Monday, August 5, 2013

Free Angel Book!

As a small way of saying thanks for visiting this blog, I'd like to offer you all a free copy of my ebook Partners in Holiness: Guardian Angels in the Lives of the Saints. Simply visit the link at and enter the following coupon code at checkout:


That's it! Happy reading!

(Coupon expires September 5th.)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

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.
protect and guide me
Now and for ever.

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).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Blame It On The Garlic

“We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic . . .”   (Numbers 11:6)

Ah yes, the garlic. Love it or hate it, this ubiquitous little herb (or vegetable, depending on your take) has been feeding and healing from pre-biblical times to now. According to Greek historian Herodotus, the slaves who built the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza were given loads of garlic, onions, and radishes to fuel their work. Garlic was so valued it was even used as currency on occasion. A healthy male slave in ancient Egypt could be purchased for fifteen pounds of garlic.

The Greeks and Romans also recognized the value of garlic, not just as a source of fuel for their laborers and soldiers, but for its medicinal qualities. In his 37-book encyclopedia of natural sciences, Historia Naturalis, Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) listed 23 different ailments that garlic could be used to treat, including infection, a condition which modern research has shown garlic to be effective against.

After the fall of Rome, Christian monks became the chief keepers of herbal and medical knowledge, and consequently grew garlic in their monastery gardens along with other plants considered important and useful.

So why the mini-history lesson on garlic? Well, it’s partly my explanation for being absent from blogging for so long. (The other part is due to simple lack of discipline.) For the past couple of months I’ve been writing a little book about garlic which is now . . . drumroll, please . . . FINISHED!

Garlic is pretty cool. In addition to keeping away vampires, it’ll flavor your dishes, keep you healthy, ward away pests, help you catch fish . . . read the book and you’ll find out all kinds of neat things.

Of course, we Catholics already know how great garlic is. Just check out this statue of St. Lorenzo (Lawrence), the patron saint of cooks. Look at what he’s holding: a gridiron and cloves of garlic! (Legend has it that St. Lawrence suffered martyrdom in the 3rd century by being roasted over a gridiron.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

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.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

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.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies

Supposedly this fun little post has been floating around on the Internet for years. Like most things in my life, I'm the last to know about it. But I really, really like it, and this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, so at the risk of boring you all with something you've already seen, here's a link to some Creator-inspired dietary advice.

Monday, September 3, 2012

St. Gregory and St. Michael at Hadrian's Tomb

St. Gregory the Great, like the recently blogged-about St. Bernard of Clairvaux, was a “super saint.” His virtues, heroic acts, teachings, writings, supernatural experiences, and, perhaps most importantly, his lasting impact on both the Church and secular culture today, have truly earned him the title “Great.”

On the anniversary of his death (March 12), I posted a story about “St. Gregory and the Beggar,” the beggar being an angel in disguise. Today on his feast day I would like to mention another angelic occurrence in the life of Gregory, this one featuring St. Michael.

In 590, a great plague struck Rome. When the stricken city had nearly reached its breaking point, Pope St. Gregory the Great united the people by preaching a sermon that filled them with hope and resolve. They were to bombard heaven with their prayers, declared Gregory, to such a degree that God and His Blessed Mother could not resist in ending the scourge. He rallied people from the seven corners of Rome and led them in procession through the streets as an act of penance, praying for forgiveness and atoning for sin. As the crowd reached the bridge of St. Peter’s, the miraculous occurred: St. Michael appeared in full view of the faithful over the tomb of Hadrian, sheathing his flaming sword to indicate the end of the plague. At the same moment, Saint Gregory heard angelic voices singing the antiphon, “Queen of Heaven, rejoice!”

To this day, the tomb of Hadrian in Rome is called the Castle of Sant’ Angelo, in memory of the visitation of Saint Michael and of the miraculous deliverance of the city from plague. A chapel was later built at the top of the tomb along with a large marble angel, which remained there for centuries until Pope Benedict XIV replaced the statue with a bronze one.

The custom of saying “God bless you” when someone has sneezed, and the making of the Sign of the Cross on the mouths of those who yawn, goes back to the days of Saint Gregory and the Roman plague. Because the disease typically ended in a spasm of sneezing or yawning, Gregory ordered that “God bless you” should be said to those who sneezed, and the blessing of the Sign of the Cross should be put on the mouths of those who yawned.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

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!




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.

