Tuesday, December 2, 2014

For that obscure Christmas music lover on your list

There are some nice songs on this cd, the most interesting of which is "Huron Carol" by St. Jean de Brebeuf, the Jesuit missionary and martyr.  It's Canada' s oldest carol (1642 AD), and fairly popular up there (covered by Crash Test Dummies, among others), but rarely heard down here in the lower 48.  Brebeuf composed the lyrics in Wyandot, the Huron language, which he'd worked tirelessly to master, but they are sung here in English, alas.  The English translation dates from 1926, and appears to be a bit on the fanciful side.  Google translate doesn't work on Wyandot, so this is difficult to confirm (though the use of " 'twas" is a tip off).

Here is the first verse in Wyandot:

Ehstehn yayau deh tsaun we yisus ahattonnia
O na wateh wado:kwi nonnwa 'ndasqua entai
ehnau sherskwa trivota nonnwa 'ndi yaun rashata
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

And in English:

'Twas in the moon of winter-time
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wandering hunters heard the hymn:
"Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria."

"Gitchi Manitou," the Algonquin word for God, appears in the third line of the translation, even though Huron and Algonquin are totally different languages, and St. Jean de Brebeuf didn't use the Huron word for God in his carol.

The Huron were allies of the French, and were all but wiped out by the ferocious Iroquois, the allies of the English who also martyred St. Jean de Brebeuf (martyrdom is a mild, polite term for the beastly violence inflicted upon de Brebeuf).   The Huron language has pretty much disappeared, too, though it is partly preserved in a Wyandot dictionary compiled by none other than St. Jean de Brebeuf.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

God chooses the weak to confound the strong

Brendan Kelly

Brendan Kelly had Down Syndrome and died last year at 15 of leukemia.   Yet in his short, pain-filled life, Brendan established a world-wide reputation for sanctity, counting popes and senators among his friends.   Though in his amazing life Brendan worked miracles, perhaps his greatest achievement was to demonstrate the irresistible power of sacrificial love. (h/t Creative Minority Report)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

See you again when we hit 200,000, Al!

Al was doing this a lot; not sure why

We just waved goodbye to Al Gore who, as inventor of the internet, is obliged to congratulate every blogger who reaches the 100,000 page view plateau, which we did a little while ago:

Looks like today's the day

That this blog finally reaches 100,000 page views. 

Unfortunately, no one guessed it would happen on November 9, so we will save the prize, a rosary handmade by the Sisters of Carmel, for the contest to guess when this blog will reach 200000 page views.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"This isn't Spain, you know."

Thomas More and the Duke of Norfolk, from "A Man For All Seasons"

In Tudor times England liked to flatter itself that it was an enlightened nation ruled by law, by contrast with Spain, which the English considered a benighted land of autocratic brutality.  So, in "A Man for All Seasons," when Thomas More confesses to the Duke of Norfolk that he is afraid, Norfolk replies "This isn't Spain, you know. This is England."   In fact, it would be in England where the rights of the vibrant and popular Church would be trampled, its property seized, its priests and other faithful put to death (Thomas More among them), and where crushing fines would be levied upon Catholics, and their rights restricted in other ways.  The Duke of Norfolk himself barely escaped execution. That legal formalities were often observed doesn't obscure the autocratic brutality of these acts.

America, like Tudor England, flatters itself that it's the land of the free, with a government of laws, not men.   In California, at least, this is no longer the case.  There, in August, the Department of Managed Healthcare (!) ordered all elective health plans in the state to cover elective abortion.  "All" of course includes health plans administered by religious institutions, even those with objections to elective abortions based upon their religious beliefs.  In other words, California permits a mere bureaucratic body, not even its legislature, to trample on rights guaranteed to its citizens and churches by the first amendment to the US Constitution.   Six churches have filed lawsuits.

Meanwhile, the shadows lengthen and deepen.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Where have I heard this before?

Here's roughly half of the Foreign Legion fighting ISIS

When I saw this on Instapundit

it sounded familiar, since I had proposed something similar back in August.   At that time, I had called upon the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Melinda is Catholic) to take a break from spending millions to teach Swedes and poor people how not to procreate, and instead raise a volunteer army to defend Christian populations under threat from Muslims.  I even emailed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation directly, in case they don't follow this blog.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been maintaining a discrete silence with regard to my proposal ever since.

