Blessed Week: Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

 

By Alex Hamilton

            Aside from being arguably one of the most good looking saints, Pier Giorgio has one of the most attractive personalities in the Catholic Church from the last century. Though he only lived till his mid 20’s, he lived a full, rich life of giving himself to others. He fully embodied the joy and love of the Gospel and shared it with each and every person he encountered.

            Born in 1901 in Turin, Italy, Pier Giorgio Frassati was the son of wealthy parents. His father was an Italian senator and owner of a newspaper and his mother was an artist and from a family of great wealth as well. His upbringing pointed towards a secular lifestyle. His father was an atheist and his family never prayed at home together, not even at meals. Neither did they observe Lenten practices, such as abstaining from meat. Pier Giorgio’s faith was undoubtedly a gift from God.

The stories of his childhood are as charming as he his. When he was a young boy, his tutor was taking him through town on an errand when a priest was coming by, altar boys, candles and all, to take communion to the sick. As all the townspeople began to kneel, the tutor told Pier Giorgio to kneel as well, saying, “Our Lord is coming, passing by, let’s kneel because He is a king.” To which Pier Giorgio replied, “Yes, He is the king of kings!” During a Corpus Christi procession when he was four years old, everyone was throwing flowers into the street to honor the Blessed Sacrament, so Pier Giorgio reached into his relative’s pocket and threw the golden pen into the street exclaiming, “This is for you, Jesus!” From a very young age, he had a simple, beautiful devotion to God.

In addition to attending mass on Sunday with his mother and siblings, Pier Giorgio began to attend daily mass frequently as an adolescent. Mind you, this wasn’t a convenient activity he did when his homework was finished or if he had enough time in the day. He would wake up in the middle of the night or early in the morning to attend mass before school started. Sometimes this involved running miles to get to a church. When he got back, he would kneel in his bedroom and pray a rosary. His father would often find him asleep on his floor in the morning, rosary in hand, and assume he had fallen asleep that way the night before. Little did he know the sacrifice his son was making!
Bl. Pier Giorgio is the perfect example of how to be a friend to all. His faith did not leave him in the chapel all day or completely removed from society, although he spent countless hours in prayer every day. Rather, he brought Christ to others in a very real sense. In the Gospels, we see Jesus living everyday life with sinners in order to draw them closer to Himself. Pier Giorgio would ski, go mountain climbing, swim, ride horseback, drive cars, and all other activities a young man did at his time with his classmates. And he always did his best to sanctify every activity. When he and his friends would hike up a mountain, he would rejoice in the rest at the top and invite them to pray a rosary with him. My favorite anecdote of his is about how he would play games. When he would play pool with his friends, he said that if they won, he would pay them money, but if he won, they would have to go pray a holy hour with him. So, when he won, he brought all of them to the cathedral, sat them down with rosaries and prayer books, and knelt in front of the Blessed Sacrament to pray. If they all went on ski trips, he would first make sure there was a church nearby or pay for a priest to join them. If neither happened, he simply wouldn’t go. Furthermore, his friends never heard him curse or saw him drink more than one glass of wine in a sitting. Pier Giorgio never hid his faith, nor did he ungraciously impose it upon others. Rather, he gently invited others to share his joy.

            Pier Giorgio was deeply devoted to loving the poor in his town. On his 18th birthday, his father gave him a new car. That day, Pier Giorgio sold the car and gave all of the money to the poor. During his high school and college years, he spend time with the poor every day after class. He would read to them, do chores for them, bathe them, or just give them money. He didn’t do charity passively. Rather, he lived with the poor, getting to know families, playing with kids and talking to everyone. By the age of 21, he was helping over 100 families, even supporting some children so they could go to school.

Due to his birth, Pier Giorgio was actually quite well known in Italy. His father was very wealthy and part of one of the most prominent families in the country. Pier Giorgio led several demonstrations against Mussolini’s fascist government, inspiring thousands of young people to oppose Mussolini’s policies. However, whenever he visited the poor, he told them that his name was Brother Jerome in an effort to avoid attention. Imagine if someone like Ivanka Trump were visiting destitute neighborhoods every day, living with the poorest of the poor. That’s how prominent he was! Nevertheless, he remained a humble man.

            At the age of 24, he was caring for a sick person with polio and caught polio himself. This was the first time he was seriously ill. However, his grandmother was on her deathbed at the same time. One account tells of how he went to visit her and collapsed several times walking down the hallway to see her. His family was so busy grieving over the death of his grandma that they didn’t notice his illness until two days before he died because he was fighting it so hard. On July 4, 1925, Pier Giorgio died. One might ask why he died so young. In the words of St. Gregory the Great, “When the fruit is ripe, comes the sickle because it’s time to harvest. In fact, God Almighty, when the fruit is ripe, sends the sickle and reaps the harvest because when He has led each of us to the perfection of the work, he truncates our temporal life to take his grain in the granaries of heaven.” An astounding 10,000 people came to his funeral. These were family, friends, and the countless people he had served all those years. His parents were so moved that they began to live the faith once more. 40 years later, his body was exhumed to discover that he was incorrupt, meaning that God had preserved his body so as to show us his sanctity in life. Pier Giorgio was beatified in 1990.

What can we learn from Pier Giorgio? Well, he is literally immortalized as a vibrant, youthful man. Pope St. John Paul II wanted him to be a model for young people, and he does it so well. In the year before he died, Pier Giorgio had finished a degree in engineering because he wanted to work with the poor. He was discerning many things: the workforce, marriage, the priesthood, being a missionary. And yet, his discernment never slowed him down. He was always loving people with every minute of his time. He teaches us that whatever our station in life, we can reach out and give our all, especially to the poor. He was deemed the “Man of the Beatitudes” because he embodied the ideals that our Lord gave us in the Sermon on the Mount. He was humble, loving, and sacrificial. As young men and women, we are called, as he would say, “Verso l’Alto”, meaning, “to the heights!” Life is busy, sure, but if it’s not lived for Jesus and for others, what are we living for? In Pier Giorgio’s words, “To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for truth, that is not living, but existing.”

Alex is a senior, about to graduate with degrees in History and Political “Science”. While he’s not working out or reading about Saints, Church Fathers, etc, you’lll find him…sleeping? He pretty much only does those things

Blessed Week: Bl. Chiara Luce Badano

By Kate Burke

 

Do you ever wonder why bad things happen to good people? I know I do. Chick-fil-A is out of waffle fries? “Why do bad things happen to good people.” I have to take another class with my least favorite professor? “Why do bad things happen to good people?!?” Or on a more serious note, when my grandmother lost her long battle with a nameless disease that slowly took her from us? I was heartbroken, angry, and confused. How could a good God let things like this happen? However, something I have come to realize, and something that is solidified by reading stories like Bl. Chiara Luce Badano’s, is that while God does not actively will for terrible things to happen to His children, He can bring great beauty from deep suffering.

