Monthly Archives: October 2010

Today marks the feast of Saints Crispin and Crispian, brothers who were martyred by beheading in Rome sometime during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (emperor from 284-305 AD).  

That the saints lived is certainly true. The story of these brothers, however, comes to us from a late account that has little to suggest it’s authenticity. Generally, though, we know them to be from Rome, to have worked in Soissons, Gaul (now France), and to have been shoemakers thus earning them the title of patrons for shoemakers, cobblers, and those who work with leather.  

The tale is that these two brothers, perhaps twins of noble blood, caught up in the zealous care for their faith and in love for Christ, left Rome in the 3rd century in order to spread the Gospel in Gaul. They took up the trade of the shoemaker and would not charge the poor who requested their services. By their example, and not, it seems,by any grand preaching, these two were good witnesses to the faith and converted many. When Maximian was appointed co-emperor in 285 and came to Gaul, the brothers were accused and brought before a character named Rictiovarus, whom we don’t exactly know existed but whose seathing hatred for Christians is legendary. At any rate, they were tortured mercilessly, but when the attempt to kill the saintly brothers through drowning and burning  failed,  Rictiovarus was driven into such a desperate fury that he threw himself into the fire prepared for the brothers thus killing himself. Eventually, Crispin and Crispian were beheaded which is a very effective way of killing someone…unless you’re St. Winifred, in which case that might not always work.  


There are several things I’d like to draw out about these saints. The first is that it was on this day 595 years ago (1415) that King Henry V led his horribly outnumbered English army into battle against the French at Agincourt, the battle so wonderfully remember today for the speech written by Shakespeare in Henry V, a version of which can be seen below with Kenneth Branagh.  

The second thing is this, brought out in an edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, namely that Sts. Crispin and Crispian are a wonderful reminder that sanctity is not only for the cloistered hermit who has removed himself from society. These two never embarked on some large speaking tour throughout Gaul. They did not write any large tomes explicating the faith for the masses. They are not known for levitating or bilocation or magically producing shoes no one today can replicate with all our modern technology. No, they were simply saintly shoemakers. They were holy artisans is all, and this is a good thing. In this way they are almost the perfect patron saints for laborers, heroes of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  

I’m reminded of a line from the Part I Chapter 3 of St. Francis de Sales’ classic Introduction to the Devout Life where he says:  

It is an error, nay more, a very heresy, to seek to banish the devout life from the soldier’s guardroom, the mechanic’s workshop, the prince’s court, or the domestic hearth. Of course a purely contemplative devotion, such as is specially proper to the religious and monastic life, cannot be practised in these outer vocations, but there are various other kinds of devotion well-suited to lead those whose calling is secular, along the paths of perfection. The Old Testament furnishes us examples in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David, Job, Tobias, Sarah, Rebecca and Judith; and in the New Testament we read of St. Joseph, Lydia and Crispus, who led a perfectly devout life in their trades:–we have S. Anne, Martha, S. Monica, Aquila and Priscilla, as examples of household devotion, Cornelius, S. Sebastian, and S. Maurice among soldiers;–Constantine, S. Helena, S. Louis, the Blessed Amadaeus, 2 and S. Edward on the throne. And we even find instances of some who fell away in solitude,– usually so helpful to perfection,–some who had led a higher life in the world, which seems so antagonistic to it. S. Gregory dwells on how Lot, who had kept himself pure in the city, fell in his mountain solitude. Be sure that wheresoever our lot is cast we may and must aim at the perfect life.  

Sanctity can be found through the work which God has given us no matter what that might be. Indeed it is to be found in the guardroom, in the shop, in the court, in the home. This is the message of the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church. Sanctity and evangelization can be found through the labor of everyday life. It is less what you do than the way you do it, and the way to do anything is with the love of Christ.  

An interesting image from July 1870 edition of Harper's Weekly. Chinese laborers were seen as taking the jobs of American shoemakers. Click on the picture for a link to an 1888 article on the subject.


