Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ. -- Saint Augustine of Hippo from “The City of God

Friday, March 30, 2007

Blessed Didacus Joseph of Cadiz

Blessed Didacus Joseph was born on March 29, 1743, in Cadiz, Spain. He was baptized Joseph Francis. His parents loved their faith and practiced it. He was brought up devoutly by his parents and his baptismal innocence remained with him throughout his life.

When he was old enough, Joseph learned how to serve Mass at the Capuchin Franciscan church just down the street. Joseph learned to love the Mass. He used to get up early enough to be at the church each morning to wait for the doors to be unlocked. He never missed a day.

One of the Capuchin priests or brothers gave Joseph a book about the lives of the Capuchin saints. He read it and read it again. Joseph learned every story. He grew to love the holy men who were poor and humble like Jesus.

The day came when he asked to join the order. At first he was refused entry because of poor education gaining entry only after a great deal of persistence. Although difficulties in studies remained with him during his years as a student, in time he was raised to the priesthood and then sent out to preach.

He was sent out to preach to the people the Good News of Jesus. He loved doing this. He had wonderful gifts for preaching the Word of God and it soon became evident. He travelled throughout Spain teaching and preaching in remote villages and crowded towns. His homilies were so clear and kind that people listened.

Everyone marvelled at the singular power and sweetness of his words, which swayed his audiences and left marked impressions on their lives. They even brought friends to listen. Soon an ordinary church was too small for the crowds. When Father Didacus was preaching, the talks were held outdoors, usually in the town square or in the streets.

Father Didacus loved to preach about the Blessed Trinity. He was always available to hear confessions, too. He was happy when people came to the sacrament of Reconciliation. He was capable of touching the heart of those who came to him for confession. Whenever he had some free time, he visited prisons and hospitals. He also would pay calls at the homes of shut-ins. Most of his nights were spent in prayer.

It was undoubtedly the Holy Spirit who because of Didacus' humility and virtue, converted this unlearned man into the most celebrated preacher in Spain. No doubt the Holy Spirit listened to his long and ardent prayers for guidance during the time that he spoke. On occasions Father Didacus was raised supernaturally into the air so that he required assistance to regain the floor of the pulpit.

Father Didacus died in 1801 and was declared "blessed" by Pope Leo XIII in 1894.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Saint Mary Frances of the Five Wounds

Anna Maria Rosa was born in Naples in 1715 and was christened Mary Frances. The family belonged to the middle class of society. Her mother was a devout and gentle woman, who had much to contend with from her hot-tempered husband. She was very worried before the birth of this child. Saint John Joseph of the Cross, lived in Naples at that time, calmed her and recommended special care of the child, as it was destined to attain to great holiness.

Mary Frances was scarcely 4 years old when she began to spend hours in prayer. She sometimes even arose at night to pray. She had such a desire to know the truths of the Catholic Faith that an angel appeared to her and instructed her regularly. Before she was seven, she desired to receive Holy Communion. The priest was astonished at her knowledge of the Faith, as well as her ardent desire for the Bread of Angels, and felt that he could not deny her the privilege.

As she grew, Mary would help her parents in their work. Her father was a weaver of gold lace and was anxious to have his children help as early as possible. He found that Mary Frances was not only the most willing but also the most skilled in the work.

When she was only sixteen years old, a rich young man asked her father for her hand in marriage. Rejoicing at the favorable prospect, her father at once gave his consent.

Mary’s father was shocked at Mary’s defiance when she was told of the plans for her marriage. She refused and would only espouse her Heavenly Bridegroom. Mary asked her father’s permission to become a Franciscan Tertiary. He became so enraged that he seized a rope and whipped the delicate girl unmercifully, until her mother intervened. He then locked her in a room, where she received only bread and water, and no one was permitted to speak to her.

Mary considered herself fortunate to be able to offer her divine bridegroom this early proof of her fidelity. She saw this as a pre-nuptial celebration. The earnest plea of a priest made her father, who after all was a believing Christian, realize that he had done wrong. He gave his blessing for Mary to take the Tertiary habit and serve God as a consecrated virgin at home, as was customary in those days.

Joy, joy, holy joy! Mary received the habit and with it the surname "of the Five Wounds." This name was prophetic of her ensuing years. At home she had much to endure. Her father never quite got over Mary not marrying the wealthy young man.

When God favored her with unusual graces, she was sometimes granted ecstasies at prayer and suffered our Lord's agony with Him, her own brothers and sisters insulted her as an imposter. Even her confessor felt obliged to deal harshly with her. For a long time she could find consolation nowhere but in the wounds of Christ.

