God refused him nothing

Today, 31 Mar 2012, is the feast day of St Stephen of Mar Saba (a.k.a. St Stephen the Sabaite) a holy hermit of the 8th century and a spiritual leader of many monks. From a youthful age he began to give his all to God, growing step by step in holiness until God, in turn, refused him nothing.

St Stephen was born in Damascus around the year 725, and when he was only 10 years old he accompanied his uncle, St John Damascene, and another relative, to the holy monastery of Mar Saba (a little to the east of Bethlehem in Palestine). Even from childhood Stephen was known for his virtue and loving disposition. Upon their arrival, a visiting abbot prophesied great sanctity for young Stephen. ‘May the Lord bless you, excellent boy, beloved of God, desirous of His wisdom, pious disciple.’ From his uncle in particular, and from the other monks in general, Stephen drank in an education of holy scripture, the writings of the Fathers and lots of monastic wisdom.

Upon the death of his uncle in 749, Stephen went from imbibing truth to service in charity. For eight years he served in rotation through just about all of the service roles a monastery had to offer eg bakery, cantor, guest-master etc. Having proved himself as a monk, the abbot arranged for him to be made deacon. Thus began in earnest Stephen’s great love affair with the divine liturgy. All through these years Stephen had been growing in the desire to become a hermit. Approaching the abbot, Stephen shared with him the desires of his heart and sought guidance. The wise abbot suggested a compromise that would be of great benefit not only to Stephen, but to the monastic community and all those who came to seek holy advice from monks of holiness. In obedience Stephen began the pattern of life that would be so fruitful for souls; on the five weekdays he would dedicate himself to complete silence and prayer and on the weekend he would be available for the celebration of the divine liturgy, and to all of those who wished to consult him and seek his intercession. No one who came to him went away without having received graces for soul and body, encouragement and consolation. 

Where did Stephen obtain these graces for souls? From his great struggles against temptation and the wiles and fury of the devil. Struggles in which he was victorious through God’s grace and through his disciplined spiritual life. The battles were won with constant prayer, long vigils and fasting. As his confidence in the power of God grew, he looked forward to these spiritual battles because he knew that they would be beneficial to souls and would come with heavenly rewards. What he went through sounds very similar to the demonic attacks St John Vianney went through centuries later. When the holy respect that his fellow monks had for him became intolerable to Stephen’s humility, he set out for longer periods each year on his own; Eastertide, Christmastide and time leading up to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross he would spend in the monastic community, and the rest would be penitential time away from human society and alone with God.

Yet Stephen knew himself thoroughly and his own human weakness. He would pray ‘Merciful One, make me worthy of the fathers who were before me…My Lord, I know myself, that I do nothing that is fit for the life of a monk; nonetheless, my your manifold mercy reckon me among your holy ones…’ When saved by God from a pack of dogs about to tear him to pieces he prayed, ‘I, wretch that I am, have acquired not one of the virtues. I have not yet wrought even a little of what pleases God. I am not worthy of such care…But nevertheless …My Lord, I love You with all my heart and strength and thoughts, and desire to be with You forever…’ 

When Stephen reached his early 50s, a monk visited, Martyrius by name, who had implored God that he would not see death until he had met a monk totally pleasing to God. Martyrius rejoiced in at last finding one in Stephen, and Stephen for his part consulted the holy Martyrius about God’s will for him. Stephen desired to retire to the desert permanently, but Martyrius revealed to God’s desire that Stephen spend half of his year in the desert and half of his year available to assist the souls that would be sent to him. 

At some point Stephen was ordained a priest. One day, after a fellow monk had been pestering him for some time to come and offer the holy Eucharist in his cell, Stephen came. During that Mass Stephen was transfigured by God, and experienced profound confusion at being granted this experience of God. Accordingly he begged the Lord not to favour him in this way again, but instead ‘when I am in need of Your grace at the time of the Eucharist, deem me worthy of it by Your many mercies.’ And so it came about that whenever Stephen was in need of wisdom for souls, revelation from God, healing for bodies and all the other manifold needs of souls, he went to the holy Eucharist and received all that he asked for, and more. The good God could not refuse his holy servant anything.

Around eighty miracles are recorded in Stephen’s life; some are of persons being freed from evil spirits, others of healing at a distance, however there must have been many more unrecounted ones. He had the gift of being able to read souls, and at times to fortell the future. Stephen entered into the joy of the Lord a few days after Easter in the year 794.

Portions of ‘The Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas’ written by his disciple Leontius of Damascus and translated by John C. Lamoreaux are available through Google Books. If you need some encouragement today, read some of it. A Google search with ‘The life of Stephen of Mar Sabas Volume 579′ will find it for you. (The link is just too long and complicated to write out).

Thank you Lord God for raising up St Stephen and for making him a flowing conduit of your grace to souls. May souls today continue to benefit from his powerful intercession before You.

St Stephen of Mar Saba, pray for us.

The Saints are actively involved

Today, 30 Mar 2012, is the feast day of St Zozimus (or Zosimus), the bishop of Syracuse, Sicily in the 7th century. His life demonstrates how actively involved the Saints are in our lives. It also demonstrates how when God delays to answer our prayers, it is so that He can give us better answer than we could ever have imagined.

