St. Thomas More’s Prison Cell in the Tower of London

IMG_0532

For a pilgrimage earlier this year, I made arrangements to visit the cell in the Tower of London where St. Thomas More was imprisoned as he underwent trial for refusal to take the Oath of Supremacy imposed by King IMG_0560Henry VIII.

St. Thomas is my patron saint in Confirmation, and today (June 22) is his optional memorial.

Although the Tower of London was used to detain the King’s prisoners from time to time, it is not a prison per se. Rather, it was (and is) a secure location belonging to the Monarch, which, in addition to quarters for guards and officers, also provides cells for certain “special” prisoners. Usually, such prisoners would be brought in upon a boat from the Thames through the “Prisoner’s Gate”, and then marched from there to their cell within the Tower complex.

St. Thomas, due to his status and rank, qualified to be imprisoned there, in relative “comfort” compared to the prison of the time for commoners of the realm.

IMG_0558

IMG_0552

The ancient (original) door to St. Thomas’ cell

As he first arrived at the Tower in April 1534, he had some privileges which his guards and examiners slowly stripped away. For example, he was permitted a writing table and chair, sufficient light and supplies for writing, books (in particular his breviary), as well as reasonably warm clothing.

Within the cell itself, not atop a “tower” IMG_0548but actually quite close to ground level, which had open windows overlooking a moat ringing the Tower, there was a  cavernous arched roof, and lack of heat and exposure to the elements would have been a tremendous discomfort, particularly in the damp London winter.

The rest of the time, if it were more temperate, the open cistern the served as the cell’s “bathroom” would emit noxious fumes and gases back into the cell from the collecting sewage below.

Over time, as St. IMG_0551Thomas remained obstinate and his handlers grew impatient and frustrated, “privileges” were removed; no more books for reading, no more paper and ink for writing, the spartan furnishings were taken away, food become less frequent and plentiful, and finally, the very clothes warming his body were stripped from him.

IMG_0542

The “privy”

Meanwhile, St. Thomas would sometimes catch a glimpse of his daughter Margaret from outside the window. No doubt, he was aware that he was not the only one of his family sacrificing to defend what was true. Positions for sons and sons-in-law evaporated as St. Thomas had lost the king’s favor, his “friends”, and became a political pariah. No more prestige for anyone connected to the More family, but rather the opposite — infamy. The

IMG_0545

Steps to the cell door, from within

Crown would take possession of his land holdings and turn his wife Alice out of their home. All of St. Thomas’ income was lost as well.

Despite his rhetorical prowess, St. Thomas is most impressive (to me) because he withheld from making any public statements about the situation of the King’s marriage. He avoided the controversy, and deftly navigated — deflected — from taking a position. IMG_0535Ultimately, even his silence caught up with him, until his silence became a source of condemnation.

 

St. Thomas is perhaps too frequently cited as the outspoken herald for religious liberty, when the opposite was really true. He was inchoate prudence and restraint when it came to stating his convictions. How often do we (somewhat impetuously) “jump the gun” in “taking a stand”? Here, in our particularly troubled times where freedom of religion is assailed, St. Thomas serves as a fitting guide and witness. He managed to do more for much longer because he let himself be guided in prayer to the Lord regarding when and how to act and speak.

It was only once the jury (after just fifteenIMG_0564 minutes) found him guilty upon hearsay that he put to rest the question of his “guilt”. Only then did he once for all make known that the king could not become head of any “church of England” and that the king’s marriage to Queen Catherine was true and binding upon him.

Shortly thereafter he was taken from his cell to Tower Hill (nearby) and beheaded. He said to the crowd that he “died the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Also, retaining his (sometimes ribald) sense of humor to the end, and having become rather hirsute from his time locked up in the Tower, St. Thomas swept his profuse beard away from the path of the ax — saying, “This [my beard] has not offended the king!” — lest it fall the way of his head.

Surprisingly, throughout his imprisonment, and despite his high station, St. Thomas’ enjoyed a popularity among the people. He was respected — perhaps he developed a reputation for fairness over a long and distinguished legal career, or shrewdness, or managed to avoid giving offense unnecessarily, but he was beloved. His bodily remains came to be venerated very shortly after his execution, though he was not canonized until 1935 by Pope Pius XI.