Her confessor believed at last that it was God who was doing these things in her. Mary’s mother had died and he saw to it that she found a home with a fellow Tertiary. There one day, as she herself lay ill, she learned that her father was near death. She asked Almighty God to let her suffer her father's death agony and his purgatory. Both requests were granted.

Mary suffered continuously but our Lord also gave her great graces and consolations. She received the marks of the wounds of Christ and was granted the gift of prophesy and of miracles. When Pius VI was crowned pope in 1775, she saw him in a vision wearing a crown of thorns. Pope Pius died 24 years later as a prisoner of the French Revolution at Valence.

Mary Frances also prophesied the tragic events of the French Revolution. She asked that she be taken from this world before they would happen and her request was granted. She died on October 6, 1791, kissing the feet of her crucifix. God glorified her by many miracles. She was beatified by Pope Gregory XVI, and canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Nuns of Compiegne-Saints & Martyrs

As we have seen the French revolution was to lead to untold inhumanity against man, but also it was a direct attack on the Church itself and it struck at the heart of the Church in our Priests and Religious, in which many suffered Martyrdom.

Instead of a revolution that freed the poor from the oppression of poverty it instead, was a tyrannical and obscene political movement. For if one is either rich or poor we are all children of God, and murder is never acceptable to solving social problems.

As the people reeled from one disaster to the next in this blood thirsty landscape where no amount of blood shed could quench the lust of the murderers, for in their blood lust these killers spared no one! The persecution of the Catholic Church in France is almost unequalled, in the annals of history.

But no matter the political turmoil or the unrest of the people, the Church stands Strong and firm, including both Priests and Religious.

So when the 'new' law of France was declared that of liberty it was to be in a perverted sense, in that many stormed the Monasteries and Convents to 'release' the 'imprisoned' in order to 'enlighten' these Holy men and women to this amazing freedom, which was simply a form of enchainment to the State! And when they in turn informed the officials that they were already free in their Love for Christ, many officials took this as a provocation to their 'new world order' in their 'enlightened age'.

So we come to the Carmelite Sisters of Compeigne, who had fled persecution in England only to find it arriving on their doorstep once they arrived in France. In themselves these holy Sisters were quite ordinary souls they lived their religious vocation as devoutly and as humbly as they could, and prayed for peace in France. They tried to obey the civil authorities, despite the obnoxious way their Rule of Life was treated!

These most Holy Nuns also kept prayer vigils for all those suffering under this terrible persecution and offered themselves as victim souls in expiation against the terrible sins being committed against the Church, God and their fellow man.

Perhaps this was too much for these 'brave' men of the revolution who when hearing of the Nuns devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus had the Nuns of Compiegne arrested! Obviously by their very pious and humble prayers they were considered 'provocateurs'.

And in this bloody thirsty generation it seemed their blood lust was still not appeased and so these innocent and Holy Nuns were arrested on trumped up charges. What was their crime? The officials found portraits of Jesus of the Sacred Heart, these Nuns were then deemed enemies of the peoples, and they faced their trial which was a kangaroo court of mere thugs and degenerates.

The Nuns of Compiegne were accused of being 'parasites' and of being 'deluded' in that they these revolutionaries were more enlightened than to actually believe that God existed, for these degenerates God NO longer existed but their perverse Law did!

But these Holy Nuns were not silent against such a gross injustice, and it would be Mother Henriette who upon handing these officials her written statement they then read it aloud, "How false are the judgments that the world makes of us! Its profound ignorance disapproves of our promises; all that it adorns itself with is but pure vanity. Its only reality is the sorrow that devours it. I despise its pride, I consider its hatred an honour; and I prefer my chains to its spurious freedom. O day of eternal celebration, O day forever holy, when, vowing myself to Carmel I won the heart of God. O beloved and precious bonds I strengthen you each day; all that the earth can offer me is worthless in my eyes; your sarcasm, worldlings, compared to my joy is a dead giveaway: that joy outweighs all the cares to which your soul is prey."

This declaration of their love for God and many other devout nuns praising God were enough for the 'Judge' to pass judgement and that was death by guillotine!

Many of these Holy Nuns went to the guillotine singing songs of Praises to God on High but also for mercy to those who were to martyr them. These heroic Nuns truly had their prayers heard and died for the expiation of many who were committing horrendous and barbarous acts in the name of 'liberty'!

These Holy Nuns of Compiegne died in 1794.

They were beatified in 1906 by Pope Pius X.