The Badanos prayed for eleven years before Bl. Chiara Luce Badano was born in Italy in 1971. For most of her life, she was incredibly average. She never founded a new religious order or convinced the pope to move or built a hospital. She simply tried to love God and live the Gospel in her life.  But sometimes it took her a few tries to get this right. Once when she was young, her mother asked her to clear the dinner table, but she refused and left. Moments later she came back, asking about the Gospel story about the father who asks his son to go into the vineyard (Mt 21:28-31). She then put on her apron and cleared the table. As she grew up, she loved hanging out with her friends and she tried to share the Gospel with them, as many of us try. She did this simply: “by the way I listen to them, by the way I dress and above all, by the way I love them.” How much more effective might we be in our evangelization if we follow her example of love! Her love for Jesus was authentic, but she was just like us. She had to repeat a year in school because of a disagreement with a teacher. She failed math! Let that sink in and take some pressure off yourself. Someone who is on her way to canonization failed a math class. You’re going to be fine. She loved tennis, swimming, and mountain climbing. She studied in coffee shops. She wanted to be a flight attendant. Chiara was blessed by loving and holy parents who raised her with a deep faith in Jesus. Everything was going exceptionally well; she had a bright future ahead of her.

Then one day, while playing tennis, she experienced a sharp pain in her shoulder. Shortly afterwards, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma sarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer. She was only 17, younger than all of us. After her first treatment, she refused to answer her mother’s questions and instead threw herself on her bed. There she stayed for only 25 minutes before emerging and saying “Mum, you can talk to me now.” She had said her yes to God and she would never turn back. After each treatment or pain, she would say “For you, Jesus; if you want it, I want it too!” Her explosive joy only increased with her suffering. During a visit from Cardinal Saldarini, he asked her where the light in her eyes came from. She answered him “I try to love Jesus as much as I can.” Can we not do the same in our lives? Can we not try to love Jesus more each day? Just try. Like most girls, she loved her hair. As each lock fell out due to treatment, she would say “For you, Jesus.” I can’t imagine this level of trust and security in the love of God. As women, much of our perceived beauty is tied up in our hair. I have been known to cry over a bad haircut. I can’t imagine the kind of distress I would feel over losing my hair. But Chiara offered this up as well. Perhaps we can try to emulate her in our daily lives by offering up small dents in our egos.

She truly understood redemptive suffering, something we can often struggle to understand: to see the beauty in uniting our suffering to Jesus’. She would refuse morphine, saying that it decreased her lucidity and adding that “I want to share as much as possible in His suffering on the cross.” If they’re offering you morphine, the pain is excruciating. And yet, Chiara refused even this comfort, adding to her suffering and allowing her to more closely unite her suffering to Jesus’. As her cancer progressed, she had nothing left to offer but she wisely noted: “I can only offer my pain to Jesus. It’s all I have left.”

Her friends and family frequently visited her in the hospital, thinking this would bring her comfort. However, they quickly realized that entering her room was like entering a sanctuary of God’s love. She didn’t have to explain the theology of God’s unconditional love or convince anyone of her love. As her friend said, “Chiara didn’t say any extraordinary words, she didn’t write pages and pages of diary. She simply loved.” She simply loved. How simple and yet so difficult at times. It’s easy to love our friends and family when they aren’t challenging us. But what about when they call us out or do the opposite of what we think we would be best? Do we still love them the same? Or what about those who society scorns? The marginalized, the poor, those people that make us uncomfortable? Chiara did not shy away from loving even those society views as the least among us. During her time at the hospital, she would take long walks with a drug-addicted, depressed girl, despite the pain from the tumor on her spine. Encouraged to stop and rest, she replied, “I’ll have time to rest later…I have nothing left, but I still have my heart, and with that I can always love.”

As her death approached, she reflected on her mortality: “Previously I felt … the most I could do was to let go.  Instead, now I feel enfolded in a marvelous plan of God, which is slowly being unveiled to me.” The more we unite our wills to the Will of God, the more His plan will be revealed to us in His time. Chiara requested to be buried in a white dress, as a bride going home to Jesus. Her last words were “Mamma, be happy, because I’m happy!”

Bl. Chiara gives us an example of a young person whose holiness can be lived by anyone. She demonstrates that all we must do is try to love Jesus and others the best we can. Chiara believed strongly in the power of young people living their lives for Jesus. Shortly before her death, she proclaimed: “The youth are the future. I can no longer run, but I’d like to pass the Olympic torch on to them. The young people have only one life and it’s worth it to spend it well!” As we continue in this season of Easter, let’s remember Bl. Chiara’s average life and great love.

Bl. Chiara, pray for us!

Kate Burke is a senior struggling through economics and statistics. She loves working with the St. Mary’s high school students, watching “Law and Order: SVU,” and cooking.

 

References:

  1. Bodenschatz, Megan. “Remarkably Average: The Life of Blessed Chiara Badano.” http://lifeteen.com/blog/fame-fortune-faith/
  2. “Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, Pray for us!” http://reallifecatholic.com/blessed-chiara-luca-badano-pray-for-us/
  3. “Blessed Chiara Luce Badano” October 29, 2012. http://www.focolare.org/en/news/2012/10/29/beata-chiara-luce-badano/

 

 

Blessed Week: Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

By Gabby Kromer

One of the best things about great friendships is the ability to share similar passions, interests, and devotions with each other. A few years ago, a good friend of mine introduced me to the writings of an incredible writer, television speaker, and radio host. Unfortunately for me, I was born about 50 years too late to experience the prime of this person’s career as a “modern-day” saint for the Catholics in America. Luckily for me, I was able to seek out and access many books and YouTube videos to really get to know who this person was and what he had to share with the world about Jesus Christ…

JMJ

These three letters represent a devotion to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; they also point many devout Christians and Catholics alike back to a 20th Century Catholic Archbishop, Venerable Fulton Sheen.

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, born Peter John Sheen on May 8, 1895, was born and raised in Illinois, and is well-known for his efforts in public evangelization during the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Sheen was ordained a priest in 1919 in the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois and quickly became a renowned theologian, studying and later teaching at the Catholic University of America.