Monday, August 20, 2012

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Today is the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). St. Bernard was one of those “super saints” who comes along maybe once every century. A noted theologian, zealous Abbott, monastic reformer, papal advisor, schism mediator, gifted speaker, and inspirational writer, St. Bernard was officially proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1830. He is particularly known for his writings and sermons on Mary, and his Marian theology is still considered preeminent today.
“In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may more surely obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.”

St. Bernard also had a lot to say about the angels. Simple in style, but rich in substance, this quote should give us all pause to reflect:

“In whatever house, in whatever place you find yourself, respect your Angel, because he is present and is very close to you. Not only is he with you but he is there for you. He tries to protect you and be useful to you. With an Angel near you, what do you have to be afraid of? Your Angel cannot let himself be conquered or deceived. He is faithful; he is prudent; he is powerful: so why are you afraid? If you were lucky enough to see the veil fall from your eyes, you would see with how much attention, with how much solicitude the Angels are in the midst of those who pray, within those who meditate, over the bed of those who are resting, over the head of those who are ruling and governing.”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mea Culpa

Looking back at my last substantive post, I see it's dated June 5, or in relation to my favorite summer pastime, early in the baseball season. Today I'm seeing preseason football games on television. Yikes. Where did the summer go?

I apologize for my lack of posting. Life, as it often does, got in the way. But still, I could have been a bit more diligent. Mea culpa.

Now for those of you who might be interested, seeing as I brought the subject up, let me share with you Ten Reasons Why Baseball is Better Than Football by blogger Bill Miller. It's hilarious, insightful, and entirely off-topic. But lots of fun. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

St. Boniface

One of my earliest church-related memories is wandering through the sacredly silent, mysterious yet majestic spaces of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I grew up. (They don’t make churches like that anymore. Sigh.) What I remember most impressing my 9-year-old brain was the curving hallway behind the sanctuary called the Shrines of the Nations.

Along this walkway are six mini chapels/shrines that honor the national patron saints of many of the immigrants who settled Minnesota: Saint Anthony of Padua (Italy), John the Baptist (France and Canada), Saint Patrick (Ireland), Saint Boniface (Germany), Saints Cyril and Methodius (Slavic Nations), and Saint Therese (protector of all missions). Each shrine holds a (large) statue of the patron saint, an altar, stained glass windows depicting other saints of the same country, and marble imported from their respective country. It is a beautiful, moving place to spend time, which oftentimes there seems suspended.

Coming from a robust German family, I was always fascinated in particular with the statue of St. Boniface. Maybe fascinated isn’t the right word. Thinking back, I’m pretty sure I was a little intimidated by the stern-looking, bearded figure with the pointy hat and big stick. Though similar in stature and garb, he just didn’t look like as much fun as St. Patrick down the hall. I thought his name was kinda cool back then too. Boniface. Never heard that one before. Then again, my maiden name, Manteufel, wasn’t exactly vying for a lot of phone directory space. Maybe I sensed a connection.

At any rate, today is this great saint’s feast day, and I hope many people visit his shrine today in St. Paul and throughout the world. Here’s a snapshot of his life:

Saint Boniface was an English Benedictine monk who propagated Christianity in the Frankish Empire during the 8th century. By the age of 30 he had become an ordained priest, and in 731 an archbishop. On his missions east of the Rhine River he was unrelenting in his effort to convert pagans to the faith.

A famous story is told of Boniface and the Donar Oak (also known as Thor’s Oak). This particular oak tree was highly venerated by the pagan Germanic people. In an effort to convert them to Christianity, Boniface struck the tree with an axe, after which a great gust of wind blew and knocked the oak completely down. When Boniface was not immediately struck by lightning for his blasphemous action, the pagan people became convinced of Christianity’s truth and converted. Boniface later built a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter from the tree’s wood at the site where today stands the Cathedral of Fritzlar.

In 754 he returned to evangelize in Frisia (an area in northwestern Germany today), where he and 53 companions were massacred while he was preparing converts for Confirmation. Boniface is the patron saint of Germany.

In order to restore the Germanic Church to its fidelity to Rome and to convert the pagans, he had been guided by two principles. The first was to restore the obedience of the clergy to their bishops in union with the pope of Rome. The second was the establishment of many houses of prayer which took the form of Benedictine monasteries. A great number of Anglo-Saxon monks and nuns followed him to the continent. He introduced Benedictine nuns to the active apostolate of education.  (From Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feasts by Leonard Foley, O.F.M.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wisdom from St. Philip Neri

Today, May 26th, is the Feast of St. Philip Neri. St. Philip was a 16th century Italian priest who founded a secular order of fellow priests called "The Congregation of the Oratory." St. Philip was known for his down-to-earth manner and humor as much as he was for his sanctity.