IMG_0568

St. Thomas’ Tomb in the Tower Chapel Crypt

In today’s Office of Readings, we find part of a letter written to St. Thomas’ daughter, Margaret, while he was imprisoned in the Tower (from the English Works of Sir Thomas More, London, 1557, p. 1454):

Although I know well, Margaret, that because of my past wickedness I deserve to be abandoned by God, I cannot but trust in his merciful goodness. His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience. God’s grace has given the king a gracious frame of mind toward me, so that as yet he had taken from me nothing but my liberty. In doing this His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest. I cannot, therefore, mistrust the grace of God. Either he shall keep the king in that gracious frame of mind to continue to do me no harm, or else, if it be his pleasure that for my other sins I suffer in this case as I shall not deserve, then his grace shall give me the strength to bear it patiently, and perhaps even gladly.

By the merits of his bitter passion joined to mine and far surpassing in merit for me all that I can suffer myself, his bounteous goodness shall release me from the pains  of purgatory and shall increase my reward in heaven besides.

I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.

And if he permits me to play Saint Peter further and to fall to the ground and to swear and forswear, may God our Lord in his tender mercy keep me from this, and let me lose if it so happen, and never win thereby! Still, if this should happen, afterward I trust that in his goodness he will look on me with pity as he did upon Saint Peter, and make me stand up again and confess the truth of my conscience afresh and endure here the shame and harm of my own fault.

And finally, Margaret, I know this well: that without my fault he will not let me be lost. I shall, therefore, with good hope commit myself wholly to him. And if he permits me to perish for my faults, then I shall serve as praise for his justice. But in good faith, Meg, I trust that his tender pity shall keep my poor soul safe and make me commend his mercy.

And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.

 

IMG_0555

Painting of St. John Fisher arriving at the “Prisoner’s Gate” at the Tower


IMG_0581

Monument on Tower Hill

 

Today’s Collect:

Father, you confirm the true faith
with the crown of martyrdom.
May the prayers of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More
give us the courage to proclaim our faith
by the witness of our lives.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Advertisements

Benedict XVI Testifies in Favor of John Paul I Beatification

This article, from the Italian outfit Ansa.it, has been sitting as a page on my browser for several weeks, because I’ve been meaning to share what is another historic first from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

Benedict XVI has testified in the proceedings for the beatification of Pope John Paul I… No pope has ever before testified for the beatification of another…

Sadly, John Paul I is greatly overlooked and oft forgotten, due to the short duration of his pontificate — just 33 days — and due to the “rock star” quality of his immediate successor, whose own pontificate was one of the longest in Church history. Only Pius IX and St. Peter himself steered the Barque longer than JPII.

John Paul I was the first in the history of the Church to introduce the innovation of the double papal name, and the fact that Karol Wojtyla chose, rather than his own distinct papal name, to become JPII could be taken as a sign of Wojtyla’s testimony on the subject of JPI’s sanctity.

John Paul I, Albino Luciani, pray for us!

A Special Prayer Intention for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

14783420723_1300a7f49b_oBefore he was born, the parents of my godson (not yet a year old, born with a chromosomal abnormality), perhaps by special graces, selected St. John the Baptist as his patron in baptism. The Baptist has the distinction of having TWO solemnities each year. Today is the solemnity of his nativity, a fitting day to ask you to pray for this wee boy.

Recently, it was determined by medical professionals that our little John indeed has some limitation with his hearing, but that (with fairly minimal intervention) this limitation can be treated and improved! Praise God! Please keep praying for him and his parents!

Last night, while praying the office for the vigil of this solemnity, I was struck by the words of an ancient 8th-century hymn composed by Venerable Bede:

John, still unborn, yet gave aright
His witness to the coming light;
And Christ, the sun of all the earth,
Fulfilled that witness at his birth.

Of woman-born shall never be
A greater prophet than was he,
Whose mighty deeds exalt his fame
To greater than a prophet’s name.

