We're no strangers to the lore of the martyrs: their sacrifice, their bravery, their unshakable beliefs. But why do it? What is the incentive, the allure? Word on Fire contributor Jared Zimmerer examines the appeal of martyrdom and why it's not only something we crave but something we can do.
Throughout history, men and women have given the ultimate sacrifice for what they believe. Whether that cause is for the good nature of faith, freedom and family or the ever promising yet always short-lived notions of money, grandeur and worldly honor, people tend to find the sacrifice worth the fatal end. The history of the Catholic Faith is riddled with servants of Christ who have endured and glorified some of the worst physical pains known to man. Without knowledge of the good they died for, their sacrifice seems not only vain, but idiotic. However, the transcendent characteristic of their deaths, which can only make sense to those willing to search for it, brands the gruesome scenes worthy of celebration.
One of my favorite paintings, the Last Judgment fresco by Michelangelo seen in the Sistine Chapel, depicts a few of the more popular saints in the way in which they were martyred. There is St. Lawrence with his grate and St. Bartholomew with his knife and flayed skin, St. Andrew with his cross, St. Sebastian holding up the arrows with which he was shot, St. Blaise with his wool combs and St. Catherine with her wheel. These martyrs are put upon pedestals through Church history because mankind recognizes their sacrifice. But could that recognition go further than just human admiration? Could it be perhaps that we were made to “die with our boots on” so to speak?...
Today is the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, a French 15-16th century Doctor of the Church, who wrote extensively about spiritual direction and formation. Word on Fire blog contributor Jared Zimmerer takes a closer look at the saint, and how his message is as pertinent as ever as we aim to fulfill the mission of the New Evangelization.
St. Francis De Sales, Doctor of the Church and spiritual master, was a man who deeply understood the Church’s mission to evangelize. His masterpiece, Introduction to the Devout Life, had an influence on me as a reader, a writer and a Catholic. In his many other works, such as the Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis imbued philosophical contemplation with theological sophistication. At times his accessible prose will give way to intensely poetic language such as this: “The same humility which conceals graces with a view to their preservation is ready to bring them forth at the bidding of Charity, with a view to their increase and perfection; therein reminding me of that tree in the Isles of Tylos, which closes its beautiful carnation blossoms at night, only opening them to the rising sun, so that the natives say they go to sleep.” (Introduction to the Devout Life Part 3, Ch. 5) De Sales opens his reader’s soul to deeper reflections of an array of subjects, each relating to a different aspect of humanity as transformed by Christ.
Fifty years before De Sales was born, Jean Calvin introduced his vision for the reform of the Church, a vision that rejected many of the principles that had directed the faithful since the apostolic period and severed many of the baptized from communion with the Catholic faith. The divisions of the Protestant reformation ensured that St. Francis would spend his life in an atmosphere of cultural upheaval, which led to state-sponsored strategies that would use coercion as a means of controlling the religious aspirations and practices of people. Christendom gave way to versions of Christianity where oftentimes politically enforced decisions determined what one could believe. Appointed Bishop of Geneva, which had for many years been controlled by a Calvinist theocratic regime, De Sales could see that in order for the Catholic faith make the case for its way of life, it would have to counter hostility and violence through acts of compassion and charity, and it would be through these practices of love that the doctrinal claims of Catholicism would be revealed as the truth. The ardor that St. Francis demonstrated came from his relationship with Christ in the Church, a relationship that manifested itself in practical actions of love and mercy...
What's in a name? Ask any expectant parent and you'll hear: a whole lot of pressure. Moms and dads want to be unique but not bizarre, creative but not pretentious, memorable but not laughable. Understanding that her own pregnant sister is traversing these hotly debated waters, Kerry Trotter has found some saints whose names are due for a popular comeback.
Nothing gets us folks here at Word on Fire more excited than the birth of a baby. This is why we are especially thrilled that our own video producer, Megan Fleischel, will be welcoming her third child any day now. Megan happens to be my sister, and she and her husband, Jamie, have kept both the gender of their little one, and what they will call him or her, under wraps.
On the off chance that they aren’t settled on a name, I’ve taken the liberty of offering some suggestions of monikers that are inspiring, original or just plain awesome. Not content with the Top 10 trendy types, and tired of the swinging hipster pendulum to random silent letter territory, I give you these gems. Since we are a Catholic organization, I made sure that these were names of saints, too. If they don’t shelve their own naming plans for one of these, I will be offended.
In alphabetical order, my suggestions:
Abundius — If baby Fleischel winds up a boy, this would be an obvious pick. Both strong and memorable, it has that Latin suffix that screams, “I’m important, and my dad studied the Classics in college.” But moreover, in a twist of nomenclature irony, there is little known about him. Abundius? Not so abundant. Abundius Fleischel, then, has the liberty of writing his own story without anyone too pious to live up to. Score...
The turkey is all carcass and the pie long polished off, yet we still linger on that one element of this holiday passed — the gratitude — and hope to bring it with us every day. Father Steve Grunow shared his reflection on those who gave so much asking for so little both with Patheos.com, and in turn with us, today.
I believe that it was the 20th-century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar who described holiness as a quality by which one would disappear into the mission of the Church. This insight strikes me as right. Saints do not set about their mission with a publicity strategy in mind. Some saints do become famous, even in the face of their best efforts to resist, but no saint is looking for celebrity status. By the time their image is unfurled on the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica, the saint has long since moved on and receives no personal benefit from all the accolades. Their heart was always set on greater things anyway. If during their life on earth someone might have complimented them on their apparent holiness they would likely have dismissed such claims. Saints are the ones who have little appreciation for how much they manifest Christ. I think that they are so enamored of how the Lord reveals his divine life in others, that they have little time for seeing him in their own image.
Saints will accept our gratitude and even our praise, but they will never keep these for themselves. They give all that to Christ. It is one of the ways that they decrease as the Lord increases...
Father Steve Grunow shares his homily for All Souls Day, a day in which we pray for the dead. These prayers serve a mighty purpose, for they are our pipeline to those purgatory, and part of their journey to heaven. This isn't a "here" vs. "there" relationship, but one that draws us all into the divine life of Jesus Christ.
The feast of All Souls, or the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, is the day on which Masses offered are intended for the benefit of the dead.
This particular practice seems to have originated with the monasteries associated with the Cluniac reform, and quickly gained momentum in terms of popular piety.
The theological reasoning that undergirds the practice of offering Masses for the dead is inextricably linked to the Church’s understanding of Purgatory, but perhaps more importantly, to the Communion of Saints. The Communion of Saints insists that the dead remain in a relationship with the living, and both can intercede for one another. This prayerful rapport is to the benefit of both.
The Communion of Saints also means that the Church is simultaneously a reality of earth and of heaven and the two co-inhere with each other in tangible ways...