Answering those who say there is only one Mediator

© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I recently had an interaction with a commenter on this blog who brought up the common Protestant objection that, since there is one (sole) mediator between God and Man, Jesus, asking the saints to pray for us is useless, wrong and maybe even sinful. Yes it is quite a common objection, more so today that I remember twenty or thirty years ago.

Thus, to the suggestion by another comment that one might ask help from Our Lady, the commenter, (Gerry), objected as such:

JESUS IS THE MEDIATOR , Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, and Comforter. MARY IS THE SYMBOL OF THE CHURCH.

  • 1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is ONE MEDIATOR between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.
  • Hebrews 12:24 to JESUS THE MEDIATOR of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
  • Hebrews 9:15 For this reason CHRIST IS THE MEDIATOR of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
  • 1 John 2:1 My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor [Greek Parakleton: Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, and Comforter.] with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.
  • John 14:16-17 I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, [Greek Parakleton: Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, and Comforter.] that he may be with you forever,- the Spirit of truth, whom the world can’t receive; for it doesn’t see him, neither knows him. You know him, for he lives with you, and will be in you.
  • John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.
  • John 15:26 When the Counselor [Greek Parakletos: Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, and Comforter.] has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me.
  • John 16:13 However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will declare to you things that are coming.
  • Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us[a] with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

Learn to live from Mary! She asked you to obey and listen to her son Jesus! Focus on Jesus, not Mary

My own response to Gerry was as such:

Well, we do not speak of or teach a substitutional mediation in invoking the saints, as if we were trying to go to the Father apart from Jesus’ Mediation.

Rather we speak of a subordinate mediation when we seek the prayers of the saints, or of one another. For indeed we could have no communion with them or each other if it be not for Jesus Christ, who as the head of the Body the Church, unites all his members and facilitates our communion with each other.

You seem to speak of there being one mediator in an absolute sense, excluding any other possible interaction or any subordinate mediation. But Consider, that if there is only one mediator in the absolute sense you say, then you ought never again to ask ANYONE to pray for you. Neither should you attend any church, read any book, listen to any sermon or even read the Bible (since the Bible mediates Jesus words to you).

Now, a “mediator” is someone or something that acts as a kind of go-between, as something which acts to facilitate our relationship with Jesus. And though Jesus mediates our relationship to the Father, he also asked Apostles, preachers and teachers to mediate, to facilitate his relationship with us.

Thus Jesus sent apostles out to draw others to him. And St. Paul says, How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Rom 10:14-15, 17) And thus Jesus has his relationship with us mediated through his Word, and through the apostles and others who announce that Word and draw us to him.

But since you say there is absolutely only ONE mediator, and no subordinate or deputed mediators, there is therefore no need to ask ANYONE or ANYTHING to mediate. So burn your Bible, stop asking anyone to pray for you, seek no advice, NO ONE can mediate a single thing to you Gerry.  No one can do this because there is, as you say in an unqualified sense, absolutely only ONE mediator. ONE!

Further, it also seems to follow you must also cease and desist from trying mediate anything. For if no one can mediate anything of Jesus to you, than neither can you mediate anything to them, since as you say there is absolutely only ONE mediator.  No you cannot speak Jesus’ words or his will to others, because you are trying to mediate, you are acting as a kind of go-between, as someone who speaks God’s will to another. But Gerry, according to you there is only ONE mediator! Thus, How dare you try and get between Jesus and anyone else, there is ONE, absolutely only ONE mediator. Jesus doesn’t need you and you are violating the ONE mediator rule.

But as for me, I will go one praying for you and others because I see that there is a subordinated mediatorship in service of Christ’s supreme mediatorship. And just like the Bible can mediate his presence and will, or like a preacher can mediate his word, so too the prayers of others, including the Saints, can also convey my prayers to Him, and Jesus can mediate my prayers to the Father.

Consider the analogy of the Body, since the Church is Christ’s body. Jesus has one body and all the parts are connected through the Head, who is Jesus. Consider your own body. All the members of your body have communion and unity through your head, your mind. There are different ways to have interaction with others. Perhaps some one will reach you through your ears, by speaking, or by taping you on your shoulder, or visually by waving. And thus, various members of your body facilitate (mediate) interaction with others in different ways,  but it is all facilitated through the head of your body, your mind. So too do I confidently expect to reach Jesus in different ways, whether directly, or through one of his members, realizing that He himself facilitates it.

Regarding your thoughts on Mary: Since Jesus’ body is the Church, this makes Mary Mother of the Church, not just a symbol of it, as you call her. Since she is the Mother of Jesus and he is the head of the Body, the Church. It would be freakish to consider a mother giving birth to only the head of her child, but not the rest of his Body. So Mary is Mother of the Church. If she gave birth to the Head, she gave birth to the Body. Therefore Mary is Mother of the Church, which is the Body of Christ.

Further your instruction to follow Mary’s instruction to obey Jesus is a reference to her final recorded words: “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5). I am not sure if you recall the context of this verse, but in saying this she had been interceding with Jesus on behalf of a couple at wedding where the wine ran short! She was acting as a mediator by communicating to Jesus their needs! And, When Jesus resists her request to make wine at first, she uses her motherly charm to overcome his resistance to such an extent that he is making gallons of wine!

Isn’t it ironic that you would pick a verse from Scripture to dismiss intercessory prayer which is actually a powerful example of that very practice?

But as for you Gerry, the consequence of your interpretation of absolutely and only ONE mediator, is that you must say nothing, hear nothing, interact with no one, depend on no one, and live in a closed “me and Jesus” circle. You must shut absolutely everyone and everything else out, including the Bible, for there is ONE MEDIATOR – no one, and nothing can mediate Jesus to you. There can be no go-betweens.

Well of course my answer to Gerry can use some improvements. You will add them. Also Catholic Answers has many wonderful resources. But the point here is that the Catholic practice of asking prayers of saints is attested not only Scripture, but also by common sense and the long practice of the faith.