I wonder if there is something particular about having the Forerunner as the patron of a boy with special needs. The Baptist is “witness to the coming light,” who shines faintly (as a reflection) of the Sun. He demonstrates our human dignity which, encumbered by original sin, is not yet in its fully resplendent glory. He is “flawed”, yet never was a greater prophet than he.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

14595337150_09e55ebd9b_o

Review: Thomas More’s Prayer Book

Hans_Holbein,_the_Younger_-_Sir_Thomas_More_-_Google_Art_ProjectToday, June 22, is the feast day for St. Thomas More, “the King’s good servant, but God’s first,” who is my patron saint in confirmation, the patron saint of lawyers and statesmen, and the patron in baptism for our first son. In other words, St. Thomas More is important in our house, as an exemplar for how to persevere in the cause for religious liberty, and for steadfast Catholic faithfulness in a culture that is awash in relativism. And, he’s English.

Recently I was able to lay hands on a copy of the out of print book published by Yale University Press entitled Thomas More’s Prayer Book: A Facsimile Reproduction of the Annotated Pages (1969). This book is a treasure. Not only does it contain a facsimile of every (surviving) page from More’s breviary which he used to pray the office while imprisoned in the Tower of London prior to his martyrdom, but it is also annotated by a rather expanded scholarly introduction, and contains for its final section a transcription and translation of More’s notations in the margins of his prayer book.

FullSizeRender 14The Introduction explains that More’s prayer book is actually two books bound together — a liturgical psalter and book of hours — dating from sometime between 1530 and 1540. The text is in Latin, and the printing includes a series of fine woodcuts of various scenes that illuminate the pages, and which are well reproduced (and beautiful).

Short of making the necessary arrangements to view the original breviary (which I believe is still in the possession of Yale University), the facsimile pages provide a very tangible connection with the saint. His notes are shown throughout the book, and he composed a prayer in paired lines above and below the pages in the book of hours, sometimes referred to as More’s “Godly Meditation“:

Give me thy grace, good Lord,
To set the world at nought;

To set my mind fast upon thee,
And not to hang upon the blast of men’s mouths;

To be content to be solitary;
Not to long for worldly company;

Little and little utterly to cast off the world,
And rid my mind of all the business thereof;

FullSizeRender 13Not to long to hear of any worldly things,
But that the hearing of worldly phantasies may be to me displeasant;

Gladly to be thinking of God,
Piteously to call for his help;

To lean unto the comfort of God,
Busily to labor to love him;

To know mine own vility [vileness] and wretchedness,
To humble and meeken myself under the mighty hand of God;

To bewail my sins passed;
For the purging of them patiently to suffer adversity;

Gladly to bear my purgatory here;
To be joyful in tribulations;

To walk the narrow way that leadeth to life,
To bear the cross with Christ;

To have the last thing in remembrance,
To have ever afore mine eye my death that is ever at hand;

To make death no stranger to me,
To foresee and consider the everlasting fire of hell;

To pray for pardon before the judge come,
To have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered  for me;

For his benefits uncessantly to give him thanks,
To buy the time again that I before have lost;

To abstain from vain confabulations,
To eschew light foolish mirth and gladness;

Recreations not necessary — to cut off;
Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss at right nought for the winning of Christ;

To think my most enemies by best friends;
For the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.

These minds [thoughts] are more to be desired of every man than all the treasure
of all the princes and kings, christian and heathen, were it gathered and laid together all upon one heap.

More composed his Godly Meditation in English, but most of More’s writings in the margins of the psalter of his prayer book are in Latin, and brief, but valuable too.

For example, alongside Psalm 70:6 (“Thou hast upheld me from birth, thou hast guarded me ever since I left my mother’s womb; ever in thee was my trust”), More writes, “in tribulation with disgrace” and at verse 9 (“Do not cast me off now, in my old age; slowly my strength ebbs, do not thou forsake me.”) he writes, “senectus segnis est / old age is sluggish”. We get, in addition to More’s piety, a glimpse of his sense of humor as well.

