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00domenica 4 marzo 2007 12.44
Protoevangelium of James
For those who'd like to read it all, here it is

Protoevangelium of James

I read somewhere that the prayer of Anne, lamenting her barrenness, has no known antecedent in literature of this age.

The strange scene in Bethlehem when time stands still for a moment is also really unique. I can't help but wonder if it really happened.

I became interested in the 'other' gospels at the time when the 'Gospel of Judas' hit the news and searched the net in order to read what I could - it soon became obvious that none of the others can remotely be compared to the four canonical gospels; this is definitely the best of the rest.

The work is offered, as Michael Brown would say, 'for your discernment'.
00domenica 4 marzo 2007 20.23
Thanks for the link, Clare! The Protoevangelium may be apocryphal but it sure did provide the basis for a lot of church art in the Middle Ages, among them Giotto's frescoes on Mary'slife in the great cycle he did for the Scrovegni (Arena) chapel in Padua.

It is very good storytelling, isn't it? It was compelling enough that the Mary depictions in those 5th century mosaics in the Triumphal Arch of the apse at Santa Maria Maggiore were obviously based on it...And now I see it's also the basis for the widespread belief that Joseph was a much older man (and according to this, a widower who already had other children).

But I'll stick to my personal image of a younger, single Joseph, which has been with me all these years since childhood, when among the women of my town, he and St. Anthony were the most popular saints, and every Sunday, the church would be filled with women in the green habit of the St. Joseph devotees (with gold-corded belts) and the women in brown with white belts (the St. Anthony devotees) - plus the appropriate scapular! They far outnumbered the Lady of Lourdes devotees who wore white with blue sashes, of course. (These 'habits' were ordinary dresses - they just had them made in the color pertaining to the saint of their devotion). But even in my town, the practice of wearing 'habits' to church stopped with my generation (postwar).

Does anyone know of a similar practice elsewhere?

P.S. I've just gone back to review this whole thread and I really love it! It is inspiring on so many levels.

I think it is appropriate to recall what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his Introduction to the Compendium of the Catechism, to which he had decided that there should be some illustrations:

"The centuries-old conciliar tradition teaches us that images are also a preaching of the Gospel. Artists in every age have offered the principal facts of the mystery of salvation to the contemplation and wonder of believers by presenting them in the splendour of colour and in the perfection of beauty. It is an indication of how today more than ever, in a culture of images, a sacred image can express much more than what can be said in words, and be an extremely effective and dynamic way of communicating the Gospel message."

There's also a wonderful document in Italian about Sacred Images and why we venerate what they represent, that ZENIT reprinted a couple of weeks ago. It is one of a series of catechetical leaflets prepared by Mons. Raffaello Matinelli, who works at the CDF (and worked with Ratzi for 23 years) that can be picked up free by anyone who comes to the Basilica of Saints Ambrose and Charles on the Corso in Rome.

In the year since he has been doing it, more than 800,000 of the leaflets have been taken by the faithful! Mons. Martinelli bases his themes on topical issues, catechism principles and Pontifical documents.

The first 33 leaflets have been put together in a CD called "Catechesi Dialogica su argomenti di attualità” which is now sold in Italian bookstores. ZENIT has decided to publish the contents of one leaflet every Thursday.

And the first one it chose to publish was "Why sacred images?"
It's in question-and-answer form and it comes to 5-1/2 Word pages, so I haven't qotten around to translating it.

Mons. Martinelli quotes another passage, this time from the address that Benedict XVI gave when the Compendium was released on June 28, 2005:

"Image and words illuminate each other. Art always 'speaks', at least implicitly, of the divine, of the infinite beauty of God, which is reflected in the Icon par excellence: Christ our Lord, image of the invisible God.

"Sacred images, with their beauty, are in themselves evangelical announcements as well, expressing the splendor of Catholic truth, demonstrating the supreme harmony between the good and the beautiful, between the via veritatis, way of truth, and the via pulchritudinis, way of beauty.

"As the secular and fecund tradition of Christian art has shown, religious imagery invites everyone, believers or non-believers, to discover and contemplate the inexhaustible fascination of the story of Salvation, always giving new impetus to its active inculturation into every era."

The Compendium of the Catechism itself says (n. 240):
"The image of Christ is the icon par excellence. The others, which represent Our Lady and the saints, signify Christ who is glorified in them."

The Code of Canon Law says about religious imagery:
"In order to promote the sanctification of the People of God, the Church entrusts to their the special and filial veneration the Blesse Virgin Mary, Mother of God, whom Christ designated mother for all mankind, and also promotes the true and authentic veneration of other saints, so that the faithful may be edified by their example and sustained by their intercession."

The saints are venerated. Adoration is reserved only for the Triune God. St. Thomas Aquinas said:
"Acts of veneration are not directed at the images themselves but for the persons represented insofar as they present to us God incarnate."

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 05/03/2007 1.48]

00sabato 10 marzo 2007 04.58

Lessons From Sylvester's Chapel

by Elizabeth Lev
March 8, 2007
Zenit News Agency

The Lenten season brings the great consolation of the station churches and the opportunity to pray and meditate in old and beloved sites. The Church of the Quattro Coronati -- Four Crowned Martyrs -- a few short steps from St. John Lateran, is the station for the Fifth Week of Lent, but I went to visit it this week.

Once a jewel of a church, with inlaid marble floors and elegant architecture, today Quattro Coronati retains little of its former glamour.

One notable exception is the little Chapel of St. Sylvester, consecrated in 1247. The paintings have been beautifully restored, and when one walks into the little room, the images shine out brightly and vividly, recounting concerns that are still alive today regarding the relationship between Church and state.

The chapel was painted by an unknown artist working at the height of the struggles between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor. It was built in part by a member of the Segni family which produced two of the most important Popes on the Middle Ages, Innocent III (1198-1216) and his nephew Gregory IX (1227-1241). These two dynamic men struggled valiantly against the Holy Roman Emperor's continual encroachment on Church authority.

The Quattro Coronati Church suffered bitterly during these battles. During the Investiture Controversy in 1075, when the Pope and the emperor disputed the right to nominate bishops, Quattro Coronati had been sacked and destroyed.

Undaunted, the Popes rebuilt it, with even more beautiful decor and the addition of the little St. Sylvester Chapel. The decoration was completed under Pope Innocent IV, who also maintained the same uncompromising policies against the Holy Roman Emperor as his predecessors.

The chapel is dedicated to St. Sylvester, the Pope who, in Church lore, convinced Emperor Constantine to convert. During the Middle Ages, he became an excellent model for the Popes struggling against Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen.

The Holy Roman Emperor, since the time of Charlemagne in 800, received his authority to rule from the Pope, and in return protected the Church against the violence of her enemies. Over the centuries, the emperors had begun to usurp the Church's role in ecclesiastical decisions.

In the wake of the reforms of the 10th century, the Popes tried to disentangle the Church from its secular manipulators, but the battle proved long and difficult. The city was sacked, prelates imprisoned and Church property confiscated.

In this Chapel of St. Sylvester, the artist painted with a vigorous freshness that declared from the very walls that the tides had turned. A series of panels right above the head of the visitor tell the story of how St. Sylvester converted Constantine.

The story is taken from the Golden Legend, which in this case is not historically accurate, but more important than historical accuracy the artists makes a contemporary point about the emperor.

According to the legend depicted, Constantine started his tenure as co-emperor as a persecutor of Christians. For his sins, he was struck with leprosy. This illness is dramatically rendered in the fresco. The emperor, replete with crown and jeweled robes, is depicted as covered with red spots while his head droops in shame.

There was only one supposed cure for leprosy in that age, which required that the victim bathe in the warm blood of babies to expunge the disease. An astonishing scene represents the leprous emperor, sitting on his throne and giving the order to have the babies gathered up for slaughter. Mothers and fathers plead, wail and clutch their children to no avail -- the emperor must be cured.

It won't escape many modern viewers how we have come full circle to the same barbarities. In the modern debate over embryonic stem cells, the chief argument used for the destruction of these tiny human lives is their putative power to cure other diseases.

Constantine, however, was troubled by this solution and rejected the cure, speaking some of the most resonant lines of the Golden Legend: "The honor of the Roman people is born of the font of piety, which gave us the law that anyone who kills a child in war shall incur the sentence of death.

"What cruelty would it be then if we did to our own children what we are forbidden to do to aliens! What do we gain in conquering barbarians if we allow cruelty to conquer us!"

Constantine was rewarded with a dream of St. Peter and St. Paul telling him to seek out Pope Sylvester in Rome. Upon finding the Pope, Constantine had himself baptized, and, in cleansing his soul, his body was healed.

Constantine's gratitude to the Pope was boundless. Kneeling before the Pope, he recognized the importance of the spiritual power of the Pope.

Constantine paid honors to St. Sylvester and even led the Pope's horse on foot, something Frederick II was unlikely to be repeating.

This story, which tries to define the realms of the temporal and spiritual, how the overlap and interact, shows the sophisticated medieval understanding that Church and state are not so easily divided. Separated from any moral authority, the state weakens and loses sight of what is best for its citizens.

Ironically, we use the term "medieval" to refer to what we perceive as an ignorant and violent age. I can't help but wonder what the Middle Ages would make of us today.

* * *

Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University's Italian campus. She can be reached at

00sabato 10 marzo 2007 05.20
When this thread was first started, PhoenixRising posted a number of pictures of saints whose incorrupt bodies may be seen today in the churches where they were originally venerated. The phenomenon of incorrupt bodies, whatever the explanation may be, is surely one of those signs from God that we can reflect on. What does it say to us? What is He telling us? And it invites us to reflect on the saints themselves, and the lives that earned them sainthood and their special grace.

The saint for today is one of the incorrupt, and her body, seated, may be visited at the Church of the Poor Clares in Bologna, Italy.

The painting commemorates Catherine's vision in 1445 when Mary appeared to her
and gave her the Baby Jesus to hold. Right, the saint in her shrine in Bologna.
The face has darkened after centuries of soot from candles lit at her shrine

Catherine of Bologna, Poor Clare, Virgin
(also known as Catherine de'Vigri)

Born in Bologna, Italy, September 8, 1413;
died there on March 9, 1463;
name added to the Roman Martyrology by Clement VIII in 1592;
canonized 1712 by Clement XI;
bull of canonization published by Benedict XIII in 1724.

At age 11, the patrician Catherine de'Vigri became lady-in-waiting to Margherita d'Este at the ducal court of Nicholas III d'Este at Ferrara, where she was given a good education. After Margherita's wedding, Catherine (age 13) joined a sisterhood of virgins in Ferrara, who lived according to the rule of the Franciscan tertiaries. Largely as a result of her efforts, this company formed itself into a convent of Poor Clares.

In 1432 Catherine took solemn vows and soon became mistress of novices. In 1456, she traveled to Bologna to oversee the building of the Poor Clares' Corpus Christi Convent and became abbess of the new foundation. She was an effective novice mistress and superioress. Catherine's incredible zeal and solitude for the souls of sinners made her pour forth unceasing prayers and tears for their salvation.

From an early age Catherine was subject to visions, some of which from their nature and effects she judged to be diabolical temptations, while others were consolatory and for her good. One Christmas she had a vision of the Blessed Virgin with the infant Jesus in her arms, which is reproduced often in art since.

The learned saint recorded her soul's struggles and mystical experiences in a Latin work entitled Manifestations. She also wrote Latin hymns, and composed and painted - including a self- portrait that is really quite good. The transfiguration of her prematurely aged, plain features often observed in her life was even more remarkable after her death. She also had a talent for calligraphy and miniature painting; a breviary written out and ornamented by her still exists at the Bologna convent.

Her life and the occurrences after her death were described by an eyewitness, Blessed Illuminata Bembi:

"Thereupon the grave was prepared and when they lowered the corpse which was not enshrined in a coffin, it exhaled a scent of surpassing sweetness, filling the air all around. The two sisters, who had descended into the grave, out of compassion for her lovely and radiant face covered it with cloth and placed a rough board some inches above the corpse, so that the clods of earth should not touch it. However they fixed it so awkwardly that when the grave was filled up with earth it covered the face and body nevertheless.

"The sisters came to visit the churchyard often, wept, prayed, and read by the grave and always noticed the sweet odor in the air around it. As there were no flowers or herbs near the grave - nothing but arid earth - they came to believe that it arose from the grave itself.

"Soon miracles occurred, for some who visited the grave in ill health were cured. Therefore the sisters repented that they had interred her without a coffin, and complained to their father confessor. He a man of sound judgment asked what they wanted to do about it.

"We replied: 'To take her out again, place her in a wooden coffin and rebury her.' He was taken aback by this request it was 18 days after her death and he thought that by now the corpse must be decomposed. We, however, pointed out the sweet odor, and finally he granted permission to disinter her, provided no smell of putrefaction would make itself felt during the digging.

"When we found the body and laid the face free, we found it crushed and disfigured by the weight of the board placed above it. Also, in digging, three of the sisters had damaged it with the spade. So we placed her in a coffin, and made ready for re- interment, but by some strange impulse were driven to place her for some time under the portal.

"Here the crushed nose and the whole face gradually regained their natural form. The deceased became white of color, lovely, intact, as if still alive, the nails were not blackened, and she exhaled a delicious odor. All the sisters were deeply stirred; the scent spread throughout the church and convent, attaching itself to the hands that had touched her, and there seemed to be no explanation for it.

"Now after having been quite pale, she began to change color and to flush, while a most deliciously scented sweat began to pour from her body. Changing from paleness to the color of glowing ember, she shed an aromatic liquid which appeared sometime like clear water and then like a mixture of water and blood.

"Full of wonder and perplexity we called our confessor; the rumor had already spread to the town and he hurried to us accompanied by a learned physician, Maestro Giovanni Marcanova, and they closely observed and touched the body. Others joined them: priests, physicians, laymen."

The whole of Italy converged to see her, and her body was placed on a chair in a special chapel behind bars and glass, and to this day is kept there in a mummified condition

In art, Saint Catherine is a Poor Clare carrying the Christ Child. Sometimes she is shown enthroned with a cross, book, a cross on her breast and bare feet. Catherine is the patron of artists.

A longer biography with many amazing details about her life and death can be found here:

Guglielmo Giraldi, Catherine of Bologna, c. 1469.
4 1/4 x 3 1/8 in. Tempera colors, gold paint,
gold leaf, and ink on parchment. Getty Museum

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 10/03/2007 6.01]

00domenica 11 marzo 2007 22.12

I wish I had more information about this image. I saw it on
Fr. Finigan's blog "Hermeneutics of Continuity". He doesn't
say anything about it, except he has a line in the blog
"Our Lady of China, pray for us!" When I find out more
about the image, I'll update this post.

00domenica 11 marzo 2007 22.26
I don't really want to interrupt the flow of this thread, but I just have to express admiration and gratitude for everything that is posted here. It is a beautiful, instructive and inspirational experience to visit here. A big, fat "THANK YOU" to every contributor! [SM=g27811]
00lunedì 12 marzo 2007 19.52
One of the masterpieces we have 'discussed' on this thread is in the news today. Here's the translation of a sketchy news agency report published in PETRUS online:


FLORENCE - Leonardo da Vinci's "Annunciation' is headed to Tokyo where it will be exibited in a show called "The mind of Leonardo."

The famous painting was detached from its place of honor in the Uffizi galleries today in the presence of newsmen and some Italian cultural officials. It has been in the possession of the famous Florence art gallery since 1867.

Notably absent was the director of the Uffizi who objected from the beginning to the idea of sending the painting to Japan.

00mercoledì 14 marzo 2007 03.48
Thanks Teresa for posting that pic of 'Our Lady of China'. I saw it somewhere on the net a while back in a much smaller form and was quite taken with it but couldn't find a larger version of it. I now have it set as my desktop background. [SM=g27811]
00domenica 18 marzo 2007 22.42
A belated entry on The Saint of Ireland, whom the Catholci world commemorated yesterday. The Catholic Encyclopedia has an excellent lengthy account of the life of St. Patrick on


Here, Iam reproducing the concise account found in Saints o' the Day, from the site of St. Patricks of Washington DC.

Patrick of Ireland, Bishop
Born in Scotland, c. 385-390;
died in Ireland c. 461.

"I was like a stone lying in the deep mire; and He that is mighty came, and in His mercy lifted me up, and verily raised me aloft and placed me on the top of the wall."
--Saint Patrick

The historical Patrick is much more attractive than the Patrick of legend. It is unclear exactly where Patricius Magonus Sucatus (Patrick) was born - somewhere in the west between the mouth of the Severn and the Clyde - but this most popular Irish saint was probably born in Scotland of British origin, perhaps in a village called Bannavem Taberniae. (Other possibilities are in Gaul or at Kilpatrick near Dumbarton, Scotland.)

His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon and a civil official, a town councillor, and his grandfather was a priest.
About 405, when Patrick was in his teens (14-16), he was captured by Irish raiders and became a slave in Ireland.

There in Ballymena (or Slemish) in Antrim (or Mayo), Patrick first learned to pray intensely while tending his master's sheep in contrast with his early years in Britain when he "knew not the true God" and did not heed clerical "admonitions for our salvation." After six years, he was told in a dream that he should be ready for a courageous effort that would take him back to his homeland.

He ran away from his owner and travelled 200 miles to the coast. His initial request for free passage on a ship was turned down, but he prayed, and the sailors called him back. The ship on which he escaped was taking dogs to Gaul (France). At some point he returned to his family in Britain, then seems to have studied at the monastery of Lérins on the Côte d'Azur from 412 to 415.

He received some kind of training for the priesthood in either Britain or Gaul, possibly in Auxerre, including study of the Latin Bible, but his learning was not of a high standard, and he was to regret this always. He spent the next 15 years at Auxerre were he became a disciple of Saint Germanus of Auxerre and was possibly ordained about 417.

The cultus of Patrick began in France, long before Sucat received the noble title of Patricius, which was immediately before his departure for Ireland about 431. The center of this cultus is a few miles west of Tours, on the Loire, around the town of St- Patrice, which is named after him.

The strong, persistent legend is that Patrick not only spent the twenty years after his escape from slavery there, but that it was his home. The local people firmly believe that Patrick was the nephew of Saint Martin of Tours and that he became a monk in his uncle's great Marmoutier Abbey.

Patrick's cultus there reverts to the legend of Les Fleurs de St-Patrice which relates that Patrick was sent from the abbey to preach the Gospel in the area of Bréhémont-sur-Loire. He went fishing one day and had a tremendous catch. The local fishermen were upset and forced him to flee. He reached a shelter on the north bank where he slept under a blackthorn bush. When he awoke the bush was covered with flowers.

Because this was Christmas day, the incident was considered a miracle, which recurred each Christmas until the bush was destroyed in World War I. The phenomenon was evaluated many times and verified by various observers, including official organizations.

He is now the patron of the fishermen on the Loire and, according to a modern French scholar, the patron of almost every other occupation in the neighborhood. There is a grotto dedicated to him at Marmoutier, which contains a stone bed, alleged to have been his.

It is said that in visions he heard voices in the wood of Focault or that he dreamed of Ireland and determined to return to the land of his slavery as a missionary. In that dream or vision he heard a cry from many people together "come back and walk once more among us," and he read a writing in which this cry was named 'the voice of the Irish.' (When Pope John Paul II went to Ireland in 1979, among his first words were that he, too, had heard the "voice of the Irish.")

In his Confessio Patrick writes: "It was not my grace, but God who overcometh in me, so that I came to the heathen Irish to preach the Gospel . . . to a people newly come to belief which the Lord took from the ends of the earth."

Saint Germanus consecrated him bishop about 432, and sent him to Ireland to succeed Saint Palladius, the first bishop, who had died earlier that year. There was some opposition to Patrick's appointment, probably from Britain, but Patrick made his way to Ireland about 435.

He set up his see at Armagh and organized the church into territorial sees, as elsewhere in the West and East. While Patrick encouraged the Irish to become monks and nuns, it is not certain that he was a monk himself; it is even less likely that in his time the monastery became the principal unit of the Irish Church, although it was in later periods. The choice of Armagh may have been determined by the presence of a powerful king.

There Patrick had a school and presumably a small familia in residence; from this base he made his missionary journeys. There seems to have been little contact with the Palladian Christianity of the southeast.

There is no reliable account of his work in Ireland, where he had been a captive. Legends include the stories that he drove snakes from Ireland, and that he described the Trinity by referring to the shamrock, and that he singlehandedly - an impossible task - converted Ireland.

Nevertheless, Saint Patrick established the Catholic Church throughout Ireland on lasting foundations: he travelled throughout the country preaching, teaching, building churches, opening schools and monasteries, converting chiefs and bards, and everywhere supporting his preaching with miracles.

At Tara in Meath he is said to have confronted King Laoghaire on Easter Eve with the Christian Gospel, kindled the light of the paschal fire on the hill of Slane (the fire of Christ never to be extinguished in Ireland), confounded the Druids into silence, and gained a hearing for himself as a man of power. He converted the king's daughters. He threw down the idol of Crom Cruach in Leitrim. Patrick wrote that he daily expected to be violently killed or enslaved again.

He gathered many followers, including Saint Benignus, who would become his successor. That was one of his chief concerns, as it always is for the missionary Church: the raising up of native clergy.

He wrote: "It was most needful that we should spread our nets, so that a great multitude and a throng should be taken for God. . . . Most needful that everywhere there should be clergy to baptize and exhort a people poor and needy, as the Lord in the Gospel warns and teaches, saying: Go ye therefore now, and teach all nations. And again: Go ye therefore into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. And again: This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all nations."

In his writings and preaching, Patrick revealed a scale of values. He was chiefly concerned with abolishing paganism, idolatry, and sun-worship. He made no distinction of classes in his preaching and was himself ready for imprisonment or death for following Christ.

In his use of Scripture and eschatological expectations, he was typical of the 5th-century bishop. One of the traits which he retained as an old man was a consciousness of his being an unlearned exile and former slave and fugitive, who learned to trust God completely.

There was some contact with the pope. He visited Rome in 442 and 444. As the first real organizer of the Irish Church, Patrick is called the Apostle of Ireland. According to the Annals of Ulster, the Cathedral Church of Armagh was founded in 444, and the see became a center of education and administration. Patrick organized the Church into territorial sees, raised the standard of scholarship (encouraging the teaching of Latin), and worked to bring Ireland into a closer relationship with the Western Church.

His writings show what solid doctrine he must have taught his listeners. His Confessio (his autobiography, perhaps written as an apology against his detractors), the Lorica (or Breastplate), and the "Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus," protesting British slave trading and the slaughter of a group of Irish Christians by Coroticus's raiding Christian Welshmen, are the first surely identified literature of the British or Celtic Church.

What stands out in his writings is Patrick's sense of being called by God to the work he had undertaken, and his determination and modesty in carrying it out: "I, Patrick, a sinner, am the most ignorant and of least account among the faithful, despised by many. . . . I owe it to God's grace that so many people should through me be born again to him."

Towards the end of his life, Patrick made that 'retreat' of forty days on Cruachan Aigli in Mayo from which the age-long Croagh Patrick pilgrimage derives. Patrick may have died at Saul on Strangford Lough, Downpatrick, where he had built his first church. Glastonbury claims his alleged relics. The National Museum at Dublin has his bell and tooth, presumably from the shrine at Downpatrick, where he was originally entombed with Saints Brigid and Columba.

The high veneration in which the Irish hold Patrick is evidenced by the common salutation, "May God, Mary, and Patrick bless you." His name occurs widely in prayers and blessings throughout Ireland.

Among the oldest devotions of Ireland is the prayer used by travellers invoking Patrick's protection, An Mhairbhne Phaidriac or The Elegy of Patrick. He is alleged to have promised prosperity to those who seek his intercession on his feast day, which marks the end of winter.

A particularly lovely legend is that the Peace of Christ will reign over all Ireland when the Palm and the Shamrock meet, which means when St. Patrick's Day fall on Passion Sunday.

Most unusual is Well of Saint Patrick at Orvieto, Italy, which was built at the order of Pope Clement VII in 1537 to provide water for the city during its periodic sieges. The connection with Saint Patrick comes from the fact that the project was completed and dedicated by a member of the Sangallo family, a name derived from the Irish Saint Gall.

A common Italian proverb refers to this exceptionally deep (248 steps to the surface) well: liberal spenders are said to have pockets as deep as the Well of Patrick.