He had no money, but contributions poured in from his friends, rich and poor. Pope Gregory and Charles Borromeo gave generously, as did other prominent men. Cardinals and princes were now among Philip's disciples, though he sometimes shocked them by his impulsiveness. His desire was always to establish a close, human bond with others, even though it meant indulging in a wine-drinking contest, practical joking, or other undignified behavior. He acted in a jocular manner to conceal his deep emotion, or to put himself on a level with those around him. Humility was the virtue he strove most of all to practice, but of course he could not conceal his extraordinary gifts or sanctity. More than once he foretold events which later came to pass. He lived in such a state of spiritual exaltation that at times it was with difficulty that he carried on his daily labors. Men declared that his face often glowed with a celestial radiance.
(Taken from "Lives of Saints", Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc., 1954.)

St. Philip left us with an amazing collection of thoughts, instructions, and sayings. Here are but a few.

"Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.”
"Nulla dies sine linea: Do not let a day pass without doing some good during it."

"Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow.”

“Sufferings are a kind of paradise to him who suffers them with patience, while they are a hell to him who has no patience.”

"First let a little love find entrance into their hearts, and the rest will follow."

"Give me ten truly detached men. and I will convert the world with them."

"Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if he wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength."

"If you wish to go to extremes, let it be in sweetness, patience, humility and charity.”

“Believe me, there is no more powerful means to obtain God’s grace than to employ the intercessions of the Holy Virgin.”

If you'd like to be inspired daily by St. Philip, bookmark the website The Maxims and Sayings of St. Philip Neri. There is a quote there for every day of the year from this holy man who taught us, among other things, that's it's okay to be cheeky at times.

St. Philip Neri . . . was called "The Humorous Saint," and at his door was a little sign that said, "The House of Christian Mirth." "Christian joy is a gift from God flowing from a good conscience," he said. Once, a young priest asked him what prayer would be the most appropriate to say for a couple after a wedding Mass, and Philip Neri thought and said, "A prayer for peace."
(Taken from the essay "Laughing with the Saints: Joy, Humor, and Laughter in the Spiritual Life" by James Martin, S.J.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Story of St. Faustina and Divine Mercy

This Sunday, April 15, 2012, is the Feast of Divine Mercy. It offers believers the extraordinary opportunity to have not only their sins forgiven, but the temporal punishment due them excused as well. All of this, and much, much more, has been promised to us by Our Lord out of the goodness and love of His merciful heart.

Of course Jesus’s love and mercy toward us has always existed, but it was in the early 20th century that He saw fit to bring the message of His mercy to the world by means of a humble, holy young woman named Helen Kowalska. We know her now as St. Faustina. The following, first published in Columbia Magazine in April 2003, is her story and the story of Jesus’ unstoppable quest for souls.


Divine Mercy: The Spark That is Setting the World Aflame

By Melaine Ryther

Amidst rumors that he would be announcing his retirement due to failing health, Pope John Paul II traveled to Poland last summer and proclaimed a message far different to the expectant world. During a dedication Mass for the Shrine of Divine Mercy in the city of Krakow-Lagiewniki on August 17, 2002, the Pope announced: “Today, therefore, in this Shrine, I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy.”

The Divine Mercy devotion, though humble in its origin, offers nothing less than salvation and peace to all mankind. Efforts being conducted on many different fronts are furthering the hope that Catholics everywhere will soon know of the extraordinary graces promised by Our Lord to those who would follow His simple call to mercy and trust.

St. Faustina: The Messenger

Helena Kowalska was born in the village of Glogowiec, Poland, on August 25, 1905. The third of ten children born to poor but devout parents, she exhibited an early love of prayer, work, obedience, and sensitivity to the poor. At age seven, she felt the first stirrings of a vocation in her heart, and before turning twenty entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, where she received her new name, Sister Maria Faustina.

To the outside observer, Faustina’s religious life was unexceptional, as she spent her days attending to kitchen and garden tasks, or acting as the doorkeeper in various convents. But interiorly, Faustina experienced an extraordinary communion with God, the extent of which was known only to her superiors. Her supernatural gifts included revelations, visions, hidden stigmata, bilocation, prophecy, and the reading of souls.

