in our lives. He was a theologian, contemplative, and mystic whose central goals were to love God and to draw others into that same love.

In addition to his roles as abbot and writer, Bernard was frequently called upon by the wider Church, requiring much travel. He founded many monasteries as extensions of the Abbey of Clairvaux, regularly assisted popes and bishops with pressing needs within the Church, was an eloquent apologist in defense of the faith against heresies, was outspoken in his defense of persecuted Jews, assisted at Church councils, preached at the second Crusade, and played a significant role in resolving many other theological, political, and societal disputes. He was a true peacemaker and unifier. Many miracles were attributed to him. He healed the sick, cast out demons, multiplied food, calmed storms, and raised the dead. He had the charism of spiritual discernment and was able to read the inner thoughts and intentions of people. His influence was strong during his time on earth, and his voluminous writings continue to profoundly impact monastic life and all who seek to know and love God and our Blessed Mother more deeply, whom he especially saw as our Mediatrix and as the Star of the Sea who guides us through the darkness of life.

By the time Abbot Bernard died, his monastery in Clairvaux numbered about 700 monks, and he had founded at least sixty-eight monasteries. He has since been given the title the mellifluus Doctor of the Church, meaning that his words were like honey—convincing, forthcoming, elegant, sweet, and effective. When he spoke, everyone listened and responded.

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Saturday, August 19, 2023

Blessed Guerric of Igny

Blessed Guerric (c. 1070/80–1157) was abbot of Igny near Rheims, France, for nineteen years from 1138 till 1157.  He died at age 79 or even 89 if the earliest date of his birth is accepted; however the later date, 1180, is more likely.  The chronology is far from firm.  Guerric became abbot at around 60 years of age, when his health had begun to decline.  He was too ill to follow the common life, especially the manual labor. 

Guerric came from Tournai, Belgium near the border of France, and received an excellent education in his native city.  After studies, he preferred to continue his prayerful and studious life by living as a hermit near a church in Tournai (before the construction of the cathedral that is now a World Heritage Site).  His attraction for solitude may have always remained close to Guerric’s heart, even though he chose cenobitic life at Clairvaux under St. Bernard.  Bernard, in letters from around 1125, refers to Guerric as a novice.  Guerric may have entered at age 45, already mature and formed in his intellectual life.  However, he became a student again under his younger master for around thirteen years, before being installed as second abbot of Igny.  All knew that he was Bernard’s choice for that office. 

Fifty-four of Guerric’s sermons have been preserved.  They are assigned to feast days or to the liturgical seasons. One of Guerric’s major themes, although it does not appear in his first sermon, is that our spiritual life consists in taking on the form of Christ as marked by the major events in his life.  Christ is born in us, grows to maturity in us, prays and praises in us, is tempted in us, helps others in and through us, suffers and dies in us, and even shares his risen life with us.  Thus we take on the form of Christ’s life and become other Christs.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Wisdom of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

“A saint is not someone who never sins, but one who sins less and less frequently and gets up more and more quickly.”

“If you concentrate hard on the state you are in, it would be suprising if you have time for anything else.”

“What we love we shall grow to resemble.”

“Many often err and accomplish little or nothing because they try to become learned rather than to live well.” 

“To have a restful or peaceful life in God is good; to bear a life of pain in patience is better; but to have peace in the midst of pain is the best of all.” 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

“Mary’s Assumption is an event that concerns us precisely because every human being is destined to die. But death is not the last word. Death – the mystery of the Virgin’s Assumption assures us – is the passage to life, the encounter with Love. It is the passage to the eternal happiness in store for those who toil for truth and justice and do their utmost to follow Christ.”

Pope Saint John Paul II

Precisely because Mary is with God and in God, she is very close to each one of us. While she lived on the earth she could only be close to a few people. Being in God, who is actually within all of us, Mary shares in this closeness of God. She knows our hearts, can hear our prayers, can help us with her motherly kindness. She always listens to us, and, being Mother of the Son, participates in the power of the Son and in his goodness. We can always entrust the whole of our lives to this Mother.

Pope Benedict XVI

That transformation of our material bodies to which we look forward one day has been accomplished—we know it now for certain—in her.

Msgr. Ronald Knox

Monday, August 14, 2023

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Franciscan Priest and Martyr

Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe was 
born January 8, 1894 in Zduńska Wola, near Lodz in the Russian Empire, now part of Poland. His life climaxed in 1941 in Auschwitz, where he volunteered to die in place of a fellow prisoner he hardly knew. 
On October 17, 1971, Kolbe was beatified by Pope Paul VI, the first Nazi victim to be proclaimed blessed by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1982 Pope John Paul II canonized him, proclaiming also that he was to be venerated as a martyr.

