St. Francis's Christmas Miracle


Living nativities–those church-produced (predominantly Protestant) programs that recreate the birth of Jesus with live actors, animals and elaborate props–are wildly popular during the Christmas season, often moving audiences to tears as the birth of the God-Man plays forth in a reverent, tender, and visually-satisfying 3D manner.

We Catholics, however, can take credit for the first living nativity (excluding, of course, the Actual Event), and we owe it all to St. Francis of Assisi.

In 1223, a generous and spiritual landowner by the name of John Vellita donated a piece of land to Francis and his followers. Located on a rocky and windswept mountainside on the outskirts of the town of Greccio, the land afforded Francis and his brothers a grand view of the town below.

Inspired in part by his new surroundings, Francis made an unusual request of John Vellita that December. He wished to recreate the original Nativity scene of Bethlehem for the townspeople. What better way, Francis felt, to welcome the Christ Child than to actually see, hear, and feel the harsh and poor conditions that He was born into. Sentimental stories and artists' renditions were fine, but this "reenactment" would help people understand how God used the ordinary to bring about the most extraordinary happening in human history.

John Vellita eagerly agreed, and soon a manger was set up in a cave on the hill, fresh hay was scattered around, and a donkey and ox were brought up to complete the scene. A simple altar was erected, beneath which lay a wax figure of the Holy Infant.

At midnight that Christmas, Francis celebrated Mass surrounded by the curious townspeople, who had made the trek up the dark mountain with lit torches and faith-filled hearts. As Francis spoke the words of the Mass, emotion overtook him to the point that tears rolled down his face. The onlookers were awestruck at the love and joy and piety that engulfed the humble man at the altar.

Then the miracle happened.

Francis picked up the wax figure of the Baby Jesus, and to the spectators' wondrous delight, the Infant appeared to come to life. He smiled at Francis and stroked his wet cheeks. Francis sighed deeply and was manifestly overcome with joy.

St. Bonaventure, in his biography of St. Francis, reports that the hay used in that "living nativity" cured all sorts of diseases and pestilence in the cattle that ate it over the ensuing months.

Today there is a church on the site where the "Miracle of Greccio" took place. It continues to be a popular place of pilgrimage, especially during the Christmas season.





MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

The Ouija Board: Just Say No



The movie Ouija has been tops at the box office now for the last couple of weeks. While interest in the movie itself isn’t necessarily of great concern (I happen to love horror movies myself), it’s the real-life obsession in the movie’s subject matter that is unsettling: the Ouija board.

Tens of millions of these “games” have been sold since their inception in the late 1800s. Modernized by Parker Brothers in the 1960s (and now sold under the Hasbro label), the board has been marketed as a harmless toy and party game. In fact, in 2008 Toys R Us even began selling a special pink edition just for little girls. How cute! Maybe the demons will wear tutus and ribbons when they come to the party! (The pink board has since been removed from the store, but a glow-in-the-dark one is still available.)

Make no mistake: the Ouija board is no toy. It’s not a game. It’s not harmless.

Fr. Thomas Euteneurer, exorcist and author of Exorcism and the Church Militant, is on record as saying that as many as ninety percent of the possession cases he encounters began with a Ouija board.

The late Catholic demonologist Ed Warren once called the Ouija board a proven “notorious passkey to terror.”

And the late Jesuit author Malachi Martin, who wrote extensively about demonic possession, once explained that the individual does not even have to intentionally engage the demonic. Simply dabbling in the occult, he believed, whether it was playing with a Ouija board or attending a séance or practicing transcendental meditation, the enneagram, etc., can dispose a person to possession because he has made himself an "aspiring vacuum" to "whatever happens along.

Something “happened along” one night many, many years ago in my own life, when a young female relative who was babysitting me thought it would be fun to show me her Ouija board. She was going to try to contact a long-dead family member known only to me as “Aunt Marie.” She started moving the pointer around the board until the word “H E R E” was spelled out. My babysitter was visibly shaken, I remember that, but whether or not she was faking, I don’t know. Nothing else dramatic happened right then. But later that night after I had gone to bed, I remember waking up and seeing a very scary-looking woman coming in my room through my window. She was smiling at me maniacally and I just knew–I could feel–that her intent toward me was evil. I screamed for my parents and the vision vanished. Maybe it was just a bad dream. Nevertheless, I never saw that Ouija board again.