Sheen began to create his unique place in Catholic history by first writing one of his 73 books in 1925, and five years later began a national night radio broadcast, The Catholic Hour. Two decades after the start of the broadcast, Sheen’s teaching met the ears of nearly four million listeners nationwide. With the help of advanced technology, Sheen was able to transform and engage his listeners by reaching them through broadcast television. His weekly program, Life is Worth Living, was a gig that Sheen was not paid for, yet paid off for his viewers. Sheen would simply speak in front of a live audience without any script or cue cards, and would famously use a large chalkboard to convey his messages to his viewers.

Notably, his chalkboards always contained those three letters, JMJ, written above his transcribed notes for the program. Writing these three letters was a way for Sheen to offer a prayer and devotion for his work back to Jesus and the Holy Family, and asking for their assistance in all of his work.

Life is Worth Living ran on television for six years, and gathered the attention of as many as 30 million people on a weekly basis, followed by The Fulton Sheen Program from 1961-1968.

Fulton’s skills in public speaking and writing earned him the title of “the first televangelist” by Time Magazine, as well as earning him two Emmy Awards. In 1952, when Sheen accepted his Emmy, his speech included his acknowledgement of his inspiration: “I feel it is time to pay tribute to my four writers- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

Sheen’s efforts in his writings and television programs have just as much impact and attraction to modern readers and listeners as when they captured the attention of America in the 40’s and 50’s.

In order to learn about Sheen’s life, I first started reading his autobiography, Treasures in Clay. Sheen includes reflections on his childhood, his time in seminary, his travels, and his media stardom. Sheen writes (and speaks) with a unique sense of humor that beautifully relates the reader to the deep reflections of the spiritual life.

There is a close relationship between faith and humor. Materialists, humanists, and atheists all take this world very seriously because it is the only world they are ever going to have. He who possesses faith knows that this world is not the only one, and therefore can be regarded rather lightly.

Sheen’s motto was “Da per matrem me venire,” meaning “Grant that I may come to you through the mother [Mary].” Sheen’s devotion to Mary was one that allowed him to gain deeper truths and reflections on Mary’s life and devotion to her role as Mother of God. Next on my reading list was The World’s First Love, a deep, rich, and reflective writing combining spirituality, history, and theology that reveals to us the life of Mary, Mother of God.

Sheen had a deep devotion to prayer and would often find himself doing many daily tasks in front of the Blessed Sacrament in adoration; preparing speeches, writing books, and petitioning to God his needs. In Treasures of Clay, Sheen reflects on his offering to God of a Holy Hour everyday to remain in close contact and relationship with the Father. He writes:

The Holy Hour is not a devotion; it is a sharing in the work of redemption. Our Blessed Lord used the words “hour” and “day” in two totally different connotations in the Gospel of John. “Day” belongs to God; the “hour” belongs to evil.

The Holy Hour became like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit on the midst of the fowl and fetid atmosphere of the world. The Hour too became a magister and a teacher, for although before we love anyone we must have a knowledge of that person, nevertheless, after we know, it is love that increases knowledge. Please, if you are honesty concerned about making Christ known to literally every creature- give God one hour every day. Christ asked “could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40)

In 2002, the Cause for Canonization was opened for Archbishop Fulton Sheen by the Bishop of Peoria, and Sheen was known as a “Servant of God.” In 2012, the Vatican announced that Sheen’s life was recognized as one of “heroic virtue,” which now gives him the title of “Venerable.”

 

I’ll leave you with two more Sheen quotes to ponder:

Books are great friends; they always have something worthwhile to say to you when you pick them up. They never complain about being too busy and they are always at leisure to free the mind.

I have always contended in talking to missionaries that we are not so much to bring Christ to peoples as we are to bring Christ out of them.

 

Gabby Kromer is proud to be born and raised in “The Great Lake State” of Michigan. Her ‘Yes’ to Christ’s call to be a FOCUS missionary led her to her new home of Blacksburg, Virginia, after studying at Central Michigan University to become a special education teacher. When she is not adoring the beauty of the Virginia mountains, she can be found reading, baking, having acoustic jam sessions, and spending time with her fellow missionaries. 

Blessed Week: Bl. John Henry Newman

By Alex Hamilton

[Editor’s Note: Welcome to Blessed Week on Newman’s blog! Ever day this week we’ll be highlighting one of the many Blesseds and Venerables of the Church, holy men and women who are on the path to Sainthood but just aren’t there yet. Questions about the blog? Email Chris Roy at croy213@vt.edu]

 

John Henry Newman was born in London on February 21, 1801 to a modest, middle class family. He had a pleasant upbringing and his vocation to serve God in a special way was evident by his teenage years. At the age of 15, he says, he felt it was the will of God that his “calling in life would require such a sacrifice as celibacy involved” (Apologia Pro Vita Sua pg. 38). Newman grew up reading the Bible and other holy books, even being introduced to the Church Fathers in his adolescence, who would fascinate him for the rest of his life.

Newman matriculated to Oxford in 1816, where he would be a student, tutor, and lecturer for decades to come. Oxford was the heart of England’s intellectual society. Bishop Barron remarks, “what Paris was for Thomas Aquinas and Florence was for Dante, Oxford was for Newman.” It must be stressed how deeply Newman loved Oxford. It always remained in his heart, making his exile from it later in life all the more painful. Oxford was the place of Newman’s deepest intellectual formation and he remained an ‘Oxford man’ his whole life.

John Henry Newman was elected a fellow at Oriel College, in Oxford, in 1821 and ordained an Anglican priest in 1824. During this time he grew in reputation at Oxford for his writing and intellect. Although he was not a particularly charismatic preacher, people would still pack the churches where he preached just to hear his deeply insightful sermons.

The preconditions of Newman’s conversion to the Catholic faith are as unique as he is. In the 1830’s at Oxford, Newman became involved in what is known as the Oxford Movement, or more commonly, the Tractarian Movement. This was a group of Anglican intellectuals who wanted to ‘Catholicize’ the Anglican Church. While Anglicanism is one of the closest forms of Protestantism to Catholicism, especially in outward appearances such as liturgy and sacraments, there remain many fundamental theological differences. Newman thought that left-wing Protestantism had lost its beautiful liturgy and sacraments and was plagued by an individualism that led to subjective theological beliefs based on feelings. He was also critical of the Catholic Church, a right-wing institution that he believed had corrupted the teachings of the Church Fathers. He sought what he called a ‘Via Media’, or a middle way, between Protestantism and Catholicism. It had three tenants. First, the Church was to be grounded in objective dogma. Second, the Church was to be visible, meaning devoted to sacraments. And third, the movement was anti-Roman, meaning anti-Catholic. His involvement in the movement came to an end after he published the infamous Tract 90 (the Oxford Movement published these tracts to communicate their ideas, hence the name ‘Tractarians’). In Tract 90, Newman argued that the 39 Articles of Religion were compatible with the teachings of the Council of Trent. What’s the significance of that? Glad you asked! The 39 Articles were to be sworn to by all public officials and university professors in England, including those at Oxford, in order to hold the position. They are glaringly anti-Catholic. Tract 90 was seen as treason and caused such an uproar up and down English society that Newman had to resign from Oxford. He retired to Littlemore in 1841, where his conversion would come to maturity.