For all the Saints – Reflecting on a Great Hymn of the Church

103113One of the greatest English hymns ever written, is “For All the Saints.” It is a wide and sweeping vision of the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. It’s imagery is regal and joyful, it’s poetry majestic and masterful. A vivid picture is painted in the mind as the wondrous words move by. If you ask me it is a masterpiece. Many people know the opening line, but most have never sung it all the way through and thus miss its wondrous portrait. A number of years ago I committed words of this hymn to memory, very much like my father who loved to memorize things that moved him.

Spend a few moments now reflecting on this masterwork. It was written in 1864 by William Walsham How, an Anglican Bishop. Ralph Vaughan Williams set it to a stirring melody in 1906. I love to play this hymn at the organ since it has a challenging but exciting “walking base” played by the feet and big rich chords in the hands. In his recent outreach to the Anglicans the Pope speaks of the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion as a “precious gift” and treasure to shared”. This hymn from the Anglican tradition is surely one of those treasures. Permit me to set forth each verse and then comment.

First we cast our eyes heavenward to the Church Triumphant:

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,

Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.


Here then in the first verses is stated the purpose of the hymn. Namely, that we sing to and praise God for all those saints who have finished their course here and entered into the rest of the Lord. Like the the Lord they can say, “It is finished.” Like St. Paul they can say, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day (2 Tim 4:7-8). These saints declared to world the holy and blessed name of Jesus by their words and deeds. They confessed and did not deny him. To them and us Jesus made a promise: Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven (Matt 10:32). And we too are summoned to take up the cry: “Blessed be the Name of the Lord!”

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.

Salvation and the living of a holy and courageous life is only possible by the grace of God. Only if God be our rock, our defender and our strength can we stand a chance in the battle of this earthly life. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) St. Paul taught that the ancient Israelites made it through the desert only by Christ for he wrote: they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them in the desert, and that rock was Christ. (1 Cor 10:4). So Jesus is a rock in a weary land, a shelter in a time of storm! Only in Christ and by his light could they have the strength for the battle and win through to the victory.

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.

Ah here then is our connecting verse. We, here on earth (the Church Militant) share blessed communion with the saints in heaven because we are one in Christ. The body of Christ is one and so we hav communion with the saints. We are not in separate compartments unconnected to the saints in heaven. No, we are one in Christ and have communion with them. And though we feebly struggle here on earth, the vision of the glory they already share and our communion with them strengthens us. The Book of Hebrews referring to the saints in heaven says: Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us! (Heb 12:1-2)

Having gazed heavenward and derived strength from our mystical communion with the Saints in Christ, the hymn now sets forth the trials of the Church militant and counsels: Courage!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.

We now who live here are told to be like courageous soldiers holding firm and loyal to the end to the true faith. We like they must often fight bravely in a world that is hostile to Christ and his truth. So fight we must, in a noble way for the crown comes only after the cross. But the victory will one day be ours. It doesn’t always look that way now, But Christ has already won the victory. And even if this world deprives us, ridicules us or even kills us, the victor’s Crown awaits to all who remain faithful. Jesus said, You will be hated by all because of me, be he who perseveres to the end will be saved. (Matt 10:22)

Now comes a call to courage rooted in song that faith puts in our hearts. Psalm 40 says: I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. It is a song that echoes from heaven, through the words of scripture and the teachings of the Church: Victory is our today! Here the call and source of courage in this verse:

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.

For now, it is God’s will that we hear the call “still to fight on.” For now we are in the Church militant. But here the verses of the hymn direct us back toward heavenly things and the last things. For, one day the battle will end for us. The hymn speaks elegantly of the “golden evening” of life and the “rest” that death will one day bring. And, likely through the purifying effects of purgatory, we shall one day pass where we will cast off our burdens, our sorrows and final sins. There the Lord will wipe every tear from our eyes (cf Rev. 21:4).

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.

And then an even more glorious day breaks forth. The hymn closes the circle and we are back in heaven again! There the saints are clothed in bright array and the heavenly liturgy is beautifully captured in two lines as it describes the saints in worshipful praise as the King of Glory, Jesus passes by in triumphal procession. What a glorious vision this verse provides:

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.

And the hymn takes one final look. We have come full circle from heaven to earth and back to heaven again. We have made our journey but now the hymn bids us to cast our glance outward and see the magnificent procession that continues for all who will come after us. Jesus had said, “And I when I be lifted from the earth with draw all men unto me.” (Jn 12:32) So now look fellow Christian! Look outward from a heavenly perspective and see the harvest as Christ draws countless numbers to himself:

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:

Ah, what a hymn. What a sweeping vision and wondrous celebration of the Christian life. Though the battle be now engaged, victory is sure if we but stand firm and hold to God’s unchanging hand.

In Times Like These, Reform is Still Possible. A Meditation on the Life of St. Charles Borromeo

There is perhaps a tendency for some of us today to feel discouraged over the state of the world, and the Church. It may surprise us, that there have been times in the Church and in Western culture when things were possibly worse. The exact mix of troubles may have been different, but troubles, deep troubles they still were.

I have spent some of today, Sunday, November 4, meditating on the life of my patron saint, St. Charles Borromeo. Today is his feast day, and thus mine as well. And the times in which he lived were not so different from today. And the leadership he exemplified is also what is needed today. I pray that in some small way, I may be like him.

He was born in 1538. These were turbulent times for the Church which was in the midst of perhaps her greatest crisis. Martin Luther had begun his revolt some 15 years earlier when, in 1522, he published his “95 Theses.” In the aftermath of the Protestant revolt, some 12 million Europeans, a large number for those days, left the Church. More would follow in successive waves.

The medieval Church was breaking up and suffering schism. Indeed, the whole medieval synthesis of Christendom was in turmoil, hopelessly intertwined with politics and intrigue, both within the Church and outside.

Indeed, the clergy especially, were in great crisis and in tremendous need of reform. It was an era of absentee bishops and clergy. Wealthy European families collected parishes, monasteries, and other “benefices” more as a kind of “stock portfolio” rather than out of any spiritual love or interest. It was common that these benefices were given to the sons of these families, who all although ordained a priests, seldom served as such, and farmed out the pastoral duties of their many parishes and even dioceses, to often poorly trained, priests. Knowledge of Latin, Scripture, indeed of the Lord himself, was notably absent in many of them of these clergy for hire. Preaching was poor, the moral life of the clergy was degraded and the faithful had little leadership.