St Zozimus was born around the year 570 to wealthy parents who had prayed for years to receive the gift of a child. When God delayed to answer that prayer, they persevered. Perhaps they expected an ordinary child, but those diligent prayers paved the way for God to give them a child who became a bishop and a Saint. If you have ever prayed long and hard for a child you understand deeply that each one is a true gift from heaven and that each one belongs to God first and foremost. It is not surprising then, that when young Zozimus was ready to begin his education that his parents brought him to the monastery of St Lucy - entrusting him to God for His service just like Hannah did with Samuel and like Anne and Joachim did with Our Lady.

Being a young boy in a monastery takes a bit of getting used to. Zozimus must have been home-sick, so he ran away. When he was returned to the monastery Zozimus experienced a vision of St Lucy, the early martyr and patron of the monastery. She was visibly upset with him, as any holy person would be in the presence of someone who had run away from a vocation which would lead to their sanctity. The vision then expanded to include Our Lady, who, promising to intercede for the youngster, reassured St Lucy that her young charge would not run away again, and would in time make her very proud. Zozimus got the message, and settled into monastic life and began to grow in holiness. Thankfully God also provided earthly models of sanctity for Zozimus to learn from, notably St Faustus of Syracuse.

The years passed, and Zozimus grew in humility, in faith, and in devotion towards his patron St Lucy. After some thirty years the abbot of the monastery died, and the monks together with their bishop gathered to pray and seek God’s will in choosing the new abbot. Not everyone could go, since someone needed to stay behind at St Lucy’s shrine to guard her relics and to assist any pilgrims. Zozimus offered to perform this service. Looking at those assembled at the meeting, the bishop could not see the choice of God upon any of them. Knowing that there had to be someone whom God had chosen, the bishop asked if there were any other monks. As soon as Zozimus came into the bishop’s presence, the bishop knew beyond doubt that he was the one. Thus Zozimus came to be appointed abbot and ordained to the priesthood. Under Zozimus’ wise and humble leadership, the monastic community flourished.

In due time the bishop entered into eternity, and a successor was sought. Zozimus’ reputation for holiness made him a prime candidate, but he had absolutely no ambition in that direction. So the choice fell on an unworthy candidate, which was deeply regretted by all. To fix everything up, Pope Theodore himself appointed Zozimus as the next bishop of Syracuse. As could be expected of someone who quaked at the thought of the responsibilities of a bishop, Zozimus depended upon God’s grace and St Lucy’s intercession to fulfill them, and he fulfilled them admirably. Expending himself in love, Zozimus taught his people God’s divine truths with diligence, guided them with wisdom and became renowned for his generosity towards the poor. His death came at advanced aged around the year 660.

Zozimus from a formative age entrusted himself to the intercession of the patron of the monastery and of the diocese, St Lucy. Her abundant intercession helped him to grow in true holiness, and when the time came, to bring great spiritual good to all of the monks of the monastery and the people of the diocese under her special patronage. What a lesson this is for us on the fruitfulness of devotion to patron Saints! If we neglect to seek the aid of our brothers and sisters in heaven, we impoverish ourselves and our Christian communities. If we take God’s gift of the Communion of Saints seriously, then enormous good comes to an immense number of souls.

St Zozimus of Syracuse, pray for us. 

St Lucy, pray for us.


Full of encouragement and zeal

Today, 29 Mar 2012, is the feast day of two martyrs, St Jonas and St Barachisius, who gave extraordinary witness to Christian faith before the leaders of the Persian empire in the year 327. Throughout almost 17 centuries the Church has preserved the eye-witness account of their martyrdom provided by an Armenian member of a troop of royal horsemen. Their story lives on because it has much to teach us.

St Jonas and St Barachisius were brothers, either siblings or monks or both. They definitely shared deep faith in God and a remarkable friendship. When news reached them that a persecution had broken out in a city of Persia (modern day Iran) under the leadership of King Sapor II, these two holy men set out from their homeland, Beth Asa, in eastern Syria to assist the persecuted. To get from one place to the other required a journey of around 1000 kms. That is a huge commitment. In undertaking this journey they hoped to bring encouragement to those facing martyrdom, so that they would not fall into the grave sin of apostasy. Even with modern transportation a journey of 1000kms is not taken lightly.

Our duo, already conspicuous as foreigners, were able to assist 9 Persian companions to face martyrdom worthily. Their own arrests followed swiftly, an expected result for all those who refused to worship sun, moon, fire and water. Clearly the easiest way to break the resolve of these two holy ones, was to separate them. It didn’t work. They knew each other too well to fall for the lie that the other had apostacised. Quite rightly they both refused to worship any created thing and desired only to worship the Creator of heaven and earth. Tortures of great inventiveness followed for Jonas and for Barachisius, and throughout each test of their faith they prayed continually and assiduously – winning the victory for God each time. Meditating upon the Passion of Jesus spurred them on.