Newman looked into early Church history for evidence of the Via Media, but only found condemnation of it. For example, when he looked back at the Arian heresy of the 4th century, he found three positions. The first was that of the right-wing Catholic Church, saying that Jesus was true God and true man. The left-wing position, Arianism, declared Jesus as only a man, a creature of the Father. The middle position was called homoiousios, which meant that Jesus was of a similar substance as the Father. But the left-wing and middle positions were declared wrong by the Council of Nicaea. Jesus was declared as homoousios, of the same substance, as the Father (where the phrase “not one iota of a difference” comes from, but here there is quite a difference). Newman found that the Catholic Church had held this right-wing position all through the centuries. After a few years of deep prayer and study, he fell at the feet of a local Catholic priest with whom he had formed a friendship and begged to be received into the Catholic Church. Now, there was no going back to his beloved Oxford. John Henry Newman was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome in 1846, and later returned to England to begin the second half of his life. He was shunned by British society for years and branded a traitor. Eventually, he fell back into the country’s good graces, and he spent the rest of his life preaching and writing his most influential works, among them: Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Development of Christian Doctrine, The Idea of a University, and An Essay in Aid of the Grammar of Assent.

If you want a taste for Newman’s raw personality, I suggest you read his Apologia Pro Vita Sua. In it, he tells the story of his conversion with a sincere vulnerability. His conversion was a long, painful intellectual process for the most part. His heart was hardened against the Catholic Church, but he was dissatisfied with the corruptions of theology in the Anglican Church. Amidst his study for authentic Christianity, he found himself in the Catholic Church.

During the time of his conversion, Newman published Development of Christian Doctrine. One of his initial grievances with the Catholic Church was that it appeared different than the Church of the first centuries. Through study and prayer, Newman came to realize that ideas, especially theological ones, are deep, and must be unraveled over time in order to be fully expressed. He uses the analogy of a stream. At its head, a river is rather unimpressive, resembling a small stream. But after hundreds of miles, being joined by tributaries, a river is broad, powerful, and deep. Just so with ideas, taught Newman. He also realized that to mature, ideas needed to be debated by the community of believers, so as to become clearer through contributions. And ultimately, there needed to be an authority, or umpire if you will, who would have the final word. So we see that certain doctrines, such as those about the Trinity or Mary, take time to be unraveled and understood by the Church, as God places greater minds and hearts to explain them to us better each time. Newman is famous for saying, “To live is to change. To be perfect is to change often.”

As a lecturer at Oxford and a rector of a university in Dublin, Newman was deeply engaged in and enjoyed universities. In his work Idea of a University, Newman discusses the most important aspect of a university- faith. He believed that learning about the Faith is fundamentally an intellectual pursuit (now you can see why I like him so much). According to Newman, theology should be the center of university studies. When theology is pushed to the side or ignored completely, it allows for something else to become the core of learning, thereby skewing the true meaning of all areas of study and reality. For example, if the sole purpose of a university is to land a job afterwards, any area of study that doesn’t appear to have direct applicability to a certain job would be deemed as useless. This creates disrespect and disinterest in many majors. Newman was a champion of the liberal arts. He teaches us that we should most savor knowledge which is good in and of itself. Engineering has a direct applicability to labor, but a degree in philosophy teaches one to truly rest and enjoy wisdom itself. We all are called to work, but if we don’t know how to enjoy the fruits of our labor, i.e. leisure, it is all for naught. We are all called to work so as to have order and time to contemplate God, the highest good, which can be aided with a grounding in the liberal arts.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman is among the most overlooked and underappreciated figures in Church history. His spiritual and philosophical insights came at a time when we needed them most to fight modernism and secularism. He encourages us to relentlessly seek truth and God, even in the face of persecution. John Henry Cardinal Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. John Henry Newman, pray for us!

Alex is a senior, about to graduate with degrees in History and Political “Science”. While he’s not working out or reading about Saints, Church Fathers, etc, you’lll find him…sleeping? He pretty much only does those things

Blessed Week: Bl. Miriam Teresa

By Teresa Bliss

[Editor’s Note: Welcome to Blessed Week on Newman’s blog! Ever day this week we’ll be highlighting one of the many Blesseds and Venerables of the Church, holy men and women who are on the path to Sainthood but just aren’t there yet. Questions about the blog? Email Chris Roy at croy213@vt.edu]

               Something that is constantly stressed in Catholic teaching and in Catholic communities everywhere is the Universal Call to Holiness; The idea that all people, not just a few elite, are called to sainthood and perfection. It is an idea that is central to our faith and has greatly shaped our Catholic culture. This idea was truly taken to heart by a young girl in Bayonne, New Jersey in the early 20th century. Teresa Demjanovich was born to Alexander and Johanna Demjanovich in 1901, as the last of their seven children. After she finished high school Teresa wanted to enter the Carmelite order, after her namesake, St. Therese of Lisieux. Unfortunately, her mother fell ill and Teresa stayed at home to care for her, which she considered her duty as the youngest child. After her mother passed, she decided to attend the College of St. Elizabeth at Convent Station in New Jersey. Literature held a special appeal for her, so she decided to make that her focus. Through hard work and dedication, she graduated summa cum laude. She used her degree and became a teacher at St Aloysius, also in her home state, all this while she was still discerning the Carmelite order. The Carmelites asked her not to join because of some medical concerns, forcing her to look in other places. Her family suggested that she look at the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, which was a more active order, where she could use the skills that she learned while teaching. In 1925, She entered their order and took the name Sister Miriam Teresa. Not long after joining, she began to fall ill. Her condition worsened until she was no longer able to teach with them. Concerned for her life, he siblings petitioned for to be allowed to receive her final vows before she passed. She made her final vows on April 2, 1927, and passed away a month later, on May 8, 1927, at the age of 26. After her death, many miracles were attributed to her intercession, including the healing of a boy with macular degeneration after receiving a prayer card with a hair from Sr. Miriam Teresa. After this miracle was authenticated by Pope Francis, she was beatified in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark on October 4, 2014. She was a living example of the Universal Call to Holiness, saying yes to the Lord even in the smallest things. Her spiritual director could feel the light of Christ radiating from her soul, and he truly believed that one day she would be part of the Church Triumphant in Heaven. Before her death, he asked her to write down her reflections, which resulted in Greater Perfection: Being the Spiritual Conferences of Sr. Miriam Teresa, where she speaks much about the Universal Call to Holiness. She says:

“Union with God, then, is the spiritual height God calls everyone to achieve – any one, not only religious but any one, who chooses, who wills to seek this pearl of great price, who specializes in the traffic of eternal good, who says ‘yes’ constantly to God … The imitation of Christ in the lives of saints is always possible and compatible with every state of life. The saints did but one thing – the will of God. But they did it with all their might. We have only to do the same thing; and according to the degree of intensity with which we labor shall our sanctification progress.”