Copyright © 2007 Marie Smith. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Saint Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga

Alberto was born in 1901, in Vina del Mar, Chile. His father died when Albert was only four, and his mother moved with her two sons to Santiago after selling the family farm to pay off debts. Albert knew what was to be poor from an early age and remembered how frequently the family had to move. He was very acquainted with the struggles of the homeless and needy.

“It is good to put your hands together to pray, but it is better to open them in order to give,” were the watchwords of Alberto’s mother. He learned compassion from his mother and would share what little he had with the poor children. He attended the Jesuit school in Santiago on a scholarship. From a very young age Albert showed deep concern for the poor who lived in the slums. He spent Sunday afternoons helping serve the poor in the most blighted areas.

Alberto spent many hours in prayer and could feel a growing call to become a Jesuit priest. He postponed his desire to become a Jesuit until his mother and brother were better provided for. After leaving school, he worked afternoons and evenings to help support the family and also to support his law studies at the Catholic University.

Graduating at 22 years, with a law degree, he entered the Jesuit novitiate. His formation years in the Society of Jesus took him through South America and Europe. He was ordained in Belgium in 1933. Alberto was so happy and content and only wanted to live out his ministry wholeheartedly.

Albert returned to Santiago in 1936 to teach at St Ignatius School and gave adult classes in at the Catholic University. Young people were drawn to him through the retreats and missions he led. His passion for Christ was evident and it sparked young hearts to give themselves to Christ, to work in the vineyard for His glory.

The Eucharist was the central unifying force of Father Alberto’s life. The Mass was his life and he saw his life as a continual Mass.

Alberto had a heart for the poor. He worried about the poor and the orphans that roamed Santiago’s streets. They were ignored and forgotten but Father Alberto would change that. In the poor and homeless, Father Hurtado saw Christ. "Christ, in his mystical body, is dying of tuberculosis on the streets or under a bridge." and "If we don’t see Christ in the person we rub elbows with every moment, that is because our faith is tepid and our love imperfect."

In 1944, a very sick homeless man knocked on Father Hurtado’s door looking for a place to stay. This encounter left him feeling very distressed. He voiced his concerns at a women’s retreat and suggested opening a shelter. The women were so moved that they responded by giving very generous donations of land, jewels and money. This was the beginning of El Hogar de Cristo, Christ’s Home which opened in May 1945. The hospice was open to anyone.

The hospices increased in number and not only did they offer the poor shelter for the night but also helped re-habilitate people and taught them true Christian values. He wanted them to respect their value as a person and more so as a child of God. Father Alberto would go out in the night in his green truck looking for children sleeping on the streets. People recall Father Hurtado in his green pickup truck picking up the poor and homeless and bringing them to the Hogar.

Father Alberto wrote a book, Is Chile a Catholic Country?, which criticized materialism and its toxic effects on the young and poor. He criticized the very unjust social structure and systems. His critiques were not well received. He was misunderstood and seen as a radical. Undaunted, he started labor unions whose foundations were based on Christian humanism and the Church’s social teachings. It was “a way to make the Church present in the area of organized labor.” He wrote many papers on social justice and the Church in the years that followed.

He encouraged the businessmen, employers and the rich to act as coworkers with Jesus for the betterment of the society. To the workers, he helped them to see their labor as a Christian activity, not something separate from their faith.

At fifty, Father Alberto had the symptoms of the disease that would end his life. He had a stroke and was then diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He received his prognosis as a gift from God. His most eloquent testimony was given during his last illness and death. The greatness of God and the depth of the man himself were revealed in the way he faced the moment of his departure.

Upon learning of his immanent death, he replied: “How can I not be overjoyed! How can I not be grateful to God! Instead of a violent death he has sent me a long illness so that I can prepare myself; He has not sent me pain but rather the pleasure of seeing so many friends, to be able to see them all. Truly for me God has been a loving Father; the best of fathers.”

Despite his great pain, he was heard to say, “I am content, O Lord, I am content”. He lingered for more than a year and died in 1951 surrounded by his Jesuit brothers. At his funeral, great crowds came to bid farewell to their beloved priest, Papa Alberto.

On October 16, 1994, Pope John Paul II beatified Father Alberto in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI canonized him in 2005.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Blessed Titus Brandsma-Martyr

Not too many people have heard of the heroic Priest Titus Brandsma; let us take a more intimate look at this great man of Faith and courage, who lived the true meaning of living and dying for love of God and his fellow man.

