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St. John Vianney

Today is the memorial of St. John Vianney, patron of priests.

We can start with his own words, from the Office of Readings in years on which the memorial doesn’t fall on a Sunday.

My children, your hearts are small, but prayer enlarges them and renders them capable of loving God. Prayer is a foretaste of heaven, an overflowing of heaven. It never leaves us without sweetness; it is like honey, it descends into the soul and sweetens everything. In a prayer well made, troubles vanish like snow under the rays of the sun.
  Prayer makes time seem to pass quickly, and so pleasantly that one fails to notice how long it is. When I was parish priest of Bresse, once almost all my colleagues were ill, and as I made long journeys I used to pray to God, and, I assure you, the time did not seem long to me. There are those who lose themselves in prayer, like a fish in water, because they are absorbed in God. There is no division in their hearts. How I love those noble souls! Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Colette saw our Lord and spoke to him as we speak to one another.
  As for ourselves, how often do we come to church without thinking what we are going to do or for what we are going to ask.
  And yet, when we go to call upon someone, we have no difficulty in remembering why it was we came. Some appear as if they were about to say to God: ‘I am just going to say a couple of words, so I can get away quickly.’ I often think that when we come to adore our Lord we should get all we ask if we asked for it with a lively faith and a pure heart.
Then move on to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who gave much attention to the saint in his declaration of the Year for Priests:

He arrived in Ars, a village of 230 souls, warned by his Bishop beforehand that there he would find religious practice in a sorry state: “There is little love of God in that parish; you will be the one to put it there”. As a result, he was deeply aware that he needed to go there to embody Christ’s presence and to bear witness to his saving mercy: “[Lord,] grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer whatever you wish, for my entire life!”: with this prayer he entered upon his mission.[7] The Curé devoted himself completely to his parish’s conversion, setting before all else the Christian education of the people in his care. Dear brother priests, let us ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to learn for ourselves something of the pastoral plan of Saint John Mary Vianney! The first thing we need to learn is the complete identification of the man with his ministry. In Jesus, person and mission tend to coincide: all Christ’s saving activity was, and is, an expression of his “filial consciousness” which from all eternity stands before the Father in an attitude of loving submission to his will. In a humble yet genuine way, every priest must aim for a similar identification. Certainly this is not to forget that the efficacy of the ministry is independent of the holiness of the minister; but neither can we overlook the extraordinary fruitfulness of the encounter between the ministry’s objective holiness and the subjective holiness of the minister. The Curé of Ars immediately set about this patient and humble task of harmonizing his life as a minister with the holiness of the ministry he had received, by deciding to “live”, physically, in his parish church: As his first biographer tells us: “Upon his arrival, he chose the church as his home. He entered the church before dawn and did not leave it until after the evening Angelus. There he was to be sought whenever needed”.[8]

The pious excess of his devout biographer should not blind us to the fact that the Curé also knew how to “live” actively within the entire territory of his parish: he regularly visited the sick and families, organized popular missions and patronal feasts, collected and managed funds for charitable and missionary works, embellished and furnished his parish church, cared for the orphans and teachers of the “Providence” (an institute he founded); provided for the education of children; founded confraternities and enlisted lay persons to work at his side.

….This deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led him – by a sole inward movement – from the altar to the confessional. Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament. In France, at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence

…..

We priests should feel that the following words, which he put on the lips of Christ, are meant for each of us personally: “I will charge my ministers to proclaim to sinners that I am ever ready to welcome them, that my mercy is infinite”.[24] From Saint John Mary Vianney we can learn to put our unfailing trust in the sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the centre of our pastoral concerns, and to take up the “dialogue of salvation” which it entails. The Curé of Ars dealt with different penitents in different ways. Those who came to his confessional drawn by a deep and humble longing for God’s forgiveness found in him the encouragement to plunge into the “flood of divine mercy” which sweeps everything away by its vehemence. If someone was troubled by the thought of his own frailty and inconstancy, and fearful of sinning again, the Curé would unveil the mystery of God’s love in these beautiful and touching words: “The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, he already knows that you will sin again, yet he still forgives you. How great is the love of our God: he even forces himself to forget the future, so that he can grant us his forgiveness!”.[25] But to those who made a lukewarm and rather indifferent confession of sin, he clearly demonstrated by his own tears of pain how “abominable” this attitude was: “I weep because you don’t weep”,[26] he would say. “If only the Lord were not so good! But he is so good! One would have to be a brute to treat so good a Father this way!”.[27] He awakened repentance in the hearts of the lukewarm by forcing them to see God’s own pain at their sins reflected in the face of the priest who was their confessor. To those who, on the other hand, came to him already desirous of and suited to a deeper spiritual life, he flung open the abyss of God’s love, explaining the untold beauty of living in union with him and dwelling in his presence: “Everything in God’s sight, everything with God, everything to please God… How beautiful it is!”.[28] And he taught them to pray: “My God, grant me the grace to love you as much as I possibly can”.[29]

In his time the Curé of Ars was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord’s merciful love. Our own time urgently needs a similar proclamation and witness to the truth of Love: Deus caritas est (1 Jn: 4:8).

From a 2009 General Audience

His testimony reminds us, dear brothers and sisters, that for every baptized person and especially for every priest the Eucharist is not merely an event with two protagonists, a dialogue between God and me. Eucharistic Communion aspires to a total transformation of one’s life and forcefully flings open the whole human “I” of man and creates a new “we” (cf. Joseph Ratzinger, La Comunione nella Chiesa, p. 80).