After a full day and full night of tortures, through which Jonas and Barachisius refused to give in to the threats and bribes, they were taken to be executed. For Jonas it was decided that each finger and toe be cut off and flung away. Next the skin on his head was removed and his tongue cut out before he was thrown into a container of burning pitch. God arranged that the pitch would not operate according to nature. Only after he was squeezed to death via a wooden press and his bones broken did Jonas’s soul wing its flight to God. Afterwards his body was hacked to pieces and guarded lest anyone seek to obtain relics. For Barachisius his preparations consisted of beatings and piercing of the flesh of his body. When his persecutors tired of this, they immobilised him in a press and then suffocated him by pouring burning pitch down his throat. Then he, too, joined Jonas in heavenly glory.

What zeal for God’s truth, and what faith they had in God’s power to remake their bodies at the resurrection! Their lives encouraged believers in 327, and continue to encourage and inspire with zeal all those who hear of their of the ardour of their faith.

When our time comes, and we face some of the myriad forms of persecution in our modern world, may the memory of these two valiant martyrs inspire us to remain strong in the Lord. 

St Jonas and St Barachisius, pray for us

Greater in virtue than in age

Today, 28 March 2012, is sacred to the memory of Wilhelm Eiselin (a.k.a William / Wilhelmus) a German canon and religious of the Premonstratensian Order in the 16th century. Due to miracles at his tomb his local cult was approved 5 years after his death, but he has yet to have that beatification formally ratified by the Universal Church.

Given the passage of over 4 centuries from his death, not a lot of detail survives about the life of Wilhelm. What there is online is mostly written in German, and Google Translate does its best but it isn’t perfect. So I have done my best to read between the lines and guess at what the original language said ; thus if I have poorly interpreted, please forgive me.

Wilhelm Eiselin was born around 1564 in the Bavarian region of southern Germany. While still a child both of his parents died due to an epidemic of plague. It is quite possible that he was an able student. At the age of 17 he entered the Premonstratensian monastery of Rot an der Rot in Upper Swabia. During this period of time the monastery, which had been going for around 450 years was in decline after several local wars and was beginning to arrest that decline under the leadership of Abbot Martin Ehrmann (1560 – 1589).

It seems that Wilhelm really wanted to advance in his studies of theology so that knowing God better he could love Him more. This desire seems to have been thwarted to the extent that he never seems to have completed his Theology degree. His fellow monks seem to have given him a hard time over his ‘nerdish’ inclinations and his desire to live out the Rule as perfectly as possible. To pray was Wilhelm’s greatest happiness, followed closely behind by his joy in offering to God the fruits of his life of penance and acts of self-sacrifice. Some kind of serious illness beset him all of his life. With uncommon patience Wilhelm endured these sufferings and offered them to God in union with the sufferings of Jesus during His Passion. It is quite likely, given the troubles of his childhood, that Wilhelm contracted tuberculosis.

Death came on 28 March 1588. With his death, Wilhelm’s fellow monks began to realise what a treasure house of virtue he had been. Those who sought his intercession obtained miracles. After his remains were placed in a reliquary, they were displayed in the monastery church dedicated to St Verena (an early martyr), where they still reside. The actual monastery that Wilhelm lived in was destroyed by fire in 1681 and rebuilt. Perhaps this fire is the major reason why details about Wilhelm are so sparse.

Here is my paraphrase of the inscription attached to Wilhelm’s relics: ‘Stand still, you who pass by, pause a moment and be inspired. Within this reliquary are the remains of Brother Wilhelm Eiselin, someone much greater in virtue than in age, and more worthy of heaven than of earth. He lived as a flower, a lily, among thorns. God has taken this lily to Himself because it was most pleasing to Him, leaving us the smell and the stem : the fragrance of Wilhelm’s holiness and his earthly remains. These remains rest in this reliquary, proclaiming his holiness to all who pass by in the world. Wilhelm, servant of Christ, died in the year 1588 on 28th March at the age of 24 years.’

May the good Lord grant that more details of Wilhelm’s exemplary life come to light and that he may soon receive formal beatification.

Venerable Wilhelm Eiselin, pray for us.


He brought the peoples of Bavaria and Austria to Jesus

Today, 27 Mar 2012, is the feast day of St Rupert of Salzburg, Abbot, Bishop and Apostle of Bavaria and Austria. In a few short years it will be 1300 years after his death, but devotion to him and appreciation for his evangelising work still lives on.

Information about St Rupert starts from his time as bishop of Worms. According to the story of his life written in Latin, Rupert was a bishop worthy of the name ; someone filled with heavenly virtue, gifts of preaching and administration, dedicated to prayer, fasting and service of the poor. Word got around that there was a holy bishop in Worms, and people came to listen to him and seek his counsel. Sadly the people of Worms didn’t realise what a treasure they had in their midst and began to persecute Rupert until they forced him into exile. 

Being forced out of your own diocese must have hurt, but it seems to have been permitted by God so that Rupert could be detached from his former diocese and then sent by Him on to a far more fruitful mission. * Theodo, the Duke of Bavaria had heard of Rupert’s holy reputation, so Theodo sent his men to ask Rupert to visit him and preach to him about faith in Jesus. This Rupert did with alacrity around the year 697. Not only the Duke, but his nobles and subjects were persuaded by Rupert’s preaching – rejecting idols and accepting baptism. With the Duke’s permission Rupert then left Regensburg and began a tour up and down the Danube River preaching, encouraging and baptizing.

