Immaculate Heart of Mary, Ora pro nobis.

This blog is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and in reparation for all the sins committed against Her Most Pure Heart. May Her Immaculate Heart draw us closer to Her Divine Son, Our Most Precious Lord.

Monday, August 29, 2011

August 29: The Beheading of St. John the Baptist

This article will begin a series this week on a topic that is very personal to me—divorce and remarriage.  As a child from divorced parents, my life has been affected in ways that seldom are addressed.  The story of the Martyrdom of John the Baptist is a perfect way to begin this discussion.

St. John reproached Herod with his unlawful union.  The adulterous Herodias and her shameless daughter Salome forced Herod to behead the Precursor.  The Gospel of the Mass describes his martyrdom.

            St. John the Baptist is often called the Precursor or the Forerunner.  He is given these titles to illustrate that St. John was designed by God to prepare the people for the coming of Our Lord.  He was freed from original sin while still in his mother’s womb and he lived a perfectly sinless life.  He lived an austere life in the desert but spent his time preaching of the need for repentance for the Israelites, and preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  He especially became noted for baptizing people in the River Jordan.  The more he baptized, the more people came to hear him preach, and the more attention he drew to himself.  He didn’t mince words and he was never hesitant to chastise sinners for their behavior.  Many people loved him and listened to him.  He was, as his title suggests, the one who prepared the way for Our Lord.
            We know from Scripture that St. John the Baptist and Jesus were preaching and teaching during the same time.  We also know, from that same Scripture, that St. John was filled with great humility and was quick to point out that he was not the Christ.  In fact, sinless though he was, he didn’t find himself worthy to remove the sandals from Our Lord’s feet.  Perhaps because of his humility and honesty, St. John attracted a large number of followers.  As he traveled, people came to him to be baptized and to hear him preach.  One of those people who apparently was fascinated with St. John’s preaching was the son of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas.
            This King Herod was as vile and immoral as his father.  He lived a life of debauchery and self-satisfaction.  He displayed his wickedness and sin out in the open for everyone to see.  He was shameless.  At this time, King Herod had a wife, the daughter of the King of Arabia.  While they had married probably for political reasons, she was his lawful wife, nonetheless.  But upon one of his visits to Rome, Herod fell in love with his niece, Herodias, who was also the wife of his younger brother.  They engaged in an adulterous affair, and eventually Herod divorced his wife and brought his concubine to Galilee.  As if this weren’t scandalous enough, his concubine had a daughter Salome, who was both wicked and shameful.
            When Herod continued to flaunt his new “wife” around, St. John the Baptist refused to be silent.  He admonished King Herod for his behavior, by reminding him that divorcing his wife was sinful, unlawful, and unacceptable.  He encouraged him to repent and discharge the wicked, adulterous Herodias back to Rome.  But because neither Herod nor Herodias wished to be chastised or repent, Herod had St. John imprisoned.  He wanted to have St. John executed right away but he was afraid that killing St. John might cause a revolt among his followers.  Herod knew that St. John was an honest and upright man and that he had no reason, other than selfish pride, to kill him.   Herodias, however, was to have her way and her revenge.
            For his birthday, King Herod planned a grand feast and festival.  All the princes, judges, officials, and important people of Galilee attended.  There was plenty of drinking, eating, and dancing.  The shameful Salome, niece and stepdaughter of King Herod, danced erotically for her King.  Because he was so entranced and mesmerized by Salome, Herod promised he would give her anything as a reward for his pleasure.  On advice from her evil mother, Salome requested the head of St. John the Baptist.  Since King Herod didn’t want to disgrace himself, since he preferred his own lawlessness and sinfulness to that of God’s laws, he ordered that St. John be executed in his prison cell.  St. John’s head was then brought as a gift to the wretched and disgraceful Salome who in turn handed it to her evil and hateful mother, Herodius who mockingly threw his head out with the garbage.  When St. John’s disciples heard the news, they came immediately to retrieve his body and buried him in a tomb. 
            According to Tradition, St. John’s head was found and retrieved by the wife of one of Herod’s officers.  St. Joanna took his head and buried it on the Mount of Olives where it remained hidden for centuries.  His head was found in the 5th century but hidden again to protect it from Muslim invaders.  It was found again 400 years later and was transferred to Constantinople.
            St. John the Baptist was killed because he condemned Herod’s actions of divorcing his wife and marrying his lover.  The Catholic Church has countless numbers of martyrs who have also died condemning such.  St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More were both martyred for refusing to accept the English King Henry VIII’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon.  In French history, King Robert was excommunicated for divorcing his wife Susannah to marry his lover, Bertha. 
The Catholic Church has consistently taught that divorce and remarriage is always unlawful and sinful.  As such, it is never permitted.  (In some cases annulments are issued, which I will address later this week.)  Protestants, persons of other religions, and secular people adhere to the idea that a marriage can be dissolved in certain circumstances.  This idea, however, has brought a tremendous evil onto society.  Currently, modern society is facing an epidemic of incredible magnitude.  The family has been totally broken apart.  Many men and women are on their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th marriages.  There are children from each of these partnerships that live in a constant state of confusion.  Plenty of children don’t know their mothers or fathers and have siblings they will never meet.  These children are all but abandoned and often times have to make their own way in the world, without any real guidance or support. 
I grew up in one such environment.  This week I am going to be like St. John the Baptist.  I am going to bring divorce out into the Light and condemn it.  I am certain that I will share a similar fate with the great St. John. 

St. John the Baptist, pray for us, that we have your humility when we approach Our Lord.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us, that we may have the courage to condemn the evils in our society, regardless of the cost.


St. John the Baptist, pray for us, that divorced people or people considering divorce have the courage to reconcile.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

August 24: The Feast of St. Bartholomew--Apostle

St. Bartholomew the Apostle, whose name means son of Tholomy, is believed to be the same as the Nathanael whom the Master praised as the Israelite in whom was no guile.  He preached the Faith in India and Armenia.  He was flayed alive and beheaded in 71 A.D.


He is the patron of our son, Garrett Nathaniel.
         
