Friday, December 31, 2010

Companion Saints for 2011

On New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, many Catholics, myself included, randomly choose a “Companion Saint” for the coming year, or, as we say, the saint actually chooses us. Throughout the year, we study and try to imitate the lives of our saints, read and meditate on their writings, pray specially for their intercession and guidance, and even take on unique prayer missions dear to their hearts. The saints, in turn, pray specially for us and help us even in the smallest areas of our lives.

No one knows exactly where this practice of choosing a Companion Saint began, but St. Faustina and her sisters in the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy followed the custom faithfully each year. St. Faustina explains:

“There is a custom among us of drawing by lot, on New Year's Day, special Patrons for ourselves for the whole year. In the morning, during meditation, there arose within me a secret desire that the Eucharistic Jesus be my special Patron for this year also, as in the past. But, hiding this desire from my Beloved, I spoke to Him about everything else but that. When we came to refectory for breakfast, we blessed ourselves and began drawing our patrons. When I approached the holy cards on which the names of the patrons were written, without hesitation I took one, but I didn't read the name immediately as I wanted to mortify myself for a few minutes. Suddenly, I heard a voice in my soul: ‘I am your patron. Read.’ I looked at once at the inscription and read, ‘Patron for the Year 1935 - the Most Blessed Eucharist.’ My heart leapt with joy, and I slipped quietly away from the sisters and went for a short visit before the Blessed Sacrament, where I poured out my heart. But Jesus sweetly admonished me that I should be at that moment together with the sisters. I went immediately in obedience to the rule.”

St. Faustina and her sisters chose their annual patrons by drawing saints' names out of a basket, and many Catholics today still follow that method. The Children of Medjugorje website offers a list of saints' names to download, print out, cut apart, fold, and draw. This works well for Catholics who share the custom with family, friends, and fellow parishioners. I tend to let my saint choose me electronically, so to speak. I download the list, say a little prayer, close my eyes, scroll around a bit with my mouse, and point. The saint my mouse lands on is my Companion Saint for the year. It's not scientific, but it works! My saint for 2011, much to my surprise and delight, is Our Lady of Fatima.

The Companion Saint custom is an excellent way to personally experience the doctrine of the communion of saints and to grow closer to our elder brothers and sisters in the faith, those who are already in Heaven but still intent upon helping us get there, too.

Remember to choose a Companion Saint tonight or tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mini Meditation

When Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, they found no place to stay.  There was no room for them at the local inn or in private homes.  We can be sure they asked everywhere, looking for someplace warm and safe for themselves and the Little One Who was to be born very soon.  All they heard was "No.  There is no room here.  It is too crowded."  The King of the Universe, along with His mother and foster father, had to settle for a humble stable, the home of animals rather than people.

Do we have room in our hearts for Jesus?  Or do we crowd Him out with all our concerns and desires?  Do we welcome Him in or tell Him that He must go somewhere else?

Be sure to make room for Jesus this Christmas season.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne - Part 6

The Last Years: The Cross to the End 
          Rose lived for ten years after she returned from the Sugar Creek Mission. She spent her remaining days in St. Charles, where a convent had been reestablished a few years before, living in a “tiny room under a stairway near the chapel” (Willard). The room’s one window had paper in place of glass panes. A thin mattress served for a bed, with one coarse blanket for a covering (Lynch). Typically, Rose praised these accommodations, thinking them to be more than she deserved. Despite continual illness, she prayed constantly, sometimes assisting at three Masses in a row and spending many hours before the Blessed Sacrament. Her holiness was evident to all. Some of the students even saw a beautiful, glowing light around her after she received Holy Communion (Emery 694). The Lord was her constant companion, but humanly-speaking she was more and more lonely. Her friends, fellow nuns and priests alike, were dying or leaving for missions elsewhere. Even worse, for nearly two years she received no letters from her dear friend Mother Barat. Horrified to think that perhaps she had offended her spiritual mother, she grieved and suffered horribly (Emery 693; Jeanne Marie). Mother Barat, for her part, was not at all offended but was very worried because she also was not receiving letters from Rose. Finally, Mother Barat sent one of her nuns, actually Rose’s niece, all the way to St. Charles to find out what was wrong. Rose was greatly consoled by the visit and by letter from Mother Barat that her niece hand-delivered. (19)
          In spite of her many accomplishments, in spite of the thousands of lives she touched, in spite of her saintly spiritual life, Rose thought herself to be a failure. “I feel that I am a worn-out instrument, a useless walking stick that is fit only to be hidden in a dark corner,” she once wrote (qtd. in Horvat). “If Alexander the Great wept on the shores of the ocean because he could not carry his conquest further, I might weep also at the thought that my advanced age prevents me from saving so many poor people (qtd. in Kun). This, too, she offered to Jesus, having once heard in the depths of her soul, “You are destined to please Me, not so much by success as by bearing failure” (qtd. in Horvat). She had learned to accept what she saw as her failures, discovering that “faithfulness is more important than fruitfulness” (Lynch). She remained close to Jesus’ Sacred Heart, carrying her share of His cross, until the very end of her life (Emery 687, 692). On November 18, 1852, at the age of eighty-three, Rose gave her confession, received the last rites, and took Holy Communion. As the Angelus bell rung at noon, Rose said her final words, “I give You my heart, my soul, and my life – oh, yes, my life, generously,” and died (Jeanne Marie; Horvat). (20)

The Final Triumph
          At the beginning of her mission to America, Rose Philippine Duchesne wrote, “We cultivate a very small field for Christ but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self” (qtd. in Lynch). At that time, and perhaps even at the end of her life, Rose never envisioned how far the work of her Society would spread. Today the Society of the Sacred Heart boasts 3500 women in more than 500 communities based in forty-five countries throughout the world (Province). They are teachers, missionaries, nurses, doctors, counselors, spiritual directors, writers, artists, therapists, lawyers, administrators, and social workers, dedicated, as Rose was, to “creating communion beyond boundaries that divide, such as those of country, age, culture, education, and temperament.” Rose must be so very pleased.
          As for Rose herself, her greatest triumph came after her death, when she entered into the Heavenly Kingdom and met her Lord face to face. Did she hear Jesus say the words she so longed for: “Well done, My good and faithful servant....Come and share you Master’s joy” (Matt 25:21)? The Catholic Church believes that she did. Rose was beatified by Pope Pius XII on May 2, 1940 (McNamara; Willard). The miracle for her canonization occurred in 1951 when a Sacred Heart nun, Mother Marie Bernard, was cured of a malignant tumor on her neck through Rose’s intercession (Lynch). Pope John Paul II officially canonized Rose Philippine Duchesne on July 3, 1988 (McNamara). All her life Rose had closely followed Jesus’ command, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23), as she encountered numerous trials and severe hardships in her vocation and mission. Now in triumphant in Heaven, at home with her Lord and King, she helps other Christians carry their crosses, and attain their triumphs, through her prayers and the example of her life. St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, pray for us. (21)

19. What might you do to help someone who is lonely?
20. Describe some of the failures you’ve experienced in your life. How did you respond to them?
21. Do you truly appreciate the communion of saints? What might you do to increase your understanding and participation in it?