To get the whole mission set up on a more permanent footing Rupert needed to set up an episcopal see, and build a cathedral. Guided by God, Rupert decided that the ruined Roman city of Juvavian was the place to do this, renaming it Salzburg. Wanting this episcopal see to also be a powerhouse of prayer and worship, Rupert also built a monastery there. Everything was placed under the patronage of St Peter the Apostle. Duke Theodo happily agreed to this scheme, granted land for Church use, and then he and his successor gifted Rupert and his band with building funds and more land over the years. Further missionary journeys into the region were undertaken, each one bringing new souls into the kingdom of God.

Becoming aware that the work of evangelisation was not progressing effectively because the women of the region had no holy role models to look up to, St Rupert sought out his niece St Erendruda and brought her back to his diocese to set up a religious order for women. Under her rule many young women joined her in religious life.

St Rupert, now that he had set up everything on a firm foundation for the future, was given a presentiment of his death by God. Wisely he appointed a successor. After throwing his all into preaching, fasting, prayers and works of charity for Lent, Rupert was overcome with exhaustion and fever on the day of the Resurrection following the celebration of the solemn liturgy. Surrounded by his priests and monks his holy soul winged its way to God in the year 718. It is a great tribute to St Rupert that both the monastery and the convent are still in active existence in our times.

To read more of the life of St Rupert and of his holy niece St Erendruda, go to www.voskrese.info/spl/st.robert.html

St Rupert of Salzburg, holy leader of God’s people and apostle of Bavaria and Austria, pray for us.

* In parish and in church life it is not unusual for a ministry to end in tears (eg music, sacristan, warden, children’s ministry etc). It is so easy for those who have made a start in an adult conversion to get caught up in ‘my ministry’ and to identify too much with it. Purification is painful, but necessary, if we are to learn to serve God on His terms and not on ours. Quite often this painful detachment is the only way that He is able to close one ministry door in order to invite us into another more fruitful ministry in His service. So if this has been your experience, don’t be discouraged, and look for great good, and new opportunities, to grow out of those tears and that time of fallowness. Ask Him, too, for the grace to forgive all of those human protagonists of your agony. 



Woman of patience and perseverance

Today, 26 Mar 2012, is the 104th anniversary of death of Blessed Maddalena Caterina Morano (a.k.a. Blessed Magdalena Catherine Morano), a religious of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians and an exceptional catechist. To set out on the vocational path  God called her to, she needed patience and perseverance to overcome the obstacles in her path.

Blesed Maddalena Caterina Morano was born in 1847 at Chieri, near Turin, Italy. When her father and older sister died around 1855, 8 year old Maddalena had to enter the workforce to help her family survive. With determination Maddalena managed to juggle obtaining an education while taking on odd jobs. Her uncle, who was a priest, assisted her in her quest. At the age of 17 Maddalena, already feeling the call to religious life, obtained a teaching qualification. Unable to act upon God’s call until her mother was provided for and her younger siblings well on the way to adulthood, Maddalena worked as a teacher and catechist. It took some 12 years of work before she was able to save up enough to purchase a dwelling and sufficient funds to secure her mother’s future. Now she was free to follow the call to holiness where ever it might lead.

Maddalena was now 31, and about to fulfill her heart’s desire to enter the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. After waiting so long, a happy novitiate followed. So great was her desire for holiness that she asked the Lord on the day of her perpetual vows for the grace to stay alive until she had attained sanctity. When the bishop of Catania in Sicily asked nuns for help, Maddalena was one of those sent. Sicily is a long way from Turin, so Maddalena had to sacrifice seeing her family and her homeland in order to serve there.

Tirelessly she worked in these new surroundings to set up schools, train teachers, arrange after school activities and sewing classes, and new houses for the Order. As much as Maddalena loved to teach, she found her greatest joy in teaching the catechism to students. Many girls were attracted by her love for God, Our Lady Help of Christians and St Joseph, her readiness to serve His people and the joy with which she taught them about God. New vocations were numerous. For 25 years – a very long time in anyone’s book - she was given the responsibility to lead and guide her fellow religious. Under her leadership the community of nuns flourished and each parish in Catania had an effective catechetical programme. 

The good Lord graciously heard and answered for prayer for holiness. Before entering into eternity she endured cancer and died on 26 March 1908. In 1994, Blessed Pope John Paul the Great proclaimed her Blessed. Jesus indeed only took her to Himself when she had attained sanctity.

Thank you Lord for raising up Blessed Maddalena as a role model and intercessor for all catechists. May her prayers help boys and girls come into deep relationship with God.

Blessed Maddalena Caterina Morano, pray for us.

Undaunted by anything

Since this year, 2012, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord falls on a Sunday and is transferred to tomorrow, Monday, the opportunity should be taken to acquaint you with Caroline Chisholm; a woman through whose courage, faith and generosity a great deal of good was done on more than one continent. Today is the 135th anniversary of her death.