We are told that often Patrick baptized hundreds on a single day. He would come to a place, a crowd would gather, and when he told them about the true God, the people would cry out from all sides that they wanted to become Christians. Then they would move to the nearest water to be baptized.

On such a day Aengus, a prince of Munster, was baptized. When Patrick had finished preaching, Aengus was longing with all his heart to become a Christian. The crowd surrounded the two because Aengus was such an important person. Patrick got out his book and began to look for the place of the baptismal rite but his crozier got in the way.

As you know, the bishop's crozier often has a spike at the bottom end, probably to allow the bishop to set it into the ground to free his hands. So, when Patrick fumbled searching for the right spot in the book so that he could baptize Aengus, he absent-mindedly stuck his crosier into the ground just beside him -and accidentally through the foot of poor Aengus!

Patrick, concentrating on the sacrament, never noticed what he had done and proceeded with the baptism. The prince never cried out, nor moaned; he simply went very white. Patrick poured water over his bowed head at the simple words of the rite. Then it was completed. Aengus was a Christian. Patrick turned to take up his crozier and was horrified to find that he had driven it through the prince's foot!

"But why didn't you say something? This is terrible. Your foot is bleeding and you'll be lame. . . ." Poor Patrick was very unhappy to have hurt another.

Then Aengus said in a low voice that he thought having a spike driven through his foot was part of the ceremony. He added something that must have brought joy to the whole court of heaven and blessings on Ireland:

"Christ," he said slowly, "shed His blood for me, and I am glad to suffer a little pain at baptism to be like Our Lord" (Curtayne).

In art, Saint Patrick is represented as a bishop driving snakes before him or trampling upon them. At times he may be shown (1) preaching with a serpent around the foot of his pastoral staff; (2) holding a shamrock; (3) with a fire before him; or (4) with a pen and book, devils at his feet, and seraphim above him (Roeder, White). Click here to view an anonymous American icon. He is patron of Nigeria (which was evangelized primarily by Irish clergy) and of Ireland and especially venerated at Lérins.

And here are two 'illuminations' from the British Library on St. Patrick.

Description: (Detail) Historiated initial 'E'; above,
St Patrick asleep on a knoll, below, two animals,
symbolic of the unconverted Irish, with figure on
right (Christ without a halo?) holding a book.
Title of Work: La Vie des Sains
Production: Northern France; second half of the 13th century

Title of Work: St Patrick's Purgatory
Production: England, mid 15th century
Description: St. Patrick, depicted as a bishop,
holding crozier and with arm raised in the act
of benediction, standing on the island of
'St. Patrick's Purgatory', Donegal, surrounded
by demons and souls in torment.

And finally:
The beautiful prayer of St. Patrick, popularly known as "St. Patrick's Breast-Plate", is supposed to have been composed by him in preparation for this victory over Paganism. The following is a literal translation from the old Irish text:

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 18/03/2007 22.47]

00domenica 18 marzo 2007 22.58
I did not know before today that the Church commemorates Joseph of Arimathea also on March 17, just two days before the Feast of the First Joseph.

It's probably not a coincidence that all three of the saints we are discussing - Joseph, foster father of Jesus; Joseph of Arimathea; and Patrick of Ireland - are all associated with a miraculous flowering incident. I find the miraculous flowerings one of the most beautiful images for the grace of God.

Joseph of Arimathea
1st century

Detail from a 1495 Perugino painting of the Deposition
of Christ, found in the Palazzo Pitti gallery in Florence

We read about Joseph of Arimathea, the "noble counsellor," in all four Gospels (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-56; and John 19:38-42). As with many of the Biblical figures, numerous legends accrued around his name in later years.

Saint Joseph was a wealthy member of the temple council and a secret follower of Jesus because he was afraid of persecution from Jewish officials. He attended the Crucifixion, and legend has it that he caught Jesus's blood as he hung upon the cross. (What is said to be the Sacro Catino in which Joseph caught the blood of Christ at the Crucifixion is at San Lorenzo, Genoa, Italy.)

Joseph persuaded Pontius Pilate to let him have Jesus's body, wrapped it in linen and herbs, and laid it in a tomb carved in a rock in the side of a hill, a tomb that he had prepared for himself.

Later tradition has embellished this account to add that Joseph was a distant relative of Jesus, who derived his wealth from tin mines in Cornwall, which he visited from time to time. One version tells the story of the teenaged Jesus accompanying Joseph on one such visit. This is the background of the poem "Jerusalem," by William Blake (1757-1827):

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear!
O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

This version continues to say that, after the Crucifixion, Saint Joseph returned to Cornwall, bringing with him the chalice of the Last Supper, known as the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail was hidden and played an important part in the folk history of England in the great national epic about King Arthur and his knights who unsuccessful seek to find it.

Upon reaching Glastonbury, he planted his staff, which took root and blossomed into a thorn tree. This is the Holy Thorn, which flowers at Christmas. King Charles I baited his wife's Roman Catholic chaplain by observing that, although Pope Gregory had proclaimed a reform of the calendar, the Glastonbury Thorn ignored the Pope's decree and continued to blossom on Christmas Day according to the Old Calendar.

One of Cromwell's soldiers cut down the Thorn because it was a relic of superstition. We are told that he was blinded by one of the thorns as it fell. A tree allegedly grown from a cutting of the original Thorn survives today in Glastonbury (and trees propagated from it stand on the grounds of the Cathedral in Washington, DC, and presumably elsewhere) and leaves from it are sold in all the tourist shops in Glastonbury.

It was not until about the middle of the 13th century that the legend appears saying Joseph accompanied Saint Philip to Gaul to preach and was sent by him to England as the leader of 12 missionaries.

It is said that the company, inspired by Gabriel the archangel, built a church made of wattles in honor of the Virgin Mary on an island called Yniswitrin, given to them by the king of England. The church eventually evolved into Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset. Supposedly Joseph died there, was buried on the island, and miraculous cures worked at his grave. This burial site is unlikely though.

Is there any merit to the legends of Saint Joseph? Perhaps. Tin, an essential ingredient of bronze, was highly valued in ancient times, and Phoenician ships imported tin from Cornwall. It is not unreasonable to believe that some first-century, Jewish Christians might have been investors in the Cornwall tin trade. Christianity gained a foothold in Britain very early, perhaps, in part, because of the commerce in tin.

If so, then the early British Christians would have a tradition that they had been evangelized by a wealthy Jewish Christian. Having forgotten his name, they might have consulted the Scriptures and found that Joseph and Saint Barnabas fit the description. Because much of the life of Barnabas was already described by the Acts of the Apostles making him an unlikely candidate, only Joseph was left. Thus, Christians seeking an immediate connection with their Lord, grasped on to Joseph as their evangelizer.

In art, Saint Joseph is portrayed as a very old man, carrying a pot of ointment or a flowering staff or a pair of altar cruets (containing the blood and sweat of Jesus). He may be shown taking the crown of thorns from the dead Christ. At other times he is shown with the shroud and crown of thorns, a thorn tree by him, or a box of spices. He is venerated at Glastonbury and patron of grave-diggers and undertakers.

Two images: An icon, left; and right, William Blake's
well-known illustration of St. Joseph in England (Albion)

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 18/03/2007 23.46]

00lunedì 19 marzo 2007 11.51
Saint Joseph
Guardian of Jesus, Husband of Mary

Declared patron of the Universal Church by Pope Pius IX in 1870,
patron of workers by Pope Benedict XV,
patron of social justice by Pope Pius XI;
name added to the canon of the Mass by John XIII in 1962;
second feast at Saint Joseph the Worker on May 1.


"How can a truly virtuous man fail in anything? In what situation will he not be powerful; in what state of poverty will he not be rich; in what obscurity will he not be brilliant; in what inaction will he not be industrious; in what infirmity will he not be vigorous; in what weakness will he not be strong; in what solitude will he not be accompanied? for he will have for company the hope of a happy eternity; for clothing, he will have the grace of the Most High; for ornament, the promises of a halo of glory!

"Let us recollect that the saints were not of a more excellent nature than ours, but were more orderly and regular: that they were not exempt from sins, but that they took pains to correct their faults." - Saint Ambrose in De Joseph.

All that is known about Joseph is found in the Gospels (primarily Matthew 1-2, but also in Luke 1-2). Matthew broadly represents Joseph's viewpoint, while the Infancy narratives in Luke seem to come from Mary's.

Descended from the royal line of David, Saint Joseph was the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who defended her good name, and foster father and protector of the God Who made him, yet Who wished to be known throughout His life as the son of Joseph.

He saw to Jesus's education and taught him his trade of carpentry or building. Joseph's disappointment upon learning of Mary's pregnancy was said to be assuaged by an angelic vision, and he was the recipient of two more visions: one telling him to seek refuge in Egypt to escape Herod's persecution, and the second, to return to Palestine.

Saint Joseph bore the responsibilities of a father perfectly. A dream told him that King Herod planned to kill the infant Jesus. Joseph took Mary and Jesus away by night to Egypt and thus saved the life of the Savior. He kept the child hidden from Herod's son in case he, too, would have harmed Jesus.

William Dobson, Return from Egypt,Tate Gallery, London

Joseph was with Mary in the stable at Bethlehem when Jesus was born. He was looking after the mother and child when the shepherds and the Magi came to worship him. He took Mary and Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to God in the Temple. He shared Mary's anxieties for her son when Jesus was presumed lost, after their visit to the Temple when he was 12.

After this no more is heard of Joseph in the New Testament except in Luke 4:22, where he is named as the father of Jesus. He is not mentioned as being present at the crucifixion, a fact that persuaded many artists to portray him as an old man who had presumably died by the time Jesus was in his early thirties.

The few Biblical particulars give an impression of a just, kind, dignified and level-headed man, prompt in action but self-effacing. The apocryphal Protoevangelium of James holds that he was an old man when Jesus was born, but this appears unlikely when one considers the fact that he reared Jesus and fulfilled the family duties.

Do you imagine St. Joseph as young or old?

Special veneration to Joseph began in the East, where the apocryphal History of Joseph the Carpenter
enjoyed great popularity in the fifth to seventh centuries. It led to devotion from the 17th century to Joseph by all those desiring a happy death because the History tells that Joseph was afraid of death and filled with self-reproach, but was comforted by the words of Mary and Jesus, who promised protection and life to all who do good in the name of Joseph.

Martyrology entries in the West date from the 8th century and slightly later Irish martyrologies. The 9th-century Irish metrical hymn Félire of Saint Aengus mentions a commemoration, but it was not until the 15th century that veneration of Saint Joseph became widespread in the West, when his feast was introduced into the Roman Calendar in 1479.

Carmelite breviaries from 1480 commemorate his feast, as does the Roman breviary of 1482 and the Roman Missal of 1505.
The notion of Joseph as the foster-father of Jesus fired the imagination of the medieval Church. Saint John Chrysostom pointed to the anxieties of Joseph as a pattern of the trials of all Christians - relieved as they are by God's intervention. Saints Vincent Ferrer (d. 1419), Bridget of Sweden (d. 1373), and Bernardino of Siena (d. 1444) all propagated his devotion, partially in reaction against Medieval mystery plays, in which he is the channel for comic relief.

In the 15th century the French churchman Jean Gerson wrote twelve poems in his honor. Saint Teresa of Ávila chose him as the practical saint who should be patron of the Discalced Carmelite friars and nuns [see her paean, Go to Joseph -].

Pope Gregory XV made his feast a day of obligation, but this is not widely observed today. In Quanquam pluries (1889), Pope Leo XIII declared Joseph a model for fathers of families and confirmed that his sanctity was second only the that of the Blessed Virgin. In 1989, Pope John Paul II issued Redemptoris custos (Guardian of the Redeemer).

Saint Joseph is generally pictured as an elderly man holding a flowering rod with the Christ Child in his arms or led my his hand (this emblem is also associated with Saint Joseph of Arimathea).

According to an ancient legend, Mary and the other virgins of the Temple were commanded to return to their homes and marry. When the Blessed Virgin refused, the elders prayed for guidance and a voice from the sanctuary instructed them to call together the unwed males of the House of David.

In accordance with the voice, the priest Zacharius instructed the gathered males to leave their staffs on the altar of the temple overnight. Nothing happened. So Zacharius next included those of the widowers, including Joseph.

When Joseph's rod was found the next morning, in flower ("the flower of the rod of Jesse"), he was told to take the Blessed Virgin to wife and keep her for the Lord. Many times the flowering rod is replaced by a stalk of lilies.

At times he may be shown (1) with the Christ Child, two doves in a cage, and a lily; (2) with the Christ Child and a lily; (3) in scenes with the Holy Family; (4) with carpenter's tools; (5) as the angel appears to him in a dream; (6) working in a carpenter's shop with the boy Jesus near him; or (7) dying, supported by Christ and the Virgin.

As head of the Holy Family, Saint Joseph is the patron of the Universal Church, of fathers, of opposition to atheistic Communism (he was a worker), of workers, doubters (he married Mary despite her pregnancy), of a happy death (he is said to have died before Jesus and Mary), Austria, Bohemia, Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Peru, Russia, South Vietnam, missions to the Chinese, bursers, procurators, as well as of carpenters, confectioners (Naples), the dying, engineers, the family, married couples, house-hunters, pioneers, and travellers. He is invoked when in doubt, hesitation or when looking for a house.

A novena of prayers to Saint Joseph as well as his Seven Joys and Sorrows and various aspirations can be found on Saint Patrick's homepage. The Catholic Tradition web site contains other prayers and images of Saint Joseph.

[Click on the thumbnails for right format]
Michelangelo, The Holy Family

Rembrandt, The Holy Family

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 19/03/2007 12.04]

00mercoledì 21 marzo 2007 01.38
History, art and popular faith
in an album of holy cards for Easter


ROME, Mar. 20 ( An album of holy cards [called 'santini' (sing. santino) in Italian] for Easter from Pubblicazioni Collezionare Cultura ( was presented at the Vatican Radio offices today.

The book includes more than 400 valuable Italian and European images, from the 16th to the 19th centuries, that depict the Easter mystery, from Christ's Passion to His Resurrection.

The preface is by Mons. Piacenza, president of the Pontifical Commission for Cultural Assets, with text by Mons. Raffaello Martinelli, a department chief at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and rector of the San Carlo international Collegio Ecclesiastico.

Mons. Piacenza writes in his Preface that holy cards are "an iconographic transcription of the Gospel mesasge, in which image and word illuminate each other, constituting a form of catechesis through which the faithful are instructed and confirmed in their faith."

They are also "a remembrance of our sainted brothers and sisters, with whom we are in communion and who interceed for us - therefore, an aid to praying, reminding us of the mystery of salvation and the wonders of grace operated by God in His saints. They are, finally, a stimulus to the imitation of Christ, following the way of the saints, who were imitators of Christ."

"What extraordinary spiritual aids these holy cards are, if with their images and the prayers inscribed behind them, they invite us to praise and bless the Lord often!"

During a press conference in 1981, Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of devotion to the saints as a way of coming close to the Lord. St. Teresa of Avila, he said, suggested that an image of teh Lord always helps us in prayer, and St. Ignatius of Loyola suggested to precede every meditation with a "visual composition of the scene" to help us imagine with great detail the object of meditation.

Mons. Piacenza said the link between popular piety and religious images was obvious. "Holy cards are also an expression that distinguishes every generation, which transmits its visual art forms through the living tradition of popular piety."

At the book presentation, Mons. Martinelli from the CDF said "Making known the face of God through His Son Jesus is not a human invention. God himself chose this, from the moment he willed the incarnation of His son, thus making God humanly visible by assuming our human condition totally. And so, through the Son, we have a privileged way to reach the Fahter.""

Mons. Martinelli said the holy cards that most impress him are those in which Jesus is shown on the road to Calvary interacting with a series of ordinary people.

"Man himself," he said, " is a privileged channel for the encounter with God. We Christians have welcomed the Son of God, and we too have the honor and the task of announcing and bringing Him to others."

"Through this album and through the message that these images convey, we can appreciate better the grandeur and the beauty of the gift God has given us - the death and resurrection of His Son, which is a message of love for everyone."

Graziano Toni, who is responsible for this editorial initiative, reminded the audience of Italy's artistic production of holy cards through the centuries, and said a national museum dedicated to holy cards was being planned in Lugo, in the Romagna region of central Italy, as well as an annual contest that would reawaken popular interest in the beauty of sacred images.


A second news story today about sacred images comes from the Times of London:


DORCHESTER - A pair of Renaissance paintings worth more than £1 million that were found hanging in the spare room of a terraced home in Oxford are likely to be lost to the nation.

The discovery of the long-lost Fra Angelico masterpieces last year stunned the art world. But it looks as if the paintings will be sold abroad because an export licence will almost certainly be granted.

The late Jean Preston bought the panels in the United States for £200 in the 1960s, and brought them back to the UK in the 1990s. Export licences are never refused for works that have been in the country for less than 50 years because they are not deemed to be part of the national heritage.

It means that some of the world’s wealthiest museums and collectors will attend the sale at Duke’s auction house in Dorchester, Dorset, next month.

Paintings by Fra Angelico rarely appear on the open market and few remain in private hands. A pair of panels by the artist sold in London in 1972 for £230,000.
00venerdì 23 marzo 2007 06.34
For now, I will just post these two portraits of the patron of Europe and our Papino's name saint. Both are from Benedictine monasteries in Austria - Melk, that beautiful abbey on a hill along the Danube not far from Vienna; and Heiligenkreuz in the Vienna woods, which Pope Benedict will be visiting in September.

I will post appropriate text about Benedict later - have to pick and choose first. I only became aware of my great oversight around midnight tonight so...


[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 23/03/2007 6.40]

00venerdì 23 marzo 2007 14.50
St. Benedict

Okay, so was he bald and clean-shaven or with hair and bearded? How accurate are all these saints paintings?

[Modificato da benefan 23/03/2007 14.51]


I think the 'bald' portrayal shows monastic tonsure carried to an extreme (see the other figures in that painting. Obviously, the images of saints who lived before photography are very much as imagined by the individual artists, although many of them take tradition into account. Frankly, I have not really looked at a comparative iconography of St. Benedict, so I don't know what his 'traditional' portrayal is supposed to be. - TERESA

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 26/03/2007 17.45]

00lunedì 26 marzo 2007 18.17
(deferred to March 26 this year
because March 25 is a Sunday of Lent)

Gospel Lk 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb
and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.'
But Mary said to the angel,
"How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born will be called holy,
the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her.

El Greco, Annunciation, 1545

In Eastern Orthodoxy Mary is referred to as Theotokos ("god bearer").
This is a traditional Eastern Orthodox hymn for the day of the Annunciation:

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
The revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace,
The Lord is with You!

The Annunciation, from the cycle of the Twelve Feasts (Dodecaorton),
on an iconostasis beam dating to the 12th century

The icon of Annunciation from the Church of St Climent,
Ohrid, Macedonia (Greek school,first quarter of the 14th century).
Egg tempera, 23 Carat gold,
natural pigments on woodboard, 12" x 18"

The Annunciation of Ohrid is one of the most admired icons
of Paleologan Mannerism. In the last half of the 1300s,
Paleologan saints were painted in an exaggerated manner,
very slim and in contorted positions, that is, in a style
known as the Paleologan Mannerism, of which Ohrid's Annunciation
is a superb example.


The Annunciation is also cited in the Quran, in chapters 3 (Aal 'Imran - The family of Imran) verses 45-51 and 19 (Maryam - Mary) verses 16-26, although never with the mention or suggestion that Jesus is the son of God. As Islam does not allow the portrayal of human images, there is obviously no illustration to go with this.

From chapter 3
[45] (Remember) when the angels said: "O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allâh gives you the glad tidings of a Word ("Be!" - and he was! i.e. 'Isâ (Jesus) the son of Maryam (Mary)) from Him, his name will be the Messiah 'Isâ (Jesus), the son of Maryam (Mary), held in honor in this world and in the Hereafter, and will be one of those who are near to Allâh."

[46] "He will speak to the people in the cradle and in manhood, and he will be one of the righteous."

[47] She said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me." He said: "So (it will be) for Allâh creates what He wills. When He has decreed something, He says to it only: "Be!" - and it is.

[48] And He (Allâh) will teach him ('Isâ (Jesus)) the Book and Al-Hikmah (i.e. the Sunnah, the faultless speech of the Prophets, wisdom), (and) the Taurât (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel).

[49] And will make him ('Isâ (Jesus)) a Messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): "I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I design for you out of clay, a figure like that of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allâh's Leave; and I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I bring the dead to life by Allâh's Leave. And I inform you of what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely, therein is a sign for you, if you believe.

[50] And I have come confirming that which was before me of the Taurât (Torah), and to make lawful to you part of what was forbidden to you, and I have come to you with a proof from your Lord. So fear Allâh and obey me.

[51] Truly! Allâh is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him (Alone). This is the Straight Path.

From chapter 19
[16] And mention in the Book (the Qur'ân, O Muhammad (peace be upon him) the story of) Maryam (Mary), when she withdrew in seclusion from her family to a place facing east.

[17] She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent to her Our Ruh (angel Jibrîl (Gabriel)) and he appeared before her in the form of a man in all respects.

[18] She said: "Verily! I seek refuge with the Most Gracious (Allâh) from you, if you do fear Allâh."

[19] (The angel) said: "I am only a Messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son."

[20] She said: "How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, nor am I unchaste?"

[21] He said: "So (it will be), your Lord said: 'That is easy for Me (Allâh): And (We wish) to appoint him as a sign to mankind and a mercy from Us (Allâh), and it is a matter (already) decreed, (by Allâh).' "

[22] So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a far place (i.e. Bethlehem valley about 4-6 miles from Jerusalem).

[23] And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a date-palm. She said: "Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!"

[24] Then (the babe 'Iesa (Jesus) or Jibrîl (Gabriel)) cried unto her from below her, saying: "Grieve not: your Lord has provided a water stream under you.

[25] "And shake the trunk of date-palm towards you, it will let fall fresh ripe-dates upon you."

[26] "So eat and drink and be glad. And if you see any human being, say: 'Verily! I have vowed a fast unto the Most Gracious (Allâh) so I shall not speak to any human being this day.'"

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 26/03/2007 18.28]

00domenica 8 aprile 2007 02.06

The Resurrection, Pinturicchio, 1492-1494
Fresco, Borgia Rooms, Vatican Museums

This is the image Pope Benedict XVI
chose to use in his Easter greeting
card for 2007 (below). Cropped from
the image used is Pope Alexander VI,
seen to the left of the bigger
picture. The Borgia Pope commissioned
the frescoes.

The verse in Latin is Thomas's
exclamation, "My Lord and My God!"
(Jn 20,28) after he finally sees
the Risen Christ and His wounds.
"On the solemnity of Easter 2007 -

I will add additional information
about the frescoes and Pinturicchio

This is the image for AsiaNews's Easter greeting card online:

Resurrection, Fresco from Holy Saviour Church, Chora, Istanbul

Its message is a recent statement
by the Pope:

“If the proof that God gives you
of His existence in creation
fails to open you to Him;
if God’s word
and the Church’s message
leave you indifferent –
then look at me,
at the God who made himself flesh
to suffer for you, with you –
see that I suffer for your love
and open yourself to me and God the Father”.

Benedict XVI
00lunedì 23 aprile 2007 21.26
I did try to anticipate the Pope's pilgrimage to Pavia tohave something in this section about Augustine, but I never did get around to complete what I was putting together, so now I am trying to make up for it, after the fact. Augustine will always be current, after all. In the past few days, I must have read in five different places that it is estimated there is one new book about Augustine coming out daily!....The statistics about our Papino's role model, if I can call him that, are as astounding as - and properly commensurate to - his towering reputation and place in the history of the Church and among the saints.

One can't start by lifting from what's available online because even the shortest possible biographical articles are necessarily lengthy, in view of the subject. Yesterday, ASCA came out with a neat little presentation of the Augustine- Benedict connection and I thought I was going to start with that. But it needs translation first!

Happily, I came across this post today by Father Zuhlsdorf, and it's a serendipitous find, in more ways than one. This is not going to be, by any means, a standard presentation!

By Fr. John Zuhlsdorf


This gives me shivers.

Years ago in the hallway of the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio where I was working, just after the release of the CDF document on the Vocation of the Theologian, I ran into Cardinal Ratzinger. I often had the chance to chat with him and ask him questions and he was very kind and helpful.