Thus, far from reducing the figure of St John Mary Vianney to an example albeit an admirable one of 18-century devotional spirituality, on the contrary one should understand the prophetic power that marked his human and priestly personality that is extremely timely. In post-revolutionary France which was experiencing a sort of “dictatorship of rationalism” that aimed at obliterating from society the very existence of priests and of the Church, he lived first in the years of his youth a heroic secrecy, walking kilometres at night to attend Holy Mass. Then later as a priest Vianney distinguished himself by an unusual and fruitful pastoral creativity, geared to showing that the then prevalent rationalism was in fact far from satisfying authentic human needs, hence definitively unliveable.

Dear brothers and sisters, 150 years after the death of the Holy Curé of Ars, contemporary society is facing challenges that are just as demanding and may have become even more complex. If in his time the “dictatorship of rationalism” existed, in the current epoch a sort of “dictatorship of relativism” is evident in many contexts. Both seem inadequate responses to the human being’s justifiable request to use his reason as a distinctive and constitutive element of his own identity. Rationalism was inadequate because it failed to take into account human limitations and claims to make reason alone the criterion of all things, transforming it into a goddess; contemporary relativism humiliates reason because it arrives de facto at affirming that the human being can know nothing with certainty outside the positive scientific field. Today however, as in that time, man, “a beggar for meaning and fulfilment”, is constantly in quest of exhaustive answers to the basic questions that he never ceases to ask himself.

Pope John XXIII wrote an entire encyclical on St. John Vianney – on the 100th anniversary of his death.  It’s an interesting read from an historical perspective – published on August 1, 1959..it’s sort of hard to see why it’s an encyclical, exactly, rather than some other sort of papal document, but that’s not the first or last time that question could be posed.

It’s definitely worth your time, not only for what you might learn about St. John Vianney, but also for what it tells us about Pope John XXIII’s thinking on the priesthood on the cusp of the Second Vatican Council.

It is not Our intention at this time to enter upon a lengthy treatment of the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and on the Eucharistic Sacrifice as it has been handed down from antiquity. Our predecessors Pius XI and Pius XII have done this in clear and important documents and We urge you to take pains to see to it that the priests and faithful entrusted to your care are very familiar with them. This will clear up the doubts of some; and correct the more daring statements that have sometimes been made in discussing these matters.

52. But We too hope to say something worthwhile in this matter by showing the principal reason why the holy Cure of Ars, who, as befits a hero, was most careful in fulfilling his priestly duties, really deserves to be proposed to those who have the care of souls as a model of outstanding virtue and to be honored by them as their heavenly patron. If it is obviously true that a priest receives his priesthood so as to serve at the altar and that he enters upon this office by offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice, then it is equally true that for as long as he lives as God’s minister, the Eucharistic Sacrifice will be the source and origin of the holiness that he attains and of the apostolic activity to which he devotes himself. All of these things came to pass in the fullest possible way in the case of St. John Vianney.

53. For, if you give careful consideration to all of the activity of a priest, what is the main point of his apostolate if not seeing to it that wherever the Church lives, a people who are joined by the bonds of faith, regenerated by holy Baptism and cleansed of their faults will be gathered together around the sacred altar? It is then that the priest, using the sacred power he has received, offers the divine Sacrifice in which Jesus Christ renews the unique immolation which He completed on Calvary for the redemption of mankind and for the glory of His heavenly Father. It is then that the Christians who have gathered together, acting through the ministry of the priest, present the divine Victim and offer themselves to the supreme and eternal God as a “sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God.” (64) There it is that the people of God are taught the doctrines and precepts of faith and are nourished with the Body of Christ, and there it is that they find a means to gain supernatural life, to grow in it, and if need be to regain unity. And there besides, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, grows with spiritual increase throughout the world down to the end of time.

From Fr. Steve Grunow:

In 1818, John Vianney was sent by his bishop to the parish of Ars, a godforsaken place with maybe 230 inhabitants. The place was basically a ruin. His bishop told him that “there is little love of God in that parish; you will have to the one who puts it there”.

That he did.

By 1855, 4 years before John Vianney’s death, some 20,000 pilgrims flocked to Ars in hope of just getting a glimpse of the holy priest.

John Vianney was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI in the year 1925.

The lesson?

In my limited experience there are two approaches that characterize the way that parish priests will approach their vocation- one that is oriented towards the administrative and the other that it ordered towards the ascetic or to the athletic. MORE

Finally, French Catholic Novelist Georges Bernanos wrote a novel called Diary of a Country Priest, based on at least the spirit of the ministry of the Cure d’Ars.  I wrote a teeny-tiny article on the novel (why it was so short is at the link) for Liguorian ages ago. You can read it here. 

In the late 19th and early 20th century a philosophical perspective called positivism ruled the  intellectual climate in France.  Positivists like Emile Durkheim and Auguste Comte claimed that all one can know about human life is what can be observed and that the laws of behavior and society discerned from these observations should be used to organize human life.

Into this scientifically-based and utterly materialistic mileu stepped, one by one over the decades before and just after the First World War, a group of writers who formed what we now call the French Catholic Literary Revival.  Francois Mauriac, Charles Peguy, Julien Green and Leon Bloy  rejected positivism and reclaimed a vision of human beings essentially defined, not by scientific law, but rather by our relation to God and struggle with evil.  One of the finest writers of this group was George Bernanos, author of Diary of a Country Priest.

Diary of a Country Priest, first published in 1936, is just what the title suggests:  the fictional journal of a young curate in rural France.  The premise may seem simple, but in Bernanos’ hands it emerges as a rich work in which the reader encounters the injustices of French society, the emptiness of an intellectual system that rejects God, the failure of the Church to fully embody Christ’s love for the poor, and above all, the power of a life dedicated to God.

 

It’s the 55th anniversary of Flannery O’Connor’s death – August 3, 1964. Here are some links so some things I’ve written about her:

First, our visit, just last week, to Andalusia, her family home. 