I have a special desire to honour Caroline because in 2003 she was my Patron Saint for the Year. For this patron the quotation was, “I was enabled to make an offering of my talents to the God who gave them. I promised to serve all justly and impartially and wholly devote myself to the work I had in hand” and the prayer mission was ‘Pray for the unemployed‘. Initially I was quite stumped as to why God had given her to me, and in particular that prayer mission. Considering that I was up to my neck in churchy activities, I could not how the ‘unemployed’ related to me. The year went on, and the more I read about Caroline the more deeply I was impressed by her life. Then in the November of that year parish meetings occurred to shape the vision for a new parish church. After a few thoughts hit me totally out of the blue – thank you Holy Spirit – I could see that God had prepared me through my whole life experience, together with His gifts and talents to be a part of the team that would bring this vision into reality. Indeed, in God’s eyes I had been under-employed and it was time, with His grace, to follow where He was leading me and to serve on that team. The new parish church was opened in late 2007.

Caroline Chisholm nee Jones was born on 30 May 1808 in a village near Northampton. This remarkable woman was raised in England as a Protestant, in a charitable family, where helping the poor and the sick were important values. In 1830 she married Archibald Chisholm, a Scottish Catholic and army officer, and the early years of their marriage were spent in India. Caroline became a Catholic around August in 1831, taking the confirmation name of Monica. In India, Caroline began to provide and organise shelter and educational opportunities for the daughters of soldiers, who otherwise faced concubinage or worse in life.

The Chisholm family came to Australia as a result of Archibald’s poor health. The process of finding work for the migrants to Sydney at this time was unorganized, with landowners eager to take on men without families, while the rest of the migrant population had to depend upon private charity. It was female migrants who fared the worst in this system. Most of the women who arrived were friendless and unprotected, and many were young. Caroline began to find employment situations for as many of these female migrants as possible. Soon the Chisholm home became an unofficial information and advice centre for immigrants. As more immigrants arrived, it became obvious that this work needed to be organized and funded on a public scale. The political climate was not encouraging, as animosity to Catholics in Sydney was intense, and Caroline’s letters to the government and the press received little support.

These difficulties did not stop her. As always, when in doubt or trouble, she prayed for help and guidance. The following prayer is testimony to this: “On Easter Sunday 1841, I was enabled, at the altar of our Lord, (at St Mary’s Cathedral) to make an offering of my talents to the God who gave them. I promised to know neither country nor creed, but to try to serve all justly and impartially. I asked only to be enabled to keep these poor girls from being tempted, by their need, to mortal sin;  I resolved that to accomplish this, I would in every way sacrifice my feelings – surrender all comfort – nor in fact consider my own wishes or feelings but wholly devote myself to the work I had in hand. I felt my offering was accepted and God’s blessing was on my work: but it was His will to permit many serious difficulties to be thrown my way, and to conduct me through a rugged path of deep humiliation.”

Because Caroline had resolved to help anyone in need, many avenues of help were closed to her. The Anglicans didn’t give her much help because she was assisting Catholics in need. The Catholic hierarchy didn’t give her much help because she was also assisting Protestants in need. If she had been sectarian in her charitable works aid would have flowed to her like a river, but she stayed firm in her resolve to imitate the Creator who provides for all of his creatures without exception. 

Caroline continued to write letters to those of influence, without receiving much encouragement. She then interviewed the Governor, and finally obtained assistance after undertaking not to put the government to any expense. The government gave her the use of a small section of an old barracks. She made this hovel her home, so as to provide protection for these girls. Reluctantly she had to send her children away to Windsor (even today it is at least an hour’s journey by car) with servants. In this old barracks, on the corner of Phillip and Bent Streets, once she had freed it of rats, she began her work in earnest.

With courage she went out to meet the ships that had brought new women immigrants to Sydney’s shores. She had to stand her ground against those who wanted those women as temporary mistresses and others who wanted new recruits for the prostitution trade. If Caroline lost the battle these women would soon be reduced to poverty, squalor and early deaths. Since word soon got out that there was a ready supply of unattached women under Caroline’s protection, much tiring vigilance day and night was needed to keep their reputations safe.

Organizing her employment service in an efficient manner, Caroline arranged personal interviews, and sent questionnaires to country districts inquiring as to wages, conditions, transport, labour needs and other matters. In the first year, employment was found for 700 immigrant women. For Caroline it was not just a case of finding work for these poor women, and sending them to their destination in an unknown land, like the Good Samaritan she did everything in her power to bring about a happy outcome. Caroline conducted most of the immigrant women personally to their new homes, placing them in families of humble but respectable people of good character. In doing this she was able to judge the situation in each farm before entrusting the women to them. Caroline travelled as far as Port Macquarie,Bathurst, Armidale, Yass and Gundagai. All along the way inns refused to charge her for accommodation, and coaches carried women and children free. No bushranger ever attacked these expeditions. One journey started out with about 150 and ended up along the road with 240 as men in need of employment joined the travelers.