On this occasion, I said that I had read the document. He asked what I thought of it(!) I said I wasn’t entirely satisfied. He looked at me with a bit of surprise and asked me why. I said, "You never really say who the theologian is."

He thought about this for a while and said, "Why don’t you tell us? (!!) You study at the Augustinianum [the Patristic Institute across the square from the Palazzo]. You are reading the Fathers. Who would Augustine say the theologian is?"

Bammo. I had the topic of my first thesis from Joseph Ratzinger!

A couple years ago (2004), Augustine’s bones were brought to Rome. Inside the Vatican published my article on the event.

Here is the article:

“So,” [God says] “O man, did I make you for this, before you even existed, so that you would not believe me [about the resurrection of the body]? That you could not return to be what you were before, who were able to be that which once you were not?”

“But look, God”, man says, “at what I see in the tomb. There’s ash, and dust, and these bones. And that is going to receive again life, skin, muscles, flesh and rise again? These ashes and bones I see in the tomb?”

“So you see ashes and bones in a tomb. In your mother’s womb, there was nothing! … Before you even were, there weren’t any ashes, there weren’t any bones there at all. In spite of that, you were in fact made even though you were completely lacking in being before. And do you now not believe that these bones… will receive the form they had, since you received what you did not have? O believe! For if you will have believed this, then your soul will be raised to new life!” (St. Augustine, Sermon 127, 11, 15 – my trans.)

Rome had a visitor not seen for over 1600 years: St. Augustine of Hippo.

Augustine (+ AD 430) had first been in Rome from AD 383-4 before going to the imperial court in Milan as the official rhetor, and finally in 387-8 when he was on his way back to North Africa.

The remains of the Bishop of Hippo were brought to Rome for the week of 7-15 November [for an exhibit] dubbed “Agostino Tra Noi… Augustine In Our Midst”, from the northern Italian city of Pavia, just south of Milan.

They rested for a few days near the Pantheon and Piazza Navona in the basilica named for him - wherein is the tomb of his mother, St. Monnica (+ AD 387 – and yes, that is the more accurate spelling).

This 13 November 2004 marked the 1650th birthday of the great Bishop and Doctor of the Church, born to Monnica and her husband Patrick in Thagaste in modern day Algeria.

They gave their son a rare and audacious name, Augustinus - “Little Augustus”, in the 4th century tantamount to “the little emperor”. Biographer and scholar of Augustine, Serge Lancel, remarks, “Bearing this diminutive, a child would grow whose posthumous glory would one day eclipse that of the masters of the world.”

To mark the 1650th anniversary of Augustine’s birth, son and mother were for a fleeting few days reunited.

Most visitors to the Eternal City find it puzzling and wondrous that Monnica’s remains would be in Rome and even more so that Augustine’s should be in northern Italy, or that we have them at all. How did this come to pass?

Monnica died at age 56 of a malarial fever at Ostia, Rome’s port city, not far from where modern Rome’s port, DaVinci airport, is situated.

After Augustine’s baptism in 386 by Milan’s bishop St. Ambrose (+ AD 397), Monnica and Augustine together with his brother Navigius, Adeodatus - the future bishop’s son by his concubine of many years whom Monnica had forced Augustine to put aside, and friends Nebridius, Alypius and the former Imperial secret service agent (agens in rebus) Evodius were all waiting at Ostia to return home to Africa by ship. They were stuck there for some time because the port was blockaded during a period of civil strife.

As she lay dying near Rome, Monnica told Augustine (Conf. 9): “Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you be.” She was buried there in Ostia.

In the 6th century she was moved to a little church named for St. Aurea, an early martyr of the city, and there she remained until 1430 when her remains were translated by Pope Martin V[to the Roman Basilica of St. Augustine built in 1420 by the famous Guillaume Card. D’Estouteville of Rouen, then Camerlengo under Pope Sixtus IV.

As fate or God’s directing have would have it, in December 1945, some children were digging a hole in the courtyard of the little church of St. Aurea next to the ruins of ancient Ostia. They wanted to put up a basketball hoop, probably having been taught the exciting new game – so different from soccer – by American GIs.

While digging they discovered the broken marble epitaph which had marked Monnica’s ancient grave. Scholars were able to authenticate the inscription, the text of which had been preserved in a medieval manuscript.

The epitaph had been composed during Augustine’s lifetime by no less then a former Consul of AD 408 and resident at Ostia, Anicius Auchenius Bassus, perhaps Augustine’s host during their sojourn. It is possible that Anicius Bassus placed the epitaph there after 410 which saw the ravages of Alaric the Visigoth and the sacking of Rome and its environs.

One can almost feel behind these traces of ancient evidence Augustine’s plea to his old friend sent by letter from the port of Hippo Regius over the waves to Ostia. Hearing of the devastation to the area, far more shocking to the ancients than the events of 11 September were for us, did Augustine, now a renowned bishop, ask his old friend to tend the grave of the mother whom he had so loved and who in her time had wept for her son’s sins and rejoiced in his conversion?

Augustine died in 430, an ancient man by ancient standards, attaining the age of 76. He had poor health and decades of constant crushing labor, both as a spiritual leader and civil authority.

In May 429 the Vandal armies, swollen to 80,000 by the tribes of the Alani and Goths, adherents of the Arian heresy, crossed the Straights of Gibraltar thus sealing North Africa’s fate. By May of 430 Hippo was under siege by land, the port and escape by sea having been cut off by Vandal ships.

Some bishops of the area had fled, leaving their flocks, but Augustine remained. In perhaps that last letter the old bishop was able to send before the fortifications of the Hippo were closed against the enemy he wrote (ep. 228, 2):

"When the danger is the same for bishops, clerics and congregations, those who have need of others must not be abandoned by those whom they need. Let everyone withdraw to fortified places, but those who are forced to stay must not be abandoned by those who owe them the aid of the Church."

Several months into the siege, with its attendant horrors, Augustine fell ill with a fever. He convalesced in his room and requested that a few psalms be copied out in large letters for his elderly eyes and posted where he could see them from his bed. He died on 28 August 430.

In his years, Augustine defended the Church’s faith and flock from the heresies of Manichaeism, Donatism, Pelagianism, Arianism, Gnosticism and the paganism which was still deeply rooted. He coped with social ills and economic upheavals, schisms and clerical scandals that could be taken straight from the pages of the Boston Globe today.

Read him in a fresh and accurate translation, and you will find that Augustine’s words are still thrillingly current. And there are a lot of them. The proposed but still unofficial patron saint of the internet, St. Isidore of Seville (+ AD 636) quipped that anyone claiming to have read all of Augustine is a liar.

Of his works that have survived the centuries we have only a fraction of his output, but this fraction still amounts to over 5,000,000 words, according to scholar James J. O’ Donnell, now of Georgetown University. Augustine was so rooted in Sacred Scripture that a great share of the Bible could be reconstructed from his works.

Augustine’s city Hippo was burned by the Vandals, but his library, with his own manuscripts, survived, probably removed to Carthage ahead of time.

We can hear the very voice, mind and heart of the bishop preaching, for he had rapid writing stenographers present at all public appearances and liturgies. They even at times recorded the noises of the crowds or the distractions in the street outside together with the bishop’s reactions.

He preached nearly every day for over thirty years, but we have only a few hundred of his sermons. Nevertheless, the body of his work is still growing! A few years ago, 30 hitherto unpublished letters were discovered in manuscript collections in Paris and Marseilles, and new sermons were uncovered in the city library of Mainz.

Augustine exerted decisive influence on the development of monasticism, forged theories of history and politics still in evidence today, provided an approach to education holding sway up to very recently, contributed to aesthetics the philosophy of beauty and the apt, bequeathed to the Church the formulation of her doctrine of grace, and perfected a literary genre of spiritual autobiography.

Augustine wrote on everything from music to diocesan finances, from living the happy life to the care of the dead. A scan of the index of a handbook of the Church’s doctrine edited by Messers Heinrich Denzinger and Adolf Schönmetzer reveals that more than one Pope felt the need to remind people not to confuse what Augustine said across the board for the Church’s dogmatic teaching. It is not exaggerating to claim that the Church and therefore Western Civilization owes much of its present shape and content to St. Augustine of Hippo.

We don’t know preciously the chain of events, and how they survived the Vandals, but Augustine’s bones and library were removed from N. Africa to Sardina by St. Fulgentius (+533) perhaps around 508 to avoid further desecration by heretic Arian Vandals and then again to Pavia near Milan by the Lombard King Luitprand (+744) sometime between 710-30 to avoid the raids of pirates and sacking by Moors.

They were interred anew in Pavia’s Church San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, the very same church where Augustine’s philosophical descendent, another member of the Anicius family, Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (+ AD 524 or 525) was buried.

With little mutual cordiality different groups of Augustinian canons held the church and jealously looked after the precious relics (and the revenues generated by pilgrims). The actual location of the bones would eventually be forgotten, though everyone supposedly knew where they were until, of course, you asked to see them. It was not uncommon to lose track of bodies: the secret of the location was intended to protect them from theft or other unholy acts and finally the secret itself would fade from remembrance.

But, according to the recent book by Harold Stone, St. Augustine’s Bones: A Microhistory (2002), on Tuesday morning of 1 October of 1695, some workman doing maintenance on an altar rediscovered a marble reliquary which was determined to hold the bones of the bishop, saint and Doctor of the Church. He has lain under the main altar of the church since then.

Last year Augustine began to get out a little more. He was dramatically reunited for a time in Milan with St. Ambrose who helped the young materialist philosopher get a grip on the concept of an immaterial God and soul, had helped to open his heart through the chants he composed for church, and after Augustine’s conversion had baptized him in 386 in the baptistery of the Church of St. Tecla adjacent to what is now the Cathedral of Milan. You can visit the excavated baptistery of St. Tecla now and see the actual baptismal font. This year, however, Augustine was reunited with his mother in Rome.


Each year Augustine’s presence and importance is brought into focus by literally hundreds of new monographs, scholarly articles and books. Students at nearly every level of mature learning encounter him in some way, often in his works The City of God or his autobiographical prayer to God called Confessions.

There is virtually no field in the liberal arts or many of the sciences that does not owe something vital to the Augustinian tradition, extending through Boethius, John Eriugena, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, Dante Alighieri, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz and a myriad of others. His anti-materialist philosophical and theological writings even stand up to the challenges of modern physics, such as the Uncertainty Principle elucidated by Werner Heisenberg.

Augustine has particular relevance today. As do many of the Fathers of the Church, they can teach us again to read Scripture, freed from the over emphasis on the often sterile and text killing historical-critical method which gripped the Church like a vice for so long, liberated from the “hermeneutic of suspicion” by which so many priests and scholars were taught to assume that what Scripture said was false unless provable with critical tools.

Most of the central doctrine and formulas describing what we believe as Catholics, indeed as Christians, were hammered out in the crucible of those turbulent centuries and no one made a greater contribution than Augustine.

Augustine could help enormously with a revival of doctrinally sound and useful preaching. Always practical, the great and lofty orator shunned any style of discourse that went over the heads of his flock. He thought that being understood, and helping people to love God and live properly through the living sermon of your own holiness was paramount.

Augustine wanted his clerics and the bishops he trained to be holy more than they were erudite. As a matter of fact in the last book of De doctrina christiana… On Christian Doctrine (4, 24), which the old bishop completed near the end of his long career, he very practically said from his long experience that rather than risk being misunderstood it is better to use the barbaric sounding word for “bone” ossum rather than the Latinly correct os which with the North African accent of those days might have be mistaken for the word for “face”. An appropriate example to illustrate merely one dimension of Augustine’s applicability.

And he could defend his choices, ironically, in breathtaking word plays, nearly impossible to put into English: “It is better that you should understand me with my barbarism, than that you should be flooded by my fluency” (en. ps. 36, 3, 6 – quam in nostra disertitudine vos deserti eritis). Augustine can clarify for us how to be clear a time when moral and doctrinal clarity is so clearly needed.

I had the privilege to attend many of the major events scheduled during Augustine’s 'visit' among us in Rome, and this was easy since I live directly across the street from the Church of St. Augustine and I am writing my doctoral thesis, at the “Augustinianum”. The sincere interest and piety of the people who came to see and venerate the relics of the saint were impressive.

In our age of skepticism and cynicism, many condescendingly sneer at such public displays of pious devotion as that which is given to the relics and images of saints. What I observed in Rome reinforced what I witnessed during the 1990’s when the remains of the Little Flower, St. Thérèse de Lisieux had their world tour.

As the scholar of Augustinian monasticism Fr. George Lawless, OSA told me recently, invoking the bible image of old wine in new skins, it was once thought that a sermon without a citation from Augustine was like having wine cellar without wine.

The widely published Fr. Lawless, who teaches in Rome at the “Augustinianum”, one of the sites chosen for the exposition of the saints relics, also shared with me something he will have given in a conference by the time this goes to press, and it is entirely to him that I owe credit for this marvelous insight he recalled from the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, namely, that post-Reformation doctrine had become so many bones without flesh, while pastoral practice and spirituality was now flesh without bones.

Fr. Lawless sees in Augustine’s gifts to us, these bones and flesh together. This is a marvelous image to reflect on while the bones of Augustine were present with us all in Rome, near for the first time in 16 centuries to the mother who, by her cooperation with God, brought to light of the world this towering figure who took flesh and bone from her.

May we take spiritual and doctrinal flesh and bones from him in the years to come while we await the unification of the same in the coming of the Lord.

P.S. to Father Z's article is this account of how Cardinal Ratzinger, as titular Bishop of Ostia then, was in Ostia in 2004 to 'welcome' the relics of St. Augustine:

Augustine Faced an Emptiness, Says Cardinal Ratzinger
Saint Lived in an Age Like Our Own, Contends Prefect

OSTIA, Italy, NOV. 16, 2004 ( The "emptiness of ideologies" prompted St. Augustine to seek the Truth of Christ, says Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made that observation Sunday during a concluding event for celebrations marking the 1,650th anniversary of the birth of the great philosopher and theologian.

During a solemn Mass in the Basilica of St. Aurea in Ostia, a city near Rome, the cardinal spoke about the "two obstacles" on the path to Augustine's conversion: "the spirit of independence and his intellectual pride, which led him initially to follow Manichaeism, a 'material' religion."

"Augustine experienced freedom profoundly to the point that he became its slave, as the prodigal son, who ended up by taking care of pigs and eating pods," Cardinal Ratzinger said in his homily. "If we are honest with ourselves, we cannot deny that that parable fully reflects our existential condition. Authentic freedom lies only in friendship with the Lord."

"Words like eternal love and wisdom are not fashionable today. Augustine, who lived in an age very similar to our own, went so far as to describe wisdom as a 'foreign word.'"

The cardinal continued: "Experiencing the great emptiness of the ideologies of his time, Augustine felt a great thirst for that Truth that opens the way to Life. He understood that no one is able to reach God by his own efforts and he discovered in the end that Christ is the true Wisdom."

"Christianity is not moralism, but rather a gift of the love of God," Cardinal Ratzinger explained, summarizing the thought of Augustine, who lived from the years 354 to 430.

At the end of the Mass, the saint's relics were displayed in the basilica. Augustine spent about six months in Ostia, where he lived his most intense mystical experiences, together with his mother, St. Monica. He wrote about his ecstasies in Book IX of his "Confessions."

In virtue of that experience, St. Augustine was proclaimed "patron before God of the city of Ostia," by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, in a decree dated Feb 21.

For the anniversary of the saint's birth, his relics were brought to Rome for the first time. Last week, prayer meetings were held in various places in the city. John Paul II received St. Augustine's relics on Thursday in his private chapel.


If you have not been an Augustine follower before this, the best introduction online, I think, is the entry in Catholic Encyclopedia:

Most paintings of St. Augustine depict him as a bishop, often elderly.
For this post, I have chosen to show two depictions of the young Augustine
(although he was already 32 when he was baptized). The picture below of
St. Augustine and St. Monica was painted in 1846 by French Academist
painter Ary Scheffer.
Augustine and Monica were Berbers, a North African tribe characterized
by fair skin, dark hair and brown eyes, so this depiction, even if idealized,
may be ethnically correct.

This is a contemporary painting that hangs in the Prado which shows Augustine
disputing with Monica and St. Ambrose.

Thre are at least three churches that have Augustine's life depicted
in major detailed fresco cycles - the Churches of St. Augustine in Gubbio
(painter: Nelli, 1375-1444) and San Gimignano (painter Gozzoli, 1365), Italy;
and The Church of St. Stephen in Jerusalem (Jan Van Scorel, 1560).

Botticelli has at least 3 St. Augustine paintings, but this
one, a minor detail from his St. Barnabas altarpiece,
shows the famous story of the boy and the seashell.

And I cannot not include this in a 'first post" about St. Augustine -
Ratzi often quotes it, of course:


Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged
into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you
they would have not been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.


[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 06/05/2007 17.42]

00martedì 24 aprile 2007 11.26
My oversight. Yesterday was the Feast day of St. George, patron saint of England, but I was in Augustine-mode. How a Turkish Chritian martyred in Palestine became England's patron saint is explained below, along with the legend of the dragon. Incidentally, Pope Benedict XVI's brother Georg celebrated his name day with his brother at the Vatican yesterday.

April 23
George the Great, Martyr

(also known as Giorgio or Joris of Cappadocia)
Born in Cappadocia (Turkey); died c. 303.

Tintoretto, Saint George and the Dragon
National Gallery, London

Many legends have gathered around the name of Saint George, one of the 14 Holy Helpers, and there are differing accounts of his origin.

There is evidence that George was, indeed, a real martyr who suffered at Diospolis (Lydda, Ludd) in Palestine before the time of Constantine, probably under Diocletian. He was probably born of Christian parents in Cappadocia, where his father was a martyr.

Later he himself took refuge in Palestine, where he became a Roman soldier and displayed courage. He is said to have been raised to the rank of military tribune of the imperial guards. On his mother's death he inherited a fortune and attached himself to the court of the Emperor Diocletian in the hope of finding advancement.

Once when the emperor was present, heathen priests were consulting the entrails of animals to foretell the future. Those Christians among the guards made the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads. The emperor was extremely angry and ordered them flogged and dismissed. He then sent out an edict ordering the Christian clergy to make sacrifice to the pagan gods.

On the outbreak of persecution, George declared himself a Christian and distributed his money to the poor. When the decree which preceded the persecution was published against the churches in Nicomedia, "a certain man," Eusebius tells us in his History, "of no mean origin, but highly esteemed for his temporal dignities, stimulated by a divine zeal, and excited by an ardent faith, took it as it was openly placed and posted up for public inspection, and tore it to shreds as a most profane and wicked act." This man who showed such courage is believed to have been Saint George, and such a bold and defiant action well suits what we know of his character.

As a result, he was subjected to nameless tortures over a period of seven years. He was tied to a revolving wheel of blades and swords, thrown into a pit of quicklime, made to run in red-hot shoes, scourged with thongs of hide, beaten with sledge-hammers, and cast over a precipice; his limbs were broken and exposed to flame, and he suffered many other torments.

He is said to have miraculously escaped from a cauldron of burning oil after he destroyed the temple of Apollo. One version says that by making the Sign of the Cross, he remained unhurt in all these intermediate trials. Frustrated that their tortures had little effect, George was beheaded.

His story also takes other forms, mainly legendary, the most familiar of which concerns his fight with the dragon. It is said that George was riding through the province of Lybia (Libya?), and came upon a city named Sylene. Near the city was a marsh in which a dragon lived. The people had attempted to kill it but were poisoned by the creature's fetid breath.

To placate the dragon, they offered it two sheep each day, but when they began to exhaust their supply of sheep, they were forced to substitute a human each day instead, using a lottery to determine who would be sacrificed.

At the time of George's arrival, the lot had just fallen to the king's daughter, Cleodolinda. No one volunteered to take her place, so she was dressed in bridal finery and sent to meet the dragon, weeping as she went.

George rode in upon this scene. The princess urged him to hurry on so that he would not also die. Instead of acting prudently (according to the wisdom of the world), Geoge made the Sign of the Cross and then attacked the dragon. After an energetic battle, the saint speared it with his lance. He then fastened the princess's girdle around its neck, and the girl led the dragon into the city. The people were frightened and started to run away, but George told them not to be afraid - that if the whole city would believe in Jesus Christ and be baptized, he would slay the dragon.

The king and the people agreed, and more than 15,000 were baptized. George killed the dragon, and it was carried away on four ox carts. He accepted no reward for this service, but he asked the king to build churches, honor priests, and to maintain compassion for the poor.

The above legend is of Italian origin from a much later date than George himself. Words, however, attributed to him in these imaginary tales are characteristic of his faith and courage, and may well have been upon his lips as he faced his actual torture, such as: "Christ, my Captain, my Lord, I have no strength but what You give me. Help me this day, and the glory shall be Yours for ever and ever."

He preached the Gospel and baptized many into the Christian faith. The Greeks called him "the great martyr." His name and influence also spread far into the West under the influence of the Crusaders; however, devotion to him there predates the Crusades. Since the 5th century many churches could be found in the West bearing his name. It was in England, however, that his fame became most popular.

It is uncertain why he is the patron saint of England, though his cultus travel to the British Isles before the Norman Conquest (1066). William of Malmesbury states that SS. George and Demetrius, "the martyr knights," were seen helping the Franks at the Battle of Antioch in 1098, and it appears probable that the crusaders, in particular King Richard I, who placed himself and his soldiers under George's protection, returned from the East with a belief in the power of George's intercession. His veneration as protector of England was officially approved by Pope Benedict XIV.

He is also patron of Britain's oldest order of knighthood. King Edward III found the Order of the Garter about 1347, of which George has always been patron, and for which the chapel of Saint George at Windsor was built by Edward IV and Henry VII.

"Saint George's arms" became the basis of the uniforms of British soldiers and sailors, and George's red cross appears on the Union Jack (British flag).

In art, George is portrayed as a youth in armor, often mounted, killing or having killed a dragon with his lance (sometimes broken) or sword . His shield and lance pennant are a red cross on a white field . Generally, there is a princess near him. In some portrayals, (1) the princess leads the dragon; (2) Saint Margaret is the princess; (3) George is in armor standing on the dragon (not to be confused with the Archangel Michael, who is always winged); (4) George is in the robes of the Order of the Garter; (5) with Saint Demetrius in icons; or (6) as George is martyred in a brazen bull, dragged by horses, beheaded with a sword. An excellent icon of Saint George can be found in the frescoes of San Giorgio degli Sciaoni, Venice, by Carpaccio.

Giovanni Bellini, Pesaro Altarpiece,
detail of the predella featuring
St. George Fighting the Dragon,
Musei Civici Pesaro

The "dragon" initially connoted the evils of paganism that were overcome by the saints (primarily missionaries). But the symbol gave rise to legends of deliverance from fierce dragons that were intent upon devouring whole populations. This was the source of the story about Saint George related in the Golden Legend.
00martedì 1 maggio 2007 09.53
Today, May 1, is the Feast of ST. JOSEPH AS PATRON SAINT OF LABORERS, a most appropriate patron
for Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, 'humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord,"
who actually celebrates three great feasts within a two-week period.

Joseph the Worker


In 1870, Pope Pius IX, who declared Joseph to be patron of the Universal Church, promoted the "Patronage" (later Solemnity) feast of Saint Joseph on the third Wednesday after Easter.

In 1955, Pope Pius XII replaced this feast with that of Saint Joseph the Worker on May 1 to counterbalance the May Day celebrations of the Communists. It is exceedingly appropriate that the Church, which has promoted the cause of justice for workers should honor the foster father of Jesus and, by extension, all workers under his patronage in opposition to dialectical materialism.

From the Scriptures we know that Saint Joseph was either a carpenter or, more likely, a builder (there wasn't much of a call for furniture in that time and place). The work of our hands should give praise to God. Today's feast is a reminder of that truth.

This is the prayer to Saint Joseph, Patron of Workers:

O glorious patriarch, Saint Joseph, humble and just craftsman of Nazareth, you gave to all Christians, but particularly to us, an example of a perfect life of assiduous work and of admirable unity with Mary and Jesus.

Help us in our daily work so that we might find in it an effective means of glorifying our Lord, of sanctifying ourselves and of being useful to the society in which we live.