It is no wonder that Luther and other so-called reformers were so easily able, in this climate, to attract large numbers of the laity, who were not only poorly served, but also poorly catechized.

Trent – Recognizing how critical the problem of the revolts among Luther and others was, and recognizing her own need for internal reform, the Church had summoned the Council of Trent, which met sporadically between 1545 and 1563.

Into this period of crisis for both Europe and the Church, St. Charles Borromeo was born and raised. He was born of a noble family in Milan, the third of six children. His parents were notably pious and well-known for their care for the poor. Their sober and religious demeanor goes a long way to explain the piety and appetite for reform that St. Charles would later develop.

Reform Starts at home – All that said, the Borromeo family, being wealthy and prominent were well woven in to the difficulties and problems of the late medieval Church, themselves owning large numbers of ecclesiastical benefices. At a very young age Charles Borromeo was given, outright by his uncle, Givlio Borromeo, a large and wealthy Benedictine Abbey. At the tender age of 12 years of age, Charles Borromeo found himself to be the “abbot” of a large monastery. Of course, he was not even an ordained priest, and this fact, coupled with his age, shows the serious abuses that were common in time.

Despite this, St. Charles showed already some inclination for reform by indicating that his income from the Abbey should be only enough to support his education, and that the large and ample remainder should be given to the poor. Further, despite his young age, he promoted reform at the monastery by insisting on a return to a purer monastic environment.

At age 16 he was sent to Pavia to study Canon Law. And though he found his studies difficult, he was noted again for his piety, his refusal to give way to the frivolities of university life, his devotion to the rosary, and to private prayer. Of some significance, is the fact that he dismissed two of his tutors, both of them priests, since he considered them to secular, lax in saying their office, and he objected to the fact that they did not wear clerical attire, but dressed as laymen.

Papal Secretary of State at age 22! Just after completing his studies, Pope Pius IV was elected. The new Pope was Charles uncle, and bestowing benefits upon his family, summoned Charles to Rome to be his Secretary of State. It is perhaps ironic then, that Charles Borromeo was made a Secretary of State, and named a cardinal, all technically under the auspices of the abuse of nepotism, but he would emerge to be one of the leading figures of Church reform.

At age 22 and not even a priest (only a sub-deacon), Charles Borromeo became the Secretary of State at the Vatican, personal assistant to the Pope and was named a cardinal deacon

Perhaps his chief work was, under the direction of Pope Pius IV, to reconvene the Council of Trent which had been suspended due to war. After many months of difficult negotiations and the overcoming of political intrigue, the Council reconvened in 1561. Charles Borromeo serve not only to coordinate the activities of the Council sessions but also engaged in many delicate negotiations as the Pope’s personal representative. He had to work carefully to overcome the differences among certain Council delegates. Things finally wrapped up in December of 1563, just prior to the death of Pope Pius IV.

The importance of the Council of Trent cannot be stressed enough. Its decrees rejuvenated the huge and complex medieval Church, and would serve as a guiding light for the next four centuries. But then, as now, the decrees of a Council are not always welcome, understood or well applied. Thus the work of Borromeo was just beginning.

Setting to work in applying the decrees of the Council, St. Charles lost no time in applying the decrees of the Council, wherever his authority extended. The decrees of the Council having been promulgated, he communicated them to the world’s dioceses.

The next step was for Cardinal Borromeo to have a catechism written and published. He appointed three Dominican theologians to work under his supervision, and the Catechism of the Council of Trent was completed within a year. He then ordered it faithfully translated into the vernacular in order that it be taught by all pastors to the faithful. He also set to work founding seminaries and colleges for the study of the clergy, who were woefully trained at the time.

He was also involved in implementing liturgical norms, and even took a hand at the reform of church music, encouraging the development of sacred polyphony which was emerging at that time. It needed a guiding hand to ensure that did not become too florid and that the sacred text did not become buried in musical flourish and performance. In this matter, he worked closely with Palestrina.

Time to get personal – Having used his Roman position of influence to help implement the Council, he now petitioned Pope Pius V that he might implement the Council in his own life. For, truth be told, that although Pius IV had named him Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, he had been an absentee bishop, remaining in Rome as papal Secretary of State.

This was a common abuse at the time, as already noted. In fact it was rare in the larger cosmopolitan dioceses that the actual Bishop would be present at all. These larger dioceses were usually benefices for rich families whose sons merely collected the monies did not actually serve in any pastoral capacity, as the actual Bishop. Dioceses were thus administered by underlings.

It does not take much to understand that abuses flourished under this system. With no actual resident Bishop, no true shepherd in place, errors went unaddressed, and corruption abounded.

After some months of negotiations and resistance from the new Pope Pius V, St. Charles was finally permitted to go and take up residence in his diocese of Milan. He went with great eagerness to implement the reforms of the Council of Trent. He called several local councils of the church there, set up seminaries for the training of clergy, insisted on clerical reform, and that priests be present in, and ministering to their own parishes. He also established the Confraternity for Christian Doctrine (CCD) for the training of children in the faith, enrolling some 40,000 children in the first few years. He set about visiting every parish in his archdiocese, even the small ones up in the remote Alpine regions.

As is not hard to imagine, not everyone appreciated the reforms he sought to institute. Some of his greatest resistance came from his own clergy and monks, one of whom pulled out a gun, and shot him at Vespers! Luckily, the bullet only grazed him. Yet despite some resistance, St. Charles began many successful reforms in the Church at Milan, reforms centered on the liturgy, the life, training and discipline of the clergy, and the training of the faithful in the ways of faith.

As can be seen, St. Charles lived in difficult times for the Church. Millions had left, and corruption abounded. Many would have despaired in the face of so many deep problems. Indeed, many would wonder if and how the Church could ever recover such losses in numbers and recover her capacity to preach the gospel, and reach the faithful.