Works Cited
1. Bascom, Marion. Rose Philippine Duchesne: Pioneer Missionary of the New World
Purchase: Manhattanville College, n.d. 
2. Emery, S.L. “Mother Duchesne, R.S.H., An Uncanonized American Saint.” Catholic World 65 (1897): 687-694. 
3. Flynn, Cleta. “Mother Rose Philippine Duchesne and Surviving Early St. Charles or Life at the Duquette Mansion.” Network of Sacred Heart Schools. 12 Mar. 2008. < _cletaflynn.pdf>. 
4. Horvat, Marian T. “St. Philippine Duchesne: Failures Became Her Success.” Tradition in Action. 11 Mar. 2008.   <>. 
5. Jeanne Marie. “St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, Frontier Missionary of the Sacred Heart.” Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. 14 Mar. 2008. <>. 
6. Keppel, L. Blessed Rose Philippine Duchesne: Religious of the Sacred Heart and Missioner 1769-1852. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1940. 
7. Kun, Jeanne. “‘I Can Only Adore the Designs of God’: The Life of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.” The Word Among Us. 12 Mar. 2008. <>. 
8. Lowth, Catherine M. “Philippine-Rose Duchesne.” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. 8 Mar. 2008. <>. 
9. Lynch, Dan. “St. Rose Philippine Duchesne: ‘Woman Who Prays Always.’” The Jesus King of All Nations Devotion and the Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 2003. 12 Mar. 2008. <>. 
10. McNamara, Robert F. “Rose Philippine Duchesne.” Irondequoit Catholic Communities. 8 Mar. 2008. <>. 
11. New American Bible for Catholics. Iowa Falls: World Bible Publishers, Inc.: 1991.
12. United States Province of the Society of the Sacred Heart. Community. 1 Apr. 2008. 
13.“Venerable Philippine Duchesne.” History of Our Cradle Land. 12 Mar. 2008. <>. 
14. Willard, Shirley. “St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.” Potawatomi Trail of Death. 8 Mar. 2008. <http://www.potawatomi->.

Monday, December 20, 2010

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne - Part 5

The American Order Grows…with Many Growing Pains
          The American contingent of the Society of the Sacred Heart grew slowly but steadily over the next few years as the community gained new members (the novitiate was opened in Florissant in 1821) and new convents and schools were opened in Missouri and Louisiana (Horvat; Keppel 67). The convent at Grand-Coteau, Louisiana, (opened in 1821) was especially successful even though, like all the houses, it was severely tried by illness and hardship (Keppel 70, 75). St. Louis, too, finally received its convent and school in 1826, along with an orphanage (Keppel 85; Horvat). By 1830, the American order boasted six convents, sixty-four nuns, and three hundred and fifty students enrolled in convent schools (Lynch).
          All during this time of expansion, Rose, as Superior, worked…and worked…and worked, offering her trials and sufferings for the success of her convents and schools. S.L. Emery notes, “Poverty, sickness, misunderstanding, spiritual deprivations far worse than temporal, the deaths of those she dearly loved, the failure of long-cherished plans and hopes – these were her lot and her life” (691). Just as she had done so many years before at Ste. Marie, Rose was always the first to rise and the last to retire and reserved the most difficult tasks for herself (Jeanne Marie). Even when she fell ill, as she did several times, growing ever weaker through the years, she continued her work. Not even the nasty bout of yellow fever she suffered on a return journey from Grand-Coteau kept her from resuming her duties when she finally reached St. Louis (actually, Rose’s survival was almost miraculous because she, even after nursing several sick passengers on the steamboat on which she was traveling, was put ashore when she contracted the disease and essentially left to die; her traveling companion nursed her at the home of a man whose wife had recently died of the same disease, and somehow Rose, always trusting in God, recovered) (Keppel 77-78). Above all her other trials, however, Rose’s greatest burden came from her role as Superior. “For twenty-two years,” explains scholar Marian T. Horvat, Rose “was forced to bear the heavy yoke of directing those who seemed to not want her directorship. Some sisters also resented her formal ways and insistence on the Rule, although they admired her spirit of prayer and sacrifice. At council meetings, she found it difficult to make her opinion prevail, since the common issue of her enterprise was failure, while the New Orleans foundations [like Grand-Coteau] always met with success.” In humility, Rose begged for years to be relieved of her position of authority and given the lowest place, forever considering herself “of no practical use” (Emery 691; Horvat). Mother Barat, however, felt differently and maintained Rose’s authority, knowing that her friend and spiritual daughter had much more to offer than she herself could see. Finally, in 1840, at the age of seventy-one, Rose was allowed to resign as Superior. She retreated into a more hidden life at Florissant, praying, suffering, and serving her community in every way she could (Horvat). It must have seemed to her that, despite the expansion of the American Society of the Sacred Heart, her dreams had not been realized. She had still not brought the Catholic faith to the Indian people. (14)

Finally, a Mission to the Indians…for a Short Time 
          The Potawatomi people’s homeland was in Indiana, but in 1837 and 1838, the United States government, in order to open territory for white settlement, forced them to make a 660 mile journey to their new home in Kansas (Willard). Catholic missionaries traveled with the Potawatomi, many of whom had already embraced the faith, and built St. Mary’s Mission at Sugar Creek, Kansas. Rose knew of the Indians’ “Trail of Death” and was outraged by their mistreatment. Of course, she longed to go to them, to work with them, to help meet their physical and spiritual needs, and to convert those who had not yet accepted Catholicism, but at her age and in her condition (her health by this time was very poor), her ambition seemed impossible. (15)
          In 1841, the missionary priests serving the Potawatomi approached the Society of the Sacred Heart’s new superior, Mother Elizabeth Galitzin, with a request for nuns to help staff the Sugar Creek Mission (Keppel 108). Rose begged to be allowed to go, but Mother Galitzin considered her age and poor heath to be insurmountable obstacles. Finally, Father Verhaegen, one of the priests, knowing Rose’s saintly character, settled the matter, saying, “Even if she can use only one leg, she will come. Why if we have to carry her all the way on our shoulders, she is coming with us. She may not be able to do much work, but she will assure success to the mission by praying for us. Her very presence will draw down all manner of heavenly favors on the work” (qtd. in Willard). On June 29, 1841, a little band of four nuns, including Rose, and three priests began their journey to Sugar Creek. Rose’s childhood dream was at last coming true.
          Rose’s days at Sugar Creek were the happiest of her life (Jeanne Marie). She was finally living and working among her beloved Indians. Actually, Rose could do very little work, and the hardships she experienced for most of her life were by no means diminished and, in fact, sometimes intensified in light of her advanced age. She wrote to a priest friend, “Our first shelter was the hut of an Indian in which we lived from July to October, when our house, nineteen feet square, was ready, but without a fireplace and without a stairway up to the loft, which was to be our dormitory. One climbs a ladder to reach it” (qtd. in Willard). Rose could not teach or cook like the other nuns and never managed to learn the Potawatomi language (she never fully mastered English either). She did knit, visit the sick, and work a bit with the Indian girls, but mostly she prayed. She went to Mass each morning, in the winter through the snow and in the midst of the fever she almost always had, and she knelt motionless before the Blessed Sacrament four hours each morning and four hours each afternoon (Willard; Horvat). Even when she could not rise from her bed due to illness, she offered her sufferings for the souls of the Indians (Emery 692). (16)
          With such prayer and sacrifice, the mission was bound to flourish, and it did. The Potawatomi loved and venerated Rose. They called her “Quah-kah-ka-num-ad,” the “Woman Who Prays Always,” and often bent to kiss her shawl or the hem of her habit as she prayed (Willard). They learned quickly from her example, and the Lord granted the mission numerous adult baptisms, an average of a hundred communicants at Sunday Masses, four hundred communicants on Christmas, daily catechism lessons, a deep spirituality that included daily community prayer and Rosary, and a spirit of generosity, morality, and sincere enthusiasm for the Catholic faith. Rose praised the piety of the Potawatomi and the intelligence of the children and adults taught by the nuns, and her deepest desire was to sacrifice herself completely for the success of the mission and die among her beloved Indians. (17)
          This was not to be. In 1842 Mother Galitzin visited Sugar Creek and was appalled by the condition in which she found Rose. Sadly, Mother Galitzin observed, “She is just here to suffer, for she has aged much in this short time and is sometimes like a child. She no longer has the fine mind of other days. She is feeble; her limbs are swollen; her digestion is poor. I fear she will have a stroke….All she can do at present is pray, sometimes lying for a little while on her bed, and knit stockings” (qtd. in Willard). She then ordered Rose to return to St. Louis. Rose was heartbroken, but she obeyed and began preparations for the long journey back to Missouri. She left Sugar Creek on June 19, 1842. “I cannot put out of my mind the thought of the savages,” she wrote later. “I can only adore the designs of God, Who has taken me from the thing I had so long desired” (qtd. in Kun). (18)