The man in the picture is Jordan Matson, and although he may not be a Marine, as he seems to have claimed, he is fighting ISIS because he "couldn't just sit and watch Christians being slaughtered anymore" and for this I commend him.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

100,000th page view less than a month away (probably)

Conversion of St. Hubert, Studio of the Master of the Life of the Virgin

Inigo Hicks will reach the prestigious 100,000 page view plateau soon.  The contest to guess the day this historic event will actually happen is still going on, and it's pretty wide open, since to date we have received only one guess.   As of right now, we've had 97,860 page views, and we've been getting around 2,500 page views a month.  The prize for the first person to guess the date Inigo Hicks hits 100,000 page views is a rosary custom made by the Sisters of Carmel, who make the best rosaries on the web.  Everybody gets one guess.

The rosary has black oval cocoa wood beads on a black cord, an Our Lady of Fatima centerpiece, and a St. Benedict crucifix.  It was supposed to have a St. Ignatius medal attached to the centerpiece, but I must have clicked the wrong button, because it has a St. Hubert medal instead.   For those not familiar with St. Hubert (c. 656–727 A.D) here is his story.  After his wife died in childbirth, St. Hubert spent all his time hunting in the Ardennes forest.   According to legend, one Good Friday, when everybody else was in church, Hubert was out hunting in the forest when he had a vision of a stag with a crucifix between its antlers.  Hubert also heard a voice saying "Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell".  Hubert duly turned to the Lord, giving away his possessions, becoming a priest and eventually a bishop.  His feast day is Nov. 3.  It would be kind of interesting if that turns out to be the day this blog hits 100,000 page views.

Another interesting thing about this contest is that the prize was lost for about a month.  The Sisters of Carmel emailed me that they shipped it on the same day as another rosary I'd ordered a few weeks earlier.  The other rosary arrived, but the prize rosary didn't.  After a few days passed, and the prize rosary still hadn't arrived, I assumed the rosaries had been shipped in the same package and I'd accidentally thrown out the prize rosary along with the packaging of the rosary that was delivered.  The rosary was in a pretty big envelope with a lot of plastic peanuts so it was possible the prize rosary was in there but I didnt see it.  I didn't want to hassle the Sisters of Carmel about it, so I said a prayer to St. Anthony of Padua, the go-to saint when you need help finding a lost object, and figured I'd have to order a replacement.  After about a month, though, I got an email from the Sisters of Carmel telling me they'd found the rosary, and would ship it right away.  That was a little weird, since I never told them I didn't receive the rosary.  I've also been imagining how the discovery of the unshipped rosary might have taken place.

"Who keeps leaving their rosary on the "Rosaries to be Shipped" table?  I swear this one has been here everyday for at least a month."

"It's not mine."
"It's not mine."
"It's not mine."
"I keep my rosary in this small, holster-like device."

"Fine, then whose is it?"

"Maybe that rosary needs to be shipped to somebody.  That's probably why it's on the "Rosaries to be Shipped" table."


Anyway, the rosary finally arrived, and it's a beauty.

Please enter your guess in the comments section of this post.

St. Hubert and St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dave Brubeck, Catholic convert

Dave Brubeck (1920 - 2012 AD), the American jazz pianist and composer, best known for the jazz classic "Take Five," was a convert to Catholicism.  Although the horrors he witnessed during his service with Patton's Third Army in World War II jolted Brubeck into a spiritual awakening, he didn't actually convert until 1980.  However, Brubeck didn't think "conversion" described his case very well, since, as he said "I didn't convert to Catholicism, because I wasn't anything to convert from. I just joined the Catholic Church."  In 2006, the University of Notre Dame awarded Brubeck its Laetare Medal, its oldest and most prestigious honor.

Brubeck composed a jazz Mass, which is not my cup of tea, but you can listen to some of it here:

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Benedict Groeschel, RIP

Fr. Benedict Groeschel

Fr. Benedict Groeschel died last night, the vigil of St. Francis, at the age of 81.  Born in Jersey City, Fr. Groeschel entered the OFM Capuchins a few days after graduating high school, and remained a Capuchin for the next 36 years.  In 1987, motivated by his desire to live the Franciscan vocation more faithfully, Fr. Groeschel, along with 7 fellow Capuchins, left the order to found the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.   The FFRs now count 115 members, and a similar order for women, the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, now numbers 35.

Fr. Groeschel had a PhD from Columbia, and although he didn't publish his first book until 1983, he would go on to author 46 books in all, and was at work on number 47.  His wispy beard and raspy, slightly lisping voice were familiar to viewers of EWTN, where he appeared regularly for 30 years.   Fr. Groeschel was humble, learned, orthodox and funny, and he had many admirers and friends, some of whom, like Mother Teresa, are now saints.  He will be missed, and I hope his own cause for canonization will move quickly.

