Most of this short sermon is taken from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica II.II 129 on Magnanimity. The ending account is from the Fioretti on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the basilica found in the picture above.
The near-death-experience and conversion of Gloria Polo has been read and heard by millions, both in person and on many websites. In fact, I believe it to be the greatest account of God’s forgiveness and transformative mercy in any modern person’s life.
Here I’m sharing what I believe to be the greatest ancient account of God’s forgiveness and transformative mercy. It is about a female sex-addict become a canonized saint, St. Mary of Egypt, and it is my favorite short biography of any saint outside the Bible. The following events are promised to be true by its author, St. Zosima. His account takes place in the 4th century, in the deserts of both Egypt and Jordan…
The Life of Our Holy Mother, St Mary of Egypt
By St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, 4th century
“It is good to hide the secret of a king, but it is glorious to reveal and preach the works of God.” (Tobit 12:7) So said the Archangel Raphael to Tobit when he performed the wonderful healing of his blindness.
Actually, not to keep the secret of a king is perilous and a terrible risk, but to be silent about the works of God is a great loss for the soul. And I (says St. Saphronius), in writing the life of St. Mary of Egypt, am afraid to hide the works of God by silence. Remembering the misfortune threatened to the servant who hid his God-given talent in the earth (Mat. 25:18-25), I am bound to pass on the holy account that has reached me. And let no one think (continues St. Saphronius) that I have had the audacity to write untruth or doubt this great marvel –may I never lie about holy things! If there do happen to be people who, after reading this record, do not believe it, may the Lord have mercy on them because, reflecting on the weakness of human nature, they consider impossible these wonderful things accomplished by holy people. But now we must begin to tell this most amazing story, which has taken place in our generation.
There was a certain elder in one of the monasteries of Palestine, a priest of the holy life and speech, who from childhood had been brought up in monastic ways and customs. This elder’s name was Zosimas. He had been through the whole course of the ascetic life and in everything he adhered to the rule once given to him by his tutors as regard spiritual labours. he had also added a good deal himself whilst labouring to subject his flesh to the will of the spirit. And he had not failed in his aim. He was so renowned for his spiritual life that many came to him from neighboring monasteries and some even from afar. While doing all this, he never ceased to study the Divine Scriptures. Whether resting, standing, working or eating food (if the scraps he nibbled could be called food), he incessantly and constantly had a single aim: always to sing of God, and to practice the teaching of the Divine Scriptures. Zosimas used to relate how, as soon as he was taken from his mother’s breast, he was handed over to the monastery where he went through his training as an ascetic till he reached the age of 53. After that, he began to be tormented with the thought that he was perfect in everything and needed no instruction from anyone, saying to himself mentally, “Is there a monk on earth who can be of use to me and show me a kind of asceticism that I have not accomplished? Is there a man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?”
Thus thought the elder, when suddenly an angel appeared to him and said:
“Zosimas, valiantly have you struggled, as far as this is within the power of man, valiantly have you gone through the ascetic course. But there is no man who has attained perfection. Before you lie unknown struggles greater than those you have already accomplished. That you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land like the renowned patriarch Abraham and go to the monastery by the River Jordan.”
Zosimas did as he was told. he left the monastery in which he had lived from childhood, and went to the River Jordan. At last he reached the community to which God had sent him. Having knocked at the door of the monastery, he told the monk who was the porter who he was; and the porter told the abbot. On being admitted to the abbot’s presence, Zosimas made the usual monastic prostration and prayer. Seeing that he was a monk the abbot asked:
“Where do you come from, brother, and why have you come to us poor old men?”
“There is no need to speak about where I have come from, but I have come, father, seeking spiritual profit, for I have heard great things about your skill in leading souls to God.”
“Brother,” the abbot said to him, “Only God can heal the infirmity of the soul. May He teach you and us His divine ways and guide us. But as it is the love of Christ that has moved you to visit us poor old men, then stay with us, if that is why you have come. May the Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for our salvation fill us all with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
After this, Zosimas bowed to the abbot, asked for his prayers and blessing, and stayed in the monastery. There he saw elders proficient both in action and the contemplation of God, aflame in spirit, working for the Lord. They sang incessantly, they stood in prayer all night, work was ever in their hands and psalms on their lips. Never an idle word was heard among them, they know nothing about acquiring temporal goods or the cares of life. But they had one desire — to become in body like corpses. Their constant food was the Word of God, and they sustained their bodies on bread and water, as much as their love for God allowed them. Seeing this, Zosimas was greatly edified and prepared for the struggle that lay before him.
Many days passed and the time drew near when all Christians fast and prepare themselves to worship the Divine Passion and Ressurection of Christ. The monastery gates were kept always locked and only opened when one of the community was sent out on some errand. It was a desert place, not only unvisited by people of the world but even unknown to them.
There was a rule in that monastery which was the reason why God brought Zosimas there. At the beginning of the Great Fast [on Forgiveness Sunday] the priest celebrated the holy Liturgy and all partook of the holy body and blood of Christ. After the Liturgy they went to the refectory and would eat a little lenten food.
Then all gathered in church, and after praying earnestly with prostrations, the elders kissed one another and asked forgiveness. And each made a prostration to the abbot and asked his blessing and prayers for the struggle that lay before them. After this, the gates of the monastery were thrown open, and singing, “The Lord is my light and my Savior; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 26:1) and the rest of that psalm, all went out into the desert and crossed the River Jordan. Only one or two brothers were left in the monastery, not to guard the property (for there was nothing to rob), but so as not to leave the church without Divine Service. Each took with him as much as he could or wanted in the way of food, according to the needs of his body: one would take a little bread, another some figs, another dates or wheat soaked in water. And some took nothing but their own body covered with rags and fed when nature forced them to it on the plants that grew in the desert.
After crossing the Jordan, they all scattered far and wide in different directions. And this was the rule of life they had, and which they all observed — neither to talk to one another, nor to know how each one lived and fasted. If they did happen to catch sight of one another, they went to another part of the country, living alone and always singing to God, and at a definite time eating a very small quantity of food. In this way they spent the whole of the fast and used to return to the monastery a week before the Resurrection of Christ, on Palm Sunday. Each one returned having his own conscience as the witness of his labour, and no one asked another how he had spent his time in the desert. Such were rules of the monastery. Everyone of them whilst in the desert struggled with himself before the Judge of the struggle — God — not seeking to please men and fast before the eyes of all. For what is done for the sake of men, to win praise and honour, is not only useless to the one who does it but sometimes the cause of great punishment.
Zosimas did the same as all. And he went far, far into the desert with a secret hope of finding some father who might be living there and who might be able to satisfy his thirst and longing. And he wandered on tireless, as if hurrying on to some definite place. He had already waled for 20 days and when the 6th hour came he stopped and, turning to the East, he began to sing the sixth Hour and recite the customary prayers. He used to break his journey thus at fixed hours of the day to rest a little, to chant psalms standing and to pray on bent knees.
And as he sang thus without turning his eyes from the heavens, he suddenly saw to the right of the hillock on which he stood the semblance of a human body. At first he was confused thinking he beheld a vision of the devil, and even started with fear. But, having guarded himself with the sign of the Cross and banished all fear, he turned his gaze in that direction and in truth saw some form gliding southwards. It was naked, the skin dark as if burned up by the heat of the sun; the hair on its head was white as a fleece, and not long, falling just below its neck. Zosimas was so overjoyed at beholding a human form that he ran after it in pursuit, but the form fled from him. He followed.
