- The Rector’s Study Group meets at 9:30 Sunday mornings. All are welcome. If you have not been confirmed, attendance through the end of May will count as preparation.
- The next vestry meeting will be on the day of Pentecost (May 15), after mass.
Born March 25, 1347 to an lower-middleclass Sienese family, Catherine was the youngest of 25 children. From an early age she experienced visions, and gave herself to the practice of intense devotion. At the age of seven she concecrated her virginity to Christ, and at 16 received the habit of the Third Order Friars Preachers (the Dominican Tertiaries) and devoted herself for three years to intense and solitary prayer. At the end of three years, Catherine experienced what she underwent the mystical experience called “spiritual espousal” to Jesus. Thereafter she gave herself to serving the poor, and to ministering among the very sick, especially those with the most repulsive afflictions. She went for long periods with no food except the Blessed Sacrament. She was often afflicted with great physical pain, but she was always said to in a state of blissful happiness. Moreover, she was graced with very keen spiritual insight and practical wisdom, on account of which she attracted numerous disciples, both men and women, and became a trusted adviser to hundreds, including princes, kings, and even two popes (Gregory XI and Urban VI). While deep in prayer at Pisa, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, 1375, Catherine received the stigmata (the marks of the wounds of Jesus), although she asked the Lord that they should remain invisible, which they did. After Catherine died, the marks became visible on her corpse. At the request of Pope Urban VI, Catherine moved to Rome, and was involved in peacemaking and reconciliation between the city-states of Italy. In 1380, at the age of 33, the same age at which the Lord suffered and died, a mysterious illness seized Catherine. She endured it for three months, all the while in a state of intense happiness and deep prayer, offering her sufferings to Jesus as a prayer for the good of his Church. She died at Rome on April 29, 1380. Over 400 of Catherine’s letters survive, as well as a record of her insights and revelations called “A Treatise on Divine Providence”. Her body is venerated at the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome; while her incorrupt head and thumb are at the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena. In 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI.
The great Benedictine monastery at Cluny, founded by William of Auquitaine in the 10th century, became a powerful center of monastic reform under its first abbots, Odo, Maiolus, Odilon, Hugh, and Peter the Venerable. Their teaching and example issued in the return of monks throughout the West to a stricter adherence to the Rule of St. Benedict and to the first order monastic values of simplicity, obedience, and ongoing conversion, as well as to the daily round of the liturgy as the first work of monks. As a result of their efforts, the Cluniac iteration of Benedictine monasticism became the standard for western monasteries during the Middle Ages. Cluny Abbey itself survived until the French Revolution, when its library was burned and the abbey church pillaged and ransacked. The grounds were sold in 1798, and are now used as a school, although a few of the old monastic buildings, including a portion of the Romanesque church, survive.
Apostles of the Lord, Ss. Philip and James are remembered together because of an ancient church at Rome dedicated to them on this day in the 4th century (the church is now called the Church of the Twelve Apostles). Philip is always listed 5thin the New Testament lists of the Apostles. He was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and seems to have been a friend or relative of Peter and Andrew, who were from the same town. It was Philip who asked the Lord at the Last Supper to show the Apostles the Father, to which Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.9). Later tradition says that Philip preached the Gospel through Syria, Greece, and Phyrigia, ending his ministry in martyrdom by crucifixion in the city of Hierapolis. This James is called “James the Just” in tradition. He is mentioned by name in the Gospels, but little is said about him. In the Acts of the Apostles and in the writings of St. Paul, James emerges as one of the main leaders of the incipient Church, and as the first bishop of Jerusalem. He is one of the figures called “the brother of the Lord” in Scripture, a title which probably meant that he was a half-brother or cousin of Jesus (as has been explained elsewhere). The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, says that James was condemned by the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem for “breaking the [religious] law” around the time of the procuratorship of Procius Festus, and that James was stoned to death. It is said that as he was dying, he prayed for his murders, after the Lord’s own example, and that he was finally killed by being struck in the head with a fuller’s rod.
