What a month October is! Not only is it the month to meditate deeply on the mysteries of the Rosary (especially on October 7, the feast of the Most Holy Rosary) and on the Holy Angels, but it’s also the month in which we celebrate:
– the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (October 11);
– the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus (October 30);
– the feast days of Saints Therese of Lisieux, Francis of Assisi, Bruno (founder of the Carthusian order), Bridget of Sweden, King Edward of England, Teresa of Avila, St. Luke the Evangelist, Raphael the Archangel.
Here is a screenshot of the October calendar for the traditional Roman Rite, following the rubrics of Saint Pope Pius X.
When Michaelmas Embertide arrives, I know that summer is over and my favorite season, autumn, is here. Beginning a new season with a few days of fasting and abstinence, seems fitting and indeed that is what our ancestors used to do. Only a few traditional Catholics still observe the Ember Days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) four times during the year.
During this Embertide, I will be praying to give thanks for the nine months that have passed, that God has so far preserved me and my relatives in good health. I will be asking Him to protect me and those I love from physical and spiritual harm. I will also be praying for priests, religious and the Catholic Church, and for peace in the world.
What are Ember Days and what is Michaelmas Embertide?
No, I don’t mean the danger of fainting by the roadside, although that nearly happened to me this morning. The single biggest danger of fasting is PRIDE.
Recall the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (publicanus) in Luke 18:9-14. Both men entered the Temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed to remind God how he fasted and gave alms, unlike other people, especially unlike the tax collector (imagine the Pharisee puffed up with pride). By contrast, the tax collector couldn’t even raise his eyes to God and stood behind the Pharisee, beating his breast, asking God for forgiveness. Which of the two men was pleasing to God? The tax collector because he was humble.
When we fast during these Ember Days, we must avoid feeling self-satisfied. We must certainly not look down on Catholics who do not observe the Ember Days. Instead, the entire focus of the Ember Days should be on asking for forgiveness and on forgiving. Are you still bearing resentments against someone — your parents, spouse, or other persons for something terrible they did to you? How can you expect God to forgive you if you don’t forgive?
Do you have trouble controlling your anger? Do you use social media to vent your frustrations? Do you blow up when you don’t get your way? Do you curse when someone cuts you off in a busy intersection? Are other people always the problem?
It is utterly pointless to fast unless fasting is accompanied by determined and consistent control of one’s emotions and ruthless examination of conscience. Stop looking at others’ faults. Focus on yours.
Set aside long periods of silence to be with Jesus and ask Him to help you meditate on the readings for the Michaelmas Embertide, to derive as many spiritual fruits and to become the person He always intended you to be. Our Lord is sweet and gentle, and when He is approached with a humble and contrite heart, He runs to our aid. He will never place a burden on you that you cannot carry.
Finally, I post here a video of Father Spyridon, an Orthodox priest, about the spiritual dangers of fasting. This is the best video I have watched on this subject. He is talking about the Advent fast, which the Orthodox still observe, but this applies to ANY fast. Given that fasting and mortification are now considered taboo subjects by most Catholic clergy, we will have to rely on Orthodox priests to instruct us on the truths about the Christian faith.
Father Edward Leen in “The Church Before Pilate” describes succinctly what it means to take up your cross daily:
“The obligation of bearing the daily cross means simply the obligation of submitting without anger, without repining, without injustice, rather with fortitude, to the miseries incidental to living in a fallen world amongst fallen creatures.”
“The effort to live an integral Catholic life is a daily crucifixion, for it demands sustained effort and involves continuous hardship. One will have much to suffer who endeavours to act uprightly in all his dealings and to fulfill his duties to his Creator in spite of the repugnance of nature. The evil in us strikes much deeper roots in our being than we are aware. Death is dealt to this evil by the brave bearing of the daily cross.”
I do not hesitate to remind you, dear readers, that there are popular Catholic clergy and laymen, who write utter bilge in books, journals, and on the Internet, telling us that we need not obey Our Lord’s command to take up our cross daily and follow Him. If you come across such a person, immediately unsubscribe. What he is peddling is fraud, pure and simple. But it’s exactly frauds like them who get thousands of followers and admirers, the way the late Bernie Madoff lured investors into his something-for-nothing schemes.