Obtain for us from our Lord, O beloved protector, humility and simplicity of heart, attachment to work, benevolence towards those who work with us, compliance with the divine will in the difficulties of this life and joy in bearing them, consciousness of our specific social mission and the sense of our social responsibility, a spirit of discipline and prayer, docility and respect for our superiors, fraternity towards our equals, support in times of stress, charity and indulgence for our dependents.

Help us to follow your example and to keep our sight fixed on Mary, our Mother, your gentle wife, who wove silently in a corner of your humble shop, smiling sweetly.

May we never avert our eyes from Jesus, who worked with you at your carpenter's bench, so that we may in like manner lead peaceful and holy lives on earth, the prelude to the eternally happy one which awaits us in heaven for ever more. Amen


And now, to make up for another oversight. I actually remembered yesterday but I did not have time to put it together so here I am two days late to honor one of my favorite saints, and one to whom I feel personally bound because for about eight months, I lived two blocks away from her home in Siena, where her incorrupt head is venerated at the Basilica of St. Dominic, just another 10 minutes walk away. To be able to come and go almost at will to absorb all those sacred 'vibes', for want of a better word, was one of the wonderful graces of living in a city like Siena whose glorious and gracious much an element of the present.

Saint Catherine of Siena,
Doctor of the Church
Co-Patron of Europe and of Italy

April 29
Born in Siena, Italy, March 25, 1347, in Florence, Italy; died there on April 29, 1380;
canonized in 1461; declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea,
you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself.
For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed,
which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being.
Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness,
illuminates the mind with its light,
and causes me to know your truth.
And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself.
The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love

-from On Divine Providence by Saint Catherine of Siena


"Those in union with God when aware of the sins of others live in this gentle light. . . . Therefore they are always peaceful and calm, and nothing can scandalize them because they have done away with what causes them to take scandal, their self-will. . . . They find joy in everything.

"They do not sit in judgement on my servants or anyone else, but rejoice in every situation and every way of living they see. . . . Even when they see something that is clearly sinful, they do not pass judgement, but rather feel a holy and genuine compassion, praying for the sinner."

-Saint Catherine of Siena.

Fourteenth century Italy was desolated by plague, schism, and political turmoil. When we are tempted to think that we live in the worst of times, we should remember the life of Saint Catherine. Those days were so black that many saints and scholars believed it heralded the end of the world.

The popes deserted Rome for Avignon in 1305. Rome itself was in anarchy. Yet in the midst of confusion and dissent within the Church, God raised up Catherine, one of many saints who prove that our hope in the Lord is never in vain.

Siena had established itself as a military power by conquering Florence in 1260. The city, which possessed a university with a school of medicine and superb cathedral, was governed by the Governo dei Nove (Government of Nine). Art was closely bound to life in Siena. Sienese artists were the most faithful interpreters of the sentiments and ideas of its great mystics. Legend says that Siena was founded by Romulus and Remus or by Remus's sons Ascius and Senius, who created its black and white flag.

Giacomo di Benincasa had a thriving cloth dying business on the Vicolo del Tiratoio (Street of the Dyers) with three of his sons: Bartolommeo, Orlando, and Stefano, plus two journeymen and two apprentices. The family lived upstairs. The also had a family farm.

When Benincasa's domineering and shrewish wife Lapa, daughter of a now forgotten poet, gave birth to twin daughters, Catherine and Giovanna, she already had 22 children. Lapa kept Catherine and breastfed her, but didn't have enough milk for her twin, who was given to another's care and eventually died.

A 25th child was born and named Giovanna also, though she lived only a few years. Thirteen of the children lived to adulthood and all remained at home until they were married. Eventually eleven grandchildren were included in the household, which was big enough to include a foster son Tommaso della Fonte, whose parents died in the plague of 1348.

Though Catherine was not a pretty child, she was popular in the neighborhood because of her gaiety and wise little sayings. According to her first biographer Blessed Raymond of Capua she always had the ability to charm others. She was slight and pale, her features delicate, the texture of her skin exquisite, and her hair long, thick, lustrous, and golden. She was animated, cheerful, friendly, sensitive, and charming. All her movements were swift and graceful.

Prayer came naturally to her. At the age of five she would kneel on each step of the stairs of her home and say a prayer. She was only seven when she reported her first vision - of Jesus seated on a throne surrounded by saints, when returning with a younger brother from visiting one of her married sisters. The young child dragged at her hand, but she was lost in ecstasy. From that day she was consecrated to His service and engaged herself entirely in prayer, meditation, and acts of penance in which she encouraged her friends to join her.

Raymond of Capua, her confessor and biographer, wrote "... taught entirely by the Holy Spirit, she had come to know and value the lives and way of life of the holy Fathers of Egypt and the great deeds of other saints, especially Blessed Dominic, and had felt such a strong desire to do what they did that she had been unable to think about anything else."

The Benincasas owned a small farm out the outskirts of San Rocca a Pilli, 14 km from Siena, where Catherine spent time. She had a passion for flowers and wove them into little crosses for her early confessor Padre Tommaso. She often dreamed that angels descended from Heaven and crowned her with white lilies.

Her parents wanted her to marry and encouraged her to enhance her looks. For a time she submitted to the ministrations of a hair dresser and to be decked out in fashionable clothes, but she soon repented of her concession meant to please her mother and sister Bonaventura.

At age 16, when a real courtship was imminent, however, she told her mother she had taken a vow of perpetual virginity when she was seven. When her mother didn't take her seriously, she cut off her luxurious golden hair (Saint Rose of Lima did the same in a similar situation).

Her mother was enraged, discharged their maid, and decided Catherine should dress like a servant and perform a servant's tasks. Catherine accepted her tasks cheerfully and performed them capably. The men of the family objected but were overruled by Lapa; however, her father promised her that she would not be forced into marriage and he insisted that she be given a room to herself and time to pray because he had seen a white dove hovering above her head.

She dreamed that she encountered Saint Dominic and was overcome with a desire to enter the Third Order of the Dominican Sisters of Penance. At that time there were about 100 devout older women and spinsters in Siena who were known as Mantellates, because of the black capes they wore over their white habits.

Still unpersuaded that her daughter would not marry, Lapa took her to the spa at Vignone hoping to fatten her up in preparation for marriage. A week later they returned. Catherine had scalded herself at the source of the hot springs in order to disfigure herself. She had also contracted smallpox.

During her illness she extracted a promise from Lapa to ask the sisters to accept her daughter. The Mother Superior said Catherine was too young (pleasing Lapa) but Catherine insisted that the order had no rule about it. Lapa assured her that Catherine had cut off her hair, scalded herself, and now had smallpox, so that she would no longer be attractive. Then the Mother agreed to visit Catherine. Several weeks later Catherine received the mantle and habit.

For three years she left her bare room only to attend Mass, broke her silence only for confession or to meet an emergency, ate sparingly and alone, and recited the Divine Office during the hours when she knew that the Dominican friars slept.

She underwent periods of aridity, but was never subject to temptation. On Shrove Tuesday, 1367, she prayed for the "fullness of faith" and had a vision in which she saw Jesus, Mary, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Paul, and Saint Dominic, the founder of her order.

During this vision, the Blessed Virgin presented her to Jesus, who espoused Himself to her. He placed on her finger a gold ring with four pearls set in a circle in it and a wonderful diamond in the middle, saying to her, "receive this ring as a pledge and testimony that you are mine and will be mine for ever." No one else could see the ring but it was always before her eyes.

She had many marvelous religious experiences. At the age of 26, she first felt the pain of Christ's suffering in her own body. Two years later during a visit to Pisa, she received Communion in the little church of Santa Christina. As she meditated in thanksgiving upon the crucifix, five blood-red rays seemed to come from it which pierced her hands, feet, and heart. Thus, she received the five visible wounds of His suffering - the stigmata. It caused such acute pain that she swooned.

Unable or unwilling to eat, Catherine went for eight years without food or liquid other than the Blessed Sacrament. She prayed that the marks not be conspicuous, though they are traceable on her incorruptible body by a transparency in the tissues.

Oftentimes she was seen levitated in the air during her prayer. Once, as she was being given Holy Communion, the priest felt the Host become agitated and fly, as if of its own volition, from his fingers into her mouth.

In the Life of Saint Catherine, Mother Francis Raphael relates that the saint was immune to fire. She tells of a time that Catherine fell forward into a fire in the kitchen during a religious ecstasy. The fire was large and fierce, but when Catherine was pulled out of the smoking embers neither she nor her clothes were damaged.

But none of these divine favors would have meant much to a needy world if Catherine had remained hidden in her home. In 1370, she heard a divine voice that commanded her to leave the cell and enter His service in the world to promote the salvation of her neighbors. Thousands came to see her, to hear her, and to be converted by her. A mystical circle of members of religious orders, secular priests, and lay people gathered around her.

Of course, public opinion in Siena was sharply divided about Catherine. It may have been in consequence of accusations made against her that she was summoned to Florence to appear before the chapter general of the Dominicans. If any charges were made, they were certainly disproved, and shortly thereafter the new lector of Siena, Blessed Raymond, was appointed as her confessor.

The core of her teaching was: Man, whether in the cloister or in the world, must live in a cell of self-knowledge, which is the stall in which the pilgrim must be reborn from time to eternity. The press of the repentant was so great that the three priests of her neighborhood, who had been provided by the pope to hear the confessions of those who were induced by her to amend their lives, could hardly cope with it.

She dispatched letters that often had been dictated in ecstasy, to men and women of all ranks, entered into correspondence with kings and princes and with the Italian city-states. She took part also in public affairs, and Catherine welcomed all who came to call - the curious, the seeking, the devout. She collected information from them all.

Even the pope relied upon her good judgment. At this time the papacy was tragically weakened by contested papal elections, pope and antipope denouncing each other. Catherine supported the true Pope Urban VI against his opponents; but he was a somewhat graceless man, and her letters to him never hesitated to reprove the pope for this fault, while remaining entirely loyal to him.

Twice at least she successfully intervened in matters of high politics. Catherine made peace between cities torn by factional strife: she made peace between the pope and the city of Florence. On June 18, 1376, Catherine arrived in Avignon as unofficial ambassadress, and induced the pope to return to Italy, and - this was the greatest work of her life - brought to an end the Babylonian captivity of the popes. Thus, on September 13, 1376, Pope Gregory XI started from Avignon to travel by water to Rome.

It was a month before Catherine arrived back in Siena, from where she continued to exhort the pope to contribute to the peace of Italy. By his special request, she went again to Florence, still rent by factions and obstinate in its disobedience and under interdict. There she remained for some time amid daily murders and confiscations, in danger of her life but never daunted, even when swords were drawn against her. Finally, she established peace between Florence and the Holy See.

Catherine dictated from memory The Dialogue in five days before she left Siena forever. It is her account of her visions. She was clairaudient and clairvoyant, also awareness of communion with Jesus. She was illiterate, but yearning to be able to read the breviary, when suddenly she could read - either through the help of Father Tommaso della Fonte or Alessia Saracini (her friend), or through a miracle.

Her foster brother Tommaso della Fonte became a priest and her confessor during the time of her novitiate. He provided her with other books, such as a short history of the Church, lives of the saints, the Psalms and other portions of the Bible. She later astonished learned ecclesiastics with her grasp of these subjects.

She loved music and to sing, was passionately fond of children. She began to make friends again, first among the Mantellate and Dominicans, then among the priests and physicians at the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, where she began her nursing career, then among the intelligentsia. She had the gift of healing. Much of what she did was met with ingratitude.

Catherine loved working amongst the sick. Unlike most other volunteers, she would care for those with the most repulsive diseases, such as leprosy, which was then virtually incurable. She gathered round her many friends, and when a fearful plague broke out in Siena, she led them boldly among those who had caught it - sometimes even digging graves and burying the dead herself.

Catherine also suffered moral temptations, and often it seemed that God had deserted her. Was it for this that she had forsaken all to follow Him? A woman suffering from cancer, to whom she had given devoted care, pursued her with a vicious tongue and poured out upon her all the irritability and despair which were provoked by her hopeless condition, but Catherine remained incredibly patient and forbearing; her visions returned and her heart was strengthened. "O my Savior, my Lord," she cried, "why did You forsake me?" "My child," came the answer, "I have been with you through all. I was in your heart all the while."

She gave freely from her father's resources to the poor beggars, some of whom she claimed were saintly visitors in disguise. Through all her arduous life she remained gentle and forgiving, serving Christ in the lives of the poor, following Him into mean streets and crowded hovels, taking upon herself the burden of pain and sin that she met with, nourished and sustained by her frequent visions.

Our Lord appeared to her holding in one hand a crown of gold and in the other a crown of thorns, and asked which she would choose. Without hesitation she reached out her hand for the crown of thorns.

Francesco di Vanni Malavolti, a famous philanderer, so desired Catherine's friendship that he went immediately to confession. They had an spontaneous and lasting friendship because of their mental harmony. After the death of his wife, he entered the monastery and spent the remainder of his days in prayer and contemplation.

Andrea Vanni was a friend whose portrait of her remains in the Church of San Domenico in Siena. He and Catherine's brother Bartolo led the revolution that toppled the government.

For thirty years this brave and devoted soul showed how there is a Power that transcends our earthly life, and awakened many, by conversion, to a sense of the Eternal. "Her prayers," we are told by an eyewitness, "were of such intensity, that one hour of prayer more consumed that poor little body than two days upon the rack would have done another."

When the great Western schism broke out following the death of Pope Gregory in 1378, the new pope, Urban VI, called her to Rome. A rival pope was established at Avignon by some cardinals who declared Urban's election was illegal. Christendom was divided into two camps.

She spoke to the cardinals in open consistory, wrote to the chief sponsors of the schism, to foreign princes, and through her influence, helped to overcome the French anti-pope in Italy. She also continued to write to Urban, sometimes urging him to remain patient in trials and other times admonishing him to abate his harshness that was alienating even his supporters.

Instead of resenting her reproofs, Urban invited her to come to Rome to advise and assist him. In obedience, she left Siena forever and took up residence in the Eternal City. There she labored indefatigably by her prayers and exhortations to gain new adherents to the true pontiff.

After she had offered her life as a sacrifice to God, and had seen and felt in a vision the Almighty God pressing out her heart as a balm over the Church, she fell mortally ill and died in the arms of Alessia Saracini after eight weeks of most acute suffering at the age of 33 -t he age at which her Master had died. And when she died, she was merry and joyful.

Catherine is one of the greatest mystics of all time. In her, the extraordinary mystical states that are the preparation for true sanctifying graces and the counterpart of the burdens of sainthood, became particularly evident. The history of literature gives the saint a place of honor beside Dante and Petrarch.

In art, Saint Catherine is always portrayed as a Dominican tertiary (white habit, black mantle, white veil) with a stigmata, lily, and book. Sometimes she is portrayed (1) with a crown of thorns and a crucifix; (2) with her heart on a book; (3) with her heart at her feet and a scourge or skull, book, and lily; (4) with the devil under her feet; (5) crowned by angels with three crowns; (6) celebrating her mystic marriage with Christ; (7) giving clothes to a beggar, who is really Christ. Catherine is the patron of Italy together with Saint Francis of Assisi .


The head of St. Catherine is kept in the Basilica of St. Dominic, Siena. Her body lies
in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome. She died in 1980 but her body was found incorrupt in 1430.

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 06/05/2007 17.54]

00venerdì 1 giugno 2007 04.00
00venerdì 1 giugno 2007 12.40

Yesterday was the Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth,
as recounted beautifully in the Gospel of Luke with Elizabeth's greeting and
what has come to be known as the Magnificat of Mary:

[IMG],_jacopo_da/Pontormo35.jpg[/IMG] [IMG][/IMG]

Gospel - Lk 1:39-56

Mary set out
nd traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
"Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

And Mary said:
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever."

Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.


I have not had time to search for Visitation paintings except the early 16th-century paintings
shown above, the one on the left by Jacopo Pontormo, painted in 1528, the other, also 16th century
whose exact attribution I still have to get.

But any search for paintings about the Magnificat yields practically just one - Sandro Botticelli's Madonna of the Magnificat.

Botticelli, Madonna of the Magnificat, 1480-81, Tempera on panel, diameter 118 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Here's a description from an art book:

The painting contains nearly life-size figures. The Virgin, being crowned by two angels,
is depicted as the Queen of Heaven. Two of the wingless angels are crowning the Queen of Heaven.
The crown is a delicate piece of goldsmiths work consisting of innumerable stars; they are
an allusion to the 'Stella matutina' (morning star), one of the Mother of God's names
in contemporary hymns devoted to Mary.

Encouraged by the Christ Child, the Virgin is about to dip her quill and write the last words
of the Magnificat, beginning on the right page with the large initial "M". The pomegranate
which the mother and child are both holding is a symbol of the Passion and adds to the basic
melancholy and meditative mood of the painting, characteristic of Boticelli..

The background of the picture opens out into a landscape which point to the influence exerted
upon Botticelli by contemporary Netherlands' artists such as Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden
and Hubert van der Goes. Trading relations between Italy and the Netherlands had been growing
more intensive since the 15th century. The Italian painters particularly admired
the realistic fashioning of the figures in the pictures, and the atmospheric effect of
the landscapes as rendered in the art of their colleagues north of the Alps.

This portrait of the Virgin represents the costliest tondo that Botticelli ever created:
in no other painting did he employ so much gold as in this one, using it for the ornamentation
of the robes, for the divine rays, and for Mary's crown, and even utilizing it to heighten
the hair colour of Mary and the angels.


A very belated P.S. - This is one of the many treasures buried in the official site for the Papal visit to Austria
that I did not get around to translating earlier, but which I am posting here, among other places, because the homily
is based on the Gospel pasage about the the Visitation. It sounds and reads like one of those particularly inspired
extemporaneous homilies by Cardinal Ratzinger:

Homily of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Pilgrimage of Central European Notaries
Basilica of Mariazell, October 2, 2004

Dear brothers in the episcopal and priestly service,
Honorable notaries from all the states of Europe,
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord:

Maria hurries across the Judean hills in order to announce to Elizabeth the joy that she has received. She is
impelled to visit her with whom she can rejoice over the secret of the coming of God to this world. She must share
the joy that is hers. Love must be shared, and joy must be shared.

The Church Fathers saw in Mary’s journey to Elizabeth an image of the Church which, like Mary, carries Jesus in
its bosom, across the mountains of the world, through its heights and depths, with the mission to share the joy
of God throughout the world.

Yes, God is here, he has a face, he has a name, he is one of us, he is God with us, he is the Almighty of goodness
and healing. The Church preaches the Gospel not to win power nor to be able to say that a great number of persons
belong to it. It preaches the Gospel because it must pass on the joy which it cannot keep to itself alone, because
the love which has been given to us demands to be shared.

Christianity, in its deepest essence, is joy. We have translated the first word with which the New Testament begins –
the angel’s greeting to Mary – as “Hail, Mary”, but the Greek words are “Rejoice, Mary”. That is the opening and
the real beginning of Christian history, that God came to this world in joy.

But when we hear this, we may think there is a contradiction. That to us, Christianity seems effortful, stale,
full of misery and difficulties. It seems to constrict life instead of opening it up. But if we come nearer to its
real core, when we listen and allow ourselves to be moved by its innermost reality, it is also supreme joy:
joy in the knowledge that chance did not bring us into an existence without sense; joy in the knowledge that we
were willed by Love which does not cease and which will never abandon us, on which we can always rely;
joy that there is a God who knows us and who is not a cruel judge, but a God of justice, a justice that is good
and which desires our healing.

Therefore the first appeal this day makes to us is to rediscover joy, and faith as joy, and to be moved anew
by this innermost essence of the faith, and from all this, to be able to bear all burdens and help us to change.

Let us look at the meeting between the two women as also the first meeting between their two children.
John leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. In the entire fabric of his narration of Christ’s infancy
and childhood, Luke suggests David’s dance before the Ark of the Covenant. Now here it was, the true Ark
of the Covenant, signifying not only that the remote God knows us and speaks to us, but that the living dwelling
of God is in our midst.

God does not live in stones, he dwells in living men, and dwells incarnate among us. He loves men so much that
he himself became man. There is the Ark of the Covenant, the holy Tabernacle, in which he dwells.

That sacred power of joy, which made the child in his mother’s womb leap, alo sets the rhythm of joy for us, which
expresses itself in liturgy, in its holy symbols, in singing and praying, somewhat like a new dance before the Ark
of the Covenant, before God, who is truly present and who invites us to be, ourselves, an Ark of the Covenant.

When God gives His body to us in the Eucharist, he wants us to be God’s dwelling ourselves, from which his joy
can radiate to the world.

Let us listen to the words of the two women. Elizabeth completes the greeting of the angel: “Hail, Mary,
full of grace, the Lord is with you” - words that the Holy Spirit has spoken through her, as Luke tells us:
“Blessed are you among all women, blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Thus the first and central great Marian prayer of the Church was not an invention of men, but a gift from the angel,
who brought greetings from the Father, a gift from the Holy Spirit, who spoke through this woman, Elizabeth.

When we pray it, we say the words that God himself lays on our lips, and we fulfill the promise that Mary announces
in her Magnificat: “From here on, all generations will call me blessed.”

Marian veneration is not a belated invention of the Church nor a coming off the unique center of our faith, Jesus
Christ. It was offered to us by the Holy Spirit himself. Because God wishes that we should recognize his glory not
just in his own pure light. But also in other men who reflect his glory and makes it accessible to us.

In the saints, and above all, in Mary, the Mother of the Lord, we recognize what God himself is, we see
the reflection of his glory in a human face, coming to us from a human life.

Equally important is what Elizabeth further tells Mary: “Blessed is she who believed.” She reaches back to
the beginnings of the Old Covenant, to Abraham, the Father of the faith, whom God trusted and who dared
the impossible, leaving his homeland for an unknown land because God had bidden him to do so, in order to
begin a new history for man.

This torch of faith that was first lit in Abraham was then carried forward by the Patriarchs and the Prophets,
the holy men and women of the Old Covenant, and now burns to its full glory in Mary.

She believes and thereby, she tears the heavens apart, she opens the doors of Heaven, and we see that God
is there and accepts us and cares about us. Mary believes and dares to accept the enormity of God’s irruption
into her life by making her the Mother of his son. She believed something that must disrupt any person’s
life beyond one’s own hopes and expectations. But she entrusts herself to God, and doing so, she opens
the doors between heaven and earth.

“Blessed is she who believed.” Elizabeth is also calling on us: Believe in God, put aside your pride and
your doubt, dare to trust in him and to go with him. But go with him truly, so that you may experience that
what he says is true, that he really is there. We cannot subject God to experiment. What kind of God is it
that we could research in a laboratory?

No, he only wants the courage of faith and communion, and in communion, he sheds His light on us, so that
we will know that Yes, he is here, he who shows us the way. He calls us to faith, in a time when the crumbling
of faith is not making the world brighter but darker, when the darker forces of man are breaking through
again, times during which faith has been shackled, when the Light of God no longer shines.

Let us pray: “Lord, I believe. Help me in my lack of faith.” And let us keep before our eyes what President
Weissmann has already told us: We do not need to believe alone, we do not need to force ourselves alone into
a higher plane that seems unreachable.

Faith always means to believe with the whole living Church. Faith means believing with the entire company
of saints, those who - in fields where so many weeds grow - were a reflection of God’s light.

Faith is being part of the ‘we’ in the church of believers. Mary calls us again on this day to dare this
shared belief so that like her, we can believe with Abraham and Israel, and find God’s Word open to us anew.
Let us ask the Lord that we may find the courage to believe with the Church and therefore open anew the doors
between heaven and earth.

To Elizabeth’s greeting, Mary replied: “My soul extols the greatness of the Lord.” Literally it means,
“My soul sees God as great.” And that is what Mary does on this day: She steps back so that the world
can see him in all his greatness.

When we extol God, we do not need to fear that doing so will make us smaller. Only when we extol God will
we ourselves be great. But when we write God in small letters, when we belittle God, then we belittle ourselves.
Then he becomes nothing more than an incidental product that evolution has cast ashore, about whom one
no longer knows whether it matters whether he is there or not.

And we would be no more than an eyeblink in the endless light years of the universe, that comes and goes as
an ancient Roman pagan grave inscription says, “From nothing, itself nothing, and towards nothing.” And that
becomes our ultimate definition.

We do not become great when we belittle God. Only when God is writ large in our life and when we give him room
in this world, do we become great. Then we are creatures of God’s love, then we are the reflection of his face
in the world, willed by eternal love and destined for his eternal love.

