Tag Archives: doctor of the Church

Lift up Your Hearts!

18 Mar

cyril of jerusalemSandwiched between the more popular feast days of St. Patrick (yesterday) and St. Joseph (tomorrow), we celebrate the feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. This 4th-century Church Father and Doctor of the Church could be considered the “patron saint” of RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), as he has left us in his “Catechetical Lectures” instructions for new Christians in the days immediately before and after their initiation into the life of the Church at the Easter Vigil. In these catechetical instructions, we find very strong insistence on the value and efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism as well as a clear affirmation of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

St. Cyril died in 386, just a few years after participating, as Bishop of Jerusalem, at the First Council of Constantinople. This Council is known for completing the Creed commonly known as the Nicene Creed.

Here is a short sampling from one of St. Cyril’s catechetical lectures, in which he unpacks part of the Preface (prayers) that are said immediately before the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. As you will readily see, this message is just as applicable to us as it was to Christians in St. Cyril’s time:

“The Priest cries aloud, Lift up your hearts. For truly ought we in that most awful hour to have our heart on high with God, and not below, thinking of earth and earthly things. In effect therefore the Priest bids all in that hour to dismiss all cares of this life, or household anxieties, and to have their heart in heaven with the merciful God. Then you answer, We lift them up unto the Lord: assenting to it, by your avowal. But let no one come here, who could say with his mouth, We lift up our hearts unto the Lord, but in his thoughts have his mind concerned with the cares of this life. At all times, rather, God should be in our memory but if this is impossible by reason of human infirmity, in that hour above all this should be our earnest endeavor.”

The Other Lawrence

21 Jul

St. Lawrence of BrindisiToday is the feast of St. Lawrence of Brindisi. When reference is made to a “St. Lawrence,” however, we are usually referring to the third-century deacon and martyr who is even mentioned in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I). This latter St. Lawrence, given his special patronage of those who barbecue, is indeed a fine summertime saint in his own right, but his feast isn’t till next month.

Today’s St. Lawrence (1559-1619) was a Capuchin Franciscan priest who led, even by secular standards, a most remarkable life. One commentator has gone so far as to call him “the greatest man and the greatest saint yet produced by the Capuchin Franciscan Order.” Surely the excellence of his preaching was recognized by Blessed John XXIII, who named him a Doctor of the Church in 1959.

In 2002-03, I published in Lay Witness a series of 12 articles on the Marian teachings of St. Lawrence of Brindisi. Most if not all of these are currently available in the Lay Witness archives. These particular writings were translated into English for the first time by Joseph Almeida, professor of classics at Franciscan University of Steubenville. To view these articles, click here and browse the 2002 and 2003 issues.

I’d like to close with the beautiful Opening Prayer for today’s feast:

O God, who for the glory of your name and the salvation of souls bestowed on the Priest Saint Lawrence of Brindisi a spirit of counsel and fortitude, grant, we pray, that in the same spirit, we may know what must be done and, through his intercession, bring it to completion. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lyre, Lyre, Sanctifier

9 Jun

St. EphremToday the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Ephrem the Syrian, a fourth-century doctor of the Church.

Of all the doctors of the Church, St. Ephrem is the only one who was what we would today call a “permanent deacon.” With the establishment of the permanent diaconate in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in recent years, it seem especially fitting to take a closer look at St. Ephrem today.

Early in life, this fascinating saint attended the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325) and ran a catechetical school in Nisibis, which was in Syria. After the Persians annexed the area, Ephrem was a refugee, and he ended up as a monk and deacon in Edessa, in present-day Turkey.

St. Ephrem is known as the “Lyre of the Holy Spirit” because of the beautiful hymns he composed. He is the most famous of the Syriac Fathers of the Church, and in addition to his hymns he wrote many works of a biblical and apologetic character. Continue reading

St. Isidore of Seville

4 Apr

IsidoreMany years ago, a young man for whom I served as Confirmation sponsor and his wife were expecting a baby this time of year. Their last name is “Wall.” When I suggested that they name their child after today’s saint, Isidore of Seville, this young man famously responded, “Isidore . . . a Wall?”

Not to be confused with St. Isidore the Farmer, St. Isidore of Seville was a learned bishop and doctor of the Church who lived around the turn of the seventh century.

One story associated with St. Isidore is that, despite his obvious intellectual gifts as an adult, he struggled as a young student. One day things got so bad for Isidore that he ran away from home and from school. His brother Leander, some twenty years older than he, was his teacher, and a very demanding one. (Leander would nonetheless eventually become a bishop and saint.) While Isidore sat by himself out in the woods, he watched some drops of water falling on a rock. Then he noticed that the dripping water had worn a hole in the hard rock! The thought came to him that he could do what the little drops of water did. Little by little, by sticking to it, he could learn all his brother demanded, and maybe even more.