14. Have you ever felt useless? How did you cope with that feeling? When have you felt that your dreams had not been fulfilled?
15. What dreams do you have that seem unlikely or even impossible? Have any of those actually come true?
16. Today the elderly of western society are often underappreciated or even scorned. What contributions do they make to our culture? What might you do to help others realize the value of the elderly?
17. What miracles have prayer and sacrifice accomplished in your life or in the lives of those around you?
18. How would you respond if your dearest dream was shattered like Rose’s was?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne - Part 4

American Beginnings: A Dream Fulfilled…or Was It?
          Shortly after Mother Barat had granted permission for Rose to pursue her missionary desire, Bishop De Bourg sent Rose a letter, warning her about the job that lay ahead: “You have come, you say, seeking the Cross.  Well, you have taken exactly the right road to find it.…Be ready for all.…You and I shall spend our lives in this thankless task; our successors will reap the harvest in this world, let us be content to reap it in the next” (qtd. in Lynch).  These prophetic words began to find their fulfillment during Rose’s journey to America.  The Rebecca, a small sailing vessel, left France on March 14, 1818, with Rose and four companions aboard (Lynch).  The voyage was anything but easy.  The little boat was plagued by storms more than once, storms that burst open the portholes and terrified the nuns and the crew alike (Keppel 50).  One of Rose’s companions wrote, “In the first days of May, the ship was driven by stress of weather five times backwards and forwards across the tropics” (qtd. in Emery 689).  Rose went so far as to compare the noise and confusion dominant in the storm-tossed boat to Judgment Day (Lynch).  The nuns spent much of their time below decks, seasick and frightened.  Food and water were scarce, the heat was sometimes nearly unbearable, privacy was non-existent, and worst of all, celebrating Mass was impossible (Jeanne Marie).  The last, perhaps, contributed to the spiritual dryness Rose experienced during the journey, but the nuns clung to their faith to help them through the difficult voyage, singing Ave Maria Stella daily to keep up their spirits and those of the crew and their fellow passengers (Bascom 16).  Finally, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, May 29, 1818, after eleven weeks at sea, the Rebecca arrived in New Orleans (Bascom 16; Kun).  One of Rose’s first actions was to kneel down and kiss the America soil.  Certainly she was grateful that her prayers for missionary life had been granted, but perhaps even more at that moment, she was thankful to be back on dry land! (12)
          The nuns stayed at an Ursuline convent in New Orleans for almost six months after their arrival in America.  The poor communication along the American frontier had left them without orders from the bishop; his letter was somehow lost (Keppel 52).  Rose was impatient to start for St. Louis, but she was also very ill, almost to the point of death, so the Lord gave her the time she needed to recover and regain her strength for the long road ahead.  Rose and her companions finally decided to set out for St. Louis by themselves and booked a passage up the Mississippi on the “primitive” steamboat Franklin (Keppel 52; Cradle Land).  Their six- week journey was not quite as treacherous as their Atlantic crossing, but it still offered “numberless inconveniences,” including being packed into one small room with a dozen other people, food shortages, and rough (i.e. drunk and disorderly) fellow passengers (Cradle Land; Emery 690).
          Bishop Du Bourg greeted the nuns warmly when they arrived at his “mansion,” which was a small, rustic dwelling.  He had probably been wondering what had become of them.  Soon, however, he gave Rose more bad news.  She had been hoping to start a school for the Indians right away in or near St. Louis, but the bishop had other plans.  He would send the nuns to St. Charles, a small settlement twenty-three miles away, to teach the daughters of the French settlers there (Keppel 56; Bascom 19).  Always obedient, Rose swallowed her disappointment and agreed. (13)
          In St. Charles, the Sacred Heart nuns faced greater hardships than they had ever before experienced. Upon arrival, they established their convent (the first west of the Mississippi), a boarding school for girls, and a free day school for girls (the first in the United States) in the old “Duquette Mansion” (Horvat; Flynn).  Rose disliked the house, which was a mere 625 square feet, from the very beginning, describing it as “seven small rooms badly in need of repair” and “totally inadequate” for their needs (Flynn).  Since they had no where else to go, however, the nuns did the best they could, and soon their pupils were learning to read, write, do household tasks, and most importantly practice their Catholic faith.  The students’ successes, however, came at a high price, both to themselves and to their teachers.  Food was extremely sparse. In a letter to France, Rose remarked, “We have maize, pork and potatoes, but no eggs, butter, oil, fruit, or vegetables…the only edible oil to be had here is bear-grease, which is disgusting” (qtd. in Bascom 40).  At times the nuns and their students even lacked bread, and there was seldom enough of what they did have to go around.  Even water was lacking, despite their proximity to the Missouri River.  Because of their rule of enclosure, the nuns could not leave the convent to haul water from the river, and no one else would do it for them (unless some profit-minded person brought up a bucketful, for which he charged a high price), so they often had to rely on two small, muddy springs close to the house for their drinking water (Cradle Land; Bascom 38; Flynn).  As hungry and thirsty as they often were, the nuns worked hard. Along with teaching, they did all the chores pioneer women had to do: gardening, caring for the cows, baking, cooking, washing, cleaning, and much more.  Their students helped, of course, but for the most part, the five nuns were on their own.  Rose, ever devout, commented, “We do all this with as much joy as though we were teaching because God wills it thus…” (qtd. in Bascom 41). When winter arrived, their situation became even more critical.  Their house lacked insulation of any kind, and heat from the fire escaped through the gaps in the doors, windows, and walls.  Hot food froze on the table, water froze in the pail right next to the fire place, and sometimes nuns’ and students’ hands froze to their tin plates (Flynn; Cradle Land; Horvat).  On top of that, the nuns did not even have the proper tools to chop wood, so they sometimes had to go without any fire at all (Horvat).  The fire they did have became a menace twice during that first winter.  Once a chimney fire in the infirmary threatened the convent, but the nuns managed to put it out even with their limited water supply.  On another occasion, a breeze caught a candle flame in the chapel, and a nearby curtain ignited.  As the fire spread, the nuns formed a bucket brigade and somehow saved their home (Flynn).  The Lord, in His mysterious ways, brought a miracle out of this near disaster.  The Sacred Host, which the nuns were adoring before the fire, was found afterwards perfectly preserved and “unharmed in a charred pall and corporal” (Jeanne Marie).  Rose summed up her experience in St. Charles, and the nuns’ attitude toward it, with the words, “We are indeed in the headquarters of poverty.  There is every appearance that we shall sow in tears; and too happy shall we be to do so, if others are to reap in joy, surrounded by the children our prayers have won for them” (qtd. in Emery 690).  Despite the nuns’ hard work and suffering, the St. Charles boarding school failed and closed after only a year.  Parents simply did not want to send their girls to a frontier town to face such an austere life (Bascom 22).  Rose blamed herself, thinking she was not a fit Superior, but she continued to abandon herself to the Lord, saying, ‘”Perhaps Our Lord wants His missionary nuns to sanctify themselves through failure” (Lynch; Keppel 59).  A new adventure, and new trials, awaited Rose and her companions as they packed their meager possessions and prepared to move from the little house in St. Charles.
          Bishop Du Bourg had a farm near the town of Florissant, and it was there he decided to build a new convent and school for the Society of the Sacred Heart.  The nuns and three of the boarding school children moved to their new quarters in September of 1819.  The move itself, had it not been so trying, might have seemed rather comical. Rose wrote in her journal:

There were seventeen trips across the river.  This does not mean that we were very rich, for a one-horse cart can only carry three people, or baggage in proportion….In the evening I closed the march with the cows, calves, chickens and Sister Marguerite.  But our cows revolted when they found themselves tied and obliged to walk in the heat so that I had to wait until early the next morning when the rest of our furniture was packed into three small wagons.  We had to appease the cows with cabbages, for they were at first very obstinate.  Finally, worn out by their ropes and by fatigue, they decided to follow along with their calves.  I perched on top of a cart, dividing my attention between the care of my relics and that of the poultry. (qtd. in Bascom 41)

Life at Florissant was not much better, and perhaps even worse, than life at St. Charles, at least at first.  The nuns’ living quarters were actually smaller than before, for they stayed at the bishop’s farmhouse, a log cabin of only 324 square feet, until their convent could be build (Keppel 63).  They had only one room and a loft.  Just as before, the nuns and their students faced shortages of food and money, “dangers of fire, flood, and epidemic,” and an abundance of hard work (Jeanne Marie).  Soon, however, things began looking brighter for the little group, and they began to see some successes come from their efforts.