Born about the year 293 in Egypt, Athanasius was a teacher of the faith, a theologian, and Bishop of Alexandria. Because of his dogged opposition to the Arian heretics (who denied that Jesus was God), and because many of the faithful had lapsed into Arianism, the phrase “Athanasius contra mundum” – “Athanasius against the whole world” – came into usage. Athanasius endured exile for his faith numerous times. While in exile, it is said that he lived in his ancestral tomb, and continued to preach and teach, and to govern the faithful from afar. He was present at the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325, where the Catholic faith was vindicated against the Arians, and from which, partly thanks to the devout work of St. Athanasius, we get the Nicene Creed, recited at Mass on Sundays and feasts. Athanasius was a prolific and eloquent writer, and many of his works have survived and are still studied. Notable among them is his work “On the Incarnation of the Word”, a systematic and very accessible exposition of the Christian faith. Beginning in the year 366, Athanasius was able to return to his see, where he was left in peace, there to write and preach and shepherd his diocese until May 2, 373, when St. Athanasius died peacefully in his own home.
Most of what we know of Monica comes from her son, St. Augustine of Hippo, who wrote extensively about her in his great spiritual autobiography, the “Confessions”. Monica was born in the year 333 in north Africa, in the town of Thagaste (now called Souk Ahras, in Algeria). She was raised in a Christian family, but early in life married a pagan named Patritius, a government official in Thagaste. Monica’s marriage was neither tranquil nor happy. Patritius seems to have had a violent temper and dissolute habits. Augustine recounts that Monica’s devotion to Christ, her prayer, and her pious habits, deeply annoyed Patritius who, despite his annoyance, held her in a kind of awe. Unhappy wives were even more common in classical antiquity than they are now, owing to the comparatively few liberties they enjoyed in classical culture. Augustine says that Monica exercised a ministry to other wives and mothers in the town of Thagaste, assisting them most profitably by the example of her devotion and patience. Monica and Patritius had three children, of whom Augustine was the eldest. Patritius refused to allow them to be baptized, which deeply grieved Monica. Augustine himself, as a young man, moved away from home and took up with the intellectual avant-garde of his day, an esoteric sect call the Manichees. Augustine also took a mistress, and lived a life of liberal sexual indulgence. All of this deeply grieved Monica, and she shed many tears and prayed earnestly for her son. At one point, Monica sought the advice of a holy bishop, who consoled her with the words “the child of those tears shall never perish.” And it was true. Augustine was eventually converted to faith in Christ, and went on to become arguably the greatest teacher of the Christian faith the world has yet seen since the age of the Apostles. Not only that, but shortly before his death, Patritius himself came to faith in Christ, and received the new birth of Baptism. Monica and Augustine spent the better part of a year together in peace, rejoicing in one another’s spiritual companionship and prayer. On their return journey to Africa from Milan, Monica fell ill and died at the town of Ostia, where she was buried, in the year 387. Her relics were later moved to Rome, and it is recorded that many miracles occurred along the way. Monica was reinterred in a chapel near the high altar of a church in Rome dedicated to Augustine. Monica was a model of Christian virtue, of Christian wifehood, motherhood, and widowhood; it is said that she was twice over the mother of Augustine, because not only did she bring him into the world, but by twenty years of prayer and sorrowful labor, she brought about his rebirth through Baptism into eternal life.
Augustine recounts the story of his conversion in his “Confessions”. After running away from the faith of his mother for twenty years, through her prayers, and through the teaching of St. Ambrose of Milan, he finally acquiesced to the Lord’s call to his heart. In the “Confessions”, Augustine writes: “You, O Lord, pressed upon me in my inward parts by a severe mercy, redoubling the lashes of fear and shame, lest I should again give way, and that same slender remaining tie not being broken off, it should recover strength, and enchain me the faster. For I said mentally, ‘Let it be now; let it be now.’ And as I spoke, I all but came to a resolve. I all but did it, yet I did it not.” And he says that his old thoughts and habits kept whispering to him “Are you going to dismiss us? From this moment we shall never be with you again, for ever and ever. From this moment on you will never again be allowed to do this thing or that.” Finally the crisis reaches a climax, and Augustine can no longer stand it. He curls up under a fig tree and weeps, and hears some children playing a game in a nearby garden, chanting “Tolle lege; tolle lege” (“take it and read; take it and read”). Augustine picks up a copy of Paul’s epistles which he had been studying, he opens it at random and reads “not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13.13-14). He understands the Lord to be speaking directly to him, and he goes and asks to receive the sacrament of Baptism.