Anno Brandsma was born in a little hamlet area of Friesland, Holland in the year 1881 on February 23; he was born into a very tight knit but loving family. His Mother was of an anxious nature and so was very protective of her family, as was his Father, Titus, who was also very proud of their Friesland heritage. Catholicism was not well embraced where the Brandsma family lived and so Titus as head of their home became involved in local politics as he tried hard to preserve their culture from modern intrusion.

But also apart from politics Titus, Anno's father made his living as a dairy farmer in that region of Holland, where he focused on producing milk and cheese to be sold. It was hard living with very few modern conviences, so all the children from early on were raised with a great work ethic as well as a strong Catholic Faith.

Anno attended the Franciscan school or 'gymnasium' at Megen, Holland, many of the students from this school like Anno would later enter the Priesthood. But Anno told others that he didn’t particularly like this school and preferred a more communal approach in living and studying their Faith and the schools other curricular activities.

Upon completion of his studies with the Franciscans, Anno Brandsma felt a calling to embrace the Carmelite Order; he entered the Carmelite Monastery in Boxmeer Holland in the year 1898, where he took his fathers name Titus as his religious name. From the beginning of entering the Carmelite Monastery, Titus showed an extraordinary gift for journalism and writing. Titus was ordained a Catholic Priest on June 17, 1905, and after further studies at the Roman Gregorian University, graduated on October 25, 1909 with a doctorate in philosophy.

Father Titus Brandsma spent his early Ministry in education where he joined the faculty of the newly founded Catholic University of Nijmegen in 1923. Because of Fr. Titus journalistic interests and gift of writing the Archbishop De Jong of Utrecht appointed Fr. Titus as spiritual advisor to the staff members of the more than thirty Catholic newspapers in Holland; this coincided with the more virulent and tyrannical presence of the Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler! It didn’t take long for Fr. Titus to begin criticizing the new German Leadership.

When the Germans invaded Holland in the year 1940 then began the persecution of the Jewish people, upon this the Dutch resistance rose up to counteract the Nazi oppression. Also the Catholic Hierarchy announced that the Sacraments would be refused to Catholics who supported the Nazi occupation and it’s Regime!

During this difficult and most dangerous of times Fr. Titus Brandsma also became more involved in the Dutch resistance, making little effort to conceal his activities from the Nazi's. And it was his refusal and the Church's refusal to print National Socialist propaganda which infuriated the Nazi's. Especially as Fr. Titus also felt compelled to personally deliver to each Catholic editor a letter from the bishops ordering them not to comply with a new law requiring them to print official Nazi publications.

This proved to be too much provocation for the Nazi's and they arrested Father Titus on January 19, 1942; he was interned at Scheveningen and Amersfoort in Holland before being sent to Dachau, where he arrived on June 19, 1942.

Father Titus Brandsma's health was always a little fragile and he suffered periodically with kidney infections throughout the 1930's. So the brutal conditions at Dachau quickly saw his health decline rapidly. Fr. Titus had many times to visit the camp 'hospital' due to his health problems, which then enabled the Nazi's to use this Holy Priest for biological experiments!

But even though Father Titus was imprisoned at Dachau, these were not empty years, as Fr. Titus kept up his prolific abilities to write with deep and mystical meaning upon suffering, and also other holy works.

But unfortunately this Holy Priest health could not stand up to the brutal beatings, forced labour and the vile experiments upon his emaciated figure. Father Titus Brandsma a man and a Priest of Holy and Courageous countenance was killed by the Nazi's with a lethal injection on July 26th in 1942!

This was a Priest who lived a joy filled life even amidst the greatest evil; he is a testament to the Spirit of Love for God and his fellow man. He is a modern mystic, though many of his writings were lost during the years of the war what remained is Mystical Theology based on his own sufferings and that of the Church. Though he did not seek martyrdom yet he bowed with humility when it embraced him as one who is called to atone for the many. With a Christ like love he forgave his enemies and is a shining example of love conquering evil!

Titus Brandsma, 0. Carm. was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul, II on November 1985.

Copyright © 2007 Marie Smith. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 05, 2007

St John Bosco

John Bosco was born into an impoverished family in the year 1815 in a small house around the Piedmont area of Italy. Both his parents tried their hardest to provide for their family, but, when John was only 2 years old his father died, leaving his mother, Margaret to be the sole provider. To help support his Mother and family, John was hired out as a shepherd to the local farmers of the region. This was hard for the young John as he was an extrovert by nature and he possessed an avid curiosity to learn as much as he could.