1. How would you behave if you were placed in a situation like that of Rose and her companions during the voyage of the Rebecca?
2. Have you ever suffered a great disappointment? How did you respond?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne - Part 3

A New Order, New Challenges, and a Long Wait 
          Slowly the Revolution died out, and Napoleon assumed power in France.  In 1801, the new leader signed a Concordat with Pius VII, and Catholic Churches quickly reopened across the country (Keppel 23; Bascom 8).  Rose wasted no time in reassuming religious life.  She managed to purchase the “badly damaged” Ste. Marie in December of 1801 and moved back with only one girl for company (Keppel 23; Horvat).  Life was not easy at the convent.  Cold and snow blew in through missing and broken doors and windows.  Funds were low at best and sometimes lacking altogether.  A few of the Visitation nuns, after much pleading from Rose, decided to move back to Ste. Marie, but they found the extreme austerities of life there to be too much for them and did not stay long (Lynch; Jeanne Marie).  Rose was devastated by the nuns’ departure.  She wrote, “I was crushed. I was the subject of scandal.  Gossip had it that I had driven away the religious, that I would not yield in anything, that no one could bear to live with me” (Lynch).  Despite all of these trials, however, Rose remained convinced that God had a plan for her and for Ste. Marie. (9)
          After nearly three years of struggling to build up a school at Ste. Marie, with the help of former Carmelite Madame Rivet and a few other brave women, Rose’s dream for the success of her convent began to come true on July 31, 1804.  Father Joseph Varin, who, along with Mother Madeleine Sophie Barat, had founded the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1800, arrived at Ste. Marie with an invitation for Rose and her companions to become members of the new order (Keppel 27; Bascom 9).  In December, Mother Barat herself visited Ste. Marie. Rose dropped to her knees before the woman who was to be her new Superior and exclaimed, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who bringeth good tidings and who preacheth peace” (Bascom 9).  Mother Barat was surprised by this enthusiastic greeting but agreed wholeheartedly to accept Ste. Marie as a convent in her order.  Rose entered the novitiate on New Year’s Eve, pleased to once again be formally a part of a religious community (Bascom 10).
          Rose’s life in the Society of the Sacred Heart at Ste. Marie was always busy, to the point of being hectic.  By 1806, Rose was secretary to the Superior, “head of the boarding school, teacher of the older children, business manager for the school and the convent, and nurse for the nuns and students” (Lynch).  To find time to pray, she often stayed awake most of the night. Even so, she was usually first to rise in the morning.  As a practice of self-denial and penance, Rose wore clothing discarded by others, and her meals consisted of leftovers from her pupil’s plates (Bascom 14).  In 1815, Rose went to Paris for the Second General Council of the Society and was appointed Secretary General at the Mother House.  It was painful for Rose to leave her beloved Ste. Marie, but she, as always, was willing to do her duty. (10)
          Perhaps the most difficult part of Rose’s years in the Society of the Sacred Heart at Ste. Marie and in Paris was her long wait to fulfill a dream she had cherished since childhood.  Ever since the young Rose had listened to the stories of a Jesuit missionary, she had longed to travel to America to share her faith with the Indians (Horvat).  Despite all the trials of the Revolution and all her hard work to reestablish Ste. Marie, her desire was always in her mind and heart. She expressed her longing in an 1806 letter to Mother Barat:

Joy flooded my heart all that night, for the permission you gave me for vigil (on Holy Thursday) came just in time.  O blessed night, when for the second time I thought that my prayer had been granted.  Oh, that I may go before the end of the year! I have almost persuaded myself that I shall. All night long I was in the New World, where I journeyed in good company.  First, I reverently gathered up all the Precious Blood from the Garden, the Praetorium, Calvary.  I took possession of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Closely embracing my treasure, I carried It everywhere to share most lavishly without fear of Its ever being exhausted. (qtd. in Bascon 35)

          Rose, however, would have to wait nearly twelve more years while Mother Barat firmly established the unity of the Society of the Sacred Heart in France and, at the same time, prepared Rose spiritually to face the hardships she would encounter in the missionary field (Jeanne; Bascom 13).  During that time, Rose consoled herself, at least in part, by “offering all her works, prayers, and sacrifices for the sake of her ‘dark souls’ in America” (Horvat).  Finally, her pleading bore fruit. In 1817 Bishop De Bourg of Louisiana visited Mother Barat, asking her for missionary help in his large diocese.  Rose begged to go, and at first, Mother Barat gave permission, only to withdraw it six months later because she was still concerned about the unity of her order.  Just as the bishop, quite displeased with Mother Barat’s refusal, was about to leave the Mother House, Rose appeared, dropped to her knees before Mother Barat, and cried, “Your consent, Mother! Please! Your consent!” (Bascom 14-15).  Looking at her spiritual daughter on the floor before her and certainly recalling Rose’s strong desire to spread the faith, Mother Barat could no longer refuse.  Rose finally had the permission she needed to embark on a new adventure, one that would prove to be even more taxing than all of her trials to that point. (11)

9. Do you continue to trust in God’s will even though beset by trials? How might you learn to trust Him more?
10. What kinds of penances do you do each day? Is prayer important enough in your life that you would do as Rose did and stay up at night just to pray?
11. Have you ever had to wait for something you really wanted? How did you respond to the wait? What did you learn from it?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne - Part 2

The French Revolution: A Time of Heartache and Love
          By 1789 the so-called Enlightenment ideas (i.e. often anti-Christian, anti-traditional rationalist ideas) like those held by Rose’s father had spread throughout France, becoming more and more radical.  Soon the “third estate,” or general population, decided that the time was right for them to break free from the bonds “imposed” by the clergy (the “first estate”) and the aristocracy (the “second estate”) (Kun).  On July 14, 1789, a mob made up of the “third estate” stormed the Bastille, a Parisian prison and fortress; imprisoned the royal family and many members of the clergy and aristocracy; and set up a revolutionary government that soon proved to be extremely hostile to the Catholic Church (Jeanne Marie).  The new government quickly passed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which essentially “overturned the Church in France,” setting up new diocesan boundaries, mandating that bishops and priests were to be elected by the people, including Protestants and Jews, and requiring clergy to take an oath renouncing the authority of the Pope and the universal Church (Jeanne Marie).  Many clergy, however, refused to take the oath and had to flee into hiding in order to avoid execution.  By 1792, the situation had grown much worse as the “Reign of Terror” took a firm hold on the country.  Church property was confiscated, churches were closed, Mass was banned, and anyone not supporting the Revolution was in danger of being sent to the guillotine (Kun; Jeanne Marie).  That year’s September Massacre took the lives of over four hundred priests and religious, one thousand Catholic aristocrats, and eight thousand citizens (Jeanne Marie).  The government increased its attempts to eliminate everything Catholic, destroy the Church, and introduce a New World Order with a “new universal religion of atheistic humanism” (Jeanne Marie).  It even went so far as to revise the calendar to count years from the beginning of the Revolution, institute a ten-day week without Sundays, and remove holy days.  Many people seemed to be echoing Voltaire’s manic call for the destruction of the Catholic Church: “Let us crush the wretch! Crush the wretch! The Christian religion is an infamous religion. It must be destroyed by a hundred invisible hands” (Jeanne Marie). (7)
          Rose must have been horrified to see the state of France and of her beloved Church during the years of the Revolution.  The upheaval touched her personally in 1792 when the nuns of Ste. Marie were dispersed by order of the government (Horvat).  The convent was turned into a prison, and the disappointed Rose returned to Grenoble but not to her family’s home.  Instead she rented a small apartment in the town and, with several other devout women, organized the “Ladies of Mercy,” an informal organization dedicated to performing spiritual and corporal works of mercy like caring for the poor, sick, and imprisoned, teaching the Catholic faith to poor children, and sheltering priests (Jeanne Marie; Lynch; McNamara; Horvat; Kun).  These women performed their work at great personal risk, especially after the Terror came with full force to Grenoble in 1794.  Rose’s family worried about her safety, but even in the midst of the dangers and trials of that time, Rose replied, “Let me be. It is my happiness and glory to serve my Divine Savior in the person of those persecuted for His sake” (Horvat). (8)