In 1934, at the urging of her spiritual director and, later, of Our Lord Himself, Faustina began keeping a diary of her divine revelations and mystical experiences. The result is the 600-page spiritual classic, Divine Mercy in My Soul, which continues to astound scholars to this day with its depth of spiritual and theological insights. She recorded this diary over the span of four years, ending it shortly before her death from tuberculosis in 1938.

Divine Mercy: The Message

“Encourage souls to place great trust in My fathomless mercy. Let the weak, sinful soul have no fear to approach Me, for even if it had more sins than there are grains of sand in the world, all will be drowned in the immeasurable depths of My mercy” (Diary, 1059).

Jesus’ message of mercy to St. Faustina was not a new revelation, but a reminder of those timeless truths of our faith about God’s merciful love for all mankind and His desire for us to turn to Him with trust. What was new were the forms of devotion to that mercy that Jesus requested, and the powerful promises attached to them.

There are generally considered to be four basic elements of the Divine Mercy devotion: the Image, the Feast, the Chaplet, and the Hour of Mercy.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

St. Thomas Aquinas

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

Good Friday
Theodore Maynard

The priest unveiled the crucifix, and I
Went up -- but oh, my heart was numb and dry!--
To kiss His image who once heard, "Crucify!"

Tears rained from Peter down the rugged rock
When, thrice denying, he heard the crowing cock:
I dull-eyed, with my sins a countless flock.

I kissed Christ's wounded bosom in my turn--
Death-cold, I colder. Would that I could learn
That piteousness with which the strong saints burn!

Next an old feeble, shabby woman came.
She kissed His feet, and was transformed to flame;
Then hands and face and side, and sobbed His name.

Compassionate and hungry, in eager bliss
Crucified with Him! Would that I could kiss,
Dear stranger, your poor, faltering feet for this!

(From Not Even Death: A Book of Poems by Theodore Maynard, 1941.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Angels in Disguise

Dr. Peter Kreeft, in his book Angels (and Demons) — What Do We Really Know About Them?, reminds us that angels often come to us in unrecognizable ways. As Scripture warns: “Do not neglect hospitality, for some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2)

We hear stories all the time, some even touching our own lives, of mysterious strangers coming to the aid of accident victims, lost hikers, and other distressed individuals. Many times these “helpers” disappear from the scene as quickly as they arrive.

In the lives of the saints, the Church has recorded many similar encounters in which angels–under disguised forms–have intervened in the lives of humans. I wrote about one here not too long ago: St. John Bosco and the big gray dog. (Guess which one was the angel.)

Another one comes to mind in which the angel this time appeared in the form of a beggar to St. Gregory the Great. Lucky for Gregory (and all of us who have benefitted from his historical actions), the great Pope treated the “beggar” with Christian charity and kindness over and above what was expected of him.

In honor of St. Gregory's death anniversary (March 12), here’s an excerpt from my book, Partners in Holiness, that tells the story of that miraculous encounter:

St. Gregory and the Beggar

Silvia read the letter a second time. She was not surprised that her son, Gregory, was ill. His severe fasts were well known among the religious communities in and around Rome. Silvia's convent was near the monastery of St. Andrew, where Gregory lived with his fellow monks.

If only I could tend to him myself, she thought. I can't bear to lose him so soon after Gordianus.

Tears welled up in her eyes at the memory of her dear husband. She recalled how after his death people she thought were her friends called her crazy for wanting to enter a convent. Why would anyone, they argued, want to trade a luxurious estate on Rome's prestigious Caelian Hill for a secluded cell in a nunnery? Silvia had not been able to answer her critics. The love she felt for Christ and her desire to dedicate the rest of her life to Him were feelings she was unable to describe.

But she never had to explain herself to Gregory. His own passion to serve God, if anything, surpassed her own. The seven monasteries he founded with his inheritance money were proof of his zeal.

No, Silvia had no misgivings about leaving her wealth behind. But now she was glad that she had saved one small keepsake from all her former possessions. It was a handsome silver dish, and she knew just what she was finally going to do with it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

"What I don't get about angels is why, when someone is in love, they shoot arrows at them." - Sarah, age 7

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

St. John Bosco and the Big Gray Dog

On various occasions throughout his life, St. John Bosco found himself aided by a mysterious, yet gentle and loyal, large gray dog. The dog would appear unbidden when St. John was passing through dangerous neighborhoods, traveling on foot through the dark countryside, or, most famously, once when attacked by thugs. (The dog chased the thugs away after giving them a good scare with his not-so-little teeth.) St. John called his intermittent companion Il Grigio, Italian for "The Gray One."