I have just finished two short books by F.A. (Frances Alice) Forbes on the lives of two saintly people: Saint Monica, mother of St. Augustine and Pope Pius the Tenth, who at the time of the publication of the book, had not yet been canonized.
Both books brought me to tears and made me to stop several times to meditate on the truths of the Catholic faith. “The Life of Saint Monica” was published in 1928 and “Pope Pius X” was published in 1918.
Summer is for long lazy dinner at the edge of the Mediterranean with a glass of wine and delicious food, enjoying the long dusk (l’heure bleue). But it’s also meant for reading.
Here is a list of my summer 2022 books, two of which I have ready finished as of this writing.
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (translated by Tiina Nunnally, published 2005): This is a trilogy by the Nobel Prize winning Norwegian writer set in medieval Norway. There is an earlier edition that is copyright free, but I think this translation is much better.
Transylvanian Trilogy: They Were Counted; They Were Found Wanting; They Were Divided by Miklos Banffy – “An extraordinary portrait of the vanished world of pre-1914 Hungary, this epic story is told through the eyes of two cousins, Count Balint Abady and Count Laszlo Gyeroffy. Shooting parties in great country houses, turbulent scenes in parliament and the luxury life in Budapest provide the backdrop for this gripping, prescient novel, forming a chilling indictment of upper-class frivolity and political folly in which good manners cloak indifference and brutality. Abady becomes aware of the plight of a group of Romanian mountain peasants and champions their cause, while Gyeroffy dissipates his resources at the gaming tables, mirroring the decline of the Austro-Hungarian empire itself.” I call this trilogy the Hungarian “War & Peace”.
From the Holy Mountain (A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East) by William Dalrymple: The author traces the steps of John Moschos and his pupil, Sophronius, in their travels through the Levant in the 6th century. Inspired by Moschus’s book, The Spiritual Meadow, a collection of sayings and holy stories, Dalrymple starts from the monasteries of Mount Athos and journeys to Istanbul, Egypt, Syria, etc. to chronicle the life of Christians in the Middle East today and in the past. Dalrymple wrote this book in the 1990s and already then, Christians were being persecuted and murdered in these countries. Their numbers have dwindled even more since then.
The Desert Fathers – Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (translated by Benedicta Ward) published by Penguin Books, published in 2003: This seems like a time in history when Christians are once again called to flee to the desert. Use this book for meditation. Read one of the sayings everyday and meditate on it for at least 15 minutes. How does it affect your life? How does it help you get closer to God? The goal of our Christian life is Union with God. That’s it. Everything – the Mass, prayer, meditation, works of corporal and spiritual mercy – is geared towards that goal.
Japan 1941 by Eri Hotta: Almost everything you have heard about how the Japanese came to bomb Pearl Harbor and start a war against America is wrong. This book reveals the true story and what a tragic one it is. Japan stumbled into this war because none of its leaders, from the Emperor down to his key ministers, had the backbone to oppose it vigorously. Each man was waiting for the other to make a decisive stand against it. But they were all cowards. Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Konoe and his successor, Tojo, were against it, as were most of the military commanders, including Admiral Yamamoto. They knew they were going to lose a war against America. But they went through with it anyway.
We live in a time of dissolution: of traditions, morals, community, identity. It is a particularly painful and confusing time for Catholics who have seen many important feasts of the Church reduced to a minor commemoration or not commemorated at all after the innovations of Vatican II.
For over a thousand years, Christians celebrated the major liturgical feasts not just with merry-making, but also with devout practices. These feasts were inseparable from the agricultural calendar. They were woven into the fabric of people’s lives, their family histories and the memories of their community. Thus, the history of the events that Christians profess to believe — the Nativity, the Resurrection, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, and so forth – are as real as last year’s harvest. Men lived without an artificial barrier between their natural lives and the supernatural reality of Christ.
Today it’s hard to see that, much less to sense it in everyday life. So when I picked up this book and read about the history and customs of Candlemas, to name one major feast that few Catholics bother about today, but which used to be important to our ancestors, I felt a great loss. What else have we lost, I asked myself?