 

Published  in Catholic World Report:  “The Spiritual Witness of Flannery O’Connor”

O’Connor’s work is important. Her life and spiritual witness is important as well.

For Flannery O’Connor, like all of us, had plans. Unlike many of us, perhaps, she also had a clear sense of her own gifts. As a very young woman, she set out to follow that path. She had fantastic opportunities at Iowa, made great connections and seemed to be on the road to success at a very young age. Wise Blood was accepted for publication when she was in her early 20s. She was in New York. She was starting to run in invigorating literary circles.

And then she got sick.

And she had to go back to her mother’s farm in Milledgeville, Georgia.

O’Connor’s story is a helpful and necessary corrective, it seems to me, of the current spiritual environment which privileges choice and health and seeks to baptize secular notions of success, achievement, and even beauty. What is missing from all of that is a cheerful acceptance of limitations and a faith that even within those limitations—only within those limitations—we are called to serve God.

 

“The Enduring Chill” played a part in my last visit to my parents’ house after I’d sold it:

Secondly, the association of the breaking through of the Holy Ghost with coldness.  A chill. An enduring chill.  There are a number of ways to look at it,  since the “chill” is of course a reference to fever,  but  this morning I couldn’t stop thinking about Flannery’s continual argument against the modern expectation that “faith” is what brings us  contentment and satisfaction.  In the Gospel today,  Jesus says Peace be with You.  But that’s after the crucifixion, you know.

Also on Asbury’s mind- primary, really – was his mother.  How he blamed her for his own failure as a would-be artist, and how what he wanted to do most of all was make her see this.  To give her an enduring chill that would be the result of her awareness of what she had done to him.

He would hurt her, but that was just too bad.  It was what was necessary, he determined, to get her to see things as they really are. Irony, of course, comes to rest on him in the end as the Holy Ghost descends.

So I read and talked about this story about parents, children, disappointment, blame,  pride and being humbled.

Then I drove up to Knoxville, alone, thinking about Asbury, about that Holy Ghost, about peace be with you and doubt no longer.

I drove up to see my father’s house for the last time and sign the papers so someone new could live there now.

Tears?

Sadness that my father died six months ago, that my mother died eleven years ago, that my husband died three years ago. Sadness for my dad’s widow.  But then tempered, as I stood there and surveyed the surrounding houses and realized that almost every person who lived in those houses when we first moved in, is also dead.

Remembering that forty years ago, my parents were  exactly where I am now, watching the preceding generation begin to die off, absorbing their possessions, making sense of what they’d inherited – in every sense – and contemplating where to go from there.

There’s nothing unique about it.  It’s called being human. Not existing for a very long time, being alive for a few minutes, and then being dead for another very long time.

And in that short time, we try.  I’m not going to say “we try our best” because we don’t.  It’s why we ask for mercy.  Especially when we live our days under the delusion of self-sufficiency, placing our faith in ourselves and our poor, passing efforts, closed to grace…when we live like that…no, we’re not trying our best.  We need it,  that  Divine Mercy. We need it, and as Asbury has to learn, we need it to give, not just to take.  More

A summary of a session I lead on “The Displaced Person”

There is a priest in the story, the priest who brings the family (the Guizacs) to the farm, and then continues to visit Mrs. McIntyre. He is old and Irish, listens to Mrs. McIntyre’s complaints about her workers and the difficulties of her life with a nod and a raised eyebrow and then continues to talk to her about the teachings of the Church.

He is seen by the others as a doddering fool, talking about abstractions, not clued into the pressing issues of the moment, telling Mrs. McIntyre, for example, about what the Son of God has done, redeeming us,  “as if he spoke of something that had happened yesterday in town….”

And at the end, as Mrs. McIntyre watches the black figure of the priest bend over a dead man ” slipping something into the crushed man’s mouth…” we see why he spoke of it that way.

It did happen yesterday in town. It happens today.

He’s here.

The priest, too, is the only character who recognizes transcendence.  Every time he comes to the farm, he is transfixed by the peacocks (see the header on the blog today), a fascination the others think is just one more symptom of foolishness and “second childhood.”

You must be born again….

And here is the “irony.” Although steeped in Catholic faith and sensibilities, we know it is not ironic – but to the world’s eyes, it is. That the priest who expresses the mysteries in such matter-of-fact, “formulaic” ways, ways which even theologians today fret are not nuanced or postmodern enough, which they would like to dispense with in favor of…what, I am not sure, unless it is one more set of windy journal articles…this priest is, as I said, the only character who can recognize beauty and the transcendent reflected there. And the one who embodies Mercy.

Flannery O’Connor always said that she found the doctrines of the Church freeing – and this is what she means.

And the story ends:

Not many people remembered to come out to the country to see her except the old priest. He came regularly once a week with a bag of breadcrumbs and, after he had fed these to the peacock, he would come in and sit by the side of her bed and explain the doctrines of the Church.

 

This one on the collection of her book reviews for the Atlanta Archdiocesan paper. 

Most of what O’Connor reviewed was non-fiction, and she did not like most of the fiction she did review – J.F. Powers, Paul Horgan and Julien Green being the unsurprising exceptions in the otherwise flowerly garden of pietistic fiction she endured.

The non-fiction choices are fascinating, although not a surprise to anyone familiar with the contents of O’Connor’s personal library and the scope of her reading we can discern from her letters. She was very concerned with the intellectual life of American Catholics and indeed saw what she was doing for the papers as in some way an act of charity in which readers might be encouraged to read beyond the pieties.

She was especially interested in Scripture, dismayed that Catholics did not read more of it, and quite interested in the Old Testament, especially the prophets. Again, perhaps not a surprise? She was, as is well-known, quite interested in Teilhard de Chardin, and reviewed a few books by Karl Barth, as well.