And yet, as the example of St. Charles shows, reformers can and do make a lasting difference. Changes for the better may come slowly, but they do come.

Pray for zealous pastors, and reformers like St. Charles Borromeo. For today, it goes without saying, that the Church is in a great crisis. Many millions have left, confusion among the faithful and the clergy abound, many of the faithful are poorly catechized, and there are often grave moral, spiritual and leadership issues among the clergy. It may at times seem bad, very bad.

Yet, things are already better now, inside the Church, than they were in the late 70s and 80s. The reform minded Pope John Paul II, and his successor Pope Benedict XVI, along with many zealous clergy and faithful, have begun a reform that may take many years to fully see. But God has not forsaken his Church and he will both purify her and ensure her ultimate indefectability.

God still has his saints, his reformers, his St. Charles Borromeo’s. Many of them are already known to us, and many more are yet to come. But come they will, for God will reform, establish, and cause to flourish the Church which he loves.

St. Charles Borromeo died in the early hours of November 4th 1584. He had been on his way to visit a parish in the Alps and was stricken with a high fever. He was 46 years old. I have written more of him here: St Charles Borromeo

St. Charles Borromeo pray for us.

The Real St. Nicholas – Not Fat and Not Particularly Jolly

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas. The real St. Nicholas was nothing close to the St. Nick (Santa Claus) of the modern age. He was a thin curmudgeonly man with a zeal for the Lord that caused flairs of anger. Compromise was unknown to him. The slow transformation of him into “Jolly ole’ Saint Nicholas is a remarkable recasting of him centuries in the making. Some years ago the Washington Post featured an article entitled Poles Apart: Nicholas of Myra; How a 4th-Century Bishop Achieved Fame 1,500 Years Later, With a Whole New Attitude.

Since I had to blog twice yesterday (due to the need to respond to the current Washington Post article on Clergy Sexual Abuse) I thought I might take a break and present excerpts from the article that detail the real St. Nicholas of Myra. It is a very engaging look at the cantankerous Saint who lived through some very tough times.

I am aware that hagiography (the study of the Saints) is sometimes more art than science. I cannot vouch for every detail in the article and would be interested if some of you intrepid hagiographers what to clarify, correct or add to the details given.

The Full Article (which details, somewhat thoroughly, St. Nicholas’ transition to Santa) can be read here: Poles Apart. I have also placed a PDF of the whole article which is more easily printed here: PDF – Poles Apart Nicholas and Nick

Enjoy this excerpt on the real St. Nicholas of Myra (aka Santa):

The year is 325. The place is Nicaea, a small town near the Black Sea in what is now Turkey. Thousands of priests, 318 bishops, two papal lieutenants and the Roman emperor Constantine are gathered to face a looming church crisis…..

One of the churchmen rises to speak. Arius, from the Egyptian city of Alexandria, tells the gathering that Jesus was not divine. He was just a prophet. Suddenly, a second man is on his feet, an obscure, cantankerous bishop named Nicholas. He approaches Arius, fist raised menacingly. There are gasps. Would he dare? He would. Fist strikes face. Arius goes down. He will have a shiner. Nick, meanwhile, is set upon by holy men. His robes are torn off. He is thrown into a dungeon.

Peer down through the bars. Behold the simmering zealot sitting there, scowling, defiant, imprisoned for his uncompromising piety. Recognize his sallow face? No? Well, no reason you should. But he knows you. He’s been to your house many times….

[O]n this holiday we examine the puzzling paradox of Santa Claus. On the one hand, we have the modern Santa, a porcine, jolly man who resides at the North Pole with a woman known only as Mrs. Claus. …

On the other hand, we have the ancient Santa. Saint Nicholas. Paintings show a thin man. He was spare of frame, flinty of eye, pugnacious of spirit. In the Middle Ages, he was known as a brawling saint. He had no particular sense of humor that we know of. He could be vengeful, wrathful, an embittered ex- con….No doubt, Saint Nick was a good man. A noble man. But a hard man.

Nicholas was born in Patara, a small town on the Mediterranean coast, 280 years after the birth of Christ. He became bishop of a small town in Asia Minor called Myra. Beyond that, details of his life are more legend than fact….He became a priest at 19, and bishop in his twenties….Diocletian ruled the Roman Empire; it was the early 300s, and…began the “Great Persecution.”…. Nicholas kept preaching Christianity, and was arrested and tortured for disobeying the new laws. He spent more than a decade in jail. Among his punishments, according to Saint Simeon’s 10th-century history, were starvation and thirst. That is how Santa got skinny…. Twelve years later, AD 312, ….Constantine triumphed. Across the empire, bishops and priests returned to work and Nicholas got out of jail. He tended to local business. He was not pleasant about it. At the time, Myra was a hotbed of Artemis-worship…Nicholas prayed for vengeance, and his prayers were answered. Artemis’s temple crumbled. ” …The priests who lived in Artemis’s temple ran in tears to the bishop. They appealed to his Christian mercy. They wanted their temple restored.….Nicholas was not moved. Prison had left him in no mood for compromise. “Go to Hell’s fire,” he is said to have said, “which has been lit for you by the Devil.”

The Time of Nick In his lifetime, Nicholas crusaded against official corruption and injustice, seeing both as an affront to God. Supposedly, his intervention — through fire-and-brimstone denunciations of corrupt officials — saved at least a half-dozen innocent men from the gallows or the chopping block. He was forgiven for punching Arius and rescued from the dungeon. In the end, his views on the Trinity were vindicated by the adoption of the Nicene Creed, which declares Christ divine. Saint Nick died on Dec. 6. The year could be 326 or 343 or 352, depending whose account you rely on. Why we know the day of the year, but not the year itself, will be explained forthwith…..