FullSizeRender 12

Throughout the psalter we are invited to spy the mind and soul of More, and his favorite references to certain psalms for specific prayers or prayer intentions. At Psalm 41, which begins “O God, my whole soul longs for thee, as a deer for running water…”, More writes, “Happy the man who can say this from his soul.” He also notes psalms useful pro rege, or “for the king,” who in More’s case, was the same king who had him imprisoned there in the Tower.

There are entries on facing tribulation and false accusation, specific prayers against the torment of demons, dealing with scruples in confession, having faith, hope and trust, and an array of others. I find these notations so valuable, that I’ve undertaken to systematically begin inserting them into my own breviary as I pray it each day, so that I am not far from my patron as he prayed the same psalms that we pray today.

When we consider martyrs, we are frequently presented an image of a person with unquenchable faith, by which the faithful (but unsaintly) people of God are somewhat challenged, because we do not recognize such capacity for martyrdom in ourselves. We are fearful and suspicious that our faith will not carry us through any such final test.

IMG_1867

Anecdotally, we know that St. Thomas More was willing to die for Christ, but afraid that his human weakness, suffering under pain, would break him (“…that I wot well my lewdness hath been such that I know myself well worthy that God should let me slip, yet can I not but trust in His merciful goodness that… if I shall suffer, His grace shall give me the strength to take it patiently…”). We too, can benefit from seeing the struggle that accompanies such a path to Heaven.

Without a doubt, St. Thomas More’s prayer book belonged to a saint, but an entirely fallible human one, who struggled under much the same types of oppressions, who feared for his well-being and his family, but surrendered these fears to God through earnest prayer. I am comforted to think that as he suffered, he continued his prayers for the king and the system that unjustly accused and martyred him, as he no doubt continues to do today as the fight continues here on earth. We would do well to follow his example in much the same way.

St. Joseph: Patron Saint for Dads

14559691119_b68d69dbf8_oSt. Joseph’s adopted fatherhood of Our Lord is near mystery in itself, miraculous. He is a universal model of fatherhood. And he’s the guy for us dads.

Consider, in St. Joseph, the theological virtues. He has FAITH. He trusts in God, hears His voice. He listens. He has HOPE because St. Joseph is not troubled by troubling news. He gives thought and consideration to what he learns, but he does not despair in them. He follows. All the while, St. Joseph LOVES. He loves his family. He desires their highest and best good.

Consider also, that St. Joseph is perfectly CHASTE, at all times, in all ways, beyond all normal expectation. He is TEMPERATE. He does not give way to rash judgment. He is the very image of CHARITY, in that what he does is for the good of his wife and son. He lives the Golden Rule.

14723320066_eed36e551a_oSt. Joseph’s DILIGENCE is found in his respect for the laws of Caesar, and his determination to do the will of God. And his work. He works to provide for his family. He shows us dads that all honest work has dignity.

PATIENCE. I laugh. Imagine Jesus for a son and Mary for a wife! OF COURSE HE WAS PATIENT!

Was St. Joseph KIND? He was righteous (Matt 1:19), but he was “unwilling” to expose Mary to shame. Yes, Scripture shows us that he was KIND even when he might have felt wounded.

And finally, St. Joseph’s HUMILITY. Just as any true human father should be, St. Joseph allows himself to be completely eclipsed by the Goodness that surrounds him. He is in the midst of God Incarnate and His Mother, so there can be little doubt that St. Joseph was the kind, loving, devoted, and dedicated father that God intended him to be, without any of the earthly rewards claimed by the rest of us dads.

He was simply the perfect human father and greatest dad.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day.

14766189733_e00ae5239d_o

Pope Announces Canonization of Bl. Junipero Serra

Is this a sign that part of the pilgrimage to the United States
will include a visit in California?

IMG_1150

Bl. Junipero Serra, and his “pectoral” cross

St. John Paul II started the “tradition” of having press conferences aboard “papal planes” on pilgrimages. JPII was the most traveled pope, air travel was a less than common occurrence for prior popes. Some might be nostalgic for the pontificate of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was, shall we say, circumspect during such occasions. Our current Holy Father has been rather more, uh, candid than his predecessors.

