The Christian Heritage Centre

Categories
Blog Media

The Lord’s Prayer

08 February 2024

The Lord's Prayer - Year of Prayer 2024

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

In the past four reflections, we reviewed the four parts of prayer as understood by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Now, in light of those reflections, we will look briefly at the prayer taught by Christ himself, the Lord’s Prayer, showing how the four parts are present, whether implicitly or explicitly, in this most fundamental of Christian prayers.

Oration: “Our Father…” The opening cry of the prayer immediately places the man Jesus (and with him, all of us), in the status of children before God. This is a first and general expression of our humility and our complete dependency on the Father and Creator of all things.

Thanksgiving: “…who art in heaven.” Here we further recognize God’s greatness by specifically acknowledging his place above us in heaven.

Intercession: the notion of intercession is perhaps not as explicit as the others, but is nevertheless present in the fact that this prayer is always made in the second person plural: “Our Father.” Thus we are meant to pray this together, as a unified Christian community for ourselves and for one another.

Petition: The Lord’s Prayer is famously marked by a series of seven petitions, in which we ask God for the most basic of temporal needs as well as the needs of our eternal soul.

As we can see, all four parts are contained in a nutshell in the very words of Christ. Thus when we pray with all four parts in mind, we are continuing our imitation of the Lord Jesus himself, who taught us how pray with these very words.

Since petition is indeed the most central aspect of prayer, a further look into each the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer will help us appreciate this most archetypal of Christian prayers.

“Hallowed be thy name”: Just as the first two of the Ten Commandments are tied to the glory of God and his name, here we ask not so much that God add greatness to his name, for nothing more can be added to the infinite God. Rather we ask that his name might be magnified ever more in human hearts. This petition is, essentially, a request for the diffusion of the Gospel message to all, and a preparatory step for the next petition.

“Thy kingdom come”: Here we express an eschatological hope in the final consummation of all creation into the original order and harmony intended by the Creator.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”: Building more upon the previous petition, we ask not only for harmony within creation or in the natural order. We also ask for the participative conformity of the order of nature with the order of grace.

“Give us this day our daily bread”: In the Gospel of Matthew, the phrase “daily” is actually rendered with an interesting term which is unique in the entire Bible. The bread is described with the Greek term epiousion, in Latin supersubstantialem: this bread is “super-substantial.” More than our regular requirement for sustenance, Matthew is pointing us to a bread whose substance is higher than the mere bread we need for bodily survival. Indeed, the Eucharistic echo of this word rings clear in Matthew’s Greek, and it is therefore fitting that we pray the Lord’s Prayer before receiving the true supersubstantial bread at Holy Communion.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”: If the previous petition points us to the Holy Eucharist, this one points us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As the Lord says in another place, “if you are presenting your sacrifice at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your sacrifce there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your sacrifice” (Matthew 5:23-24). If we must be reconciled to one another before completing our offering, how much more should we be reconciled with God before receiving Him in the Blessed Sacrament?

“Lead us not into temptation”: This petition can sound strange to our ears. Is not God the one “who can neither deceive nor be deceived,” as the First Vatican Council reminds us? Is not Satan the one whose name means “tempter”? The notion that God might lead into something bad, as implied by this verse, is so difficult that even Pope Francis ordered a new Italian translation of the Our Father which reads “do not abandon us to temptation.” Yet even this rendering is not free of problems. Is not God, as the Psalmist tells us, the one who will not abandon us even if our parents leave us orphaned (Psalm 27:10)? The full meaning of this petition is only understood in concert with the seventh and final petition.

“Deliver us from evil”: This petition is linked to the previous one by a parallelism characteristic of biblical rhetoric. Verses like “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12) or “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it” (Song of Songs 8:7) contain two phrases whose meanings run together but are expressed in different ways. When God delivers us from evil, he is at the same time keeping us free from temptation. So it is less a question of God potentially acting in a way that directly places temptation before us; rather, we acknowledge that when we actively experience his saving power, temptations naturally stand powerless.

With all these things in mind, we see how the Lord’s Prayer expresses a breadth and profundity which can be masked by its brevity. Its short phrases and seven petitions are a key into the inexhaustible riches of the mind of Christ, who left it to us as the prime example of prayer.