   I have been anticipating writing about St. Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, for quite some time.  He is the patron saint of our 2nd son and St. Bartholomew’s little known life and character is very interesting.  He is listed as one of the Twelve Apostles, identified and called personally by Our Lord Jesus.  The Scripture mentions him only briefly, but those passages offer a tremendous insist into the man Jesus called “the Israelite without guile.”
            Guile is one of those words the English language has lost to political correctness.  Fortunately for humanity, Jesus did not fancy political correctness.  He was a Man who didn’t mince words.  So when he called Bartholomew, he could see that his heart was pure.  The Jews had become synonymous with lies, wickedness, and deceit.  Very, very few of them could be trusted.  Since Bartholomew was from Cana, it was likely that no one aside from his friend, Philip, knew him.  For Our Lord to identify Bartholomew from the beginning as guileless or without deceit was quite significant.  And just as Our Lord was able to see into St. Bartholomew’s heart, St. Bartholomew immediately was able to recognize Our Lord as the Son of God. 
            Perhaps because his heart was so pure, St. Bartholomew was quickly identified as the cheerful Apostle.  He brought humor, softness, and optimism into a group of men who were otherwise somber, serious, and overburdened with troubles.  Upon first introduction to Jesus, St. Bartholomew replied in both jest and seriousness, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Certainly St. Bartholomew’s sarcasm had some merit, since, at that time, Nazareth was viewed as a pretty vile and corrupt town.  But Jesus, nonetheless, welcomed His Apostle with tremendous warmth and when He spoke, St. Bartholomew understood that this Man from Nazareth was indeed the King of Israel.
            From tradition, we understand that Bartholomew was a bright spot in the lives of the other 11 Apostles.   It was tireless Bartholomew who encouraged them to keep walking through the heat and dust into the next town.  With his natural perceptive ability, he was able to help draw Thomas to understanding.  With his friendly nature, he was able to soften the over-serious Philip.  For the logical and objective Matthew, he was a source of kindness and compassion.  Bartholomew was the one who best reflected the mercy, kindness, gentleness, and compassion of Our Lord so the others, too, could feel it.  It is no surprise, then, that Our Lord allowed St. Bartholomew to witness His Glorious Ascension into Heaven.
            Due to his nature, it is not hard to understand that St. Bartholomew welcomed with gladness the opportunity to spread the Gospel throughout the world as Our Lord commanded.  He traveled into India, possibly with St. Matthew, taking that Gospel to the pagans there.  Through is gentleness and joyfulness, St. Bartholomew was able to convert many souls.  He later traveled into Armenia, which borders Turkey and Iran.  It was here he worked hard to convert the nation, but he also made many enemies among the pagans.  It was here that the brother of the King became so angry with the Cheerful Apostle that he ordered him to be skinned alive and beheaded. 
            After his death, the Armenia Christians took St. Bartholomew’s bones and head and buried them in a lead sarcophagus.  Due to the number of miracles attributed to his burial site, many more souls were converted.  The pagans began to fear the situation and threw the entire sarcophagus into the sea.  Instead of sinking, the sarcophagus floated by Divine Providence to the island of Lapari, Sicily.  When the Muslims invaded the area, the relics were moved to Benevento, Italy in 840.  Eventually, they were transferred to Rome and onto other parts of the world. 
           
Many miracles regarding weights of objects and healing of the sick have been attributed to St. Bartholomew’s relics.
           
He is the patron saint of Armenia, bookbinders, leather workers, and tanners.

St. Bartholomew, pray for us, that we may have a pure heart to truly see Our Lord.


St. Bartholomew, pray for us, that, in the midst of our gloomy world, we may be infused with joy and gladness.

Monday, August 22, 2011

August 22: The Feast of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary--Patroness of this Blog


And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.  (Luke 2:35)
            When I was a young girl, the Christmas story was the only opportunity I had to read about the Blessed Virgin Mary.  During Christmas time, the Protestant church I attended would read the first two Chapters of St. Luke, from the Nativity to the Finding of Jesus in the Temple.  And each year, I was always drawn to one particular verse—the next to last verse in that Scripture reading—“And his mother kept all these words in her heart.”  As a child, I am not really certain that I understood what this meant.  As I grew, I don’t believe it was ever really explained to me in any real terms except that “Mary loved Jesus as a mother loves her son.”  There wasn’t any emphasis on it or anything truly remarkable about the Blessed Virgin. What I didn’t know then was that Protestants have a fear that devotion to Mary takes the focus off Jesus.  They couldn’t be more wrong.
            Devotion to the Heart of Mary dates back to Biblical times.  Early Christians were drawn to Mary because of her immense love and virtues.  Out of compassion, these Christians were most especially drawn to Mary standing at the foot of the Cross while she contemplated and watched Jesus die.  When they coupled this with St. Simeon’s prophecy that Mary’s heart would be “pierced by a sword,” and St. Luke’s words that Mary held “all these things in her heart,” a true devotion to the Blessed Mother’s Heart began to blossom.  As the Church grew, so did Devotion to Mary.  The Fathers of the Early Church wrote about her virtues, her virginity, her tenderness, her compassion, her wisdom, her obedience, and her love for Our Lord Jesus.  By the 5th Century, it was generally understood that before Mary conceive the Christ in Her womb, She bore Him in Her Heart and Her Heart became the model of Christian love.
            For the next 600 or 700 years, devotion and love of Our Lady grew among private individuals and communities.  At the height of the Church, in the Middle Ages, many Bishops, priests, and Saints began to include formal devotions and liturgical practices.  Much was written about Her Heart and many petitions were brought to Rome to make devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary a public prayer.  Each time a petition was brought to Rome in hopes of instituting a feast to celebrate Mary’s Pure Heart, however, it was dismissed.  In spite of these disappointments, though, private devotions continued and, in some places, intensified.  In 1648, due to the dedication and efforts of St. John Eudes in France, the Feast of the Holy Heart of Mary was allowed to be added into the liturgy in the orders and seminaries he founded.  When Pope Pius VI was held captive during the French Revolution in 1799, he also allowed the same Feast to added to the calendar in a few more Churches.  By the 1850s, France had quickly and quietly become the center of devotion to the Holy Heart of Mary.
            Perhaps devotion to Mary would have remained in France even until these days, but, as I have discovered in my own life, God often has other plans.  In this case, God’s plan involved 3 peasant children about 800 miles from France in Fatima, Portugal.  On May 13, 1917, the little children Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco were tending their flocks in the fields.  Our Lady came down from Heaven to appear to them in a series of visions.  She came to them on the 13th day of 6 consecutive months and revealed to them many things.  On her last visit, October 13, she declared that “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.”  In 1930, the Catholic Church recognized the apparitions at Fatima to be worthy of belief.  (I will definitely write more about Our Lady of Fatima.)  In 1944, Pope Pius XII, who had a particular devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, instituted the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary into the liturgy of the Universal Church.  From that time until Vatican II, the entire Church celebrated this Feast on August 22, 8 days after the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  In 1969, the Feast was moved to coincide with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 
            What exactly is so special about Mary’s Heart anyway?  This is a question I have pondered since my childhood days as a Protestant and precisely was led me to Traditional Catholicism.   The heart has long been a symbol in religion, art, and literature.  It is used to exemplify the spiritual, emotional, moral, and intellectual condition of people.  We talk about people, sometimes, by referring to their hearts.  Cold-hearted people, we understand, are incapable of compassion.  Hard-hearted people have closed themselves off to wisdom.  Soft-hearted people can’t bear to see suffering.  Kind-hearted people always think of other’s needs.  We all have our sweet hearts and we’ve all probably been lonely hearts, too.  Our hearts, then, are a reflection of who we are and what we are capable of. 
Our Blessed Mother, as Her Heart symbolizes, is Immaculate—pure love, pure charity, pure wisdom, pure gentleness, and pure mercy.  By her Immaculate Conception, she is not capable of impure thoughts, empty deeds, self-centered kindess, pride, or vanity.  She seeks only the will of Her Divine Son.  Through the graces given Her by Our Lord, She is the perfect model of compassion, tenderness, and wisdom.  Since Our Lord left Her for us as our own Mother, He has also given us to Her.  Just as She held Our Lord in Her Heart, so She hold us.  She only wants to give us the graces that Our Lord gave to her—charity, kindness, compassion, love, humility, and obedience.  It is through Her Heart that we can come to understand Our Lord.  Why would we not want to know Her Heart?  How can we not want our hearts to be like Hers? 
May the Immaculate Heart of Mary lead us all to Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.
Immaculate Mary, thy praises we sing; Who reignest in splendor with Jesus our King.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria; Ave, Ave Maria