……Nicholas of Myra might not seem like the kind of person who relates to kids, and few acts attributed to him involve children. There are two, though neither is exactly the stuff of sugar plums and Christmas stockings. In one tale, widely told, Nicholas secretly delivers three bags of gold to a penniless father. The debtor dad uses the loot as dowries so his three girls do not have to become prostitutes….The second anecdote tells of the time a tavern owner robbed, murdered three children, hiding their remains in pickle barrels. …Fortunately, Saint Nicholas happened to walk through the tavern-keeper’s door….Soon, all three boys, were back home, reeking of pickle juice. What became of the shopkeeper is unrecorded…. By the Middle Ages, Nick had become the patron saint of children, and he had a new gig: gift-giving. Throughout Europe, the legend spread: He delivered trinkets to good kids and twigs to naughty ones. It was an uneasy transition — from curmudgeon to cuddle-bear. ….

🙂 As said above you can click on those links to read the full story of how St. Nicholas of Myra morphed into Santa Claus.

Here’s a Medieval Version of “Jolly old St. Nicholas.” The text is the Introit for the feast of St. Nicholas (Statuit ei Dominus) and translated says: The Lord made unto him a covenant of peace, and made him a prince, that the dignity of the priesthood should be to him forever.

Here’s the Modern Version: 🙂

How Can the Saints Hear Us? Because God is Able!

A common Evangelical protest against the Catholic practice of praying and interacting with the saints is that they “can’t hear us.” Those who disbelieve our practice often quote 1 Kings 8:39 which says, for you alone (O Lord) know the hearts of all men. Hence, according to this quote Saints, who are not God, cannot know our thoughts unless we speak them aloud.

This means, we must therefore speak them aloud. And this in turn ridiculed, or at least dismissed, by many Evangelicals who consider it absurd to think a saint way up in heaven would have adequate hearing to perceive us, way down here on earth talking to them. Further, even if they could hear us, how could they distinguish thousands or millions of people talking to them all at once? And so on, with these sorts of objections. To be fair, not every Evangelical shares all these objections nor do they always attempt to ridicule our practice. But objections and attitudes like this  are common enough to merit response.

The straight answer to the objections that saints cannot know our prayers due to lack of hearing, or inability to mind read, is set aside by Scripture itself which does speak of them as interacting with our prayers. More of this in a moment.

But some attention should also be paid to the highly naturalistic notions held by our critics, of the saints in heaven. To simply presume they “hear” in same way we do here on earth, or that their minds are operative in same way that ours are, or that they even experience time in the same serial way we do, are all highly questionable premises.

To begin with, the saints, through their more perfect union with Christ, ought not be presumed to experience their human faculties in exactly the same way as here on earth. Obviously their bodies have not yet risen, and hence they do not “hear” in the same manner as we do who still have bodies. Neither are their minds mediated through the physical brain as our is. Even when the trumpet shall sound and the bodies of the saints be restored to them, we need to understand that their humanity, body and soul, will be a glorified humanity. While we do not know all the aspects of a glorified humanity we will surely not have the forgetful and slow minds we have now. Neither ought we presume that our hearing will be limited as it is now.

So, to be clear, we ought not merely presume that the saints in heaven, even now, experience all the limits we do. They are caught up in Christ, and bound to Him more intimately and perfectly.

Secondly, the saints do not likely experience time like we do. Heaven is called, among other things in Scripture “eternity” or “eternal life.” Now eternity does not refer merely to the length of time or life, but also to the fulness of it. The fulness of time includes past, present and future, as one thing, in one moment. While we cannot be sure if the saints experience the “comprehensive now” as God does, we ought not presume that they experience time merely as we do either. Heaven is quite surely outside our earthly experience of time.

Hence, our understanding of heaven ought to include a mystical dimension and it is wrong to simply project our currently broken and fallen human condition on to the Saints in heaven or to presume them inside time exactly as we are.

Jesus rebukes the minimalists of his day – Regarding this tendency to make heavenly realities look either silly or untenable by projecting earthly categories there, Jesus had to rebuke the Sadducees of his day. They attempted to make heaven (which they rejected as a reality) look silly by projecting an earthly marriage scenario there of a woman who had seven husbands. Jesus said to them “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven (Mk 12:24-25). Thus, heaven is not like earth, and should not be reduced to it.  Nor are the souls in heaven presumed to be exactly the same as they are now.

Hence, to presume that Saints can hear us is not outlandish, for they are in Christ, and they are perfectly in communion with him in heaven. It is obviously Christ himself, then, who fosters our union with the Saints and their ability to remain in communion with us. For there is only one Body of Christ, and all the members are untied by the Head, who is Christ.

Now that the Saints do interact with us and present our prayers to God is stated in the Book of Revelation:

[T]he twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev 5:8)

Later we also see that the angels also collect the prayers of the saints:

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne (Rev 8:3).

“Saints” here is used in the common first Century biblical sense as meaning those on earth who have accepted Christ (cf Eph 1:1; Phil 1:1; 2 Cor 9:1; Phil 1:5; Rom 16:2 and many,many more), not merely in the modern Catholic sense as only the canonized saints in heaven.

And thus, the image and teaching here is that the Holy Ones in heaven collect the prayers of the saints on earth and present them to God, like incense.

That these prayers have dramatic effects is illustrated in the verses that follow in Rev 8:

The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (Rev 8:4-5)

There follow seven trumpet blasts with confer God’s judgment and justice.

So the saints in heaven do hear us, they do collect our prayers and present them God and their intercession has powerful effects, the text from 1 Kings above, not withstanding.

Those who merely deny this based on some human notion of implausibility I would argue come under the Lord’s judgement: Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? (Mk 12:24). For though it may seem implausible to human minds, our God is able.  And he reveals in Scripture that he not only able to empower the heavenly saints and angels in this regard, he is also most willing.

Here is a very good and brief video on this by Tim Staples

Every Saint was a sinner and every sinner could be a Saint.

That could never be me!

While getting ready for Mass one Sunday, one of my fellow parishioners commented that he felt so far from the Kingdom of God sometimes. Specifically, he said that when listening to the stories of the saints, his only thought is, “That could never be me!” 

His comment was not simply a statement of humility but rather one of despair.

You should have known me when. . .