In more recent years St. Isidore has grown in popularity because some people have suggested that he should be named the patron saint of the Internet. That’s because St. Isidore wrote a 20-book collection called Etymologies, or The Origins, in which he tried to record everything that was known in his time. It was considered the encyclopedia of all human knowledge for over 1000 years. His search to record knowledge and make it available clearly foreshadows the purpose of the Internet.

St. Isidore, pray for us!

Sacred Banquet

28 Jan

st_thomas_aquinasO Sacred Banquet,
in which Christ is received,
the memory of His Passion is recalled,
the soul is filled with grace,
and the pledge of future glory is given to us.

–St. Thomas Aquinas

For more on this beautiful antiphon by the Angelic Doctor, click here.

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Introducing the Devout Life

24 Jan

St. Francis de SalesToday the Church celebrates the feast of St. Francis de Sales, a 17th-century bishop and doctor of the Church. St. Francis de Sales is known as one of the true masters of the spiritual life. Through his spiritual masterpieces, such as Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God, he continues to guide many men and women on the road to holiness.

I especially recommend Ralph Martin’s recent bestseller, The Fulfillment of All Desire, which synthesizes the insights of St. Francis de Sales and other spiritual giants into a single volume for contemporary readers.

In the Office of Readings for today, we are given the following excerpt from Introduction to the Devout Life, which exhorts all of us to strive for sanctity in our daily lives:

“When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.

“I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular. Continue reading

Follow the Leader

27 Sep

Do any of the following quotes sound familiar?

“It’s my way or the highway!”

“You can’t tell him (or her) anything.”

“I don’t care what anyone else says . . .”

Or even, “Honey, please stop and ask for directions.”

These and many similar comments point to how our stubborn pride keeps us from seeking the input of others–usually to our own detriment. How often we lack the humility to realize that we don’t have all the answers, that we can and must learn from others.

There is a virtue that helps us to overcome this false sense of self-sufficiency. That virtue is docility, which is simply the ability to be taught. Even more, as a Christian virtue, docility is what enables us to be formed in the Catholic faith, to grow as disciples of Christ the Teacher.

Doctor Know

Docility comes from the Latin verb docere, which means “to teach.” From docere we get the word “doctrine”–that which is taught. During the era of “doctrine-free” catechesis (now there’s an oxymoron for you!), Church leaders and parents were rightly concerned that their children weren’t being taught, because teaching presupposes content. What was given to that generation–my generation–of young Catholics was many things (e.g., babysitting, sharing, collage-making), but it wasn’t doctrine.

From docere we also get the word “doctor,” which is another word for “teacher.” In the academic world, the most highly educated teachers earn their “doctorate.” In the Church, we have 34 doctors of the Church, from heavyweight philosophers and theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas to amazing spiritual guides like St. Teresa of Avila. The members of this select group are held up to the faithful as eminently reliable teachers of Christian doctrine.

And then finally we have the virtue of docility, which refers to our habitual attitude toward “doctors” who teach us “doctrine.” In other words, it’s about how teachable or coachable we are. As we will see, this virtue has specific applicability to our relationship to the Church, which is our Mother and Teacher. But it also applies to our ability to be taught in every sphere of daily living.

Docility is the mean between the extremes of, on the one hand, an excessive, prideful self-reliance, and on the other hand, a passive, cowering submissiveness. It’s about finding and utilizing wisdom wherever it is found. Mother Teresa famously searched for the “hidden Jesus” in everyone, especially the poorest of the poor. I think it’s fair to say that that the docile person searches for the “hidden wisdom” in others. Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

The Family That Overtook Christ

20 Aug

Today is the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). For many people, unfortunately, St. Bernard is merely a big, lovable breed of working dog. Even those of us with Catholic sensibilities might not know too much about him. Maybe we remember that he was devoted to Our Lady (which saint wasn’t?), and that he is believed to be the author of the prayer commonly known as the Memorare (”Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary . . .”). But even that’s probably pushing it.

It’s a shame we don’t know more about him, because Bernard was no ordinary monk. His singular holiness, his amazing zeal, his prolific spiritual writing, his founding of dozens of monasteries, and his decisive, godly impact on ecclesial and world affairs during his incredible life are all a matter of historical record.

My wife, children, and I really enjoyed reading together as a family The Family That Overtook Christ. It’s the story of St. Bernard’s remarkable family. His father Tescalin has been declared “Venerable” by the Church, and his mother, Alice, his sister Humbeline, and his brothers Guy, Gerard, Andrew, Bartholomew, and Nivard have all been declared “Blessed.” It’s one of the most edifying things I’ve read in a long time. One of the most challenging, too. The holy siblings frequently attributed their exceptional religious formation to their parents, who truly raised a generation of saints. Isn’t that the goal of all of us Catholic parents? May we single-mindedly lead our families in pursuit of Christ!