7. In what ways is the modern Church under persecution?
8. In what ways can you serve the suffering poor around you? Would you have had the courage to act as Rose did? Why or why not?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne - Part 1

This paper was originally written for my Historical Foundations class at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I will post it in sections with a bibliography attached to the last part. At the end of each post, there will be a few reflection questions for readers to use as they meditate on their own lives in relationship to the experiences of St. Rose.

The Trials and Triumphs of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

          In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (9:23).  Christians of all times and places have struggled to keep this command, and many have looked to the saints for guidance, example, and encouragement in their trials.  One such saint, Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769-1852), a nun of the Society of the Sacred Heart and a missionary to America, was given many opportunities to take up her cross and follow Jesus, and she did so willingly, thereby growing ever closer to the Lord and providing a model for other Christians, both her contemporaries and those who would come after her.  Rose, whose perpetual motto was, “Let us bear our cross and leave it to God to determine the length and weight,” lived a life characterized by severe trials, but these hardships eventually led to the triumph of Rose’s beloved Sisters of the Sacred Heart and to her own triumphal entry into Heaven (qtd. in Lynch). (1)
The Early Life: The Trials of Rose’s Youth

          Rose Philippine Duchesne was born August 29, 1769, in Grenoble, France, to Pierre François and Rose (Périer) Duchesne (Keppel 2; Bascom 4).  From her earliest days, Rose was no stranger to hardship and work.  Although her family was reasonably well-off, her childhood home lacked comforts that many modern people take for granted.  Rose and her siblings were used to enduring cold and snow, even having to break the ice from their water pitchers each morning, as the icy winds blew through their poorly-insulated home (Keppel 3; Bascom 5; Jeanne Marie).  Rose helped with daily household chores, and as the second oldest in the family, she often cared for her younger brothers and sisters (Jeanne Marie). (2)  She also learned early in her life to care for those less fortunate, accompanying her devoutly-Catholic mother on visits to the sick and poor of their town and often giving her spending money and possessions to the children she met (Lynch; Cradle Land).  Once, when her parents protested her generosity, reminding their daughter that those things were for her pleasure, Rose replied, “This is my pleasure” (Bascom 5). (3)
          One of the greatest trials of Rose’s younger years was her father’s hostile attitude toward the Catholic Church that her mother had taught her to love dearly.  Pierre Duchesne was an “enthusiastic supporter of the new ideas of liberty” in France, adhered firmly to the anti-Christian rhetoric of Voltaire, and took an active part in local “revolutionary clubs and Masonic groups” (Horvat).  Her father’s attitude nearly broke Rose’s heart.  “This is the severest trial God could have sent me,” she once confided to a priest (Jeanne Marie). (4)
          Although Rose was too respectful and loving to clash openly with her father about his beliefs, tension increased between parent and child as the latter grew older and especially after she discovered her vocation to religious life.  At age twelve, Rose entered the boarding school at Ste. Marie-d’en-Haut, a Visitation convent near Grenoble (Bascom 5; Lynch).  She threw herself wholeheartedly into her new life of prayer and study, reciting the Divine Office with the nuns and spending hours in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament (Jeanne Marie; Keppel 5-6). By the time she made her first Holy Communion on Pentecost Sunday in 1782, Rose knew for sure that she wanted to dedicate her life to God and the Church, particularly as a missionary nun, serving the “heathen in distant lands [and] the neglected and poor at home” (Jeanne Marie; Lynch; Lowth).  Her father, however, would hear nothing of it.  He immediately pulled her out of school.  From then on, Rose was educated by a tutor at home.  She must have missed Ste. Marie immensely, and her forced absence was certainly a “crushing disappointment” and a great trial (Jeanne Marie).  Even at home, though, Rose dedicated herself to prayer and penance, took on the worst possible household chores, resumed her visits to the sick and poor, and essentially, tried to live the life of a nun right at home (Lynch; Keppel 7; Jeanne Marie). (5)
          Rose continued this way of life for several years until, in 1787 at age eighteen, the call of her vocation proved too strong to ignore.  For many years she had prayed to know God’s will and do it, and now, she felt, her time had come.  She convinced her parents to let her visit Ste. Marie accompanied by her aunt.  Once there, however, she refused to leave the convent, and her aunt returned to Grenoble alone to face Rose’s parents.  None of her father’s arguments or threats could convince Rose to return home, and she entered the novitiate at Ste. Marie, only agreeing to her father’s request that she postpone her vows until age twenty-five.  Pierre Duchesne, it seems, had an inkling of the events to come, events that would shake France to its very roots (Keppel 8; Bascom 6-7; Emery 688; Horvat; Jeanne Marie). (6)

1. While the main body of this study will examine the trials and triumphs of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, the end notes will contain brief reflection questions designed to help modern readers meditate on their own lives through Rose’s example. After all, one of the primary purposes of studying the life of any saint is to learn to live more like Jesus by examining how that saint did so.
2. What are the hardships and inconveniences you face in daily living? How do you accept those hardships?
3. How does the modern world view generosity? Are you as generous as you could be towards others? What concrete actions could you take to become more generous?
4. Do you have a relative or friend who is away from the Lord? How could you help that person to grow closer to Jesus and come back to the Church? Rose’s father, by the way, did find his way back to the Catholic Church, surely with the aid of Rose’s many prayers. He died a faithful Catholic.
5. Have you seriously discerned your vocation in life? If so, how are you living it? If not, how might you further discern your vocation?
6. How do you determine God’s will in your life? Is there something you have wanted to do for a long time but have hesitated to fulfill? What might you do now to remedy that situation?

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Weekly Bookworm: Angels

The Weekly Bookworm: Angels

Angels are trendy these days. Store shelves are stocked with everything from angel calendars and stationary to angel figurines and throw pillows. But how much do people really know about these heavenly spirits who serve as God's messengers? In most cases, not much. The following books offer some insight into our angelic guardians and friends. Please use caution when choosing books about angels; while those listed here are all written by devout Catholic authors, there are many angel books that lean toward or even enthusiastically embrace the new age movement.

Books on Angels

1. Angels of God by Mike Aquilina

Mike Aquilina's book on angels measures right up to his volumes on the early Church and the Church Fathers. Aquilina examines angels as they appear in the Bible, in our worship, and in our lives. This is a great book for those who want to learn “angel basics” from a faith-filled, Catholic perspective.

2. Heavenly Army of Angels by Bob and Penny Lord

This book focuses on the role of angels in miraculous events and in the lives of the saints. Even though the writing isn't the smoothest or best, the book still offers a fascinating and inspiring account of angelic intervention throughout the centuries.