One of the most remarkable things about her life is how seemingly unremarkable it was. She went to college just like all of us and even worked for a little while. She is a beautiful example of truly surrendering her life to Christ, even in the midst of the world, doing all thing in true humility and faith. Blessed Miriam Teresa, Pray for us.

Teresa is a sophomore studying Graphic Design. She leads a freshman Small Group, sings in the Schola, and loves babies.

Born Again

By Bryan Faulkner

From my first breath as an infant (and before all-of-time began), I was meant to be Catholic.  After being born three months prematurely in December of 1993, the only hospital in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio area that could effectively care for my medical needs was Good Samaritan Hospital; a Catholic Hospital founded by the Sisters of Charity.  After receiving an emergency baptism, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I was freed from the stain of original sin, and reborn as a son of God, and became a member of Christ as a Lutheran.  However, for the next 15 years of my life, I was “Lutheran” in name only.

As I grew up in the mountains of rural Appalachia, where everyone knows everyone, there were many opportunities to attend church.  There is a thriving Baptist church, a newly built Presbyterian church, and, though I didn’t know it at the time, a wonderful Roman Catholic missionary parish on the top of the hill at the quiet end of town.  However, a Lutheran Church has never been built in the town; the closest one was a 90-minute drive away.  Since my mom and dad were both confirmed Lutheran, and I was technically Lutheran, we would make-do with what was available and occasionally attend a Protestant service on Sunday at the Methodist church, or watch a sermon from home on the local Christian television network channel.  All through my childhood, and into my early teenage years, I found myself incredibly bored by the services and messages.  I didn’t care about what they were preaching.  I didn’t care to grow in fellowship with any of my young brothers and sisters at the church.  I didn’t care about my relationship with Christ.

I believed that Jesus was God, but I simply didn’t care about someone who I thought was in some place called “Heaven,” very far away from where I was currently at in life.   After all, I thought, why would God care about some kid who kept to himself and his textbooks, in a town of barely 1700 people?  All throughout my childhood- at the Sunday services, at school, at home- I was searching for something. I was always trying to fill up a deep void in my heart with either things of this world, or self-validate myself and my worth by trying to get the highest grade on a test out of pride and arrogance.  All those years, I wasn’t searching for the latest material object to play with or show off, or A+ earned on a test to brag about.  As I later discovered, I was searching for Jesus, fully present in the Holy Eucharist.

My active pursuit of Christ began as I entered high school.  Instead of attending the local, rural, public high school, I attended Bishop McGuinness High School outside of the city of Greensboro, NC (a college prep, Catholic high school in the Diocese of Charlotte, NC).  Every student at the school was required to study theology, in addition to mathematics, the classics, and the various sciences.  In my mind, at the beginning of my high school education, I was going to focus solely on the engineering-focused academics, and have to sit through what I had imagined to be “boring” and “weird” Catholic religious education classes; nothing could be further from the truth.

After a few months of studying at the Catholic school, with every passing day, I began to be more and more intrigued about the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth.  I started to intentionally study the Bible since it was taking on a greater meaning to me, and I began to realize that it was more significant than just another regular textbook.  I would eat my lunch in the youth ministry room, surrounded by awesome, young, passionate Catholics.  Finally, and most importantly, I went to Adoration Tuesday’s to earnestly pray for the first time in my life.  As an aside, I must have been the most irreverent young fellow in front of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar ( I used to think that the kneelers were foot rest’s… whoops 🙂 ).  I firmly do believe that the Lord began to intentionally and lovingly, touch my heart while I was sitting in front of His true presence, even though I was completely oblivious to His beautiful Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity right in front of me.

Towards the end of the year, I read Matthew 26:26-30 (The Lord’s Supper) for the first time;

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.”  Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

By the Lord’s infinite Grace and Mercy, and all those moments during Adoration Tuesday’s, I wholeheartedly believed in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, after reading this passage for the first time.  After this, my life completely changed – I began to deeply pursue an intimate relationship with God.  I desired to understand how the Eucharist truly is “the source and summit of the Christian life [CCC 1324].”

For the remainder of my freshman year of high school, into my sophomore year, I began to question everything – thankfully the Lord blessed me with many kind and thoughtful theologians who didn’t mind answering my seemingly endless questions.  I asked many times about the role and significance of our Blessed Mother Mary, how a Saint could be incorruptible, and the difference between the Lord’s grace and His infinite mercy.  I sought to deeper understand the significance and meaning of the Holy Mass.  I tried to truly understand what it meant to be a Christian, specifically, a Catholic.

In the fall of my senior year of high school, after moving to Virginia, and many prayers later, on September 18, 2011, I converted to the Catholic faith by receiving First Holy Communion, and was being Confirmed at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish.  The void in my heart that I had been trying to fill with things of this world for so long during my early adolescence, was now overflowing with Jesus’ beautiful and perfect Divine Mercy.

As I entered college, I didn’t really know what to expect as to how my new-found faith would play a role in my studies and relationships as a Hokie – I certainly never expected to become an active leader in the community.  However, God, in his own loving way, simply smiled at me and my thoughts about my future, and kindly chuckled.  After serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion my freshman year of college in 2012, the Lord called me to serve in unexpected roles – first as Communications Minister in 2014, and then as Student Campus Minister (SCM) in 2015.  Serving the Catholic population of Virginia Tech through Newman, walking with my brothers and sisters in their journey with Jesus, has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.  Aside from coordinating the 10AM Mass every Sunday, one of the greatest joys about serving as SCM was meeting my fellow Hokies where they were currently at in life, and being able to relate to them in some way.  I would always try to be intentional and present in my conversations with my fellow brothers and sisters – either by asking how Newman could better serve them spiritually, catching up with someone over coffee, or by simply asking them how their day was.  I also really enjoyed giving talks at retreats, even though as in introvert was always nervous about speaking in front of a large group of people, and helping to lead groups of people at special events.