Famous quotes by Saint Maximilian:

Prayer is powerful beyond limits when we turn to the Immaculata who is queen even of God's heart.

If anyone does not wish to have Mary Immaculate for his Mother, he will not have Christ for his Brother.

The conflict with Hell cannot be maintained by men, even the most clever. The Immaculata alone has from God the promise of victory over Satan.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

The Four Marian Dogmas


Herman Richir (1866-1942), “La Madone” | Public Domain

There are four dogmas stating Mary's personal relationship with God and her role in human salvation .

1) Divine Motherhood

Mary's divine motherhood was proclaimed at the Council of Ephesus in  431.

Various names are used to describe Mary's role as mother of Jesus. She is called "Mother of God" which translates the more accurately stated greek term "Theotokos" or "Birthgiver of God."

The Council of Ephesus (431) attributed to Mary the title, Mother of God. This needs to be read against the Council's declaration that in Christ there are two natures, one divine and one human, but only one person. Indeed, according to the Council the holy virgin is the Mother of God since she begot according to the flesh the Word of God made flesh. This decision was further explained  by the Council of Chalcedon (451) which says with regard to Mary's divine motherhood:

"...begotten from the Father before the ages as regards his godhead, and in the last days, the same, because of us and because of our salvation begotten from the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, as regards his manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten..."

Mary's Divine Motherhood was not the object of an independent or exclusive dogmatic declaration. The statement is embedded in texts defining the person and natures of Jesus Christ. Thus, the dogma of Divine Motherhood becomes an integral part of the christological dogma. This does not diminish its definitive and binding character. The dogma of Divine Motherhood is generally accepted by all Christian denominations.

2) Perpetual Virginity

The expression perpetual virginity, ever-virgin, or simply "Mary the Virgin" refers primarily to the conception and birth of Jesus. From the first formulations of faith, especially in baptismal formulas or professions of faith, the Church professed that Jesus Christ was conceived without human seed by the power of the Holy Spirit only. Here lies the decisive meaning of expressions such as "conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary," "Mary's virginal conception," or "virgin birth." The early baptismal formula (since the 3rd century) state Mary's virginity without further explaining it, but there is no doubt about its physical meaning. Later statements are more explicit. Mary conceived "without any detriment to her virginity, which remained inviolate even after his birth" (Council of the Lateran, 649).

Although never explicated in detail, the Catholic Church holds as dogma that Mary was and is Virgin before, in and after Christ's birth. It stresses thus the radical novelty of the Incarnation and Mary's no less radical and exclusive dedication to her mission as mother of her Son, Jesus Christ. Vatican II reiterated the teaching about Mary, the Ever-Virgin, by stating that Christ's birth did not diminish Mary's virginal integrity but sanctified it . The Catechism of the Catholic Church ponders the deeper meaning of the virgin bride and perpetual virginity (499-507). It also maintains that Jesus Christ was Mary's only child. The so-called "brothers and sisters" are close relations.

3) Immaculate Conception

The solemn definition of Mary's Immaculate Conception is like Divine Motherhood and Perpetual Virginity part of the christological doctrine, but it was proclaimed as an independent dogma by Pope Pius IX in his Apostolic Constitution "Ineffabilis Deus" (December 8, 1854). Though highlighting a privilege of Mary it in fact stresses the dignity and holiness required to become "Mother of God." The privilege of the Immaculate Conception is the source and basis for Mary's all-holiness as Mother of God.

More specifically, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception states "that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege from Almighty God and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, was kept free of every stain of original sin."

This dogma has both a "negative" and a "positive" meaning which complement each other. The "negative" meaning stresses Mary's freedom from original sin thanks to the anticipated or retroactive (here called preventive) grace of Christ's redemptive act. By the same token, the dogma suggests Mary's all-holiness. This "positive" meaning is the consequence of the absence of original sin. Mary's life is permanently and intimately related to God, and thus she is the all-holy.

Although difficult to explain, original sin provokes disorderliness in thought and behavior, especially with regard to the primacy of God's presence in our life. Consequently, in declaring Mary immaculately conceived, the Church sees in Mary one who never denied God the least sign of love. Thus, the dogma declares that from her beginning Mary was exceptionally holy and in constant union with the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit.