 Third, I want to point out that with saints whose stories are in doubt it can be tempting  to write them off as the incipient pap of bygone days. There are some who actually claim that the Church has managed its control over the laity throughout the centuries by inventing such stories. I’m not making that claim, but many are tempted to think that there never was such a saint, or that we cannot glean any lesson from them, or that, poor bumpkins that they were, those ignoramuses of the early years of the Church meant well if they weren’t always truthful. This sort of temptation is what Chesterton called “chronological snobbery.” Somehow we image that in our Enlightened age we appreciate truth much more than the people of the early centuries. This would be a terrible mistake.  

Stories do evolve over time, and tales can be embellished but we should never forget three things: first, that the stories were told because of some real event or real person, even if we don’t remember their name and even if our collective memories have gotten the details wrong. Second, the miraculous is not impossible. We believe in things seen and unseen, so why presume the fantastical must be unreal? Third, someone in heaven answers to the name of these saints in question. That’s what matters.  

Alright, well, Happy Sts. Crispin Crispian’s day. Listen to good King Harry rouse your heart, and then go save a soul for the Church…don’t go beat up a Frenchman.  



St. Paul of the Cross

I don’t know that I’ll ever forget my first reaction to the black habit of the Passionist Order. I was in Rome, studying at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, and I was immediately drawn to the vital simplicity of the sable habit with the curious patch. Perhaps I was taken rather by its novelty to me. I had not only never seen the habit before, but I don’t believe I had ever heard of the congregation, and I certainly had never heard of or was consciously aware of their founder St. Paul of the Cross whose feast it is today.

The obscurity of the Passionists is not all that surprising given their limited presence here in the United States. Though present since the mid 1800’s, they have not exactly taken off here, and today their Passionist Retreat centers can only be found in four cities, two in California, one in Texas, and the last in Michigan. Still, that they should be so obscure given the wonder of St. Paul of the Cross their founder is a shame.

St. Paul was born in Ovada in Genoa, Italy in 1694. It seems that from a very young age he displayed particular spiritual gifts, gifts which he shared with his younger brother John Baptist. From St. Paul’s fifteenth birthday onward, he was known to have eaten very little, slept little, and spent many hours in prayer.

The Passionists' Patch

After trying several times to lead a “normal” life he was convinced more than ever that he was called to a clerical vocation. In the summer of 1720 he was granted several visions that included a black habit with a patch of white characters that bore Christ’s name with the cross. In one vision he was told clearly by Our Lady that he was to found an order.

There were many fits and starts to this order whose proper full name is the Barefooted Clerks of the Holy Cross and Passion (C.P. in initials), and there were so many because the rule was so austere. The aim of the order was to provide missionary preaching for the Church with always the theme of Christ Crucified, their charism the constant meditation and communion with the Passion of Christ. The rule was, even by many saintly standards, quite extreme. St. Paul’s missions were hugely successful, bringing many souls to Christ and drawing a good number of young men to his order. They seldom lasted long. It wasn’t until 1741 that the order began to increase in size, and this was due in part to the stipulation of Pope Benedict XIV that the rules be lightened.

St. Paul of the Cross and his order became known throughout Italy for their preaching. Indeed St. Paul achieved quite the reputation. One soldier is recorded to have said,

Father, I have been in great battles without ever flinching at the cannon’s roar. But when I listen to you I tremble from head to foot.

However, if his preaching did not seem to be making the impact he felt it should, he would take to self-flagellation in a public area to repair for the sins of the people. At the sight of such a thing, even the most hard-hearted of men could be known to break down in tears and confess all they had done ill before the now-bloodied priest.

Such a story may seem odd to us today. In our oh-so-dowdy conveniences we are quite sure that we can’t possibly engage in those sorts of sacrifices anymore. How old-fashioned of St. Paul, no? Or perhaps we are tempted to think that St. Paul of the Cross was a bit of a mental case? Who would do such a thing after all? But why should it be so? What does Christ’s Cross mean to us now if St. Paul of the Cross was over the top, extreme, zealous beyond prudence?