And….my piece “Stalking Pride” – which I think is a decent introduction:

Robert Coles answered the question well when he wrote of O’Connor, “She is stalking pride.” For Flannery O’Connor, faith means essentially seeing the world as it is, which means through the Creator’s eyes. So lack of faith is a kind of blindness, and what brings on the refusal to embrace God’s vision — faith — is nothing but pride.

O’Connor’s characters are all afflicted by pride: Intellectual sons and daughters who live to set the world, primarily their ignorant parents, aright; social workers who neglect their own children, self-satisfied unthinking “good people” who rest easily in their own arrogance; the fiercely independent who will not submit their wills to God or anyone else if it kills them. And sometimes, it does.

The pride is so fierce, the blindness so dark, it takes an extreme event to shatter it, and here is the purpose of the violence. The violence that O’Connor’s characters experience, either as victims or as participants, shocks them into seeing that they are no better than the rest of the world, that they are poor, that they are in need of redemption, of the purifying purgatorial fire that is the breathtaking vision at the end of the story, “Revelation.”

The self-satisfied are attacked, those who fancy themselves as earthly saviors find themselves capable of great evil, intellectuals discover their ideas to be useless human constructs, and those bent on “freedom” find themselves left open to be controlled by evil.

What happens in her stories is often extreme, but O’Connor knew that the modern world’s blindness was so deeply engrained and habitual, extreme measures were required to startle us: “I am interested in making up a good case for distortion, as I am coming to believe it is the only way to make people see.”  More

The Gospel today happens to be the beheading of John the Baptist. So, in honor of her sensibilities, here’s a piece from the Museo de Belas Artes in Seville:

 

7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

Today (Friday, August 2) is the feast of Our Lady of the Angels

…of the Portiuncula. From a Chapuchin site:

This is the patronal title of the Blessed Virgin under which St. Francis placed the Order. St. Francis had great devotion to Our Lady under this title due to his repairing of the little chapel of the “Portiuncula” (little portion) in the woods outside Assisi and becoming devoted to it as a place of prayer and meditation in which the earliest brothers gathered and St. Clare was first received into her vows, where St. Francis had a number of visions on Our Lady and the Angels and received the famous privilege of the “Pardon of Assisi” from the Pope, (a plenary indulgence that anyone may receive under the usual conditions in any church throughout the world in honour of Our Lady of the Angels.)Finally, it was at the Portiuncula also that Francis greeted Sister Death and passed to the Lord in the year 1226.

I mention it because the Portiuncula provides the setting for one of the scenes in Adventures in Assisi. 

 — 2 —

Here’s the painting by Ann Engelhart. 

amy-welborn

Visit her website here, and her Instagram here, full of lovely art. 

More about Adventures in Assisi here. 

— 3 —

Elsewhere in Italy – from City Journal:

 

In San Donato, a man found sleeping on the streets would suggest a moral scandal. The village would shame the homeless man’s family into taking him in to provide financial, practical, and psychological support. The reason that nobody sleeps on the streets here isn’t medical or technical—it’s cultural. Despite massive economic and social change over the past century, Italians have retained a culture of family and responsibility that strictly limits the expression of pathological behavior and enforces a standard of dignity that encourages addicts and the mentally ill to participate in society despite their condition.

It’s true that a small village like San Donato can’t be compared with an urban environment like San Francisco, but the dislocation and devastation in small-town America is arguably worse than in its cities. The difference is not only a matter of scale. Some might argue that higher taxes and more generous public-welfare programs prevent Italians from falling into homelessness and despair—but America actually spends more per capita on social services than Italy, with worse outcomes.

The dominant policy prescriptions for addressing addiction and mental illness in the U.S. involve professionalization, medicalization, and destigmatization. Despite mounting evidence of failure over the past half century, we continue to add social programs, to treat addiction as a disease, and to destigmatize everything from heroin consumption to homeless encampments. Yet America is more addicted, more despairing, and more disordered than ever before. Public administrators and academics treat the suggestion that family and cultural norms are key to solving the addiction and homelessness crisis as naïve or even immoral. But San Donato presents a case that traditional societies have a superior understanding of social problems, with cultural expectations playing a decisive role in curbing the most destructive human tendencies.

Many years ago, a friend referred to San Donato as a manicomio all’aperto—an open-air madhouse. He captured the poetic truth that we all fall somewhere on the spectrum of human irrationality, and that a good society integrates the sane and the insane into its common cultural institutions. Though a traditional shame culture exists in San Donato, residents express compassion toward the addicted and mentally ill—actually living with them and looking after them—while remaining intolerant of the pathological behavior accepted by American progressives.

-4–

That highlighted phrase – a good society integrates the sane and the insane into its common cultural institutions – stuck with me. It resonates with my sense that a healthy society is, among other things, one that is realistic about the human condition – ideals exist, but everyone understands that this is earth, not heaven, and that we must live where we are with who we are and what we have.

–5 —

That story might prompt you to remember a similar story that made the news a couple of years back  about Geel, Belgium:

The Catholic Church canonized Dymphna in 1247, and in the 14th century Geel built a church in her honor. Families started to come to Dymphna’s church from across Europe.

When they left, they would leave behind family members with mental health conditions, quickly overwhelming the church. In the spirit of Dymphna, Geel’s residents started to welcome the mentally ill into their own homes.

So began the tradition that would make Geel famous as “the charitable city.”

— 6 —

In contrast – somewhat – this story that I bookmarked this week – about the impact of professional regulations on physician availability in the US. I knew the basics, but some of the details stood out this time:

The great victory of the AMA, however, came with the wildly influential Flexner Report. The report, entitled Medical Education in the United States and Canada, was written by educator Abraham Flexner and sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation in 1910. It called unabashedly for a massive reduction in the number of medical schools. The rationale was that higher standards would produce better conditions of care and that superior qualifications would be a benefit to society. (It is an irony of history that Abraham Flexner was not a doctor and had no medical qualifications — merely a stooge for the medical guild.)

