Advent and the Prologue

Advent has come once more, bringing with it a new liturgical year. In a sense, we start afresh, partaking yet again of the graces given to us by “Christ in His mysteries”, as Bl. Columba Marmion was wont speak of the events in Our Lord’s life. In the parlance of the Desert Fathers, it is time “to make a beginning”.

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Since becoming a novice oblate and reading the Holy Rule regularly I have come to see Advent as the season which best embodies the Prologue. From the first Epistle reading of the season we have St. Paul calling us to arise:

Understand, for it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we came to believe.

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Set a watch, O LORD, before my keyboard

Certain events over the last couple of weeks seem to have coalesced to bring about this post. Some time ago we received Father Prior’s “Benedictine Approach to the Use of the Internet & Social Media“; shortly thereafter our reading of the Introduction to the Devout Life brought us to the chapters on conversations and detractions; this past week saw some celebrations of the vetus ordo at the Fatima shrine, the main celebrant being a well known American cardinal. The flood of invective on Portuguese social media on the part of the laity and, even worse, priests has brought all the more to mind St. Benedict, St. Francis de Sale and Father Prior’s words on silence.

Perhaps it is the age we are living in, or perhaps it is just my impression, but it seems that we live in a time when most people seem to be very opinionated and they make a fact of letting everyone know their opinions whether others want to know them or not. Yet looking to the Holy Rule for guidance, what does the Holy Patriarch have to say about much speaking? In Chapter VI, after quoting the Scriptures St. Benedict puts the matter quite succinctly:

[I]f at times we ought to refrain from useful speech for the sake of silence, how much more ought we to abstain from evil words on account of the punishment due to sin.

While the Rule is essentially directed at those living the cenobitic life, general rules can be taken from it that can be applied to the lives of those of us living in the world, as D. Mark Kirby shows the aforementioned commentary. One of the verses of Sacred Scripture that I am most reminded of is

In the multitude of words there shall not want sin: but he that refraineth his lips is most wise. (Prov 10:19)

Looking back at St. Benedict’s injunction to refrain from talking even for “useful speech” through the lens of Proverbs 10:19, I can look back at everyday situations in my life where conversations (be they in person or online) that start out innocent enough many times slowly begin to degrade: a complaint is made here, a fault of another is revealed there, and the conversation suddenly snowballs, leading either one or both parties to murmuring, sinning against charity, etc. And this is not even when the conversation has started off maliciously! On those occasions where one happens to be caught in a situation of gossip, I have found that if one doesn’t extract oneself immediately then one is easily sucked into a whirlpool of complaint, detraction, etc., even if one was initially unwilling to join in at all.

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Christ the King

Today was the feast of Christ the King for those of us following the vetus ordo calendar. To be honest, it is not a feast I ever really gave any serious consideration to either on the vetus or novus calendars. This year, however, for whatever reason, the feast has merited a bit more of my attention. This post will be a collection of lose thoughts about what we are commemorating today.

I suspect that the annual threefold reading of the Holy Rule might have something to do with the feast’s grabbing my attention as in the Prologue our Holy Patriarch says that those who submit to it take up arms “to battle for Christ the Lord, the true King”; later on in the Rule he mentions the acceptance of good monks from other monasteries because they “all serve one Lord and fight under one King everywhere”; the Kingdom of God is mentioned throughout the Rule, a kingdom that must be fought for.

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I must say that for a long time I understood this feast of Christ the King as just an “eschatological” feast, pointing to Chirst’s Parousia, His Second Coming, when He shall come as Judge to “judge the living and the dead and the age by fire” [this ending of quite a few prayers of exorcism has always stuck in my head]. Yet lately I’ve found myself wondering about the “immediate” implications of Chirst’s kingship, of what that means for us while we’re in the world. The Epistle reading today mentions:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers. All things have been created through and unto Him, and He is before all creatures, and in Him all things hold together. [..]He, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the first place. For it has pleased [God the Father] that in Him all fullness should dwell […]

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On the Daily Manual Labour (III)

This past Sunday saw the conclusion of chapter 48 of the Holy Rule, which treats of daily manual labour. As the old adage says “idleness is the devil’s playground”; in this chapter the holy patriarch sets about regulating the monks’ time with work and sacred reading for the hours that  they are not engaged with the opus Dei.