The Suffering God St. Paul Loved

Which is not to say that such austerities are for everyone, or anyone. I certainly don’t trust myself and my level of discernment capability in order to treat my body this way, but St. Paul had regularly high moments of contemplative prayer wherein he communed with the Godhead. Why should that not be what he discerned properly? We learned not too long ago that Pope John Paul the Great would also occasionally engage in self-flagellation. Was he mentally unstable? More importantly, for certainly good St. Paul of the Cross and John Paul the Great are beyond caring what our opinions are, what does all of this mean for us?

St. Paul of the Cross wrote this once in one of his letters,

It is very good and holy to consider the passion of our Lord, and to meditate on it, for by this sacred path we reach union with God. In this most holy school we learn true wisdom, for it was there that all the saints learned it.

Therefore, be constant in practicing every virtue, and especially in imitating the patience of our dear Jesus, for this is the summit of pure love. Live in such a way that all may know that you bear outwardly as well as inwardly the image of Christ crucified, the model of all gentleness and mercy. For if a man is united inwardly with the Son of the living God, he also bears his likeness outwardly by his continual practice of heroic goodness, and especially through a patience reinforced by courage, which does not complain either secretly or in public. Conceal yourselves in Jesus crucified, and hope for nothing except that all men be thoroughly converted to his will.

Is this not the height of perspicacity? Is this not the very same advice one ought to hear from a saint? Does this sound like the ravings of a mad man?

St. Paul of the Cross’ mandate from our Lady came to full fruition in 1769 when Pope Clement XIV gave the order final approval. St. Paul then proceeded to seek the erection of a Passionist order of women. He worked tirelessly, but passed before he could see the nuns in their habits.

St. Paul died on October 18, 1775, but as this is the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, it was transferred to April 28th. It was transferred to October 19th as a result of the Vatican reforms of the last century.

I would encourage everyone on this day of St. Paul of the Cross to consider Christ crucified. Leave out the dimpled child of the manger. Ignore the kindly prophet of the mount. Forget, for the moment mind you, the risen king bedecked with the glory of heavenly esteem. Do this, and concentrate on the man on the tree, quivering in pain, solicitous of nothing more from us but the acknowledgment that we do love Him for all he suffers for us.

I cannot refrain from adding some minor points of interest about St. Paul of the Cross. Since his visions about founding the order he knew that a particular charism for him and the order would be to pray for the conversion of England. What with the beatification of Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, I think good St. Paul is quite pleased. So keep up those prayers. They’re working.

Basilica of Saints John and Paul

Another thing is this, upon the death of the young brother John Baptist in 1765, the brother who remained by St. Paul’s side at all times, Pope Clement XIV granted the basilica of Saints John and Paul to the Passionist Order to memorialize the great relationship between the two brothers John and Paul. It is there that St. Paul of the Cross is buried, and it is this basilica which since 1946 has been the titular basilica of the Cardinal priest of New York. And it was also in this basilica that some interior scenes for the 1983 film The Scarlet and the Black were shot. Starring Gregory Peck as Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty, the film is the true story of an American priest who worked against the Nazis during the German occupation of Rome. In the end, with the failure of the Third Reich, the German Captain who sought to kill the Msgr. ended up asking the cleric to help move his family out of Rome in safety. The Msgr. did so and visited the Captain in prison after the war. The Captain eventually repented of his crimes and became Catholic.


I want to use the following quote from Henri de Lubac’s Paradoxes of Faith in order to occasion the explanation of the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church and the distribution of wealth, yes another post on that. So here’s the de Lubac quote:

We would be more indulgent with one another, indeed, we would have more mutual love and admiration if from early on were inculcated in us the principle of the division of labor and all its consequences: division of talents, of tastes, of vocations, of orientations, of habits and all sorts of other qualities. Dialogue among us would not then be less serious, rather more peaceful. Spontaneously we would then make efforts to reach a common goal. We would then see that the Creator’s gifts to human nature are in practice irreconcilable in individual members of the human race. And we would find beauty in this in spite of all the questions, uncertainties, mutual difficulties and conflicts involved, because we would also have mutual respect and trust with an eye to a richer, subtler, and really rewording harmony. pg. 157-8

This, I would argue, is the very definition of the Social Doctrine principle of solidarity coupled with the principle of the universal destination of goods, and I want to apply it to the question of the distribution of property.