Long ago, during my high school and college years, I met Fr. Groeschel several times at the retreat house he'd founded at the request of Cardinal Cooke.  At first I had no idea Fr. Groeschel was famous, and not just for his holiness and learning, but that became clear enough at meals, when everyone in the place, and especially his fellow Capuchins, would crowd around to hear his table talk, which was often uproarious, even though Fr. Groeschel barely spoke above a whisper.   Once, his gentle gaze having fallen upon the awkward, shy lad at far end of his table, he asked me what college I was attending.   When I told him Columbia, he asked if I'd ever visited Riverside Church, the towering, gothic, cathedral-like Baptist church built at enormous expense by John D. Rockefeller.   I replied that I had (it's a landmark a few blocks from campus), whereupon Fr. Groeschel said, in a confiding tone, "You know what that is, don't you?  Rockefeller's fire escape."

Fr. Groeschel's obituary here.

Requiem Aeternam dona eis, Domine
et lux perpetua luceat eis:
Requiescat in pace.  Amen

Friday, October 3, 2014

First Friday Devotion - You still have a few hours left

St. Margaret Mary's vision of Sacred Heart

Today is the first Friday of the month, so if you go to Mass today and receive communion, and keep that up for nine consecutive Fridays, you will not only receive the grace of final repentance, you won't die under God's displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; the Sacred Heart of Jesus will be your assured refuge in your last hour.

That is a promise St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647 AD - 1690 AD) received from Jesus Christ himself.  This promise was given in a vision; from her youth, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque had been granted many visions of Jesus (she at first assumed everybody got them).  In the course of these visions St. Margaret Mary received from Our Lord many tender expressions of his great love for mankind, along with many promises of graces to those who  practiced devotion to his Sacred Heart.

At the age of 9, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque had made a vow to enter religious life, but she did not enter a Visitation convent until she was 24 (after having been reproached by Jesus, in a vision, for not keeping her vow).  According to her fellow novices, St. Margaret Mary was humble, simple and frank, but above all kind and patient.  Jesus seems to be drawn to this type.  St. Margaret Mary was assigned to the infirmary,where she wasn't very good at her tasks.   Jesus also doesnt seem to care much whether you're a superstar at your job or not.

Her lifelong visions continued in the convent, but St. Margaret Mary had a lot of trouble convincing her superiors to take these visions seriously.   They eventually did, though a panel of theologians which investigated the visions did not consider them authentic.  St. Margaret Mary's own religious community shared the theologians' skepticism, and they made her life miserable for many years.   Finally, St. Margaret Mary visions found support among influential religious persons, in particular the Jesuits, who began to foster the devotion to the Sacred Heart taught by Jesus to St. Margaret Mary, and this devotion began to grow.

However, for nearly a century, the teachings and revelations of St. Margaret Mary, as well as her own personal qualities, continued to undergo a severe scrutiny.  At last, in 1928, St. Margaret Mary's visions and revelations received official approval in Pope Pius XI's encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (Most Merciful Redeemer).   In the words of the encyclical:

"[T]here is surely no reason for doubting, Venerable Brethren, that from this devotion piously established and commanded to the whole Church, many excellent benefits will flow forth not only to individual men but also to society, sacred, civil, and domestic, seeing that our Redeemer Himself promised to Margaret Mary that "all those who rendered this honor to His Heart would be endowed with an abundance of heavenly graces."

Other promises Jesus made to those who practice devotion to the Sacred Heart here; I like this one very much:

I will give peace in their families.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Poor Richard III, still getting the short end of the stick

"Richard III" Society of Antiquaries, ca. 1515 AD

Imagine you are the devout Catholic king of a famous country until one day you are killed in a battle, which your side loses.  Imagine further that the guy who led the other side in the battle becomes king.  That much seems seems fair enough.  The other guy's son also becomes king after him, which also seems fair.  However, one of the most important things the son does is to start a new religion that everybody in the kingdom is forced to join.   Meanwhile, your body is never recovered from the battlefield, and remains lost for centuries.  Finally, your body is found, under a parking lot.  [A reader kindly points out that Richard's body was indeed recovered from Bosworth field and buried in Greyfriars church, Leicester.   Henry VIII, the son of the guy who defeated Richard, dissolved the friary in 1538 and sold the real estate to developers.  The developers demolished the buildings and sold off the stones, making it much harder to figure out where Richard's body lay, which is how eventually a parking lot came to be placed above it.] 

