TSD 25: Irruptions of the Sacred

Yes, that's a real word, and it's a great one

First of all, mea culpa. I forgot the Ember Days last week. I’m so pleased that my bishop, David Zubik of Pittsburgh, has recommended that the clergy of the diocese observe these traditional days of fast and penance—and suggested that it might not be a bad idea for the lay faithful, as well. When it comes to feasts and fasts—anything that breaks the monotony of the worldly with the exuberance of the sacred—it really is the more the merrier.

On that point, you’ll see that theme of the intermingling of the eternal and the everyday throughout this week’s newsletter. Bringing the two into a more fruitful integration is, after all, one of the main points of this newsletter. And it’s something I’ll be talking and writing about more in coming months and years.

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings are Amos 8:4-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-8, and Luke 16:1-13 (or, if thirteen verses of the Word if God are too many for you, 10-13).

(Actually, in this case skipping 1-9 might make sense, since it’s the parable of the unjust steward and no one knows what to do with it. You can read more on this challenging parable in the Extraordinary Form section of TSD 18.)

This reading from the prophet Amos comes from the section of his book that is “wholly made up of visions of judgment against Israel.” I want to focus on 8:5, in which the prophet inveighs against those anxious to buy and sell: “‘When will the new moon be over,’ you ask, ‘that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?’” Haydock adds a little color: “‘Sabbath’ also denotes all ‘festivals.’ These misers think that there are too many.”

What an outstanding brief against utilitarianism and a disordered emphasis on economic pragmatism. Of course it indicts the boss, the master, the capitalist who cannot abide rest and who is always looking for the next buck to make. But let us also remember the times we have resented Friday abstinence from meat, or a Holy Day of Obligation, or some other irruption of the sacred into “regular” life, just wanting things to “get back to normal.” If we consider being ensconced in the concerns of the world to be “normal,” then maybe we could use more, not fewer, fasts and feasts.

Monday, September 23, is the Feast of St. Pio of Pietrelcina—that is to say, Padre Pio. I have to say, I’m not up on Padre Pio studies, except that I know—and some brief research confirmed—that it’s quite a minefield. Claims of fascism, fakery, fornication: It’s all there.

Pio is perhaps the quintessential saint for the modern world, a man whose controversy would have been in the past sequestered in ecclesial meetings and documents but who in the early mass media age became nothing short of a superstar—“the most important Italian of the last century” according to one secular biographer. He was a man who, whatever you think about his stigmata and other apparent supernatural abilities, exuded that manic energy that lives in the space between holiness and madness, but unlike Catherine of Siena, or other historic saints, he did so in the age of the camera and the journalist. This makes him at once more accessible and more mysterious, more credible and more strange.

For my part, I don’t know what to make of him. The accounts of his wounds and his ecstasies are incredible—and yet if I heard them about some 11th century mystic I wouldn’t question them for a second. Padre Pio, then, brings a certain unrestrained spirituality from the Before Time into a modern world where it no longer seems to fit. This is how he challenges us.

Padre Pio.jpg

I enjoy this rendering of St. Pio for the way it captures that look in his eyes that might be peace, might be mania, and might be sanctity.

Thursday, September 26, is the Feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. Their feast is the next day in the 1960 calendar. Little is known about these brothers, perhaps twins, who were martyred during the Diocletian persecution. They are said to have been physicians from Arabia who converted to Christianity and, thereafter, refused to accept payment for their healing services. In and through this charity, they brought many to the Faith.

They might have been forgotten to the faithful along with any number of other ancient saints, but you probably recognize their names. This is because they are memorialized in the Canon of the Mass and the Litany of Saints, devotion to the brothers having been strong throughout the early history of the Church. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian attributed his healing from illness to them, and in gratitude built a church in their name in Constantinople.

A capital (top of a column) from a 15th century French monastery depicts Sts. Cosmas and Damian as the patrons of a guild of barber-surgeons.

Friday, September 27, is the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul. You can read bout him in TSD 15, which covered his July 19 feast in the old calendar.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The Epistle is Galatians 5:25-6:10 and the Gospel is Luke 7:11-16.