The results were severe. Following the report, the AMA lobbied lawmakers to shut down many medical schools. Standards did improve, but the number of schools fellby 80 percent. Graduations of physicians fell each of the following 20 years, and by 1940 the per capita number of physicians fell from 175 to 125 per 100,000 persons.

The Flexner Report greatly harmed women, blacks and Jews. It turned out that 1910 was the high watermark for women doctors. By 1940 the number of women in the profession was lower than it was before the Flexner Report came out even though the population had raced ahead.

Likewise, the number of black medical schools fell from 7 to 2, and blacks were rarely admitted to white medical schools in the years that followed. Unsurprisingly, it was impossible to develop a critical mass of professional black doctors. Jews also had far fewer spots to apply for, and almost all elite institutions continued to discriminate against Jews until long after World War II. 

— 7 —

Oh, how about some music for your Friday? Try this – one of the songs in mysteriously heavy rotation around here these days. I mean – at least it’s in Spanish, right?

 

 

 

Also – check out my son’s novel!

And his film writing – posted almost daily – here.

Also – here he reviews Ron Chernow’s biography of Grant. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

 

Don’t be put off by the wall of text!

Take some time, scroll down, poke around. I’m offering you all the words with the hope that you can see – as is my constant mission – how the past can illuminate the present.

 

First: Who is he? From B16:

Belonging to a rich noble family of Naples, Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori [known in English as Alphonsus Liguori] was born in 1696. Endowed with outstanding intellectual qualities, when he was only 16 years old he obtained a degree in civil and canon law. He was the most brilliant lawyer in the tribunal of Naples: for eight years he won all the cases he defended. However, in his soul thirsting for God and desirous of perfection, the Lord led Alphonsus to understand that he was calling him to a different vocation. In fact, in 1723, indignant at the corruption and injustice that was ruining the legal milieu, he abandoned his profession — and with it riches and success — and decided to become a priest despite the opposition of his father.

He had excellent teachers who introduced him to the study of Sacred Scripture, of the Church history and of mysticism. He acquired a vast theological culture which he put to good use when, after a few years, he embarked on his work as a writer.

He was ordained a priest in 1726 and, for the exercise of his ministry entered the diocesan Congregation of Apostolic Missions. Alphonsus began an activity of evangelization and catechesis among the humblest classes of Neapolitan society, to whom he liked preaching, and whom he instructed in the basic truths of the faith. Many of these people, poor and modest, to whom he addressed himself, were very often prone to vice and involved in crime. He patiently taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of life.

Alphonsus obtained excellent results: in the most wretched districts of the city there were an increasing number of groups that would meet in the evenings in private houses and workshops to pray and meditate on the word of God, under the guidance of several catechists trained by Alphonsus and by other priests, who regularly visited these groups of the faithful. When at the wish of the Archbishop of Naples, these meetings were held in the chapels of the city, they came to be known as “evening chapels”. They were a true and proper source of moral education, of social improvement and of reciprocal help among the poor: thefts, duels, prostitution ended by almost disappearing.

Even though the social and religious context of the time of St Alphonsus was very different from our own, the “evening chapels” appear as a model of missionary action from which we may draw inspiration today too, for a “new evangelization”, particularly of the poorest people, and for building a more just, fraternal and supportive coexistence. Priests were entrusted with a task of spiritual ministry, while well-trained lay people could be effective Christian animators, an authentic Gospel leaven in the midst of society.

Another talk on the saint from B16. 

Next some insights from his letters.  You can find his writings all over the place, but for some old-school reading time, head to archive.org. His letters are particularly interesting. I always like reading the letters and journals of saintly figures. They tend to be a little more revelatory than carefully written, re-written and edited works made for public consumption, approved by authorities.

What I’m hoping that you might see through a bit of poking around in these readings is the value – as Adam DeVille has pointed out – of being familiar with history. It teaches us many things, but I think in this present moment, two points in particular, both reflecting the theme “nothing new under the sun.”

  • The Church has always been a messy place in a messy world, full of human beings who are, at best, weak reflections of the faith they (we) claim to profess.
  • The Church, in obedience to Christ, has always reached out to the “peripheries” and margins, has always offered the mercy of Christ as the core of its mission. Always. This is nothing that was just discovered in 2013. Really.

So three areas of interest from the letters:  missions/preaching, liturgy and, yes…publishing.

I was interested in two lengthy letters – almost pamphlet-length, really – one about preaching and the "amy welborn"other about the usefulness of missions. (Remember Alphonsus Liguori founded the Redemptorists, an order originally dedicated to the preaching of parish missions.)

The letter on preaching begins on page 359, and might be of interest to..preachers, of course.  He is making the case for simplicity and directness of language in preaching, in opposition to those who would preach in flowery, self-indulgent or abstruse ways.

I was really interested in his letter to a bishop about the preaching of missions.  The bishop was supportive of missions being preached in his diocese, but had apparently written to St. Alphonsus seeking answers to the objections that others had voiced.  It begins on page 404.

A modern reader (like me) might read this as a reflection on evangelization, period.

 

But, it will be asked, are there not over the poor in the villages pastors who preach every Sunday? Yes, there are pastors who preach ; but we must consider that all pastors do not, or cannot break the bread of the divine word to the illiterate in the manner prescribed by the Council of Trent. ” They shall feed the people committed to them with whole some words, according to their own capacity, and that of their people, by teaching them the things which it is necessary for all to know unto salvation, and by announcing to them, with briefness and plainness of discourse, the vices which they must avoid, and the virtues which they must practise.”