Phillip Campbell’s book is an excellent reminder of what we have lost and what we are trying to regain. It is not dry or overly theological, although he does lay out the theological basis for each feast. For instance, in the chapter on the Epiphany, Mr. Campbell provides a Biblical background — the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah in the Old Testament and the inclusion of the Gentiles in salvation history. In the chapter on Christmas, he explains how December 25 came to be chosen as Christmas Day. To balance out the history and theology, he includes interesting local customs, such as the English tradition of eating roast goose on Michaelmas Day.
The layout of the book is as follows:
Chapter 1: Epiphany
Chapter 2: Baptism of Our Lord
Chapter 3: Candlemas
Chapter 4: Annunciation
Chapter 5: Easter
Chapter 6: Pentecost
Chapter 7: The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Chapter 8: The Assumption
Chapter 9: Michaelmas
Chapter 10: All Saints and All Souls
Chapter 11: Christmas
Conclusion: Holy Time
Mr. Campbell has done a tremendous amount of research for this book. He has an engaging, lively writing style that is difficult to find today.
By the end of the book, you will understand the concept of sacred remembering, “whereby the liturgical celebration of some act of salvation history makes the mysteries of redemption mystically present to us.”
I recommend this book highly, and especially for parents who want to read to their children about the great feasts of Christianity.
Note: I bought this book myself from the Amazon Kindle store.
“And He commanded that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard,” said He, “by My mouth, that you may give testimony of Me, even to the uttermost bounds of the earth.” Thus runs the admonition of the Lord before His ascension. (Acts i, 4-8.)
The Apostles, therefore, with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and many of His disciples, obeying the command of Christ, remained at Jerusalem, united in prayer; and, behold, after ten days, the promise of Christ was fulfilled: “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting; and the Holy Ghost came down upon them in the form of fiery tongues, and sat upon every one of them.”
Then did this Spirit of light replenish their souls with knowledge, power, and love; and enrich them with His sevenfold gifts. St. Paul says of himself, that the same Lord Who decreed that there should be light, caused the light of knowledge in holy faith to irradiate his soul; and so it was with the disciples assembled at Jerusalem. Their understanding seemed darkened; they were faint-hearted and timid since the ascension of Him Who was at once their Lord, their Saviour, and beloved Friend. They remained secluded–“behind bolt and bar,”–not daring to appear in public; but, lo! that fear suddenly vanished, for seven new and most precious gifts were bestowed upon them.
With unfaltering courage they went forth to proclaim the truths of Christianity, and to preach “Christ crucified” to the same people who had been guilty of His death upon the cross; and the grace of God touched the hearts of that vast multitude, as they listened, with rapt attention, to their inspired words. Thousands were converted on the spot; and the Church celebrated her birthday on earth, and extended her mission, from that very day, to the utmost limits of the globe.
There can be no greater happiness on earth, beloved in Christ, than the privilege of belonging to the true Church–the only one in which salvation is to be found. But mere external membership will not confer it upon us. We must become living temples of the Holy Ghost, letting our faith shine forth in our lives with a luster so brilliant that it will attract numberless souls to the fold of Christ. The seven gifts, with which the Holy Ghost enriches all who worthily receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, will produce this effect in our souls.
Let us consider today in what essentially consists each one of these, and see in what manner they influence the uninterrupted duration of the kingdom of God in our souls.
O Mary, obtain for us, from the Holy Ghost, thy divine Spouse, the grace to retain in our hearts the influence of His sevenfold gifts! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
St. John says: “Thus spoke Christ of the Holy Spirit, whom every one that believes in Him shall receive.” The miracle which God vouchsafed to work on Pentecost Sunday, namely, the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, was a peculiar grace conferred upon those companions of Jesus Christ, as was also the extraordinary gift of speaking in divers tongues, and penetrating, with prophetic vision, the mysteries of the future. Yes, my brethren, these were gifts of the Holy Ghost, indeed, but reserved for the Apostles alone, apart from those sevenfold gifts which that divine Spirit confers upon all who worthily receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Through this Spirit of love, the Apostles communicated them to all the faithful, to whom, after their baptism, they administered this Sacrament, as the Acts of the Apostles certify.