Under Communist rule, a book of Solzhenitsyn’s could not be printed because he insisted adamantly that the word
God must be written with a capital G, which was not allowed – under this ideological power, God must be written
in small letters only. Just as human dignity itself came to be writ ever smaller.

We know that such a world, which Solzhenitsyn describes in another book, became the first circle of Hell.
Because Hell is wherever God is forbidden, into which his light is no longer allowed to shine. To extol God –
that links together the words of the two women. It means nothing other than faith.

In the Magnificat, which Mary creates out of the Old Testament, taking from its treasury of prayers and
bringing it into the realm of the Church, she also tells us what works against faith. She names three elements:
pride in one’s heart, the mighty who would push God off his throne, and the rich who set store only by possessions.

First, pride, which was also Adam’s real sin. Pride means wanting to be God himself and not to acknowledge
anyone else, to be completely autonomous and declare oneself emancipated from God, to consider eternal love
not as a gift, as the basis for our existence, but rather as subordination. But that is exactly how man falls.

Opposed to pride is humility, which accepts love, which acknowledges that we need it, which believes that it is
a gift from God to those who trust in him, and in this, we can find that the true greatness of man.

Beside pride, there is the worship of power, in which whoever can destroy or threaten to destroy is considered
mighty. Real power is not the power to destroy but the power to build. Sacred Scripture tells us that God’s
omnipotence essentially lies in his power to forgive and to be merciful.

Trusting in that power, we set forth into the world with a faith that is often trampled on, but which has
shone through in the stories of martyrs and many suffering men. The other kind of power, that which would destroy
the earth, is a caricature.

Finally, Mary speaks of wealth as the worship of property. It is not that men should not increase the gifts
of creation and may not serve the whole through having possessions. But when man worships possessions,
he becomes a slave to them. He will be possessed by his possessions and is no longer the lord of creation as
the image of the true Lord.

Therefore, it is worth liberating ourselves from that which seems to be the promise of life but which really
takes away the greatness that builds us up. Let us entreat Mary that she may help us to extol God and that
she may thereby lead us to true greatness.

“Sub tuum presidium’ – “Under your protection and shield we shall escape”: the choir will sing this during
the preparation for the Offertory. We thank Maestro Planyavsky, who composed the work that is his gift to us
today and to the Church, and the musicians who will help us with this music to praise Mary and thus let
the light of God into the world.

“Under your protection and shield, we shall escape”: This is the oldest post-Biblical Marian prayer in
Christianity. It was found in an ancient Egyptian papyrus from the fourth century. We can imagine that it came
from an Egyptian monastic circle and tells of all the troubles that these men were subjected to: oppressed
by political power, as well as threatened by the forces of nature and of society - finding refuge in the Mother,
as the truly protective and reliable power.

“Under your protection ad shield, we shall escape” – Here in Mariazell, where for almost 900 years, Mary has
been prayed to, where men come to ask for her protection and defense, and strength for their lives, we feel
the prayers of the centuries present and take our place in the great procession of those who pray.

We entreat her that she may help us to believe; from our faith, become hopeful; and from faith and hope,
become loving. We entreat her that she may help you as notaries, and all of us, to be in the service of true
justice, of that justice which yields peace.

Here she has spread her cloak over the numerous peoples represented here today, sheltered under her cloak
together, one with each other across all borders.

We entreat her to help us build Europe at this time, a Europe where, as President Weissmann said, one does
not confuse the tree with its root, in which we will learn to live again from the roots of our faith.

We entreat the Mother of God that she may help Europe to find its soul again, the great ethical and human
strength that comes from faith and that has made this continent great.

We entreat to her to guide us through the distresses of life. We entreat her for peace and unity, and that
terror may be overcome through the greater power of good.

We entreat her: Show us Jesus, the blessed fruit of your womb. Amen.

00sabato 2 giugno 2007 01.21
RE: The Visitation
Thanks for this beautiful post, Teresa! That Boticelli is stunning and the text of the Magnificat has always been one of my favourite Biblical poems. No wonder it has inspired so many great composers to musical settings.
00venerdì 8 giugno 2007 05.11
From Cardinal Ratzinger's Trinity Sunday homily delivered at the Cathedral of Bayeux, France, on June 6, 2004
(full text posted in the thread

The most beautiful artistic depiction of this mystery was left to us by Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century:
the world-renowned icon of the Trinity.

Of course, it does not portray the eternal mystery of God in himself, who would dare to do that?
It attempts, rather, to represent this mystery as it is reflected in the gift of itself in history, as in
the visit of the three men to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre (Gen 18:1-33). Abraham immediately recognized
that they were not just like any other men, but that God himself was coming to him through them.

In Rublev's icon, the mystery of this event is made visible, presented as an event that can be
contemplated in its many dimensions: thus the mystery as such is respected. The artistic richness
of this icon allows me to underscore another characteristic: the natural surroundings of this event,
which express the mystery of the Persons.

We are near the oaks of Mamre, which Rublev depicts in stylized form as a single tree representing the tree
of life; and this tree of life is none other than the trinitarian love that created the world, sustains it,
saves it, and is the source of all life. We see also the tent, the dwelling of Abraham, which recalls the
Prologue of John's Gospel: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14).

The body of the incarnate Word of God became itself the tent, the place where God dwells: God becomes
our refuge and our dwelling place. Finally, the gift that Abraham offers, "a calf, tender and good",
is replaced, in the icon, with a cup, a symbol of the Eucharist, a sign of the gift in which God gives
himself: "Love, sacrifice, and self-immolation preceded the act by which the world was created and are
the source of that creation."

The tree, the tent, and the cup: these elements show us the mystery of God, allow us to immerse ourselves
in the contemplation of its intimate depths, in his trinitarian love. This is the God that we celebrate.
This is the God who gives us joy. He is the true hope of our world. Amen.

Andrei Rublev: Trinity, c. 1411, Tempera on panel, 142 x 114 cm, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Here is some background history about the icon:

Many scholars consider Rublev's Trinity the most perfect of all Russian icons and perhaps the most perfect
of all the icons ever painted. The work was created for the abbot of the Trinity Monastery, Nikon of Radonezh,
a disciple of the famous Sergius, one of the leaders of the monastic revival in the 14th-century Russia. Asking
Rublev to paint the icon of the Holy Trinity, Nikon wanted to commemorate Sergius as a man whose life
and deeds embodied the most progressive processes in the late 14th-century Russia.

From the earliest times, the idea of the Trinity was controversial and difficult to understand, especially
for the uneducated masses. Even though Christianity replaced the pagan polytheism, it gave the believers
a monotheistic religion with a difficult concept of one God in three hypostases - God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Holy Spirit.

Not only the uneducated population but many theologians had difficulties with the concept of the triune God;
from time to time, a heretical movement, like Arianism, questioned the doctrine, causing long debates, violent
persecutions, and even greater general confusion.

Trying to portray the Trinity, but always aware of the Biblical prohibition against depicting God,
icon painters turned to the story of the hospitality of Abraham who was visited by three wanderers. In their
compositions, icon painters included many details - the figures of Abraham and Sarah, a servant killing a calf
in preparation for the feast, the rock, the tree of Mamre, and the house (tent) - trying to render as faithfully
as possible the events described in the text:

"And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them
from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground..." [The complete story from Genesis is reproduced below].

Very few artists before Rublev dared to eliminate all the narrative elements from the story, leaving only
the three angels; usually those who did so had to deal with limited space. The results of their efforts
did not find general acceptance or many copyists.

Rublev was the first to make a conscious decision not to include in his composition the figures of Abraham
and Sarah because he did not set out to illustrate the story of the hospitality of Abraham, as did many painters
before him, but to convey through his image the idea of the unity and indivisibility of the three persons
of the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity, difficult to explain logically, found various interpretations. Some thought
that the Trinity consisted of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Others believed that
it was just God and two angels.

In the 14th and 15th-century Russia, in the period of many heretical movements, the idea of the Trinity
was often questioned. The heretics in Novgorod claimed that it is not permissible to paint the Trinity
on icons because Abraham did not see the Trinity but only God and two angels. Other heretics rejected
the idea of the three hypostases of God altogether.

The church fought the heresies with all the means it had - usually with polemical treaties, but also with force,
if necessary. Russian icon painters before Rublev subscribed to the same point of view that Abraham was
visited by God (in Christ's image) and two angels. Hence, Christ was represented in icons of the Trinity
as the middle angel and was symbolically set apart either by a halo with a cross, by a considerable enlargement
of his figure, by widely spread wings or by a scroll in His hand.

Trinity Icons. From left to right: Holy Trinity, a part of a quadripartite icon from Novgorod
(first half of the 15th c.), Holy Trinity (Hospitality of Abraham), Novgorod School (middle of the 16th c.),
Holy Trinity, Pskov School (15th c.)

In Rublev's icon for the first time all the angels are equally important. Only this icon truly conforms
to the Orthodox idea of the Trinity. But Rublev's genius allows the painter to go beyond the constraints of
theological theme. His icon is a special kind of challenge to the antitrinitarians - instead of forcing them
to accept the dogma, Rublev softly and gently tries to bring them to the dogmatic understanding of
the icon's meaning.

All scholars agree that the three hypostases of the Trinity are represented in Rublev's icon. But there are
greatly differing views as to which angel represents which hypostasis. Many see Christ in the middle angel
and God the Father in the left. Others see God the Father in the middle angel, and Christ in the left one.


The middle angel occupies a special place in the icon: it is set apart not only by its central position,
but also by a "regal" turn of its head towards the left angel, and by pointing with its hand towards the cup
on the table. Both the turn of the head and the gesture are important clues to the hidden meaning of
the icon.

Equal among equals, the middle angel has such expressive power that one hesitates not to see in it a symbolic
representation of God the Father. On the other hand one cannot fail to notice that the left angel is also
essential: two other angels lower their heads towards it and seem to address it. Therefore, if we assume that
the left angel is God the Father, the middle angel, dressed in the clothes customarily used in compositions
depicting the second person of the Trinity (a blue himation and a crimson tunic), should represent Christ.

This amazing and perhaps purposeful encoding of these two persons of the Trinity by Rublev does not give us
a clear clue for a single interpretation. Whatever the case, the icon shows a dialogue between two angels:
The Father turns to His Son and explains the necessity of His sacrifice, and the Son answers by agreeing
with His Father's wish.

Neither of these interpretations impacts the interpretation of the Trinity as triune God and as a representation
of the sacrament of the Eucharist. The cup on the table is an eucharistic symbol. In the cup we see the head
of the calf which Abraham used for the feast. The church interprets this calf as a prototype of the New Testament
Lamb, and thus the cup acquires its Eucharistic meaning.

The left and the middle angels bless the cup: The Father blesses His Son on his Deed, on His death on the cross
for the sake of man's salvation, and the Son, blessing the cup, expresses his readiness to sacrifice Himself.
The third angel does not bless the cup and does not participate in the conversation, but is present as
a Comforter, the undying, a symbol of eternal youth and the upcoming Resurrection.

As early as in the 14th century, the popularity of the cult of the Trinity was not based only on its theological
content but also on its relationship to the concrete situation in Russian political and social history. It was
a time of constant feudal wars that undermined the weak economy of Russian principalities.

The best minds of the time (for instance, St. Sergius of Radonezh) understood that feudal quarrels are
the greatest evil because they weaken Russia and make it an easy prey for its enemies. For that reason
they tried to end the wars and free Russia from the Mongol yoke at any cost. In the idea of the Trinity
they found the criticism of the feudal divisions and the Mongol yoke as well as an encouragement to "collect"
the divided lands and become free.

But perhaps the most important thought Rublev wanted to convey when he painted his great icon was the thought
about the necessity and goodness of love, a bond based on the trust between individuals. The old texts about
Trinity as three hypostases of the Divinity talk about love which fills the Trinity: "Trinity is love,"
"The Son loves His Father, the Father loves His Son," "The Love of the Heavenly Father Is Given to the World
through His Son."

Since the theological ideas were understandable only to a few, something else must have made the icon
attractive for a wider spectrum of viewers and believers. Obviously, the content of the Trinity is not restricted
to the theological ideas. Rublev's Trinity is not only a representation of the three hypostases of God
and the symbol of the Eucharist, but it is also an all-encompassing symbol of unity and an image of divine love.

This last, important interpretation is beautifully supported by the words of Henri Nouwen:
"Andrew Rublev painted this icon not only to share the fruits of his own meditation on the mystery of the Holy
Trinity but also to offer his fellow monks a way to keep their hearts centered in God while living in
the midst of political unrest. The more we look at this holy image with the eyes of faith, the more we come
to realize that it is painted not as a lovely decoration for a convent church, nor as a helpful explanation
of a difficult doctrine, but as a holy place to enter and stay within. As we place ourselves in front of
the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in the intimate conversation
that is taking place among the three divine angels and to join them around the table. The movement from the Father
toward the Son and the movement of both Son and Spirit toward the Father become a movement in which the one
who prays is lifted up and held secure. . . .

Through the contemplation of this icon we come to see with our inner eyes that all engagements in this world
can bear fruit only when they take place within this divine circle. The words of the psalm, "The sparrow
has found its home at last.... Happy are those who live in your house"(Ps 84: 3,4) are given new depth
and new breadth; they become words revealing the possibility of being in the world without being of it.
We can be involved in struggles for justice and in actions for peace. We can be part of the ambiguities
of family and community life. We can study, teach, write and hold a regular job. We can do all of this without
ever having to leave the house of love...Rublev's icon gives us a glimpse of the house of perfect love" (Nouwen 20-22).

What follows is commentary as meditative aid on the icon, from a site called Wellsprings
by two Catholic women from Eastleigh, Hampshire, in the UK


A blue robe speaking of divinity -
A green robe representing new life -
- The Spirit -

If you can, spend time gazing at the newly unfurled leaves against a blue sky.
(If the season is not appropriate - live on the memory!)
Reflect on the link between what you see and the figure in the icon.

The Spirit touches the table - earthing the divine life of God.
Reflect on that touch and the words of invocation:
"Lord, You are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness.
Let Your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy...."
Reflect on that touch and its meaning for the life of the world...

Behind the figure is a mountain.
Mountains are places where people often encountered God -
places where heaven and earth seem to touch.
Moses met God on mountains.
Jesus was transfigured whilst in prayer on a mountain.
Reflect on your own "mountain top" experiences -
times when you have felt very close to God -
when you have felt transfigured and filled with the Spirit.
(These need not necessarily have taken place on mountain tops!)

Elijah could not find God in the earthquake -
- the wind -
- the fire on the mountain -
but in the gentle breeze
which carried the voice of God
deep into his being.
When have you been aware of the presence of the dynamic stillness
which is the Spirit within you?

The Spirit inclines - drawing our gaze to the central figure - representing Christ.


The figure wears the blue of divinity.
The brown garment speaks of the earth - of His humanity.
The gold stripe speaks of kingship.
- The Christ -
Reflect on the form of kingship being represented here...

The Christ figure rests two fingers on the table -
laying onto it His divine and His human nature.
He points to a cup filled with wine...
What does this represent?

Behind the figure is a tree.
This could be the oak tree at Mamre
under which the three angelic visitors rested.
The hospitality of Abraham and Sarah was rewarded in the gift of a son.
What does this tell us of the importance of hospitality?

The tree may also represent the Cross -
the tree on which our Saviour died.
The tree of death which becomes the tree of eternal life -
lost to humanity by the disobedience of Adam and Eve -
restored to us by the obedience of Jesus.
Reflect on the paradox of the Cross -
- the place where death and life confront each other -
- where death gives way to resurrection -
and eternal life.

It may also be the tree of life in Revelation
bearing twelve kinds of fruit
one for each month of the year
and the leaves of this tree are for the healing of the nations...
What is the promise here - waiting to be fulfilled?

The Christ figure in turn inclines towards the figure on the left -
and we are drawn to gaze there too.


A figure at rest within Itself.
The blue garment almost hidden by a shimmering ethereal robe.
- The Father -
the One who is Creator who cannot be seen by His human creatures.

Both hands clasp the staff
All authority in heaven and on earth belong to the Father.

Behind the figure is a house
the dwelling place of God.
"In my Father's House are many mansions -
I go to prepare a place for you..."

"Those who love Me will keep My word
and My Father will love them -
and we will come to them and make our home with them".


Here is Genesis 13, about God's visitation to Abraham in Mamre (from the New American Bible):

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot.
Looking up, he saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them;
and bowing to the ground,
1 he said: "Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant.
Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree.
Now that you have come this close to your servant, let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh
yourselves; and afterward you may go on your way." "Very well," they replied, "do as you have said."
2 Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, "Quick, three seahs of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls."
He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it.
3 Then he got some curds and milk, as well as the steer that had been prepared, and set these before them;
and he waited on them under the tree while they ate.
"Where is your wife Sarah?" they asked him. "There in the tent," he replied.
4 One of them said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son."
Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent, just behind him.
Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years, and Sarah had stopped having her womanly periods.
5 So Sarah laughed to herself and said, "Now that I am so withered and my husband is so old, am I still
to have sexual pleasure?"
But the LORD said to Abraham: "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Shall I really bear a child, old as I am?'
Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do? At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will
return to you, and Sarah will have a son."
Because she was afraid, Sarah dissembled, saying, "I didn't laugh." But he said, "Yes you did."
The men set out from there and looked down toward Sodom; Abraham was walking with them, to see them
on their way.
The LORD reflected: "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,
now that he is to become a great and populous nation, and all the nations of the earth are to find
blessing in him?
Indeed, I have singled him out that he may direct his sons and his posterity to keep the way of the LORD
by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD may carry into effect for Abraham the promises he made
about him."
6 Then the LORD said: "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave,
that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them
that comes to me. I mean to find out."
While the two men walked on farther toward Sodom, the LORD remained standing before Abraham.
Then Abraham drew nearer to him and said: "Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?
Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it
for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it?
Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty, so that the innocent
and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?"
The LORD replied, "If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place
for their sake."
Abraham spoke up again: "See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!
What if there are five less than fifty innocent people? Will you destroy the whole city because
of those five?" "I will not destroy it," he answered, "if I find forty-five there."
But Abraham persisted, saying, "What if only forty are found there?" He replied, "I will forebear doing it
for the sake of the forty."
Then he said, "Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on. What if only thirty are found there?"
He replied, "I will forebear doing it if I can find but thirty there."
Still he went on, "Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord, what if there are no more than twenty?"
"I will not destroy it," he answered, "for the sake of the twenty."
But he still persisted: "Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time. What if
there are at least ten there?" "For the sake of those ten," he replied, "I will not destroy it."
The LORD departed as soon as he had finished speaking with Abraham, and Abraham returned home.

00giovedì 14 giugno 2007 01.45
June 13

Antony (Anthony) of Padua, OFM
Doctor Evangelicus

Born in Lisbon, Portugal, 1195
Died in Padua, Italy, June 13, 1231
Canonized 1232 by Pope Gregory IX
Declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946

"Consider every day that you are then for the first time - as it were - beginning;
and always act with the same fervour as on the first day you began."

-Saint Antony of Padua.

El Greco, St. Anthony, 16th cent.
[I am unable to get the usual data anywhere on line!]

At the age of 15, Ferdinand de Bulhoes, son of a knight at the court of King Alfonso II, became an Augustinian monk
at San Vincente just outside Lisbon. He had studied under the priests of the Lisbon cathedral, who had inspired him.

In 1212, Ferdinand migrated to the priory of Santa Cruz at Coîmbra because he found the visits of friends too disturbing.
At Coîmbra Ferdinand was well-educated by teachers from Montpellier, Toulouse, and Paris in Scripture, which was presented
in a way intended to refute the Moors and heretics. He was ordained in 1219 or 1220.

He had lived a quiet life as a canon in Coîmbra for eight years when Don Pedro of Portugal brought from Morocco in 1220
the relics of recent Franciscan martyrs. On hearing of their glorious end, Antony was fired with missionary zeal,
which he had little hope of fulfilling as a canon regular. He laid his heart bare before some Franciscans who had come
to Holy Cross Monastery to beg. With their encouragement, Ferdinand transferred to the Franciscan Order at Olivares
in 1221 and took the name Antony, in honor of the great patriarch of monks, Antony the Abbot.

Thus, at the age of 26, inspired by the memory of the five Franciscans whom he had met before their martyrdom,
he sailed for Ceuta in Morocco. It was his ambition to convert the Islamics to Christianity, but sometimes even saints
mistake their will for God's will. God, however, always arranges things so that we realize our mistake. For Antony,
God's intervention took the form of allowing the saint's body to betray him upon arrival in Morocco - he fell so ill
that he had no choice but to return home.

On the return to Portugal, his ship was driven by storm upon the coast of Sicily and he landed at Messina. From Sicily
he made his way to Assisi and found himself at the general chapter of Assisi in 1221, the last chapter open to all members
of the order. Brother Elias, vicar general, presided over the gathering, with Saint Francis seated at his feet.
At the conclusion of the chapter, the brothers returned to their respective posts, but poor Antony belonged nowhere.

But when he sought admission into a monastery in Italy, he met with difficulty on account of his sickly appearance. He was
assigned at last, out of pure compassion, to the rural hospice of San Paolo near Forli outside Bologna, a choice
made after considering his poor health. There he appears to have lived as a hermit and was put to work in the kitchen.

Here he toiled with great humility, none suspecting his talents or learning, among a group of simple and untutored monks.
One day, however, on the occasion of an ordination, when a great many visiting Dominican monks were present, there was some
misunderstanding over who should preach.

The Franciscans naturally expected that one of the Dominicans would occupy the pulpit, for they were renowned for their
preaching; the Dominicans, on the other hand, had come unprepared, thinking that a Franciscan would be the homilist.

In this quandary, the head of the hermitage, who had no one among his own humble friars suitable for the occasion, called
upon Antony, whom he suspected was most fitted, and told to speak whatever the Holy Spirit should put into his mouth.

"But," replied Antony, "my task is washing dishes and scrubbing floors!" His objections, however, were overruled,
and his sermon created a deep impression. Not only his rich voice and arresting manner, but the entire theme and
substance of his discourse and his moving eloquence held the attention of his hearers.

Antony was commissioned by Brother Gratian, the minister provincial, to preach the Gospel throughout Lombardy. From then on
his skills were used to the utmost by the Church. Although Antony had been denied a martyr's death at the hands of
the Islamics, he was a martyr of the Word, a martyr of the road, a martyr of the crowds.

News of his ability reached Saint Francis who at once gave Antony license to expound theology in all the monasteries
of the order by appointing him the first lector in theology to his brethren. Occasionally he took another post, as a teacher,
for instance, at the universities of Montpellier and Toulouse, but it was as a preacher that Antony revealed his supreme gift.

In 1226, after attending the chapter at Arles, France, and preaching in Provence, Antony returned to Italy and served as envoy
from the general chapter to Pope Gregory IX. At the papal court, his preaching was hailed as a 'jewel case of the Bible,' and
he was commissioned to produce 'Sermons for Feast Days'.

He was elected minister provincial of Emilia or Romagna on May 30, 1227, which required much travel to supervise the friaries
under his charge. During these three years he wrote his "Sermons for Sundays."

In June 1230, he secured from the pope a release from his duties of office so that he could preach exclusively. From that time
Antony resided at the monastery of Santa Maria in Padua. The following winter he composed his sermons on the saints.

He had a remarkable knowledge of the Bible, and his sermons impressed the erudite no less than the simple, whether he was
speaking on behalf of Christian living or against false doctrine. He was strong and fearless, merciless towards oppressors
of the defenseless and towards venal clergy.

At Bourges, France, after delivering his sermon to the faithful, Antony turned towards the archbishop and openly reprimanded
him for his vices. He worked to abolish debtors' prisons and usury, and for justice. (His last public act was a journey to Verona
to procure the release of prisoners.)

In his lifetime he was called "hammer of heretics." Though small of stature and even chubby, Antony was one of the most powerful
preachers of the 13th century. It seems he could by his brilliant personality overwhelm the sinful and convert them to God.

He preached to crowded congregations; the shops were shut, people waited all night to hear him, and church buildings were
too small to hold the numbers who flocked to listen; and wherever he came, his words broke down the barriers of apathy and

Antony radiated holiness; sometimes the mere sight of him brought sinners to their knees. He had a wonderful memory,
great energy, and a remarkable voice. One woman, forbidden by her husband to attend his preaching, flung open her bedroom
window, so that his sermon, though at a distance, filled the room, and her husband, astonished by what he thought was a miracle,
was moved to the heart by Antony's words.