A mysteriously as he appeared, the dog would trot away after accomplishing his duty. Not once did St. John ever see the dog take food or water. And on at least one occasion, the dog somehow disappeared from a cottage in which all the doors and windows were shut.

St. John had no doubt as to the origin of his furry friend: "It sounds ridiculous to call him an angel, yet he is no ordinary dog." Indeed, the saint firmly believed that had it not been for the big gray dog, his work would have been severely hindered, if not stopped altogether.

John Bosco, of course, went on to institute and organize the Salesians, a religious order for men and women under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales. Il Grigio reportedly retained a fondness for the Salesians long after John Bosco left the world. Between 1893 and 1930, sisters of the Salesian order testified that they had received the gray dog's protection on at least three separate occasions.

(A summary of information from Partners in Holiness: Guardian Angels in the Lives of the Saints)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Aquinas on the Angels

Thomas Aquinas was known as, among other things, the "Angelic Doctor.” He wrote extensively about the nature and mission of the angels in his masterpiece, The Summa Theologica, devoting a substantial part of his massive tome to them.

In keeping with the nature of this blog (i.e., easy to read and digest), I thought I'd post a "Top Ten List" of some of St. Thomas' points about the angels from the Summa. Everyone likes lists, right? David Letterman does.

These tidbits aren't arranged in any particular order, nor do they purport in any way to adequately represent the whole of St. Thomas's teachings on the angels. Nonetheless, I think there's enough here for us mere mortals to ponder and appreciate for quite some time And if the spirit should move you to further scholarship, you can read the good Doctor's entire discussion of celestial beings at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library

So, here we go:

1.  The angels were created in heaven. And it is fitting that creatures of the most perfect nature should be created in the most noble place.

2.  Angels were created in grace, and by using this grace in their first act of charity (which is the friendship and love of God) they merited the beatific vision and heavenly beatitude.

3.  God gives the angels their knowledge of things when he brings them into existence . . .Each receives what is fitting and necessary for its status and the service it is to render, and therefore some angels know more than others.

4.  Angels manifest knowledge to one another, and to this extent they "speak" to one another. But the speech of angels is not a matter of sounds or of uttered words. The speech of angels is a direct communication of knowledge from spirit to spirit.

5.  The faithful angels are a greater multitude than the fallen angels. For sin is contrary to the natural order.

6.  Angels, good or bad, can do wonderful things, but only such as lie within the power of angelic nature, and a miracle surpasses the powers of all created natures.

7.  Superior rules inferior; hence angels rule the bodily world. St. Gregory says that in this visible world nothing occurs without the agency of invisible creatures.

8.  God sends angels to minister to his purposes among bodily creatures . . . Angels sent in the external ministry are those whose names indicate some kind of administrative or executive office. These are, in descending rank, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, Angels.

9.  Each human being, without exception, has a guardian angel . . . In heaven a man will have an angel companion to reign with him, but not a guardian; no guardian is needed when the guarded journey has been successfully completed. In hell, each man will have a fallen angel to punish him.

10.  An angel can illume the thought and mind of man by strengthening the power of vision, and by bringing within his reach some truth which the angel himself contemplates.

(The above translation and wording is courtesy of A Tour of the Summa by Msgr. Paul J. Glenn, Tan Books and Publishers.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Medal from Heaven and Other Saints Stories for Kids

Calling all ebook readers! My children's book The Medal from Heaven and Other Saints Stories for Kids is currently FREE on Amazon, but only for another day and a half. So all you Kindle owners out there, get your copy while it's hot!

If you don't own a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app from Amazon for your computer and most mobile devices.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sing Choirs of Angels

There are nine groups, or "choirs," of angels. The highest choir, the Seraphim, are believed to be nearest the Throne of God, loving, praising and glorifying Him ceaselessly. After the Seraphim follow the other eight choirs: Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels.

The Tradition of the Church teaches that Guardian Angels are taken from the Angel choir, and, in certain cases, the Archangel choir. These angels are at the lower end of the ranking not because they love God any less, but because they are in more direct contact with human beings and other visible works of creation.