The relative of whom I spoke I loved dearly. When she was around 30 years old, she disappeared under mysterious circumstances and has never been heard from again. She battled many demons during the short period of her life that I knew her, the addictive, destructive kinds that are on the natural plane. I’m sure, however, that her unfortunate interest in the occult only made things worse. I hope and pray I see her again one day.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear how we are to approach the occult:
2116: All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf offers this no-nonsense advice: “Avoid, avoid, avoid things that might open you up to oppression by the Enemy, such as Tarot cards and Ouija boards and other things that might be taken to be ‘games’.  If you have those things destroy them NOW, not later.”



St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wicknedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God, 
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world 
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Angels and the Rosary




St. Alphonsus Liguori once said that each time we pray a Hail Mary we attract the angels and repel the devils. Now think about how many times we say the Hail Mary in the Rosary. Hmm. That’s a pretty effective pest repellent, I’d say.

As satisfying as it is to know we’re chasing away sulfurous little creeps when saying the Rosary, it might be more beneficial to focus on the real angels and unite our prayers with theirs, keeping in mind the important roles their kind played in the lives of Jesus and Mary. They were there for every event, major and minor, public and private. Indeed, the angels illuminate the very mysteries we meditate upon during this devotion.

In honor of this month's Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, I'd like to share this reflection from Pope Leo XIII:
The Angels revealed each of these mysteries [of the Rosary] in its due time; they played a great part in them; they were constantly present at them… Gabriel was sent to announce the Incarnation of the Eternal Word to the Virgin. In the cave of Bethlehem, Angels sang the glory of the new-born Savior. The Angel gave Joseph command to fly with the Child into Egypt. An Angel consoled, with his loving words, Jesus in His bloody sweat in the garden. Angels announced His resurrection, after He had triumphed over death, to the women. Angels carried Him up into Heaven; and foretold His second coming, surrounded by Angelic hosts . . .
What more divine, what more delightful, than to meditate and pray with the Angels? With what confidence may we not hope that those who on earth have united with the Angels in this ministry will one day enjoy their blessed company in Heaven?

(From the encyclical, On the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, promulgated on Sept. 12, 1897)


Feast of the Guardian Angels - A Short Reflection



Meditation for the Feast of the Guardian Angels

Pope John XXIII, October 2, 1959

According to the teaching of the Roman catechism, we must remember how admirable was the intention of divine Providence in entrusting to the angels the mission of watching over all mankind, and over individual human beings, lest they should fall victims to the grave dangers which they encounter. In this earthly life, when children have to make their way along a path beset with obstacles and snares, their fathers take care to call upon the help of those who can look after them and come to their aid in adversity. In the same way our Father in heaven has charged his angels to come to our assistance during our earthly journey which leads us to our blessed fatherland, so that, protected by the angels' help and care, we may avoid the snares upon our path, subdue our passions and, under this angelic guidance, follow always the straight and sure road which leads to Paradise...

Everyone of us is entrusted to the care of an angel.

That is why we must have a lively and profound devotion to our own Guardian Angel, and why we should often and trustfully repeat the dear prayer we were taught in the days of our childhood.

May we never fail in this devotion to the angels! During our earthly pilgrimage we may often run the risk of having to face the natural elements in turmoil, or the wrath of men who may seek to do us harm. But our Guardian Angel is always present. Let us never forget him and always remember to pray to him.

The Curé of Ars and the Angels



My previous post featuring St. John Vianney was short and sweet and seriously in need of a sequel considering the stature of the saint involved.