Everyone agrees that your bones should be interred with suitable ceremony.   Would you want that ceremony to be according to the rites of the Catholic religion, the religion you practiced devoutly, or according to the rites of some crazy new religion started by the son of the guy who defeated you in the battle in which you got killed?   You'd want Catholic rites, right?   Well, so undoubtedly would King Richard III (1452 - 1485 AD), to whom all the things in my imaginary story actually happened, but that's not what he's going to get.

Hail, St. Jerome, translator and scholar

"St. Jerome", El Greco ca. 1600 AD

St. Jerome (347 AD - 420 AD) was the leading Biblical scholar of his day, and St. Jerome's translation of the Bible into Latin, known as the Vulgate, was not only a tremendous contribution to the Church but also a remarkable scholarly achievement, which displays not only deep knowledge of Biblical languages, but also a thorough understanding of the geography and history of the Holy Land.

The Vulgate formed an important part of the framework from which the Romance languages grew.   Words borrowed from Greek such as episcopus, presbyter, diaconus, Christus, Paraclitus, baptisma, anathema and Christian coinages such as Salvator, Incarnatio, Resurrectio, Trinitas, compassio, ingratitudo, immortalilas, impossibilitas would not have gained universal currency without the Vulgate.  More on the literary influence of St. Jerome here.

St. Jerome was a prickly man who did not relish criticism, a trait which made him many enemies and which shows clearly in his correspondence.  The following is taken from a letter from St. Jerome to St. Augustine of Hippo concerning the Septuagint.   St. Augustine considered the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek made by 70 translators in the 2nd century BC, to have been inspired, whereas St. Jerome believed only the scriptures themselves to have been inspired, not the translation. 

" ... [Y]ou ask why a former translation which I made of some of the canonical books was carefully marked with asterisks and obelisks, whereas I afterwards published a translation without these. You must pardon my saying that you seem to me not to understand the matter . .  . Do you wish to be a true admirer and partisan of the Seventy translators? Then do not read what you find under the asterisks; rather erase them from the volumes, that you may approve yourself indeed a follower of the ancients. If, however, you do this, you will be compelled to find fault with all the libraries of the Churches; for you will scarcely find more than one manuscript here and there which has not these interpolations."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mortification and Self-Denial - Still good for you

"St. Francis of Assisi," Church of San Francesco, Brescia 1235 AD
St. Francis was a big believer in mortification and self-denial

The Redemptorists, the religious order founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori, compiled selections from the great saint's ascetical writings into a single volume with 12 chapters called "The School of Christian Perfection," which you can buy here.   Each chapter is organized around a particular virtue or salutary spiritual practice, and there are 12 chapters so that a reader can focus on a different one every month of the year.  This is what the Redemptorists themselves do (or, perhaps, used to do).

If you'd started "The School of Christian Perfection" at the beginning of the year and concentrated on a different chapter each month by now you'd be up to Chapter 9, which is entitled "Mortification."  Although we don't hear mortification discussed much nowadays, according to St. Alphonsus, "[i]n as far as it is necessary to avoid sin, every Christian is bound to  practice mortification."  St. Alphonsus compares mortification to a somewhat bitter and distasteful but necessary medicine, and notes that "[o]ur Lord once said to St. Francis of Assisi: 'If you desire me, take the bitter things of life as sweet and the sweet as bitter.'"

What's the point of mortification?  St. Alphonsus says it "elevates the soul," citing St. Francis de Sales, who wrote: "[t]he soul can never ascend to God unless the body is brought into subjection by penance."  Mortification also helps us master our self will, which is the destroyer of all virtues.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux said: "he who ... follows the suggestions of self-will subjects himself to a veritable fool."

Mortification and self-denial may be out of fashion, but you may be surprised to learn that the Church continues to recommend these practices.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (published 1992 AD), “[t]he way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes” (n. 2015)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Very rare bird sighted

Lady Amherst's pheasant
(also a rare bird)

That rarest of birds on primetime network tv, a character who is a practicing Catholic, has, according to reliable reports, been spotted recently.   The character even quotes St. Thomas Aquinas.  The show is called Madame Secretary, and the executive producer, Barbara Hall, is a convert, which helps to explain this marvel:  more here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Archbishop gives "Calvary" thumbs up!