4) The Assumption

This marian dogma was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950 on his Encyclical Munificentissimus Deus.

A distinction needs to be made between Ascension and Assumption. Jesus Christ, Son of God and Risen Lord, ascended into heaven, a sign of divine power. Mary, on the contrary, was elevated or assumed into heaven by the power and grace of God.

The dogma states that "Mary, Immaculate Mother of God ever Virgin, after finishing the course of her life on earth, was taken up in body and soul to heavenly glory." This definition as well as that of the Immaculate Conception makes not only reference to the universal, certain and firm consent of the Magisterium but makes allusion to the concordant belief of the faithful. The Assumption had been a part of the Church's spiritual and doctrinal patrimony for centuries. It had been part of theological reflection but also of the liturgy and was part of the sense of the faithful.

This dogma has no direct basis in scripture. It was nonetheless declared "divinely revealed," meaning that it is contained implicitly in divine Revelation. It may be understood as the logical conclusion of Mary's vocation on earth, and the way she lived her life in union with God and her mission. The assumption may be seen as a consequence of Divine Motherhood. Being through, with, and for her Son on earth, it would seem fitting for Mary to be through, with, and for her Son in heaven, too. She was on earth the generous associate of her Son. The Assumption tells us that this association continues in heaven. Mary is indissolubly linked to her Son on earth and in heaven.

In heaven, Mary's active involvement in salvation history continues: "Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside her salvific duty... By her maternal love she cares for the brothers and sisters of her Son who still journey on earth" (LG). Mary is the "eschatological icon of the Church" (CCC 972), meaning the Church contemplates in Mary her own end of times.

The definition of the dogma does not say how the transition from Mary's earthly state to her heavenly state happened. Did Mary die? Was she assumed to heaven without prior separation of soul and body? The question remains open for discussion. However, the opinion that Mary passed through death as her Son did, has the stronger support in tradition.

Glorified in body and soul, Mary is already in the state that will be ours after the resurrection of the dead.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Saint Lawrence

St. Lawrence is thought to have been born on 31 December AD 225, in Huesca (or less probably, in Valencia), the town from which his parents came in the later region of Aragon that was then part of the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis. The martyrs Orentius and Patientia are traditionally held to have been his parents.

Lawrence encountered the future Pope Sixtus II, a famous teacher born in Greece, in Caesaraugusta (Zaragoza), and they travelled together from Spain to Rome. When Sixtus became the Pope in 257, he ordained the young Lawrence who was only 22, as a deacon, and later appointed him as "archdeacon of Rome", the first among the seven deacons who served in the cathedral church. This was a position of great trust that included the care of the treasury and riches of the Church and the distribution of alms to the indigent.

St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, noted that at the time the norm was that Christians who were denounced were executed and all their goods confiscated by the Imperial treasury. At the beginning of August 258, the Emperor Valerian issued an edict that all bishops, priests, and deacons should immediately be put to death. Pope Sixtus II was captured on August 6, 258, at the cemetery of St. Callixtus while celebrating the liturgy and was executed immediately.

After the death of Sixtus, the prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence turn over the riches of the Church, and St. Ambrose wrote that Lawrence asked for three days to gather the wealth. He worked swiftly to distribute as much Church property to the indigent as possible to prevent it from being seized by the prefect. On the third day, at the head of a small delegation, he presented himself to the prefect. When ordered to deliver the treasures of the Church, he presented the city's indigent, crippled, blind, and suffering, and declared that these were the true treasures of the Church: "Here are the treasures of the church. You see, the church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor!"

Saint Lawrence was martyred on August 10, 258 along with many other members of the Roman clergy. He was the last of the seven deacons of Rome to die.

Martyrdom  of Saint Lawrence

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)Virgin and Martyr Edith Stein, born in 1891 in Breslau, Poland, was the youngest child of a large Jewish family. She was an outstanding student and was well versed in philosophy with a particular interest in phenomenology. Eventually she became interested in the Catholic Faith, and in 1922, she was baptized at the Cathedral Church in Cologne, Germany. Eleven years later Edith entered the Cologne Carmel. Because of the ramifications of politics in Germany, Edith, whose name in religion was Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was sent to the Carmel at Echt, Holland. When the Nazis conquered Holland, Teresa was arrested, and, with her sister Rose, was sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Teresa died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1942 at the age of fifty-one. In 1987, she was beatified in the large outdoor soccer stadium in Cologne by Pope John Paul II. Out of the unspeakable human suffering caused by the Nazis in western Europe in the 1930's and 1940's, there blossomed the beautiful life of dedication, consecration, prayer, fasting, and penance of Saint Teresa. Even though her life was snuffed out by the satanic evil of genocide, her memory stands as a light undimmed in the midst of evil, darkness, and suffering. She was canonized on October 11, 1998.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Saint Dominic Guzman

On Aug. 8, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St. Dominic Guzman, who helped the cause of orthodoxy in the medieval Church by founding the Order of Preachers, also known as Dominicans.