2 Hence it often happens that the people draw but little fruit from the sermon of the pastor, either because he has but little talent for preaching, or because his style is too high or his discourse too long. Besides, many of those who stand in the greatest need of instruction do not go to the sermon of the parish priest. Moreover, Jesus Christ tells us that No prophet is accepted in his own country  And when the people always hear the same voice, the sermon makes but little impression upon them.

But the sermons of the missionaries who devote their lives to the missions are well arranged, and are all adapted to the capacity of the ignorant as well as of the learned. In their sermons, as well as in their instructions, the word of God is broken. Hence, in the mission, the poor are made to understand the mysteries of faith and the precepts of the Decalogue, the manner of receiving the sacraments with fruit, and the means of persevering in the grace of God : they are inflamed with fervor, and are excited to correspond with the divine love, and to attend to the affair of salvation.

Hence we see such a concourse of the people at the missions, where they hear strange voices and simple and popular discourses.

Besides, in the missions, the eternal truths which are best calculated to move the heart, such as the importance of salvation, the malice of sin, death, judgment, hell, eternity, etc., are proposed in a connected manner, so that it would be a greater wonder that a dissolute sinner should persevere in his wickedness, than that he should be converted. Hence, in the missions, many sinners give up their evil habits, remove proximate occasions of sin, restore ill-gotten goods, and repair injuries. Many radically extirpate all sentiments of hatred, and forgive their enemies from their hearts; and many who had not approached the sacraments for years, or who received them unworthily, make good confessions during the missions

His concern, over and over, is for the poor, the illiterate, particularly those in rural areas and villages.

Speaking of the missions given by the venerable priests of the Congregation of St. Vincent de Paul, the author of his Life says that, during a mission in the diocese of Palestrina in 1657, a young man whose arm had been cut off by an enemy, having met his enemy in a public street after a sermon, cast himself at his feet, asked pardon for the hatred he had borne him, and, rising up, embraced him with so much affection that all who were present wept through joy, and many, moved by his example, pardoned all the injuries that they had received from their enemies.

In the same diocese there were two widows who had been earnestly entreated but constantly refused to pardon certain persons who had killed their husbands. During the mission they were perfectly reconciled with the murderers, in spite of the remonstrance of a certain person who endeavored to persuade them to the contrary, saying that the murders were but recent, and that the blood of their husbands was still warm.

The following fact is still more wonderful: In a certain town, which I shall not mention,* vindictiveness prevailed to such an extent that parents taught their children how to take revenge for every offence, however small : this vice was so deeply rooted that it appeared impossible to persuade the people to pardon injuries. The people came to the exercises of the mission with sword and musket, and many with other weapons. For some time the sermons did not produce a single reconciliation; but on a certain day, the preacher, through a divine inspiration, presented the crucifix to the audience, saying: ” Now let every one who hears malice to his enemies come and show that for the love of his Saviour he wishes to pardon them : let him embrace them in Jesus Christ.” After these words a parish priest whose nephew had been lately killed came up to the preacher and kissed the crucifix, and calling the murderer, who was present, embraced him cordially.

By this example and by the words of the preacher the people were so much moved that for an hour and a half they were employed in the church in making peace with their enemies and embracing those whom they had before hated. The hour being late, they continued to do the same on the following day, so that parents pardoned the murder of their children, wives of their husbands, and children of their fathers and brothers. These reconciliations were made with so many tears and so much consolation that the inhabitants long continued to bless God for the signal favor bestowed on the town. It is also related that many notorious robbers and assassins, being moved by the sermon, or by what they heard from others of it, gave up their arms and began to lead a Christian life. Nearly forty of these public malefactors were converted in a single mission.

 I have said enough ; I only entreat your Lordship to continue with your wonted zeal to procure every three years a mission for every village in your diocese. Do not attend to the objections of those who speak against the missions through interested motives or through ignorance of the great advantages of the missions. I also pray you to oblige the pastors and priests of the villages to continue the exercises recommended to them by the missionaries, such as common mental prayer in the church, visit to the Blessed Sacrament, familiar sermons every week, the Rosary, and other similiar devotions. For it frequently happens that, through the neglect of the priests of the place, the greater part of the fruit produced by the mission is lost. I recommend myself to your prayers and remain,

From this section, I could only conclude…my. That’s a lot of violence happening….

Creativity. Zeal. Compassion. Inclusivity. Reaching to the margins and the peripheries.  Mercy.

Now, to liturgy:

This is from letter 345, to the clergy of Frasso, after a visitation:

 In the first place, we learn with deep sorrow, that there is not in the collegiate church of this place the proper distribution of the Masses on Sundays and feasts of obligation, as also on days of devotion when there is usually a great concourse of people. All the Masses, we are informed, are said, so to speak, at once, and in the early hours of the morning. In consequence, the people have, no opportunity of hearing Mass in the later hours, and particularly during summer when not only the choral service, but every other ecclesiastical function, also, is over at eight o clock.

We, therefore, ordain that, on all those days, Sundays and festivals, the Masses shall be celebrated two at a time and not more, and for this purpose the chief sacristan shall see that on those days only two chalices and two sets of vestments are prepared for the Masses. Moreover, the members of the collegiate body shall go to the choir on those days one hour later than usual, so that all the people who wish may be able to go to confession ; for experience teaches that the confessors, as well as the rest, leave the church after the Office is finished, even though they are wanted in the confessionals.

So basically, what it seems was going on was that all the Masses and confessions got it all done and over with super early so they could get out of there.

From 346:

  As there is nothing which so effectually hinders the reformation of manners and the correction of abuses that have been introduced among the people, as the bad ex ample of the clergy, “whose manner of living,” says the Council of Sardis, ” being exposed to the eyes of all, be comes the model of either good or wicked lives”, we take very much to heart the gravity of the obligation incumbent upon us of removing from our clergy and keeping at a distance from them, as far as lies in our power, whatever might be an occasion of scandal or bad example to the faithful. We are, likewise, solicitous that we should not have to render an account to Almighty God for the offences of ecclesiastics connived at or uncorrected by us.