What are the effects of this Sacrament? It strengthens us in our determination to belong to the kingdom of Christ–the kingdom of God–the Holy Church; to live as her children; to propagate the faith according to our strength and ability; and even, should God require it of us, to sacrifice life itself rather than be false to its teachings. That we may be enabled to do all this, we must not only receive the Sacrament of Confirmation exteriorly; but the graces it confers must penetrate to the very depths of our hearts.
Let us consider today in what the essence of each of these gifts consists; and we will arrive at a clearer understanding of the relation which each one of them bears toward the continuance and increase of the kingdom of God in our hearts.
The first gift–in the order in which they are imparted to us–is “Fear of the Lord” which so disposes our hearts that we entertain no fear whatever, except of God, and the possibility of offending that Divine Being by sin. This gift implies a heart free from sin and filled with a true, sincere, and effective resolution to avoid the most trivial venial sin and imperfection.
When this gift fills our hearts, then indeed the kingdom of God is firmly established therein, and we are temples of the Holy Ghost. But, alas! how many there are who receive not this heavenly gift in its plenitude; who waver and falter in the service of God; and who, so far from being inspired by a holy fear of offending Him, rather allow the fear of men, or human respect, to take entire control of their actions.
The second gift of the Holy Ghost is Piety, which leads us to a state of perpetual prayer, so that we not only perform our prescribed devotions at certain times, but, through them, become united in so intimate a manner with God that we walk constantly in His presence, and live so that the salutation of the angel to the Immaculate Virgin: “The Lord is with thee,” might well be applied to us.
As long as prayer is regarded by us only in the light of an obligation, we are yet very imperfect children of God; but if, on the contrary, we find it an absolute necessity–if it be for our spirits, what breath is to the body–then is the kingdom of God firm in our hearts;. then are we indeed confirmed in the service of our Creator, and living temples of the Holy Ghost. O how many are there who waver in this holy service! The spirit of prayer is wanting in them; their devotions bring them no nearer to God, whereas they should tend to promote an intimate union with Him.
The third gift of the Holy Ghost is Knowledge, through which we become versed in the science of salvation, and thoroughly impressed with the truth, that the great affair of our eternal welfare should first rank in our estimation; and become fully resolved that nothing shall prevent the permanent establishment of the kingdom of God in our hearts. This heavenly knowledge renders us fully alive to the perils which threaten the salvation of those who, while living in the world, strive always, according to the spirit of the world, to possess and to enjoy; and this always in an ever-increasing degree, and for as long a time as possible.
Not so the Christian whose soul, enriched by God the Holy Ghost, is filled with this holy science. He will continually have in view the warning of our Lord: “What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” And when the tempter places before him some favorite, though forbidden, pleasure, or paints in glowing colors the joys of yielding to some darling sin, he will pause and ask himself that question, Will I spurn the tempter from my heart or not?
When the charms of earthly pleasures and temporal enjoyments were held up to St. Aloysius, by those who wished to make him waver in his resolution to dedicate himself to God in the religious state, he would silence them by asking: “What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”– Such a soul recognizes the value of time, and employs it accordingly, knowing well that death, which is most surely approaching, is but the pathway to an eternity, which it depends upon him to make happy or miserable.
The Christian who entertains such sentiments will remain firm and unshaken amid the tempests of life, and may feel assured that the kingdom of God is established in his heart. But by far the greater number who call themselves children of the one true Church, and have even received the Sacrament of Confirmation, do not respond to the dignity of their vocation. Carried away entirely by the affairs of the world, their only anxiety is for pleasure, or for gain–for the things of earth which pass away.
The fourth gift, with which we are favored by the munificence of the Holy Ghost, is Counsel. This gift floods the soul with celestial light sufficient to discern what is pleasing to God in the various circumstances of life. It guards us against the evil of seeking advice from vain and worldly minds, and inspires us to go directly to the representatives of Christ on earth. The life of the Christian who receives this gift is blessed with that peace which the world can not give, and, God reigning in his heart by His grace, the divine kingdom is firmly established therein.
But too many go in quest of advice from those who are filled with the spirit of the world, and who can not impart what they do not possess; and instead of receiving benefit, the petitioner wavers in the service of God; nay, sometimes abandons it entirely.