First, let me say that I am not going to go into the question of how property is distributed. This is because the Church is not exactly clear on this beyond that the state has a role, personal ownership is to be encouraged, and that the principle of subsidiarity must always be respected. ALWAYS! This means, therefore, that when you see the phrase “distribution of property” you simply may not assume that I or the Church mean the same thing as, say, Karl Marx. This is not Marxism, which has been roundly condemned by the Church over, and over, and over again.

St. Luke painting Our Lady by Marten de Vos

Now onto my larger point: what de Lubac is saying is that we can alleviate society of contention by the emphasis on the “division of labor” and the interdependence of all people. The education in the division of labor leads us to the inevitable realization that all the gifts of the Creator cannot have been given to just one individual. This seems obvious, but what does this mean in the end?

Well, it means that for all the brilliance of an artist, a laborer who has truly poured out their very personhood into that which they produce rightly making it theirs, despite this fact, someone made his brush; someone made his paints; someone invented the technology for the light bulb that shone over his work; someone flips the switch at the power plant that provides for the heat in his studio as he works; the work of the artist was made possible by the work of hundreds of thousands of other souls who have done their work well before the artist was a glimmer in his parents eyes.

While it is absolutely true that the individual can claim the fruit of their labor as their own, it is not true that this is an absolute claim, for the very simple reason that many hands go into producing the conditions that make one’s labor possible and thus the fruit.

Thomas Edison

What’s more, the labor of previous generations that makes our private property possible today is not just some static event in the past. It is not just that Thomas Edison improved the light bulb that makes what I’m doing now possible, typing away as I am on a computer, but that this invention of his has been preserved over time. We are able to do what we do because of the labor of people right now…and now…and now…and, yes, now. There is a constancy about the labor that makes my private property possible. There are the human forces of will and memory that are engaged at every turn of every day that allow all of us to own the things we do. The labor that makes the beer I’m drinking possible is indeed a “division of talents, of tastes, of vocations, of orientations, of habits and all sorts of other qualities.”

The self-made man is a myth. And the notion that our private property is ours because we are the sole cause of its coming into existence is a fallacy. We are not our own.

Self-Made Man

Private property is defended by the Church for reasons that have to do with the extension of our personality, yes. But ultimately private property is about the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which for a Catholic means sanctity. Those things that we own that do not directly lend towards life, liberty, and sanctity are less ours than we would like to think. Once we begin to understand this, then, the distribution of property, which must begin with us, can happen all at once and without governmental force.

For now, we can just hope with Henri de Lubac for a “really rewarding harmony” amongst men, but our hope must turn into faith and that faith ought to animate action in love, which always bring us back to Christ Jesus. We can look for grand schemes in the Social Doctrine of the Church, ways and means to bring about some Christic Utopia. But this is not the point. The point is to introduce, foster, and cultivate the love of Christ so that, again as de Lubac desires, we might have “more mutual love and admiration.”


St. Bruno by Jean Antoine Houdon

The vicissitudes of history do produce remarkable results. We can in some moments see the meetings of great saints all in one, fleeting moment of time’s plodding expanse. I am speaking about the life of St. Bruno (1030-1101) whose feast we celebrate today.

The Church in St. Bruno’s time was, quite simply, a mess. During Bruno’s lifetime the Church saw several popes and several more anti-popes. The Church saw the open persecution by political figures who claimed to be Catholic but who used the Church as a foil or a shield in order to advance political aims. The Church saw monks and priests who, with children to support, would unabashedly work to sell their spiritual “talents” to the marketplace, which is called simony. It saw the leading bishops of France reject the demands of the pope to excommunicate their King for open adultery. It saw a great deal of turmoil and many souls who had simply lost heart.

All the same, the Church in St. Bruno’s time was stupendously blessed by the likes of St. Robert of Citeaux, founder of the Cistercians, St. Hugh of Grenoble, who single-handedly reformed that diocese despite constant feelings of personal failure, St. Anselm of Canterbury, the founder of scholastic theology, and Blessed Pope Urban II, who called the first crusade and who succeeded in confirming the reforms of the clergy so desperately needed by the Church.