The concluding section discusses what the monks are to do on Sunday. The monks, says St. Benedict, are to dedicate themselves especially to reading, though the holy father does allow for human weakness and assigns some task for those who are unable or unwilling to read, though nothing too burdensome.

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The question of how to sanctify Sunday has been on my mind quite a bit these past few years, especially since becoming a novice oblate. In my current place of employment it is not always possible to have Sunday off. Even formerly living and working in a nominally Catholic country, I was expected to work Sundays. It is a sign of the times when one requests Sundays off for the reason that Sunday became a “day of rest” and sees that request denied time and time again. Nowadays it seems to me to almost be a privilege to have Sundays off. Either you have the right job or you have to toil on the Lord’s Day. Mammon must get his due. Welcome to post-Christian society. When did we Christians become so complacent that even Sunday rest was taken from us? When one is in a position where one is obliged to work Sundays, is that something one must simply resign to, or should one be vocal about it? When you have small children and try to instill in them some notion of the sacredness of Sunday, how do you explain to them the fact that you have to work?

What exactly does it mean to sanctify the Lord’s day? The day is His; He has given it to us to enter into His rest. It is a day when we are to give the Lord His due, even more so than any other day of the week. It is a day of worship. I know many for whom that simply means going to Mass, ticking off the box, and that is it; afterwards, business as usual. Yet is that all there is to it?
Is Sunday for my convenience, or is it for the Lord? Over the past few years we have tried to avoid as much as possible anything of the weekly, mundane routine, especially shopping. We try to have a special lunch on Sundays as well. It is immensely convenient to go shopping on Sundays, particularly on those that I don’t work, but is that in keeping with the spirit of the law? Is there anything so important that it can’t be put off for one day? Is Sunday a day for secular entertainment?
Is just going to Mass enough? Do I go to Mass at my convenience, or do I make it the central part of the day, orienting the rest by it? My wife and I, being novice oblates, try to at least say Vespers together (sadly, no one offers solemn Vespers near us) on the Sundays that I do not have to work.
I don’t think it was by chance that St. Benedict chose Psalm 118 for the Little Hours of Sunday in the Benedictine Office. This Psalm is a panegyric to the Law, to the Torah, and we Catholics see it apply to the Torah Incarnate, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps here is a good place to start, to meditate on the meaning of keeping the Lord’s day holy.

This is all still relatively new to us, and we are still trying to figure it out, trying to figure what works best for the family as well. I would like to hear from any of my readers, to know what you do to sanctify Sunday.

Guardian Angel

June 10th is the feast of the Guardian Angel of Portugal. For those familiar with the story of Fatima, the Guardian Angel of Portugal appeared to the young shepherds, as a way of preparing them for Our Lady’s visit. Providentially, this centenary the feast has fallen on a Saturday, a day liturgically dedicated to Our Lady.

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Historically, the Guardian Angel of Portugal has always been believed to be St. Michael, who is also referred to in the Liturgy as the Angel of Peace (another title which the Angel of Portugal identified himself with). So, there is the pious belief that the young shepherds actually saw St. Michael! I leave you with the Collect of the votive Mass of the Guardian Angel of Portugal, as found in the Bragan missal:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui angelicam custodiam homini et hominum regnis, provinciis, et civitatibus contulisti:concede propitius; ut nostri regni ac civitatis praesul et custos, Angelus tuus sanctus ipsum totum regnum ac cives ab instantibus periculis corporis et animae et ab omnibus adversitatibus protegat et defendat. Per Dominum.

For the children

Since last year we have bought a couple of these magnets every time we visit Fatima. I think we probably enjoy them more than the kids! Here are the one’s we have so far:

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Left to right: St. Benedict (a well known Portuguese image, S. Bento da Porta Aberta); St. Anthony of Lisbon; St. Jude; St. Christopher; St. Therese of the Holy Face
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Left to right: Our Lady of Fatima; Senhor dos Milagres; Our Lady of Sameiro (which is actually of the Immaculate Conception); St. Michael the Archangel

Pilgrimage

While on holiday back home I decided that, being the centenary, it was a good occasion to go on pilgrimage to Fatima. For several reasons the family could not accompany me so, as head of the family, I did the pilgrimage on their behalf as well.