The stories of the saints are supposed to inspire us but if we think the saints were born perfect, sainthood does seem unattainable. Only Saint Mary, the Mother of God, was born without sin. The rest of the Saints had the same human weaknesses and failings that all of us pilgrims on Earth are experiencing now. Saint Peter denied Christ three times. Saint Augustine was raised by a Christian mother but became pagan before turning his life back over to Christ. Each declared Saint of God was a flawed sinner. In fact, some of their flaws were far greater than ours. Yet, God can meet anyone anywhere in their lives and lead them to heaven, including you and me!

Not perfect, just holy.

There is a big difference between being perfect and being holy. I work every day on holiness, not perfection. There has been only one perfect man in the history of humankind and you all know what we did to him. I have no interest in being perfect. Being holy on the other hand is something I strive for everyday. 

The saints were certainly not perfect. But, each of them was holy even though they were sinful. 

In the midst of the holy season of Christmas, let’s strive to be holy, not perfect!

How’s that for a New Year’s resolution?

What Will Our Resurrected Bodies Be Like?

In today’s first reading at Mass St Paul writes to the Philippians of the glory that our currently lowly bodies will one day enjoy:

He will change our lowly body  to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also  to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Phil 3:19)

I once spoke with an older woman who wasn’t all that pleased to hear that her body was going to rise and be joined again to her soul: “Oh, Father, you don’t mean this old decrepit body?! If this body has to rise I am hoping for an improved model!”

Yes! I think most of us can relate to the need that our current lowly bodies will be improved. And they will surely be. Notice how the passage above says, that these lowly, often weak, diseased, and often over-weight bodies will be changed and reflect the glory of the resurrected body of Jesus. Yes, this old general issue clunker that I’m currently experiencing is going to be upgraded to a luxury model. We’re headed for first class.

In this month of November when we recall the four last things: Death, judgment, heaven and hell, we ought to consider for a moment what scripture and tradition have to say to us about what our resurrected bodies will be like.

 Now an important starting point in discussing this matter is a little humility. The fact is, a lot of what we are going to say here is speculation. But, it is not WILD speculation. It is rooted in Scripture to be sure. However, Scripture is describing things that are somewhat mysterious and difficult to reduce to words. Further, Scripture does not always elaborate on things which are said. Where we might wish for more details, none are given. Sometimes too, we infer qualities of the resurrected body based only on scriptural texts whose main purpose is not so much to describe the resurrected body. Rather, their purpose is to set forth the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. For example, Jesus appears and disappears at will in a room though the doors are locked. The point of the text is to tell us he appeared, not necessarily that the resurrected body has something we have come to call “agility” (see below). Hence the text does not elaborate on this point and we are left to infer things about Jesus resurrected body and then apply it to our own. This is not wrong, for Paul above says that our resurrected bodies will have qualities that conform to Jesus’ resurrected body . But the point is that the biblical texts do not elaborate on this or other qualities in a detailed manner and so, we are left to speculate and infer some of what we know.

St. John the Apostle expresses some of the humility we should bring to this discussion:

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be like. But We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. (1 John 3:2)

I do not interpret John to mean we know nothing, for in so doing, he would negate other Scriptures. But I interpret him to mean that we do not fully grasp the meaning of what we are discussing,  and that much of it is mysterious. Something is known and revealed but much more of it is unknown and far beyond what we have yet experienced.

With the need for humility in mind let’s consider some of what we might be able to say of the qualities of a resurrected body. Perhaps it is well that we start with the most thorough passage in the New Testament on this subject and then list the traditional seven qualities of a resurrected body.

St. Paul writes of the resurrected body in First Corinthians 15:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body…..The splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another……The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.  If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man…..Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—  in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”(1 Cor 15:35-55 selectae).

Now using this passage and others we can distinguish seven traditional qualities of a resurrected body. Here we will allow our source to be the Summa of St. Thomas. You can click on each quality (in blue) to read more a the NewAdvent  Summa online.

1. Identity – What this means essentially is that the very same body that falls in death will rise to be glorified. We cannot claim that we will get a different body, but rather, that our current body will rise and be glorified. St. Thomas says, For we cannot call it resurrection unless the soul return to the same body, since resurrection is a second rising, and the same thing rises that falls: wherefore resurrection regards the body which after death falls rather than the soul which after death lives. And consequently if it be not the same body which the soul resumes, it will not be a resurrection, but rather the assuming of a new body (Supl, Q 79.1).

This does not mean that the body will necessarily be identical in every way. As St. Paul says above, are current bodies are like the seed. And just as a seed does not have all the qualities of the mature plant, but does have all these qualities in seed form. So too our body is linked to our resurrected body causally and essentially though not all the qualities of the resurrected body are currently operative. Again, the Summa states: A comparison does not apply to every particular, but to some. For in the sowing of grain, the grain sown and the grain that is born thereof are neither identical, nor of the same condition, since it was first sown without a husk, yet is born with one: and the body will rise again identically the same, but of a different condition, since it was mortal and will rise in immortality. (Ibid).

Scripture attests that the same body that dies will also rise. Job said, And after my flesh has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another (Job 19:26-27). And to the Apostles, shocked at his resurrection Jesus said, Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have (Luke 24:39).

Hence the same body rises and so there is continuity. But there is also development and a shining forth of a new glory and capabilities that our bodies do not currently enjoy.

2. Integrity – We will retain all of the parts of our current bodies. Now this means every physical part of our body, even the less noble parts such as intestines etc. In the Gospel Jesus plainly ate even after the resurrection. He ate a fish before them (Luke 24:43). He also ate with the Disciples in Emmaus (Luke 24:30). He ate breakfast with them at the lake shore (Jn 21:12). Hence it follows that even less noble parts of our body will rise for eating and digestion are still functions of a resurrected body. Now Thomas argues (I think rightly) that food will not be necessary to the resurrected body (supl 81.4). But it is clearly possible to eat, for Christ demonstrates it.

St. Thomas reasons that every aspect of our bodies will rise since the soul is the form of the body. That is, the body has the faculties it has due to some aspect of the soul. The soul has something to say and hence the body has the capacity to talk and write and engage in other forms of communication. The soul has the capacity to do detailed work and hence the body has complex faculties such as delicate and nimble fingers, arms and so forth, to carry out this work. Now body is thus apt for the capacities of the soul, though now imperfectly, but then even more perfectly. (cf Summa supl. Q. 80.1).