In the next instalment, we will consider liturgical prayer.

Click here to return to the Year of Prayer page.

Categories
Blog Media

The Jubilee of Saint Thomas Aquinas

7 March 2024

The Jubilee of Saint Thomas Aquinas

By Joey Belleza

On 7 March 1274, Saint Thomas Aquinas passed from this world to the Father. Only fifty years old, the legacy of his writings and his personal holiness continues to inspire the Church in our time. Today, on the 750th anniversary of his passing, we at the Christian Heritage Centre would like to remind you about the ongoing Jubilee of Thomas Aquinas proclaimed by Pope Francis, during which the faithful may obtain special plenary indulgences.

Although the Feast of Thomas Aquinas was moved to 28 January in the new calendar by Pope Paul VI to ensure acelebration unencumbered by Lenten penance, many Dominican institutions and Thomistic scholars (like the undersigned), continue to observe 7 March as a day of special remembrance. And in this Jubilee of Thomas Aquinas, running from 28 January 2023 to 28 January 2025, today is an especially fitting day to remember the Angelic Doctor and perhaps to visit a Dominican priory, shrine, or other holy place connected with the Dominicans in order to obtain a plenary indulgence, that is, the remission of all temporal punishment due to sin, which can be applied for oneself or for the souls in purgatory.

Besides the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence (sacramental confession, reception of Holy Communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father), the special indulgence for the Aquinas Jubilee requires that one should devoutly take part in the jubilee ceremonies, or at least devote a suitable time to pious recollection, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer, the symbol of faith and invocations of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Saint Thomas was a man unshakably devoted to the Church. Even though he was in poor health, he died while making an arduous journey from Naples to France, responding to Pope Gregory X’s call for him to attend the Second Council of Lyon. Thomas struck his head on a tree branch near Terracina, not far from Naples, and was eventually sent to convalesce at the Cistercian monastery of Fossanova. When it was clear that he would not recover, he piously received anointing of the sick and the Holy Eucharist from the monks. His last recorded words are a wonderful profession of faith which we might do well to make our own, please God, at the hour of our own death.

I receive Thee, O price of my soul’s redemption.
I receive Thee, O viaticum of my pilgrimage,
for love of whom I have studied, kept watch, and laboured.
Thee have I preached, Thee have I taught.
Nothing against Thee have I said,
but if I have spoken ill, I did so in ignorance.
Neither am I stubborn in my own understanding,
but if I have spoken ill of this Sacrament or the others,
I leave it all to the judgment of the Holy Roman Church,
in whose obedience I now pass from this life.

Sumo te, pretium redemptionis animae meae,
sumo te, viaticum peregrinationis meae,
pro cuius amore studui, vigilavi et laboravi.
Te praedicavi, te docui.
Nihil unquam contra te dixi;
sed si quid male dixi, ignorans dixi.
Nec sum pertinax in sensu meo;
sed si quid male dixi de hoc sacramento et aliis,
totum relinquo correctioni Sancte Romanae Ecclesiae,
in cuius obedientia nunc transeo ex hac vita.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Relief Altarpiece in the Chapel of Thomas's Passing, Fossanova Abbey
Categories
Blog Media

Lent and Laetare Sunday

10 March 2024

Why Pink? The Lenten Liturgy of Laetare Sunday

By Joey Belleza
From Mater Dei Parish, Irving, Texas

Have you ever wondered why pink or rose is used as a liturgical colour for the third Sunday of Advent and fourth Sunday of Lent?

The more popular explanations run something like this: the brightness of rose is meant to “encourage” us to persevere unto the happiness of Christmas and Easter, or simply that pink symbolizes the rejoicing which each Sunday represents, since “gaudete” (3rd Sunday of Advent) and “laetare” (4th Sunday of Lent) both mean “rejoice.”

A closeup of Roman rosacea

While these meanings can certainly be drawn as an interpretation of the colour, the historical origin of these vestments is much more fascinating. But first, what exactly is this colour?

