Tag Archives: saints

16 May: Doctor of Theology – John Stone, martyr.

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Much is written about St Brendan (whose day it is today) and his epic voyages across the seas to bring the Gospel to others. There is even a myth he may have reached South America. However, I wanted to write about another saint who is lesser known and whose day this is also. John Stone lived at the time of the Reformation which has become an interest of mine due to a series of novels by the historian C J Sansom. The books are about a hunchbacked lawyer called Matthew Shardlake and his adventures during tremendously unstable times for religious thinking and belief in King Henry VIII’s reign.

John Stone was a Doctor of Theology from Canterbury who opposed the King’s wish to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon. During the dissolution of the monasteries all religious were expected to sign a document which acknowledged the King as the Head of the church in England – The Act of Supremacy. John Stone refused to sign and was carted off to the Tower where, C J Sansom tells us, torture was inflicted on the prisoners. It was a brutal and grisly time – has the world improved, I wonder? John was returned to Canterbury to be tried. He was found guilty under the Treason’s Act and hung, drawn and quartered, his head and body being left on display for being a traitor.

Sansom’s novels show us the profits and land deals that were made on the back of the sale of religious houses and properties. Of course, the full truth was riddled with complexities and the changing whims of King Henry, yet those who do not follow the tenets of more dictatorial leaders, even in our times, are subject to persecution. Men of principle, such as John Stone, however, shine forth. I do recommend Mr Sansom’s books but beware, once you read one, you will want to read them all. What shall I do when I reach the end of his final book in the series? Sob!

CW.

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15 May: Saint Carthage (c555-637)

st Carthage

Saint Carthage, whose day it is today, is also known as Mochuda. He was a humble swineherd from what is now County Kerry and after joining a monastery he was ordained a priest. His life is marked by a series of phases where he established churches and places of worship and pilgrimage only to be turned out after making successes of his endeavours. His demise each time was due to the jealousy of others. But he picked himself up, moved on and succeeded again someplace else and in doing so left a trail of churches and holy places. How often does God use the negativity of others to bring into fruition His plans for us.

As a Tertiary Franciscan I have been enamoured of the stories of the early Franciscan friars whose lives are detailed in the book called, Il Fioretti, or the Little Flowers of St. Francis. Often they were despised and accused of many things but Francis taught them that from such condemnation is perfect joy. Our natural instincts when we are criticised or gossiped about is to react and feel negativity in return. Yet by changing our reactive attitude and transforming it into a force for good we can transcend and so continue with greater energy our journey in Christ. After all, Jesus was the most perfect Son of God and did he escape jealousy and envy? Not a bit. In fact His essential truth and reality in Almighty God polarised, very quickly, all those he came into contact with.

So along with Mochuda and with Christ, let us take heart and be encouraged by any darkness of spirit from others and rejoice, for it is by these things we are marked as servants of God. And we may, just by our attitude, allow others who fear to become a little more positive themselves.

CW.

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March 20: A Sandwich for Saint Cuthbert

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March 20 is the feast of St Cuthbert, who died on this day in 687. There is a story that one Friday, the bishop of Lindisfarne, Saint Cuthbert was welcomed into an isolated farmstead by a woman who offered to feed him and his horse. ‘Stay and eat’, she said, ‘for you won’t reach home tonight.’ But Cuthbert would not break his Friday fast, so he rested a while, let her care for his horse, and pressed on his way. It got dark well before he was in sight of home so he found shelter in a tumbledown, empty, isolated shepherd’s hut.

Here his horse began to pull down the thatch of the roof to have something to eat, but even Cuthbert could not see thatch as food for a man, however hungry he might be. The horse carried on attacking the roof, making the best of what was available in this wild place. As it pulled at the thatch, a packet fell to the floor; when the good bishop opened it he found bread and meat, the meat still warm. He shared the loaf with his beast as he gave thanks to God. How did the meal get there? Was it concealed by the hospitable woman as she tended his horse back at the farm? Cuthbert did not know, but he was happy to eat what was provided after his day of fasting had finished – for like the Muslims at Ramadan today, he would have counted sunset as the day’s end.

In Muslim countries today, many Christians will observe the fast in solidarity with their neighbours. So  let us enjoy our sandwiches – yes, even in this season of Lent – to thank the Lord who provides the food, as Cuthbert did, and to share in the ministry of hospitality, like the woman on the farmstead.

Cuthbert in a wall painting at Durham Cathedral.

Please remember in your prayers Abbot Cuthbert Johnson OSB, sometime Abbot of Quarr, who died on January 16, 2017. He was from Saint Cuthbert’s diocese and was ministering there when he fell sick and died.                         Will T.