At length, when he was near enough to be heard, he shouted:
“Why do you run from an old man and a sinner? Slave of the True God, wait for me, whoever you are, in God’s name I tell you, for the love of God for Whose sake you are living in the desert.”
“Forgive me for God’s sake, but I cannot turn towards you and show you my face, Abba Zosimas. For I am a woman and naked as you see with the uncovered shame of my body. But if you would like to fulfil one wish of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak so that I can cover my body and can turn to you and ask for your blessing.”
Here terror seized Zosimas, for he heard that she called him by name. But he realized that she could not have done so without knowing anything of him if she had not had the power of spiritual insight.
He at once did as he was asked. He took off his old, tattered cloak and threw it to her, turning away as he did so. She picked it up and was able to cover at least a part of her body. The she turned to Zosimas and said:
“Why did you wish, Abba Zosimas, to see a sinful woman? What do you wish to hear or learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great struggles?” Zosimas threw himself on the ground and asked for her blessing. She likewise bowed down before him. And thus they lay on the ground prostrate asking for each other’s blessing. And one word alone could be heard from both: “Bless me!” After a long while the woman said to Zosimas:
“Abba Zosimas, it is you who must give blessing and pray. You are dignified by the order of priesthood and for many years you have been standing before the holy altar and offering the sacrifice of the Divine Mysteries.”
This flung Zosimas into even greater terror. At length with tears he said to her:
“O mother, filled with the spirit, by your mode of life it is evident that you live with God and have died to the world. The Grace granted to you is apparent — for you have called me by name and recognized that I am a priest, though you have never seen me before. Grace is recognized not by one’s orders, but by gifts of the Spirit, so give me your blessing for God’s sake, for I need your prayers.”
Then, giving way before the wish of the elder, the woman said:
“Blessed is God Who cares for the salvation of men and their souls.”
And both rose to their feet. Then the woman asked the elder:
“Why have you come, man of God, to me who am so sinful? Why do you wish to see a woman naked and devoid of every virtue? Though I know one thing — the Grace of the Holy Spirit has brought you to render me a service in time. Tell me, father, how are the Christian peoples living? And the kings? How is the Church guided?”
“By your prayers, mother, Christ has granted lasting peace to all. But fulfill the unworthy petition of an old man and pray for the whole world and for me who am a sinner, so that my wanderings in the desert may not be fruitless.”
“You who are a priest, Abba Zosimas, it is you who must pray for me and for all — for this is your calling. But as we must all be obedient, I will gladly do what you ask.”
And with these words she turned to the East, and raising her eyes to heaven and stretching out her hands, she began to pray in a whisper. One could not hear separate words, so that Zosimas could not understand anything that she said in her prayers. Meanwhile he stood, according to his own word, all in a flutter, looking at the ground without saying a word. And he swore, calling God to witness, that when at length he thought that her prayer was very long, he took his eyes off the ground and saw that she was raised bout a forearm’s distance from the ground and stood praying in the air. When he saw this, even greater terror seized him and he fell on the ground weeping and repeating may times, “Lord have mercy.”
And whilst lying prostrate on the ground he was tempted by a thought: Is it not a spirit, and perhaps her prayer is hypocrisy. But at the very same moment the woman turned round, raised the elder from the ground and said:
“Why do thoughts confuse you, Abba, and tempt you about me, as if I were a spirit and a dissember in prayer? Know, holy father, that I am only a sinful woman, though I am guarded by Holy baptism. And I am no spirit but earth and ashes, and flesh alone.”
And with these words she guarded herself with the sign of the Cross on her forehead, eyes, mouth and breast, saying:
“May God defend us from the evil one and from his designs, for fierce is his struggle against us.”
Hearing and seeing this, the elder fell to the ground and, embracing her feet, he said with tears:
“I beg you, by the Name of Christ our God, Who was born of a Virgin, for Whose sake you have stripped yourself, for Whose sake you have exhausted your flesh, do not hide from your slave, who you are and whence and how you came into this desert. Tell me everything so that the marvellous works of God may become known. A hidden wisdom and a secret treasure — what profit is there in them? Tell me all, I implore you. for not out of vanity or for self-display will you speak but to reveal the truth to me, an unworthy sinner. I believe in God, for whom you live and whom you serve. I believe that He led me into this desert so as to show me His ways in regard to you. It is not in our power to resist the plans of God. If it were not the will of God that you and your life would be known, He would not have allowed be to see you and would not have strengthened me to undertake this journey, one like me who never before dared to leave his cell.”
Much more said Abba Zosimas. But the woman raised him and said:
“I am ashamed, Abba, to speak to you of my disgraceful life, forgive me for God’s sake! But as you have already seen my naked body I shall likewise lay bare before you my work, so that you may know with what shame and obscenity my soul is filled. I was not running away out of vanity, as you thought, for what have I to be proud of — I who was the chosen vessel of the devil? But when I start my story you will run from me, as from a snake, for your ears will not be able to bear the vileness of my actions. But I shall tell you all without hiding anything, only imploring you first of all to pray incessantly for me, so that I may find mercy on the day of Judgment.”
The elder wept and the woman began her story.
“My native land, holy father, was Egypt. Already during the lifetime of my parents, when I was twelve years old, I renounced their love and went to Alexandria. I am ashamed to recall how there I at first ruined my maidenhood and then unrestrainedly and insatiably gave myself up to sensuality. It is more becoming to speak of this briefly, so that you may just know my passion and my lechery. for about seventeen years, forgive me, I lived like that. I was like a fire of public debauch. And it was not for the sake of gain — here I speak the pure truth. Often when they wished to pay me, I refused the money. I acted in this way so as to make as many men as possible to try to obtain me, doing free of charge what gave me pleasure. do not think that I was rich and that was the reason why I did not take money. I lived by begging, often by spinning flax, but I had an insatiable desire and an irrepressible passion for lying in filth. This was life to me. Every kind of abuse of nature I regarded as life.
That is how I lived. Then one summer I saw a large crowd of Lybians and Egyptians running towards the sea. I asked one of them, `Where are these men hurrying to?’ He replied, `They are all going to Jerusalem for the Exaltation of the Precious and Lifegiving Cross, which takes place in a few days.’ I said to him, `Will they take me with them if I wish to go?’ `No one will hinder you if you have money to pay for the journey and for food.’ And I said to him, `To tell you truth, I have no money, neither have I food. But I shall go with them and shall go aboard. And they shall feed me, whether they want to or not. I have a body — they shall take it instead of pay for the journey.’ I was suddenly filled with a desire to go, Abba, to have more lovers who could satisfy my passion. I told you, Abba Zosimas, not to force me to tell you of my disgrace. God is my witness, I am afraid of defiling you and the very air with my words.”
Zosimas, weeping, replied to her:
“Speak on for God’s sake, mother, speak and do not break the thread of such an edifying tale.”
And, resuming her story, she went on:
“That youth, on hearing my shameless words, laughed and went off. While I, throwing away my spinning wheel, ran off towards the sea in the direction which everyone seemed to be taking. and, seeing some young men standing on the shore, about ten or more of them, full of vigour and alert in their movements, I decided that they would do for my purpose (it seemed that some of them were waiting for more travellers whilst others had gone ashore). Shamelessly, as usual, I mixed with the crowd, saying, `Take me with you to the place you are going to; you will not find me superfluous.’ I also added a few more words calling forth general laughter. Seeing my readiness to be shameless, they readily took me aboard the boat. Those who were expected came also, and we set sail at once.