The fifth gift of the Holy Ghost is Fortitude, which enables the recipient to embrace, and bear patiently, all the crosses which are inseparable from that state of life, to which he has been called by the most holy will of God, and to fulfill the duties connected therewith, in spite of every obstacle. From this gift also arises that disposition which inspires the soul with an esteem for tribulations, a love of sufferings, and an ardent desire to bear the cross for the sake of Jesus Christ. Whoever is thus disposed may enjoy the blessed assurance that the kingdom of God is confirmed in his heart, and that, by a faithful correspondence with divine grace, he will combat valiantly and bear away the palm of victory.
Where, however, this steadfast love of sufferings through love of Christ exists not, the prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” arises not as much from the heart, but from the lips only; and the kingdom of God is often endangered.
The sixth gift which the Holy Spirit offers us, in the Sacrament of Confirmation, is Understanding, which enables man to look at, and judge every thing in this world, through the light of holy faith, and to live accordingly. In this way his confession of faith will not proceed from the lips only, but all its teachings will appear, in a manner most clear and distinct, to his spiritual vision. The kingdom of God is truly and firmly established in that blessed soul, and grace will constantly increase therein, to enable her to resist all the attacks of the infernal enemy. Then will the purity of her intention exalt and multiply the merit of her good works before God. O that all would endeavor, by a worthy preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, to receive this gift in its plenitude! But too often it is not the case.
Finally, the seventh gift is the gift of Wisdom, which is essentially the gift of well-ordered love to God and our neighbor, by which the Christian finds his delight in the fulfillment of the precept which enjoins upon us to love God above all, and our neighbor as ourselves. Of such love it is written that it is stronger than death. It induces us to give up all earthly joys and worldly treasures for Christ’s dear sake; and whoever is aware of possessing it, may well exclaim, with St. Paul: “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Hunger, misery, poverty, death; we overcome them all through Him whom we love.”
But, beloved Christians, when every portion of the heart is engrossed by self, there can be no thought of faithful perseverance amid the storms and temptations of life.
What weighty and all-powerful motives should on this glorious day, the birthday of our Holy Church, inspire us to assemble in spirit, with the Mother of Jesus and the holy Apostles and disciples of the Lord, as they awaited the descent of the divine Spirit. From the very depths of our hearts let us cry out:
“Come, Holy Ghost, replenish our hearts with Thy love, that its ardent fire may animate our souls. Banish therefrom all aversion to prayer, and that spirit of the world which seeks our ruin. Banish from our hearts all unrest, faint-heartedness, forgetfulness of the truths of faith; above all, of the four last things which await us: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Cast from our hearts the spirit of self-love, and lead us, through thy sevenfold gifts, to love God above all, and in Him all whom He has created for Himself; and so confirm these dispositions in our hearts, that we may become, and remain Thy living temples, sanctified through thy love for all eternity.”
Stop being lukewarm and sloppy about your meditations. Buddhists sit uncomfortably for hours emptying their heads in meditation and Catholics can barely spend 10 minutes on the mysteries of our faith, on the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. If this is you, time to examine your lack of piety and fervour. Better, pray to the Sacred Heart for joy and solace in meditation.
“In the Middle Ages the Sunday within the Octave of the Ascension, was called “The Sunday of Roses” because it was the custom to strew the pavement of the churches with roses as a homage to Christ who ascended to Heaven when Earth was in the season of flowers. How well the Christians of those times appreciated the harmony that God has set between the world of grace and that of nature! The Feast of the Ascension, when considered in its chief characteristic, is one of gladness and jubilation, and Spring’s loveliest days are made for its celebration. Our forefathers had the spirit of the Church. They forgot, for a moment, the sadness of poor Earth at losing her Emmanuel, and they remembered how He said to His Apostles: “If you loved me, you would be glad, because I go to my Father! (John xiv. 28) Let us do in like manner. Let us offer to Jesus the roses with which He has beautified our Earth: their beauty and fragrance should make us think of Him who made them, of Him who calls Himself “The Flower of the field and the Lily of the valleys” (Canticles ii. 1) He loved to be called Jesus of Nazareth, for Nazareth means a flower: and the symbol would tell us what a charm and sweetness there is in Him we serve and love as our God.”
We celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord to heaven. He’s waiting for us in paradise and has prepared a mansion for us. Heaven is our true home. This earth is not home. Nothing here lasts and we take nothing with us when we die.