Photo from thepelicans.org.uk where you can read Abbot Cuthbert’s obituary and an address he gave for the Missionaries of Africa to whom he remained close. http://thepelicans.org.uk/obituaries/obits24.htm#pjohnson

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8 March, Human Will IV: The Will and Virtue

 

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In the Church’s anthropology, our will is one.  We have ‘free will.’  Saint Irenaeus, in the third century, wrote that the human person is ‘master over his acts’ precisely because of his free will.  We are therefore responsible for our decisions and actions.  Those decisions and actions of which we are ashamed cannot be panned off on some other sort of ‘will’ present within us.

At the same time, we know that our will’s capacity to respond to the promptings of our conscience is not always immediate or consistent.  Although Augustine thought our emotions and our will can and should work as one, the fact is that sometimes the will is under the sway of our emotions.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this important observation:

Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts [no. 1734]. 

Let us pause over this sentence and savour it a bit.  It means that if we want our will to function properly with ‘mastery’ over our acts, it needs some help.  First, as the Catechism indicates, help is needed on the level of virtue.  The Church defines virtue as ‘an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.  Virtue allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself’ [Catechism, no. 1803].[1]

What is important to note here is the encouraging news that we can grow in virtue.  Each time we do something truly good, the will is strengthened by that action, and we grow in our ability to continue to do good.  We grow not only in terms of the ease with which we act in a good way, but we grow in our understanding of what we are doing and why: we grow in spiritual depth.  We thereby make real progress in virtue, and strengthen the power of our will.

The next idea in the sentence we are considering is that our will’s mastery is strengthened by our progress in ‘knowledge of the good.’  Perhaps you are someone who has been a Christian all your life, or perhaps you are someone who is just discovering God, Jesus, Christianity.  But, wherever we may be on the Christian timeline, we all need to grow in our ‘knowledge of the good.’

We do not live in a society that accepts that ‘the good’ exists in a way that makes requirements on all people.  Much of what Christianity declares to be truly good in an unchanging and universal sense, our society simply writes off as mere opinion – not binding on anyone except those who hold such opinions.  This can be confusing, both for long-term Christians, and new Christians.  To really know ‘the good’, it is necessary to turn to the teaching of the Church, to pray for understanding, and to be courageous enough to reject some counterfeit notions of goodness that are the currency of our culture.  The Church has always been counter-cultural and Christians must simply expect that the ethical and moral teachings of the Church will be a challenge to many of our society’s popular notions of morality.   As we gradually come to understand what is truly good, and live in accordance with our knowledge, our will is strengthened, and its mastery over our acts is enhanced.  We become more alive, more joyful, on a very deep level.

And lastly, our phrase from the Catechism uses the word ‘ascesis.’  What is that?  Perhaps we can call it the ability to set limits on our pleasures.  Living for mere pleasure can quickly degenerate into addiction.  And it is well known that addiction’s pleasures operate by the law of diminishing returns.  This is not to suggest that a Christian should have no pleasure, but that pleasure is the by-product of joy, and joy comes when our will, guided by our reason and informed by faith, exercises mastery over our acts.  Perhaps it is easiest to understand ascesis as self-discipline that functions for the purpose of enabling us to be free of dependences in order to live fully for God.  St. Augustine’s prayer, published at the beginning of these posts, affirms God helps us on the level of our will.  He is the strength of the will that serves him.

 

[1] This is not the place to give a detailed treatment of all the virtues, but those wishing to understand more about this subject may refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1804 – 1829.

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22 February: Faith and Science, hand-in-hand.

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Despite a few, often painful, boundary disputes over the years, the Church is not opposed to Science as a way of learning about Creation. There is no need to abandon the faith for that reason, as Fr James Kurzynski tells us in this article from the Vatican Observatory blog. Read and enjoy.

Faith and Astronomy

Most High God!
Thou that enkindlest
the fires of the shining stars!
O Jesus!
Thou that art peace and life and light and truth,
hear and grant our prayers.

Amen.

Saint Ambrose 

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10 February: The Lord hears and answers

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Today is Friday in the Fifth week in Ordinary time. It is also the memorial of Saint Scholastica, Virgin.
In the Gospel of today, Saint Mark 7: 31- 37, Christ healed a man with an impediment in his speech. He also had ear problems. Jesus took him aside in private, then He looked up to heaven and sighed. What does this sigh mean to you? He turned to God with a heavy heart. He made a request from God the Father Who looked into His heart and answered Him – the man’s ears opened and he began to speak clearly.
Saint Scholastica, who was consecrated to God as a virgin, went to visit her brother Saint Benedict, as she usually did once a year.  She went on this very day and as her brother wanted to leave her, she asked him to stay but he refused. Scholastica turned to God in silence and with a heavy heart, and God answered her with a very heavy rain, so that her brother could not leave her again that night.
How often do you turn to God for your problems with a heavy heart? Christ turned to God the Father with a sigh for someone who was sick to be healed and God the Father answered him. Saint Scholastica turned to God and God answered her. What is it that you are struggling with today; is it sickness, lack of a job, no promotion, failure, lack of faith, lack of identity? Please do turn to God today just the way that you are feeling right now and He will answer you. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. God never changes.