Carthusian Monk at Grande Chartreuse

St. Bruno was no slouch either, of course. He is the founder of the Carthusian order which still exists to this day and is the only ancient order (1,000 years counts as “ancient” in my book) that has never been reformed or that’s needed it. You can see his legacy in the astounding film Into Great Silence which came out as a documentary in 2005. It is a stunning piece of film-making that ought to be required viewing for any Catholic or someone thinking about becoming Catholic. In this little corner of the world, men still sit, stand, kneel in silent prayer communing with Our Lord Jesus Christ. The trailer is found below.

At any rate, what is so delightful about St. Bruno is the nonchalance of his zeal, his off-handed heroism. A bright man, well educated at Rheims, he taught and eventually became the head of the college at Rheims for upwards of twenty years. All the while he longed to leave and be alone with Christ. He was raised to the position of chancellor of the diocese, which he took, but which involved working with a totally corrupt bishop. He did his duty, but eventually spoke out against the bishop. All the while he longed to leave and be alone with Christ.

He eventually did get the chance to leave and with six companions visited St. Hugh of Grenoble who had had a dream about the seven travelers who visited him. St. Hugh gave them the desert of Chartreuse, a cold, isolated place in the mountains of southern France covered most of the year by snow. St. Bruno loved it.

La Grande Chartreuse in winter

He stayed there with his brother monks. They lived, in the Camaldolese tradition, in separate cells, more like huts really. They gathered together only for prayer twice a day, Matins and Vespers, but would not speak to each other. On high holy days, they would eat together and converse. Their labor was to do not much else but to pray and copy books. Imagine that. They just prayed – in silence unless it was one of the two hours of communal prayer – and copied books.

Poor St. Bruno only lasted six years there before a former student of his who just happened to be Blessed Pope Urban II asked him to come and help him in Rome, and there was a great deal of work to be done. St. Bruno complied. All the while, though, he longed to leave and be alone with Christ. It was because of Pope Urban’s request, however, that St. Bruno’s Carthusian order, named after Chartreuse, spread to Italy and beyond. The pope eventually allowed Bruno to set up another house in Calabria on land generously given by Roger, Grand Duke of Sicily, who would later visit the monastery often in order to live and pray with the monks. But there in Calabria, Bruno wrote his friends back in Chartreuse about how to live their lives and how to deal with certain problems. Though never setting out to found an order, and never having written a Rule, he fathered a way of Christian living which Cardinal Bona called

the great miracles of the world: men living in the flesh as out of the flesh; the angels of the earth, representing John the Baptist in the wilderness; the greatest ornament of the Church; eagles soaring up to Heaven whose state is justly preferred to the institutes of all other religious orders.

St. Bruno was finally with Christ, alone in the valley of Calabria at last. He died on October 6, 1101, and his last words were faithfully taken down.

St. Bruno and St. Hugh with The Virgin Mother and Himself

One of the funny little bits of St. Bruno’s story is that he’s never been formally canonized. The Carthusians – proper monks that they are – never wanted to bring attention to themselves, so they never petitioned. It was only until 1514 that they asked Pope Leo X if they could celebrate his death as a feast, and 1674 that Clement X extended the feast to the whole Church.

At any rate, St. Bruno is an example to us of the kind of simple heart that desires little more than a child does in the middle of the night as they lay in the dark. Bruno desired only his Father and the Mother of God, Our Lady. He yearned merely for a moment at their side so that he might whisper in their ears how much he loved them and perhaps for a small embrace in the darkness to know that he was still treasured.

Bruno did all that needed to be done during his life, fulfilling every wish put to him. But all along he wished to leave and be alone with Christ, in the brilliant silence of love’s everlasting hope, and thank God he did.