In Latin, this shade is called rosacea, meaning “rose-like,” further indicating its relation to the deeper red colour of roses. In a vestment of true rosacea, the base colour of the fabric is actually that vibrant shade of red, like that of rose petals; however, subtle threads of white, gold, or silver are interwoven into the vestment’s embroidered patterns such that from a distance, the hue of red appears lighter. In Rome itself, the redness of rosacea vestments shines through, such that the colour is more like that of a late sunset than the light pink more familiar to us.

The day takes the name laetare (“rejoice!”) from the Introit chant (or “Entrance Antiphon” in today’s parlance) of the Mass. The text of the introit is taken from Isaiah 66:10 and Psalm 22:1, and runs as follows:

Laetare, Jerusalem, et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam; gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis, ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae. Laetatus sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus!

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and assemble, all you that love her; rejoice with joy, you who were in sadness, that you may exult be filled from the breasts of your consolation. I rejoiced when they said unto me: let us go to the house of the Lord!

Like it’s analogous counterpart in Advent, Gaudete Sunday (gaudete is another word for “rejoice”; taken from the Introit “Rejoice in the Lord always…”), the mood of the day is festive, a sharp contrast with the sobriety of penitential seasons. Yet this joyfulness shared by both Sundays is not enough to explain why the Church vests herself in rosacea. To understand, we must examine that venerable Lenten tradition called the Roman Stations and delve deep into the history of Christianity.

The Roman Stations are of ancient usage: each “station” is one of Rome’s oldest churches. When Christianity became legal after three centuries of persecution, the Church went on the offensive to counteract the innumerable pagan feasts, often celebrated with large public processions. Christians in Rome developed rival processions to holy sites across the City while singing litanies, and after arriving at a particular “station”, the Pope or one of his senior Cardinals would celebrate Mass at that church. Eventually, the entire season of Lent became like one penitential procession throughout the City, and each day was assigned a station. If one reads older missals or breviaries, one can find the Italian name of the Roman Station (i.e., Santa Maria in Trastevere, San Lorenzo in Panisperna, San Pietro ad Vincula, etc.) under the heading for each day of Lent. In recent years, this practice of Station Masses has been revived, and one of Rome’s auxiliary bishops will lead the stational procession and liturgy of the day.

The Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome

The Roman Station for Laetare Sunday is Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. This basilica is famous for housing relics of the Passion, including one beam of the Cross (hence the name “Holy Cross”), the spear of Longinus (which pierced the side of Christ), thorns laid on Christ’s head, nails of the crucifixion, and the Title (the inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” placed over Christ’s head). Before being converted into a church, it was a villa (the ancient Sessorian Palace) owned by Saint Helena (Emperor Constantine’s mother), who made a famous voyage to the Holy Land to find the instruments of the Passion. When she learned that a temple to Venus had been erected on Calvary to prevent Christian devotion, she ordered it demolished, and behold, under the rubble was found the holy relics, just as the local Christians had claimed. In addition to these, she brought back to Rome a big heap of soil from Calvary. Helena then transformed the Sessorian Palace into a shrine for the relics, and laid the soil of Jerusalem under the mosaic floor. Hence the appellation in Gerusalemme: one who steps into this basilica literally steps onto the ground of Jerusalem. To this day, one can venerate the relics of the Passion in this church.

Pope Francis grants a Golden Rose to Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil

When the Papacy grew in prestige, it became custom for Popes, at their discretion, to send a Golden Rose (a sculpture of a rose fashioned of real gold) to a royal Catholic personage in recognition of his or her patronage and service to the Church. In recent years, Popes have awarded it to persons as well as to papal basilicas of great importance. Historical recipients include Isabella I of Castille (1493), Catherine de’ Medici (1548), the Cathedral of Siena (1658), the Sanctuary of Our Lady at Fatima (1965), and the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC (2008). Often decorated with precious jewels, each Golden Rose is in fact a reliquary containing pieces of the True Cross. The rose was chosen because of its mystical symbolism: Christ is the “flower of the field and the lily of the valleys” (Song of Songs 2:1), while in Isaiah 11:1, the prophecy reads: “There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.” The rose itself, though beautiful and fragrant, still has its thorns. In its image is encapsulated the confluence of pain and splendour, of terror and beauty; like little strands of silver and gold woven into a field of blood-red fabric, the rose symbolizes the hidden joy of Christ’s triumph even in the midst of his suffering. Because of this connection to the Passion, the Popes blessed the Golden Rose on Laetare Sunday at the Station of the day: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