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Do, Every Day

Christian Marriage is the permanent union of husband and wife for the procreation and education of children and for their own mutual assistance.  This union was made sacred when Christ raised it to the dignity of a Sacrament and entrusted its keeping and administration to His Church.  Marriage is God’s plan for peopling the earth, and by it He invites His creatures, through the love they have for each other, to share with Him in the great work of procreation.  He entrusts to the married couple the children born to them, and they may bring them up in the knowledge and love of almighty God, and give them the graces necessary for that work. 
Today is our 20th wedding anniversary.  I am so totally honored and blessed to be the wife of such an amazing man.  He is a terrific husband and an even better father.  With this in mind, I thought this morning I would write about marriage and what I’ve learned over the years.  As usual, God seems to put things right where I need to see them.  This morning was no exception.
          Since we were non-religious, secular people at the time, Steve and I got married by the lake.  It was a simple ceremony with no glitz or glamour.  We were two simple people with hopes and dreams for our future.  It was sweet and romantic.  Since we were both influenced more by our culture than our parents, we really did not have a clue as to what we were doing or what it meant.  Boy, have I learned a lot.
          Sadly, though, young people who are getting married today know a lot less than we did.  I say sadly, because, even though, most married couples stay married, there is a lot of divorce going on.  Many young people don’t even bother to get married anymore.  They have perpetual “fiancĂ©es” and even have children in this environment.  While it might be expected among the non-religious people, this sad condition is common among self-declared Christians. 
          With this attitude about marriage, it’s no wonder that the “wedding” has become such a huge and fanciful affair.  Instead of the beginning of a new life and family, it’s become a showcase for creativity and selfishness.  Hollywood long ago picked up on the idea and offers no less than 15 television shows about weddings.  There is the popular Bridezillas, about women that no man in his right mind would want to marry anyway.  There’s Married Away, where the honeymoon becomes a “destination” wedding.  There is also the fan favorite Say Yes to the Dress, where the wedding dress takes center stage. 
Weddings have become entertainment.  Remember this wedding sensation from last year?  So it’s no wonder that traditional wedding vows just won’t do.  Brides and grooms have become really creative with their vows, from humorous to rap lyrics.  But I ran across some today, a poem from the 30s, that made me hang my head in dismay.  It occurred to me, then, that this is really what couples have in their minds when getting married.  It also occurred to me that it’s no wonder there are so many divorces or couples living together indefinitely.  Here’s part of the poem which is used quite frequently:

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

The poem, which was written by Khalil Gibran, has become one of the most popular readings at modern weddings.  If this is really what couples think about marriage then the future is very bleak indeed, especially for the children.  That is, if the parents can find some way to bring a child into “the spaces in their togetherness” and their “not a bond of love.” 
I hope today that somebody asks me how we have managed to make it for 20 years.  Here is what I am going to tell them. 
  1.   God.  Without Our Lord Jesus Christ, we would just be another statistic.  God, through the Sacraments, has given us the graces we need to raise our family and weather any storm.
  2.    There is absolutely no space in our togetherness.  We spend all of our time together.  We don’t have “boy’s night” or “girls night.” 
  3.    Love is not a feeling, it is an action.  All of our actions bond us to one another.  Our love is greater today because our bond is stronger.
  4.    We drink from the same cup and share the same loaf.  Our sustenance is the Lord.  He is our Real Food and Real Drink.  We receive all our graces from Him.  He gives us the wisdom we need to love each other and raise our children.  Our marriage would starve without Him.
  5.    We sing and dance together.  My joy comes from my husband’s joy.  It makes me happy when he is happy.  We like to please each other. 
  6.    My husband holds my heart in his care.  I am not afraid to say that.  Has he broken it before?  Yes.  But that makes him so much more careful in the future.  I’ve broken his heart before, too.  I pray, with God’s help, never to do it again.
  7.    We stand together, always.  Together we are raising our children.  As our two trees grow, they intertwine.  They have become one tree with one huge root and branches that spread out wide.  Our children know they can find refuge there.  They are not confused about which tree provides better fruit or more shade.  We are one big tree with the Lord providing us nourishment and life.
     These 20 years have been a roller coaster ride.  We have had our share of it all--abundance, sorrow, suffering, joy, happiness, fear, excitement, and loss.  The Lord has blessed us with 7 beautiful children and good health.  It has been a gracious 20 years.  I pray the Lord blesses us with 20 or 40 more.




Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 16: St. Joachim--Father of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The holy Patriarch Joachim was the husband of St. Anne, and the father of Our Lady.  This feast, originally kept on March 20, was transferred to the day following the Assumption, in order to associate the Blessed Daughter and her holy father in triumph.
          On July 26, we celebrated the Feast of St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin.  Today, we continue to celebrate Our Mother’s parents with the Feast of St. Joachim.  As I mentioned in my post regarding St. Anne, these are two people I knew nothing about as a young Protestant.  Mary’s parents are not mentioned in the Bible at all.  In fact, everything we know about her parents, Joachim and Anne, come to us through tradition and apocryphal texts.  Since my life is so much more than the diary I kept as a child, the letters I wrote to my friends, and the few times I have been mentioned or remembered by others, I am understanding and grateful for the Traditions handed onto us through the Apostles and the Church.
          St. Joachim, whose name in Hebrew means preparation for the Lord, was from a long line of Patriarchs as mentioned in the Old Testament.  He was quite wealthy, with many herds and flocks, but the Lord had not blessed he and his wife, St. Anne, with a child.  St. Anne was barren.  This was particularly scandalous in their time, as all the Jews knew God’s blessing would come through a Messiah, a child who would be born among the Jews.
          St. Joachim was very pious and went, as required by the Law, to offer his sacrifices in the Temple.  But because he and his wife had remained childless for so long, St. Joachim was, on more than one occasion, viewed with scorn and not received.  On one such trip to the temple, St. Joachim left dejected and ashamed.  After being ridiculed and mocked for nearly 20 years, this burden became unbearable.  Instead of returning home, he fled into the mountains to pray to the Lord.
          Once into the mountains, St. Joachim began to plead earnestly with the Lord to relieve this burden he and his wife had born for so long.  He began to fast and offered this prayer to God.  “I will not take any food until the Lord looks at me with mercy.  My prayer will be my fast.”  With this simple yet strong prayer, St. Joachim assaulted God in heaven with his fasting.  He approached the Lord with confidence and resolve, believing that God would indeed have mercy on him and answer his prayers. 
          It would indeed be so.  After spending a long time in the mountains, St. Anne had become convinced her husband was dead.  She stormed heaven with her own prayers.  Just as the Angels were appearing to her in the desert, so were they showing themselves to St. Joachim.  They promised him that God had indeed heard his prayers and a child would come.  St. Joachim returned home with confidence to greet his wife who also shared in the same joy.  Later, of course, St. Anne was to conceive through grace, Our Lady, who was filled with Grace!
          Sts. Joachim and Anne, though burdened and abandoned, never lost faith and confidence in the Lord.  In fact, it was after so much suffering that they turned to the Lord for mercy.  They offer for us an example.  Sometimes, when it seems the Lord has left us, He has not.  He is often preparing us for something that can be brought about only through our suffering.  It is in these times that Our Lord desires us to cry out to him and wait for His Divine Plan to bear fruit.  And what glorious fruit it often is.

St. Joachim, pray for us, that we have the confidence and resolve to seek the Lord to answer our prayers.

St. Joachim, pray for us, that we have the graces to bear with grace our burdens, even with they seem unbearable.

August 15: The Feast of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


    In many countries around the world, today is a Holiday.  There will be no banking today in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria, or Poland.  In Greece, France, and Colombia there will be parades, processions, and parties.  There will be laughing, singing, dancing, and feasting.  In many places, the celebrations will go long into the night.  For us Americans, including modern Catholic, it will be business as usual.  We’ll go off to work, race around, run to the gym, and grab a quick bite to eat.   We’ll watch America’s Got Talent or maybe Hoarders and, glad that the day is over, we’ll collapse into bed.
          What our Protestant country doesn’t know is that today is one of the most magnificent and glorious days in the calendar of the Church: the day that Our Most Blessed Mother was assumed, body and soul, into heaven.  It’s a glorious day, not only because the Mother of Our Lord was taken to heaven, but because it is a reminder that Our Lord keeps his promises.  For if we remain faithful to Our Lord, if we work out our salvation like St. Paul tells us, with fear and trembling, then, we too, will share in the joy Our Lady already enjoys.  On the last day, our earthly body will join our eternal soul in Heaven.
          When I became a Catholic, I didn’t really have an understanding about Our Blessed Mother at all.  As a Protestant of varying stripes, Mary was really not much of a big deal.  We talked about her only once a year at Christmas.  Even then, She was minimized.  She was just some poor, teenage girl that God randomly assigned to be a surrogate mother.  It didn’t really mean anything.  And if the Annunciation doesn’t mean anything for Mary, then no other event in Her life is remotely significant.  She is, in essence, inconsequential.  This belief has a tremendous impact on a person’s belief in God, as well as their worldview, but I won’t go into that today.  It is, however, something that must be discussed in detail, especially since the modern Catholic Church has already initiated the removal of Our Most Blessed Mother from liturgical practice and, more importantly, from the thoughts of modern Catholics.
          From the moment of Her Immaculate Conception, Our Most Blessed Mother was chosen by God to participate in the most significant moment in history—the Incarnation.   With Her Fiat (not a little red sports car), Our Most Blessed Mother, without doubt or question, accepted the Divine Plan as Her own and became the Most Chaste Spouse of the Holy Ghost.  As such, She carried in her womb and bore into the world, God Made Flesh, Our Lord and Savior.  With Her, the Divine became Man.  It was Our Beloved Mother who nursed Our Lord at Her breasts.  It was Her milk He drank, Her breasts he reached to for comfort.  It was Her arms that nurtured Him, Her lips that kissed His Most Beautiful Face when He was a Child and when He fell to the ground under the weight of His Cross.  It was into Her arms that He was born and it was into Her arms that He lay after dying on that same Cross.  It was She who knew Him first and understood.  So, in honor, as His Mother, Our Lord gave Her the privilege and glory of being the first to join the Blessed Trinity in Heaven.
          Unfortunately, nothing is known precisely about the Blessed Virgin’s death.  When Our Lord died on the Cross, He left His Mother in the care of the beloved Apostle, St. John.  She lived out Her days in his care, praying for and working with the Apostles to bring about Christ’s mission for the world.  One can only imagine that, being the Mother of Our Lord, Mary attracted a lot of attention in those years after the Resurrection.  But instead of taking an active role in the early Church, She sat quietly so the Apostles could do their work, just as Our Lord had requested. 
Tradition holds that Mary lived in this manner until about the year 50 A.D, when She died as quietly as She lived. Upon her death, it is believed that the Apostles buried her in a tomb either in Jerusalem or near Ephesus.   But shortly thereafter, either in minutes, hours, or a few days, Our Lord, out of honor to His Blessed Mother, took her, body and soul, into Heaven.  As such, Our Mother is greatest of all Saints and She enjoys the special privilege of being the first one to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is Our Lord who took Her up with Him and it is Our Lord who gives Her to us.  Just as we have a Father in Heaven, we also have a Mother in Heaven!  How gracious Our Lord is to us, indeed.
          As the Church began to grow, the news of Our Blessed Mother’s Assumption into Heaven spread.  Each new generation of Christians found ways to honor Her and show their love for Her.  Initially the “Memory of Mary” was only kept by those who lived in Jerusalem and Palestine.  After the Christians came out of the catacombs in the 4th century, Her memorial slowly began to spread like a ivy vine until by the Middle Ages devotion to Mary had grown into the magnificent festivals, feasts, and processions that marked Catholicism.  The Feast of the Assumption became, for the Church, the single most important feast honoring Our Blessed Mother.  Across the globe, there are cities named after this day and many Churches dating back hundreds of years.  Today some of the most celebrated holidays are centered around the hottest part of the summer and the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.  In 1950, because the entire Catholic Church was so devoted to Mary and celebrating this feast, Pope Pius XII, declared the Assumption of Mary to be dogma—and thus a belief that all Christians must hold as Truth.
          For us, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, gives hope and promise.  Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, sends us Her motherly love and comfort from Heaven.  She is an example for us, that, on the Last Day, our earthly bodies will be glorified in Heaven, as Hers is.  Our hope is Her hope.  Just as She did on earth, Our Blessed Mother draws us closer to Our Lord.  She helps us to know Him better, to love Him better, to understand Him better.  What a great gift Our Lord has given us—His Mother!

          Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To thee do we cry poor banished children of Eve.  To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.  Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and, after this our exile, show unto us the Blessed Fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
           

Monday, August 8, 2011

August 8: St. John Mary Vianney—Patron of Priests


The Cure d'Ars was born at Dardilly, near Lyons, France in 1786. The sanctity of St. John Vianney gives to the obscure village of Ars a universal fame. As parish priest he converted sinners and directed souls, not only those of his own flock, but people of all nations and conditions who came to consult this spiritual director. He died on August 4, 1859 and was canonized in 1925.

The following blog post about St. John Vianney is recorded from a book report that our 4th grader wrote this year about the beloved St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney.

    A priest with a kind heart can help people who have lost their faith return to God. In the 1800s just after the French Revolution, the people of France had lost their faith in God. A young priest named Jean-Marie Vianney helped to bring the people of the town of Ars back to the Church. In The Cure of Ars: The Priest Who Out-Talked the Devil, by Milton Lomask, St. Jean Vianney showed his love for the priesthood and kindness to everyone he knew.

    Many times in his life, Jean Vianney showed his love for the priesthood. When he was eight years old, priests came to his house in secret and fear. He helped his mother care for them and he talked to them. He wanted to become a priest. Because Jean Vianney was a slow learner, it was very hard for him to become a priest. It took him two tries to pass his test. When he finally became a priest, he only wanted to serve God as best he could. Once he stayed in the confessional for 12 hours so that everyone in the town could receive the Sacrament.

    Once he became a priest, St. Jean Vianney showed his kindness to everyone he knew. The other priests in the town were jealous of Jean Vianney and they wrote cruel letters to him, especially about hearing everyone's confessions. Instead of getting angry, he replied to each letter with kindness. He tried to think of others first before his own needs. When he learned about the orphans in Ars, he used his inheritance to build an orphanage and a school.

    St. Jean Vianney changed the hearts of the people in Ars. His love for the priesthood and his kindness brought many people back to God. Jean Vianney helped the people understand how much they needed the Sacraments. He also showed them how much God loved and cared for them. Because he was such a good, humble, and kind priest, the Church made St. Jean Vianney the Patron saint of priests.

I would like to add some comments of my own.

    St. John Vianney was not ordained a priest until he was aged 30. He was thought by his superiors to be completely incompetent. However, God bestowed him with a great many spiritual gifts, including the gift of healing and the ability to read the hearts of his penitents. It was for this latter reason that his reputation spread as the most gracious of all confessors. Men, women, and children came from all over France to his confessional. Many times his fellow priests chastised St. John Vianney for overstepping his bounds. Each time he humbly admitted his fault, but he continued to hear the confessions of all who approached him.

    His life was spent in great suffering every day. Each night St. John Vianney was allowed only two hours of sleep, as he was tormented by the devil. The devil assaulted him with deafening noises, insults, and physical abuse. Occasionally, the members of the parish witnessed such events but St. John merely brushed them off as sufferings he must endure for Our Lord. He often joked that he could "out-talk" the devil.

    On August 4, 1859, St. John Vianney died peacefully in his sleep. Pending his beatification in 1904, St. John Vianney's body was exhumed and found to be completely incorrupt except for the normal blackening of the skin. His body lies on display above the main altar in the Basilica in Ars, France.

    In 1925, the priest with learning difficulties and who was considered incompetent was declared Patron saint of parish priests.

    Currently, the modern Catholic Church is facing a crisis in the priesthood. Parishes are closing down and consolidating because there are very few priests compared to parishioners. Over half the priests in the priesthood in the United States are over 70 and approaching retirement age. Sadly, many of the priests we do have, have brought great scandal to the Church because of their abuses on children or other corruptions. I could include a long list of priests who have committed suicide, looted the coffers of their parishes, spent months in alcohol or drug treatment programs, or worse. I hope, later, to continue this blog on the priesthood—what it is and how it has changed in the Church since Vatican II.  

St. John Vianney, pray for our priests, that when they are tormented by the devil, they have the will to endure the suffering.

St. John Vianney, pray for us, that we may always have a penitent heart and a good confessor.


 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

August 4: The Feast of St. Dominic


Dominic Guzman, born in Spain, opposed the disorders of the Albigenses. He founded the Order of the Friars Preachers, propagated devotion to the Rosary, and save the Western Church from heresy and anarchy. He died in 1221.


 

    St. Dominic was a very influential man in the history of the Church. As such, there is so much to say about him that, initially, I didn't know where to begin. He was charitable, sincere, pious, intelligent, austere, persistent, resilient, and intuitive. His life was remarkable and he left the Church with a Order of preachers and nuns that is still strong and traditional today, in spite of the incredible loss of faith and modernism that has crept inside the Church. He was known to sacrifice himself and his needs for those living in poverty and slavery. During the Crusades, he fought a dangerous heresy that was threatening the Church and promising to overtake Europe. All of these accomplishments, of course, are why St. Dominic is so dear to the Church. But, today, when I meditated on his life, my heart only thought of one thing—the Rosary.

    My first introduction to the Rosary was at the home of my previously-mentioned, high school friend's grandmother. Mrs. G prayed a Rosary every night. On the rare occasion that I got to stay over with my friend at "Granny's," we were both expected to pray along. "Granny" had a tiny little basket full of these beautiful, shiny beads with a crucifix attached to the end. I always followed along, but the only prayers that were familiar to my Protestant ears were the "Lord's Prayer" and the "Gloria." Though I had heard the Apostle's Creed, I didn't really know it and I found the Hail Mary offensive. I had never really been taught praying the Rosary was wicked, but later on in some of my Protestant circles I understood that, since the Lord didn't give it to us or since it wasn't in the Bible, then we shouldn't pray it.