How shall I relate to you what happened after this? Whose tongue can tell, whose ears can take in all that took place on the boat during that voyage! And to all this I frequently forced those miserable youths even against their own will. There is no mentionable or unmentionable depravity of which I was not their teacher. I am amazed, Abba, how the sea stood our licentiousness, how the earth did not open its jaws, and how it was that hell did not swallow me alive, when I had entangled in my net so many souls. But I think God was seeking my repentance. For He does not desire the death of a sinner but magnanimously awaits his return to Him. At last we arrived in Jerusalem. I spent the days before the festival in the town, living the same kind of life, perhaps even worse. I was not content with the youths I had seduced at sea and who had helped be to get to Jerusalem; many others — citizens of the town and foreigners — I also seduced.
The holy day of the Exaltation of the Cross dawned while I was still flying about — hunting for youths. At daybreak I saw that everyone was hurrying to the church, so I ran with the rest. When the hour for the holy elevation approached, I was trying to make my way in with the crowd which was struggling to get through the church doors. I had at last squeezed through with great difficulty almost to the entrance of the temple, from which the lifegiving Tree of the Cross was being shown to the people. But when I trod on the doorstep which everyone passed, I was stopped by some force which prevented my entering. Meanwhile I was brushed aside by the crowd and found myself standing alone in the porch. Thinking that this had happened because of my woman’s weakness, I again began to work my way into the crowd, trying to elbow myself forward. But in vain I struggled. Again my feet trod on the doorstep over which others were entering the church without encountering any obstacle. I alone seemed to remain unaccepted by the church. It was as if there was a detachment of soldiers standing there to oppose my entrance. Once again I was excluded by the same mighty force and again I stood in the porch.
Having repeated my attempt three or four times, at last I felt exhausted and had no more strength to push and to be pushed, so I went aside and stood in a corner of the porch. And only then with great difficulty it began to dawn on me, and I began to understand the reason why I was prevented from being admitted to see the life-giving Cross. The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me. I began to weep and lament and beat my breast, and to sigh from the depths of my heart. And so I stood weeping when I saw above me the ikon of the most holy Mother of God. And turning to her my bodily and spiritual eyes I said:
`O Lady, Mother of God, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word, I know, O how well I know, that it is no honour or praise to thee when one so impure and depraved as I look up to thy ikon, O ever-virgin, who didst keep thy body and soul in purity. Rightly do I inspire hatred and disgust before thy virginal purity. But I have heard that God Who was born of thee became man on purpose to call sinners to repentance. Then help me, for I have no other help. Order the entrance of the church to be opened to me. Allow me to see the venerable Tree on which He Who was born of thee suffered in the flesh and on which He shed His holy Blood for the redemption of sinners and for me, unworthy as I am. Be my faithful witness before thy Son that I will never again defile my body by the impurity of fornication, but as soon as I have seen the Tree of the Cross I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wherever thou wilt lead me.’
Thus I spoke and as if acquiring some hope in firm faith and feeling some confidence in the mercy of the Mother of God, I left the place where I stood praying. And I went again and mingled with the crowd that was pushing its way into the temple. And no one seemed to thwart me, no one hindered my entering the church. I was possessed with trembling, and was almost in delirium. Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before — as if the same force which had hindered me cleared the way for me — I now entered without difficulty and found myself within the holy place. And so it was I saw the lifegiving Cross. I saw too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance. Throwing myself on the ground, I worshipped that holy earth and kissed it with trembling. Then I came out of the church and went to her who had promised to be my security, to the place where I had sealed my vow. And bending my knees before the Virgin Mother of God, I addressed to her such words as these:
`O loving Lady, thou hast shown me thy great love for all men. glory to God Who receives the repentance of sinners through thee. What more can I recollect or say, I who am so sinful? It is time for me, O Lady to fulfil my vow, according to thy witness. Now lead me by the hand along the path of repentance!’ And at these words I heard a voice from on high:
`If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest.’
Hearing this voice and having faith that it was for me, I cried to the Mother of God:
`O Lady, Lady, do not forsake me!’
With these words I left the porch of the church and set off on my journey. As I was leaving the church a stranger glanced at me and gave me three coins, saying:
`Sister, take these.’
And, taking the money, I bought three loaves and took them with me on my journey, as a blessed gift. I asked the person who sold the bread: `Which is the way to the Jordan?’ I was directed to the city gate which led that way. Running on I passed the gates and still weeping went on my journey. Those I met I asked the way, and after walking for the rest of that day (I think it was nine o’clock when I saw the Cross) I at length reached at sunset the Church of St. John the Baptist which stood on the banks of the Jordan. After praying in the temple, I went down to the Jordan and rinsed my face and hands in its holy waters. I partook of the holy and life-giving Mysteries in the Church of the Forerunner and ate half of one of my loaves. Then, after drinking some water from Jordan, I lay down and passed the night on the ground. In the morning I found a small boat and crossed to the opposite bank. I again prayed to Our Lady to lead me whither she wished. Then I found myself in this desert and since then up to this very day I am estranged from all, keeping away from people and running away from everyone. And I live here clinging to my God Who saves all who turn to Him from faintheartedness and storms.”
Zosimas asked her:
“How many years have gone by since you began to live in this desert?”
“Forty-seven years have already gone by, I think, since I left the holy city.”
“But what food do you find?”
The woman said:
“I had two and a half loaves when I crossed the Jordan. Soon they dried up and became hard as rock. Eating a little I gradually finished them after a few years.”
“Can it be that without getting ill you have lived so many years thus, without suffering in any way from such a complete change?”
The woman answered:
“You remind me, Zosimas, of what I dare not speak of. For when I recall all the dangers which I overcame, and all the violent thoughts which confused me, I am again afraid that they will take possession of me.”
“Do not hide from me anything; speak to me without concealing anything.”
And she said to him:
“Believe me, Abba, seventeen years I passed in this desert fighting wild beasts — mad desires and passions. When I was about to partake of food, I used to begin to regret the meat and fish of which I had so much in Egypt. I regretted also not having wine which I loved so much, for I drank a lot of wine when I lived in the world, while here I had not even water. I used to burn and succumb with thirst. The mad desire for profligate songs also entered me and confused me greatly, edging me on to sing satanic songs which I had learned once. But when such desires entered me I struck myself on the breast and reminded myself of the vow which I had made, when going into the desert. In my thoughts I returned to the ikon of the Mother of God which had received me and to her I cried in prayer. I implored her to chase away the thoughts to which my miserable soul was succumbing. And after weeping for long and beating my breast I used to see light at last which seemed to shine on me from everywhere. And after the violent storm, lasting calm descended.
And how can I tell you about the thoughts which urged me on to fornication, how can I express them to you, Abba? A fire was kindled in my miserable heart which seemed to burn me up completely and to awake in me a thirst for embraces. As soon as this craving came to me, I flung myself on the earth and watered it with my tears, as if I saw before me my witness, who had appeared to me in my disobedience, and who seemed to threaten punishment for the crime. And I did not rise from the ground (sometimes I lay thus prostrate for a day and a night) until a calm and sweet light descended and enlightened me and chased away the thoughts that possessed me. But always I turned to the eyes of my mind to my Protectress, asking her to extend help to one who was sinking fast in the waves of the desert. And I always had her as my Helper and the Accepter of my repentance. And thus I lived for seventeen years amid constant dangers. And since then even till now the Mother of God helps me in everything and leads me as it were by the hand.”
“Can it be that you did not need food and clothing?”
“After finishing the loaves I had, of which I spoke, for seventeen years I have fed on herbs and all that can be found in the desert. The clothes I had when I crossed the Jordan became torn and worn out. I suffered greatly from the cold and greatly from the extreme heat. At times the sun burned me up and at other times I shivered from the frost, and frequently falling to the ground I lay without breath and without motion. I struggled with many afflictions and with terrible temptations. But from that time till now the power of God in numerous ways had guarded my sinful soul and my humble body. When I only reflect on the evils from which Our Lord has delivered me I have imperishable food for hope of salvation. I am fed and clothed by the all-powerful Word of God, the Lord of all. For it is not by bread alone that man lives. And those who have stripped off the rags of sin have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks (Job 24; Heb. 11:38).”
Hearing that she cited words of Scripture, from Moses and Job, Zosimas asked her:
“And so you have read the psalms and other books?”
She smiled at this and said to the elder:
“Believe be, I have not seen a human face ever since I crossed the Jordan, except yours today. I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them. But the Word of God which is alive and active, BY ITSELF teaches a man knowledge. And so this is the end of my tale. But, as I asked you in the beginning, so even now I implore you for the sake of the Incarnate word of God, to pray to the Lord for me who am such a sinner.”
Thus concluding here tale she bowed down before him. And with tears the elder exclaimed:
“Blessed is God Who creates the great and wondrous, the glorious and marvellous without end. Blessed is God Who has shown me how He rewards those who fear Him. Truly, O Lord, Thou dost not forsake those who seek Thee!”
And the woman, not allowing the elder to bow down before her, said:
“I beg you, holy father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our God and Savior, tell no one what you have heard, until God delivers me of this earth. And now depart in peace and again next year you shall see me, and I you, if God will preserve us in His great mercy. But for God’s sake, do as I ask you. Next year during Lent do not cross the Jordan, as is your custom in the monastery.”
Zosimas was amazed to hear that she know the rules of the monastery and could only say:
“Glory to God Who bestows great gifts on those who love Him.”
“Remain, Abba, in the monastery. And even if you wish to depart, you will not be to do so. And at sunset of the holy day of the Last supper, put some of the lifegiving Body and Blood of Christ into a holy vessel worthy to hold such Mysteries for me, and bring it. And wait for me on the banks of the Jordan adjoining the inhabited parts of the land, so that I can come and partake of the lifegiving Gifts. For, since the time I communicated in the temple of the Forerunner before crossing the Jordan even to this day I have not approached the Holy Mysteries. And I thirst for them with irrepressible love and longing. And therefore I ask and implore you to grant me my wish, bring me the lifegiving Mysteries at the very hour when Our Lord made His disciples partake of His Divine Supper. Tell John the Abbot of the monastery where you live. Look to yourself and to your brothers, for there is much that needs correction. Only do not say this now, but when God guides you. Pray for me!”
With these words she vanished in the depths of the desert. And Zosimas, falling down on his knees and bowing down to the ground on which she had stood, sent up glory and thanks to God. And, after wandering thorough the desert, he returned to the monastery on the day all the brothers returned.
For the whole year he kept silent, not daring to tell anyone of what he had seen. But he prayed to God to give him another chance of seeing the ascetic’s dear face. And when at length the first Sunday of the Great Fast came, all went out into the desert with the customary prayers and the singing of psalms. Only Zosimas was held back by illness — he lay in a fever. And then he remembered what the saint had said to him: “and even if you wish to depart, you will not be able to do so.”
Many days passed and at last recovering from his illness he remained in the monastery. And when again the monks returned and the day of the Last Supper dawned, he did as he had been ordered, and placing some of the most pure Body and Blood into a small chalice and putting some figs and dates and lentils soaked in water into a small basket, he departed for the desert and reached the banks of the Jordan and sat down to wait for the saint. He waited for a long while and then began to doubt. Then, raising his eyes to heaven, he began to pray:
“Grant me, O Lord, to behold that which Thou hast allowed me to behold once. Do not let me depart in vain, being the burden of my sins.”
And then another thought struck him:
“And what if she does come? There is no boat; how will she cross the Jordan to come to me who am so unworthy?”
And as he was pondering thus he saw the holy woman appear and stand on the other side of the river. Zosimas got up rejoicing and glorifying and thanking God. And again the thought came to him that she could not cross the Jordan. Then he saw that she made the sign of the Cross over the waters of the Jordan (and the night was a moonlight one, as he related afterwards) and then she at once stepped on to the waters and began walking across the surface towards him. And when he wanted to prostrate himself, she cried to him while still walking on the water:
“What are you doing, Abba, you are a priest and carrying the divine Gifts!”
He obeyed her and on reaching the shore she said to the elder:
“Bless, father, bless me!”
He answered her trembling, for a state of confusion had overcome him at the sight of the miracle:
“Truly God did not lie when He promised that when we purify ourselves we shall be like Him. Glory to Thee, Christ our God, Who has shown me through this Thy slave how far away I stand from perfection.”
Here the woman asked him to say the Creed and Our Father. He began, she finished the prayer and according to the custom of that time gave him the kiss of peace on the lips. Having partaken of the Holy Mysteries, she raised her hands to heaven and sighed with tears in her eyes, exclaiming:
“Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Lord, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy salvation.”
Then she said to the elder:
“Forgive me, Abba, for asking you, but fulfil another wish of mine. Go now to the monastery and let God’s grace guard you, and next year come again to the same place where I first met you. Come for God’s sake, for you shall again see me, for such is the will of God.”
He said to her:
“From this day on I would like to follow you and always see your holy face. But now fulfil the one and only wish of an old man and take a little of the food I have brought for you.”
And he showed her the basket, while she just touched the lentils with the tips of her fingers, and taking three grains said that the Holy Spirit guards the substance of the soul unpolluted. Then she said:
“Pray, for God’s sake pray for me and remember a miserable wretch.”
Touching the saint’s feet and asking for her prayers for the Church, the kingdom and himself, he let her depart with tears, while he went off sighing and sorrowful, for he could not hope to vanquish the invincible. Meanwhile she again made the sign of the Cross over the Jordan, and stepped on to the waters and crossed over as before. And the elder returned filled with joy and terror, accusing himself of not having asked the saint her name. But he decided to do so next year.
And when another year had passed, he again went into the desert. He reached the same spot but could see no sign of anyone. So, raising his eyes to heaven as before, he prayed:
“Show me, O Lord, Thy pure treasure, which Thou hast concealed in the desert. Show me, I pray Thee, the angel in the flesh, of which the world is not worthy.”
Then on the opposite bank of the river, her face turned towards the rising sun, he saw the saint lying dead. Her hands were crossed according to custom and her face was turned to the East. Running up he shed tears over the saint’s feet and kissed them, not daring to touch anything else.
For a long time he wept. Then reciting the appointed psalms, he said the burial prayers and thought to himself: “Must I bury the body of a saint? Or will this be contrary to her wishes?” And then he saw words traced on the ground by her head:
“Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust that which is dust and pray to the Lord for me, who departed in the month of Fermoutin of Egypt, called April by the Romans, on the first day, on the very night of our Lord’s Passion, after having partaken of the Divine Mysteries.” [St. Mary died in 522 A. D.]
Reading this the elder was glad to know the saint’s name. He understood too that as soon as she had partaken of the Divine Mysteries on the shore of the Jordan she was at once transported to the place where she died. The distance which Zosimas had taken twenty days to cover, Mary had evidently traversed in an hour and had at once surrendered her soul to God.
Then Zosimas thought: “It is time to do as she wished. But how am I to dig a grave with nothing in my hands?”
And then he saw nearby a small piece of wood left by some traveller in the desert. Picking it up he began to dig the ground. But the earth was hard and dry and did not yield to the efforts of the elder. He grew tired and covered with sweat. He sighed from the depths of his soul and lifting up his eyes he saw a big lion standing close to the saint’s body and licking her feet. At the sight of the lion he trembled with fear, especially when he called to mind Mary’s words that she had never seen wild beasts in the desert. But guarding himself with the sign of the cross, the thought came to him that the power of the one lying there would protect him and keep him unharmed. Meanwhile the lion drew nearer to him, expressing affection by every movement.
Zosimas said to the lion:
“The Great One ordered that her body was to be buried. But I am old and have not the strength to dig the grave, for I have no spade and it would take too long to go and get one. So can you carry out the work with your claws? Then we can commit to the earth the mortal temple of the saint.”
While he was still speaking the lion with his front paws began to dig a hole deep enough to bury the body.
Again the elder washed the feet of the saint with his tears and calling on her to pray for all, covered the body with earth in the presence of the lion. It was as it had been, naked and uncovered by anything but the tattered cloak which had been given to her by Zosimas and with which Mary, turning away, had managed to cover part of her body. Then both departed. The lion went off into the depth of the desert like a lamb, while Zosimas returned to the monastery glorifying and blessing Christ our Lord. And on reaching the monastery he told all the brothers about everything, and all marvelled on hearing of God’s miracles. And with fear and love they kept the memory of the saint.
Abbot John, as St. Mary had previously told Abba Zosimas, found a number of things wrong in the monastery and got rid of them with God’s help. And Saint Zosimas died in the same monastery, almost attaining the age of a hundred, and passed to eternal life. The monks kept this story without writing it down and passed it on by word of mouth to one another.
But I (adds Sophronius) as soon as I heard it, wrote it down. Perhaps someone else, better informed, has already written the life of the Saint, but as far as I could, I have recorded everything, putting truth above all else. May God Who works amazing miracles and generously bestows gifts on those who turn to Him with faith, reward those who seek light for themselves in this story, who hear, read and are zealous to write it, and may He grant them the lot of blessed Mary together with all who at different times have pleased God by their pious thoughts and labours.
And let us also give glory to God, the eternal King, that He may grant us too His mercy in the day of judgment for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom belongs all glory, honour, dominion and adoration with the Eternal Father and the Most Holy and Life-giving Spirit, now and always, and throughout all ages. Amen.
The End, and Glory Be to God!
From The Great Canon—the Work of Saint Andrew of Crete, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY, Internet Medieval Source Book, with minor typographical corrections by the Monachos.net editor.
A young priest with whom I was once a seminarian is now on Facebook like me. About a year ago, he posted the account of how he asked an old priest if young priests would save the Church. The old priest said “No, Jesus will save His Church,” or something like that. Of course, this post had a ton of “likes.” For one, it seemed so humble for a young priest to admit that we young priests would not “save” the Church. Secondly, it tapped our modern Catholic desire to prove to Protestants that we only look to for Jesus for salvation.
Both are true, and I have no problem with either motivating factor for a lot of “likes” for that. But it diverts readers from the fact that God always sends real saints in the flesh like St. Catherine of Siena to fix real crises in the Church. When we all sit back and say “Don’t worry, Jesus is going to take care of it” (as everyone always tells me), well, that sounds very trusting and even saintly, but it is not Catholic. It misses the teaching of the Mystical Body of Christ, namely, that from the very beginnings of Christianity, Christ came first in the head (the Incarnation as Jesus Christ) and then in the body (His saints and martyrs.) See here what the Holy Spirit teaches about His own Catholic Church as the Mystical Body of Christ:
“And [Christ] is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross…Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.”—Col 1:18-20, 23.
Notice two things from that quote:
1) The Apostle Paul was so confident that he was a living and real extension of Christ in the world that Paul could go so far as to say under inspiration of the Holy Ghost: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.”—Col 1:23. So what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings? Nothing except my participation. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was 100% propitiatory, of course. Evangelical Protestants and Catholics agree on this. But what most people miss in this quote is my participation in Christ’s redemptive act lived in the world in 2018 can actually be missing. And when we don’t participate in the sufferings of Christ, the Church enters a crisis. Now we have the greatest crisis of faith ever seen in the Catholic Church, but if we take the Bible literally, it is because we in the Mystical Body want Christ without the Cross. It’s right there in Col 1:23.
2) Jesus is the head of the Mystical Body of Christ, but “Christ” includes the whole body of every baptized member, down to the smallest. Every time the littlest one suffers, it is still Christ suffering, as when we saw Jesus say to Saul while the latter was persecuting the Church: “And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus.’”—Acts 9:4-5a. In fact, St. Augustine went so far as to say: “If by Christ you mean both head and body, the sufferings of Christ are only in Christ.” Re-read that quote from St. Augustine a few times and let it sink in to get the Catholic idea of how we are all cells in the Mystical Body of Christ and that Jesus is the head and Mary is the neck (the mediatrix of all graces.) 1
Think how a modern Protestant or a modern Catholic would think it extremely arrogant if a modern pastor were to now claim that only Christ lived in that pastor: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”—Gal 2:20. But this is how the saving act of Christ continues on in the Church, by acting as loving and as bold as Christ in all our vocations. It is not to keep kowtowing backwards in doctrine for the sake of being “pastoral” that the Church will continue in the West.
We need a lesson from the East, from the Coptic Catholics and Chaldean Catholics and other Christians who balk at the threats of Muslims to abandon Christ, taking the knife the throat before capitulating to false-ecumenism.
St. Augustine taught something very profound on the mysteries of Christ’s Ascension and Pentecost. He wrote this: “And He [Christ] departed from our sight that we might return to our heart and find Him there. For He departed, and behold, He is here.”–St. Augustine. What St. Augustine means is that Christ went up at the Ascension, but He is now found on earth in His people after baptism and Pentecost. Thus, Christ saving the Church will happen through saints on earth, not a Protestant idea of a non-incarnate mystical body of Jesus just magically making things better at an emotional level. That idea is not Catholic. It’s not even Scriptural.
This is why St. Teresa of Avila wrote: “Christ has no hands but yours.” This includes the hands of bloggers. So, in a doctrinal crisis in the Church, it matters that no one ever capitulate on doctrine, no matter how high the price. The first Great Commandment (love God) comes before and flows into the second Great Commandment (love others.) That means that we must love God before neighbor. We must say the right thing, of course in charity, but always regardless of what we guess to be the unintended negative consequences at the pastoral level.
Without this rather-reckless philosophy, Jesus never would have made the Pharisees angry enough to crucify him. When Peter put Jesus’ own awesome ministry of teaching and miracles above of the cross, Peter was called a “Satan.” So also, we who work for the Catholic Church (cleric and lay alike) must do the right thing, regardless of consequences even at the ecclesial level. We can all be masters of our own deceit on what it means to be people-pleasing under the pretext of “pastoral.” We can all trick ourselves to say that cracking on doctrine for the sake of being pastoral will save souls.
It never will!2
The end doesn’t justify the means, and this includes sins of omission. If I fail to speak up for the truth in charity in a crisis in the Church for the sake of keeping the peace or keeping people in my pews or pleasing other clerics…I am sinning. I am literally sinning and harming the two primary missions of the Church: 1) The glory of God. 2) The salvation of souls.
Christ’s attitude to the Pharisees is all we need to assure us of this. Was it worth Christ angering the Pharisees that led to their jealousy that ended His ministry? Yes. We would never have the salvation of the cross if Christ had calculated in His sacred humanity the perfect way of pleasing everyone. Of course, the Son of God would never do this, but just realize you are called to be as bold if we take Catholic Ecclesiology to the extent of how St. Paul and St. Augustine saw the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.
Or really any saint: Christ has no hands but yours. This means writing the truth when it is not popular. You are making a difference. Priests, this means preaching the truth, even if it means losing your jobs. You can never commit a sin of omission for the sake of a future good, for the end doesn’t justify the means. Why can I write this so confidently?
Because I very much believe deep in my heart: God is always faithful.
An understanding of the redemptive suffering of the Mystical Body of Christ was inadvertently captured in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Professor X says: “It’s not their pain you’re afraid of. It’s yours, Charles. And as frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It’s the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking. And it comes from the most human part of us: hope. Charles, we need you to hope again.” ↩
Even an elementary look at Church History would suggest that God is inspiring would-be saints to end this current crisis in the Church, but they/we are not responding to grace. Of course, I can not prove this, which is why it is only a footnote. The other option is that we are under such a heavy punishment from God for abortion and contraception and sacriligious communions that we are left “with no prophet” to guide us. This would be a sign of the Great Apostasy already upon us, so the first option is obviously a bit more cheerful, namely, that priests and bishops are not responding to the graces of boldness to end this crisis of modernism. ↩
The people that John the Baptist preached to were very similar to the people of today.
The six links of this podclass are:
- Conversation With Christ to learn how to meditate as St. Teresa of Avila and St. Ignatius of Loyola.
- Moveable Feasts pdf of the Traditional Calendar from 2000 to 2050
- YouTube Traditional Latin Catholic Mass: Easter Sunday by Fulton Sheen
- iMass app
- St. Francis De Sales’ meditations on the parts of the Mass
- Nothing Superfluous by Fr. James Jackson
The seven sections of the 1962 family Missal are:
2: Sundays in Advent and Lent (and Moveable Feasts)
3: Sundays after Pentecost (and Moveable Feasts)
4: Ordinary/Roman Canon and Prefaces (Baronius has prefaces before Ordinary)
5: Common Masses
6: Saints and Immovable Feasts
7: Votive Masses and Devotionals
The only person to reach more people for Christ on television than Billy Graham was a Catholic bishop named Archbishop Fulton Sheen from Illinois, later bishop in New York. Every Tuesday night, starting in the 1950s, up to 10 million Americans from all faiths tuned in to his TV Show, Life Is Worth Living. Not only Catholics, but many older Jewish people fondly remember tuning in to his Tuesday evening show about God.
Venerable Fulton Sheen also traveled the world and raised millions of dollars for foreign missions in poor countries. He is credited with converting the following to the Catholic Faith: Agnostic writer Heywood Broun, politician Clare Boothe Luce, automaker Henry Ford II, Communist writer Louis F. Budenz, Communist organizer Bella Dodd, theatrical designer Jo Mielziner, violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler, and actress Virginia Mayo.
Now a “Venerable” in the Catholic Church, Ven. Sheen is two moves away from canonization. He will, please God, move from Venerable Fulton Sheen to Blessed Fulton Sheen to finally St. Fulton Sheen.
Who was his hero? Who inspired such holiness? Who inspired him to remain in prayer for the millions of people that he reached for Christ? The answer is: An unnamed Chinese girl.
The following has been on many websites. The original author is unknown, but the account is verifiable in the life, the words and the annals of Venerable Fulton Sheen.
A couple of months before his death, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was interviewed on national television. One of the questions was this: “Bishop Sheen, you have inspired millions of people all over the world. Who inspired you? Was it a Pope?”
Bishop Sheen responded that it was not a Pope, a cardinal, another bishop, or even a priest or a nun. It was a little Chinese girl of eleven years of age. He explained that when the Communists took over China, they imprisoned a priest in his own rectory near the Church. After they locked him up in his own house, the priest was horrified to look out of his window and see the Communists proceed into the Church, where they went into the sanctuary and broke into the tabernacle. In an act of hateful desecration, they took the ciborium and threw it on the floor with all of the Sacred Hosts spilling out. The priest knew exactly the number of Hosts in the ciborium: thirty-two.
When the Communists left, they either did not notice, or didn’t pay any attention to a small girl praying in the back of the Church who saw everything that had happened. That night the little girl came back.
Slipping past the guard at the priest’s house, she went inside the Church. There she made a holy hour of prayer, an act of love to make up for the act of hatred. After her holy hour she went into the sanctuary, knelt down, bent over and with her tongue received Jesus in Holy Communion, since (at that time) it was not permissible for laymen to touch the Sacred Host with their hands.
The little girl continued to come back each night to make her holy hour and receive Jesus in Holy Communion on her tongue. On the thirty-second night, after she had consumed the last and thirty-second host, she accidentally made a noise and woke the guard who was sleeping. He ran after her, caught her, and beat her to death with the butt of his rifle.
This act of heroic martyrdom was witnessed by the priest as he watched grief-stricken from his bedroom window.
When Bishop Sheen heard the story he was so inspired that he promised God he would make a holy hour of prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every day of his life. If this frail, little child could give testimony and witness to the world concerning the real and wonderful Presence of her Savior in the Blessed Sacrament, then the Bishop was absolutely bound by all that was right and true, to do the same. His sole desire from then on was to bring the world to the burning Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
The little girl showed the Bishop what true courage and zeal really is; how faith could overcome all fear, how true love for Jesus in the Eucharist must transcend life itself. What is hidden in the Sacred Host is the glory of His love. The sun in the sky is symbolic of the Son of God in the Blessed Sacrament. This is why most monstrances are in the form of a sunburst. As the sun is the natural source of all energy, the Blessed Sacrament is the supernatural source of all grace and love.
The Little Way as Spiritual Warfare: Lining up the Liturgy of several seemingly-unconnected saints this past week: St. Michael the Archangel, St. Therese, St. Francis, Mother Mary and the Gospel of the 18th Sunday After Pentecost.
This is a sermon on Padre Pio, suffering and love. (If you want to help spread these sermons, please click “Apple Podcasts” below and review this podcast on iTunes.)
Padre Pio said that the 21st century would be the “age of the angels.” I am going to give five reasons why I believe this to be true. The first is based on demons. The other four on the angels.
1) There are more demons on earth now than there were 500 years ago. I know this sounds crazy. On 5 May 1995, a mother and dentist named Gloria Polo was struck by lightning in Bogotá, Columbia. She was with her cousin who was killed instantaneously. She was brought to the trauma center. Her medical records later showed that the IUD torched her whole reproductive system. The lightning also burned most of her body and she was sent into cardiac arrest at the hosptial. As she faced God, her sentence was hell. Although she thought of herself as a decent Catholic, Christ showed her that she had greviously broken all ten commandments. God gave her life back and she has told her story to millions of people. (Miraculously, she has since had more children with her husband.) Her account has the approbation of the South American bishops. The private revelation of her particular judgment before God is found here. Gloria Polo was able to see why there are more demons on earth now than ever before, as found in this excerpt from her near-death experience:
The devil, with his malefic strategy, has brought humanity to the point of killing their own children. Now I understand the reason why I lived in continual bitterness, depression, always ill tempered, ill-mannered, with ugly ways of doing things, with a bad face, frustrated with everything and with everyone. Of course! I had transformed myself, without knowing it, into a machine to kill babies [her IUD] and for this reason I was sinking ever more into the abyss. Abortion is the worst of all the sins because to kill the children still in the womb of the mother, to kill a little innocent and defenseless creature, is to give power to Satan. The devil commands from the depths of the abyss, because we are scattering innocent blood! A baby is like an innocent lamb and without stain… And Who is the Lamb without stain? It is Jesus! In that moment, the baby is the image and likeness of Jesus! The fact that it might be the mother herself to kill her own child, determines a profound bond with the darkness, permitting that more devils from hell might come out to destroy and strangle humanity. It is as if one might open the seals… Seals that God has put to impede evil to come out, but that, for every abortion, it opens… And so horrible larvae come out, so that there are more and more devils… They come out to chase and persecute humanity, and then make us slaves of the flesh, of sin, of all the bad things that we see, and we will see always more. It is as if we might give the key of hell to the devils, to let them escape. And so escape more devils, of prostitution, of sexual aberrations, of Satanism, of atheism, of suicide, of indifference… Of all the evils that we see around us. And the world is getting worse every day… Think how many babies are killed every day: it is all a triumph of the evil one! That you might know that for the price of this innocent blood, the number of devils outside of hell grows; they circulate freely in our midst! Let us take shelter! … We sin without even realizing it! And our life transforms itself into an inferno, with problems of every type, with sicknesses, with so many evils that afflict us; all of this is the pure and simple action of the devil in our life. But it is we, we alone, that open the gates of evil, with our sin, and we permit him to freely circulate in our life. It is not only with abortion that we sin! … But it is among the worst sins. And then we have the nerve to blame God for so much misery, so much disgrace, so much sicknesses and so much suffering!
God showed Gloria Polo in this approved private revelation that abortion is the reason why the demons of other sins are allowed to escape hell. Seals were placed by God’s mercy, but God in His justice (as a punishment to abortion) has decreed that the seals were to be loosened. These seals were meant to protect us from more demons roaming the earth. These include demons “of prostitution, of sexual aberrations, of Satanism, of atheism, of suicide, of indifference.” But it is primarily due to the sin of abortion that these other demons are permitted to “come out to chase and persecute humanity.” Do we need more proof of this? Look, first-world parents are mutilating 10 year old children under the pretext of gender-compassion. Not even demon-worshipping pagan cultures have mutiliated their own children into sterility. How could anyone argue that the new army of demons on the earth must be those of child-sacrifice based in abortion?
2) We can imitate the Purity of the Angels
Abortion is the rotten fruit of impurity, and to battle this, we need the purity of the angels. Thankfully, the United States is chaulked full of youth conferences and young adult conferences that put an emphasis on purity more than anywhere else I have seen in the world. But few speakers at our Youth Conferences will ever point out that the Church holds that celibacy is still a higher way of life than married life. For celibates to denigrate marriage has been condemned as a heresy. But equally condemned as a heresy is to put marriage above celibacy. In fact, the Church still teaches it is the more perfect way-of-life. This comes straight from the theology of Jesus Christ as found in Luke’s Gospel that you will rarely hear quoted by an American chastity speaker:
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.—Jesus Christ in St. Luke 20:34-36
Notice that Jesus says that in “that age,” those who are actually saved will be “equal to the angels” for they will “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Unlike the angels, we will have bodies in heaven. But there will be no more sexual reproduction in heaven. Some are called to skip the try-outs and go straight to the ultimate goal. Although marriage and the creation of new children is a beautiful calling on earth, everyone who is saved will become celibate in heaven. Men joke that “in that case, it wouldn’t be heaven,” but this reveals how few Christians have ever had an experience of the power and love of God. Yes, we will have physical bodies in heaven, but we will be as chaste and glorious as the angels in heaven. Although married people are not called to celibacy [normally], married couples are indeed called to chastity since “nothing unclean will enter heaven.”—Apocalypse 21:27. In heaven, our nature will be human, not angelic, but we will be as pure of heart and mind and body as angels are pure in their spiritual existence. Are you ready for this state of union with the Trinity?
St. Aloysius Gonzaga was called by the Roman Breviary “an angel in the flesh” while already on earth. This is not conflating a human nature for an angelic nature in some type of Cartesian dualism. It is simply saying that St. Aloysius had reached the state on earth where Christ Himself urged many believers to enter. This is where celibates “cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” St. Thomas Aquinas says one in three Catholic children are probably called to celibacy. It’s a hard call to answer, when so many religious orders have been tanked by the hierarchy or racked with internal sexual and doctrinal scandals. This is why I believe that single-celibate is the most under-rated of all vocations. Many in the early Church answered this beautiful calling to celibacy without a fancy habit or a big religious motherhouse.
3) We can learn humility by contemplating the Angels
We should have unspeakable and unspoken humility before God in the Blessed Sacrament, for even the angels must “cover their faces” (Isaiah 6) while praising Him. Angels were made as an intermediary between God and man. I am amazed at how many young Catholics tell me about their prayer as if they were in a state of perpetually-banal private-revelations: “So, I was like, ‘What’s up God?’ And God was all, ‘Come on dude!’” Besides the fact that God did not call you “dude,” consider this: Not even Mary and Joseph got to talk straight to God at the beginning of the Gospels. Let it sink in. Even the Immaculate Conception herself, at the greatest time of prayer in all of human history up to that point (the Annunciation and Incarnation) had to speak to an angel before Mary herself was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Also, St. Joseph in Matthew 2 is told where to go for the safety of the Holy Family. But it is not God who speaks to St. Joseph (doctrinally the second greatest saint ever.) Still, God sends an angel to be the intermediary of St. Joseph’s conversation.
Even St. John spent three years on earth with God-the-Son. Yet even after that he was tempted to worship an angel, so glorious was this spiritual being: “And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’ Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.'”—Apocalypse 19:9-10. If an angel came to your neighborhood in the middle of the night, your front porch would light up like it there was daytime sunlight: “After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory.”—Apocalype 18:1. The earth is lit up by one single angel! How much greater must God Himself be? I’m not saying that a relationship with angels should replace a personal relationship with God or even talking to Jesus as your best friend. Of course, we should. But let’s try to have a little respect for the hierarchy of creation here. I guarantee you that God did not say to you “Come on, dude!” Your imagination did.
Another way to grow in humility before the angels is to consider the fact that your guardian angel has never sinned. Never. Ever. Think about that. Why did God send a sinless being to serve a sinful being? Your guardian angel has never spoken bad of another angel, yet we gossip behind the backs of our enemies and friends and families. How this must embarrass our guardian angels (Matthew 18:10.) We can learn from the total holiness of the angels that we don’t have “try out a little sin” in order to evangelize people away from bigger sins. Angels are fully alive in God without ever having had to try “a little sin.” We should not commit a single venial sin, even if we were mistaken into thinking it would save a whole continent of gentiles.
