Today in Catholic History:
† 709 – Death of Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne
† 735 – Death of Bede, English historian and monk
† 1085 – Death of Pope Gregory VII
† 1261 – Death of Pope Alexander IV
† 1452 – Death of John Stafford, Archbishop of Canterbury
† 1521 – The Diet of Worms ends when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, issues the Edict of Worms, declaring Martin Luther an outlaw.
† 1606 – Birth of Charles Garnier, French Jesuit missionary (d. 1649)
† 1887 – Birth of Pio of Pietrelcina, Catholic saint (d. 1968)
† Liturgical Feast days: Saint Urban’s Day (d. 240), Saint Bede the Venerable (d. 735), Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Saint Bruno of Würzburg, Saint Frederic, Saint Pope Gregory VII (d. 1085), Saint Hildebert, Saint Reinolf, Saint Marie-Madeleine-Sofie Barat (d. 1865)
Quote or Joke of the Day:
While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart. – Francis of Assisi
Today’s reflection: How do we explain that we are called to develop a spirituality and lifestyle “in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi”?
St. Francis, to me, was a simple, humble, and obedient servant to His heavenly father, our Lord Jesus Christ. He did not start out his life that way. Francis was born into a lifestyle of, at minimum, near nobility. He was expected to take over the family business, to be a battle tested knight of fame, and to be a town leader.
It didn’t work out that way. He was brought up on theft charges from his father; Francis disowned his earthly father and family; and Francis became a subject of jokes and ridicule by his own town’s residents, for a time.
Francis was a “ladies man,” a party person, and probably not that much of a Christian for the start of his young adult life. Then a “Saul to Paul” event happened: Francis was captured and imprisoned, subsequently becoming infected with tuberculosis. He had to recuperate for a year after his release and return to his home. During that time, Francis was able to reflect on his life and future, and on Jesus’ divinity.
He strolled throughout the countryside, coming across a worn, weathered, and dilapidated old church in the outskirts of Assisi. On praying at the strange looking crucifix (the San Damiano Cross), Jesus spoke to him saying, “Repair my Church!” Francis took it literally; begging, buying, and bartering for bricks to fix the structure of the building.
In the process, he not only rebuilt the little chapel, he rebuilt the family of the church: its people, at the same time. Devotions and followers increased at a dramatic rate. His spirituality and lifestyle was noted locally, and in Vatican City. Why: because of his devotion, simplicity, love, faith, trust, and openness to all, without any earthly expectations.
Francis saw all creation as sacred simply because God created everything, and what God made had to be good and worthy of reverence. Love and peace were Francis’ mantra; there was no room for any hatred whatsoever in his heart. Francis, who once would give a wide birth to a leper, now not only hugged but kissed, bandaged, and fed these people of degradation to society.
He tried to convert to Muslims several times, once meeting with a high leader in the Islamic faith who was impressed with the beauty and faithfulness in Francis’ words and simplicity. He started three branches of the Franciscan family, all still strong within the Church family: Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox. Francis’s “Rule” is one of only a few recognized by the Church, and is still used as a basis for many congregations.
St. Francis may have not physically written the following prayer, but it is attributed to him. St. Francis definitely did LIVE all aspects of this prayer spiritually and physically. Please stop after each line of the prayer and reflect on its meaning; it’s a powerful prayer.
Francis walked in the footsteps of Jesus for sure; painfully at times, but faithfully. He is an example of how we are to live our lives. If I can live my life in only a small portion of the way Francis did, what a gift would I give to the earth, its people, and to God!
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO
Catholic Saint of the Day: St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi
It would be easy to concentrate on the mystical experiences God gave this saint, rather than on her life. In fact, it would be difficult to do differently, so overwhelming were those gifts from God. The temptation for many modern readers (including the author) would be to see little to identify with in these graces and walk away without seeing more. The other temptation would be to become so fascinated with these stories that one would neglect to dig deeper and learn the real lessons of her life.
But Mary Magdalene de Pazzi is not a saint because she received ecstasies and graces from God. Many have received visions, ecstasies, and miracles without becoming holy. She is a saint because of her response to those gifts — a lifelong struggle to show love and gratitude to the God who gave her those graces.
In fact Mary Magdalene saw her ecstasies as evidence of a great fault in her, not a reward for holiness. She told one fellow sister that God did not give this sister the same graces “because you don’t need them in order to serve him.” In her eyes, God gave these gifts to those who were too weak to become holy otherwise. That Mary Magdalene received these gifts proved, in her mind, how unworthy she was.
Born in Florence on April 2, 1566, Mary Magdalene (baptized Catherine) was taught mental prayer when she was nine years old at the request of her mother. Her introduction at this age to this form of prayer which involves half an hour of meditation did not seem to be unusual. And yet today we often believe children incapable of all but the simplest rote prayers.