    Upon my eventual conversion to Catholicism, I wasn't taught much either about the Rosary. Oh sure, some people prayed the Rosary before Mass, but those were just the old "blue hairs." In some of the Churches I attended, there was a group, one-decade Rosary for vocations or to end abortion but these, too, only contained the afore mentioned prayers. I probably, also, heard somewhere that it was St. Dominic who "gave" the Rosary to the Church. But my devotion to the Rosary and my understanding of the Rosary came this last year as our family transitioned to Tradition.

    St. Dominic was born in Spain about 1170 to Felix and Joanna Guzman. Both of parents were members of Spanish nobility and their family was incredibly pious, claiming among them many saints. There is much to be said about Dominic's life to exemplify his piety and sanctity. From the age of seven he studied under the care of his uncles. He became quite learned in religious matters and he was devoted to his life of prayers. Those who knew him recognized his soft and charitable heart, especially concerning matters of the poor. He attempted, on more than one occasion, to sell himself into slavery for the liberation of other slaves. But Dominic's most recognizable talent seemed to be that of preaching. He had a tenderness about him that drew people to him. He loved them, they listened, and many people were converted. Although the information regarding his ordination to the priesthood is not available, it is clear that by 1203, St. Dominic was traveling with a missionary entourage across France and Spain during the Crusades.

    The Church has a long, interesting history on fighting heresy. Many of these heresies were, at times, unknown due to the expansion of Christianity throughout Europe. Many heresies and heretical groups lived and prospered for decades or centuries without any challenges from the Church. Many of the men and women who the Church declared Saints, particularly during the Middle Ages, were people who fought diligently to save the Church from the heresies that were spreading throughout the lands. While St. Dominic was on one of his travels, he discovered that most of the Christians in France had adopted many of the heretical beliefs and teachings that had come to them from the Orient. The heresy called Catharism had taken a stronghold over the region and its adherents had grown very hard-hearted and close minded to the Truth. I hope at a later date to write specifically about the Cathars, their beliefs, and their similarities to certain practices in modern times.

    In his wisdom, St. Dominic began to notice something peculiar about the nature of this heresy and how it had become rooted into French culture. It seemed that the women in the community had become particularly drawn to it and were convincing their husbands to follow and were also teaching their children. St. Dominic found this especially troubling but was unsure of how to tackle this problem. Since he had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, St. Dominic opened himself to her in prayer, asking for her intercession. As a sign to him, She presented Herself to St. Dominic in several visions. From one of the visions, St. Dominic understood that, since the promulgation of the heresy was being initiated with the women, the solution must come through them as well. This led him to found his Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, and Order for both men and women.

    In spite of the help from the Dominican friars and nuns, the Cathar heresy continued to spread through France. And St. Dominic continued to pray. One evening in 1208, while St. Dominic was in prayer in his chapel, Our Blessed Mother appeared to him again. He continued to ask for her aide in helping to fight this horrible heresy that was infecting the Church and leading souls to ruin. This time Our Lady answered him by saying, "Pray My Psalter and teach it to your people. The prayer will never fail." Initially, St. Dominic was a bit confused, but through her continued words to him, he began to understand what She was asking. We are not certain how long it took for St. Dominic to collect his thoughts or how Our Lady directed him, but we are certain that he did what She asked. St. Dominic taught the brothers and sisters of his Order to pray what Our Lady called the Rosary and, through this action, the Cathar heresy was completely defeated and expelled.

    St. Dominic went on to live several more years in unexhausting devotion to Our Lord and His Church. He spent his life traveling, preaching, teaching, and fighting for the Truth. After one of his travels in 1221, he contracted a serious illness and died three weeks later. His life was one of such exemplarily virtue, goodness, and charity that Pope Gregory IX declared St. Dominic a saint in 1234.

    After St. Dominic began to teach it, the Rosary became one of the most treasured prayers of the Church. Catholics since that time have had a particular devotion to the Rosary to fight of sickness and evil. In times past, the Rosary was a common prayer in Catholic Churches and homes. Catholics carried them everywhere, in their purses and pockets, and were often spotted counting their beads or kissing their crucifix. Today, like other Catholic practices, devotion to the Rosary has fallen out of favor. Some Catholics pray the Rosary every day, others occasionally, some during Lent, and some not at all. In fact, many modern Catholics don't even know what the prayers are or why we pray the Rosary anyway. Many people would say this is just symbolic of our increasingly secular culture. I don't believe that. I believe that Catholics don't pray it because the Church doesn't teach us too.

    What is the Rosary anyway and why should Catholics pray it? The Blessed Virgin Mary promised St. Dominic that if he taught his people to pray it, then heresies would be extinguished and the True Church would be triumphant? Based on tradition, it would seem that the Church believed this for much of her history. Wouldn't the Rosary be especially important for today's Catholic Church when heresies abound and have taken root in the forms of Protestantism, Modernism, Feminism, Liberalism, Communism, or any other –ism out there? Why aren't Catholic Churches hosting Rosary campaigns or round-the-clock group Rosaries? Maybe it's long past time devotion to the Rosary is restored.

    The Rosary is a beautiful and powerful way to meditate on the Mysteries of Our Lord's life, death, and resurrection. Since it will take a certain amount of time to explain it properly, I will leave that for another post, perhaps later this week.

St. Dominic, pray for us, that we are able to fight the heresies that have taken root in our modern Church and society.

St. Dominic, pray for us, that the Rosary can become a devotion once again in every Catholic home across the world.


 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On the Day I Die, I’ll Ask God to Forgive Me and I’ll Go To Heaven


    This morning while I was doing my prayers and reading, I was not sure what I was going to write about. Today is the Feast of St. Alphonsus Ligouri but I didn't really want to write about him. There were several things I read in the news that I wanted to talk about but the words just would not come to me. I considered that it just might be distractions from some personal events of the last two days. I knew that I didn't want to write anything personal, not really. But when I couldn't find a voice this morning, I decided to read some of St. Alphonsus' writings. As I was reading them, I felt a little nudge from my Guardian Angel. I resisted his guidance at first, but still my Guardian Angel kept sending me back again and again to St. Alphonsus. So reluctantly, I share some of my personal life along with the incredible wisdom of St. Alphonsus Liguori.