The relics of the Passion at Santa Croce, Rome

Laetare Sunday became so associated with the blessing of the Golden Rose at Rome that the Popes adopted rose-colored vestments as part of the day’s celebration; because this day hosted such a special event, the bright rosacea matched the festive character demanded by the Introit text and the blessing of the Rose. Even the Gospel for the day in the older Roman Rite– the multiplication of loaves and fishes– carries the theme of happy abundance. Laetare Sunday became a brief “break” from Lenten austerity, and in time, Gaudete Sunday in Advent analogously adopted this parallel function until it too received the privilege of rosacea vestments. From Rome, this practice spread to the Western Church at large.

All these seemingly varied facts– the Golden Rose, the Roman Stations, the relics of the Passion, Saint Helena, Laetare Sunday– all these are represented in the use of rosacea vestments. These are the roots which inform the details of a particular liturgical celebration. Our liturgical customs are almost never just random actions adopted spontaneously; they are often responses to the real historical situations in which our forebears in the faith found themselves. May we never lose sight of the profound and beautiful origins of our liturgies– for through these little details, we unite ourselves with the faithful of ages past and pray as they did.

Categories
Blog Media

Saint Thomas Aquinas on “Intercession”

08 February 2024

Saint Thomas Aquinas on "Intercession" - Year of Prayer 2024

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

The fourth part of prayer according to Saint Thomas Aquinas is intercession. This first of all acknowledges that prayer cannot be a singular conversation between me and God, rooted in a mere “personal relationship” with the Lord and divorced from the community of believers. Rather, intercession acknowledges the shared fraternity of the entire people of God. Christ’s command to the disciples to love one another is to be taken seriously, and this mandate is fulfilled every time we pray with and for one another. Thus the petitions which we mentioned in the previous reflection cannot only express personal desires; they must be ultimately be directed to the good of our family, our friends, and the whole Christian community at large.

Moreover, this notion of community extends beyond the Church here on earth; it also extends to the Holy Souls in purgatory, as well as to the angels and saints in heaven. Thus we are called to pray for the faithful departed, that their temporary purgation might soon end; then, with the saints and angels, they will be able to go directly before the Lord’s presence and intercede for us here on earth. This is why the Church has always promoted the veneration of saints, knowing that their prayers rise with great efficacy before the throne of God, because their merits—which are the merits of Christ—redound to our benefit here on earth. Prayer cannot be merely personal, but must participate in the unified cry of praise to the God who made all things.

This is illustrated concretely through the chanting of the Litany of the Saints in the Church’s most solemn occasions. At baptisms, at ordinations, at the Easter Vigil, at the transfer of a deceased pope’s body to Saint Peter’s Basilica, at his funeral, and at the Installation Mass of his successor, the Litany of the Saints summons the entire host of heaven to the Church’s aid. In moments of joy and in moments of morning, we beg the saints for their prayers, knowing that they who now live in perfect communion with Christ are heard by him. Thus, as we say in every Mass, with the angels, saints, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, “we join in their unending hymn of praise,” “for the praise and glory of God’s name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.”

In the next reflection, we consider the Lord’s Prayer.

Click here to return to the Year of Prayer page.

Categories
Blog Media

Saint Thomas Aquinas on “Petition”

08 February 2024

Saint Thomas Aquinas on "Petition" - Year of Prayer 2024

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

The second part of the Catechism’s definition of prayer, “the requesting of good things from God,” is exactly what petition means. Indeed, for Saint Thomas Aquinas, petition is the very essence of prayer. While all four parts of prayer make our address to God whole and complete, petition takes the former two parts (oration and thanksgiving) and makes our cry truly unique and particular by placing a concrete request before God. For Saint Thomas, a true prayer “implores a superior” and is directed toward “determinate things,” such as “earthly benefits” for oneself and for others. More than just calling out to God and giving thanks for past deeds, a true prayer from the heart looks ahead, confidently trusting that the Lord who provided in the past will continue to provide for present and future needs.