To that end, and in honor of the Feast of the Curé of Ars (August 4th), I’d like to reflect a bit on the life of this remarkable priest and share some of his more memorable quotes about the angels (including the fallen ones, with whom he had some up-close-and-personal dealings).
~~~~~

St. John Vianney was born on May 8, 1786, in the small French town of Dardilly. He was the oldest of six children born to his parents, Matthieu and Marie. The anti-religious and anti-clerical political atmosphere brought on by the French Revolution made it difficult at that time to practice Catholicism, but the Vianneys managed to keep their faith alive and thriving by opting to teach their children at home instead of sending them to the state-run public schools.

It was in this environment that John’s faith and piety developed. His zeal was such that he was horrified by the large numbers of priests that defected and signed oaths of loyalty to the state. He famously said in response, “Oh, if I were a priest, I should want to win ever so many souls for God.” That desire would soon be made a reality.

After his rise to power in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte liberated the Church from state power, allowing church doors to reopen and Mass to be celebrated publicly once again. The road to the priesthood had been cleared for John, and at age 19 he entered the seminary. Life as a seminarian was a challenge, however, as academics, particularly Latin, proved difficult for John. Making matters worse, his studies were interrupted by a forced two-year stint in Napoleon’s army.

Upon his return to the seminary, John struggled again with academics and was almost dismissed by his superiors. But there were others in authority who recognized the value of John’s other gifts–his piety, asceticism, modesty, and power of recollection, to name a few. Given another chance to take his exams–this time in French instead of Latin–St. John passed with flying colors and in 1815 was ordained a priest.

At age 31, St. John was sent to the remote backwater village of Ars. Confronted with a staggering amount of immorality, religious indifference, and frivolity among his parishioners, John labored unceasingly to turn the tide back toward God. His success was nothing short of miraculous. It took 25 years, but eventually all 200 villagers “converted,” that is, were observing the 10 Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, and living a daily Christian life. His preaching became so famous for its eloquence and ability to touch even the most hardened hearts that many priests and bishops traveled from great distances to hear him.

But what St. John became most famous for was his ability as a confessor. He would hear confessions for 13-17 hours a day, sometimes hearing as many as 400 confessions in a day. With unparalleled powers of discernment and the ability to read hearts, St. John was able to pinpoint a sinner’s source of trouble and prescribe the exact means to treat or remove it. He also shared extreme empathy with penitents and would sob at the thought of souls being lost forever due to sin.

His long hours in the confessional left him little time for anything else, including eating or sleeping, and he often got by on a few hours of sleep and a couple of boiled potatoes. These sacrifices were nothing to St. John, though, as he regularly performed acts of self-inflicted penances. In fact, if someone gave him a loaf of bread, he would trade it for a crust from a beggar. He was known for giving easy penances in the confessional, saying “I give them a light penance and perform the rest myself.”

St. John also obtained many graces for his beloved Ars through his great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the Blessed Mother, and St. Philomena. One of the things the Curé soon became known for were miraculous cures, not only of the soul but the body as well. But his modesty made him uncomfortable with the attention these acts gained him, and so he made a pact with St. Philomena that he would send all healing requests to her and that he in turn would spread her devotion. St. Philomena reportedly appeared to St. John on occasion, as did the Blessed Virgin. He remarked, “With Our Lady and Saint Philomena we get on well together.”

St. John’s holiness and the good he did for the people of Ars caught the attention not only of Heaven, but (not surprisingly) of the other place as well. For 35 years, from 1824 to 1858, the Curé was subjected to an onslaught of spiritual and physical harassment from the devil, many instances of which were verified by witnesses. The attacks ranged from horrible manifestations, to pulling St. John out of bed by his ankles, to hideously screaming and/or singing in the middle of the night. One morning the Curé’s bed was set on fire while he was hearing confessions. St. John’s comment was, “Unable to catch the bird, he sets fire to the cage!”

The devil did all he could to prevent St. John from getting the rest he needed to do his miraculous work in the confessional. He would go on for hours producing harrowing, ear-wrenching noises, or he would sing, "with a very cracked voice," the Saint said, or whistle for hours on end. Sometimes he would produce a noise as of a horse chomping and prancing in the room. He would bleat like a sheep, growl like a bear, or meow like a cat. At times he would shout under the Curé's window: "Vianney! Vianney! potato-eater!" The Saint, for his part, developed a remarkable sense of humor about these supernatural assaults, saying, “Oh! the grappin’ [his nickname for the devil] and myself? We are almost chums.” In 1845 the devil ceased his physical attacks, but not before revealing that if there were three such priests as the Curé on earth, his (Satan’s) kingdom would be broken.

St. John’s life continued with days full of charity, austerity, and works of wonder. But finally at the age of 73, on July 29, 1859, his severe daily routine proved too much and he collapsed for the last time. The bishop presided over his funeral, which 300 priests and more than 6,000 people attended. In 1925 he was canonized by Pope Pius XI, who then in 1929 declared him “Patron Saint of Parish Priests.”

In 1904 St. John’s body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt. His body is on display above the main altar in the Basilica at Ars.





 The thoughts and sayings of the Curé of Ars are ever popular, and there are volumes upon volumes available containing his sermons and other words of wisdom. Below are some of St. John’s thoughts about the holy angels, to whom he had a great devotion. (There are a few thoughts on the devil as well.)