    Yesterday, I had some harsh words towards my mother. I was particularly ashamed of that because I didn't believe she deserved it or that Christians should respond to people that way. The words came after a comment she made regarding our way of life, our willingness to participate in God's Providence by blessing us with 7 children. I looked her right in the eyes and declared her a heathen. Her expression immediately changed from shock to disgust. At first I thought I might have hurt her feelings, but it occurred to me later that I had really angered her tremendously. She refused to accept that label I had given her, by declaring that she did indeed believe in God and that when she "met Jesus face to face", she would ask him to forgive her and take her seat in Heaven. With that pronouncement, every hair on the back of my Trad Catholic neck stood straight up. I let it go because it is useless. The whole experience rocked me to the core and my evening was spent in counsel with my amazingly patient husband. The Lord gave me my husband to calm and comfort me last night and then this morning He sent me the words of St. Alphonsus Ligouri to strengthen and encourage me.

    Until today, I have never read anything about St. Alphonsus. I visit a traditional Catholic message board and St. Alphonsus repeatedly comes up as a must read spiritual writer. I've been meaning to get around to some of his works, and there are plenty, but I have a long list of other things I keep telling myself I should read. So this morning I sat back knowing I would probably have a lot to sort through to write a blog on St. Alphonsus. I was right.

    St. Alphonsus Marie Liguouri was born in Naples, Italy in 1696. He was the oldest of 7 children who had parents of exceptional piety and moral character. Although his family at one time had been part of the fairly affluent nobility, by the time Alphonsus was a young boy that comfort was replaced with a certain amount of poverty. In spite of this, Alphonsus was a bright and talented young man. His father found a way to educate him at home and St. Alphonsus complete his studies at age 16. He became a lawyer that same year and by 19 was practicing law in the courts. He was also known to be a morally upright young man, in fact, because he parents demanded it. But as often happens in young adulthood, Alphonsus became attached to the lifestyle that his position and success attracted. He immensely enjoyed his life in society, eventually neglecting his pious and prayer life for the satisfactions of the secular world he came to appreciate. But as in all the stories of all the saints, God had bigger plans for the gifted lawyer.

    Alphonsus was highly regarded in society as a completely honest lawyer. Because of his moral upbringing, he never wanted anyone to perceive that he was attempting to deceive them in any way. In 1723, he was hired to represent a very important client and was satisfied that he had presented his client's case fairly and accurately. But in the trial it was discovered that Alphonsus had overlooked a critical document and his case was lost. He concluded that all those involved would see him as an agent of deceit and he hid himself in despair. Once his humiliation had softened, St. Alphonsus recognized that God had used this moment to squelch his pride and weaken his dependence on the pleasures of this world. He abandoned his career, spent his days in prayer and penance, and became a priest in 1726 at the age of 30.

    St. Alphonsus went on to found an order of priests, the Redemptorists, and spent the rest of his time in missions for teaching the poor and engaged in his writings. He wrote a great collection of spiritual works, of which many Catholics find encouraging in improving their spiritual life. In the later part of his life, St. Alphonsus suffered terribly. He developed within himself terrible scruples and eventually despair, which made his spiritual life agonizing. He also suffered great number of physical illnesses and received the Sacrament of Extreme Unction eight times. Before his death, he suffered attacks from the devil in the form of apparitions and illusions. He died peacefully on August 1, 1887.

    St. Alphonsus Ligouri, though, had incredible insight and fortitude. He left for his Congregation of priests all sorts of instructions and devotions. He wrote on the conversion of sinners, God's Mercy and Justice, comtemplation, sanctity, and many other topics. He was absolutely dedicated to the Truth. He is the patron Saint against lying and also a Doctor of the Church for his great wisdom regarding theology and virtue.

    As I was reading some of his writings, I became encouraged by what I found. I also became saddened because I know, as my mother's reaction and attitude exemplifies, that the Truth, particularly regarding God's Mercy and Justice is completely lost or twisted in the various Protestant denominations. It is increasingly becoming so among Catholics. In his work Preparation for Death: Eternal Truths, St. Alphonsus warns us to watch our attitude regarding sin and God's Mercy. He tells us God's Mercy is not a given. God does not just "give us a seat in Heaven" because we desire it. We must merit it. Sadly, this concept is totally foreign to all Protestants. For them, God's Mercy is unfaltering and His Justice is reserved for the un-believers. This is just not so. God's Mercy exists for those who fear Him, not for those who sin without worrying about it until later.

"St. Augustine says that the Devil seduces men in two ways: through despair and hope. After the sinner commits his fault, he drags him into despair through fear of divine justice; but, before sinning, he encourages him to fall into temptation through hope of divine mercy. For this reason the Saint warns us, saying: "After sinning, do not lose hope in divine mercy; before sinning, fear divine justice." This is because the one who takes advantage of divine mercy to offend God does not deserve it. Mercy exists for those who fear God, and not for those who sin without fearing Him. "One who offends justice can have recourse to mercy," says the Abulensis, "but to whom should the one who offends mercy have recourse?" It is difficult to find a sinner in such a state of despair that he actually wants to be condemned. Sinners want to sin, but without losing hope of salvation. They sin and say: "God is goodness itself. Even if I sin now, later I will confess." Thus think sinners, and, as St. Augustine says, "thus thought many who are now condemned." … "Be careful," says St. John Chrysostom, "when the Devil (and not God) promises you divine mercy with the purpose of making you sin." And St. Augustine adds, "Woe to he who trusts in mercy with the aim of sinning! How many this illusion had fooled and led into perdition! Woe to he who abuses the goodness of God to offend Him more!" Even though God waits patiently for the sinner, He does not wait forever. For if the Lord would always tolerate us, no one would be condemned, but wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to perdition, and there are many who choose it (Matt 7:13). The trap the Devil sets to seduce almost all Catholics who condemn themselves is this: "Sin freely, because, despite all your sins, you will be saved." The Lord, however, curses the one who sins hoping forgiveness."

St. Alphonsus Ligouri also wrote instructions to his missionary priests on the conversion of sinners that I believe might be quite necessary and desirable in our times. There is a huge crisis in the modern Catholic Church where priests and bishops have become lax in their office. Since Vatican II, the modern Catholic Church has attempted to "love" people to Jesus. Those in authority and teaching roles spend so much time telling people about God's abundant Mercy and not any time telling them that it is necessary to avoid sin if we expect to receive that Mercy. Modern Christians have become hard-hearted to the nature of sin and the necessity of confession. They are unabashedly shameless in their sinfulness. They are in real jeopardy of losing their souls. Because of this, St. Alphonsus Ligouri believed that sinners should be approached firmly and, well, frightened.

"Maledicti qui declinant a mandates tuis"
(Cursed be those who leave aside Thy Commandments.)
This "curse of sinners" is precisely to instill terror in the souls of those who do not fear anything, and are deliberately heading toward the eternal curses."