The blessing that has impacted my life more than serving Newman, aside from receiving Christ in the Holy Eucharist, was meeting and falling in love with my beautiful fiancée, Abby.  As an engineering student myself, and with her being a business student, we never would have met if not for our deep love of our shared Catholic faith and active ministerial roles at Newman.

Our shared beliefs challenge us to practice chastity and overcome the non-committal and confusing dating culture that surrounds us. By letting Christ be the foundation of our relationship, we learn daily (and struggle with, as humans) the meaning of love, patience, commitment, service, hope, kindness, and trust…just to name a few! I can honestly say (and I know Abby agrees) that we help each other to be better people, even when it isn’t always easy.

After almost 3 years of being together, Abby and I will be married by Father David next month, May 26th (please keep us in your prayers!).  We are both very excited about entering into the Sacrament of Matrimony together with Christ, and are looking forward to continuing to serve our Lord as we make our new home across the country in Seattle, Washington, as active members of the Archdiocese.

 

Bryan Faulkner is a fifth-year senior studying Electrical Engineering and has served Newman in many roles, including as Student Campus Minister in 2015. When he is not spending time with his fiancée, or working in the lab, he’ll likely be found in a coffeeshop watching videos of airplanes or rockets.

Finding God in Nature

By Christian Williams

“…If nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by the “love” of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed.” -C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Before we reflect on how we find God in nature, we must first think about what we are aspiring toward here on earth, and that is contemplative prayer. A wise book of words once noted, “Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. ‘I look at him and he looks at me’” (CCC 2715) Here, I will be talking about how nature can draw us to see Jesus in a deeper and more intimate way.  I’ve come to view our creation as a letter, written to me and to you, in which God can say to us, “Come—my son, my daughter, my beloved, and see what I have created for you—delight in it, and in Me.”

Pope Francis speaks of creation in this way in his encyclical Laudato Si’, which references St. Francis calling upon all of creation to sing praise to God. I will quote him at length below, because he is eloquent and holy and I’m an inarticulate schlep by comparison.

“Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20).

The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighbourhood square; going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves.

God has written a precious book, “whose letters are the multitude of created things present in the universe”. The Canadian bishops rightly pointed out that no creature is excluded from this manifestation of God: “From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine”. The bishops of Japan, for their part, made a thought-provoking observation: “To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope”. This contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us, since “for the believer, to contemplate creation is to hear a message, to listen to a paradoxical and silent voice”. We can say that “alongside revelation properly so-called, contained in sacred Scripture, there is a divine manifestation in the blaze of the sun and the fall of night”. Paying attention to this manifestation, we learn to see ourselves in relation to all other creatures: “I express myself in expressing the world; in my effort to decipher the sacredness of the world, I explore my own”.” (LS, 12, 84-85)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, (Peb for short), quoted Plato (old wise dude for you engineers) as saying, “The beautiful wounds, which is exactly how it summons man to his final destiny.” When we immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature and be attentive to what is going on in our soul, we find that we have a longing for even greater beauty. No one ever said, “That sunset was all I ever wanted to see.” We always want one that’s a little brighter, a little longer, a little more picturesque. The beauty in nature awakens in us the desire for Infinite Beauty, Jesus Christ Himself. That longing for Him, the desire for His love and presence, wounds us, because we do not know Him and accept His love as He wants and because we cannot yet see Him face-to-face.

Finally, a word on the practicalities of finding God in nature. First, we must leave technology behind. Yes, our beloved phones, and usually even our cameras if we want to be fully present. Second, we must embrace the mindset of a child, that each thing is beautiful, significant, and something worthy of beholding. Finally, we must be at peace. Rushing, stressing over schoolwork, trying to use time in nature to check boxes off of our to-do lists like the rabid, foaming-espresso-at-the-mouth college students that we can be (e.g. this counts for my exercise box, my social box, & my relaxation box [if that even exists]), will leave us aware of ourselves but not of God.

I hope that this reflection bears fruit in our pursuit of our Father’s heart. If anything here strikes you, I’d encourage you to write it on paper, take it outdoors, and mull over it.

As I sit on a coarse, cold ledge, my soul sits still within me. Peace pervades, for I see in His creation His beauty, and I know I am loved.

Christian is senior studying Psychology and will be serving as a FOCUS missionary after graduation. He loves the outdoors and is always up for a hike.

 

Sources:

LS: Laudato Si’ http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

CCC: Catetchism of the Catholic Church: Expressions of Prayer: Contemplative Prayer http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p4s1c3a1.htm

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: MESSAGE OF HIS EMINENCE CARD. JOSEPH RATZINGER
TO THE COMMUNION AND LIBERATION (CL) MEETING AT RIMINI (24-30 AUGUST 2002) “The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty” http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20020824_ratzinger-cl-rimini_en.html

Saint of the Month: St. Gianna Beretta Molla

By Maria Bernero

I want to tell you a story. It’s about a woman who was deeply devoted to the Lord, who dedicated her life to doing His work, and who loved without ever considering the cost…

Gianna Beretta was born on October 4th, 1922, in the town of Magenta, Italy. She was the tenth of thirteen children. At age twenty, Gianna began to study medicine in the nearby city of Milan, and seven years later she received her medical diploma. She then opened her own practice in her hometown, focusing her work in pediatrics. In December of 1954, she met Pietro Molla, a mechanical engineer and director of a match factory. The two fell in love and were soon married. Pietro and Gianna’s relationship was rooted in Christ from the very beginning; they knew that their love was so great, profound, and true only because the Heavenly Father and the Blessed Mother were integral parts of everything they did.

Over the next four years, the Molla family was blessed with their first three children: Pierluigi, Mariolina, and Laura. Gianna conceived their fourth child in 1961. While still in the first trimester, she developed a benign tumor. Her doctors explained that she could have an abortion, resulting in the death of her child but guaranteeing her continued health, or she could have surgery to remove the fibroma, allowing her baby to live but risking complications later in the pregnancy. Courageously, she decided on the surgery to remove the tumor and preserve the life of her unborn child. She informed the doctors that this new life was of greater importance than her own.

On Holy Saturday, April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was born. Her mother, however, continued to suffer immense pain and died of sepsis a week later. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 16th 2004.

Great story! What does this have to do with me?