3. The Light of Love by Patricia Devlin

I love this book! Patricia Devlin is an incredible person and a victim soul chosen to be the chronicler of the angels, who communicate God's messages through her to us. This book must be read slowly and meditatively, so plan to spend plenty of time on it.

4. Where Angels Walk by Joan Wester Anderson

This is one of several books about angels and/or miracles by Joan Wester Anderson. They all focus on the loving touch of God in the daily lives of regular people and are especially helpful for necessary “faith boosts” during difficult times. Miracles do happen!


Monday, November 29, 2010

From Rote to Reflection

We've all done it...some of us quite frequently. We rattle off an Our Father or a Hail Mary or a Glory Be with our minds wandering far afield and then wonder what in the world we just said. We slog through our daily prayers only half awake, mumbling them from memory or letting the words of our prayer books slide by without stopping to think about what they actually say.

Catholics are especially susceptible to these kinds of problems. The prayers we memorized as children glide off our lips and can escape without a second thought. We have at our fingertips collections of beautiful prayers written by devout men and women and designed to deepen and enrich our spiritual lives, but it is very easy to read them quickly and then forget about them.

In order to break this all-too-familiar pattern, we must move from rote to reflection, setting aside time each week or even each day to meditate deeply on familiar memorized or written prayers, draw out the depths of their meaning, and apply them to our lives.

Let's look at an example. Today's closing prayer from the Liturgy of Hours reads as follows:

Lord our God,
help us to prepare
for the coming of Christ Your Son.
May He find us waiting,
eager in joyful prayer.

This seems like a simple little prayer, and on the surface it is...just five short lines appropriate to the themes of the Advent season. But when we stop for a few minutes to reflect on these words, we recognize the extent of their wisdom.

Lord our God...”
Isn't it a miracle that we can even talk to God? Think about Him for a moment. He is all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-holy, yet He still allows us to address Him. He is so far above us, present everywhere and seeing everything, yet He stoops to hear the smallest of our prayers. He is our Lord and our God, but He wants a personal, intimate relationship with each and every one of us. Now that's amazing! us to prepare for the coming of Christ Your Son.”
These eleven words pack a huge punch of meaning. First, we learn that we are not alone in our Advent preparations. God helps us. He gives us the graces we need to prepare our hearts for the coming of His Son. It's good to remember this during the busyness of the Christmas season when we feel overwhelmed with a thousand things to do and very little time in which to do them. We can ask God to help us prepare, and He long as we respond with openness and cooperation.

These two lines also tell us what Advent is all about, preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus came among us as a tiny Baby on that first Christmas, but He also comes to us every day, every moment, in our prayers, in our daily activities, and through the people around us. Are we prepared to recognize and accept Him? He comes to us in Holy Communion, too, in a most intimate and profound way. Are we properly disposed to receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity? How about at the moment of our death when we meet Christ the Judge? Are we ready to stand before Him?

It wouldn't hurt us either to take a few moments to reflect on Jesus Christ as the Son of God, equal to the Father, God from all eternity, and the Father's living Word.

May He find us waiting, eager in joyful prayer.”
Our final two lines instruct us in the attitude we are to assume during the Advent season (and throughout our lives): waiting, eager, and in joyful prayer. Waiting suggestions recollection of God and a consciousness that something important is about to happen. It also speaks of patience and perseverance, of openness to the future, and of trust in the God Who comes to us. This waiting is not to be mournful or boring, however. It is to be eager. We're preparing for the wonderful event of Christ's coming, so why wouldn't we be like excited little children, ready to greet Him at the moment of His arrival? And while we're waiting, we're to spend our time in joyful prayer...not dull, weak, inattentive recitation but loving, trusting, intimate communication that strengthens our relationship with the Blessed Trinity.

This little meditation has merely scratched the surface of our model prayer, but the more we spend time spend reflecting on our “everyday” prayers, both memorized and written, the more we will recognize their depths, appreciate their beauty and complexity, and, through them, grow ever closer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mini Meditation

Prayer is not about getting something we want; it's about developing a relationship with Someone we need.  Seek the Giver rather than the gifts.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Weekly Bookworm: General Catholic Church History

Dedicated bookworms like me not only love to read books, we also enjoy recommending and discussing our favorites. Every week, I'll suggest a few good books about a particular topic (i.e., between three and five), offer short review of each, and provide a link either to Amazon or an online source. Please feel free to begin discussions about these books or recommend others of the same topic. Bookworms like to receive recommendations as much as they like to give them!

Books on General Catholic Church History

Dr. Schreck, a professor of Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, offers a easy-to-read overview of Church history in this little book. He covers all the major periods of the Church's past and highlights key figures and events without getting bogged down in details. I would recommend this book as a good introduction to Church history that will prepare readers for more complex and comprehensive studies.

2. Church History by Fr. John Laux

This book was the primary text for my Historical Foundations class at Franciscan. It is thorough, detailed, and long, but it is also a fascinating read that incorporates not only stories of historical events but also biographies of the saints and excerpts from primary source documents. Helpful appendices include a chronological table of events in the history of the Church in United States and lists of popes, ecumenical councils, and doctors of the Church. The book's primary drawback is that it cuts off at the mid-1940s (when it was written), leaving readers to turn to other sources for more recent Church history.

3. Studies in Church History by Reuben Parsons

This six-volume series is not for Church history novices! It is an intense and exhaustive look at the Catholic Church from the time of the apostles through the late nineteenth century. This is an excellent reference series, but it would be difficult and time-consuming to read all the way through. I have provided a link to Volume I, but the entire series is available online at

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Wisdom of Dolly

Over the past few weeks, I've been rehearsing and performing as a member of the orchestra for the East Central School and Community production of Hello, Dolly! The musical is filled with catchy songs, fast and furious dance routines, and hilarious dialogue, but it also has moments of real wisdom that encourage the audience to think deeply about life, love, and wealth.

1. Our loved ones are close to us even in death. Dolly speaks frequently to her late husband Ephraim Levi, acknowledging the depth of their relationship, telling him about her plans, and asking him for a sign of his approval. In the end, she receives her sign and teaches the audience an important lesson about the love that transcends death.

2. Money is supposed to be used for good rather than hoarded. At the beginning of the play, Dolly says to Ephraim, “I'm going to marry Horace Vandergelder for his money and send it circulating among the people like rainwater, the way you taught me.” At the end, after she has indeed received a marriage proposal from Horace, she explains to the audience, “Money, money, money, money, money, Mr. Vandergelder's money. It's like the sun we walk under. It can kill...or cure....The difference between a little money and no money at all is enormous, and that can shatter the world. And the difference between a little money and an enormous amount of money is very slight, and that can shatter the world, too. It's all in how you use it.”

3. Love can be found in the most unlikely situations and with the most unlikely people. Irene Molloy never expected to find love again. Her first husband, Peter Molloy, was her share of true love, she tells her assistant, Minnie. Irene is planning to marry Horace only to get away from the millinery business, and she is only looking for “a bit of adventure” when Cornelius and Barnaby show up in her hat shop. Little does she know that by the end of the day, she would fall in love with the nervous, goofy Cornelius, who professes, along with Irene, that it “only takes a moment to be loved a whole life long.”

4. Even the most cranky and difficult people can and do change when their hearts are touched by another. Horace Vandergelder is an old curmudgeon. He spends much of the play blustering about how people are foolish, looking for “someone steady to cleaning the house” (as Dolly says), and yelling at just about everyone. In the end, though, Dolly has touched his heart and softened it, and he has learned what love means.