IMG_1148

Painting of Bl. Junipero Serra and company from Spain via Mexico arriving at the Monterey Peninsula, and celebrating mass

But it was exciting news to learn that aboard the flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines,  Pope Francis announced that he is dispensing with the miracle requirement for Bl. Junipero Serra (as he has done with a few other recent canonizations) and will declare the Franciscan friar who evangelized Alta California and established the string of California missions along the El Camino Real a saint of the Holy Catholic Church.

The subject of Spanish imperialization of the New World remains a delicate and touchy subject for many. I recall that in college, nothing got my liberal tenured history professors more twisted and upset than when discussing the treatment of America’s natives at the hands of the English, French and Spanish imperialists. Far more than the need for miracles, in the case of Serra the cause should have been very careful about scrutinizing his actions relative to methods of mission work, and ensuring that he was indeed saintly in his actions to the people who he worked with, and evangelized.

Courtyard of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

Courtyard of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

Bl. Junipero was accompanied by Spanish soldiers as he established the missions. At the time, Spain was interested in staking a territorial claim to Alta California, and viewed the missions as a means not just for evangelization, but also its commercial and imperial interests, which included maintaining a toehold on California and preventing expansion by Russia and others.

It appears that Bl. Junipero was focused on his mission, and worked hard to protect the natives from Spanish soldiers. He effectuated the removal of at least one Spanish governor of the territory (in part due to this governor’s cruelty toward the native population). It appears that Bl. Junipero was a kind and benevolent man who was earnestly interested in bringing Christ to the indigenous people.

Altarpiece in the mission church at San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. Bl. (soon to be St.) Junipero is buried beneath the altar.

Altarpiece in the mission church at San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. Bl. (soon to be St.) Junipero is buried beneath the altar.

He suffered an injury to his leg that tortured him for many years, preventing sleep and easy travel, but Serra steadfastly refused to return to Spain or Mexico, for fear that it would dissolve his work. But he was also a man of his time, and held attitudes toward the native people that some today find less than defensible. True historians must always allow for context, but canonization isn’t only concerned with context; rather, the process is meant to arrive at a declaration of holiness. Holiness is not necessarily tempered by context.

The other exciting piece of this news is that the canonization will take place in the United States, while the pope is here in September. There will be some speculation, will the Holy Father travel to California? It certainly would be a boon for all of America to have Serra canonized in the U.S., but to date the impression has been that the pope will confine his visit to the East Coast, and possibly a city like Chicago, but would not be traveling to California. I’d argue that the Serra connection to New York or Philadelphia is pretty tenuous, not the ideal venue for the canonization.

Front of the mission church, San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

Front of the mission church, San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

I think Serra should be canonized at or near the place where he is buried, at the second mission he established, San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo in Monterey, California. Incidentally, our family (as part of our homeschool / mission curriculum) visited this mission last Sunday, which has recently undergone a seismic retrofit to the mission church, and is awaiting structural repairs and general freshening to the other buildings in the mission complex.

In terms of logistics, access, etc., the mission would not be ideal for the canonization, but it is a beautiful place to visit (JPII visited in 1987) and soon will be home to the remains of St. Junipero Serra! The canonization could occur at a nearby stadium, or the cathedral in Monterey, Los Angeles, San Diego, or even San Francisco.

The Souls in Purgatory Cannot Pray Themselves to Heaven

We (members of the Body of Christ, alive today here on earth) are the Church Militant. This is an important thing to understand today, on the Solemnity of All Saints, the eve of the Commemoration of All Souls.

Nice. God finally installed wi-fi.

Occasionally I get a page view from Vatican City, but just imagine the credibility of a blog that “Dispenses Orthodox Catholic Joy” and is visited by non-Militant members of the Church!

We the Church Militant cannot be certain which members of the faithful of God belong to the Church Triumphant (among the Communion of Saints in Heaven) or the Church Suffering (undergoing the purifying fire of Purgatory). We don’t see the “stats”; God is the admin. We can, however, give thanks to God for Purgatory, and ponder the extent of such loving Mercy that even in death, God makes provisions for us. 