Bernard was no ordinary monk. In fact, he is no ordinary saint. He is one of only 34 saints to have been declared a “doctor of the Church,” whose exceptional, timeless teaching is a sure guide for all of us in our own journey to God.

Now maybe some of us have heard of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and a few of us may even have known about the Memorare. But how many of us have bothered to pick up one of St. Bernard’s classic works, such as his Treatise on the Love of God or his commentary on the Song of Songs?

fulfillment3d.gifI realize that these spiritual classics aren’t as readily available in bookstores as the Da Vinci Code or Fifty Shades of Gray. And even if we found them, we might find them a bit daunting or intimidating. That’s why I’m so grateful to Ralph Martin for writing The Fulfillment of All Desire. In Fulfillment, he takes the writings of seven great doctors of the Western Church, including St. Bernard, and presents them in a systematic, easy-to-read way. Heck, even Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pope’s personal preacher and retreat master, has heartily endorsed this book for all who want to grow in the spiritual life.

So, in gratitude to God for lifting up holy teachers like St. Bernard of Clairvaux, I’d like to conclude with the collect for today’s Mass:

O God, who made the Abbot Saint Bernard a man consumed with zeal for your house and a light shining and burning in your Church, grant, through his intercession, that we may be on fire with the same spirit and walk always as children of light. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Athanasius, Pray for Us!

2 May

Today is the feast of St. Athanasius, a fourth-century bishop and doctor of the Church. His titles aptly include “Father of Orthodoxy” and “Pillar of the Church.” He defended the faith of the Church against the Arian heresy, which held that Christ was a created being and therefore not divine.

Our Lord’s divinity was upheld at the ecumenical council of Nicea in 325 A.D.–a council attended by the young Athanasius–but he spent the next 50 years defending the Council’s teaching at great personal cost, including exiles and persecution.

For the Office of Readings for this date, we are given a beautiful excerpt from a discourse by St. Athanasius on the Incarnation of the Word. Here is part of that selection:

The Word of God, incorporeal, incorruptible and immaterial, entered our world. Yet it was not as if he had been remote from it up to that time. For there is no part of the world that was ever without his presence; together with his Father, he continually filled all things and places.

Out of his loving kindness for us he came to us, and we see this in the way he revealed himself openly to us. Taking pity on mankind’s weakness, and moved by our corruption, he could not stand aside and see death have the mastery over us; he did not want creation to perish and his Father’s work in fashioning man to be in vain. He therefore took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen.

If he had wanted simply to be seen, he could indeed have taken another, and nobler, body. Instead, he took our body in its reality.

Within the Virgin he built himself a temple, that is, a body; he made it his own instrument in which to dwell and to reveal himself. In this way he received from mankind a body like our own, and, since all were subject to the corruption of death, he delivered this body over to death for all, and with supreme love offered it to the Father. He did so to destroy the law of corruption passed against all men, since all died in him. The law, which had spent its force on the body of the Lord, could no longer have any power over his fellowmen. Moreover, this was the way in which the Word was to restore mankind to immortality, after it had fallen into corruption, and summon it back from death to life. He utterly destroyed the power death had against mankind–as fire consumes chaff–by means of the body he had taken and the grace of the resurrection. . . .

Almighty ever-living God, who raised up the Bishop Saint Athanasius as an outstanding champion of your Son’s divinity, mercifully grant, that, rejoicing in his teaching and his protection, we may never cease to grow in knowledge and love of you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Chrysostom on Withholding Communion

13 Sep

Today is the feast of St. John Chrysostom, the famous Bishop of Constantinople at the turn of the fifth century. He was given the title “Chrysostom, which means “golden mouthed,” because of his eloquent sermons. He’s also known as a doctor of the Church because of his timeless, orthodox teaching.

In his book Luminous Mysteries, Scripture scholar Tim Gray quotes at length from St. John Chrysostom’s homily “On the Institution of the Eucharist,” which I reprint below. I think you’ll agree that it’s quite instructive on the controversial subject of the sacred minister’s duty to withhold Communion from a notorious sinner:

“I speak not only to the communicant, but also I say to the priest who ministers the Sacrament: Distribute this gift with much care. There is no small punishment for you, if being conscious of any wickedness in any man, you allow him to partake of the banquet of the table: ‘Shall I not now require his blood at your hand?’ (2 Sam. 4:11). If some public figure, or some wealthy person who is unworthy, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, forbid him. The authority that you have is greater than his. Consider if your task were to guard a clean spring of water for a flock, and you saw a sheep approach with mire on its mouth–you would not allow it to stoop down and pollute the stream. You are now entrusted with a spring, not of water, but of blood and of spirit. If you see someone having sin in his heart (which is far more grievous than earth and mire), coming to receive the Eucharist, are you not concerned? Do you try to prevent him? What excuse can you have, if you do not? Continue reading