During this resolution-making first week of January, we are reminded that not only do we all have our own place and duties, but that there's also always room for improvement.

The angels have no such weaknesses. They have their assigned jobs and do them quite well . . . okay, perfectly. So who better to ask for help in keeping our resolutions for the new year? Our angels, of course. In fact, maybe we should make that one of our top resolutions: Pray to the angels more! Sure, they have plenty of other stuff to do, but I think it's safe to say they can handle multitasking.

As Mother Angelica says in her inimitable style: "[The angels] all have specific works to do. They are not just dilly-dallying up there."

Here's wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and productive 2012! Remember, no dilly-dallying.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

St. Francis' 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.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

St. Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal

In honor of today's feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (November 27) and tomorrow's feast day honoring St. Catherine Laboure (November 28), I am posting this excerpt from the book The Medal from Heaven.

"Sister! Sister! Sister!"

An urgent voice woke Catherine Laboure from her deep sleep. She blinked several times. Radiant light filled her convent bedroom. The light came from a beautiful child about five years old, dressed in white. "Come to the chapel," said the child. "The Blessed Virgin is waiting for you there."

Obediently, the young Sister of Charity followed the child. She marveled as the chapel door, usually locked, opened at a mere touch of the child's fingertips. Entering the sanctuary, Catherine heard the rustling of silk. She looked toward the altar and beheld a beautiful woman seating herself in a chair. The child told her, "This is the Blessed Virgin."

Catherine, who had lost her own mother at an early age, threw herself at the feet of her heavenly Mother and placed her hands in her lap. How could this be happening to me? she wondered. This is 1830 France!

"My child," said the Blessed Virgin, "the good God wishes to charge you with a mission."

Overwhelmed with joy, Catherine listened to all that the Mother of God had to tell her. France would undergo many political and religious turmoils, warned Our Lady. But throughout those and other difficulties, anyone who asked for graces at the foot of the altar would be granted them.

Two hours later, Catherine watched with sweet sadness as the Blessed Mother disappeared from sight. Only later did she realize that she had not learned what her "mission" was to be. She trusted that God would reveal it eventually. Four months later, He did.

On November 27, 1830, while praying alone in the chapel, Catherine heard the familiar rustling sound again. Turning her head to look, she saw the Blessed Virgin standing near a picture of St. Joseph. Rays of light, symbolizing graces, streamed forth from rings on all her fingers. She stood on a globe, crushing the head of a serpent under her feet. Then slowly an oval frame appeared around her, on which were written the words: "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."

At the same time a voice said to Catherine, "Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it in confidence will receive great graces. They should wear it around the neck."

Then the apparition turned around, revealing what the back of the medal was to look like. Catherine saw a large M in the middle of the oval. Above the M were a cross and bar. Beneath the M were the hearts of Jesus and Mary. One was crowned with thorns; the other pierced by a sword. Encircling all of this were twelve stars. Then the apparition vanished.

In obedience to Mary's instructions, Catherine told only her confessor, Father Aladel, about the apparitions. Catherine really wanted to please Our Lady, but she would have to wait almost two years before the Archbishop of Paris granted permission for the first medal to be made. Soon after people began wearing the medal, healings, conversions and favors of all kinds began to happen. Before long, the medal had a new name, the "Miraculous Medal."

In spite of the many extraordinary events taking place around her, Catherine's life after the visions remained quite ordinary. The sisters who lived with her never guessed she had been the one who had seen the Blessed Virgin. Catherine spent the next forty-six years caring for the elderly and sick. Only when she was close to death, after first obtaining permission from Our Lady, did she tell the others that Mary had appeared to her.

* * * *

Today the chapel where the apparitions occurred is one of the most popular religious shrines in the world. They even still have the blue velvet chair in which Mary seated herself during her apparition. Millions of people around the globe wear the Miraculous Medal as a testimony to their faith and the power of trusting prayer.

In 1933, 57 years after her death, Catherine's body was exhumed as part of her beatification process. It was found to be incorrupt--as fresh as the day she was buried. St. Catherine's incorrupt body is on display at the Sisters of Charity Mother House in Paris.

 O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Chesterton Talks Turkey

"A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and archangels. In so far as God has partly revealed to us an angelic world, he has partly told us what an angel means. But God has never told us what a turkey means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather increased than diminished."  
All Things Considered (1908)


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Angels and the Holy Souls

Catholic tradition has given us some fascinating teachings and thoughts on the role of our guardian angels after we leave this life for the soul-cleansing confines of purgatory. (Assuming, of course, that we make it there and not any lower.) 