As Caroline went, she set up registry offices in regional places that could notify her of employment opportunities and serve to keep in touch with those already employed. To prevent squabbles, employment contracts were in triplicate, one for the master, one for the servant and one for Caroline’s files. This work earned the praise of the government, and Caroline was called upon to advise the government concerning the needs of rural citizens on several occasions. Her health suffered as a result of these journeys and as a consequence of the heavy work load which the fulfillment of her promise to God entailed.

In her mind, family was crucial for good society, so to this end Caroline worked for the re-uniting of family members (who had been separated by convict transportation) and the immigration of complete families. She worried over the system of transportation which ‘has doomed tens of thousands to the demoralizing state of bachelorism’. On a visit back to England to bring out wives and children she told the authorities ‘for all the clergy you can dispatch, all the school masters you can appoint, all the churches you can build and all the books you can export, you will never do much without God’s police – wives and little children.’ And in answer to those who thought that Australia should become a place of great land owners and vast sheep stations she replied, ‘Children ought to take precedence over sheep.’

In the late 1840s and the early 1850s, Caroline and Archibald with their six children returned to England. Here she continued to advocate for family re-union in the new colonies and better conditions on board ship. In 1854 the family returned to Australia, this time to Melbourne. Here Caroline became involved in the social problems that the Gold Rush brought with it. She helped organize shelters along the way for families travelling to and from the gold fields and advocated for land sales to small settlers. When she became ill in 1858, the family moved back to Sydney where Caroline ran a school for a while. With her health again declining due to kidney troubles, Caroline, Archibald and the three youngest children returned to England. Here they lived modestly on a small government pension.

Bedridden for the final years of her life in London, Caroline died on 25 March 1877 in obscurity. Archibald died a few months later. The cause for her canonization began in 1976, but such a task is well nigh impossible if you don’t have the resources of a religious order behind you. If Caroline had died in Australia, her burial place would have quickly become a place of pilgrimage. Because she died in England, her final resting place in Northampton has taken much longer to become a place where people seek her intercession. Since most of her good works were done in Australia there is more will here to progress her cause, but the local bishop of the English diocese where she died is the one canonically responsible for her cause. Thus it is far more difficult than usual to advance her cause, but not impossible to God.

Caroline was undaunted by politicians, church leaders, government officials, ship’s captains, rats, privations, ocean voyages, foreign cultures, death of her new born child or ill health. With God she did indeed do bravely.

An excellent source for more information about Caroline is www.mrschisholm.com . Make sure that you read each of the sub-documents in the ‘In Her own Words’ section. A prayer seeking her intercession follows…. (When you receive answers to prayer from Caroline’s intercession, let webmaster@mrschisholm.com know about it.) 

We thank You, most loving and merciful God, for the admirable life of Caroline Chisholm, who heard Your call in youth and responded as a woman of patient, energetic faith. With the support of her husband Archibald and her children, she assisted people in need, irrespective of their country or creed, by social reforms and charitable work, especially re-uniting families, protecting vulnerable girls, placing the unemployed in gainful work and achieving improvements for poor emigrants. According to Your providential Will, may we receive the favours we ask through her intercession……………………………………….. and may her heroic virtue be recognized and her example followed throughout the world, leading the Church to number her among Your saints.

Caroline Chisholm, pray for us.



An invitation to hope

As human beings we are amazingly good at stuffing up our lives, our health, our minds, our relationships – just about anything that crosses our paths. As human beings we are also amazingly good at forgetting where to go to get our stuffed lives fixed. Thankfully our Creater understands us better than we understand ourselves, so He regularly issues us invitations to hope. If we answer an invitation our lives can begin to get repaired and the gloom on our horizon can give way to optimism.

Most of us have come into contact with someone whose marriage is in trouble, or whom we are pretty sure has an addiction to alcohol, gambling, narcotics etc, or whom we suspect are having a difficult time making ends meet or trying to cope with a toxic relationship. Until that person can admit that there is a problem, and then come to the point of desiring to be free of the problem, there is very little that anyone can do to help them. Up until then, he or she is unable to listen to any helpful advice. The catalyst for change generally comes only after hearing the story of someone who has been in the same sorry pit and how they got out of it. It might take a long time for the seed of that story to ripen into action in the troubled person, but it will happen. Such stories are the invitations to hope that God gives us, and which He expects us, as His ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20) to pass on to others. 

How often we forget that the name ‘Jesus’ means ‘Saviour’! The angel of God instructed St Joseph to give the unborn baby in Mary’s womb the name of Jesus, ‘because He is the one who is to save His people from their sins.’ (Matt 1: 21). It is sin that lies at the heart of all the misery in our lives. To get out of that misery we need the power to forgive, or the power to seek forgiveness; the power that heals, restores and makes new (Rev 21:5). Such power comes only from God and was purchased at the immense price of the blood, sorrows, tortures and death of Jesus.   

Here is an invitation to hope issued by Jesus through St Faustina (passage 1602 ‘Divine Mercy in my Soul’): ’Today the Lord said to me, Daughter, when you go to confession (ie. the sacrament of reconciliation), to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls. The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls.’

To access this power requires admitting that we have stuffed up our lives. The reason why pride is so bad is because it stops people admitting that they need help and it also stops them from admitting that they want to change. 