Archbishop Chaput

Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, like most archbishops, doesn't review many movies, but he has reviewed "Calvary" and recommends the movie emphatically.   "Calvary" stars Brendan Gleeson, and it's the story of a good priest in Ireland in the wake of the sex abuse scandal.  From Archbishop Chaput's review:

From the first frame to the last, “Calvary” has an understated power – a blend of everyday pain, faith, despair, humor, candor, bitterness, and forgiveness – that brands itself onto the heart with spare simplicity. It’s also the best portrayal of a good priest in impossible circumstances I’ve seen in several decades.

Full review here.

I don't go to the movies often, because I find they're usually not worth the ticket price, but Calvary may be an exception.

Which pilgrimage should you make?

Cool people get Holy Land

From Crux, a quick quiz to help you figure out where you should make your next pilgrimage.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Converts - why do they do it?

Evelyn Waugh and family, circa 1949 AD
Parts of this family look happy

Philip Trower, English author and convert, has written an essay about his conversion in which he suggests that all converts become Catholic for the same reason:

"…they come to realise that the Church is what it claims to be: the sole authorised guardian and disseminator of the one true revelation of God to men through which they can know with certainty the purpose of their existence and their final destiny.”

The English poet Sally Read says something very similar:

“I realized that there was only one Church and the way to be closest to Christ was to be a Catholic, because it’s the Eucharist and taking Communion.”

Evelyn Waugh, a far more famous English author and convert, substantially concurs.  Waugh, who converted in 1930, once explained that he had concluded by the age of 16 that “Catholicism was Christianity,” but then ignored religion for the next decade.   Finding that life was “unintelligible and unendurable without God,” Waugh converted.   For Waugh, his faith was not merely a source of comfort; it was, in his view,  “the essence.”

There have been many converts and we can never know all of their reasons for converting, but, at least amongst English writers, the reasons do appear remarkably alike.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hail, Hyacinth and Protus, martyrs

St. Protus and St. Hyacinth

Today is the feast of St. Protus and St. Hyacinth.  According to tradition, Protus and Hyacinth were brothers, and chamberlains to Saint Eugenia, the daughter of the governor of Egypt.  They were baptized along with Eugenia by Helenus, Bishop of Heliopolis, which is near Cairo.  Since her pagan father was a powerful government official, and very much opposed to her baptism, to avoid notice Eugenia had slipped out of her father's house disguised as a man.

Eventually, Eugenia's father converted to the Faith, became bishop of Alexandria and was martyred.  Eugenia then moved to Rome, accompanied by Protus and Hyacinth.  During the persecution of  Emperor Valerian (reigned 257 AD –259 AD) Protus and Hyacinth were arrested, and, refusing to deny their faith, they were first scourged and then beheaded on September 11, 258.  St. Eugenia would be martyred later that same year, on the feast of the Nativity.  Eugenia had dreamt that she would be martyred on this feast, and her dream proved to be accurate.

There is a legend that after her baptism St. Eugenia went right on disguising herself as a man, and even became an abbot.   According to the legend, while an abbot and still dressing like a man, St. Eugenia cured a woman of an illness.  Perhaps from gratitude, or maybe because she found people who could cure illnesses irresistibly attractive,  the woman made sexual advances, which St. Eugenia rebuffed.   Not one to accept rebuff with grace, the woman publicly accused St. Eugenia of adultery.  At the time, this was illegal, so St. Eugenia was taken to court, still dressed as a man, where she faced her judge, who, as luck would have it, was her father, the governor.   St. Eugenia's female identity was revealed and she was exonerated.

St. Eugenia may have been forgotten by most Catholics, but she is recognised by the LGBT community as a "transgender saint."  You may peruse a calendar of such saints here;  Saints Hyacinth and Protus are also included on the calendar because, according to the calendar compiler, they were eunuchs.  Even if Saints Hyacinth and Protus were eunuchs, it is unclear this would qualify them as transgender, varied and multifarious though the taxonomy of that type appears to be.  

Though the lives of many early saints are surrounded by legends, some facts concerning St. Hyacinth and St. Protus can be established with certainty.  According to the Depositio Martyrum, (ca. 336 AD), the most ancient listing of martyrs,  St. Protus and St. Hyacinth were buried in the Cemeterium of Basilla on the Via Salaria, later named the Catacomb of St. Hermes.  In 1845 a Jesuit priest discovered the still undisturbed grave of St. Hyacinth in this catacomb. It was a small square niche in which lay ashes and pieces of burned bone wrapped in the remains of costly fabric.  Evidently the saint had been burnt; most probably both martyrs had suffered death by fire.  The slab on the niche bore the original Latin inscription that confirmed the date in the Depositio Martyrum:




(Buried on 11 September Hyacinthus Martyr).