Thus, prayer does not only involve a general reaching out to God, nor a mere commemoration of past events, but must be embodied in the present moment by asking something of the Lord. Thus, the contingency of our very existence, which is more implicit in oration, is made clear and exact when we formulate a petition. It grounds and radicalizes the humility expressed in our first cry to God, for through our petitions, we acknowledge our specific needs in the here and now.

One of the most notable aspects of the liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council is the reintroduction of collective petitions in the Mass. Such petitions had always been part of Mass, but in the course of history their usage came to be confined to the liturgy of Good Friday. Now, at each Mass, we bring our concrete needs collectively to God in the form of the Prayers of the Faithful or bidding prayers, so that the fruits of the Mass might be extended to our families, our communities, to the whole Church, and to the world at large.

Yet, as just as petition forms the essence of prayer in general, it is also central to the Mass itself, our highest prayer. Let us take the Roman Canon, or Eucharistic Prayer 1 as an example. Before the consecration, the priest says, “Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” And again after the consecration, “In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.” Thus the very words of Christ which effect his sacramental presence are “clothed,” as it were, with our own petitions.

In the next reflection, we consider the final part of prayer: intercession.

Click here to return to the Year of Prayer page.

YOP3
Categories
Blog Media

Saint Thomas Aquinas on “Thanksgiving”

10 January 2024

St Thomas Aquinas on "Thanksgiving" - Year of Prayer 2024

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

In his Angelus address yesterday, 21 January 2024, Pope Francis said the following:

The coming months will lead us to the opening of the Holy Door, with which we will begin the Jubilee. I ask you to intensify your prayer to prepare us to live well this event of grace, and to experience the strength of God’s hope. Therefore, today we begin the Year of Prayer; that is, a year dedicated to rediscovering the great value and absolute need for prayer in personal life, in the life of the Church, and in the world. We will also be helped by the resources that the Dicastery for Evangelization will make available.

In these days, let us pray especially for Christian unity, and let us never tire of invoking the Lord for peace in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, and in many other parts of the world: it is always the weakest who suffer the lack of it. I am thinking of the little ones, of the many injured and killed children, of those deprived of affection, deprived of dreams and of a future. Let us feel the responsibility to pray and build peace for them!

In the previous reflection, we considered the first part of prayer, oration, as a posture of humility before the God to whom we raise our minds and hearts. In this refleciton, we consider a second part of prayer according to the division of Saint Thomas Aquinas: thanksgiving.

Whereas oration signifies a general calling on the name of the Lord, thanksgiving gives more concreteness and specification to our cry. We explicitly acknowledge God’s greatness by recalling the many wonderful things he has done for his people throughout the ages. Thanksgiving is thus tied to memory, and our cry to God is always accompanied by memorializing something real which God has accomplished for us. From childhood we are taught to thank people for what they have done for us, no matter how big or small the deed; how much more should we express our thanks to the God who holds us and all creation in being at every instant?

The notion of thanksgiving is so central to Christian prayer that it gives its name to the very sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. Our word “Eucharist,” derived from the Greek eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.” At each Mass, we are reminded that Christ “gave thanks” before blessing the bread and wine; and this is again linked to the notion of memory, for Christ commanded the Apostles and all future priests to “do this” in his remembrance. Memory and thanksgiving make the presence of the Lord real.

In the next reflection, we will consider petition.

Aquinas2
Categories
Blog Media

Saint Thomas Aquinas on “Oration”

10 January 2024

Saint Thomas Aquinas on "Oration" - Year of Prayer 2024

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

Saint Thomas Aquinas OP (1225-1274) is one of the Doctors of the Church. His teaching has been especially promoted by the Church as an exemplar of philosophical clarity and theological orthodoxy. In his great systematic work called the Summa Theologiae (a “summary” or “manual” of theology), he treats of nearly all aspects of Christian doctrine, from the doctrines of God as Creator, as Triune, and as Incarnate, to rigorous reflections on the sacraments and the so-called Four Last Things (judgment, hell, purgatory, and heaven). In the Summa, he also considers the nature of prayer, bringing to bear the reflections of Scripture and the saints who came before him. This reflection is the first of four in which we look at Saint Thomas’s treatment of the four parts of prayer, namely: oration, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession. As we progress through this Year of Prayer, we will return to these basic themes presented by Saint Thomas, showing how his fundamental insights are shared by saints and holy figures from throughout the Church’s history