5. We learn about ourselves if we take time to reflect on our experiences. Dolly is a very self-confident person who pokes her nose into just about everyone's business, with good intentions, of course. But she also takes time to think about her life. In one of her “conversations” with Ephraim, she talks about how an oak leaf fell out of her Bible, a leaf that she had placed there when he asked her to marry him. She realizes that she is like that old oak leaf, without color and life, as she follows her daily routine without emotion, waiting for something, anything, to happen that will bring her true joy. She vows to “rejoin the human race” and asks Ephraim to give her away. Almost in spite of herself, she ends up finding joy in her relationships with Horace, Cornelius, Irene, Barnaby, and Minnie as she plans for them all to be together and dance at Horace's niece Ermengarde's wedding. Dolly has discovered what life is really all!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

St. Gertrude's Prayer

Today (November 16) is the feast day of St. Gertrude, who was a thirteenth-century Benedictine nun and mystic.  Our Lord gave her the following prayer for souls in Purgatory:

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, those in my own home and within my family.  Amen.  

Please pray this powerful little prayer frequently!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Marthe Robin

Today I was "introduced" to an incredible person.  It was totally by accident.  I was looking up something else on the Internet when I came across the story of her life.  Perhaps I shouldn't say "accident"; "God-incidence" is more accurate (there are no coincidences, after all).  In any case, God placed Marthe Robin directly before my eyes.

Marthe Robin (1902-1981) lived her entire life in a small French village.  By the time she was twenty-eight years old, she was almost completely paralyzed and bedridden due to a neurological illness.  She could not eat or even drink water.  She lived in darkness due to severe eye problems and eventually lost her eyesight.  She couldn't even sleep.  Most people would have given up in despair...but not Marthe.  She offered her sufferings to Jesus and became a victim soul, intent on making reparation for the sins of the world.

Marthe's story does not end there.  With the help of her spiritual director, she founded a school in her village and, not long afterward, a retreat community called "Foyer de Charite" (or "Home of Love"), which took on the mission of proclaiming the Gospel with a special focus on love of God the Father and the need for all humanity to live as the family of God.  Today there are seventy Foyers de Charite in forty countries, all of which offer numerous retreats each year to men and women of all ages and backgrounds.

Along with being a victim soul and a community foundress, Marthe was also a stigmatist and mystic.  She received the marks of the Passion and Crucifixion for the first time in 1930 and continued to physically experience the sufferings of Christ every Friday until her death in 1981.  Further, Marthe received numerous visits from Jesus, Mary, and St. Therese, who guided and and strengthened her throughout her life.  Because Marthe was not able to eat or drink due to her paralysis, her only source of nourishment for fifty-three years was the Holy Eucharist, which she received once a week.  Jesus provided Marthe with everything she needed to fulfill her divinely-given mission.  Can we not trust Him to do the same for us?

For more information on Marthe Robin and her amazing story, please visit the following websites:
"Marthe Robin: Another Victim Soul" by Jim Gallagher
"The Servant of God Marthe Robin"
"Marthe Robin: Charity and Love" by David Fanning
"Marthe Robin: Modern Stigmatist, Mystic, and Foundress" by Jeff Mirus
"Foyer of Charity"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reading Recommendation: First Clement

Christians seeking to learn about the early Church while deepening their spiritual lives will benefit from a thorough reading of the ancient First Letter of Clement to the Corinthians.  Written sometime between 81 and 110 AD, First Clement was sent from the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church in response to divisions and conflicts that were plaguing the latter.  Scholars, as always, debate endlessly about the letter’s authorship, but tradition holds that Clement, the bishop of Rome (i.e., pope) in the years 88-97, penned the document, which was often regarded as Scripture by other Church Fathers. 

Clement addresses the potentially-explosive situation at Corinth (apparently some younger, power-hungry Christians had risen up again a group of holy presbyters (priests) and ousted them from their office) by reminding all Corinthian Christians of the life they are called to live in Jesus Christ.  He focuses on such still-highly-relevant topics as jealousy and its consequences, repentance, obedience, faith, piety, hospitality, humility, peace, virtue, holiness, and the necessity of divinely-sanctioned order.  The entire discussion is permeated by quotations from the Sacred Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, which Clement uses to support and explain his arguments and to illustrate how faithful Christians are to conduct their lives.  Clement ends his letter by exhorting the Corinthians to reestablish unity among themselves through repentance and love.

Despite its early date, First Clement exhibits a sophisticated Christology, depicting Christ as the Suffering Servant Who died and rose again for the salvation of humanity.  Clement also presents Christ as the divine Son of God, as a divine emissary from the Father, as a model and teacher for all people, as both priest and sacrifice, as a sign of the divinely-sanctioned order in the Church, and as the scepter of God (i.e., power and authority of God in a supremely-dignified Person). 

Modern Christians will find abundant inspiration and “food for thought” in First Clement’s theology, presentation of salvation history, and practical moral guidance for authentic Christian living.  The letter is also saturated with gems for meditation.  For example, in chapter 19, Clement encourages his audience to “gaze intently on the Father and Creator of the entire world and cling to His magnificent and superior gifts of peace and acts of kindness.”  Who wouldn’t benefit from following Clement’s instructions and reflecting on God in this way? 

First Clement is featured in the Loeb Classical Library’s The Apostolic Fathers Volume I, translated by Bart D. Ehrman, quoted in this post, and available at Amazon.  The letter may be found online in several full-text translations as well as in the original Greek at  For more information about Clement and the other Apostolic Fathers, refer to Clayton N. Jefford’s Reading the Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction, from which much of the information in this post is drawn.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mystagogy - Part 7