This selection from Galatians is so full of spiritual insight that I can’t summarize it here with concision. One important point clarified by Robert Witham is an apparent contradiction between 6:2 and 6:5:

[Bear ye one another's burdens] is not contrary to what is added ver. 5, that every one shall bear his own burden, because in the first place the sense is, that we must bear patiently with one another's faults and imperfections; in the second, that every one must answer for himself at God's tribunal.

About the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, Cyril of Alexandria accentuates the corporeal, sacramental nature of Christ’s work:

He performs the miracle not only in word, but also touches the bier, to the end that you might know that the sacred body of Christ is powerful to the saving of man. For it is the body of Life and the flesh of the Omnipotent Word, whose power it possesses. For as iron applied to fire does the work of fire, so the flesh, when it is united to the Word, which quickens all things, becomes itself also quickening, and the banisher of death.

Image result for widow of nain art

Miracle at Nain by Mario Minniti (1620).

Tuesday, September 24, is the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom (or Our Lady of Mercy). The feast traces its roots to the work of St. Peter Nolasco, who in 1218 founded the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, or the Mercedarians, to ransom Christians who had been captured by the Moors who then ruled much of the Iberian peninsula. “Its members were bound by a special vow to employ all their substance for the redemption of captive Christians, and if necessary, to remain in captivity in their stead.”

The Mercedarian Order continues to exist today, and is marked especially by that “fourth vow,” in addition to the traditional vows of religious life, to sacrifice oneself to save another. In its most recent version the vow reads:

In order to fulfill this mission we, impelled by love, consecrate ourselves to God with a special vow, by virtue of which we promise to give up our lives, as Christ gave his life for us, should it be necessary, in order to save those Christians who find themselves in extreme danger of losing their faith by new forms of captivity.

The feast commemorates a (probably apocryphal) vision of the Blessed Mother to St. Peter Nolasco in which she presented him with the white habit of the order. The white scapular of Our Lady of Ransom has a plenary indulgence attached to it that remains in force to this day.

Image result for our lady of ransom art

A fifteenth century fresco, Maria de Mercede, by Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Thursday, September 26, is the Feast of Sts. Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf, and Companions—also known as the North American Martyrs. In keeping with my crusade to rediscover the Catholic roots of this continent, I’d like to recommend keeping this feast as something of a founding feast for the United States and Canada, recognizing how this land was consecrated by the blood of martyrs.

Rather than recounting the stories of these saints here, let me commend to you a two-part series in the New Oxford Review by my friend Richard Smith, a recently retired classicist from Franciscan University in Steubenville, on his personal journey on the trail of these great saints. Here’s a lovely snippet:

St. René’s body, despite St. Isaac’s heroic efforts to preserve it, was hidden in the woods by Ossernenon lads, where it stayed the winter of 1642-1643. Most of his bones were carried off by dogs, birds, and other animals, so that the following spring St. Isaac was able to locate only a few of them. These he concealed in a hollow tree, but they were never recovered afterwards. In 1646 St. Isaac and St. Jean de Lalande were beheaded as sorcerers who had bewitched the year’s crops, their bodies cast into the Mohawk, and their heads displayed on poles at the Ossernenon gate. None of their bones has been recovered. Thus, that whole stretch of the south bank of the Mohawk, and the Mohawk itself, is one giant reliquary, more beautiful, because fashioned by God, than any container made by human hands, even the superb examples in Midland. Consequently, it is right and just that the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs stand there, not housing the relics but in the reliquary itself, for those who come to offer their devotions to these martyrs.

Part 1 and part 2.

Statue of St. Isaac Jogues including his missing “canonical digits”—the fingers necessary for holding the Body of Christ—that were bitten off by Mohawk warriors. The saint had to travel home to Europe to get permission to celebrate Mass without these fingers. He then crossed the Atlantic once again and returned to the same village where he had been attacked.

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Those Seven Days

Sister speaks the truth in charity.

A good reminder that there are still nations that genuinely celebrate life:

Ain’t it the truth. (Honestly, though, this is on the wrong side of the repulsive/decadent divide for me. Though I’ll probably try it and report back.)


Dad of 9 Philip Rivers knows who the real stars are.

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