~~~~~

The first thing about the angels that we ought to imitate, is their consciousness of the Presence of God.
 ***
Ah! if we had the eyes of angels with which to see our Lord Jesus Christ present on the Altar and looking at us, how we should love Him!
*** 
With what humility should we assist at Mass, if we realized that our Guardian Angel was kneeling beside us, prostrate before the majesty of God! With what eagerness should we not ask him to offer our prayers to Jesus Christ!
 ***
Our Guardian Angels are our most faithful friends, because they are with us day and night, always and everywhere. We ought often to invoke them.
*** 
The Angels take great pleasure in helping us with our enterprises, when they are in accordance with God's will.
 ***
If you find it impossible to pray, hide behind your good Angel and charge him to pray in your stead.
 ***
We ought to ask the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and the saints to pray for us that we may receive the good God as worthily as it is possible for us to receive Him. (Sermon on Holy Communion)
 ***
The devil writes down our sins—our Guardian Angel all our merits. Labor that the Guardian Angel's book may be full, and the devil's empty.
*** 
Do not try to please everybody. Try to please God, the angels, and the saints—they are your public.
 ***
Like the saints, let us be very zealous in fulfilling all our duties; let the devil never find us doing nothing, lest we should yield to temptation.
*** 
God , the Blessed Virgin, the angels and saints are about our path; they are at our side and see all we do.
*** 
After thanking our Guardian Angel who has remained by our side during our sleep, we should ask him for his protection during the day.
*** 
How happy is that Guardian Angel who accompanies a soul to Holy Mass!
*** 
We must take great care never to do anything before having said our Morning Prayers.... The devil once declared...that if he could have the first moment of the day, he was sure of all the rest.
*** 
What a comfort to you it is to know that when we go out of the house, we are never alone en route.
*** 
When we are walking in the streets, let us fix our eyes on Our Lord bearing his Cross before us; on the Blessed Virgin who is looking at us; on our Guardian Angel who is by our side.
 ***
It is our angels who ask God to grant us a deep sorrow for our sins.
*** 
Offer your temptations for the conversion of sinners. When the devil sees you doing this, he is beside himself with rage and makes off, because then the temptation is turned against himself.
*** 
Blessed are they who are tempted! It is when the devil sees that a soul is tending towards union with God that he redoubles his efforts.
 ***
If we did like St. Remigius, we should never be angry. Being questioned by a Father of the desert as to how he managed to be always in an even temper, replied: "I often consider that my Guardian Angel is always by my side....."
*** 
If we could only see the JOY of our Guardian Angel when he sees us fighting our temptations!
*** 
In the Sacraments, it is God himself who comes to annihilate our enemy. The devil, seeing Him in our heart, throws himself despairingly into the bottomless pit; which explains why he does all he can to draw us away from them, or to make us receive them badly.
*** 
All the angels and saints are engaged in trying to prevent us from committing sins.
*** 
What happiness it is to a Guardian Angel to have the care of a pure soul. When the soul is pure, all the Court of Heaven looks upon it with joy.