At some level it seems we have to suspend our speculation and keep it within limits.  The Summa goes into matters which I think are highly speculative and you can click on the blue word integrity above to read these speculations. But personally I think we should refrain from trying ask questions about whether hair and nails will grow and what bodily fluids will still be necessary and why. Will latrines be needed in heaven or will food be perfectly absorbed and nothing wasted? etc. We just have to stop at a certain point and say we just have no business knowing this stuff and it is purely speculative to discuss it. The bottom line is that, yes the Body shall rise, whole and complete. Its functions will be perfected and perfectly apt for the soul in a way beyond what they are now. But as to the intimate details, we ought to realize that humilty is the best posture.

3. Quality – Our bodies will be youthful and will retain our original gender. Now youthful here does not necessarily mean 18-22. Note that in the Philippians text that began this post, Paul says that our glorified bodies will be conformed to Christ’s glorified body. Now his body rose at approximately 30 – 33 of physical age. Elsewhere St. Paul exhorts Christians to persevere, Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ (Eph 4:13). Hence it would seem that Christ’s resurrected body is the perfect age.

St Augustine also speculates, that Christ rose again of youthful age,….about the age of thirty years. Therefore others also will rise again of a youthful age  (cf De Civ. Dei xxii).

St. Thomas further notes: Man will rise again without any defect of human nature, because as God founded human nature without a defect, even so will He restore it without defect. Now human nature has a twofold defect. First, because it has not yet attained to its ultimate perfection. Secondly, because it has already gone back from its ultimate perfection. The first defect is found in children, the second in the aged: and consequently in each of these human nature will be brought by the resurrection to the state of its ultimate perfection which is in the youthful age, at which the movement of growth terminates, and from which the movement of decrease begins. (Supl Q. 81.1)

Further,  since gender is part of human perfection, it will pertain to all to rise according to the gender we are now. Other qualities such as height, hair color and other such diverse things will also be retained, it would seem,  since this diversity is part of man’s perfection.

Here too we have to realize that merely picturing Jesus as a 33 year old guy is not sufficient. All the resurrection appearances make it clear that his appearance was somehow changed, though also recognizable,  and this is a mystery. Further the heavenly description of Jesus is far from simple to decode in manners of age and appearance:

and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Rev 1:12-18)

Hence we must avoid over-simplifications when it comes to speaking of how our resurrected bodies will appear. We cannot simply project current human realities into heaven and think we understand what a resurrected body will look like in terms of age, stature, and other physical qualities. They are there but they are transposed to a higher level.

4. Impassability – We will be immune from death and pain. Scripture states this clearly:  The dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Cor 15:52-53). And again, He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  (Rev 21:4). Thomas goes on at some length and you can click on the blue word impassibility to read more. But for here let the scriptural reference suffice

5. Subtlety – Our bodies will be free from the things that restrain them now. Subtlety refers to the capacity of the resurrected body to be completely conformed to the capacities of the soul. St Thomas says of this quality,  the term “subtlety” has been transferred to those bodies which are most perfectly subject to their form, and are most fully perfected thereby….For just as a subtle thing is said to be penetrative, for the reason that it reaches to the inmost part of a thing, so is an intellect said to be subtle because it reaches to the insight of the intrinsic principles and the hidden natural properties of a thing. In like manner a person is said to have subtle sight, because he is able to perceive by sight things of the smallest size: and the same applies to the other senses. Accordingly people have differed by ascribing subtlety to the glorified bodies in different ways. (Supl. Q. 83.1)

In other words, the Body is perfected because the soul is. And the body is now fully conformed to the soul. Currently in my lowly body, I may wish to go to Vienna, Austria in a few moments to hear an opera,  but my body cannot pull that off. It does not currently pertain to my body to be able to instantly be somewhere else on the planet. I have to take time to get there and exert effort. However it will be noticed that Jesus could appear and disappear in a room despite the closed doors. Although, before his resurrection he had to take long physical journeys,  now he can simply be where he wants (cf John 19:20, 26). This quality is very closely related to agility which we consider next.

6. Agility – We will have complete freedom of movement, our souls will direct our bodies without hindrance.  St Thomas says, The glorified body will be altogether subject to the glorified soul, so that not only will there be nothing in it to resist the will of the spirit…..from the glorified soul there will flow into the body a certain perfection, whereby it will become adapted to that subjection: …Now the soul is united to body not only as its form, but also as its mover; and in both ways the glorified body must be most perfectly subject to the glorified soul.  We have already referred to the capacity of Jesus’ in his glorified body to anywhere at once and not be hindered by locked doors etc.    Consider too these description of the agility of the resurrected body:

  1. As they [on the road to Emmaus] talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; (Luke 24:15)
  2. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, and he disappeared from their sight. (Luke 24:31)
  3. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, Peace be with you (Luke 24:36)

7. Clarity – The glory of our souls will be visible in our bodies.  We will be beautiful and radiant. It is written in the Scriptures  “The just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” (Matthew 13:43) . And again: “The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds.” (Wisdom 3:7). And again, The body in sown in dishonor, it shall rise in glory. (1 Cor 15:43).

So, rejoice! The Lord is going to take these lowly bodies of our and change them to conform with his own body. We’re going to upgrade to an improved model to be sure. And in your glorified body you won’t have to take all this time to read this post, you’ll just know it. A long post to be sure. I am posting it in PDF form as well in case you want to print it our and read it. You can get it here: What Will Our Resurrected Bodies Be Like

Lessons from the Life of St. Francis

Many fine histories exist on the life of St. Francis and I would not need to replicate them here. But on this Feast of St. Francis it might be significant for us to reflect on a few lessons from his life.