According to early Church Fathers, the guardian angel leads the soul to purgatory and thereafter visits and consoles that soul until its release. The angel also helps the soul by inspiring friends and relatives left on earth to pray and offer Masses for their departed loved one.

Moreover, some spiritual writers believe that the angels reveal to the poor souls the identities of those who are praying for them on earth so that, in reciprocal fashion, the holy souls can pray for them. 

As St. Augustine tells us: “The departed may be informed by the angels of things happening in the world, insofar as this is permitted by Him to Whose judgment everything is subject.”

Some saints have even "visited" purgatory (via mystical experiences or spiritual bilocation) and witnessed for themselves the close relationship between the poor souls and their angels. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque wrote that during her experience she saw:
" . . . an immense space filled with flames and glowing coals and, amid these, a great number of poor souls in human form, raising their hands to Heaven and imploring mercy. But all the while their Guardian Angels were at their side, inspiring them with courage and comforting them in the most tender manner."  (The Guardian Angels, Our Heavenly Companions, 1956)
St. Lydwine was also shown purgatory, having "flown" there on several occasions in the accompaniment of her own guardian angel. On one of her visits she saw a sad-looking angel keeping company the soul of a man who had been languishing there for twelve years. When Lydwine "returned" to her earthly surroundings, she immediately offered her physical sufferings for the soul of that man. Several days later, the man's angel appeared to her. No longer sad-looking, the angel joyously declared that the man had been freed from purgatory, thanks to Lydwine's sacrificial acts.

And what about that last part? The "get out of jail" part? Well, the language in this passage is a little old-fashioned, but it gets the point across nicely:
"As soon as the hour of release has struck for one of the suffering souls, the Guardian Angel of that happy soul is commissioned by God to descend into Purgatory, to open the doors of its prison and to lead the delivered soul without delay into the eternal habitations of Paradise. The good Angel descends with the rapidity of lightning into the dismal prison of pain to carry out the work of release because his love for his cherished ward urges him to liberate the Poor Soul and to lead it to the sight and possession of God. The Guardian Angel is often accompanied by other Angels or by a whole multitude of Angels, and then the entrance of the released soul is truly a triumphant one."  (ibid)
It is worth remembering that our Tradition also teaches that those of us who had the most devotion to our guardian angels on earth will have the most assistance from them in purgatory.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Laughing Angels

The Laughing Angel
Reims Cathedral

While adults often use fancy language and convoluted reasoning to explain things they don't really understand, children prefer a more straightforward and logical approach. Collected from various sources, these quotes are sure to make an angel or two smile.
"Angels have a lot to do and they keep very busy. If you lose a tooth, an angel comes in through your window and leaves money under your pillow. Then when it gets cold, angels go south for the winter." - Sara, age 6

"I only know the names of two angels, Hark and Harold." - Gregory, age 5

"What I don't get about angels is why, when someone is in love, they shoot arrows at them." - Sarah, age 7

"My guardian angel helps me with math, but he's not much good for science." - Henry, age 8

"Angels talk all the way while they're flying you up to heaven. The main subject is where you went wrong before you got dead." - Daniel, age 9

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

St. Luke

St. Luke's gospel is my favorite among the four. I think it goes back to my childhood when my family converted to Catholicism and I remember being enchanted with stories about the Blessed Mother. Luke truly brings Mary to life in his gospel. In fact, he alone describes the Annunciation, Mary's visit to Elizabeth, Mary's Magnificat, the Presentation in the temple, and the story of Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem. It is in Luke that we read the angel's words of greeting to Mary: "Hail Mary full of grace." And it is also only in Luke that we have the story of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. Lest we forget, St. Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles.

Spending a few minutes reading some of St. Luke's accounts in Scripture would be a prodigious way to honor his feast day today. Believed to be a physician by training (St. Paul refers to him as ""Luke, the beloved physician" in Colossians 4:14), St. Luke is the patron saint of physicians and surgeons, as well as artists, butchers and students. In art he is often depicted with an ox, symbolizing the sacrifice Jesus made for all the world.

Friday, October 7, 2011

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 how many times we say the Hail Mary in the Rosary . . .

In honor of today'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 Saviour. 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)