“This great saint reminds us that in the heart of the Church a missionary fire must always burn,” Pope Benedict XVI said in a February 2010 General Audience talk on the life of St. Dominic. In his life, the Pope said, “the search for God’s glory and the salvation of souls” went “hand in hand.”

Born in Caleruega, Spain around the year 1170, Dominic was the son of Felix Guzman and Joanna of Aza, members of the nobility. His mother would eventually be beatified by the Church, as would his brother Manes who became a Dominican. The family’s oldest son Antonio also became a priest.

Dominic received his early education from his uncle, who was a priest, before entering the University of Palencia where he studied for ten years. In one notable incident from this period, he sold his entire collection of rare books to provide for the relief of the poor in the city.

After his ordination to the priesthood, Dominic was asked by Bishop Diego of Osma to participate in local church reforms. He spent nine years in Osma, pursuing a life of intense prayer, before being called to accompany the bishop on a piece of business for King Alfonso IX of Castile in 1203.

While traveling in France with the bishop, Dominic observed the bad effects of the Albigensian heresy, which had taken hold in southern France during the preceding century. The sect revived an earlier heresy, Manicheanism, which condemned the material world as an evil realm not created by God.

Dreading the spread of heresy, Dominic began to think about founding a religious order to promote the truth. In 1204 he and Bishop Diego were sent by Pope Innocent III to assist in the effort against the Albigensians, which eventually involved both military force and theological persuasion.

In France, Dominic engaged in doctrinal debates and set up a convent whose rule would eventually become a template for the life of female Dominicans. He continued his preaching mission from 1208 to 1215, during the intensification of the military effort against the Albigensians.

In 1214, Dominic’s extreme physical asceticism caused him to fall into a coma, during which the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to him and instructed him to promote the prayer of the Rosary. Its focus on the incarnation and life of Christ directly countered the Albigensian attitude towards matter as evil.

During that same year, Dominic returned to Tolouse and obtained the bishop’s approval of his plan for an order dedicated to preaching. He and a group of followers gained local recognition as a religious congregation, and Dominic accompanied Tolouse’s bishop to Rome for an ecumenical council in 1215.

The council stressed the Church’s need for better preaching, but also set up a barrier to the institution of new religious orders. Dominic, however, obtained papal approval for his plan in 1216, and was named as the Pope’s chief theologian. The Order of Preachers expanded in Europe with papal help in 1218.

The founder spent the last several years of his life building up the order and continuing his preaching missions, during which he is said to have converted some 100,000 people. After several weeks of illness, St. Dominic died in Italy on August 6, 1221. He was canonized in 1234 by Pope Gregory IX.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Feast of the Transfiguration Homily

Today's Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord takes precedence over the normal Sunday liturgy—it being a feast of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each of the three synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—contain an account of the Transfuguration; we heard Matthew's this morning. I believe it was St. Augustine who first analyzed Matthew's gospel using the mountains that loom large in the narrative: first, the mountain of the Beatitudes with its sublime spiritual and ethical teaching contained in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, second, the mountain of the Transfirguration (generally thought to be Mt. Tabor), and, third, the mountain or hill of Calvary. Each mountain can be thought of as representing an important aspect of the Gospel of Christ, and every aspect of Gospel life is mystical. Without Christ we can do nothing, but through, with and in Christ we can do all things.

Thus, the ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount can only be truly practiced by people who live for Christ and in Christ. The redeeming co- suffering of Christians that Christ witnessed as the primal example on Calvary is only efficacious when one has identified with Christ in this most radical way—suffering with and in Christ. Yes, Christ tells us, “Without me you can do nothing.” But St. Paul also tells us , “I have the strength for everything through him (that is, Jesus Christ) who empowers me.” Christianity is an essentially mystical way of life, and Mt. Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus is an essentially mystical mountain not only for Jesus and Peter, James and John, but for all of us disciples as well.