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The pilgrimage took up all of one morning, as my wife’s city is not that far from Fatima. As traveling companions I had my Monastic Diurnal, a rosary, and a branch for a walking stick (and protection as well – lot’s of stray dogs on the way!). After praying the Itinerarium I set off. It took me about an hour to get to the city outskirts, out in the countryside. Once out there it was just the sounds of nature and the occasional automobile. Living in a big city and in a very small house with two little children, one doesn’t have many opportunities for complete silence during the day. The silence was like a breath of fresh air. You might say it was a very Marian/”Fatimite” pilgrimage. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so many consecutive rosaries in all my life! At the churches on the way, I would stop to make a “pilgrimage of the altars” (a somewhat forgotten practice in Portugal which, from what I’ve read, is of Benedictine origin), as well as visit the Blessed Sacrament to pray the prayers taught by the Angel of Portugal. One can still find many “Alminhas” – shrines to the Holy Souls in Purgatory – on the country roads; prayers were offered for them as well. When I finally arrived at Fatima I went to Mass at the basilica. After Mass I went to pray at the tombs of the “new” saints, Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto. The ambiance in the basilica left much to be desired, however. Instead of being a place of silence, of recollection, of prayer, there was incessant chatter, people answering their mobiles during Mass… Around the tombs were groups of people, each person shoving and groping, trying to get a better view… There is a certain irony in the fact that while these groups were there to pay homage to two young saints who had a deep understanding and respect for the Blessed Sacrament, they showed such a nonchalant attitude, passing in front of the tabernacle with no acknowledgement whatsoever, and even going so far as to turn their back on it to take selfies…

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At the risk of sounding cliché, the pilgrimage was a very much a condensed version of one’s life, especially the Christian life. My companions – the Wood, symbolic of the Cross, there to support me and to be my protection if there was any danger; the Rosary, the “poor man’s psalter”, the recourse to constant prayer, to recollection. The silence gave one time to reflect on life, especially recent events, of vices overcome, of other ongoing battles, of occasions to be thankful for. The unforgiving heat and the upward paths provided more than enough penance and mortification, symbolic of the hardship and struggles in daily life. The mind would occasionally wander; at times the thought “what do you think you’re doing? Are you crazy? What do you hope to accomplish with this madness?” would race through my mind, like a pesky gnat buzzing around; at others, thoughts of the world would make me forget why I was on this pilgrimage. Always, it was necessary to return to prayer, to focus on what was being done and why. At the end of the road the Eucharist, the Communion of the Saints, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

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Alminhas

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Church of St. Catherine

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Tombs of St. Jacinta Marto and Bl. Lucia
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The tomb of St. Francisco Marto

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Lengthening of days

From today’s reading of the Prologue of the Holy Rule, the following was what most caught my attention:

And the days of this life are lengthened and a truce granted us for this very reason, that we may amend our evil ways.

As of late thoughts of this sort have been on my mind. Perhaps because I can see the passing of the years in my children, or the fact that this current year seems to be speeding by so quickly, or because it marks a decade since my return to the Mystical Bride of Christ, but the thought of running sand has been looming in the background of my thoughts and prayers.

Man’s days are as grass, as the flower of the field so shall he flourish. For the spirit shall pass in him, and he shall not be: and he shall know his place no more.

Ps. 102:15-16

How many years were lived in sin, oblivious to it all, squandering the great gift that had been given at my baptism? How many years passed with vices growing unchecked? Have I reached the halfway point of my years? Is there still time?

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While one may find a bit of solace in the idea that perhaps one is halfway through this mortal life and that there is still the same amount of years left to work out one’s salvation, to progress in the spiritual life, that might invite a spirit of sloth. There is no guarantee that it will not end tomorrow, or even today…

Just a few days ago the Prologue mentions the immediacy of the necessity of conversion: “Today if you hear His voice…”, “Run while you have the light of life…” Everyday one is called to convert because everyday one falls. Every day one begins anew. Sanctity is not bought cheaply.

And yet it is not just for myself, for my own salvation that I am worried, but for that of those whom have been entrusted to me as well: my wife and my children. The moment we became a family our salvation became intricately tied to one another: first as husband and wife, then as parents and children.

Is the preoccupation with “spiritual progress” a symptom of worldly thinking where everything needs to be gauged, because one needs to feel some accomplishment, some self-fulfillment? Or is it based on a Pelagian approach, where everything depends on me?

For those who feel like useless servants that cannot even put to use that single talent the Lord has entrusted to them, there is always the last tool of good works enumerated in the Holy Rule: Never to despair of the mercy of God.