Padre Pio: Guardian Angels and a Miracle




If there was ever an earthly authority on angels, it was Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio). He talked to them regularly as you and I talk with our family and friends. He sent them all over the world on “missions” to his spiritual children, and received messages back via the angels as often as we receive mail. Here are a few of his thoughts on these magnificent heavenly beings:


“When we die, our Guardian Angel will take our soul to heaven.”

“Our Guardian Angel  never leaves us, even when we are disgusting God with our behavior.”

“Oh if all men could understand this great gift that God assigned to us; this celestial spirit."

"For whoever is alone there is his Guardian Angel."

“The duty of the Guardian Angel is not only of spiritual guidance. He also prevents bodily harm for us.”

“Our Guardian Angel prays constantly for us.”

“Let’s confide to Our Guardian Angel our pains and sorrows. He is like a friend, like a brother.”

"Your Guardian Angel prays for you; offers to God all the good works you accomplish; your holy and pure desires."

"Do not forget this invisible companion, always present to listen to you; always ready to console you."

"Invoke often this Guardian Angel, and repeat the beautiful prayer: 'Oh Angel of God...'.”

"Often remember his presence; thank him; pray to him; Respect him; be in constant fear of offending the purity of his gaze."

"What consolation when, at the moment of death, you will see this Angel, who accompanied you through life and was so liberal in maternal care.”



Padre Pio's Daily Prayer to His Guardian Angel

Angel of God,
my guardian,
to whom the goodness
of the Heavenly Father entrusts me.
Enlighten,
protect and guide me
Now and for ever.
Amen.


Finally, I just had to share this story of a man named Paul Walsh and the astounding miracle that happened to him in 1983 through the intercession of St. Pio. Enjoy (and prepare to be amazed).

http://www.pattimaguirearmstrong.com/2013/07/never-say-never-padre-pio-miracle-by.html

The Catholic Connection to Coffee





I wouldn't survive most mornings without coffee. I admit it, I'm an addict. I have been since my freshman year of college, when I decided that downing a cup or two of my parent's Maxwell House was better than sleeping through my 8:00 a.m. chemistry class. My grades soon thanked my wise choice, and I have ever since enjoyed a warm and comfy relationship with the dark and bitter brew. (I take mine black, thank you.)






 Several years back I came across an interesting tidbit of information about the Church's historical role in bringing coffee to the Western world. I did a little further digging and ended up writing a short article about it for Liguorian Magazine. I'm reprinting it here for all of my coffee drinking guests. Between all the latest research touting coffee's health benefits and this affirmation of coffee's, ahem, blessedness, all is good in java land. Enjoy!


-----------------------------------------------------------



COFFEE -- THE CATHOLIC CONNECTION

by

Melaine Ryther



    He negotiated the Union of Brest in 1598, which brought the Ukrainian Church back in communion with Rome. He revised the breviary, forbade dueling, and promoted the forty hours devotion. Yet for many modern Catholics, the greatest achievement of Pope Clement VIII was allowing coffee to be introduced to the Western world.

    Long a part of Arab culture, coffee began finding its way into the West in the late 1500’s via Italian trade ships returning from Constantinople. The bitter elixir soon gained adherents among the populace in Venice and other port cities in Italy. Church officials in Rome, however, were wary of the dark drink. Fearing that coffee had been invented by Satan himself for the Muslim infidels, priests forbade the faithful to imbibe. They argued that if wine was the drink sanctified by Christ and used in Holy Communion, then coffee—the preferred beverage of the Muslims, who weren’t allowed to drink wine—must be the Antichrist’s brew.

    Into this ring of debate stepped Clement. Although known as a devout and spiritual Pope, Clement was not without his practical side. He spearheaded missionary efforts in the Far East, Persia, Mexico, and South America. He brought back into the Church schismatic Serbians and Ukranians. And, closer to home, he often visited hospitals, not only to comfort the sick, but to inspect the food that was being served.