Ideas for the Future: Regaining the Mystery, Restoring Mystagogy 
          Easter Vigil had been a very special celebration for the young man.  He reflected on his experiences as he drove to his parish Church the following Wednesday night for Mass and his first mystagogy session.  He had never been baptized.  His parents were not religious, so they had never thought of baptizing their children.  As he reached young adulthood, however, he realized something was missing in his life.  When his Catholic friends invited him to Mass one Sunday, he knew what that something was…God.  After talking to the parish priest and praying, the young man knew he was called to become Catholic.  He enrolled in the RCIA class at his friends’ Church and spent the next several months studying the Catholic faith, especially the Bible and the Catechism.  Then finally on Easter Vigil, the young man was baptized and confirmed, and he received Jesus for the first time in Holy Communion.  He knew he would never be able to put into words the intimacy with his Lord and Savior that he felt that night.  Now this evening, he would begin the mystagogy portion of the RCIA program.  He was not quite sure what to expect, but he knew what the priest told him, and he was excited.  The priest had explained to the catechumens that on the first Wednesday after Easter, he would help them delve been more deeply into the mysteries of their faith.  He had told them that he was going to show them the intricate and beautiful connections between the Scriptures they had been studying and the liturgy in which they participated fully for the first time at Easter Vigil.  He had asked them to read Luke 24:13-35, the story of the disciples and Jesus on the road to Emmaus, before the class.  The young man had done so, and he could not quite see how everything fit together, but he was eager to learn.  He was eager to travel ever-deeper into the riches of the faith he had found.  He was eager to meet God there.  He was eager to be just like those disciples on the road to Emmaus.
          The final section of this study will offer a few ideas to help pastors, catechists, and other parish leaders restore mystagogy in their parishes and thereby help new Christians, and indeed all Catholics, grasp the crucial integration between liturgy, Scripture, and mystery.  We shall see how the modern Church provides rich teachings on these key elements of the Catholic faith.  Then, we shall introduce some specific resources that will guide teachers of mystagogy in their efforts to restore this important teaching in their parishes, and finally, we shall emphasize that, to be authentic, all study of liturgy and Scripture, all reflection on mystery, and all teaching of mystagogy must be focused on the Blessed Trinity.
          The first step in restoring mystagogy to our modern Church involves education and awareness.  Catholics who are in charge of teaching others the mysteries of the faith, especially liturgy and Scripture, must thoroughly understand the Church’s official teaching on these topics. Indeed, at the Second Vatican Council, the bishops, guided by the Holy Spirit, produced remarkable documents that both summarize and develop the Church’s teachings on liturgy, Scripture, and mystery.  Before even beginning to devise a plan of mystagogical teaching, pastors and catechists must meticulously study and totally comprehend at least three of the Council’s documents: Dei Verbum, Sancrosanctum Concilium, and Lumen Gentium.  The first of these, Dei Verbum, wonderfully presents the Church’s teaching on Divine Revelation, including Sacred Scripture. It discusses the complex transmission of Revelation, asserts the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, advocates a renewal of typology, and calls for the study of both the literal and spiritual senses of Scripture in the context of the unity of the canon, the Sacred Tradition, and the analogy of the faith. (91)  This document is indispensable for gaining a proper understanding of God’s Word, written and lived. In conjunction, those to propose to teach mystagogy must have a good grasp of the Church’s teaching on liturgy.  This can be found in the Council’s document, Sancrosanctum Concilium, which presents the liturgy as the summit and fount of the Church’s life and as the work of and the privileged meeting place with the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit.  The document lays out a plan for reforming liturgy that is designed to help the faithful actively participate in the great mysteries they celebrate.  It also emphasizes the depths of mystery present in the sacramental liturgy, especially in the Eucharist. (92)  Finally, those seeking to teach mystagogy ought to look closely at the Council’s document on the Church, Lumen Gentium.  This rich document expounds the mysteries of the Church as the Bride and Mystical Body of Christ, as the Kingdom of God, as a visible institution and invisible reality, and as a hierarchical structure and the People of God. (93)  All three of these documents present the Church’s official position on liturgy, Scripture, and mystery, individually and in unity, so they are all necessary sources for teaching mystagogy.  Finally, those seeking to better understand the riches of the Catholic faith must turn to the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, drawing from the documents we have just mentioned as well as numerous others from the Second Vatican Council, past councils, saints, and theologians, offers in-depth examinations of liturgy, Scripture, and mystery; calls specifically for a renewal of mystagogy (see paragraph 1075); and even proposes models for mystagogy in its discussion of the sacraments (see, for instance, paragraphs 1217-1228, which use typology to list and explain Old and New Testament prefigurations of Baptism). (94)  For a true restoration and renewal of mystagogy in our parishes, then, those in charge of mystagogical instruction must themselves be educated; they must encounter the Church’s official teaching about liturgy, Scripture, and mystery at its source in the documents the Church provides for our edification.
          Along with learning the substance of mystagogical teaching through Church documents, instructors of mystagogy ought to take advantage of the numerous resources available to them as they seek, from the pulpit or the classroom, to help Catholics new and old discover the mysteries of their faith. Let us look briefly at a few of these.  In an article in Pro Ecclesia, Benedictine Jeremy Driscoll outlines a plan for mystagogical preaching designed to help pastors lead their congregations into a deeper understanding of the relationship between the Scriptures and the liturgy and of the mysteries of the Eucharist.  He advocates the use of biblical typology, after the model of the Fathers, to help Catholics discover the connections, indeed the integration, between the Scriptures they hear, the Eucharist in which they participate, and the mysteries they experience.  Driscoll lays out two detailed approaches to mystagogy that he encourages pastors to employ freely in their preaching at each and every Mass.  The first encourages preachers to discover and expose the connections between Scripture and the Eucharist present in each Gospel passage read at Mass, and the second promotes in-depth theological descriptions of the liturgical rites that ground them firmly in Scripture while elaborating on their mystery. (95)  Teachers of mystagogy will also benefit from books like Understanding the Mystery of the Mass by Father Matthew Buettner and The Bible and the Liturgy by Jean Daniélou.  The former features a collection of actual mystagogical instructions given by Father Buettner to his congregation over several months.  Father Buettner explains each part of the Mass in detail, offering both Scriptural and sacramental typology to help his parishioners sink deeply into the mysteries of their faith. (96)  The Bible and the Liturgy provides a more exhaustive study of the Biblical typology of the liturgy that will help teachers of mystagogy greatly increase their own knowledge of the unity of Scripture, liturgy, and mystery in order to pass it on to their students more effectively. (97)  Students and teachers alike ought to carefully peruse Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians by Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina.  This book offers a series of fifty excerpts from the mystagogical teachings of the Church Fathers, and as the title suggests, they are designed to help Christians of all levels learn and live the mysteries of their faith.  Each meditation shows how Scripture, liturgy, and mystery unite to lead us into the depths of Christian living, and each is followed by a prayer and memorization suggestions as well as an “Apply it to Your Life” section that offers ideas on how to live out the meditation just presented. (98)  This book could easily be used as a “textbook” for the mystagogy portion of the RCIA program or as a guide for any parish study group eager to discover the mysteries of the Catholic faith. (99)  Each book mentioned here offers an extensive bibliography intended to draw readers into deeper study.  Teachers of mystagogy must also be aware of online resources that will help them prepare to introduce their students to the riches of Scripture, liturgy, and mystery in the Catholic faith, particularly (which provides links to a multitude of helpful online resources), (which features a Catholic encyclopedia, works of the Church Fathers, a full-text edition of the Summa Theologica, and much more), (which offers numerous documents, reflections, audio resources, and more), and (which, as the official Vatican website, presents a full range of Church documents).
          As teachers of mystagogy prepare their lessons, as they introduce their students to the method of typology, as they show them the intricate relationships between Scripture and liturgy, as they assist them in entering into the mysteries of their faith, as they practice mystagogy as it was practiced on the road to Emmaus and in the early Church, they must always remember that their primary focus must be on God.  The ultimate goal of mystagogy is deeper intimacy between the Christian and the Blessed Trinity. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, must be at the center of all mystagogical teaching. God is at the center of the Scripture (for the Scriptures are inspired and authored by Him and reveal Him to us).  God is at the center of the liturgy (for here we welcome Him into our very bodies in the Eucharist).  God is at the center of the mysteries of our faith; in fact, He is the mystery!  Therefore, God must be at the center of all mystagogy.  He is, after all, the Creator of mystagogy.  He is the One Who walked along that dusty road to Emmaus two centuries ago, opening the Scriptures to His disciplines, making their hearts burn within them, and revealing Himself in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist, the mystery of His real presence among us then and now.
          We have come a long way in our study of mystagogy.  We have seen how, if properly taught, it helps Catholics, new and old alike, see the integration between Scripture and liturgy.  We have seen how it leads us more deeply into the mysteries of our faith.  We have traced its rise and fall in history, from the days of the early Church when mystagogy was at its zenith through the centuries as mystagogy declined and fell into disuse to today when mystagogy seems to be at its nadir but is actually beginning to experience renewal right now.  We have provide a few ideas that teachers of mystagogy may pursue as they restore this important teaching on the parish level.  Overall, we have seen that to truly accompany Jesus on the road to Emmaus is to study mystagogy, to listen to Him as He opens the Scriptures for us, to meet Him in the breaking of the bread, to embrace Him in mystery, to love Him in truth.

91. Cf. Vatican II Council, “Dei Verbum.”
92. Cf. Vatican II Council, “Sancrosanctum Concilium,” in The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, N.Y.: Costello Publishing Company; Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1998).
93. Cf. Vatican II Council, “Lumen Gentium,” in The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, N.Y.: Costello Publishing Company; Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1998).
94. Cf. Cathecism.
95. Jeremy Driscoll, “Preaching in the Context of the Eucharist: A Patristic Perspective,” Pro Ecclesia 11 (2002), 24-40.
96. Matthew Buettner, Understanding the Mystery of the Mass (Goletta, Calif.: Queenship Publishing Company, 2006).
97. Cf. Daniélou.
98. Cf. Hahn and Aquilina.
99. We have not spoken much about the practicalities of a program of mystagogy, for each parish must determine the specifics based on its individual needs.  However, the period of mystagogy ought to extend at least from Easter until Pentecost with neophytes meeting at least weekly.  Mystagogy, as we are seeing, is not necessarily limited to new Christians.  All Christians need mystagogy throughout their lives to continue growing in their faith.  This mystagogy might take the form of preaching, as Father Driscoll suggests, study groups, retreats, or individual study.