Saint Thomas did not invent this fourfold division. Although it was first codified in a systematic way by the monk Saint John Cassian (360-435), the roots of this division comes from Saint Paul himself in 1 Timothy 2:1: “I urge… that petitions, orations, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people.” In this reflection we will consider oration.

Oration is derived from the Latin oratio, which can be translated simply into English as “prayer,” but the theological tradition has given it a more specific meaning. Related to the noun os (oris), meaning “mouth,” an oration is something spoken aloud toward someone or something. It pertains to the first part of the definition of prayer given in the Catechism, “the raising of one’s heart and and mind to God,” but this ascent is done by explicitly calling out to God.

But who is the source of this calling out? Does it come merely from ourselves? Or is it already a participation with God’s own action? Indeed, we are only able to call out to God because God has called us first. Indeed, as the Creator who is the source of all things, our call to God can only be a response to the one who gives us our being as the very first gift. When we raise our hearts and minds to God and call upon his Name, we are in a sense returning ourselves to the source of our being, acknowledging his greatness and our humility before him. This humility is the basic posture of prayer: we place ourselves before God and call out to the one who made all things visible and invisible. All prayer, all oration, starts from God and returns to him.

In the next instalment, we will consider a second aspect of prayer: thanksgiving.

Click here to return to the Year of Prayer page.

Aquinas1
Categories
Blog Media

Saint Thomas of Canterbury

29 December 2023

Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bishop & Martyr

By Joey Belleza

Saint Thomas Becket, or Thomas of Canterbury, is certainly one of the most remarkable saints in the history of the British Isles. As Lord Chancellor to King Henry II, he supported the Crown in its consolidation of power. His candidacy to become Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England was in the beginning part of a ploy by Henry to assert more control over the Church. But the king’s overreach soon went too far, and Thomas, faithful to his oath to protect the liberties of the English Church, stood firm against Henry’s encroachments. This began a protracted conflict between Primate and Prince, which led to Thomas’s seven-year exile in northern France. Only mediators sent by Pope Alexander III allowed Thomas to return to England, but the rivalry between Henry and the archbishop remained strong.

The dispute came to a head when four knights—perhaps acting on Henry’s orders, perhaps not—took it upon themselves to rid His Majesty of his most intractable opponent. On 29 December 1170, they stormed into Canterbury Cathedral as Thomas and the monks began to pray Vespers, with Thomas explicitly telling the monks to leave the doors open to the knights, since “it is not right to make a fortress out of God’s house.” The knights first told the archbishop that he must proceed to attend court at Winchester to account for his opposition to the king. Upon refusing, the knights surged into the choir where Thomas, grasping a pillar that he might not be dragged away from his cathedral, gloriously shed his blood before the altar of God.

In the twentieth century, these events were famously dramatized in T.S. Eliot’s play “Murder in the Cathedral.” In the first act, taking place 2 December 1170, Thomas meets, among others, some knights and four unnamed “tempters.” These tempters—three of whom mirror the three temptations of Christ in the desert—try to convince the archbishop to take safety in the king’s favour, or to take the riches promised if he cease his resistance, or to join a coalition of barons against the king. The fourth tempter, however, urges Thomas to excommunicate the king himself, for, although it would certainly result in his death, the rewards will be even greater:

TEMPTER.
But what is pleasure, kingly rule,
Or rule of men beneath a king,
With craft in corners, stealthy stratagem,
To general grasp of spiritual power?
Man oppressed by sin, since Adam fell—
You hold the keys of heaven and hell.
Power to bind and loose: bind, Thomas, bind,
king and bishop under your heel.
[…]
But think, Thomas, think of glory after death.
When king is dead, there’s another king,
And one more king is another reign.
King is forgotten, when another shall come:
Saint and martyr rule from the tomb.
Think, Thomas, think of enemies dismayed,
Creeping in penance, frightened of a shade;
Think of pilgrims, standing in line
Before the glittering jewelled shrine
From generation to generation
Bending the knee in supplication,
Think of the miracles, by God’s grace,
And think of your enemies, in another place.