FMSL

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8 February: Freedom in forgiveness, Saint Josephine Bakhita.

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(Image from http://www.jesusmariasite.org)

 

Wednesday February 8th 2017

Today we remember Saint Josephine Bakhita, a woman who found the strength in God’s love to overcome painful memories of cruelty and injustice in her past experience of slavery.  Forgiveness can be a long process of letting go for so many of us, and we too need the help of God’s grace.

Once upon a time, I was caught up with a past hurt.   When I was much younger, somebody told me that I was ugly and wasn’t worth anything.  I went home and wept, looking in the mirror to see if I was really ugly.  The next day, I walked up to the person and announced to her that I was not ugly.  I became really angry and disassociated myself from her. Our parents intervened in the situation but it didn’t make any difference. We became enemies for years.

One day, I went to Mass and the Gospel teaching of forgiving seventy times seven times was read.  It dawned on me that there is no limit to how many times we can forgive one another. When I got home, I gave her a call and she could not believe I did that.  Tears ran down from my eyes and I felt a huge relief. I discovered I was holding myself in bondage all those years.

Sometimes we do things, thinking we want to hurt others and in real sense it is ourselves we are hurting.  From that experience, I realised that it is only in letting go that I am able to forgive myself and others.   It doesn’t matter how many times I have to do this.  As Saint Josephine said, ‘”The Lord has loved me so much: we must love everyone, we must be compassionate.”’

FMSL

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22 January: An African Missionary to Europe, Saint Vincent of Digne.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame du Bourg in Digne is built over a Christian church from Roman times.

Saint Vincent  was from North Africa, a Christian citizen of the Empire, free to travel anywhere, who was sent to the walled town of Digne in the mountains north of Nice.

Pope Saint Miltiades gathered a council in 313. The persecutions which saw the death of another Saint Vincent, the Deacon of Valencia, were over, after Constantine had allowed freedom of worship to Christians. The problem now lay within the church, especially in North Africa: what to do about people who had handed over books and church property to the Imperial authorities. The  Donatist party  felt strongly that they had lost their right to belong to the church, but the Pope and Council decreed that there should be every opportunity for reconciliation.

Vincent travelled with Marcellinus and Domninus  to the council with the African bishops, and impressed Pope Militades, who sent them as missionaries to Provence. Marcellinus became the first bishop of Embrun, Domninus bishop of Digne. Vincent would be his successor.

MMB

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21 January: Saint Agnes

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Pope Benedict XVI wearing a pallium, and a mitre  with the Good Shepherd and his sheep.

Catholics will be familiar with Agnes’ name since she is mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer as one of the great early martyrs. She suffered death in her early teens. It seems unlikely that we would respect a modern teenager the way the Church has celebrated Agnes for 1700 years; perhaps we have something to learn from our ancestors!

 Agnes was from a noble family who were too prominent to avoid attention in the early fourth century persecutions. When she was arrested, she was steadfast in saying that she was a Christian. It is said that she was desired as a wife or mistress by one of the magistrates. No doubt this would have enabled her to escape execution, but she did not yield.

She was to be burned alive but the wood would not light; instead, Saint Ambrose tells us, she was decapitated with a sword.

There is a special tradition linked to Saint Agnes. On her feast day two lambs are brought from the Abbey of Tre Fontane to be blessed by the pope. When they are shorn later in Spring, the wool is woven by the Benedictine nuns of Saint Caecilia’s Abbey to make Palliums. These special collars are given to new Archbishops by the pope on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. Carrying lambs’ wool on the shoulder reminds the Archbishop that he is to be a good shepherd to his flock.

MMB

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18 January: Relics VIII- Some stare with bewilderment.

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Fr Daniel Weatherley, a Kentish Man, is assistant priest at Saint Thomas’ parish in Canterbury. We welcome him to our team and look forward to more posts from him. He resumes our occasional series reflecting upon relics.

The stream of pilgrims and tourists to see the place of Thomas’ martyrdom continues – becketcarvingburgateand many come into our Church to see his relics. Some stare with bewilderment as to why we should pay honour to a piece of finger-bone! But let us think just what a finger that was! The finger of a hand which was extended in peace to friend and foreigner, to kings and serfs; which held the sacred texts of psalms chanted in long hours of pray; the hand raised in admonition and correction – even unto the King; which was raised in blessing and in the absolution of sins; the hands which offered to the Eternal Father the Body and Blood of His Son, whom Thomas served with such zeal and devotion.

May those who visit us here at St. Thomas’ own parish witness the invisible yet real testimony of lives lived every more consciously and deeply-immersed in the light of God’s Word, revealed in Scripture and explained in the teaching of the Church, and wonderfully strengthened in us by the Holy Spirit and humble participation in the Sacred Mysteries. And then might the earthly realm be seen in its true context: as the willing servant of and, ultimately, reflection of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Canterbury Cathedral, Eleanor Billingsley
Carving of St Thomas at his church, MMB

 

DWY

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