In our days of "God wants me to be happy" and "God is a merciful God", St. Alphonsus Ligouri's life and words are much needed. It is very easy to become prideful with our desires and worldly accomplishments. It is also much easier and peaceful to encourage people's sinful behavior than to admonish it. At lot of Christians no longer believe in the Commandments or think they are necessary to live a good Christian life. However, we do ourselves and our loves one a great injustice when we continue to remain inactive and silent. If we can use Scared Straight to keep children off drugs and out of jail, why can't we use Scared Sinless to keep our loved ones out of Hell?


 

St. Alphonsus Ligouri, pray for us, that we may not abandon You for our worldly aspirations.

St. Alponsus Ligouri, pray for us, that we may be comforted by your Divine Mercy and encouraged by Your Justice.

Monday, August 1, 2011

August 1: Commemoration of the Holy Maccabees


These seven holy brothers suffered martyrdom under Antiochus in the second century before Christ.


 

    The only knowledge I had of the Maccabees before I started reading for this post was from about 30 years ago. My best friend in high school was a Catholic girl. Her family was quite devout. On several occasions our conversations got around to differing religious beliefs and I remember one such conversation about the Bible. As was Protestant tradition in those times, my parents gifted me with a lovely, leather King James Version of the Bible around my 13th Christmas. As I was to discover in the next few years, it did not contain the same books as my best friend's Catholic Bible. This knowledge was the subject of a great debate, upon which my friend could not satisfactorily defend. Two of these "omitted" books from the Word of God were Maccabees I and Maccabees II. (I hope to write about the Bible at a later time.) After our discussion crossed a certain line, the topic was dropped and I was satisfied that the Catholics were, indeed, lost and confused. Even after I re-evaluated my beliefs and became a Catholic, I heard very little about the Maccabees other than their relation to the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. So when I discovered that today is the Commemoration of the Holy Maccabees I was very excited. It is a beautiful and amazing story of perseverance and faith in the One True God. It is certainly most relevant for our times.

    330 years before Christ, Alexander the Great conquered and controlled much of that part of the world. His empire was massive. In his wisdom, he enlisted the service of many Greek soldiers to help fight his battles. As a result, the Greek influence and culture was spread throughout his empire. Before Alexander's death, he had made his way into Babylon and taken control of the Iranian people. He encouraged his soldiers to intermarry with the Babylonia woman further hastening the assimilation of Hellenistic culture into Iran. When Alexander died without an heir, his Greek infused empire was divided into 4 regions, with each of Alexander's generals becoming king. One of these kings was the general Seleucus who established his own empire beginning with Alexander's death in 323.

    The Seleucid Empire included all of Babylon, Antioch, Damascus, and Jerusalem where, as we know from Scripture and history, a large portion of the population were Jews. During this time, the kings of the Empire were completely dedicated to immersion into the Greek culture left to them through Alexander. Many of the Kings tolerated the Jews because they didn't see Judaism in conflict with Greek culture.  In fact, they had a certain appreciation for rituals and deity worship but they also hoped to influence the Jews to view their religious texts as literature or myth rather than as Truth. While some of the kings during this time were tolerant, others were cruel and attempted to eliminate all forms of Jewish religious practice altogether.

    By the time of the reign of Antiochus IV in 215 B.C., many of the Jews had lost their faith and had assimilated into the Hellenistic culture. There were, however, a few Jews who had remained faithful to tradition and their faith. Antiochus was perfectly aware of the squabbles between the two factions of Jews and he hoped to use this as political leverage to unite his Empire. To do this, Antiochus instituted a series of laws prohibiting the Jews from keeping the commandments, reading the Torah, and practicing circumcision. During this time, the Jews were also forced to violate their dietary restrictions and to participate in pagan rituals. In a final act of humiliation and sacrilege, Antiochus stormed the temple in Jerusalem, ransacked it, destroyed the altar and built a statue that resembled Zeus. The punishment for violating any one of these prohibitions was often a cruel, torturous death. Many Jews did as Antiochus IV had anticipated and rejected God. They followed the laws of the land and assimilated. Faithful Jews hid themselves away in mountains and lived in fear.

    In the year 166 before Our Lord was born, one such faithful Jew named Eleazar was brought to trial before Antiochus. Eleazar was 90 years old and had spent some time going through towns teaching the children and circumcising the male babies. For his refusal to abandon Mosaic Law, Eleazar was tortured and murdered in Jerusalem. When the teacher refused to submit to the King's decrees, he had some of his followers brought to trial also. A woman named Solomonia and her seven sons were forced to stand before the King to answer for their "crimes." One by one, they were questioned. Each refused to deny the True God and each was tortured and murdered. Their mother was forced to stand by and watch as each one of her sons' skin was flayed and their bodies' were dismembered. When her youngest son was brought forth, Antiochus urged Solomionia to convince him to renounce so he could be spared. Instead, she looked at her son and encouraged him to pronounce loudly and bravely his trust in the True God. After the death of her seven sons, Solomonia stood over their bodies and cried out to the Lord. With her arms raised to heaven, she collapsed over them in death. So bravely did the Seven Holy Martyrs stand against the pagan tyrant King Antiochus, that they inspired another Maccabee—Judas—to rise up against the cruel tyrant, restore Judaism to Jerusalem, and reclaim the temple.

    The story of the Seven Holy Martyrs is an incredible story, especially for our times today. Nations which were once gloriously and triumphantly Catholic long ago lost all semblance of Christianity and proudly declare themselves "secular." Our own President has firmly declared that the United States is no longer a "Christian" nation. Pagan ideas, principles, practices, rituals, and symbols permeate our modern society. Many Christians, especially Catholics, do not even recognize them, much less know what they are or mean. Our culture has become eerily similar to the ancient Babylonian culture that the Maccabees lived in. No, we aren't forced to reject the Commandments of God; we do so willingly. No, we aren't forced to violate our dietary restrictions; we do so willingly. No, we aren't forced to worship in churches stripped of altars; we do willingly. No, we haven't been forced to embrace secularism and paganism; we have done so enthusiastically. Perhaps, though, there are some among us with the courage of these Seven Holy Martyrs.



     
     Protestants are not familiar with the story of the Maccabees because it is not in their version of the Bible. 


     After Vatican II, Pope Paul VI suppressed this Feast day in 1969.  Most modern Catholics are unfamiliar with this story as well.




 
Holy Maccabees, pray for us, that we have the courage to defend the Truth in these increasingly pagan times.

Holy Maccabees, pray for us, that a remnant emerges from the decay to restore Catholicism to the world.