After the death of Saint Francis, he and Adam, an English friar, held out against the relaxation of Franciscan austerities.
He became ill with dropsy and, in 1231, went to the woodland retreat at Camposanpiero with two other friars for a respite. There
he lived in a cell that was built for him under the branches
of a walnut tree. Saint Antony died at the Poor Clare convent at Arcella on the way back to Padua at the age of 36.

The texts of many of his sermons have survived, and because of these and his reputation as a biblical scholar the Church has
honored him with the title "Doctor."

The Poor Clare sisters claimed Antony's body, but it was enshrined in Our Lady's Church at Padua. A great basilican church
was begun the year after his death. Fittingly for one who had hoped to work in Morocco, the building has domes and a bell-tower
like an Arab minaret. Antony's tomb lies behind the altar of his chapel in the north transept of this Basilica di Sant'Antonio,
with nine superb reliefs lining the walls.

He was translated to this site in 1263, at which time his incorrupt tongue and two bones were detached from his body. At this
famous pilgrimage site, many miracles occurred at his intercession. Many legends gathered around his name and he is among the
most popular of the medieval saints.

In art, Saint Antony is portrayed as a young Franciscan holding the child Jesus, which is a representation of an episode in which
his spying host is said to seen him holding and talking to the Infant Jesus.

Bartolome Esteban Murillo, The Vision of St. Anthony, 1650?,
Oil on panel, 210 x 145 cm, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

While Antony is usually depicted as a rosy-cheeked youth with wavy hair, a contemporary described him thusly: "Like most
Spaniards his coloring was swarthy. He was less than the average height and was corpulent. His skin was dark and rough
as a result of the great austerities of his life and the sickness from which he suffered."

Left, a typical St. Anthony prayer card; center, a 14th century anonymous painting long-known
as the 'True Portrait' of Antony; right, reconstruction based on scientific data gathered when
his remains were examined in 1981[compare this to El Greco's painting]

In 1981, his tomb was reopened and the relics were scientifically examined to verify his physical characteristics. It can
be said that Antony had a long, thin face, deep-set eyes, and long, delicate hands. The state of his bones indicated a poor diet
(through frequent, long fasts) and fatigue caused by journeys on foot.

He may sometimes be shown (1) with a lily (symbol for his knowledge of scripture according to White) and book; (2) with a flame
in his left hand or on his breast and book; (3) with a cross and the child on a book; or (4) holding corn, which recognizes
miracles he is reputed to have performed. He once saved a field of grain from foraging birds, and on another occasion restored
an abundant harvest to a field trampled by people who had come to hear him.

Older pictures may show Antony preaching to the fish at Rimini (a story told in the Fioretti similar to the tale of Francis
with the birds) or with him showing a consecrated Host to a mule who immediately venerated it, rejecting a bundle of hay.
The point of these stories is that sometimes animals were more receptive to the living Word of God than certain people.

Some medieval artists preferred to portray Antony in a nut-tree in memory of his solitude and the esteem Saint Bonaventure
had for him. The Limbourg brothers painted an image of Saint Anthony Attacked by Devils.

Antony is the patron of the poor and oppressed; alms given for his intercession are called "Saint Antony's Bread". This charity,
devoted to the relief of the starving still flourishes, especially in the Third World. In Sicily huge loaves in the shape of
a crown are still baked on his feast day.

He is also patron of barren women, harvests, Brazil, Padua, and Flemish men. He is often invoked to help find lost objects
("Saint Antony, Saint Antony, please come around. Something is lost and needs to be found."). This was probably spawned by
the story that a novice ran away with a psalter Antony had been using and was forced by an apparition to return it.


Left: Claudio Coello, The Vision of Saint Anthony of Padua, 1663, Oil on canvas, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Va.
Right: P. Pereda, St Anthony of Padua with Christ Child, Oil on canvas, 177 x 205 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

00sabato 16 giugno 2007 02.08
In anticipation of the Holy Father's personal pilgrimage and pastoral visit to Assisi on Sunday, June 17,
here is one of the more concise biographies available online about St. Francis of Assisi.

Other good readable biographies which are about 2-3 times the length of this one may be found in

Founder of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM)
Co-Patron of Italy

Born in Assisi, Umbria, Italy, c. 1181
Died at Porziuncola, October 3, 1226
Canonized 1228
Declared Patron of Italy in 1939 by Pius XII
Declared patron of ecologists in 1979 by John Paul II

"Our friends, then, are all those who unjustly afflict us with trials and ordeals, shame and injustice, sorrows
and torments, martyrdom and death; we must love them greatly for we all possess eternal life because of them."

- Saint Francis

"Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society."
- Saint Francis

Botticelli, Saint Francis of Assisi with Angels, 1475-80,
Egg tempera and oil on wood, 49.5 x 31.8 cm, National Gallery, London;
El Greco, Saint Francis in Prayer, 1580-85, oil on canvas,
115.5 x 103 cm., Joslyn Art Museum

One of the greatest saints God ever gave us was the son of Peter Bernadone, a wealthy silk merchant, and his wife
Pica, a Frenchwoman. He was born while his father was away on business and his mother christened him with the name
John (Giovanni). When his father returned, he insisted that the child be renamed Francesco (the Frenchman). And so
it happened.

Like most privileged youth, Francis of the small hands, broad body, and liquid eyes indulged himself in extravagant
living and pleasure-seeking. He wasn't interested in his father's business or study. Influenced by the ideals of
chivalry, Francis went gaily to war, and was taken prisoner by the nearby Perugians in 1202. Upon his release he
resumed his dissolute ways and became seriously ill for a time.

Upon his recovery in 1205, he decided to join the forces of Walter (Gualtier) de Brienne, who was setting off for
the Crusades from southern Italy. Francis outfitted himself with expensive new equipment, but, according to some,
he met a poorly clothed man to whom he gave his finery.

A vision of Christ (urging him to turn back) during another illness in Spoleto, followed by another on his return
to Assisi, caused him to change his lifestyle. At home he was faced with accusations of cowardice.

In 1205, while praying one day in the ruined chapel of San Damiano near the gates of Assisi, three times Francis
heard a voice say from the crucifix before which he was praying: "Francis, go and repair my house which
you see is now close to ruin."

Characteristically, Francis took these words literally and set out to repair the chapel, but eventually he got it
right. At that time he rushed to his father's warehouse, took as much cloth as a horse could carry, sold the cloth
and gave the money to the priest in charge of the ruined chapel. He asked permission to remain with the priest.
The priest agreed but refused Francis' donation.

His irate father sought him out but Francis hid. After days of fasting and prayer, Francis came out of hiding.
His looks were so altered that people threw things at him and called him mad. His father treated him as such: He took
Francis home, beat him, bound him up, and locked him in a room. While his father was away from home, Pica released
Francis, who promptly returned to San Damiano.

He was followed by his father, angrily denounced as a madman, and disinherited in one of the most dramatic scenes
in religious history. When his father summoned him before the bishop of Assisi, who instructed Francis to return the
money from the cloth and to trust in God. The saint solemnly took off all his clothes and gave them back to his father.
The bishop gave him a cloak for which Francis thanked him for his first alms. Upon the cloak the saint marked the cross
in chalk.

Francis said he now had only one father, his Father in heaven and singing the divine praises, Francis went in search
of shelter. En route his met a band of robbers, who asked him to identify himself. Francis responded: "I am the herald
of the great King." They beat him and left him in a ditch of snow. Undeterred he continued singing. At a monastery
he received alms and work. In Gubbio, an acquaintance gave him the shabby tunic, belt, and shoes that Francis wore
for the next two years before returning to Assisi and San Damiano.

Francis begged for alms to restore the church and was mocked by the townspeople who had known him as a rich man's son.
In 1206, he went on pilgrimage to Rome in rags. There he met a leper and not only gave him money but went so far as
to kiss the man's diseased hand - an unthinkable act at a time when this was a debilitating, communicable disease.
On his return home he devoted himself to a life of poverty and care of the sick and the poor.

After repairing several churches in Assisi, he retired to a little chapel, the Porziuncola (Portiuncula) at Santa
Maria degli Angeli, and devoted himself completely to his life's work of poverty and preaching. Porziuncola
belonged to the abbey founded by the great Saint Benedict, about two miles from Assisi. The chapel was neglected
and in disrepair until Francis restored it with his own hands while living nearby.

On the feast of Saint Matthias in 1209, Francis really heard the way for his life: "Do not possess gold . . . nor
two coats nor shoes nor a staff. . . ." Francis understood and undertook to live the rule of poverty in Saint
Matthew's Gospel literally. He gave away his shoes, the walking staff he had used in his travels, and his girdle.
He kept his undyed, woolen cloak - the dress of shepherds and peasants -which he tied with a cord.

The saint's preaching soon attracted numerous disciples who agreed that Christ's disciples should have virtually
nothing of their own. Among those drawn to the severe Gospel were several leading citizens, Bernard da Quintavalla,
a rich merchant, and Peter of Cattaneo, a canon of the cathedral, whom he robed on April 16, 1209, thus founding
the Friars Minor. The third to join them was Brother Giles, a simple, wise man.

In 1210, he received verbal approval of a rule he had drawn up from Pope Innocent III as well as authorization for
Francis and 11 companions to be roving preachers of repentance. They lived together in a little cottage at Rivo Torto
until a dispute with a peasant who wanted the cottage to shelter his donkey. In 1212 they moved their headquarters to
the Porziuncola chapel, which the abbot of Monte Subasio gave them on the condition that it should always remain
the motherhouse for the Friars Minor.

Many more men were attracted to this saint for whom poverty was his "lady"; any illness, a "sister"; and his body,
"brother donkey." Soon so many recruits flocked in that another friary was built in Bologna. Throughout Italy
the brothers called the people of all stations to faith and repentance. The brothers refused even corporate
ownership of property, human learning, and ecclesiastical preferment (initially few of them were in holy orders).

Also in 1212, Saint Clare joined him over the violent objections of her family. Together they founded the first
community of Poor Ladies (later known as the Poor Clares).

Obsessed with the desire to preach to the Saracens, Francis set out for Syria in the fall of 1212, but was shipwrecked
along the coast of Dalmatia on the way. He and his companions returned to Ancona as stowaways. Francis preached
for a year in central Italy during which the lord of Chiusi placed the Apennine retreat of Monte Alvernia at the
disposal of the order. A second attempt was made to evangelize the Islamics in 1213-14, but it also failed when
Francis fell ill in Spain while on the way to Morocco and was forced to return to Italy.

Francis obtained the famous Porziuncola indulgence or pardon of Assisi from Pope Innocent III in 1216. The following
year (when he probably met Saint Dominic in Rome), Francis convened the first general chapter of his order at the
Porziuncola to organize the huge number of followers he had attracted to his way of life.

Francis wanted to preach in France, but Cardinal Ugolino advised against it. By 1217 the order's many members were
divided into provinces and groups of friars were sent to countries outside Italy, including Brothers Pacifico and
Agnello to England.

In 1219, he sent his first missionaries to Tunis and Morocco from another general chapter, attended by some 5,000
friars. He himself went to Egypt to evangelize the Islamics in Palestine and Egypt with 12 friars under the protection
of Gaultier de Brienne. In the camp of the Crusaders, he was shocked by the immoral lifestyle. He requested permission,
was warned against, and finally allowed to meet with Sultan Malek al-Kamel at Damietta, Egypt, which was being besieged
by Crusaders. The sultan was interested in their discussions and asked Francis to stay with him. A few days later
the sultan sent him back to camp. His mission was a failure both among the Saracens and the Crusaders, so Francis
went on pilgrimage to Akka (Acra).

He was obliged, however, to hasten back to Italy to combat a movement in his order to mitigate his original rule
of simplicity, humility, and poverty led by Matthew of Narni and Gregory of Naples. When Francis found the brothers o
f Bologna living in a fine monastery, he castigated the superior and ordered the friars to leave.

Having secured the appointment of Cardinal Ugolino as protector of the order from Pope Honorius III, Francis presented
a revised rule to a general chapter at the Porziuncola in 1221, which maintained his ideals of poverty, humility,
evangelical freedom, respect and obedience to Church authorities, and doctrinal orthodoxy.

Friars slept on the ground, used no tables or chairs, and had very few books. It was not until later that they became
an order whose theology won attention in universities. A movement in the order toward mitigating his rule, led by Brother
Elias, began to spread and was met by Francis with still another slight revision, but this time he secured for it
the approval of Pope Honorius III in 1223.

Francis and his adviser Cardinal Ugolino may have drawn up a rule for the lay people who associated themselves with
the Friars Minor -the Franciscan tertiaries. This became a massive movement and source of much of the piety and sanctity
of the age - a re-evangelization throughout Europe.

By this time Francis had retired from the practical activities of the order, and its direction was mainly in the hands
of Brother Elias. At Christmas of 1223, Francis built a crèche at Grecchia in the valley of Rieti. It is probably not
the first time the scene in Bethlehem was acted out, but Francis' doing it established the manager scene as a Christmas
custom observed all over the Christian world to the present day.

Fra ANGELICO, St Francis Receiving the Stigmata, c. 1440
Tempera on wood, 28 x 33 cm, Pinacoteca, Vatican

Two years before his death at the beginning of a 40-day fast, while praying in his cell on Mount Alverna (Monte La Verna)
in the Apennines on September 14 and long after his reputation was well-established, Francis received the marks which
were to confirm his sanctity. They did not bleed, but were instead impressions of the heads of nails, round and black
and standing clear from the flesh. These wounds were one of the sources of the physical pain and weakness he suffered
increasingly until he welcomed "Sister Death."

Francis kept these stigmata a secret by wearing shoes and stockings and covering his hands with his habit. He is the first
known saint to have experienced the stigmata.

In 1225, Cardinal Ugolino and the vicar Elias convinced Francis to see the pope's physician at Rieti. En route he stopped
to see Saint Clare at San Damiano for the last time. In terrible discomfort, he wrote the Canticle of Brother Sun,
set it to music, and taught the brothers how to sing it. At Mount Rainerio he underwent primitive surgery and a painful
treatment that brought him some relief.

In Assisi, doctors told him he had only a few weeks to live. Francis asked to be taken to Porziuncola on a stretcher and
that they send to Rome for Lady Giacoma di Settesoli, an old friend. She was asked to bring candles and a gray gown for
his burial and some favorite cakes. She arrived before the messenger started out. As he wished, Francis died lying on
he ground covered with an old habit.

Brother Elias described the five wounds of the stigmata in a letter shortly after Francis's death. Blood often trickled
from his side. Brother Leo wrote, "The blessed Francis, two years before his death, kept a Lent in the hermitage of
Alverna in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God, and Blessed Michael the Archangel, from the Feast of
the Assumption of St. Mary the Virgin to the Feast of St. Michael in September. . . . After the vision and speech he had
of a seraph, and the impression in his body of the Stigmata of Christ, he made these praises . . . giving thanks
to God for the favor that had been conferred on him." Others claim he received the marks only a few weeks before his death.

The saint asked to be buried in the criminals' cemetery on the Colle d'Inferno, but his body was taken to the Church of
Saint George in Assisi. It remained there until 1230, when it was secretly removed to the basilica built by Brother Elias.
His relics were rediscovered in 1818 and reburied, first in an ornate tomb, and then, in 1932, in a very simple one.

Though never ordained, Francis' impact on religious life since his times has been enormous. Probably no saint has affected
so many in so varied ways as the gentle saint of Assisi who, born to wealth, devoted his life to poverty, concern for the poor
and sick, and so delighted in God's creation.

His cultus has grown enormously in the last hundred years among Christians of all denominations and others. There is
a compelling appeal in his Canticle of the sun and in what we are told about him by the Little flowers of Saint Francis
(Fioretti) and the Mirror of perfection .

From the Chapel of St. Gregory at the Benedictine monastery in Subiaco come these two contemporary
portraits (painted in their lifetime) showing St. Francis and his friend who went on to become Pope
and who canonized him:

Saint Francis, frescoed by the Maestro di Frate Francesco in the Capella di San Gregorio. This particular
image is not simply arresting, it is unique amongst the thousands of existing images of Saint Francis,
because it must have been completed during the Saint's life
. The The saint is shown without a halo or
the marks of the stigmata - which means he was painted before 1224. On the right, a fresco showing the chapel
being consecrated by Cardinal Ugoliano (1143-1241), who went on to become Pope Gregory IX in 1227. It was
Gregory who canonized his friend Saint Francis (and the other great contemporary Franciscan Saint, Anthony
of Padua) and also Saint Dominic and Saint Elizabeth (of Hungary). Gregory lived till he was 98.

00sabato 23 giugno 2007 12.39
In anticipation of tomorrow's feast, I found this beautiful entry from a blog called VULTUS CHRISTI ('the face of Christ')
whose epigram is the psalm
Tibi dixit cor meum, quaesivi vultum tuum, vultum tuum, Domine, requiram: ne avertas faciem tuam a me (Ps 26:8,9
("My heart hath said to thee: My face hath sought thee: thy face, O Lord, will I still seek. Turn not away thy face from me")
which is rightfully on the back cover of the Italian edition of JESUS OF NAZARETH but not to be found in the English edition.

John the Baptist
and the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Joy and Gladness Shall Be Thine

Today is the Vigil of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist: eight days after the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
John the Baptist, while yet an infant hidden in Saint Elizabeth's womb, was the first to experience the sweet mediation
of the Virgin Mother's Immaculate Heart.

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It was the God-bearing Virgin's Heart, full of solicitude for her cousin Elizabeth, that moved her to "arise and go with haste
into the hill country, to a city of Judah" (cf. Lk 1:39). There the Mother of God bearing her Son beneath her Immaculate Heart,
"entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth" (Lk 1:40).

The Light of the Real Presence Shining in Her Eyes

This was, in a sense, the first mission of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: to carry the hidden Christ to the "little child"
(Lk 1:76) destined to be the Friend of the Bridegroom (Jn 3:29), the Prophet of the Most High (Lk 1:76).

With the flame of love burning in her Immaculate Heart and the light of the real presence shining in her eyes, Mary "became
in some way a 'tabernacle' - the first tabernacle in history" (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, art. 55).

With the arrival of the Virgin-Tabernacle enclosing within her the 'Dayspring from on high' (Lk 1:78), John the Baptist was
sanctified, washed clean of original sin, and quickened by the Holy Spirit.


The birth of John the Baptist was an occasion of jubilation. Having already been touched by the Heart of Mary, the Cause of
our Joy, the Baptist comes into the world as the Herald of Joy. His prophetic ministry, even as he advances toward a cruel death,
is illumined by a supernatural joy.

"He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the
bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease (Jn 3:29-30).

The Infallible Sign of the Presence of God

For what gift does the Church make us ask in the Collect of tomorrow's solemnity? For 'the grace of spiritual joys'.
Already by his birth, Saint John the Baptist teaches us that the first of these spiritual joys is a living, personal contact
with the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

At every moment, the Mother of God is ready to grace us with her presence. She comes always to reveal the Face of her Son,
hidden now in the Eucharist as He was hidden in the tabernacle of her womb when she visited Elizabeth.

The fruit of that mysterious encounter between the Infant Christ and the Infant Forerunner had the unmistakable taste of
divine joy, the joy that Blessed Abbot Marmion called 'the infallible sign of the presence of God'.

BOTTICELLI, Madonna and Child and the Young St John the Baptist, 1490-95
Tempera on canvas, 134 x 92 cm, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence

Look at this marvelous painting by Botticelli depicting the Mother of God, the Child Jesus and His little cousin, the Baptist.
What I find most striking is that at the very center of the painting is the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The Virgin is holding her Child; he appears heavy in her arms. She bows low to allow the little Baptist to give her Jesus a hug
and a kiss. The small boys appear to be about two years old. The Baptist has to stretch to reach the Face of Jesus; he is
lready dressed in his desert garb and carrying his little wooden staff. The top of the staff has the form of the Cross;
the Cross thus appears directly over the head of the Infant Christ, a portent of His sacrifice.

The Mother of God wears a blood red gown; something about her posture suggests an outpouring of blood, an effusion of
the heart. Just behind the Virgin is a rose bush in full bloom: a symbol of spiritual joys.

Let Me Give Thy Son a Kiss

More than my words ever could, Botticelli's painting suggests that the mission of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is to introduce
all of us, as she did the little Baptist, into a reverent and tender intimacy with her Son.

The Mother of God bends over each of us, her garments dyed red in the Blood that flowed on Calvary, the very Blood that won
for us every spiritual joy. Where the Mother of God is present, there charity is poured out and there spiritual joys abound.
Put yourself today in the position of the child John the Baptist. Ask the Blessed Virgin to let you embrace her Son and
offer Him a kiss. Her Immaculate Heart will not refuse you this.


The blogger is Father Mark, O.Cist. - a Benedictine-Cistercian priest of the Abbey of the Basilica of the Holy Cross of
Jerusalem (Santa Croce in Gerusalemme) in Rome, and I am very glad I discovered his site, as you will be when you visit it.

From another site, here is a recent discussion about the 'historical' John the Baptist from the Redemptorist
Fathers site, written in preparation for June 24. The Sunday homilies on the site are attributed to the "Administrator'
but I have been unable to get his name. For now, I take it on trust that he is quoting recent scholarship accurately.

There is a new interest in the historical John the Baptist. Very recently, in August 2004, some archeologists claimed a discovery of the original cave
of John the Baptist. The evidence so far has not been all that convincing to most scholars, but the jury is still out. It is surely a cave where
devotees of the Baptist honoured him, possibly in slightly later times than his own.

Some recent studies have proposed that John is less a (revivalist) preacher (not an American Southern Baptist!), than a ritualist. He practised a kind of
baptismal ablution like some ceremonies at Qumran. John seems to have acted as if his baptism was the real way of access to the true God,
and thus a better ritual of reconciliation than the Temple cult. He would thus have acted in an anti-Temple vein.

John seems to have been a critic of other Jewish ways of living. He seems to have presented himself as the person in whom the Jews of the day could find
(baptismal) salvation, and, indeed, do so as often as they came to him, with frequent baptisms, and not just one (as has usually been assumed).

John practiced baptism by immersion. [John the Immerser = Jack the Dipper?] He gathered people on the far side of Jordan, as Joshua had gathered the original
chosen people there. They went down to the river. He walked with them through the waters of the Jordan into the Land promised and given to them by the Lord.

John re-enacted this as a land-rights procession in protest against Roman domination of the Land. It is a blatantly political act. Not a pious exhortation, or
'liturgy'. He focused on the radical holiness asked of the people by a Holy God who gave them his own Holy Land. They had to be holy to live there.

John was not like the Pharisees who focused on the ethical implications of the Torah in ordinary civic life. John was a 'desert' man, a real prophet.
But the Pharisees themselves would surely not have been negative to a holiness movement of this kind.

It is not likely that the numbers John attracted where he had been baptizing were very large. Almost no one lived there. Passing travellers, pilgrims en route
to Jerusalem, escapees from the cold of Jerusalem in winter, and the curious (perhaps from Jericho) would have made up his 'audience'. As is obvious, these people
are not 'the poor'.

To go to the people at large, he had to go to more populated areas, that is, to the provinces of Palestine where he had not yet been, Samaria, Judea, and Galilee.
He crossed the Jordan to get to these places. It was itself a re-enactment of the exodus, from desert to the Land. The whole thing was this land-rights
procession, a claim to the Land against the Roman occupation of it. He was telling the people how to live appropriately in this Land that God had given them.

After Jesus was baptized, John's whole operation moved with missionary urgency to the West Bank of the Jordan. John seems to have gone to Samaria
himself, while sending Jesus, his helper(???), to Judea. Jesus worked as a baptist at this time. [Note: he was a Jew]. This means that he worked in the tradition
of John, and preached the message of John.

Jesus himself baptized during this stage of his ministry. This may have been an innovation: someone other than John was doing the baptizing, even though
it was 'with the baptism of John'. Jesus appears to have developed followers of his own, who had, for the most part, been previously followers of the larger
baptist group.

John, at some point, decided to go to Galilee, the only province not yet touched by his message. Galilee was under direct control of Herod Antipas. Some time
prior to 23 CE, Antipas had dismissed his wife and married Herodias, his brother's wife, who was also his niece. As a Jew, and a Jewish Client-Ruler (even if by
Roman placet), he had publicly violated Jewish law.