The priest also found fragments of Protus's grave nearby.

 "Battle of San Jacinto" Henry Arthur McArdle

By the way, in Spanish, St. Hyacinth is San Jacinto.  San Jacinto is where the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution was fought on April 21, 1836.  The battle lasted only 18 minutes, and was a clear victory for the Texans, who thereby won their independence from Mexico.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hail, Gorgonius of Rome, martyr

Arm reliquary of St. Gorgonius of Nicomedia, Minden Cathedral

Gorgonius is not a popular name for boys these days, at least not in my neighborhood, but back in the third century AD Gorgonius must have been as popular as Jackson, Aidan and Liam (the top 3 baby names for boys in 2013) because six martyrs named Gorgonius are venerated by the church.

There is some confusion about which Gorgonius was which.  In the old calendar, today was the feast of St. Gorgonius of Rome, about whom very little is known for sure.  The Jerome Martyrology, attributed to St. Jerome but actually the work of Gallic monks in the fifth and sixth centuries, tells us that Gorgonius was buried between two laurel trees on the Via Labicana near Rome.  Other than that, all we have is this not very specific and poorly written epigram of Pope Damasus I (reigned 366 AD - 384 AD):

This martyr's tomb beneath a great hilltop holds Gorgonius, guardian of the altars of Christ. Whoever comes to seek here the thresholds of the saints will find that in the nearby dwelling abide the blessed whom likewise, as they went, piety bore to heaven.

St. Gorgonius of Rome is often mixed up with St. Gorgonius of Nicomedia, which is understandable, since the Nicomedian Gorgonius has a much more interesting story.  According to the most blood-curdling version, one day, after making the usual sacrifice of animals to the gods, the emperor Diocletian's haruspices (priests and entrail diviners) attempted to divine the future by examining the sacrificed animals' entrails, as they usually did, since it was their job.   For some reason, on this occasion, the haruspices failed.  This displeased Diocletian, which put the haruspices in a tough spot, so, thinking fast, they blamed the Christians in Diocletian's household.  Diocletian followed the old religion, and considered Christians troublemakers, so it made sense to him that Christians were to blame for his haruspices' problems.  Diocletian immediately ordered everyone in his court to perform a sacrifice to the gods, knowing this would expose the Christians, since they would have to refuse.

The first Christian to be identified in this way was Peter, the emperor's major domo.  Diocletian ordered Peter to be stripped, hung upside down and whipped until the flesh came off his bones.  Salt and vinegar were then rubbed in Peter's wounds, and he was trampled, burned at the stake and then grilled on a gridiron.  Seeing Peter so heroically glorifying our Lord by his witness to the faith, other Christians stepped forwarded, including Dorotheus, the imperial chamberlain, Gorgonius, an army officer, and Migdonio, another army officer.  These all received the same treatment as Peter.  Once they were dead, Diocletian, knowing Christians would venerate the martyrs' remains, had the remains cast in the sea.  However, by miracle, the Christians recoverd the martyrs' remains.

Gorgonius's relics were at first brought to Rome.  In the 8th century AD, St. Chrodegang of Metz translated the relics to a monastery in Lorraine.   Over time, Gorgonius's relics were distributed to many churches in France, as well as to the cathedral of Minden in Germany.  Most of Gorgonius's relics in France were destroyed during the French Revolution.  That was a very dangerous time for all religious relics in France.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Increase your Catholic wordpower: Baptismal graces

"Baptism of St. Augustine of Hippo,"  Cathedral of Troyes, 1549 AD
A lot more going on than meets the eye

Baptismal Graces, according to the Modern Catholic Dictionary of our patron, Fr. John Hardon SJ, are:

"[t]he supernatural effects of the sacrament of baptism. They are: 1. removal of all guilt of sin, original and personal; 2. removal of all punishment due to sin, temporal and eternal; 3. infusion of sanctifying grace along with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit; 4. incorporation into Christ; and 5, entrance into the Mystical Body, which is the Catholic Church; 6. imprinting of the baptismal character, which enables a person to receive the other sacraments, to participate in the priesthood of Christ through the sacred liturgy, and to grow in the likeness of Christ through personal sanctification. Baptism does not remove two effects of original sin, namely concupiscence and bodily mortality. However, it does enable a Christian to be sanctified by his struggle with concupiscence and gives him the title to rising in a glorified body on the last day.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hail, Gregory, Pope and traditional composer of an extremely old yet popular song

 "Pope Gregory dictating Gregorian Chant,"

Today is the feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great (circa 540 -604 AD), who sent St. Augustine of Canterbury to evangelize England, and is also credited with standardizing the mainstream form of Western plainchant, which is named "Gregorian Chant" in his honor.  Tradition also credits St. Gregory with composing Dies Irae, a Latin hymn used for centuries in the Requiem Mass.  According to Peter the Deacon, Gregory's disciple and friend, the inspiration for Dies Irae came to Gregory by way of a dove.  Indeed, Peter the Deacon claims that all of Gregory's writings were inspired in this way, which is why Gregory is usually depicted with a dove on his shoulder.