1.       On the possibility of radical conversion and the role of affliction and humiliation – St. Francis had lived and experienced the life of great wealth. The son of a successful cloth merchant, he enjoyed a very affluent easy life growing up and partook  of the permissiveness of the times. He was a natural leader and drew to himself a crowd of young people who spent their nights in wild parties. His biographer, Thomas of Celano, said of him that him that, “He attracted to himself a whole retinue of young people addicted to evil and accustomed to vice.”  He had visions of grandeur and became a knight. Perhaps the horrors of battle and a year as a prisoner of war began a gradual conversion in him. The Fourth Crusade was called in 1205  and Francis impulsively bought new armor and sallied forth. But perhaps his own anxiety, and more surely a vision, wherein God rebuked his manner of life,  led him to turn back. At home he was derided as a coward and suffered great wrath from his earthly father.

This crisis in his life led ultimately to his conversion, and a dramatic one at that. The Book of Psalms says, Before I was afflicted I strayed. But now I have kept your word, O Lord (Psalm 119:67).   We all know people whose conversion seems unlikely. But God may yet humble them and draw them to conversion. Further, we ought never underestimate the fact that affliction and humiliation may be a necessary component of conversion for many of us. At times we may feel as though God has abandoned us, or others we love. In fact he may be doing some very important work. Our greatest enemy is pride and our best friend is humility. Humility and affliction may be gifts in strange packages. Learn to trust in God’s ways, painful though they may be, sometimes. God may be drawing us, and those we love,  to deeper conversion.

2. On the freedom of poverty and simplicity – Francis and his early companions embraced a life of radical poverty. So severe was this poverty that some thought them mad and rebuked  their ways as beyond rational. St. Francis responded, If we had any possessions we should need weapons and laws to defend them.  One hagiographer says, Possessing something was the death of love for Francis. Also, Francis reasoned, what could you do to a man who owns nothing? You can’t starve a fasting man, you can’t steal from someone who has no money, you can’t ruin someone who hates prestige. They were truly free. [1] Not all of us may be able to embrace this radical poverty due to our obligations to others. But, more and more, we ought to experience a growing simplicity of life that frees us from the power of this world. Poverty and simplicity are powerful and fruitful gifts of God. Once again, they are gifts in strange packages. But, if we can learn to embrace them, we discover greater freedom.

3. On the Love of God’s Church and how reform is best accomplished – During St. Francis’ lifetime the Church was in need of reform. Greed, worldliness and scandal were problems among clergy and laity as well. Heresies were abundant. Some, noting sin in the Church have chosen to hate the Church and leave her. But others, like Francis, hear the call of God,  who never ceases to love His Church, and they, themselves, intensify their love for the Church and work for her reform. In a vision,  St. Francis sensed the call from God: “Francis, Repair my Church.” Gradually he deepened his understanding of the Lord’s call and began that reform by seeing first to his very own life.

It is possible for critics of the Church to excoriate the sins of others, but not see their own. Francis began in the vineyard of his own life and then went forth gently preaching conversion by personal example to his neighbors. The movement for reform spread. It was grassroots, it was personal. True reform begins with me. Simply denouncing the sins of others or the Church, real though these sins may be, seldom has lasting effect. The best reform  starts with personal conversion. Personal conversion spreads to others, and reform is underway. Within 10 years there were over 5,000 men in Francis’ community and the Poor Clares were also well underway. It works. If I let God set me on fire, then I can spread that fire.

4. On unity with all creation and the gift of wonder and awe -St. Francis thought of nature, all God’s creation, as part of his brotherhood. In some sense, the sparrow was as much his brother as the Pope.

There is a radical tendency today, in some of the environmental movement,  that sees man as the enemy of the natural world, rather than an integral part of it. We can tend to see ourselves as outsiders of the natural world, rather than partakers and members of it. But for St. Francis there was brotherhood. And in brotherhood there are legitimate needs we supply one another. Nature supplies us and we in turn help to perfect nature. We have done this in our best moments by helping to increase the yield of our fields and bring far greater bounty to the earth by agriculture and animal husbandry. We also seek to master disease and push back the destructive boundaries of what is unruly in nature, such as infestations and the like. It is true we have often transgressed by unnecessary pollution and the like. But in the end we are not the enemies of nature, we are companions and brethren to the natural world.

St. Francis can help us to find this balance. He surely exhibited a sense of gratitude for God’s creation and a deep wonder and awe at all that God has given. We too ought to develop a deep appreciation for the beauty of God’s work and reverence our very selves as a part of that creation.  In the first video below is a meditation based on the poem and prayer of St. Francis known as the Canticle of the Sun, his meditation on the magnificence of creation.

5. On the Need to Evangelize the Muslim World – We may think that the struggle with the Muslim world is new. It is not. In his life, St Francis decided to go to Syria to convert the Moslems while the Fifth Crusade was being fought. In the middle of a battle, Francis decided to do the simplest thing and go straight to the sultan to make peace. He and his companion were captured and  Francis was taken to the sultan, Melek-el-Kamel. Francis challenged the Muslim scholars to a test of true religion by fire; but they refused. Francis proposed to enter the fire first, under the condition that if he left the fire unharmed, the sultan would have to recognize Christ as true God. The offer was turned down but the sultan was so impressed that he allowed Francis to preach to his subjects. Though Francis did not succeed in converting the sultan, the last words of the sultan to Francis of Assisi were, Pray for me that God may deign to reveal to me that law and faith which is most pleasing to him.  This work of Francis  and his attempted rapprochement with the Muslim world had far-reaching consequences, long past his own death, since after the fall of the Crusader Kingdom,  it would be the Franciscans, of all Catholics, who would be allowed to stay on in the Holy Land and be recognized as “Custodians of the Holy Land” on behalf of Christianity. [2]

In times like these, when extremist forms of Islam have emerged, we need, more than ever to have the courage of St. Francis to engage the Islamic world and seek to bring them to Christ. It may be difficult work and successes may be few at this stage. But God calls us to be faithful, not successful. Ultimate success is up to God. We who are Catholics have a special role in this evangelization since the Muslim world shares with us a respect for Mary, Mother of Jesus our Lord. More on that in a future post.

This first video is set to the Music “All Creatures of Our God and King.” This hymn is based closely on the poem by St. Francis Canticum Fratris Solis (Canticle of Brother Sun) :


This second video is a very charming video of a man who has taught his dog to pray: