Tag Archives: Saints

4th Sunday After Easter: Fortitude

Today’s sermon is about fortitude as we prepare for Pentecost. If you’re listening on the blog, please consider joining and ranking me on iTunes so you have my sermons to go! You can find a free subscription to my sermons here on iTunes at this link here on my blog.

Second Sunday After Easter

aka Good Shepherd Sunday
This sermon recognizes the wolves that have caused the current crisis in the Catholic Church. In this sermon, I also describe the shepherds that God may be currently raising in order to shepherd the Church, as Christ and the early Apostles led and guarded the Church. This Sunday is appropriately called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” due to the Gospel from St. John chapter 10.

Today is the eclipsed feast day of St. Catherine of Siena in the old calendar. In line with today’s sermon, it is worth noting the seven things that God the Father told St. Catherine of Siena would restore the Catholic Church in times of crisis:

  1. Prayer
  2. Sweat
  3. Tears
  4. Fiery Desire
  5. Endure much
  6. Cast the light of your patience into the darkness of perverse men.
  7. Don’t fear the world’s persecutions.

—From Dialogue

In Cena Domini

Tonight’s podcast is from the Traditional Latin Mass for the Supper of the Lord (Cena Domini.)  This sermon is about the connection between the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood, and why Jesus transfers His suffering and leadership to His priests.  We will see that both the leadership and the suffering of priests are for the life of the world.  

5 Things You Might Not Know About St. Joseph

I’m going to write on five surprising things of St. Joseph in celebration of his feast day today.

1) St. Joseph was probably born without original sin. I know this one sounds heretical, but follow me here. A nun in Ohio received private revelations from Mary and Joseph in 1956, all of which were approved by Cardinal Burke in his letter to the USCCB in 1997. These apparitions are known as “Our Lady of America.” St. Joseph said the following about himself in this apparition: “It is true, my daughter, that immediately after my conception I was, through the future merits of Jesus and because of my exceptional role of future Virgin-Father, cleansed from the stain of original sin. I was, from that moment, confirmed in grace and never had the slightest stain on my soul. This is my unique privilege among men. My pure heart also was from the first moment of existence inflamed with love for God.” Mary was conceived without original sin. Joseph was conceived with original sin. However, if this apparition is true (and I believe it is) then immediately after his conception, Joseph was cleansed by God via the merits of Jesus on the cross applied retroactively. Thus, Jesus is still the Divine Savior of His foster-father, Joseph. Many ancient saints, popes, doctors and theologians of the Church have firmly believed that St. Joseph never committed an actual sin—neither mortal, nor even venial. This theological assertion does not empty the cross of its power, but rather reveals the omnipotence of God to apply the merits of the Redemption as He sees fit, even outside of time. Again, Jesus still saved Joseph from sin. (But this one probably deflates the old joke of Joseph getting blamed for everything in the breakfast-nook by the rest of the Holy Family.)

2) St. Joseph, betrothed to Mary, was a young-virgin himself. Although not defined, this is the teaching of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Combine this with the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity, and the outcome is that St. Joseph is still a virgin in heaven. This sheds light on the hidden life of Nazareth, namely, that it took great virtue—not old age—to live in celibacy with the most beautiful woman ever created. This also means that Jesus was the only child that Joseph ever raised. Imagine this father teaching his son the Hebrew Scriptures late at night in his workshop. The angels themselves could not have made greater praise than these deep but tender, joyful whispers of the Psalms coming from a carpenter’s workshop day and night. (For Scriptural clarity on the identity of the mother of those relatives of Jesus always debated to be either His “brothers” versus His “cousins,” you can decide for yourself by reading Matt 27:55-56. It’s the entire Scriptural key to Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.)

3) St. Joseph was probably taken body-and-soul into heaven at his death. Have you ever seen a first class relic of St. Joseph? Me neither. St. Francis De Sales, a doctor of the Church, considers it definite that St. Joseph was taken body-and-soul into heaven at his death. Many such saints look to Gen 50:25 as a prophesy. Common sense dictates: Would God let his own foster father rot in the ground until His second coming? Indeed, we know that although Mary’s Assumption was unique, Mary was not the only one taken body-and-soul into heaven for a preemptive resurrection of the body. (See Gen 5:24, 2 Kings2:11 and Matt 27:53.) That St. Joseph should be among this small party of bodies in heaven is easy to believe when you consider that St. Joseph has been defined doctrinally by the magisterium as the second greatest saint. (See the writings by Pope Leo XIII.) I would have thought that the runner up to Mary would have gone to, say, St. Paul or St. Catherine of Siena. Nope. St. Joseph is the second greatest saint, even higher than the angels in glory. A simple carpenter! In fact, St. Teresa of Ávila says of St. Joseph: “I do not remember that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant.” Remember this when you pray for—and with—the dying. Since St. Joseph died with Jesus and Mary at his side, he is considered the patron of a good death. My experience is that his intercession is almost immediate.

4) St. Joseph is the head of the Holy Family. This seems obvious, but think about it: St. Joseph is #3 in holiness in his family, but he is #1 in the authority of his family.  Right here we have the whole Catholic answer to the issue of women’s ordination, the role of the father as the spiritual leader of the family and even the necessity of complementary roles played by two different genders in the family. Why? Because the Holy Family reveals to post-moderns that roles themselves do not imply superiority; roles prove natural law. (Natural Law is the universal law of family and morality already stamped into the heart of human beings found in any culture.) One day, we Americans may learn that the equality of dignity enjoyed by man and woman is not the same as a bland, interchangeable sameness of family members. How boring. Rather, real roles provide beauty when they are lived without chauvinism or manipulation. Mary was holier than Joseph, but that didn’t stop her from being obedient to him. In fact, Jesus—the Divine Word of the Universe—was obedient to both of them (Luke 2:51.) So, what was Joseph’s role, anyway? That of every man: To protect, guard, provide, teach, guide and love. When a woman lets a man do this, it’s not conveying inferiority. It’s letting him live the fullness of his own masculine love for his family.

5) St. Joseph is the Return of the King. If you look at St. Joseph’s genealogy in the Gospel of St. Matthew, you will see that Joseph had to be the hidden king of Israel by being a direct descendent of King David. Why didn’t anyone know it? Because David’s royalty had to go underground to give way to a corrupt Hebrew theocracy in cahoots with Greek invaders. (For more, see the Old Testament’s 1 and 2 Maccabees, aka the Jewish Braveheart…Yes, some poor Protestans took out the most exciting book in the Bible because Luther didn’t like the Purgatory reference in 2 Macc 12:39-42.) Anyway, follow closely for one more minute: St. Joseph was “King of Israel.” This is proved right there in Matt 1:6-16. He is in the direct bloodline of King David! Read it if you think that that is a title that belongs only to Jesus. In fact, Jesus being the supposed-son of the king may have been a cruel but prophetic twist on the head-placard written by Pontius Pilate at Jesus’ crucifixion: HIC EST IESUS, REX IUDAEORUM—Matt 27:37. Of course, Jesus goes beyond Joseph as the prophesied everlasting King of Israel (2 Sam 7:12-13) since Jesus is God. If you’ve read any Scott Hahn, you know that the queen of a Jewish king was not his wife, but rather His mother (1 Kings 2:19.) Thus, if Jesus is king, then the queen of Israel is clearly Mary. Put it all together and this means: For different reasons, Mary and Joseph are both hidden royalty! The royal duty of Joseph was to guard and protect his queen, Mary. But it doesn’t end there. His duty of guarding this queen was the cameo of his longer vocation to protect the Catholic Church by his intercession in heaven. Is this a pious but random connection? No. The Church’s theology is that Mary lived as the exemplar (supreme goal and example) of the Church. This means that everything St. Joseph did once for her on earth, he would do now for the Church from his spot in heaven. Now it is easy to understand why St. Joseph’s current role is to guard and protect the Church in her pilgrim state of danger here on earth. He is summoned to protect her from both theological error and real demons. We need to call on him now more than ever in this time of nearly unprecedented confusion within the Church and diabolical attack within the family (the domestic Church.) “St. Joseph, terror of demons” is ready to help us pray and act and teach as men.

Lastly…I’ve traveled to missions and parishes on five continents during the past three years and I would argue that it is mostly in Western nations where people consider religion to be a “woman thing.” Not so in the Middle East, in India, in Africa. God is for both genders. Consider the witness of the 21 Egyptian Christian martyrs whose heads were sawed off with knives last month while they were still alive. (This is not “beheading” as the media erroneously calls it. “Beheading” was something merciful that Herod did to John the Baptist.) Did you know that these 21 were not ultra-religious Copts hand-picked by ISIS for torture? They were ordinary Christian men. Did you know every one of them was given the chance to verbally deny Jesus and then accept Islam? These normal fathers and husbands submitted to a gory death on the shores of Libya instead of denying our dear Savior, Jesus Christ. Beshir Kamel, a brother of two of the martyrs, later said that his brothers and friends were “a badge of honor to Christianity…ISIS gave us more than we asked when they didn’t edit out the part where they declared their faith and called upon Jesus Christ. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith.” Yes, this was the year 2015. Perhaps it is no coincidence that both Josephs of the Bible have blessed the sands of Egypt by their courageous and manly witness when compromise could have “saved” them. St. Joseph, genetically so close to these modern heroes and martyrs of Libya/Egypt, pray for similar men to be raised up in the Church of the Americas.

—I originally wrote this article for Those Catholic Men.

40 Martyrs of Sebaste

Today is the Memorial of the 40 Roman Soldiers who banded together in modern day Armenia, refusing to renounce Christ.  St. Basil writes of their glorious and manly martyrdom:

These holy martyrs suffered at Sebaste, in the Lesser Armenia, under the Emperor Licinius, in 320. They were of different countries, but enrolled in the same troop; all in the flower of their age, comely, brave, and robust, and were become considerable for their services. St. Gregory of Nyssa and Procopius say they were of the Thundering Legion, so famous under Marcus Aurelius for the miraculous rain and victory obtained by their prayers. This was the twelfth legion, and then quartered in Armenia. Lysias was duke or general of the forces, and Agricola the governor of the province. The latter having signified to the army the orders of the emperor Licinius for all to sacrifice [to false gods], these forty went boldly up to him, and said they were Christians, and that no torments should make them ever abandon their holy religion. The judge first endeavoured to gain them by mild usage; as by representing to them the dishonour that would attend their refusal to do what was required, and by making them large promises of preferment and high favour with the emperor in case of compliance. Finding these methods of gentleness ineffectual, he had recourse to threats, and these the most terrifying, if they continued disobedient to the emperor’s order, but all in vain. To his promises they answered that he could give them nothing equal to what he would deprive them of; and to his threats, that his power only extended over their bodies which they had learned to despise when their souls were at stake. The governor, finding them all resolute, caused them to be torn with whips, and their sides to be rent with iron hooks; after which they were loaded with chains, and committed to jail.

After some days, Lysias, their general, coming from Caesarea to Sebaste, they were re-examined, and no less generously rejected the large promises made them than they despised the torments they were threatened with. The governor, highly offended at their courage, and that liberty of speech with which they accosted him, devised an extraordinary kind of death, which, being slow and severe, he hoped would shake their constancy. The cold in Armenia is very sharp, especially in March, and towards the end of winter, when the wind is north, as it then was, it being also at that time a severe frost. Under the walls of the town stood a pond, which was frozen so hard that it would bear walking upon with safety. The judge ordered the saints to be exposed quite naked on the ice; and in order to tempt them the more powerfully to renounce their faith, a warm bath was prepared at a small distance from the frozen pond, for any of this company to go to who were disposed to purchase their temporal ease and safety on that condition.

The martyrs, on hearing their sentence, ran joyfully to the place, and without waiting to be stripped, undressed themselves, encouraging one another in the same manner as is usual among soldiers in military expeditions attended with hardships and dangers, saying that one bad night would purchase them a happy eternity. They also made this their joint prayer: “Lord, we are forty who are engaged in this combat; grant that we may be forty crowned, and that not one be wanting to this sacred number.” The guards in the mean time ceased not to persuade them to sacrifice [to false gods], that by so doing they might be allowed to pass to the warm bath. But though it is not easy to form a just idea of the bitter pain they must have undergone, of the whole number only one had the misfortune to be overcome; who, losing courage, went off from the pond to seek the relief in readiness for such as were disposed to renounce their faith; but as the devil usually deceives his adorers, the apostate no sooner entered the warm water but he expired. This misfortune afflicted the martyrs; but they were quickly comforted by seeing his place and their number miraculously filled up. A sentinel was warming himself near the bath, having been posted there to observe if any of the martyrs were inclined to submit. While he was attending, he had a vision of blessed spirits descending from heaven on the martyrs, and distributing, as from their king, rich presents and precious garments; St. Ephrem adds crowns to all these generous soldiers, one only excepted, who was their faint-hearted companion already mentioned. The guard, being struck with the celestial vision and the apostate’s desertion, was converted upon it; and by a particular motion of the Holy Ghost, threw off his clothes, and placed himself in his stead amongst the thirty-nine martyrs. Thus God heard their request, though in another manner than they imagined: “Which ought to make us adore the impenetrable secrets of his mercy and justice,” says St. Ephrem, “in this instance, no less than in the reprobation of Judas and the election of St. Matthias.”

In the morning the judge ordered both those that were dead with the cold, and those that were still alive, to be laid on carriages, and cast into a fire. When the rest were thrown into a waggon to be carried to the pile, the youngest of them (whom the acts call Melito) was found alive; and the executioners, hoping he would change his resolution when he came to himself, left him behind. His mother, a woman of mean condition, and a widow, but rich in faith and worthy to have a son a martyr, observing this false compassion, reproached the executioners; and when she came up to her son, whom she found quite frozen, not able to stir, and scarce breathing, he looked on her with languishing eyes, and made a little sign with his weak hand to comfort her. She exhorted him to persevere to the end, and, fortified by the Holy Ghost, took him up, and put him with her own hands into the waggon with the rest of the martyrs, not only without shedding a tear, but with a countenance full of joy, saying courageously: “Go, go, son, proceed to the end of this happy journey with thy companions, that thou mayest not be the last of them that shall present themselves before God.” Nothing can be more inflamed or more [moving] than the discourse which St. Ephrem puts into her mouth, by which he expresses her contempt of life and all earthly things, and her ardent love and desire of eternal life. This holy father earnestly entreats her to conjure this whole troop of martyrs to join in imploring the divine mercy in favour of his sinful soul. Their bodies were burned, and their ashes thrown into the river; but the Christians secretly carried off or purchased part of them with money. Some of these precious relics were kept in Caesarea, and St. Basil says of them: “Like bulwarks, they are our protection against the inroads of enemies.”

St. Stephen and Rogue One

Spoiler alert on Rogue One for the second half of this blog post.

Today is the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Catholic Church. His martyrdom is found in Acts chapter 7 and it contains the jarring testimony of a young deacon who chooses God’s religion over man’s intertwined religious games. Although engaging the high-powered Jewish religious leaders of Christ’s own time, St. Stephen is fearless in proclaiming how Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of all the Hebrew Scriptures. Before being stoned to death, Stephen recounts to the Pharisees all of Salvation history. Then he accuses them:

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”—Acts 7:51-53

Why did Stephen die? The obvious answer is out of love for Jesus Christ. In fact, every martyr dies for love of Jesus Christ. But there’s a second reason that is not as obvious or ecumenical: Stephen died for the full deposit of the faith.  “Deposit of the faith” is not a romantic term but we should face the facts:  Most martyrs of the early Church (especially in the Byzantine East) died for the transmission of the deposit of the faith to remain pure against heresy. Think about it: If the early Catholic martyrs of Rome and Palestine and Byzantium had not died to maintain the purity of the Apostolic Christian faith, there would be no Catholics. Actually, there would be no Orthodox or Protestants. There would be no Christians.  It’s quite a fragile system of Apostolic succession that God put in place.

Do not think that any particular heritage or bloodline is the sole guarantor of your Faith. For example, no English or Irish Catholics reading this post would be Catholic if Italians like St. Gregory the Great had not sent missionaries to the isles up north. Gregory was born in Rome, and he himself owes his faith to more individuals than Christ:  He would never have been  baptized a Catholic, had not the Roman martyrs for hundreds of years before him maintained the courage under fire to keep the pureness of the faith. Pope St. Gregory the Great learned about Catholicism only because it was preserved by the martyrs of the Roman empire for a full five centuries prior to his own baptism.

2 Maccabees chapter 7 relays the account of the martyrdom of a Jewish woman and her seven sons.  They die not for a pure emotional love of God but to keep even the smallest of dietary laws.  So also, the martyrs died not only for Christ, but for the fullness of the Catholic faith. Every little bit. Did every little bit really matter?  Jesus said:  “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 5:19.  The Apostle John urges the Churches of Turkey to “return to their first love”  and the Holy Spirit warns through him that there will be consequences to watering down the faith. Today,  the faith is all but dead in Turkey.  Similarly, we must avoid any presumption that would lead us to believe that God would “owe us a living,” so to speak, in the Church in the West today.

I’ve gone to see Rogue One twice now. What struck me is that all the good guys in the movie die. At least the ones we learn by name, perish. They are either blasted or nuked by the Imperial forces. Why? Because the Rebel Alliance chose to sacrifice their lives for one single piece of information:   The digital plans for the DeathStar. Americans usually don’t like movies where all the good guys die. Europeans can handle it. But Rogue One took a risk with us Americans in wiping out almost every significant member of the Rebel Alliance against Darth Vader and his DeathStar pioneers.

Was it a good idea for Lucas Films to force us to watch our heroes die for the transmission of a single piece of information? Yes, because this is how the martyrs of the early Church saw things: The Catholic Faith was worth their blood for every single one of those small pieces of “information.” Yes, they received the courage and charity to die, primarily because they were given grace and mercy by the Blessed Trinity in their hour of agony. Yes, they died out of love of Jesus Christ. But if you look closely, many of early martyrs of Byzantium and the Roman Empire actually died to also maintain the pure deposit of the faith against certain “small” heresies that wouldn’t even be recognized by the post-modern reader.

Nowadays, people are taking sides between Cardinals on issues of doctrine that are finally making the mainstream news. The group on the left claims that their Cardinals are pastoral and merciful. The group to the right claims that their Cardinals are traditional. But many traditionalists do not understand just how traditional we are talking. We’re not lining up behind a Cardinal because he dresses like someone at the Council of Trent. We’re lining up behind men who are not only maintaining the Apostles’ Faith but also the blood of millions of “little people” to preserve it.   Literally millions.

Like Rogue One, many “little people”  died to bring us this pure, untouched information. For me to deny any single tenet of the Catholic faith has little to do with the liberal/conservative spectrum. For me to deny any single tenet of the Catholic faith would trample the blood of martyrs like St. Stephen.  St. Stephen is known as the proto-martyr because he was the first martyr of the Catholic Faith. St. Stephen proto-martyr is first Rogue One against lawyers’ manmade religion of popularity when St. Stephen presented them with Divine Revelation.

The martyrs that followed Stephen died for Jesus Christ, yes, but let’s examine a less ecumenical truth:  Jesus didn’t need those martyrs as much as we Catholics in future generations needed those martyrs to stay strong under torture.  It was a torture for your children to know the fullness of truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The whole truth.  Surrender without content is usually not worth dying for.  Neither was an ambiguous “deposit of faith” (unromantic though it be) transmitted in apostolic succession or the martyrs of the early Byzantine and Roman Empires.  I am only a priest. Too many men, women and even children died for me to learn the Catholic faith for me to tamper with that deposit of the faith with political terms like “liberal” or “conservative.”

St. Stephen was the first Rogue One. He chose truth over the false-peace contained in man’s laws. So also every martyr is a rebel against the kingdom of man; he is a Rogue for God in an enormous community of the Catholic Church.  Every one of them played a small part in brining us not only Jesus Christ and His sacraments, but also the full and saving doctrine His Church—a doctrine without which the sacraments would contain no power to live…or to die.