The story of St. Gianna Beretta Molla is a beautiful example of unconditional, sacrificial love that lasted until the very end. She did not have a glamorous life; she lived a typical childhood and grew up as an ordinary young woman. Even still, Gianna chose every day to do something that each one of us is capable of —embodying a spirit of joy, courage, and sacrifice, trusting in the Lord’s providence, and sharing a message of love. She once wrote, Love is the desire to improve ourselves and our beloved, to overcome our selfishness, to devote ourselves. …Love must be total, full, complete, ruled by the law of God and immortalized in heaven.

Throughout her short thirty-nine years on earth, Gianna united this love to every part of her life. In her career, she desired to join her brother in Brazil, doing mission work and offering free medical services to the poor. Her health would not allow the realization of this dream, so she dedicated her professional life to helping improve the lives of friends and neighbors with her medical practice at home.

In her marriage, Gianna brought this same love to Pietro. The couple wrote each other many letters, both before and during their marriage, expressing their profound faith and reliance on Divine Providence, their humility, and their boundless affection. In a letter Gianna sent during their engagement, she confessed,

“My dearest Pietro …. it’s true; there will be sorrows, too, but if we always love each other as we do now, then, with God’s help, we’ll know how to bear them together…For now, though, let’s enjoy the happiness of loving each other. I was always told that the secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank the Lord for all that he, in his goodness, sends to us day after day.”

Pietro echoed her devotion, confiding, “The more I know Gianna, the more I am convinced that God could not have given me a greater gift than her love and companionship.” Does it get more romantic?! For the short seven years of their marriage, Gianna and Pietro allowed their love for each other to overflow into every encounter, truly living moment by moment.

It was no secret that Gianna integrated her unconditional love into her family life as well. The Mollas raised their family to know and follow the way of the cross. Not even two years after Gianna’s death, Mariolina, their oldest daughter, died, yet the family remained devoted in love to God. Through hardship and sacrifice, love remained constant. Pietro often consoled his son and daughter with the sentiment: “Eternity will not be enough for me to thank the Lord for all the graces he granted me during my long life.” (Um…WOW.)

Nope. I’m not holy enough for this.

It’s all too easy to muse about this as a nice ideal that’s hardly realistic for our own lives. This couldn’t be farther from reality. The beautiful thing about love is that it is wired into our very being. When we are truly living up to our fullest potential, desiring the best for others will be second-nature. As St. Gianna teaches us, this happens when we live the way of the Cross. Through her example, we see that this way, inseparable from the way of the Resurrection, is not the easiest for us as humans, yet it is the only avenue by which we find complete joy and fulfillment.

Ready to jump in? Not quite. We must understand that this implies our “yes,” given continuously and unconditionally to the acceptance of the Lord’s will in our lives, even when we don’t understand the how or the why. It’s also important for us to recognize that the way of the cross is not without the gift of suffering. I say “gift” not because I’m a masochist, but because it is through difficult times that we are drawn closer to Christ and His goodness. This is especially evident when we offer ourselves for the good of another—when we love them. Seeing this suffering as a gift unites our souls to the Lord and to the souls of those we serve by allowing them to experience Christ’s love through us. Traveling the way of the Cross helps us to view everything that happens with joy in the light of faith.

Striving for this every day can get difficult. We are told we should sacrifice ourselves for the good of another in the Gospel of John: “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). This is exactly what Christ has done for us and what Gianna did for her youngest daughter. Now, most of us will not be called to literally give up our lives for another, but we can, and are called to, sacrifice in the little things.

I have three siblings, and I love them to the ends of the earth. When we were growing up, it wasn’t always sunshine, giggles, and hugs. Those of you who grew up with siblings might know where I’m coming from! I began to realize I was always upset with or annoyed at my younger sister. I didn’t see a good reason for my feelings; they were just there. After a year or so of this going on, I admitted something needed to change. (I can be a little stubborn sometimes!) Fresh start…Confession…Yep.

As I was sitting behind the screen talking with the priest, he began to show me how my pride had taken the starring role in the situation and had been the catalyst feeding my negative attitudes about my sister. He said to me, “Maria, I want you to try something. When you are praying, use these seven words, ‘Heavenly Father, bless her and change me.’” That’s it. The sacrifice I was being called to make was one of humility for the benefit of our relationship. I couldn’t fully love my sister until I began to desire good for her, desire that she be blessed.

No matter whether the sacrifice is great or small, if it is selflessly given, it is love. With Easter on the horizon, I want to challenge each of us to a resurrected love—one that is devoted to and wills the good of the other and one that is renewed and strengthened by the spirit and example of St. Gianna.

 

Maria is a senior studying Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. She loves nothing more than a good liturgy and a beautiful church. She will never pass up a chance to dance and is terrified of menus with too many choices.

History of Ash Wednesday

By Thomas Denson

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.” – Genesis 3:19 (D-R)

I’d be willing to bet that, while it is not a holy day of obligation, Ash Wednesday is probably one of the most attended Masses of the year other than Christmas or Easter.  As Catholics, we abstain from meat and fast, go to Mass, have ashes put on our heads, and spend the rest of the day explaining to people that, yes, we know there is something on our forehead.  But why do we?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the penitential season before Easter.  As such, to better understand Ash Wednesday, we’re going to have to have an understanding of penance.  Much of human history has been spent trying to escape our mortality, yet the fact remains that we could face the four last things (Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell) at any moment.  This is so important that St. Philip Neri stated, “Beginners in religion ought to exercise themselves principally in meditation of the four last things.”  This sentiment is echoed in the traditional words spoken when ashes are placed on the head: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  This implies what is explicitly stated more positively in another formula currently accepted: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

The use of ashes in penance is found multiple times in the Bible.  Job vows to “disown what [he has] said, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6 NABRE).  Daniel “turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” while repenting Israel’s sins (Daniel 9:3-20 NABRE).  The king of Nineveh wore sackcloth and sat in ashes when confronted by Jonah’s message (Jonah 3:6).  Christ himself speaks of the practice (Matthew 11:21 & Luke 10:13).  In addition, fasting is also often mentioned in connection with penance.

This tradition of ashes and fasting in penance was carried over to the days of the early Church.  St. Irenaeus wrote in A.D. 190 that “some consider themselves bound to fast one day [during Lent], others two days, others still more, while others [do so during] forty…And this variety among the observers [of the fasts] had not its origin in our time, but long before in that of our predecessors” (Letter to Pope Victor).  Eusebius tells of Natalius, who was chosen to be the “bishop” of a sect in Rome who denied the divinity of Christ.  After being scourged by angels through the night, Natalius “put on sackcloth and covered himself with ashes, and with great haste and tears he fell down before [Pope] Zephyrinus…and he moved with his tears the compassionate Church of the merciful Christ” (Church History, Book V, Chapter 28).