Becket, troubled like Christ in the garden, must admit that he has entertained such thoughts about the glories granted to martyrs’ tombs, the miracles attributed to them, and the fate of “persecutors, in tireless torment, / Parched passion, beyond expiation.” But he ultimately rejects all the temptations, especially the fourth.

THOMAS.
Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
The natural vigour in the venial sin
Is the way in which our lives begin.

Through the intercession of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, may we not fall prey to that “natural vigour in the venial sin,” that is, “to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” May we remain steadfast in our dedication to Christ and his Church and, if called, to seek martyrdom for no other glory than that of eternal joy in the presence of God.

Categories
Blog Media

Holy Innocents

28 December 2023

Holy Innocents

By Joey Belleza

One of the most precious and hauntingly beautiful products of English Christianity is the “Coventry Carol,” a sixteenth century poem which mourns the death of the Holy Innocents slain by the order of King Herod. Set to music many times in the following centuries, the more recent setting by contemporary British composer Phillip Stopford wondrously captures the plangency, horror, and anguish borne by the mothers of Bethlehem as their infant sons were massacred. The final verse of the Coventry Carol reads:

That woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
“Bye bye, lully, lullay.”

So deep was the Catholic sensibility in sixteenth century Coventry that even in this popular hymn, the collect of the Mass for the Holy Innocents is subtly referenced: non loquendo sed moriendo confessi sunt (“not by speaking but by dying they confessed their faith”). These children who could “neither say nor sing” the name of Christ are yet martyrs for him, for they died in his place. And in this way, they too fulfill the words of the Psalmist, which are used as the Introit or Entrance Antiphon for the Mass of the day: “Out of the mouths of babes and of sucklings, O God, You have fashioned praise because of Your foes.”

On the Feast of the Innocents—especially in this time when the lands tread by Our Lord are once more engulfed in war—let us pray for all the innocent lives lost, hoping that they too might join the martyred infants of Bethlehem, with all the angels and saints, and sing at last an unending hymn of praise.

To hear the Coventry Carol in Phillip Stopford’s achingly beautiful setting, watch the video below.

Categories
Blog Media

Saint John, Apostle & Evangelist

27 December 2023

Saint John, Apostle & Evangelist

By Joey Belleza

Today we celebrate the feast of the Apostle John, the only apostle spared the fate of martyrdom. In another Wednesday catechesis, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us:

According to tradition, John is the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” who in the Fourth Gospel laid his head against the Teacher’s breast at the Last Supper (cf. Jn 13: 23), stood at the foot of the Cross together with the Mother of Jesus (cf. Jn 19: 25) and lastly, witnessed both the empty tomb and the presence of the Risen One himself (cf. Jn 20: 2; 21: 7).

We know that this identification is disputed by scholars today, some of whom view him merely as the prototype of a disciple of Jesus. Leaving the exegetes to settle the matter, let us be content here with learning an important lesson for our lives: the Lord wishes to make each one of us a disciple who lives in personal friendship with him.

To achieve this, it is not enough to follow him and to listen to him outwardly: it is also necessary to live with him and like him. This is only possible in the context of a relationship of deep familiarity, imbued with the warmth of total trust. This is what happens between friends; for this reason Jesus said one day: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends…. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15: 13, 15).

Friendship with Jesus is a theme which Pope Benedict often emphasized; indeed, he made this point in his homily at the 2005 Mass for the Election of the Pope. In that homily, he recalled Cicero’s old characterization of friendship: idem velle atque idem nolle—having the same likes and dislikes. However, Christian friendship takes the Ciceronian conception and deepens it—wishing and desiring the same things means a communion of wills. Our wills are called to be so united to Christ that even in moments of struggle, we can still say “thy will be done.” Like Saint John, we must always rest our head on the breast of the Lord—upon his Sacred Heart—to unite our wills ever closer to his.