In the wake of Vatican II the funeral rite was revised, and Dies Irae was cut.  Cardinal Anibale Bugnini, a leading figure in the reform, explained why:

"They got rid of texts that smacked of a negative spirituality inherited from the Middle Ages. Thus they removed such familiar and even beloved texts as the "Libera Me, Domine", the "Dies Irae", and others that overemphasized judgment, fear, and despair.  These they replaced with texts urging Christian hope and arguably giving more effective expression to faith in the resurrection."

 "Last Judgment," Hans Memling c 1467 AD

Judgment is undeniably a fearful thing, though in my view ignoring it altogether is mighty unwise.

The Dies Irae tune is not just very old; it's also very popular.  It's been quoted in many classical works, and it's a favorite of movie score composers.  CBC host Tom Allen has much more here:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

If you don't win this time, you can try again in the 200,000th page view contest

  Sisters of Carmel making rosaries

We have decided on the prize for our contest to guess the exact date Inigo Hicks reaches 100,000 page views.  It's a Rosary custom made by the Sisters of Carmel, who make the best rosaries on the web.  The rosary has black oval cocoa wood beads on a black cord, an Our Lady of Fatima centerpiece, a St. Benedict crucifix, and a St. Ignatius Loyola side medal attached to the centerpiece.  The St. Ignatius medal is there because I graduated from St. Ignatius Loyola Grammar School, and because Fr. John Hardon, our patron, belonged to the religious order founded by St. Ignatius.

Since the rosary is a custom job, I couldn't find any photos on the web.  It will look very nice, and will stand up to years of use by even the most devoted prayer of the rosary.

First to guess the exact date Inigo Hicks hits 100000 page views wins.  You get one guess.  If no one guesses the exact date, I keep the rosary for use in a future contest.  Enter your guess in the comments section of this post.  Good luck.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The first 100,000 page views are the hardest (I hope)

Al Gore berating someone for having too big a carbon footprint
Sometime soon, and probably before the end of the year, Inigo Hicks will reach the 100,000 page view plateau.  When this happens, as everyone knows,  Al Gore, the inventor of the internet, will emerge from his massive mansion, fly to my house by private jet, demand a recount, berate me for having too big a carbon footprint, and then fly back to his massive mansion.  I can't wait.

To celebrate this upcoming milestone, we decided to have a contest.  The first person to guess correctly the date on which Inigo Hicks reaches its 100,000th page view will win a prize.  We haven't decided what the prize will be, but it will have a higher cash value than an Inigo Hicks refrigerator magnet or an Inigo Hicks coffee mug.  If there are no correct guesses, I will keep the prize.

Here is a clue to help you figure out when we will reach the magical 100,000 page views plateau.   This is today's page view counter:

Enter your guess in the comments section of this post.  Good luck.

The prize for guessing when Inigo Hicks will reach 100000 page views has just been announced.

My unsolicited advice to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Council of Clermont 1095 AD
"[Y]our brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help"

Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder and very very rich man ($80 billion dollars, give or take), married a Catholic woman, is raising his kids Catholic, and attends a Catholic church.   Mr. Gates and his wife established a charitable foundation called the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Mrs. Gates name is Melinda, in case you were wondering) which does some helpful things but mainly cheerleads for and underwrites abortion and birth control, especially amongst the world's poorest.  A search for "family planning" on the Foundation's "Awarded Grants" page returns 307 results.

It's nice that Mr. and Mrs. Gates want to give away their money, but there are lots of needy organizations which pursue goals more consistent with Catholic belief than the Clinton Health Access Initiative Inc (yes, those Clintons, who got a $4 million grant) or the Swedish Association for Sex Education (which got $1.3 million).

Here's a suggestion for a use of his wealth which may appeal to the entrepreneurial Mr. Gates.  Christians are under attack in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Central African Republic and other places.  Why not raise an international army to defend them?  Not only is this project highly worthwhile, and a fitting challenge for Mr. Gates' executive talents, but circumstances are currently highly favorable to such an undertaking.