All three of the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration follow on the announcement by Jesus of his first prediction of his passion, death and resurrection. Luke alone tells us that they went up Mt. Tabor to pray, but we must remember that the people of Jesus' time looked upon mountains as the usual sites for revelations of God—as many people still do today. The structural purpose of the Transfiguration seems to be to give to the disciples (including us) a needed spiritual uplift in the face of impending challenge and suffering. That uplift is for us, as St. Luke tells us in his version, prayer. We should think not only of private prayer, but liturgical, sacramental prayer as well, prayer that will foster our progress toward intimate union with Christ—mystical prayer.

A beautiful passage in the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the intense contemplative prayer of a simple parishioner of the Cure of Ars. The passage uses the same concepts and vocabulary as the Gospel description of the Transfiguration. “Contemplative prayer is the pre-eminently intense time of prayer. Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. 'I look at him and he looks at me' said the peasant of Ars. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all people... Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God, is the obedicnce of faith.” In the Gospel today and everyday we disciples are captivated by the transfigured face of Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father, the face which shines in our hearts like the sun, and we listen to his word as we make our obedience of faith. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

Furthermore, the Church teaches in the Catechism that as Jesus' baptism proclaimed the mystery of the first regeneration which is our baptism, the Transfiguration is “the sacrament of the second regeneration: our own Resurrection. From now on we share in the Lord's Resurrection through the Spirit who acts in the sacraments of the Body of Christ. The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ's glorious coming when he will 'change our lowly body to be like his glorious body.'” The Eucharist we are about to receive not only changes bread and wine into the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, but in receiving it in faith, hope and love we are also given a foretaste of our transfiguration, our being lifted up into resurrection and glory. The grace and strength are given to us to climb the three mountains: first, that of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, second, that of the Transfiguration and, finally, our own Calvary—death and transfiguration.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Dedication of Saint Mary Major Basilica – Aug. 5

First raised at the order of Pope Liberius in the mid-fourth century, the Liberian basilica was rebuilt by Pope Sixtus III shortly after the Council of Ephesus affirmed Mary’s title as Mother of God in 431. Rededicated at that time to the Mother of God, St. Mary Major is the largest church in the world honoring God through Mary. Standing atop one of Rome’s seven hills, the Esquiline, it has survived many restorations without losing its character as an early Roman basilica. Its interior retains three naves divided by colonnades in the style of Constantine’s era. Fifth-century mosaics on its walls testify to its antiquity.

St. Mary Major is one of the four Roman basilicas known as patriarchal churches in memory of the first centers of the Church. St. John Lateran represents Rome, the See of Peter; St. Paul Outside the Walls, the See of Alexandria, allegedly the see presided over by Mark; St. Peter’s, the See of Constantinople; and St. Mary’s, the See of Antioch, where Mary is supposed to have spent most of her later life.

One legend, unreported before the year 1000, gives another name to this feast: Our Lady of the Snows. According to that story, a wealthy Roman couple pledged their fortune to the Mother of God. In affirmation, she produced a miraculous summer snowfall and told them to build a church on the site. The legend was long celebrated by releasing a shower of white rose petals from the basilica’s dome every August 5.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Monastic Wisdom

Moreover, if you more closely contemplate every creature, from the first to the last, from the highest to the lowest, from the loftiest angel to the lowliest worm, you will surely discover divine goodness—which we have called nothing other than divine charity—which contains, enfolds and penetrates all things, not by pouring into a place, or being diffused in space, or by nimbly moving about, but by the steady, mysterious and self-contained simplicity of its substantial presence.

Charity joins the lowest to the highest, binds in harmonious peace contraries to contraries, cold to hot, wet to dry, smooth to rough, hard to soft, so that among all creatures there can be nothing adverse, nothing contradictory, nothing unbecoming, nothing disturbing, nothing to disfigure the beauty of the universe, but that all things should rest, as it were, in utterly tranquil peace, with the tranquility of that order which charity ordained in the universe.

From Mirror of Charity, Aelred of Rievaulx

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Daily Reflection

Abba Macarius said, "If slander has become to you the same as praise, poverty as riches, deprivation as abundance, you will not die. Indeed it is impossible for anyone who firmly believes, who labors with devotion, to fall into the impurity of the passions and be led astray by the demons." In the monastery our daily prayers open with "Oh God, come to my assistance. Oh Lord, make haste to help me." Without God, we are powerless and our words and prayer are empty.