    Having heard all the fuss about the devilish Turkish drink, Clement asked that a cup of it be brought to him. Onlookers held their breath as their beloved Pope first smelled, then sipped the exotic beverage. Would he die on the spot? Would the devil himself appear? Nothing quite so dramatic happened, of course. But after satisfying his palate, Clement did make a proclamation that was nonetheless surprising:

    “This Satan’s drink is so delicious,” Clement intoned, “that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall cheat Satan by baptizing it.” Clement further reasoned that it would be a larger sin to keep the drink from the Christian world.

    The on-the-spot blessing opened the floodgates for coffee imports to the West, paving the way for the first coffeehouses to open in Italy in 1645.

    It’s perhaps only fitting that the man to whom nine-to-fivers worldwide owe their gratitude started his career in a white collar setting himself—as a humble bank clerk in Fano, Italy.




St. Bernard on the Guardian Angels





St. Bernard of  Clairvaux (1090-1153) was one of the greatest preachers of all time. In fact, he became known as the Melifluous (“full of honey”) Doctor, because his words were so sweet. As previously noted, St. Bernard left us with a rich legacy of prayers, meditations, sermons, and teachings, particularly in regard to Mary and the angels. In honor of the Feast of the Guardian Angels, here are some angelic reflections from this great saint:


Be mindful then of these angelic princes when you go to pray or to sing the Psalms; stand with disciplined reverence and be proud that your angels continuously see the face of the Father. Since they are all spirits whose work is service, sent to help those who will be the heirs of salvation, they bear our prayers to God in heaven and return laden with graces for us.


In whatever lodging, in whatever nook or corner you may find yourself, cherish a reverence for your guardian angel. In his presence do not dare to do anything you would not do in mine. Or do you doubt his presence because you do not see him? Would it really help if you did hear him, or touch him, or smell him? Remember, there are realities whose existence has not been proven by mere sight.


With such bodyguards, what are we to fear? They can neither be subdued nor deceived; nor is there any possibility at all that they should go astray who are to guard us in all our ways. They are trustworthy, they are intelligent, they are strong — why, then, do we tremble? We need only to follow them, remain close to them, and we will dwell in the protection of the Most High God.


So as often as you sense the approach of any grave temptation or some crushing sorrow hangs over you, invoke your protector, your leader, your helper in every situation. Call out to him and say: Lord, save us, we are perishing.

Feast of the Archangels




Today is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. The Church has a rich history-filled archive of devotions, prayers, practices, and liturgical traditions dedicated to these mighty spirits, and a simple Google search will yield a fantastic amount of information and devotions for personal prayer and meditation.

A few ideas for your consideration:

Read the Book of Tobit. It's one of the shorter books in the Bible and tells the fascinating and charming story of St. Raphael's appearance and guidance to Tobit's son Tobiah and his family.

Recite the Angelus in honor of St. Gabriel. This prayer reminds us of the important role this archangel played in the mystery of the Incarnation, and how Mary's simple response set into motion the greatest event the world has ever experienced.

Read and meditate on G.K. Chesterton's famous poem, "To St. Michael in Time of Peace" (see below), first published in 1929. It will renew your fervor and love toward this Prince of Angels.

Have a wonderful, angel-inspired day!


To St. Michael in Time of Peace

Michael, Michael: Michael of the Morning,
Michael of the Army of the Lord,
Stiffen thou the hand upon the still sword, Michael,
Folded and shut upon the sheathed sword, Michael,
Under the fullness of the white robes falling,
Gird us with the secret of the sword.

When the world cracked because of a sneer in heaven,
Leaving out for all time a scar upon the sky,
Thou didst rise up against the Horror in the highest,
Dragging down the highest that looked down on the Most High:
Rending from the seventh heaven the hell of exaltation
Down the seven heavens till the dark seas burn:
Thou that in thunder threwest down the Dragon
Knowest in what silence the Serpent can return.

Down through the universe the vast night falling
(Michael, Michael: Michael of the Morning!)
Far down the universe the deep calms calling
(Michael, Michael: Michael of the Sword!)
Bid us not forget in the baths of all forgetfulness,
In the sigh long drawn from the frenzy and the fretfulness
In the huge holy sempiternal silence
In the beginning was the Word.