The young John would sometimes go to circuses, and then to the amusement of his friends he would play act the performances he saw, and also some of the tricks that were used, but this was not enough to satisfy the longing John had in his wish to enter the Priesthood. He confided this longing to his Mother who allowed him to attend school for part of the year in order to gain an education to enter the Seminary. Though times were hard, like many mothers, Margaret wanted the best for her children, so she made no objections upon hearing of John's desire to enter the Priesthood at such a young age.

Finally the day came when John could fulfill his deepest desire and enter the Seminary to become a Priest. In order for him to attend college and the Seminary John worked at many jobs as a shoemaker, baker and carpenter, whilst studying diligently at the same time. Johns Gift in being able to retain facts would be of great benefit to him, as his curious mind grasped the deepest mysteries of our Faith.

But being exuberant in nature, Johns love of people shone forth and his compassion for young and troubled boys soon became evident to those around him. Johns sense of humour also made him accessible to these troubled young lads. Finally the day came when he entered the Priesthood his Mother, Margaret who was overcome with joy at the Faith John displayed begged him to always be a good role model and Priest, John indeed was to keep his word!

But it was as he worked in these different jobs that John Bosco came to see and recognise the plight of the poor young boys of his country and soon realised that if help was not given to them then they would probably enter into the criminal underworld. But though Don Bosco knew the plight of the boys he also knew that it would take more than handouts to help them gain self respect and also to maintain their Faith in God and the Church.

Hence from this Don Bosco was to begin his fledgling vocation, to save the boys from a fate worse than death, he wanted to help save their souls before they were lost to the criminal elements surrounding them. Coming from a poor background himself enabled Don Bosco to connect with the youth in his area and to gain their trust and respect.

In order to teach the boys the Faith of the Catholic Church, Don Bosco chose to weave familiar parables and also short analogues in order for the boys to understand that God never changes but that He could change them for the better. Don Bosco in order to provide a home for these boys bought a derelict farm almost uninhabitable, but with the help of these very same boys he taught them how to do carpentry and other necessities, it was not long before the farm was up and running.

But Don Bosco also knew that young boys also needed time to play and fool around in a jocular manner and he encouraged their play time, in that it allowed them all to exert their energies into a wholesome way of having plain simple good fun. So the daily life of the boys soon fell into a daily routine of building, growing vegetables and generally working the farm to help make it self productive.

Though the boys worked hard and played hard Don Bosco did not neglect their spiritual needs and instructed them in the Faith, and what God expects from each of them, for this Priest embraced the work ethic alongside their spiritual development. So from his example the boys tried to live in order to please God through their work and their lives.

From these early beginnings began Don Bosco's Order the Society of Saint Francis de Sales, which would become known as 'The Salesians', but it was not all plain sailing for this affable Priest. In trying to secure a better future for his beloved boys, also brought criticism from those around him and many complaints were lodged against Don Bosco and his venture to help the poor youth in his area. But Don Bosco was resolute in nature and nothing would deter him from this vocation, in providing a sustainable livelihood for the boys that entered his home, so that their future could also be guaranteed!

Things were to become so difficult for Don Bosco that he was joined by his Mother, Margaret to help provide the boys with a security and a love which only a mother figure could provide. So, Margaret Bosco was soon to become the 'mother' of hundreds of boys. In order to help her son in his mission, Margaret sold everything she possessed in the world for she knew within her own heart that these boys would be lost if help was not provided, therefore she gave all she had, including herself.

Don Bosco was the sole provider and also the only hope for these boys, for this Holy Priest knew that in order for the boys to respect others they must first start with themselves. He knew the vices which could lead any of these young boys astray and so through love, acceptance, compassion and discipline he taught these troubled youths, self control and self discipline not by the rod but by love.

This Holy Priest tried to instill in these boys a sense of self worth, by giving them hope for their futures that there was a way out of the poverty cycle. Don Bosco also instructed the boys in the virtues and to strive with all their might to embrace these virtues and to ward off sin in all its forms. He instructed the boys in all elements of the Faith and encouraged strongly the frequent use of the Sacraments, most especially that of Penance.

From his own youth the young John Bosco was the recipient of many visions, which helped guide him to helping his precious boys to the Light of Jesus and a firm foundation in the Tenets of the Church, he never wavered from the mission that God and our Lady asked of him. Later Don Bosco would be joined in his mission by Mary Mazzarello who would also follow his rule in providing a good and wholesome place to help the troubled young girls of her area. Both Don Bosco and Mary Mazzarello would become Saints.

Don John Bosco died at the age of seventy-two in 1888.

Saint John Bosco was Canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI.

Copyright © 2007 Marie Smith. All rights reserved.
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