Dignare Me Laudare Te, Virgo Sacrata

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Traditional Feast Day of St. John Damscene, Doctor of the Church

(The following is excerpted from the 27 March entry in Volume V of the 1983 Marian House edition of the English translation of 'The Liturgical Year' by the Benedictines of Stanbrook.)

"The feast of today was added by Pope Leo XIII in 1892, and now [Saint] John Damascene, the quondam vizier, the protégé of Our Lady, the monk, whose excellent doctrine won for him the name of 'Golden stream,' commemorates in the Western cycle the heroic struggle [against iconoclasm] in which the East rendered such glorious services to the Church and to the world."

"The account given by the Liturgy of the life of this holy Doctor is so complete that we need add nothing further. But it will be well to give a short summary of the definitions by which in the eighth and sixteenth centuries the Church has avenged the holy Images from the attacks made on them by hell. The second Council of Nicaea declares that: 'It is lawful to place in churches, in frescoes, in pictures, on vestments and the sacred vessels, on the walls of houses and in public streets, images, whether painted or mosaic or of other suitable material, representing Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, our most pure Lady, the holy Mother of God, the angels and the saints; and it is equally lawful to burn incense before them and surround them with lights' [Second Council of Nicaea, Session VII.]. 'Not that we must believe that these images have any divinity or virtue of their own,' says the Council of Trent against the Protestants, 'or that we must put our confidence in them as the pagans did in their idols. But the honour which given to the images is referred to Christ the prototype, to whom through them all our veneration is addressed, and to the saints whom we venerate in their portraits' [Council of Trent, Session XXV.]."
John, who received the name of Damascene from his native place, was of noble birth, and studied sacred and profane letters at Constantinople under the monk Cosmas [St. Cosmas of Maiuma]. When the emperor Leo the Isaurian made a wicked attack upon the cult [the veneration] of the holy Images, John, at the desire of Pope [Saint] Gregory III., earnestly defended the holiness of this cult both by words and writings. By this he enkindled so great a hatred in the heart of Leo that the Emperor accused him, by means of forged letters, of treachery to the Caliph of Damascus, whom he was serving as councilor and minister. John denied the charge, but the Caliph was deceived by it and ordered his right hand to be cut off. John implored most earnestly the help of the blessed Virgin, and she manifested the innocence of her servant by reuniting the hand and arm as though they had never been severed. This miracle moved John to carry out a design which he had long had in mind. He obtained, though not without difficulty, the Caliph's permission to leave him, distributed all his goods to the poor and freed all his slaves. He then made a pilgrimage to the holy places in Palestine, and at length withdrew with his teacher Cosmos to the monastery of St. Sabbas near Jerusalem, where he was ordained a priest."

"...[H]e never ceased earnestly to defend the Catholic doctrine as to the honouring of holy Images. Thus he drew upon himself the hatred and persecution of the Emperor Constantine Copronymus, as he had once done that of Leo the Isaurian, and this all the more because he freely rebuked the arrogance of these Emperors, who meddled with matters concerning the faith, and pronounced sentence on them according to their own judgment."

"It is a marvel how much John wrote both in prose and verse for the protection of the faith and the encouragement of devotion. He was worth of the high praise which given him by the second Council of Nicaea. He was surnamed Chrysorrhoas on account of the golden streams of his eloquence. It was not only against the enemies of the holy Images that he defended the orthodox faith, for he also stoutly opposed the Acephali, the Monothelites and the Theopaschites. He maintained the laws and the power of the Church. He asserted the primacy of the Prince of the Apostles in eloquent words, and often called him the pillar of the Churches, the unbroken rock and the teacher and ruler of the world. His writings are not only distinguished for doctrine and learning, but have a savour of simple piety, especially when he praised the Mother of God whom he honoured with a singular love and devotion. But the greatest praise of John is that he was the first to arrange in order a complete course of theology, thus preparing the way in which St. Thomas Aquinas has so clearly dealt with the whole body of sacred doctrine. This holy man, full of days and good works, fell asleep in the peace of Christ about the year 754. Pope Leo XII. declared him to be a Doctor of the Church, and ordered his office and mass to be said throughout the world."
O champion of the holy Images, obtain for us as the Church asks of thee, that we may imitate the virtues and experience the aid of those whom we see thus represented. The image directs our veneration and our prayers to those to whom they are due, to Christ the King and to the saints, who are the princes of His army and the most valiant of His soldiers, for is right that the King should share with His army the honours of His triumph. The image is the book of those who cannot read, and even the learned may gain more from an instant's gazing at an eloquent picture than from the prolonged study of many volumes. The world of the Christian artist is not only an act of religion but also an apostolate; thus it is easy to understand the opposition raised by hell....We unite ourselves with thee, O glorious saint, in thy warfare against the devil, and cry: 'Get thee behind us, Satan, with that envy which will not suffer us to look upon the image of Our Lord and thus be sanctified. Thou wilt not permit us to contemplate those sufferings which were the source of our salvation, to admire the gracious condescension of our God, to recognize and praise the power displayed in His miracles. Thou art envious of the saints and of the glory they have received from God, and wilt not have us contemplate this glory, lest the sight inspire us to imitate their courage and their faith. Thou canst not endure the thought that our confidence in them will profit us both in soul and body. We will not follow thee, O jealous demon, thou enemy of mankind' [St. John Damascene, On Holy Images, iii.3.]...."