The Church Suffering (those souls in Purgatory, destined for Heaven) cannot pray from themselves. It is a spiritual work of mercy to pray for the dead. But prayers aren’t useful for everyone who has died. Why do we pray, and for whom do we pray?

We do not pray for the souls in the Hell. A soul in Hell sends itself there and cannot escape. Such a prayer would be fruitless.

We do not pray for souls in Heaven. A soul in Heaven is already in that perfect state of Beatitude; essentially a person in Heaven is a saint; we might ask a saint to pray for us, but we do not pray for a saint. There is nothing added by our prayers to the blessings poured out upon the souls in that are already in Heaven.

We pray for the souls in Purgatory, who like just about all of us, undergo spiritual purification after death before joining our Lord in Heaven. Purgatory is not necessarily fun, because it is a type of separation from God. In fact, it might be painful. It might be lonely. It might even be frightening. A soul in Purgatory will want to leave, because Heaven is in sight and Purgatory is supposed to be temporary.

Because souls in Purgatory cannot pray themselves out, it falls to us to pray to God and the saints for them. When I pray for souls in Purgatory, I can’t help inserting a rather self-serving prayer that someone will take pity and pray for me when my time in Purgatory comes.

Tomorrow is All Souls’ Day. The Church offers a plenary indulgence on November 2 for the faithful who (1) visit a Catholic Church and while there pray for the souls in Purgatory (say one “Our Father” and the “Apostles Creed”, one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” for the Holy Father’s prayer intentions), (2) receive Holy Communion, and (3) go to confession within 20 days (before or after) of All Souls’ Day. You can also gain a plenary indulgence (one soul in Purgatory for each day) between November 1 and November 8 by visiting a cemetery and praying there.

In order for these indulgences to qualify as “plenary” (i.e., complete remission of all temporal punishments of sin for the soul in Purgatory = go straight to Heaven) you must be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin. Because of the question of one’s own “attachment to sin”, it’s difficult to know whether your spiritual work of mercy on behalf of the faithfully departed in Purgatory will qualify as plenary or partial. That’s okay, and in a way has the upside of leaving us unconcerned with any focus upon the “merits” of our “work” and once again reliant upon God and His graces. Just do the spiritual work and let the Lord sort out the merit.

As much as we are called to make our lives an expression of caritas, but sometimes lack the means (due to time, lack of money, or some other obstacle) to care for the physical well-being of others, we can all pray for the dead, out of love, regardless of our particular situation. This type of work for the good of the Church has great merit in the eyes of God.

On Altar Stones, Patient Priests, and Inquisitive Kids

At your parish, do you know which saint’s relics are contained in the main altar of your church?

Fr. A with my son, Thomas, attempting to remove the altar stone from the altar at our church

Fr. A with my son, Thomas, attempting to remove the altar stone from the altar at our church

Neither we nor our pastor knew the answer to this question until a recent weekday when my wife and our oldest son went to daily mass. After serving, our son (age 11) asked Fr. A about the altar stone in our church and whose relics were housed inside it.

Frequently, the church will be named after the saint whose relics are housed there. But, for example, in the case of St. Mary’s or Our Divine Savior or Immaculate Conception Parish, another saint’s relics will be needed, for obvious reasons. Our parish falls into this category.

Fr. A, a rather curious guy, long-suffering and patient priest that he is, never shirking from an opportunity to discover something new or walk the extra mile, obliged our son by uncovering the altar and removing the stone installed in it.

Fr. A and Thomas, examining the altar stone upon removal

Fr. A and Thomas, examining the altar stone upon removal

They discovered an inscription on the back on the altar stone, which reads, “This altar stone contains the relics of SS. Beatus and Lucidus, Martyrs.”