Reading up on Fátima

Since my post on Fátima back in February I realized just how little I really knew about the apparitions. I suddenly remembered that an acquaintance of mine, who had known Sr. Lucia for a number of years, had recommend quite some time ago that I read the “Critical Documentation of Fátima” if I wished to know more.
I managed to find an abridged version (only 600+ pages), which still has a good quantity of eyewitness reports, the findings of the canonical commission that investigated the apparitions, etc. Reading it has made me appreciate Fátima; it has helped to put it in a new light.

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I think father prior would appreciate the liturgical providence associated with Fátima: the first apparition took place in May, and the final in October, both Marian months par excellence; the final apparition took place on a Saturday, the weekday associated with Mary. To further emphasize the liturgical providence, May 13th was initially the dedication of the basilica of Our Lady of the Martyrs in Lisbon, a rather important feast day in Lisbon (at the time Fátima was incorporated in the patriarchate of Lisbon). Those curious about the story of the basilica, and why it is so important, can easily find out by a quick internet search.
This was not the first time Our Lady had appeared near Fátima, as there is a story of her appearing to a shepherd girl in the 17th century during a famine (incidentally, Sr. Lucia’s mother recalled having told her daughter this story and was initially afraid that it might had affected her). Not too far from Fátima is the monastery of the Batalha, formerly a Dominican monastery dedicated to Our Lady of Victories.
I found in the documentation a prayer later approved by the bishop of Leiria. Our Lady is the Queen of Portugal – our first king dedicated in perpetuity all the realm and peoples in it to the blessed Virgin Mother, and after Portugal regained its independence from Spain in the 17th century the monarchs never wore a crown again, having donated it to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, proclaiming her as true queen of Portugal. This prayer is addressed to her as our Queen. It was written during the time of the 1st Republic, which tried to stamp out Catholicism, and so it is an appeal to her as Queen and Mother to rekindle the faith in her people. I post it here for those interested. It is a prayer well worth praying, especially on the eve of the centenary, when suddenly priests and bishops decide to come forward saying that the apparitions never took place (see here and here).

Virgem Imaculada, que pelo vosso santo Rosário extinguistes outrora
no seio da Igreja a nefasta heresia dos Albigenses, por ele libertastes a
cristandade do perigo muçulmano e robustecestes a piedade dos fiéis;
extingui também no povo português pela prática mais intensa da vossa
devoção os germens de morte que fazem definhar a sua Fé, libertai-o de
todos os perigos internos e externos que ameaçam a pureza de seus
costumes, fortalecei-o mais e mais, fazendo rejuvenescer nele o genuíno
espírito de piedade que no passado o fez um povo cristianíssimo,
fidelíssimo e evangelizador.
E já que por uma inefável prova de celestial predileção vos dignastes
visitar este povo que se ufana de ser vassalo vosso, mostrando-lhe dos
montes da Fátima quão caro é ao vosso Coração, não deixeis nunca,
Mãe amorosíssima, de o acalentar com esse mesmo amor de predileção.
Descansai sobre ele olhares de misericórdia, fazei-lhe sentir mais e mais
vossa suavíssima proteção e os doces atrativos do vosso Coração que
é coração de mãe.
Abençoai, ó Virgem Imaculada, a terra que vos dignastes visitar, atraí
a vós todos os portugueses, patenteai-lhes os tesoiros do vosso amor,
revelai-lhes os arcanos de vosso Coração materno, fazei de cada coração
português um órgão que vibre de amor por vós e de Portugal inteiro um
Santuário de amor que corresponda com seu filial afeto ao vosso carinho
maternal e assim mereça agora e sempre ser chamado – a Terra de
Santa Maria. – Assim seja.

Martírios

For the past few years I have particularly enjoyed this version (by the same choir that sung at our wedding and our children’s baptisms) of a traditional Portuguese Lenten hymn. Here is the refrain:

Padeceu grandes tormentos
Duros martírios na cruz
Morreu para nos salvar
Bendito seja Jesus

He suffered great torments;
Severe afflictions upon the Cross;
He died to save us;
Blessed be Jesus.

The hymn speaks of Jesus’ suffering for us out of love, but it focuses mainly on His Passion, describing the terrible suffering He underwent. I am not exactly sure in what context it was formerly sung: if in the Senhor dos Passos processions (which are a form of Via Crucis), or with the Ementação das Almas (a practice of praying for the Holy Souls of Purgatory at night during certain days of Lent, while also reminding the living to convert while there is time).