"...Lead us from the feasts of our exile -- the Pasch of time -- through the Red Sea and the desert to the eternal feast where all images of earth will vanish before the realities of heaven, where all knowledge will pass into vision, where reigns in glory the queen who inspired thy song, Mary, the mother of us all."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

St. Joseph, Our Confidence, by St. Alphonsus Liguori

Statue of St. Joseph and the Christ Child, taken from Rorate Caeli

[The following is taken from "The Glories of St. Joseph," compiled by the Monks of St. Joseph's Abbey in Flavigny, France.]

"St. Bernardine of Siena used to say: 'There is not doubt about it; in Heaven, Jesus Christ not only continues to show St. Joseph every sign of the familiarity and respect which He showed him during His life on earth, as Son to father, but adds to them with fresh honors.' Notice these two words: familiarity and respect. The Lord, who on earth honored St. Joseph as a father, will certainly not refuse him anything he asks in Heaven."

"At this point we ought to add that St. Joseph had on earth no authority over the humanity of Jesus Christ as a natural father would have, though he did, in a certain sense, have authority over Him as husband of Mary, who had authority over Him as His natural Mother. Whoever has the right to a tree, also has the right to the fruit it bears. Consequently, on earth, Jesus Christ used to respect Joseph and obey him as His superior, and it follows that St. Joseph's prayers in Heaven are treated as orders by Jesus Christ. This is Gerson's thought: 'When a father prays to his son,' he says, 'his prayers truly are commands.'"

"Now let us listen to what St. Bernard has to say about St. Joseph's intercessory power on behalf of his supplicants: 'There are some saints who have the power of protecting in certain specific circumstances; but St. Joseph has been granted the power to help us in every kind of need, and to defend all who have recourse to him with pious dispositions.'"

"That was how St. Bernard put it; St. Teresa [of Avila] confirms his opinion from her own experience and tells us: 'It would seem that God has only granted the other saints power to help us in one kind of necessity; but experience shows that St. Joseph can help in every kind of need.'"

"There is no doubt about it; just as Jesus Christ wanted to be subject to Joseph on earth, so He does everything the saint asks of Him in Heaven. When Egypt was laid waste by the great famine, Pharaoh told his people, Ite ad Joseph! -- Go to Joseph! So if we are in trouble, let us listen to the word of the Lord and take Pharaoh's advice; let us go to Joseph if we wish to be consoled."

"It is quite certain that those who invoke him most frequently and with greater trust will receive more graces. So we should let no day pass without recommending ourselves several times to St. Joseph, who, after Our Lady, is among the saints the one who has the greatest influence with God. We should ask favors of him, for he will obtain them all for us, provided they benefit our souls. Above all, I most strongly urge you to ask him for three special graces: forgiveness for sins, love of Jesus Christ, and a happy death."

Go, then to Joseph, and do all that he shall say to you;
Go to Joseph, and obey him as Jesus and Mary obeyed him;
Go to Joseph, and speak to him as They spoke to him;
Go to Joseph, and consult him as They consulted him;
Go to Joseph, and honor him as They honored him;
Go to Joseph, and be grateful to him as They were grateful to him;
Go to Joseph, and love him, as They love him still.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Rosary Vigil at Georgetown University

Sometime late in the week of 15 February 2009, a statue of Our Lady of Fatima at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, which was a gift of the class of 1950, was vandalized. Black paint was applied to its face during the overnight hours (see a picture of the vandalism here). As soon as the damage was discovered, the university took steps to immediately repair the damage.

Several Georgetown student groups (including the Georgetown Catholic Daughters, Georgetown Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Student Association of Georgetown ) responded to the sacrilegious vandalism by holding a 24-hour Rosary Vigil from the evening of 26 February to the evening of 27 February. At least five decades of the Rosary were prayed every hour for the 24 hours, with an hour dedicated to a different mystery of the Rosary. Other Marian prayers and devotions also took place, as well as silent time for meditation.

I traveled to Georgetown on the evening of the 26th. It was only the second time in my life that I had been on the campus. After parking my car nearby, I walked to the Copley Lawn, where the statue is located. A group of undergraduate women were praying in front of the statue when I got there. People had lit numerous candles in front of the statue. There was also a bouquet of roses that had been place at the foot of the pedestal of the statue. It was a sight to behold, between the exterior beauty of the candlelight shining on the statue and the interior beauty of the students praying.

I ended up spending over an hour there, leading a Rosary, and standing by as students and other people came and went. I also lead a Marian devotion known as the Little Crown of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which I had just learned. A young Jesuit priest from nearby Holy Trinity parish came by and prayed with us. His devotion to the Blessed Mother was quite apparent.

It was really good to see that the statue had been more or less cleaned up by the time of the vigil. According to the Georgetown University website, they held an official rededication of the statue on 4 March.

The student groups had set up a table nearby on the lawn, which had assorted snacks for those taking part in the vigil, as well as materials about Our Lady from the Knights of Columbus, as well as free Rosaries. They also had additional candles that people could bring over and light in front of the statue.

It was an honor to participate in the vigil, and in my personal opinion, the vigil was a sign that Georgetown's Catholic identity is far from dead.