Considering, therefore, the innumerable evils and sins that arise from certain classes of games, which have been prohibited with good reason by the sacred canons, we desire to apply a prompt and efficacious remedy to these abuses. Accordingly, we forbid all the ecclesiastics of this our city and diocese, under pain of suspension a divinis, reserved to ourselves, and to be incurred ipso facto, and other punishment at our discretion, to play at any game of chance whatever, be it with cards or dice, and in particular, basset, primero, Ouanto inviti, paraspinto, or by whatever names such games may be called. At the same time, we warn all that we shall be most diligent in pursuing those who dis obey this ordinance, and unrelenting in punishing them with necessary severity.

We desire, therefore, that the present regulation be made public and put up in the usual places, so that no one may be able to excuse himself on the plea of ignorance.

From letter 334 – this admonition that saying Mass in less than fifteen minutes is…a problem… reoccurs many times in the letters.

Everyone knows the great reverence which the holy sacrifice of the Mass demands. We, therefore, earnestly recommend to our priests attention in celebrating- this august sacrifice with all the ceremonies prescribed by the rubrics, and with the gravity befitting this sublime mystery, as well on account of the reverence due to God, as for the edification that may thence derive to the faithful. It was to secure this end that the Council of Trent imposed upon bishops the express obligation of preventing by every means all irreverence in the celebration of this sacred function ; irreverence which can scarcely be distinguished from impiety,….

Now , as grave irreverence must be understood any notable omission of the ceremonies prescribed in the missal, which in so far as they pertain to the celebration of holy Mass, are of precept, also the saying of Mass in a hurried manner. The common opinion of theologians is, that he is guilty of grievous sin who says Mass in less than a quarter of an hour; because to celebrate with becoming reverence not only must the prayers of the missal be pronounced distinctly, and the prescribed rubrics duly observed, but all this must be done with that gravity which is befitting, a thing that cannot be done in less than a quarter of an hour, even in Masses of requiem or in the votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin.

This is really interesting to me, and is an admonition that occurs regularly in the letters. From 343

 To afford perfect freedom of conscience, pastors are exhorted to procure a strange confessor for their people once a month, and to abstain from hearing confessions themselves on those day

There’s a lot more, but I’ll end this post with this. As best I can work out, it’s a description of how to add instruction to the Mass, particularly for children.  It seems to call for a reader to read aloud certain meditations at various points of the Mass.  Take a look at letter 339 for the whole thing, and share your observations:

The subjects of these meditations shall be, for the most part, the eternal truths and sin. On Fridays, however, the Passion of Jesus Christ, and on Saturdays, the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, shall form the topics of the medita ion. The children shall be taught to keep their eyes cast down, or to cover them with their hands, so as to pay attention to what has been read. The second point of the meditation shall be read after the Sanctus.

2. As soon as the reading of the first point is finished, the Mass shall begin. At the Offertory the reader shall say: ” Let us make an act of love: O my God, how good Thou art ! I wish to love Thee as much as all the saints love Thee ; as much as Thy dear Mother Mary loves Thee. But if I cannot love Thee so much, my God, my all, my only good, because Thou art worthy of all our love, I love Thee above all things, I love Thee with my whole heart, with my whole soul, with all my mind, with all my strength. I love Thee more than myself, and could I do so, I would make Thee known and loved by all men even at the price of my blood.” During the meditation, one or the other priest who is present may go around suggesting some brief reflections on what has been read.

3. After the Sanctus, the second point shall be read. It shall be on the same subject as the first, and read in the same manner.

4. After the elevation of the chalice, the reader shall say: “Let us make an act of love to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and also an act of contrition : My Jesus, who for love of me art present in this Sacrament, I thank Thee for so great love, and I love Thee with my whole heart. Eternal Father, for the love of Mary, for the love of Thy dear Son Jesus dead upon the cross, and present in this Sacrament for love of us, pardon me all my sins, and all the displeasure I have caused Thee. I am heartily sorry for them, O my God, because I love Thee with my whole heart.”

5. After the Pater noster, the reader shall say: “Let us renew our resolution of never more offending Jesus Christ My Jesus, with the help of Thy grace, I desire to die rather than offend Thee again. As the fruit of this me ditation, let us make some particular resolution that will give pleasure to Jesus Christ, especially to rid ourselves of the fault we most frequently commit.” After a brief pause : ” Let us ask Almighty God for the love of Jesus Christ to give us the grace to fulfil the promise we have made.”

6. When the celebrant has said Domine non sum dignus or after the Communion of the people, if there are any com municants, the reader shall say: “Let us have recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and ask her for some special grace: O Mary, my hope, I love thee with my whole heart. I would wish to die for thy love. My dearest Mother, take me under thy mantle, and there let me live and die. For the love of Jesus Christ, my dear Lady, obtain for me the grace which I now ask of thee.” Here each one shall ask of Mary with the utmost confidence the grace desired. After Mass, all shall recite the Hail, holy Queen, with the proper pauses, and add the prayer “Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord”.

And while the content of what follows might bore some seeking out more elevated conversations, I was delighted, for it involves correspondence from the saint to his publishers, as well as others with an interest in the books he was writing and publishing.

There’s some theological material, as he explains why he is deleting this or that portion of a manuscript, but it’s mostly (so far) totally prosaic, and focused on practical matters of communication, orders and pricing.

The letters reflect quite a bit on his concern to get this books out there to people who will read them – Naples is always out of copies, but that’s one of the few places he has an interested audience, and the priests, well….