St. Francis of Assisi

Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. As hands down one of the most popular, if not the most popular saint of all time, St. Francis enjoys a kind of universally recognized goodness from all corners. This is in part due to the fact that many are ignorant of him, misappropriate him, and lie about him. A 2006 movie on St. Francis has him decrying his merchant father’s labor violations. In one scene, while imprisoned for stealing his father’s things, Francis is talking to a fellow inmate who sneaked a vernacular Bible into prison – because of course as we all know the evil Roman Church imprisoned people for translating Bibles. Anyway, the inmate shares the Bible with Francis who reads the Gospels “for the first time.” A 2007 film bearing the St. Francis’ name is supposedly pornographic. I haven’t seen it, but the cover is suggestive to say the least.

Some of St. Francis’ popularity is due to his being seen as the Christian version of Pan the god of the woods, that mischievous, ever-youthful god that pretty much fulfills every undergrad dream of being able to party all night with no repercussions. Many turn the Italian saint into little more than a pagan merely dampened by the waters of baptism. He’s a tree hugger, a vegetarian, an eco-radical, and probably a follower of Ché only Francis sweetly wears a cross around his neck. He’s the socialist with a Beatles’ haircut – rarely is he depicted with the tonsure. He’s a poet who in the 60’s would have been dropping acid with the best of them. But St. Francis understood better than anyone that the ancient and dark gods of merriment and base living lead only to the liar who is quick to quit the scene when the repercussions of irresponsible living do come.

If we must have an analogy for St. Francis, let’s call him the new troubadour who’s songs told of the deepest love, the earth-shattering love for which every young heart yearns , that love that drives a man to the grandest achievements and the most vulnerable risks, a love that can only be found in love for Christ Jesus and in denying ones’ self for His sake. Here is the great romance in Francis’ life. It is not with St. Clare – as some renditions of his life would make it. It is with Our Lord.But St. Francis’ love was not the closed, myopic and adolescent love of the Twilight variety. His love for Christ made him sacrifice for the Church, Christ’s bride. It was St. Francis, remember, who was to rebuild the Church.

The Stigmatizing of St. Francis by Caravaggio

This diminutive Italian whom we celebrate today gave himself up for the Bride-Church, forgoing temptations of lust by, on one occasion, thrusting himself into a bush of thorns. Men these days find it difficult to just turn off the computer. Francis ate sparingly. This was not out of respect for the animals around him. He didn’t fear violating their animal rights. He fasted for the chance to draw himself closer to the suffering Christ on the cross. Few seem to remember that Francis had attempted to go off to war, to fight in the Crusades before having to return home, or that he met with the Sultan in order to convert him or die trying. Apart from the questions of the just war, St. Francis was not the modern man or the ancient Pan. He was a zealot in all the terribly non-tolerant and dogmatic overtones that zealotry involves. St. Francis was a stigmatist, mystically bearing the very signs of that crucifixion on his own body.  This is how much he loved Christ…even unto death to self.

This is, of course, why we turn to St. Francis’ example, and what an example St. Francis gives us in this time. Consider what G.K. Chesterton had to say about St. Francis in his biography of the saint:

What had happened to the human imagination, as a whole, was that the whole world was colored by dangerous and rapidly deteriorating passions; by natural passions becoming unnatural passions. Thus the effect of treating sex as only one innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing became soaked and sodden with sex. For sex cannot be admitted to a mere equality among elementary emotions or experiences like eating and sleeping. The moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant. There is something dangerous and disproportionate in its place in human nature, for whatever reason; and it does really need a special purification and dedication. The modern talk about sex being free like any other sense, about the body being beautiful like any tree or flower, is either a description of the Garden of Eden or a piece of thoroughly bad psychology, of which the world grew weary two thousand years ago.

Sex is a sacred thing, which ought to be respected for what it is. It is sacred, though, not because of its carnal, baser elements. This is what makes it sacred to the corner-store Shivas and the pimps of Hollywood, in part because they can make money off of it. It is sacred because of the unique beauty of the human person. It is sacred because of the fundamental dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God. St. Francis knew this and lived it in so far a superior a fashion that centuries after his death we still celebrate his example of pious love for life, a love that translated into the embrace of a leaper.

So today I say fie on Don Juan, on the leading men of the silver screen and on the peddlers of pornography. Today celebrate St. Francis as the greatest lover of all time, and know that he is so because of his willingness to become like unto Christ.

St. Francis Holding up the Church by Giotto