So, that takes care of where the ashes and fasting come from, but what of Ash Wednesday itself?  Ash Wednesday is generally observed neither by the Orthodox Churches nor the Eastern Catholic Churches.  Even within the Latin Church, the Ambrosian Rite in Milan does not observe Ash Wednesday, instead distributing ashes and marking the beginning of Lent on the Sunday following when Ash Wednesday is observed by the Roman Rite.

One of the earliest references to Ash Wednesday comes from Ælfric of Eynsham, an Anglo-Saxon abbot and homilist.  In one of his homilies, Ælfric refers to “caput ieiunii” or the “Head of the Lenten Fast”.  Ælfric took Ash Wednesday very seriously, giving cautionary tales about those who didn’t receive their ashes, such as of “a certain foolish man with bishop Ælfstan in Wiltshire, in his household: this man would not go to the ashes on the Wednesday, as other men did, who attended at mass; then his companions begged that he would go to the mass-priest, and receive the sacred mysteries which they had received.  He said, ‘I will not.’  They still prayed him.  He said that he would not, and spake strangely in his talk, and said that he would use his wife at the forbidden time.  Then they left him so.  It befell that the heretic was riding in that week about some errand, when hounds attacked him very fiercely, and he defended himself until…[his] horse carried him forward so that [his] spear went right through him, and he fell dying…because he had refused those few ashes” (Lives of the Saints, In Caput Ieiunii).

As interesting as they may be, the three cautionary tales Ælfric gives are not the reason why his homily on Ash Wednesday is important.  Ælfric gives us a look at how the day was celebrated c. A.D. 1000.  He writes in his Ash Wednesday homily, “On the Wednesday, throughout the whole world, the priests bless, even as it is appointed, clean ashes in church, and afterward lay them upon men’s heads, that they may have in mind that they came from earth, and shall again return to dust” and “We read in the books, both in the old Law and in the new, that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes, and clothed their bodies with sackcloth.  Now let us do this little in the beginning of our Lent, that we strew ashes upon our heads, to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during our Lenten fast” (Lives of the Saints, In Caput Ieiunii).  This practice was universalized throughout the Western Church by Pope Bl. Urban II in 1091 at the Council of Benevento.

But we don’t strew ashes willy-nilly on our head, scattering them about randomly.  We have ashes put on our foreheads in the shape of a cross.  Well, yes and no.  The tradition of imposing the ashes in the shape of a cross on the forehead very well could come from the fact that women were traditionally expected to cover their heads in church.  In many non-English speaking countries around the world, the older custom of sprinkling ashes on top of the head is still observed.

That history is nice and all, but why do we do it?  True, ashes have been used by penitents from the early days of the Church, but I can’t remember the last time a priest gave me ashes as penance in the confessional.  The use of ashes is a sacramental, meaning it is “[something] set apart or blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and to increase devotion, and through these movements of the heart to remit venial sin” (Baltimore Catechism No. 4, Question 292).  While the Sacraments give grace in and of themselves directly, sacramentals do so indirectly by “[exciting] in us pious dispositions, by means of which we may obtain grace” (Baltimore Catechism No. 4, Question 293).

With this in mind, we should remember the why behind getting ashes this Ash Wednesday.  We shouldn’t get them because everyone gets them, because it’s what we’ve always done, or even because Ælfric of Eynsham warned us about getting killed by attacking dogs.  Instead, we should receive them with the state of mind intended for this sacramental, remembering our mortality and our sins, so that we may better dispose ourselves toward our Lenten fasts and are more able to appreciate the joy of the coming Easter.

Thomas Denson is a second year PSCI grad student finishing up his thesis.  He is usually found researching a small country most people can’t find on a map, eating Moe’s, or making references to movies that are at least twice as old as he is.

The Use and Misuse of Indulgences

By Brooks Ward

Indulgences. It’s a term that’s become somewhat of a dirty word among modern Catholics, stained as it has been by the scandalous profiteering of centuries ago. Even if you remove those connotations, the word still brings to mind the image of a spoiled child being raised by lax parents. Now, clearly those are not meanings that the Church intends. So, why do we call them indulgences, and what are they?

The word “indulgence” comes from the Latin “indulgeo”, meaning “to be kind or tender”. In Roman law, however, it came to mean “forgiveness of a debt”. What debt do indulgences forgive, you might ask? When you or I commit a sin, that sin has both temporal and eternal consequences. We know this from experience. If I lie to a friend, then even after that sin has been forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance (that is, the eternal consequences removed), I still have to deal with the fact that my friendship with that person has been damaged (the temporal consequences). If I steal something, no matter how sincerely sorry I am, I still need to make restitution. Imagine it like this: Every time you commit a sin, you’re pounding a nail into a board. Even if you remove the nails (Confession), the holes still need to be filled in. Indulgences are one of the ways the Church provides to enable us to close those holes. They “remit the temporal punishment due to sin.” In other words, the debt which indulgences forgive is a period of time one would spend in Purgatory being purified, before passing into Heaven. Any indulgence which removes only a portion of that time is called partial, while one which removes all of that time is termed plenary.

It should be no surprise that over the many centuries since Christ established the Church, indulgences have often been poorly understood, and sometimes even abused. The most serious abuses were perpetrated by those engaged in the sin of simony, the buying and selling of ecclesiastical privileges, including indulgences. These cases often had well-intentioned beginnings, such as the granting of indulgences for giving alms to the poor, but eventually came to be treated as a means of “paying your way to heaven”. Several Church councils attempted to deal with the issue, such as the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the Council of Trent (1562), going so far as to instruct that “all evil gains for the obtaining of [indulgences] be wholly abolished”. Even so, the problem became so widespread that in 1567, Pope Pius V took the drastic step of ceasing all indulgences attached in any way to money or financial transactions.

Today, it is possible to gain indulgences through many pious actions you probably already participate in. These include spending time in mental prayer, praying the Rosary, reading Sacred Scripture, and even simply making the Sign of the Cross! It’s important to remember that indulgences are not simply magic “get out of Purgatory free” cards. In order to gain them, we must perform the actions devoutly, with a contrite heart. In addition, plenary indulgences require us to go to Confession, receive the Eucharist, and pray for the intentions of the Pope, all within 20 days of the indulgenced action, as well as possessing the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin. What are you waiting for? Get out there, be holy, and gain indulgences along the way!

 

Brooks Ward is a Junior majoring in Philosophy and Classics, and can be found at Joe’s Diner during breakfasts and Chipotle the rest of the time