I am glad that the History of the Heresies is finished. Once more, I remind you not to send me any copies for sale, as the priests of my diocese are not eager for such books; indeed, they have very little love for any reading whatsoever.

Besides, I am a poor cripple, who am Hearing my grave, and I do not know what I should do with these copies.

Rest assured, that I regard all your interests as though they were my own. If I could only visit Naples, I might be able to do something personally. But confined here in this poverty-stricken Arienzo, I write letters innumerable to people in Naples about the sale, but with very little result. I am much afflicted at this, but affliction seems to be all that I am to reap from these negotiations.

So, writers….you’re not alone!

 

August  – starting tomorrow!  – is devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is an entry in my book, The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

For more on the book, go to the Loyola site here. 

Ask you local Catholic bookstore to order it!

I have copies here – you can get them and some of my other titles here. 

For more on the series, go here. 

amy-welborn3

Wednesday

Super busy day. Just time to digest, I think. But we’ll see. Perhaps something else will manifest itself.

amy_welbornWriting:  I was in Living Faith yesterday. I’ll be back there in a couple of weeks. 

It’s the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Loyola Press has my writing featured in a couple of places:

First, a chapter from The Words We Pray on the Suscipe Prayer. 

Then, the chapter on the saint from the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

Tomorrow’s St. Alphonsus Liguori – come back for lots on him!

Remember: The Absence of War is available – free – through midnight tonight. Read what I really think about things…

Reading: Unfortunately, nothing super substantial on actual pages. Just internet things. But this – from Adam DeVille – I was going to save for Friday, but it’s worth your time now – exploring how neglect and ignorance of history is a huge problem for Catholics today. 

Listening: Much keyboard. I have started a modest Instagram page centered on my youngest’s keyboard playing. Not for promotion, but for reference, really. It’s here. 

Watching: A couple of things. Sunday night, we watched Yojimbo– a Kurosawa film on which A Fistful of Dollars was based. It was entertaining, and not only because, honestly, Toshiro Mifune is one of the finest-looking film actors ever. 

Image result for toshiro mifune

I think we might watch High and Low next. 

We also skipped through a rewatch of parts of Sad Hill Unearthed inspired by my post yesterday. I realized that Son #4 hadn’t seen it. And we’d watched it before our trip – so it was fun to see images of the place before they restored it, hear tales of the filming and see it again in the near-present. (As I’ve said before – if you choose to watch it – in my opinion, it’s about twice as along as it needs to be. It’s rather repetitious. It’s all super meaningful to you…we get it…) 

 

 

 

St. Ignatius was in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints, and you can read the entire chapter here:

Because he had spent all those months in his sickbed, Ignatius got bored. He asked for something to read. He was hoping for adventure books, tales that were popular back then: knights fighting for the hands of beautiful ladies, traveling to distant lands, and battling strange creatures.

But for some reason, two completely different books were brought to Ignatius. One was a book about the life of Christ, and the other was a collection of saints’ stories.

Ignatius read these books. He thought about them. He was struck by the great sacrifices that the saints had made for God. He was overwhelmed by their love of Jesus.

And Ignatius thought, “Why am I using my life just for myself? These people did so much good during their time on earth. Why can’t I?”

Ignatius decided that he would use the talents God had given him—his strength, his leadership ability, his bravery, and his intelligence—to serve God and God’s people.

While Ignatius continued to heal, he started praying very seriously. God’s peace filled his heart and assured him that he was on the right path.

When Ignatius was all healed and ready to walk and travel again, he left his home to prepare for his new life. It wasn’t easy. He was 30, which was considered old in those days, and he was getting a late start in his studies for the priesthood. In those days, the Mass was said only in Latin, and Latin was the language all educated people used to communicate with each other. Ignatius didn’t know a bit of Latin. So for his first Latin lessons, big, rough Ignatius had to sit in a classroom with a bunch of 10-year-old boys who were learning Latin for the first time too!

That takes a different kind of strength, doesn’t it?

saints

 

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

In The Words We Pray, I wrote about the Suscipe Prayer. That chapter is excerpted here:

The more you roll this prayer around in your soul, and the more you think about it, the more radical it is revealed to be.

One of the primary themes of the Spiritual Exercises is that of attachments and affections. Ignatius offers the account of “three classes of men” who have been given a sum of money, and who all want to rid themselves of it because they know their attachment to this worldly good impedes their salvation.

The first class would really like to rid themselves of the attachment, but the hour of death comes, and they haven’t even tried. The second class would also like to give up the attachment, but do so, conveniently, without actually giving anything up.

Is this sounding familiar at all?

The third class wants to get rid of the attachment to the money, which they, like the others, know is a burden standing in the way. But they make no stipulations as to how this attachment is relinquished; they are indifferent about the method. Whatever God wants, they want. In a word, they are the free ones.

The prayer “Take Lord, receive” is possible only because the retreatant has opened himself to the reality of who God is, what God’s purpose is for humanity, and what God has done for him in a particularly intense way.

A Response to God’s Love

The retreatant has seen that there is really no other response to life that does God justice. What love the Father has for us in letting us be called children of God, John says (1 John 3:1). What gift does our love prompt us to give?

In ages past, and probably in the minds of some of us still, that gift of self to God, putting oneself totally at God’s disposal, is possible only for people called to a vowed religious life. Well, God didn’t institute religious life in the second chapter of Genesis. He instituted marriage and family. I’m not a nun, but the Scriptures tell us repeatedly that all creation is groaning and being reborn and moving toward completion in God. Every speck of creation, everything that happens, every kid kicking a soccer ball down a road in Guatemala, each office worker in New Delhi, every ancient great-grandmother in a rest home in Boynton Beach, every baby swimming in utero at this moment around the world—all are beloved by God and are being constantly invited by him to love. And all can respond.

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