4) We have Our Mother as Queen of all Angels
God gave Mary the ability to direct the angels on earth to help us. She was assigned an astonishing army herself, assigned by God before Mary ever existed. In fact, the supreme privilege of protecting Mary was assigned in heaven immediately following the ejection of the demons who had rebelled:
The other ten seraphim, which complete the number of seventy, were likewise chosen from the more distinguished leaders of those who in their opposition to the dragon had manifested a greater reverence for the Divinity and humanity of the Word and for his most holy Mother; for all this was determined during that brief conflict of the holy angels. It was one of the principal distinctions merited by them at the time that they were to be selected as guardians of their Queen and Lady. Altogether a thousand angels were chosen from the Seraphim and the lower orders of angels, and thus that City of God [Mary] was superabundantly fortified against the infernal hosts.—Mystical City of God, Ven. Mary de Agreda, Book one, chapter 14, #205.
Yes, this papal-approved private-revelation is saying that Mary has thousands of guardian angels, including 1,000 from the highest order (the Seraphim.) She also had thousands of guardian angels from the lower choir of angels.
Why is this more important now than in the middle ages? Remember that Mary appeared at Fatima with promises of peace before a century of wars and genocides. In fact, it was during her July apparition (100 years to the month of this blog post publication) that Mary said the following to the children at Fatima, on 13 July 1917: “The good will be martyred…Various nations will be annihilated …Suddenly the horizon will darken… Later, a brilliant ray of light and hope will arise…In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
Now we wait to see what it really means to say that Mary’s “Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Will this be an era of peace? Will this be Christ’s coming in glory? I do not know, but here is what St. Louis De Montfort prophesied would happen with Marian devotion before the end of the world:
Mary hardly appeared at all in the first coming of Jesus Christ, in order that men, as yet but little instructed and enlightened on the Person of her Son, should not remove themselves from Him in attaching themselves too strongly…to her….This is so true that St. Denis the Areopagite tells us in his writings that when he saw our Blessed Lady, he would have taken her for a Divinity, because of her secret graces and incomparable beauty, had not the faith in which he was well established taught him the contrary. But in the second coming of Jesus Christ, Mary has to be made known and revealed by the Holy Spirit in order that, through her, Jesus Christ may be known, loved and served.1
Because Mary is both the Queen of Angels and Our Mother, the conclusion is obvious: Our Mother will send as as many angels as we ask in faith, especially in this time of diabolical disorientation.
5) We should learn the names of the nine choirs of angels.
St. Bonaventure lamented the laxity of 13th century Catholic Europe where not even priests could name the nine choirs of angels. Did you catch that? He was disappointed that priests then could not name the 9 choirs of angels. Nowadays, I bet I know few priests who could name the ten commandments. No exagerration. The Vatican has condemned the practice of naming your guardian angel or divining his name. To name your guardian angel is wrong because it inverts the hierarchy of creation. That is, only the higher gets to name the lower, like God naming Jacob “Israel” (Gen 32:28.) Divining the name of your guardian angel is equally condemned by the Church because it is dangerous. What if you thought you “heard” the name of your angel and it was actually a demon transmitting his name? Would you talk to that demon your whole life?
The saints did not take the lazy way out. They simply memorized the names of the nine choirs of angels (something that will only take you 15 minutes, really.)2
Even the greatest saints knew that they needed the help of the nine choirs of angels. St. Francis Xavier is my favorite saint outside the first century. He travelled three-fourths the circumference of the earth on 16th century boats to evangelize the nations. During the worst storm he had seen on any ocean, he called on the nine choirs of angels. Xavier lived to write a letter regarding this trip from Indonesia to India in December 1547:
On that voyage from Malacca to India we underwent manifold perils from a great storm which lasted three days and nights. I never experienced a worse storm at sea. The people aboard wept and wailed for their own deaths while still alive, and mighty were the vows they made never to put to sea again, should God deliver them. We jettisoned all the cargo we could to save our lives. While the tempest was at its height, I commended myself to God our Lord, taking for my first intercessors on earth all those belonging to the Company of Jesus, and the friends of the Company, blessed of God. With that great help, I gave myself completely to the loving prayers of the Spouse of Jesus Christ, Holy Mother Church, who, still on earth, is unceasingly heard in Heaven. Nor did I neglect to have recourse to all saints in the glory of Paradise, beginning with those who here below were with the holy Company of Jesus, especially the blessed soul of Father Favre. I could never convey to you the consolation I received from thus commending myself to God our Lord through the intercession of my brethren of the Society, living and dead. While the danger lasted, I also put myself in the hands of the angels, praying to them choir by choir, and under the protection of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, virgins—all the saints in Heaven—and to strengthen my hope of obtaining pardon for my infinite number of sins, I took for my protectress the glorious Virgin, Our Lady, because in Heaven everything she asks of God our Lord is granted. Finally, I put all my trust in the infinite merits of the Passion and death of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord. With all this protection and help about me, I think I felt happier in the thick of the storm than afterwards when delivered from it. That a grandissimo pecador should have shed tears of joy and consolation in so great an extremity seems to me, when I think of it, matter for the deepest self-abasement. So, I begged our Lord during the storm that, if I came out of it alive, it might only be to endure others as bad or worse for His greater service.—St. Francis Xavier by Fr. James Brodrick SJ, page 301-302.
We are surrounded by billions of demons, but most importantly, let us remember that for all the demons on earth, all the angels around us outnumber the demons by a ratio of two to one! (See Apocalypse 12:4.)
Finally, one reason that we may be in the age of the angels is that we have more resources on the angels than any group of Catholics in History. Here are a few:
- My buddies from seminary at Catholic Stuff You Should Know did a profound and funny podcast on Celibacy. You will hear why this state of life is more about union with God than making time to serve lay people.
- The exorcist Fr. Ripperger’s most visited talk on YouTube is Guardian Angels.
- Dr. Mark Miravalle has an excellent talk on the nine choirs of angels. Unfortunately, it costs a few bucks on mp3 or CD.
- St. Francis Xavier’s prayer to his guardian angel is here for you to copy and paste:
I beg thee, Blessed Angel, to whose providence I am entrusted to be always at hand to help me. Present my petitions to the merciful ears of God our Lord that of His clemency and by thy prayers He may pardon my sins of the past, give me to know truly and repent heartily of my present sins, and counsel and warm me that I may shun sins in the future. Through thee may He give me grace to do good and persevere to the end. Drive away from me by the power of Almighty God every temptation of the Devil, and that which my own deeds, mixed as they always are with some evil, merit not, do thou obtain for me by thy prayers before our Lord. And if at times thou seest me straying from the paths of goodness to follow the errors of sin, procure that I may turn again speedily to my Savior in the way of justice. When though beholdest me in tribulation and anguish, obtain for me help from God by thy sweet advocacy. I beg thee never to forsake me, but ever to shield, help and defend me from all troubling and assaults of the demons, watching over me day and night, at all hours and moments. And when this life draws to a close, do not permit the demons to frighten me, and let me not fall into despair. Leave me not, my Guardian, until thou hast conducted me into the blessed vision of God, in the glory of which I with thee and God’s Blessed Mother Mary and all the saints may rejoice for ever. Amen.—St. Francis Xavier, page 316
See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.—St. Matthew 18:10
Cast into the deep.