Almost immediately on coming to Galilee, John engaged in strong public criticism of Antipas. Perhaps he had done so earlier, while he was still in Samaria
(it, like Judea, was not under the control of Antipas, but under direct Roman administration.) Perhaps he had even done so while he was still on the East side
of the Jordan, in Perea, which was under Antipas' control.

It is possible that his motivation in crossing the Jordan into Samaria was not exclusively spiritual, but also included a measure of political safety
for himself. If this is the case, his going to Galilee was, in the circumstances, a courageous option. When he arrived there, he stepped up his criticisms
against Antipas. His motivation in doing so is interesting. It has little directly to do with the sanctity of Jewish or Christian marriage.

Antipas wanted to be accepted as the true Messiah-King, and wanted to be the Messiah-King who would save the Jewish people by inculturating them into
Roman ways of living. In God's Holy Land! His father was a Jew, but his mother had been a Samaritan of Arab blood. He thought that by dismissing
his foreign wife, and marrying someone of the best Maccabean Jewish blood line, he would be more accepted as this kind of Messiah. John objected strongly.

The dismissed wife of Antipas was a Nabatean princess, the daughter of Aretas IV of Petra. When she was rejected, she engineered a visit to the great
fortress of Machaerus in the south of Perea, overlooking the Dead Sea, (still in the territory of Antipas), and then slipped across the border to her
father in Nabatea. Aretas would seek revenge for the insult offered by Antipas to the Nabatean royal family.

This revenge would normally amount to a border war, in which Antipas would be humiliated. Antipas then was politically and militarily vulnerable, and needed
the support of the Jews of Galilee in a particular way at this time. John's public attack on him, and especially on his Messianic aspirations, alienated them.

Antipas had the Baptist arrested, probably initially at Tiberias. Arrest, in those times and places, amounted to much the same thing as elimination, at least
in due time, and perhaps with undue haste, even if without due process. [There are interesting parallels here with the eventual demise of Jesus].

To forestall the Nabatean invasion of Perea, Antipas then moved south to Macherus, and brought his prisoner with him. There he executed him.
Some accept the basic historicity of Mark's story, repeated in Matthew, of the beheading of John at the request of Herodias' dancing daughter, Salome:
others are more hesitant or even negative about it, because there are parallels to the story in earlier Greek literature. In any event, Antipas had
desired to be rid of John for some time.

Aretas won the small border war, and Antipas retreated to Galilee, to a people who believed in the Baptist, and now blamed Antipas's military defeat and
loss of honour on his refusal to heed the Baptist's warning and on his disposal of the Baptist. The entire movement of the Baptist was now intertwined with
major political, and even international agenda.

How important is John the Baptist? He was the only real prophet to emerge among the Jews for a long time. Jesus bought his message, and joined his band.
At that time, Jesus said that of all those born of women, a greater than John had never been seen. The whole Law and the Prophets lead to John. He was Elijah,
risen from the dead.

John had left behind him the scene in Galilee where Jesus would begin his ministry. John introduced Jesus to the religious and political world of the time.
John was the fore-runner of Jesus. Jesus came to Galilee to pick up where John had left off. [No wonder he takes precedence over the Sunday liturgy!]


Father Mark's site made me realise also that I totally missed noting the feast of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher on June 22,
and although I noted the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga on June 21, I did not find the time to do anything about him. Father Mark
helps me make up for both oversights.

It seemed providential that the Church marked the martyrdom of two of the greatest medieval English saints the day before
Tony Blair was to visit Pope Benedict XVI.

July 22
Saints John Fisher and Thomas More

Men of Fire and of Light
by Father Mark, Vultus Christi

Today is the feast of two martyrs, one a bishop and the other a husband, father, lawyer, statesman, and philosopher:
Saints John Fisher and Thomas More.

Both were men of fire and of light. Both fought manfully and suffered the martyrdom of John the Baptist, the Friend
of the Bridegroom of whom Our Lord said, He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while
in his light (Jn 5:35).

The Sun Snatched from the Universe

Saint John Fisher was alone among all the bishops of the realm to stand against Henry VIII in the great affair of
his divorce and against the Act of Supremacy by which the King repudiated the jurisdiction of the Pope over the Church
in England. The Church in England was to become the Church of England.

Protestantization would follow and, above all, the suppression of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered according to the
rite of the Church of Rome. Concerning Holy Mass, Bishop John Fisher had written: "He who goes about to take the Holy Sacrifice
of the Mass from the Church, plots no less a calamity than if he tried to snatch the sun from the universe."

An entire national body of bishops save one broke the bond of their communion with Peter and fell into schism and heresy.
A sobering lesson! There is no security in the Catholic faith apart from a loyal attachment to the See of Peter expressed
in a joyful communion of mind and heart, and in an effective obedience. Today, the Anglican Communion worldwide is torn
and broken apart into factions, and factions of factions. In the absence of a supreme magisterium nothing remains but
opinions and options.

Imitating Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, may we spurn the temptation to prefer 'our way' to The Way and also,
like them, cheerfully and resolutely put nothing before the love of Christ who says: "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and
would that it were already kindled" (Lk 12:49, Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers of the Sacred Heart).

ST. JOHN FISHER, Bishop and Martyr
Died on Tower Hill, London, on June 22, 1535
Canonized in 1935
Feast day formerly on June 13 (Roman calendar) and July 9 (locally).

"Had you but tasted one drop of the sweetness which inebriates the souls of those religious from their worship of
this Sacrament, you would never have written as you have, nor have apostatized from the faith that you formerly professed.

- John Fisher, writing to the bishop of Winchester


The son of a textile merchant who died while John was still a boy, Saint John Fisher was a Catholic of high ideals. He was
equally distinguished as a humanistic scholar, a fosterer of sound learning in others, and a faithful bishop. Educated at
Michaelhouse at Cambridge (since merged into Trinity) from age 14, forever afterwards he was connected with the life of
the university. Fisher was ordained a priest under a special dispensation at the age of 22. He became a doctor of divinity,
master of Michaelhouse, and vice chancellor.

In 1502, he resigned his mastership to become the chaplain of the king's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, countess of Richmond
and Derby. Under his direction, Lady Margaret founded Christ's College and Saint John's College at Cambridge, and established
there and at Oxford a Lady Margaret divinity chair. Because of this and other princely gifts, she has come to be regarded as
Cambridge's greatest benefactress.

Fisher's contributions have not been as readily recognized. He was the first to fill the divinity chair at Cambridge. But more
important than that, he himself endowed scholarships, provided for Greek and Hebrew in the curriculum, and engaged his friend,
the famous humanist, Erasmus, as a professor of divinity and Greek at a time was the school's scholarship was at its lowest ebb.
Before that no Greek or Hebrew was taught, and the library had been reduced to 300 volumes. In 1504, Fisher was elected
chancellor of the university. As such he did much to further the growth and progress of his alma mater, of which he may
justly be considered the second founder.

John Fisher lived in the last days of Catholic England and reached high office under Henry VII. After serving as chaplain
to his patron Margaret Beaufort, he was appointed bishop of Rochester in 1504. He was only 35 years old, young to be
a bishop. He accepted the office warily, as it added greatly to his responsibilities (he was still university chancellor until
his death). It was the smallest and poorest diocese in England, but so great was his love for it that, later, he refused
the richer sees of Ely and Lincoln, saying he "would not leave his poor old wife for the richest widow in England."
The climate was so damp and the state of his palace so ruinous that Erasmus, when staying with him, was appalled;
yet for 30 years Fisher chose to remain there and was one of the most faithful of the English bishops of the period.

Fisher was a zealous and thorough pastor. He regularly made visitations, administered confirmation, disciplined his clergy,
visited the sick poor, and distributed alms with his own hands. His personal life was strict and simple. "He kept a good table
for every one but himself." He was such an articulate preacher that when King Henry VII died in 1509, he preached the funeral
sermon, as he did for Lady Margaret in her turn.

He discharged his public offices with dignity and courage. His reputation both at home and abroad was that of a great and
distinguished figure. In the words of Erasmus: "There is not in the nation a more learned man nor a holier bishop." Henry VIII,
before Fisher had roused his vindictive rage, openly gloried "that no other prince or kingdom had so distinguished a prelate."

During this time, he continued to write books and pursue his own studies, beginning to learn Greek at age 48, and Hebrew at 51.
Fisher lived austerely, sleeping and eating little, and he kept a skull in front of him at meals to remind himself of his
mortality. He formed one of the most exceptional libraries in Europe with the intention of bequeathing it to the university.

Fisher fully realized the urgent need of reform in the church, from popes and bishops downwards, but was opposed to Lutheran
ideas of reform and wrote four weighty volumes against them. He preached at Paul's Cross in defense of Christian doctrine
when Luther's books were banned and burned. Yet he preferred prayer and example before controversy.

With the utmost boldness and not without justification, Fisher censured the clergy at a synod in the presence of Cardinal
Wolsey himself for their corruption, vanity, laxity, and love of gain. Most of the higher clergy had won their preferments
through secular service to the state or by private interest. As a member of the House of Lords, Fisher vigorously opposed
the government's policy of war and criticized the measures against the clergy that were being forced through the Commons.

He uttered another great protest in convocation when that assembly was called upon to agree that Henry VIII was the head
of the Church of England. He did suggest adding to the oath the words, "So far as the law of Christ allows" which smoothed
the path of many who signed. But boldest of all was his uncompromising attitude to the scandalous divorce of
Catherine of Aragon by Henry.

As Queen Catherine's confessor, he appeared on her behalf before the commissioners at Blackfriars in 1529 and also spoke
and wrote vigorously against it. This infuriated the king and when, later, Fisher refused to take the Oath of Supremacy
acknowledging the king to be head of the English Church, he was deprived of his bishopric and committed to the Tower.

The warnings of friends and the threats of his enemies were not necessary to bring home to Fisher the danger he now ran
by his opposition to the ruling powers. Despite being imprisoned for two short periods, and being the object of poisoning and
a shooting attempt, Fisher persisted in espousing his views. Thomas Cromwell unsuccessfully tried to link him with Elizabeth
Barton, the 'Holy Maid of Kent,' a nun who had trances and made personal attacks upon Henry for trying to divorce the queen.

He was summoned to Lambeth, despite being so ill that he fainted on the road between Rochester and London, to sign the oath
of the bill of succession. He refused, because it was in essence an oath of supremacy. He was at Rochester at the time he was
arrested, and from the country round people flocked into the city to bid him farewell. After settling his affairs and making gifts
to the poor, he rode bareheaded through the streets giving his blessing to the crowd.

On his arrival in London, when confronted with the Oath he replied: "My answer is that forasmuch as mine own conscience
cannot be satisfied, I do absolutely refuse the Oath. I do not condemn any other men's consciences. Their consciences may save
them, and mine must save me." In April 1534, the 66-year-old prelate began a 15- month imprisonment in the Tower of London,
his property was confiscated, and he was stripped of his offices. A confidential messenger from Henry asked him to declare,
for the king's ears alone, his opinion on royal supremacy. His negative opinion sealed his conviction.

During this time Pope Paul III named him a cardinal. King Henry was furious, and within a month Fisher was brought to trial in
Westminster Hall, charged with treason in that he had denied the king's ecclesiastical supremacy and found guilty. Some of
the judges cried as "the most holy and learned prelate in Christendom" was sentenced to death on June 17, 1535.

On a June morning a few days later, John was awakened at 5:00 a.m. and told that he was to be executed that day. He asked
to rest a little longer and slept for two hours. So frail and emaciated by illness that he could barely stand, Fisher
was carried in a chair from the Tower to the place of execution.

He courteously thanked his guards for their attentive trouble and pains. Saying that he was dying for he faith, he asked
the people to pray that he might have courage. He carried his little New Testament, and at Tower Gate opened it at the words:
"This is life eternal, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. I have glorified Thee
upon the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do" (John 17:3-5).

Closing the book, he said: "Here is learning enough for me to my life's end." As he mounted the scaffold, facing the morning sun,
he lifted his hands and cried: "They had an eye unto Him, and were lightened; and their faces were not ashamed." Then kneeling
in prayer, he repeated Psalm 31, In Thee, O Lord, have I put my trust (others say that he died with the words of the Te Deum
on his lips), and was beheaded with an axe.

His friend Thomas More wrote of Saint John of Rochester: "I reckon in this realm no one man, in wisdom, learning, and long
approved virtue together, meet to be matched and compared with him."

John Fisher was buried in the churchyard of All Hallows, Barking, without rites or a shroud. His head was exhibited on London
Bridge for two weeks, then was thrown into the Thames.

In art, Saint John Fisher is shown robed as a cardinal, with haggard ascetic features, or with an axe or his hat at his feet.

Born in London, England, 1478
Died there in 1535
Canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935
as the 'Martyr of the Papacy'
Feast day formerly on July 6.

Fr. Mark says this icon of Saint Thomas More
"is by the graced hand of Brother Claude Lane,
O.S.B., monk of Mount Angel Abbey."

"If I am distracted, Holy Communion helps me become recollected. If opportunities are offered by each day to offend my God,
I arm myself anew each day for the combat by reception of the Eucharist. If I am in need of special light and prudence
in order to discharge my burdensome duties, I draw nigh to my Savior and seek counsel and light from Him."

"These things, good Lord, that we pray for, give us Thy grace to labor for."

"It is a shorter thing and sooner done, to write heresies, than to answer them."

- Saint Thomas More.

Thomas More studied at Canterbury Hall, Oxford, and read law at the Inns of Court, being called to the bar in 1501. Thomas was
happiest in the bosom of his family - three generations living under one roof in Chelsea, and the congenial group of poets,
scientists, and humanists that often gathered in his home, rather than at court.

Henry VIII was a man of rare personal magnetism; even Sir Thomas yielded to his charm. Thomas's daughter Margaret married
Roper, who writes of More's friendship with Henry VIII: when the king had finished his devotions on holy days, he would talk
to More about diverse matters, often far into the night.

More often dined with the king and queen. Thomas would try to get two days per month to spend with his family, but he would be
recalled to court. So Thomas tried to change his disposition before the king to be less likable, until the king started to come
to Chelsea with Thomas and to be merry there. He recognized early that Henry's whims might prove dangerous to Thomas's health
and life.

More had considered the priesthood in his youth, and of joining the Franciscans, but his confessor advised against it. In 1505,
he married Jane Colt, though it is said he preferred her younger sister. She bore him four children: Margaret (married Roper);
Elizabeth, Cecily, and John. In the evening, Jane would study
for an hour or two because Thomas wished her to be a scholar, or she would sing or play the clavichord. Jane died in 1510.

Soon after Jane's death, he married Alice Middleton, an older woman. Margaret, the eldest child, was five. Alice was unlearned,
but had a great sense of humor. Thomas scolded her for her vanity and she reproached him for his lack of ambition.

More cared strongly for his children and their education, especially for Margaret. His home was a menagerie of birds, monkeys,
foxes, ferrets, weasels, etc.

More rose rapidly in public life despite his lack of ambition. He was a renowned lawyer and elected to Parliament in 1504 (
at age 22). In 1510, he was appointed Undersheriff of London; 1518, Secretary to Henry VIII; 1521, he was knighted; 1523,
chosen Speaker of Parliament; 1529, Lord Chancellor in succession to Cardinal Wolsey. Nevertheless, he continued to read, study,
and write, and is known more as a scholar than as a jurist. Yet he was realistic and wrote in Utopia (1516), "philosophy had
no place among is not possible for all things to be well, unless all men were good, which I think will not be
this good many years."

He had a horror of luxury and worldly pomp. He found the lies and flatteries of court nauseating. It wearied him to be
constantly at the King's command. He felt the scholars life was conducive to a virtuous life of piety toward God and service
of his neighbor.

Virtue and religion were the supreme concerns of his life. He considered pride the chief danger of education. Education
should inculcate a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly possessions, along with a spirit of gentleness.

During Henry's reign, 12,000 people were put to death for theft. Thomas as Chancellor was hesitant to apply the death
penalty to heretics.

More was a leader of the humanists, champion of the study of Greek and Latin classics, sympathetic to the Renaissance, and
an advocate of needed Church reform; yet he was grounded in the Catholic tradition of the Middle Ages. He was also a friend
of Erasmus. In 1527, Erasmus wrote in a letter, "I wrote the Praise of Folly in times of peace; I should never have written it
if I had foreseen this tempest" of the Reformation.

Again, Erasmus in a letter to a monk about to leave his monastery, "...I see no one becoming better, every one becoming
worse, so that I am deeply grieved that in my writings I once preached the liberty of the spirit....What I desired then
was that the abatement of external ceremonies might much redound to the increase of true piety. But as it is, the ceremonies
have been so destroyed that in place of them we have not the liberty of the spirit but the unbridled license of the flesh....
What liberty is that which forbids us to say our prayers, and forbids us the sacrifice of the Mass?"

Thomas More did not think his Utopia, which is written in Latin, could be safely read by the multitude.

Thomas was imprisoned in the Tower, because he would not help Henry VIII put away Catherine of Aragon and supplant the Pope
as the head of the Church of England. Thomas More did not wish to die. "I am not so holy that I dare rush upon death," he declared.
"Were I so presumptuous, God might suffer me to fall." But he could not accept that Henry VIII was supreme head of the church.
He resigned rather than be seen to support the king's divorce.

Thomas More and John Fisher, two of the noblest men England ever produced, were both sent to the Tower in 1534 for refusing
to take the Oath of Succession, which would obligate them to recognize Anne Boleyn's children as heirs to the Crown.
Both said they would swear allegiance to any heir the king and Parliament would agree upon, but this was not satisfactory
to Boleyn.

Next Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which made it high treason to refuse to accept the king as the only head
on earth of the Church of England. More was brought to trial on the perjured testimony of Richard Rich and defended himself
against the inferred act of treason.

He was convicted of high treason, and martyred for his steadfast defense of the indissolubility of marriage and the supremacy
of the pope. After the sentence was issued, he broke his silence. On the scaffold, he said simply, "I have been ever the king's
good and loyal servant, but God's first".

In art, Saint Thomas wears a scholar's cap, furred gown, and the chain of the Chancellor of England. A chalice, Host,
and papal insignia may be near him.

He is the patron saint of lawyers, judges, civil servants, politicians, statesmen, large families and troubled marriages.

00domenica 24 giugno 2007 23.42
June 24
Nativity of John the Baptist

PIETRO BERNINI, St John the Baptist, 1612-15
Marble, height: 243 cm, Sant'Andrea della Valle, Rome

FRA BARTOLOMEO, The Holy Family with St John the Baptist, 1506-07
Oil on panel, 62 x 47 cm, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

John the Baptist, the last of the prophets and the forerunner of our Lord, was a man of the desert. The son of a priestly line, born of aged parents
as if by a miracle, was brought up as a Nazarite, that is, dedicated from birth to God's service with lifelong obligations never to shave, take wine,
or indulge in human pleasures.

He lived in the wilderness, a rugged and magnetic figure, clothed in the skin of a camel, living on locusts and wild honey.

He is the most startling figure in the Gospel narrative, a man of mystery, not as other men, bronzed by the desert sun, with piercing words of ominous
malediction, uncompromising and aggressive. No greater contrast can be imagined than the appearance by the river of this prophet of fire and the figure of
Jesus as 'the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.'

Crowds followed him, held by his hypnotic power and rugged eloquence and lashed by his bitter invective. "You offspring of vipers, who has warned you
to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth fruits meet for repentance. The axe is laid to the rotten trees. The wheat is being threshed and
the stubble burnt in the empty fields." It was the voice of the old dispensation, the last echo of Moses and Elijah, the final challenge of the fire and
thunder of the God of the ancient Jews.

But John also prepared the way for Jesus, and with all his fierceness exercised a vital and realistic ministry. With it went a surprising humility and tenderness,
for he recognized his own limitations and that he was but a forerunner and a road-builder; and when the time came, he graciously made way for our Lord.

He shrank even from the thought of baptizing Him, and spoke of Him with wonder and devotion. I am not the Christ, he said, I am but a voice. "He that comes
after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear."

ANDREI RUBLEV, St. John the Precursor, Moscow

His end was tragic, the result of a squalid intrigue. With characteristic boldness he had denounced the unlawful marriage of the infamous Herodias, and,
as a result, had been thrown into the gloomy fortress of Machaerus on the shores of the Dead Sea.

Then, to gratify the cruel and frivolous whim of a dancing girl, Salome, the daughter of Herodias, who had been prompted by her mother, Herod, to his own disgust,
but unwilling to take back his word, put him to death, and there followed the shameful display of his head on a charger.

Thus ended the life of this sublime and extraordinary figure who blazed the trail for our Lord. The disciples gave his body decent burial and then broke
the tragic news to Jesus, who, overcome by grief and unable to face the crowds that thronged Him, took a boat and retired for a while to a desert place apart.


The Baptist is one of the most painted subjects in art history. The Bernini sculpture in Sant'Andrea della Valle is a personal favorite because it shows
the Baptist as I imagined from the first childhood stories I heard about him and also because for years, it was the most accessible for me, sopmething I could visit
at will. But there are dozens of memorable paintings and sculptures good for multiple posts. I am still looking online for my favorite painting of the boy John
by the Spanish painter Murillo....The Baptist is one of my most invoked saints, if only because he figures twice in the mysteries of the Rosary, and I generally say
a little prayer to the principal protagonists of each mystery before I go to the Our Father...

Meanwhile, here's Father Mark's meditation today on John the Baptist, which he illustrates with the famous Bronzino painting of John as a young man:

BRONZINO, Agnolo. St John the Baptist, 1550-55
Oil on wood, 120 x 92 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome

'Ah, I Cannot Speak'

At today's Office of Vigils, the stammering words of the prophet Jeremiah were placed in the mouth of the Saint John the Baptist:
"Ah, ah, ah, Lord God;
behold, I cannot speak, for I am a child" (Jer 1:6). The First Reading uses the words of the prophet Isaiah in the same way. This is the liturgy's way of
telling us that John is the greatest of the prophets, greater than Isaiah and Jeremiah put together, and that he is more than a prophet.

John's mysterious greatness in the plan of salvation is no mere human choice; it is something divine in origin. Saint John himself said, "A man cannot
receive any thing, unless it be given him from heaven" (Jn 3:27).

"The Lord," he says, "hath called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother he hath been mindful of my name" (Is 49:1). This certainty makes the Baptist
very humble. He does not want to be mistaken for more than he really is. "You yourselves do bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not Christ, but that I am sent before him'" (Jn 3:28).

From his tender childhood John knows that he is sent before One who is greater than himself. John's father, the priest Zechariah, must have repeated to him
many times over what he sang under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on the eighth day after his birth: "And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest;
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways"(Lk 1:76-77). In the monastic tradition, the same text is chanted at the clothing of a novice.
John the Baptist remains, for all time, the model of the monk: child, prophet, herald, and friend of the Bridegroom.

Hieronymus BOSCH, St John the Baptist in the Wilderness
Oil on panel, 48 x 40 cm, Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid

Saint Luke tells us that John grew and became strong in spirit and lived hidden in the wilderness anticipating the moment set by God for his appearance to Israel.
We can only wonder what transpired between the young prophet and the God of Israel during those years of hidden life in the desert. John, like Jesus, is prepared
for his mission by years of silence, far from the multitudes and the tumult of the cities. We are reminded of the words of Hosea, "Thou shalt know no God but me,
and there is no Saviour beside me. I knew thee in the desert, in the land of the wilderness" (Os 13:4-5). The earliest hermits and monks of the Church looked to
Saint John the desert-dweller as their model and advocate. John is the friend of all those who seek the Face of God in silence; he is the friend of those
who live a humble life, 'hidden with Christ in God' (Col 3:3).

I was struck last night while singing the Great Responsory at First Vespers by the play on the word eremus; it means both desert and hermitage or monastery.
The Responsory suggests that the role of Saint John the Baptist remains actual, especially in the context of the eremitical or cenobitical monastic life.
His is "the voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths" (Mk 1:3).

When, after years of preparation in the desert, John speaks, he does so out of a profound interior silence, and it is that causes his words to flash like fire
bringing sinners to repentance. In Orientale Lumen, Pope John Paul II insisted on the necessity of silence for all Christians:

"We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of Him who is adored; in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential
and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to
cover it with a veil (cf. Ex 34:33), and that our gatherings may make room for God's presence and avoid self-celebration; in preaching, so as not to delude
ourselves that it is enough to heap word upon word to attract people to the experience of God; in commitment, so that we will refuse to be locked in a struggle
without love and forgiveness.