14782129915_d70967ed9f_o-2Nearly every Catholic church, as part of its consecration, contains the first-degree relic of at least one saint, which is placed within a “reliquary”, sometimes separate from or integrated with a literal stone that covers and protects the relic, and which is placed into the main altar.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Relics available at NewAdvent.org, a decree of the Council of Trent instructs that “the holy bodies of holy martyrs and of others now living with Christ — which bodies were the living members of Christ and ‘the temple of the Holy Ghost’ (1 Corinthians 6:19) and which are by Him to be raised to eternal life and to be glorified are to be venerated by the faithful…”

14781778512_aa20d1138c_o-2The veneration of relics is an ancient practice of the Church. For example, centuries of tradition brought many far-flung pilgrims to where the bones of St. Peter were buried near the place of his death, on Vatican hill, steps from the circus where he was martyred. After nearly two millennia of this tradition, in the last century archaelogical excavation confirmed the actual presence of the bones of St. Peter, precisely below the main altar of the Basilica.

Plan of Old St. Peter's Basilica (A) in relation to the Circus of Nero (C)

Plan of Old St. Peter’s Basilica (A) in relation to the Circus of Nero (C); The obelisk is

[SIDEBAR: do you know why there is an Egyptian obelisk in the center of the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica? Contrary to absurd “history” advanced by Dan Brown and his ilk, the obelisk decorated the center of Nero’s Circus (also on Vatican hill), where so many Christians were martyred, and it was likely one of the last things that St. Peter laid his eyes upon (upside-down) before his gruesome death by crucifixion. Early Christians and true historians would have understood the significance of moving the obelisk a few meters and making it the centerpiece of the square in front of the Basilica. With Rome as the center of Christendom in the West, it became a sign of the Church’s triumph over persecution.]

To venerate the relic of a saint is most certainly not a form of idolatry. For example, St. Jerome says: “We do not worship, we do not adore [non colimus, non adoramus], for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate [honoramus] the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are.” (“Ad Riparium”, i, P.L., XXII, 907).

A relic is worthy of veneration because God makes the saint. A saint bears living witness here on earth to communion with God. A saint is so caught in the gaze of God that their holiness provides a glimpse of the Kingdom of God and the Resurrection of the Body: both body and soul become instruments of holiness.

There is also something foundational about venerating relics and placing them in our church’s altars. The relic becomes another tangible example of the faith being built upon the faith of those already in Heaven. Relics are not talismans or objects of superstition. Rather, they are proofs that God glorifies our bodies even while we live, at least in some part. On the altar, we place our Gifts upon these foundations, because these “foundations” have been blessed by Our Lord.

20140908_234445_Android[SIDEBAR: I recently shared that we are in the process of creating a chapel in our home that we use for prayer. In connection with our “home altar”, we acquired a relic of St. Benedict, now encased in a reliquary atop our altar.] 20140908_234404_Android

So perhaps, if you have an inquisitive son or daughter and the kind of priest who (like ours) will patiently answer questions (or better yet, put on his Indiana Jones hat), it might be worthwhile and interesting to learn a bit more about the relics present in your church!

 

Post-Canonization: New Feast Days Announced

20140416-235242.jpgOn September 11, Pope Francis added optional memorials to the Roman Calendar for the recently canonized popes:

St. Pope John XXIII: October 11 (opening day of first session of Vatican II)

St. Pope John Paul II: October 22 (anniversary of his papal inauguration)

Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II, ora pro nobis.

Timely Advice, from the 1st Century

It is now the year of Our Lord, 2014, and there is some timely advice from St. Barnabas, Apostle (from Sunday’s Office of Readings), that’s only almost 2,000 years old:

Icon of St. Barnabas (1921), Museum St. Barnabas Salamis (Cyprus). Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Gerhard Haubold

Icon of St. Barnabas (1921), Museum St. Barnabas Salamis (Cyprus). Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Gerhard Haubold

When evil days are upon us and the worker of malice gains power, we must attend to our own souls and seek the know the ways of the Lord. In those times reverential fear and perseverance will sustain our faith, and we will find need of forebearance and self-restraint as well. Provided that we hold fast to these virtues and look to the Lord, then wisdom, understanding, knowledge and insight will make joyous company with them. (Liturgy of the Hours, Book IV, p. 57; Cap. 1, 1-8; 2, 1-5: Funk 1, 3-7).