Raising the manpower shouldn't be a problem.  The Pentagon is laying off thousands of mid-career officers, so highly trained fighters have suddenly become idle and presumably are available.  In addition, there are 2.4 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, some of whom will be interested in helping.  Britain has a lot of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans, too, and many will be interested in putting their military experience at the service of a good cause.  Of course, all trained fighters who want to protect Christians will be welcome to sign up.

It might cost surprisingly little to equip this army.  The Pentagon gave away a half billion dollars of military equipment last year alone; shouldn't be hard to persuade them to give that much equipment to a volunteer Christian-protecting army instead, especially since this army would be relieving the Pentagon of a great headache.

The Gates Foundation would not have to bear the cost all by itself.  Two of the other top five wealthiest people in the world are also Catholic (Carlos Slim, worth $82.5 billion, is a Maronite Catholic, and Amancio Ortega, worth $62.3 billion is a plain Roman Catholic).  Those guys might throw in some cash.  Plus, Rupert Murdoch, whose net worth is estimated at $13.4 billion, was made a Knight of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great by Pope St. John Paul, and might be counted on to contribute a few shekels.  

Non-rich Catholics would undoubtedly contribute, too.  Even the Inigo Hicks Foundation, which is among the most non-rich foundations in the world, is sure to make a suitable donation.

The biggest threat to Christians at the moment is ISIL, which is undeniably brutal: today they executed 250 Syrian Army POWs.   But ISIL only has about 4000 fighters; if ISIL were a country they would rank #106 in the world for total military strength, about half the size of Slovenia's military, which is #105.  It may not be easy to neutralize ISIL, but it's not super-daunting either.    

We are in a religious war.  Our opponents are motivated by religion, and have targeted Christians on account of their religion.   To win, we must of course first re-dedicate ourselves to holiness.  Next we must consider whether, in picking up the sword to protect the defenseless, we are acting justly.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, these are the criteria to be weighed in determining whether a war is just:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
My analysis may be summarized as follows: check, check, check, and check. 

For those who are still unsure whether picking up the sword to defend Christian populations against an organized and deadly threat is just, St. Augustine of Hippo, whose feast day is today, assures us:

"They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill."'

Deus vult.

RELATED: Christian soldiers much rarer now than in the ancient days of WWII.
RELATED: Looks like the Christians who need protection may be us.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ora et labora is not the motto of the Benedictines

Monks Praying
Monks working

Contrary to popular belief, Ora et labora ("pray and work") is not the motto of the Benedictines, nor is the even worse Labora est ora ("work is prayer").   Instead, the Benedictines go with the simple, classy and always in style motto "Pax."  However,  St. Benedict's Rule does establish a balanced regimen of prayer and work, and so, for Labor Day, here are some reflections on idleness, labor and prayer by Fr. Richard Marx OSB, of Subiaco Abbey (that's Subiaco, Arkansas, by the way):

"St. Benedict opens his chapter on the daily manual labor with the short maxim: “Idleness is the enemy of the soul.” The arrangements which follow spell out the stated hours for work and those for lectio divina. For Benedict, the way to avoid idleness is through a good combination of both prayer and work.

The so-called “Protestant work ethic” of today played no part in the thinking of the early monks. Work had not been exalted to the status of man’s highest vocation and dignity as in Communist theory. But neither was work reduced to a piece of merchandise to be bought or sold.

Greek and Roman civilizations tended to think of work as “what slaves did.”

The Hebrews, on the other hand, were a working people. The pattern of work and rest was taken from God’s creative work and rest in the Genesis creation story.

St. Paul writing to the Thessalonians spoke of work. “If he is not willing to work, then neither let him eat!” He thought one should work in order to support oneself, but also in order to have something to help others.

The Desert Fathers and St. Benedict saw work as a good balance to prayer. A story is told about Abba Silvanus that when a visitor saw the monks working he commented: “Do not work for the food which perishes. Mary has chosen the better part.” Abba Silvanus gave the brother a book and sent him off to pray. At meal time he did not call him to eat. Later the brother complained why he was not called to meal? “Because you are a spiritual man and do not need that kind of food. We, being carnal, want to eat, and that is why we work. But you have chosen the better part and read the whole day long and you do not want to eat carnal food.” The visitor saw his error and repented.

For St. Benedict human labor has dignity; it is not a distasteful and burdensome thing, but rather something to be esteemed, an honor and a joy."

Much more along these lines here.

Happy Labor Day.

Monk tasting wine (probably to break the monotony of praying and working)