Going to Confession is a lot like going to the doctor, only better. For the Divine Physician to help us we have to tell Him all that is wrong with us, and show Him all of our inner wounds – the self inflicted ones as well as the hurts received from others. He has the power to heal us. Through His intermediary He gives us advice and the medicine of penance (be it prayer, service, restitution or some form of self denial). Afterwards the uplift of grace comes, which helps us resist temptation and helps us to forgive and seek forgiveness of others.

The season of Lent is a time when lots of invitations to hope are issued. Sadly some priests only go as far as talking about the need for conversion, but never talking about what we need to be converted from (sin that leads to misery) and what we need to be converted to (getting out of the pit and living a much happier life under God’s smile). Unfortunately these priests who speak about the need for conversion don’t understand that we in the pews need a far more direct approach. We need to hear that the major step in the conversion journey is going to confession. If we want to kick start our spiritual lives and ask God for a second chance, we need to go to confession – because that is where the grace, healing and bounty of God’s love is found. That is where the Mercy of God meets us right where we are in our sinfulness, heals us, cleans us up, and sets our souls singing for joy with His personal care and attention.

The biggest invitation to hope is issued by God on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Sunday that comes after Easter Sunday. On this day the flood gates of God’s Mercy are wide open. This day is meant to be the great altar call day; the day when God’s priests challenge God’s people to take hold of the transforming power of the Passion, Death and Resurrection in their own lives by making a whole new start with Jesus through the Sacrament of Penance (Confession). On this day miracles of Divine Mercy should superabound to the glory of God. Sadly the great majority of priests have never really taken Divine Mercy Sunday seriously. To paraphrase a famous quote, it hasn’t been tried and rejected because it has never been truly tried. 

Here are some of the promises that Jesus gave through St Faustina: (passage 49b,50a ibid) ‘I desire that there be a Feast of Mercy. I want this image, which you will paint with a brush, to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy. I desire that priests proclaim this great Mercy of Mine towards souls of sinners. Let the sinner not be afraid to approach Me. The flames of Mercy are burning Me—clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon these souls.’ (passage 570 ibid) ‘No soul will be justified until it turns with confidence to My Mercy, and that is why the first Sunday after Easter is to be the Feast of Mercy. On that day, priests are to tell everyone about My great and unfathomable Mercy.’ (passage 1521 ibid) ‘Tell my priests that hardened sinners will repent on hearing their words when they speak about My unfathomable Mercy, about the compassion I have for them in My Heart. To priests who proclaim and extol My Mercy, I will give wondrous power: I will anoint their words and touch the hearts of those to whom they speak.’

How I have longed to hear a priest speak about God’s Mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday! That has yet to happen. The most I have heard is a tiny brief acknowledgement as Mass begins or a small announcement about parish devotions at the end. To some it is of no consequence that the Magisterium of the Church has both approved and strongly recommended it. Others want to preach about what they want to preach about that Sunday and won’t consider that they happily talk about God’s love on the Feast of the Sacred Heart and about the marvel of the Eucharist at Corpus Christi. It has to be the priest that preaches of Mercy and leads the faithful in Divine Mercy devotions that Sunday because the priest is the witness par excellence of the Mercy of God in the sacred Tribunal of Penance. He is the one who knows how great God’s Mercy really is because He has absolved so many sins in God’s name. During the homily is when he needs to preach it. We all know that at the Divine Mercy Devotions those that come are already convinced of God”s Mercy and are leading regular sacramental lives. Jesus wants to reach those who are on the fringe, those whose souls are at risk. In the pews on any given Saturday vigil and Sunday Mass there are plenty of them. That’s why the homily that Day is so important, because it is supposed to be the biggest invitation to hope of the whole year of grace.

Even then, should you be so fortunate as to come across a priest who actually preaches about God’s Mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday, they don’t go far enough. To preach of God’s Mercy and then to not offer the Sacrament of Penance to those whose hearts have been touched is plain stupidity. It is a mighty rare priest who tells his congregation that he will be available after Mass for any who want to avail themselves of the Sacrament of God’s Mercy. Multiply them Lord!. If they only preached on His Mercy and generously made themselves available in the confessional afterwards they would see stupendous miracles of grace. If they were really convinced that these promises of Jesus to St Faustina are real, they’d have an assistant priest already in the confessional ready and waiting for pentitents as soon as the homily of Mercy begins. Particularly with the grace of returning to the Sacrament of Penance, if you don’t strike while the motivation is there, and red hot, that motivation dissipates rapidly and may never ever come to fruition. 

So, if you haven’t experienced God’s personal Mercy towards you for some time, get along to the Sacrament of Mercy this week.

If you have experienced God’s Mercy for yourself, tell someone about it – issue them with an invitation to hope. If needs be, change names, dates and places, but get your story of God’s Mercy out there online – on a facebook page, on a Catholic online forum, as an xt3 personal blog.

If there is a priest that you know who might benefit from reading this, send him a copy. They need invitations to hope, too.

Divine Mercy, I trust in You.

St Faustina, pray for us

Father Sopocko, pray for us.

Sent to bring the Good News to poor girls

Today, 23 Mar 2012, is the feast day and 130th anniversary of death of Blessed Annunziata Cochetti (Annunciata Coccetti), the Italian foundress of the Sisters of St Dorothy of Cemmo a religious order set up for education of young women. This work which Jesus led her into flourished and still has several hundred members today.

Blessed Annunziata was born in 1900 at Rovato, Brescia, Italy. By the age of seven she was orphaned, and the rest of her upbringing entrusted to her grandmother – a woman of noble birth and noble heart. Her education was undertaken by the Ursuline nuns until Napoleon suppressed the religious orders, and continued on afterwards by tutors at home. The desire to teach began early for Annunziata and at 17 she started a small school for girls in her home town. Since there is nothing like teaching to make you aware of all that you don’t know, Annunziata studied to obtain a professional teaching qualification.

Things seem to have continued serenely until the death of her grandmother in 1923. Now her successful uncle and guardian wanted her under his wing in Milan, so to Milan she went. His hope was that she would contract a happy and brilliant marriage and be weaned away from her attraction to religion. Instead Annunziata joined the Pious Society of St Dorothy, a local organisation of women that did social work in the region, led by Father Luca Passi and was more attracted to religious life than ever. When Annunziata heard that the rural centre of Cemmo needed a teacher for its newly formed school, she volunteered. Together with Erminia Panzerini she worked for eleven years building up the school and attracting others to join and suppprt the work of the Pious Society of St Dorothy. Here Annunziata finds happiness in teaching the poorest girls in the valley.

When Erminia died in 1842, Annunziata had to think deeply about the needs of the school and about what God was asking of her. This seemed to be beginning a new religious order for the education of the young. Once again, Annunziata was aware of what she didn’t know, so she spent a year learning how religious life worked in Venice before returning in 1843 and laying the foundations for the Sisters of St Dorothy of Cemmo. Under the influence of God’s grace and the fruits of Annunziata’s solid prayer life and love for the Eucharist the new order grew and flourished.

Annunziata was intensely aware of the need to help the poor retain their dignity, of the need to give assistance with delicacy and thoughtfulness. To do this, aid needed to be given privately without fanfare and wrapped around with as much silence as possible. She would say, ‘Always put a fresh load of bread on the wall for the poor who would never dare to ask.’ Knowing that to be truly effective the nuns needed to be holy, her deathbed advice to them was ‘Be holy, this is my greatest desire for you. Then you will do the most good to the young ones entrusted to you.’

Annunziata cared as much for the souls in her charge as for their education. Accordingly she set up regular retreats and retreat houses for the students. It was to one of these retreat houses that Annunziata retired to when her health began to fail. Just shy a few hours from the festive celebrations for the solemity of the Annunciation of the Lord on March 25, Annunziata entered into eternity on 23 Mar 1882. In 1991 she was beatified by Blesed Pope John Paul the Great.

Blessed Annunziata Cochetti, pray for us.


Eyes only on the prize of the Kingdom of God

Today, 22 Mar 2012, is the memorial of St Lea of Rome, widow and leader of women consecrated to God. From ‘having it all’ she changed completely and became, through her living of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, a witness to the reality of the eternal Kingdom of God.

The greatest part of what is known about St Lea comes from a letter of St Jerome to St Marcella, another holy widow of Rome. To find the full translation of Letter XXIII, go to www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.v.XXIII.html

From what St Jerome says of Lea, she must have been a very wealthy since she had been ‘the mistress of many’. Whatever the catalyst for Lea’s conversion was, it must have been remarkable. To have turned so completely from a life of ease, luxury and power and to have so thoroughly embraced poverty, humility and prayer bespeaks a powerful conversion. Such an utter reversal also bespeaks of an immense desire to seek pardon for past sins through a penitential life. Perhaps, like her contemporaries, the death of her husband marked the begining of her search for meaning. Perhaps the joy with which St Paula and St Marcella and their companions dedicated their lives completely to God’s service made a deep impression upon her.

Lea’s heart was captured by the unfailing love of Jesus our Redeemer and her whole desire was to become worthy of a place in His Kingdom. For love of Him she dressed in the clothes of the poor and kept long vigils of prayer. For love of Him she ate the coarse food of the poor and dwelt in lodgings of poverty. For love of Him she undertook the role of spiritual mother towards the consecrated virgins of Rome and was never too proud to serve them in the most menial of tasks. To have been accepted as a spiritual mother Lea must have been living this exceptional life of mortification for quite a number of years, because you would only seek advice and guidance from someone with significant experience and holiness.

When death came to Lea in 384 it came quickly, because St Marcella wasn’t granted the opportunity to pray beside her deathbed. Even though her death came with suddeness, Lea was prepared because she had her eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus and upon His eternal Kingdom. Lea, like St Mary Magdalen, had chosen the better part and it was not taken from her. 

For such words of praise to have come from St Jerome’s pen, Lea must have been special indeed, and much loved and respected in the Christian community of Rome.

As the days of Lent trickle away, may St Lea of Rome pray for us that we may more deeply be converted to Jesus and more willing to radically follow Him.

St Lea of Rome, pray for us.