"This is what man needs today; he is often unable to be silent for fear of meeting himself, of feeling the emptiness that asks itself about meaning; man who deafens
himself with noise. All, believers and non-believers alike, need to learn a silence that allows the Other to speak when and how he wishes, and allows us to understand
his words. (OL 16)

Silence prepared and sustained the preaching of Saint John the Baptist; and it was in silence, in the mysterious encounter with the Lord of the desert that John
became profoundly humble. Humility is not an attitude that can be improvised and cultivated from without. Humility blossoms from within. True humility,
Christian humility is the fruit of the experience of God, an experience that throws us to the ground with our foreheads in the dust, an experience that
fills us with the spirit of adoration.

The link between humility and adoration cannot be emphasized enough. The adoring soul will be humble; the humble soul will adore. John emerges from the silence
of the desert a profoundly humble man. In the desert he came face to face with God and everything in him became adoration.

Saint John insists that his mission is one of humble preparation: "I am not he whom you think me to be: but behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes
of his feet I am not worthy to loose" (Ac 13:25). The people are impressed by this wild-looking prophet who comes out of years of silence and austerity
in the desert.

John dispels all ambiguity concerning his own person. "I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He that hath the bride, is the bridegroom" (Jn 3:29).
Even when admiring crowds gather around him and respond to his word, John remains utterly lucid. His humility is not swayed; he is at the service of the Bridegroom,
and to the Bridegroom alone belongs the bride.

Saint John gives himself the most beautiful title to which a servant of Christ, especially a priest, can aspire. John is the friend of the Bridegroom.
"The friend of the bridegroom," he says, "who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth with joy because of the bridegroom's voice. This my joy, therefore, is fulfilled.
He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3:29-30).

The vocation of John, the humble friend of the Bridegroom, was to be visible only for a time. "He was a burning and shining lamp," says Our Lord, "and you were
willing to rejoice for a while in his light"(Jn 5:35). John's shining light was to be hidden away in the darkness of a prison cell. The Bridegroom had
arrived; the Friend of the Bridegroom had to disappear.

The voice of John the Baptist had been heard crying in the wilderness, denouncing sin, calling men to justice and sinners to repentance. But, then,
the voice of the Eternal Father was heard, coming from heaven: "Thou art my Son, the Beloved; with thee I am well pleased" (Lk 3:22). After this, the voice
of the Baptist was heard less and less, until finally, it was silenced by death, a cruel and ignominious death not unlike the immolation of the Lamb
which it prefigured.

Today's solemnity confirms and deepens the monastic call to silence and to humility. Graced from the womb of his mother in view of an extraordinary mission,
Saint John the Baptist served the designs of the Father for the length of time and in the place determined by the Father's loving providence.

"Sent from God, he came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light"
(Jn 1:6-8).

John the Baptist knew that he was destined to return to the hidden life, to a life of silence and obscurity, like the grain of wheat which falls into the earth
and dies in order to bear much fruit (Jn 12:24). He shows us that every vocation is subject to mysterious and unexpected turns and yes, every vocation is subject
to the mystery of the Cross, sometimes in dramatic ways, but more often in the humble obscurity of day to day existence. These things are necessary if we are to
decrease and allow the Lord Jesus to increase. To each one of us, Saint John the Baptist says: "Prepare to disappear."

Saint John the Baptist shows us that the hidden and silent life is a necessary and inescapable part of discipleship. A vocation that is not marked with the sign
of the Cross is suspect. A life that is without its moments of obscurity, silence and apparent uselessness, does not bear the imprint of the Lamb. The more
a soul is surrendered to the love of the Bridegroom, the more deeply will that soul be marked by the Cross.

Ultimately, the sign of the authenticity of the mission of Saint John the Baptist is his participation in the Passion and Cross of Jesus, in Jesus's paschal
humiliation, in Jesus's going down into the valley of the shadow of death. And the sign that any vocation is blessed by God is that it is marked by the Cross.

Just for good measure, let me re-post here the Verrocchio painting of the Baptism of Christ, first posted on Page 3 of this thread, with some notes about the painting.
The young Leonardo, who was an apprentice to Verrocchio, is thought to have painted the angel holding the robe...Strangely, there are not many paintings of the Baptism of Christ.

Andrea del Verrocchio, The Baptism of Christ, ca. 1475?
Painting on wood, 171x151 cm , Uffizi, Florence

Piero della Francesca, Baptism of Christ, 1448-50
Tempera on panel, 167 x 116 cm, National Gallery, London

Sorry, I had trouble earlier accessing the Giotto cycle in the Arena Chapel of Padua - his Baptism of Jesus antedates the other
two by some one-and-a-half centuries...The colors are remarkably vivid...

Giotto, Baptism of Christ, 1304-06
Fresco, 200 x 185 cm, Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua
00sabato 30 giugno 2007 20.08
I obviously missed this completely, and I feel very badly because I do invoke Our Mother of Perpetual Help everyday -
the Redemptorist shrine to her in Manila is our largest Marian sanctuary in the Philippines and draws thousands
and thousands of pilgrims throughout the day every Wednesday, which is the day dedicated to her, and of course, on Sundays.

Father Mark in his blog Vultus Christi shares this Mass celebration and meditation with us. The lectionary of the day
is extraordinarily beautiful.

June 27
Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help


ROME - This morning I walked to the Church of Sant' Alfonso, the Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
It was quiet and peaceful there with but a few pilgrims kneeling before the miraculous icon.
Earlier, I had celebrated the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Perpetual Help in the Chapel of
San Gregorio here at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

Rejoice we all in the Lord,
as we keep festival in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
whose solemnity makes angels joyful
and sets them praising the Son of God.
V. Joyful the thoughts that well up from my heart,
I shall speak of the works of the King (Ps 44:2).

is a magnificent festal chant originally composed for the virgin martyr Saint Agatha,
and then adapted to other occasions. It is used on a number of other feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
making it familiar enough to be sung with a certain jubilant ease. The gentle balancing of the first-mode
melody evokes the ceaseless, sweeping joys of the heavenly liturgy celebrated by "the voice of
many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands" (Ap 5:11). The verse,
drawn from Psalm 44, the exuberant messianic wedding song, is placed in the mouth of the Church,
the Bride of Christ, as she declares the wonders wrought through the intercession of the Virgin Mother
of Perpetual Help.

Lord Jesus Christ, by whose gift Mary Thy Mother,
that Mary whose glorious image we revere,
is our Mother too, and ready at all times to succour us,
we pray Thee grant that we,
who earnestly beg her maternal help,
may be counted worthy to reap through all eternity
the fruit of Thy redeeming work.
Thou who art God living and reigning with God the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever.

As are many liturgical prayers of recent composition, the Collect is
addressed to Christ rather than to the Father. Orations addressed to the Son are exceptional in
the Roman liturgy; in the East they are the norm. While it is not traditional to direct the Collect
to the Son in the classic Roman liturgy, there are moments when it can be quite fitting to do so.
The feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help may be one of those moments.

The Collect refers straightaway to the gift of the Virgin Mary's motherhood extended to every
disciple of her Son, the very mystery that will be evoked in the Gospel; and to the veneration
of her glorious image. It acknowledges that Mary is perpetually ready to help us, and asks that,
through her motherly power, we may reap through all eternity the fruit of Christ's redemption.
The last phrase is certainly an allusion to the charism of the Redemptorists, custodians of
the miraculous icon and, in the tradition of Saint Alphonsus, tireless preachers of Mary's
universal mediation and inexhaustible clemency.

Reading (Ecclesiasticus 24:23-31)
As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odour:
and my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches.
I am the mother of fair love, and of fear,
and of knowledge, and of holy hope.
In me is all grace of the way and of the truth,
in me is all hope of life and of virtue.
Come over to me, all ye that desire me,
and be filled with my fruits.
For my spirit is sweet above honey,
and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb.
My memory is unto everlasting generations.
They that eat me, shall yet hunger:
and they that drink me, shall yet thirst.
He that hearkeneth to me, shall not be confounded:
and they that work by me, shall not sin.
They that explain me shall have life everlasting.

I so regret that the reformed liturgy uses this text so sparingly in the context
of Marian feasts. It is quoted by all the great Marian doctors and mystics. It articulates
the ineffable experience of those who, having consecrated themselves to Mary, found themselves
inwardly changed. The very last line is a promise to those who promote the icon of Our Mother
of Perpetual Help and explain its significance.

All lovely and gentle art thou,
daughter of Sion;
beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun,
terrible as an army drawn up for battle (Ct 6:3,9).
V. What blessing the power of the Lord hath granted thee,
making use of thee to bring our enemies to nothing (Jud 13:22).

The Gradual artfully juxtaposes two traditional Marian texts. In the Canticle
of Canticles the Church sees her as lovely, gentle, beautiful, radiant and . . . terrible as
an army drawn up for battle. The imagery is related to that of the "woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Ap 12:1).

The verse from the book of Judith says that it has pleased God to grant Mary a singular blessing,
that of bringing our enemies to nothing. Again, this reflects the experiece of the Church through
the ages, as well as the intimate experience of the saints who, in the thick of spiritual combat,
had recourse to Mary and prevailed over the powers of darkness.

Alleluia, alleluia.
V. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women (Lk 1:28).

The Alleluia Verse repeats the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation
at Nazareth; but here the words of the Angel serve to introduce another annunciation, the words of
Jesus from the Cross on Calvary.

Gospel (John 19:25-27)
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother,
and his mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen.
When Jesus therefore had seen his mother
and the disciple standing whom he loved,
he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son.
After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother.
And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.

The words of Our Lord to His beloved disciple, "Behold thy mother,"
are an invitation to contemplate Mary. In the context of today's feast of the icon of the Blessed
Virgin Mary of Perpetual Help, the words of the Crucified invite us to behold our Mother as she is
depicted in her miraculous image.

"And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own" (Jn 19:27). Wheresoever the image of Our Mother
of Perpetual Help is given a place of honour, Mary herself is welcomed and received there.
It has been said that there is scarcely a family in Ireland without an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

I have heard similar reports coming from the Philippines and from Haiti. When families,
communities, and individuals welcome an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in their homes,
they are, in effect, imitating the Apostle Saint John. The presence of the icon expresses a spiritual
desire to abide with Mary and to remain beneath her gaze in an attitude of total consecration to her.

Remember, O Virgin Mother,
where thou standest before the face of God,
to plead on our behalf,
and to avert His anger from us
(Jer 18:20).

The Church lifts this text directly from the prophet Jeremiah and, in the liberty
that comes from the Holy Spirit, addresses it to the Virgin Mother. The antiphon acknowledges that
Mary stands before the face of God to plead on our behalf: a clear allusion to her role as
Mediatrix and Advocate. As Mediatrix, Mary participates in the work of her risen and ascended Son;
as Advocate, she participates in the work of the Holy Spirit. We ask her to plead on our behalf that,
in spite of our sins, the anger of God may be turned away from us.

By thy gracious mercy, O Lord,
and at the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary,
let this offering bring us prosperity and peace,
now and forevermore.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
Who is God, living and reigning with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever.

Here the gracious mercy of God and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin meet.
The Most Holy Eucharist is the fulfillment of what God, in His mercy, seeks to give us, and
of what Mary, in her maternal solicitide, seeks to obtain for us: prosperity and peace.

Most worthy Queen of the world,
O Mary ever-virgin,
who didst bear Christ, the Lord and Saviour of us all,
intercede for our peace and salvation.

It is unusual that a Communion Antiphon should be addressed to the Mother of God.
Here the Church calls her "most worthy Queen of the world" and "Mary ever-virgin who didst bear Christ,
the Lord and Saviour of us all." All who partake of the Sacred Mysteries become, with Mary,
bearers of Christ, the Lord and Saviour of all. The peace and salvation for which we ask
Mary's intercession, are given us sacramentally in Holy Communion.

May the august intercession
of Thy immaculate and ever-virgin Mother Mary help us,
we beseech Thee, O Lord,
that through her lovingkindness,
we, upon whom she has heaped lasting benefits,
may be freed from every peril
and made one in heart and mind.
Thou who art God, living and reigning with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever.

This prayer alludes to the countless favours attributed to Our Mother
of Perpetual Help. She has, in fact, "heaped lasting benefits" on those devoted to her.
She continues to do so. We ask that we may be freed from the perils that threaten our souls
and bodies, and we pray that the full effect of the Most Holy Eucharist be given us,
that is: oneness in heart and mind.

The Redemptorists offer the Mass of Our Lady of Perpetual Help as celebrated in the current
reformed liturgy found here-
00venerdì 6 luglio 2007 15.45
Having failed to appropriately mark June 29 on this thread, I am glad Elizabeth Lev has written the following for ZENIT.
I may still come back to post something appropriate. Maybe during the pope's three-week summer vacation, I will have
a breathing spell to catch up and make up for many things I have failed to do for lack of time.

Grim Beginnings; Rome's Duality
Italians Mark Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, JULY 5, 2007 ( June 29 reigns as one of the most glorious holidays in Rome. For the solemnity
of Sts. Peter and Paul, the basilicas of the two great martyrs are decked in all their finery. The freshly polished
baldachin of St. Peter's glistens, the marble floors of St. Paul's gleam, the bronze statue of St. Peter is adorned
with a splendid tiara, ring and cope, and both churches are filled with fragrant red roses to symbolize and honor
their martyrdoms.

But the origins of this grand feast day were in a far grimmer place. We find them, not in a glamorously festooned
basilica, nor in a sunny piazza, but in the dark, dank, underground chamber of the Mamertine prison. The "carcer"
or prison of Rome was a small underground cell, next door to the Senate building and described in 40 B.C. by
Roman author Sallust as "12 feet deep, closed all around by strong walls and a stone vault. Its aspect is repugnant
and fearsome from its neglect, darkness and stench."

The prison was not used for long-term incarceration - that was not a Roman practice - but for execution of
defeated enemy rulers after they had walked in the triumphal parade of the victorious generals. Thus King Jugurtha
of Numidia was left to starve underground by Gaius Marius and Vercingetorix was strangled in the wake
of Caesar's triumph.

But for all the famous warriors who defied Rome, it would be a fisherman and a tent maker, imprisoned just
a few feet away from where Caesar had been cremated and deified, who would overthrow the empire.

According to tradition, Peter and Paul were imprisoned by Emperor Nero after the apostles had exposed the deceits
of Simon Magus. The two apostles were in the custody of two Roman soldiers, Processus and Martinian.

These two guards were converted by Peter and Paul and longed to be baptized, but no water was to be had in
the foul prison. So Peter struck the ground with his staff causing water to bubble forth. Cleansed of original sin
by the prince of the apostles himself, Processus and Martinian also became witnesses to Christ, following Peter and
Paul as martyrs. Their feast day falls three days later on July 2.

On June 29, Peter and Paul were taken from their prison. The two men saluted each other one last time before Paul
was led out the eastern gate of Rome to be beheaded and Peter was brought west to the Vatican hill where he was
crucified upside down.

To this day, the basilicas of St. Peter's and St. Paul Outside the Walls face each other from opposite sides of
the city watching over and protecting Rome in their embrace. Halfway between the two, the Mamertine prison
lies hidden under the 16th-century church of St. Joseph of the Carpenters.

Since the fourth century, pilgrims have come to visit the little cell, to see the rock where the apostles were
chained, the fountain formed by Peter's staff and remember the humble beginnings of Christianity in Rome.

Sacred and Profane

Sts. Peter and Paul are the patrons of Rome, and even with the secularization of Italy and various political
vicissitudes, patron days remain major holidays. Even Bologna under communist administration honored the feast of
St. Petronius. Everything - banks, supermarkets and gas stations - are closed for the day, and the streets are
devoid of the daily Roman traffic.

Side by side with the religious celebrations, however, entertainment and activities that seem to have no relation
to the supreme sacrifice of the martyrs animate the day. But in Rome, the sacred and profane often meet in
unexpected places.

In the Rome of Early Christianity, the Romans celebrated June 29 with processions, accompanying the Pope to
the three churches associated with the martyrs. From St. Peter's Basilica, they made their way to St. Paul
Outside the Walls and ended at the catacombs in Basilica of St. Sebastian.

The remains of Sts. Peter and Paul were removed to the catacombs of St. Sebastian during the era of persecutions
for safekeeping. In fact, several scholars suppose that June 29 was the date of the return of the relics to their
original sites rather than the day of the martyrdoms.

The Romans have always loved festivities, and gradually the solemn processions were followed by spectacles, music
and banquets. As with the solemnity of the Epiphany, where the solemn Masses for the Three Wise Men were
complemented by the child's tale of the Befana, yesterday Rome exhibited its dual nature again.

While Benedict XVI distributed the pallium to the new archbishops, and diaconate ordinations were taking place,
300 volunteer organizations were setting up stands in the city center for the "Notte Bianca," or white night,
evocative of pagan celebrations of the summer solstice, when stores, museums and restaurants remain open all night.

Watching the Romans dancing in the streets in the shadow of the pagan temples of Hercules and Portunus, one's
first impression might be that Rome had come full circle to when St. Paul first disembarked on the shores of the Tiber.

But a closer look showed that the evening paid homage to Italians who volunteer their time and talents, from
firemen to teachers, and that a theme was to encourage the Romans to offer assistance to those in need. In this
light, the evening bore a surprising similarity to early Christian Rome, where even the Emperor Julian the Apostate
was impressed by the "impious Galileans, who take care of their own poor and ours."

Granted, many of these organizations are still a long way from the spirit of Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI's
first encyclical, but a willingness to give of oneself is certainly a step in the right direction.

The spirit of Sts. Peter and Paul didn't limit itself to healing social breaches, but also seemed to unite political
divides. Two opposing political factions cooperated to celebrate Italian volunteers and their works.

For this special day, the sacred and profane in Rome didn't clash, but complemented each other in bringing out
the best of the Italians.

00mercoledì 11 luglio 2007 16.31
simplified my task today regarding

July 11


On the occasion of the dedication of the rebuilt monastery of Monte Cassino in 1964, Pope Paul VI proclaimed St. Benedict
the principal, heavenly patron of the whole of Europe. The title piously exaggerates the place of Benedict but in many
respects it is true.

St. Benedict did not establish the monastery of Monte Cassino in order to preserve the learning of the ages, but in fact
the monasteries that later followed his Rule were places where learning and manuscripts were preserved. For some six
centuries or more the Christian culture of medieval Europe was nearly identical with the monastic centers of piety
and learning.

Saint Benedict was not the founder of Christian monasticism, since he lived two and a half to three centuries after its
beginnings in Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor. He became a monk as a young man and thereafter learned the tradition by
associating with monks and reading the monastic literature. He was caught up in the monastic movement but ended by
channeling the stream into new and fruitful ways. This is evident in the Rule which he wrote for monasteries and which was
and is still used in many monasteries and convents around the world.

Tradition teaches that St. Benedict lived from 480 to 547, though we cannot be sure that these dates are historically accurate.
His biographer, St. Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 604, does not record the dates of his birth and death, though he
refers to a Rule written by Benedict. Scholars debate the dating of the Rule though they seem to agree that it was written
in the second third of the sixth century.

Saint Gregory wrote about St. Benedict in his Second Book of Dialogues, but his account of the life and miracles of
Benedict cannot be regarded as a biography in the modern sense of the term.

Gregory's purpose in writing Benedict's life was to edify and to inspire, not to seek out the particulars of his daily life.
Gregory sought to show that saints of God, particularly St. Benedict, were still operative in the Christian Church
in spite of all the political and religious chaos present in the realm.

At the same time it would be inaccurate to claim that Gregory presented no facts about Benedict's life and works.

According to Gregory's Dialogues Benedict was born in Nursia, a village high in the mountains northeast of Rome.
His parents sent him to Rome for classical studies but he found the life of the eternal city too degenerate for his tastes.
Consequently he fled to a place southeast of Rome called
Subiaco where he lived as a hermit for three years tended by the monk Romanus.

The hermit, Benedict, was then discovered by a group of monks who prevailed upon him to become their spiritual leader.
His regime soon became too much for the lukewarm monks so they plotted to poison him. Gregory recounts the tale of
Benedict's rescue; when he blessed the pitcher of poisoned wine, it broke into many pieces. Thereafter he left the
undisciplined monks.

Benedict left the wayward monks and established twelve monasteries with twelve monks each in the area south of Rome.
Later, perhaps in 529, he moved to Monte Cassino, about eighty miles southeast of Rome; there he destroyed the pagan temple
dedicated to Apollo and built his premier monastery. It was there too that he wrote the Rule for the monastery of
Monte Cassino though he envisioned that it could be used elsewhere.

The thirty-eight short chapters of the Second Book of Dialogues contain accounts of Benedict's life and miracles.
Some chapters recount his ability to read other persons' minds; other chapters tell of his miraculous works, e.g.,
making water flow from rocks, sending a disciple to walk on the water, making oil continue to flow from a flask.

The miracle stories echo the events of certain prophets of Israel as well as happenings in the life of Jesus.
The message is clear: Benedict's holiness mirrors the saints and prophets of old and God has not abandoned his people;
he continues to bless them with holy persons.

Benedict is viewed as a monastic leader, not a scholar. Still he probably read Latin rather well, an ability that gave
him access to the works of Cassian and other monastic writings, both rules and sayings. The Rule is the sole known example
of Benedict's writing, but it manifests his genius to crystallize the best of the monastic tradition and to pass it on
to the European West.

Gregory presents Benedict as the model of a saint who flees temptation to pursue a life of attention to God. Through
a balanced pattern of living and praying Benedict reached the point where he glimpsed the glory of God.

Gregory recounts a vision that Benedict received toward the end of his life: In the dead of night he suddenly beheld a flood
of light shining down from above more brilliant than the sun, and with it every trace of darkness cleared away. According to
his own description, the whole world was gathered up
before his eyes "in what appeared to be a single
ray of light" (ch. 34). St. Benedict, the monk par excellence, led a monastic life that reached the vision of God.

~From The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia (A Michael Glazier Book), Liturgical Press (1995) 78-79


From the Rule of Benedict:

Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to
perfection; that he, who has honoured us by counting us among his children, may never be grieved by our evil deeds.

For we must always serve him with the good things he has given us in such a way that he may never  as an angry father
disinherits his sons or even like a master who inspires fear  grow impatient with our sins and consign us to everlasting
punishment, like wicked servants who would not follow him to glory.

So we should at long last rouse ourselves, prompted by the words of Scripture: Now is the time for us to rise from sleep.
Our eyes should be open to the God-given light, and we should listen in wonderment to the message of the divine voice as it
daily cries out:

Today, if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts; and again: If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what
the Spirit is saying to the churches.

And what does the Spirit say? Come my sons, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Hurry, while you have
the light of life, so that deaths darkness may not overtake you.

And the Lord as he seeks the one who will do his work among the throng of people to whom he makes that appeal, says again:
Which of you wants to live to the full; who loves long life and the enjoyment of prosperity?

And, if when you hear this you say, I do, God says to you: If you desire true and everlasting life, keep your tongue from
evil and your lips from deceit; turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these
things my eyes will be upon you and my ears will be attentive to your prayers; and before you call upon my name I shall
say to you: Behold, I am here.

What could be more delightful, dearest brothers, than the voice of our Lords invitation to us? In his loving kindness
he reveals to us the way of life.

And so, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us follow in his paths by the guidance of the Gospel;
then we shall deserve to see him who has called us into his kingdom. If we wish to attain a dwelling-place in his kingdom
we shall not reach it unless we hasten there by our good deeds.

Just as there exists an evil fervour, a bitter spirit, which divides us from God and leads us to hell, so there is a good
fervour which sets us apart from evil inclinations and leads us toward God and eternal life.

Monks should put this fervour into practice with an overflowing love: that is, they should surpass each other in mutual
esteem, accept their weaknesses, either of body or of behaviour, with the utmost patience; and vie with each other in
acceding to requests.

No one should follow what he considers to be good for himself, but rather what seems good for another. They should display
brotherly love in a chaste manner; fear God in a spirit of love; revere their abbot with a genuine and submissive affection.

Let them put Christ before all else; and may he lead us all to everlasting life.

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