At twelve years old she experienced her first ecstasy while looking at a sunset which left her trembling and speechless.
With this foundation in prayer and in mystical experience, it isn’t surprising that she wanted to enter a contemplative monastery of the Carmelite Order. She chose the monastery of St. Mary’s of the Angels because the nuns took daily Communion, unusual at the time.
In 1583 she had her second mystical experience when the other nuns saw her weeping before the crucifix as she said, “O Love, you are neither known nor loved.”
Mary Magdalene’s life is a contradiction of our instinctive thought that joy only comes from avoiding suffering. A month after being refused early religious profession, she was refused she fell deathly ill. Fearing for her life the convent had her professed from a stretcher at the altar. After that she experienced forty days of ecstasies that coexisted with her suffering. Joy from the graces God gave were mixed with agony as her illness grew worse. In one of her experiences Jesus took her heart and hid it in his own, telling her he “would not return it until it is wholly pure and filled with pure love.” She didn’t recover from her illness until told to ask for the intercession of Blessed Mary Bagnesi over three months later.
What her experiences and prayer had given her was a familiar, personal relationship with Jesus. Her conversations with Jesus often take on a teasing, bantering tone that shocks those who have a formal, fearful image of God. For example, at the end of her forty days of graces, Jesus offered her a crown of flowers or a crown of thorns. No matter how often she chose the crown of thorns, Jesus kept teasingly pushing the crown of flowers to her. When he accused her, “I called and you didn’t care,” she answered back, “You didn’t call loudly enough” and told him to shout his love.
She learned to regret the insistence on the crown of thorns. We might think it is easy to be holy if God is talking to you every day but few of us could remain on the path with the five year trial that followed her first ecstasies. Before this trial, Jesus told her, “I will take away not the grace but the feeling of grace. Though I will seem to leave you I will be closer to you.” This was easy for her to accept in the midst of ecstasy but, as she said later, she hadn’t experienced it yet. At the age of nineteen she started five years of dryness and desolation in which she was repelled by prayer and tempted by everything. She referred to her heart as a pitch-dark room with only a feeble light shining that only made the darkness deeper. She was so depressed she was found twice close to suicide. All she could do to fight back was to hold onto prayer, penance, and serving others even when it appeared to do no good.
Her lifelong devotion to Pentecost can be easily understood because her trial ended in ecstasy in 1590. At this time she could have asked for any gifts but she wanted two in particular: to look on any neighbor as good and holy without judgment and to always have God’s presence before her.
Far from enjoying the attention her mystical experiences brought her, she was embarrassed by it. For all her days, she wanted a hidden life and tried everything she could to achieve it. When God commanded her to go barefoot as part of her penance and she could not walk with shoes, she simply cut the soles out of her shoes so no one would see her as different from the other nuns. If she felt an ecstasy coming on, she would hurry to finish her work and go back to her room. She learned to see the notoriety as part of God’s will. When teaching a novice to accept God’s will, she told her, “I wanted a hidden life but, see, God wanted something quite different for me.”
Some still might think it was easy for her to be holy with all the help from God. Yet when she was asked once why she was weeping before the cross, she answered that she had to force herself to do something right that she didn’t want to do. It’s true that when a sister criticized her for acting so different, she thanked her, “May God reward you! You have never spoken truer words!” but she told others it hurt her quite a bit to be nice to someone who insulted her.
Mary Magdalene was no pale, shrinking flower. Her wisdom and love led to her appointment to many important positions at the convent including mistress of novices. She did not hesitate to be blunt in guiding the women under her care when their spiritual life was at stake. When one of the novices asked permission to pretend to be impatient so the other novices would not respect her so much, Mary Magdalene’s answer shook this novice out of this false humility: “What you want to pretend to be, you already are in the eyes of the novices. They don’t respect you nearly as much as you like to think.”
Mary Magdalene’s life offers a great challenge to all those who think that the best penance comes from fasting and physical discomfort. Though she fasted and wore old clothes, she chose the most difficult penance of all by pretending to like the things she didn’t like. Not only is this a penance most of us would shrink from but, by her acting like she enjoyed it, no one knew she was doing this great penance!
In 1604, headaches and paralyzation confined her to bed. Her nerves were so sensitive that she could not be touched without agonizing pain. Ever humble, she took the fact that her prayers were not granted as a sure sign that God’s will was being done. For three years she suffered, before dying on May 25, 1607 at the age of forty-one.
(From http://www.catholic.org/saints/ website)
Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Rule #25:
Regarding expenses necessary for the life of the fraternity and the needs of worship, of the apostolate, and of charity, all the brothers and sisters should offer a contribution according to their means. Local fraternities should contribute toward the expenses of the higher fraternity councils.