Category Archives: Martyrs

Troublesome Priest

On this day we commemorate the martyrdom of Saint Thomas a Beckett, or Thomas à Becket. From this account of his life,  “Though far from a faultless character, Thomas Becket, when his time of testing came, had the courage to lay down his life to defend the ancient rights of the Church against an aggressive state. “

Pray that those in positions of authority be zealous in the guarding of religious freedom.

This depiction of his martyrdom is from a Flemish manuscript.

The Holy Innocents

Today we celebrate the third companions of Christ, the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem who involuntarily shed their blood for the incarnate Lord.

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
s he refused to be consoled,
because they were no more.” ~Matthew 2:16-18

From the Church of the Visitation.

From the Church of the Visitation.

Today may we affirm the beauty and dignity of human life from the first moment of conception to natural death.

The Feast of Saint Stephen

Saint Stephen

From the Church of Saint Stephen, in Jerusalem. This church was built over the place that commemorated the martyrdom of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr.

Apertae sunt inuae caeli beato Stephano, qui in numero Martyrum inventus est primus,
et ideo triumphat in caelis coronatus.

The gates of heaven were opened for blessed Stephen,who was found to be first among the number of the Martyrs and therefore is crowned triumphant in heaven.

During these 12 days of Christmastide, the church offers us a three-day feast called Comites Christi. Today we celebrate Saint Stephen the Protomartyr who was the first to witness to the truth of the gospel by the voluntary shedding of his blood. Tomorrow we celebrate Saint John the Evangelist who was spared martyrdom; however he witnessed to the truth of the Gospel through his Gospel and Epistle. On the third day we commemorate the slaughter of the Innocents who involuntarily shed their blood in witness to Jesus Christ the Messiah. Today, may we hold close to our hearts in prayer those who are being persecuted for the sake of the truth of the gospel of our Incarnate Lord Jesus.

During the twelve days of Christmas I will be sharing various Christmas carols that move my heart to pray to the Infant King.

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Trevi Fountain to be Red This Friday for Martyrs

To highlight today’s Christian Martyrs, Rome’s Trevi Fountain will turn red, apparently at 8 pm Rome time, or 2 pm Eastern. There is a webcam of the Trevi Fountain here.

Nina Shea writes in First Things,  “Tomorrow, on April 29th, Rome’s white marble Trevi Fountain—its swirling waters and the charging baroque statues of Oceanus, his sea shell chariot and attendant tritons and horses—will all be turned blood red in a campaign to raise awareness about modern day Christian martyrs. The popular fountain is decidedly not Christian-themed and historically seems to have inspired only frivolity. The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need and a coalition of other Catholic Italian non-governmental organizations that are co-sponsoring this performance art are counting on this unlikely juxtaposition. They hope that the coin tossing, selfie-taking throngs of tourists, as the frivolous Western public at large, will be given pause, if only briefly, to contemplate the surging pattern of mass murder of Christians purely for reasons of faith, largely by Islamists.”

More from Crux:  “On April 29, the Trevi Fountain, one of the most popular and emblematic tourist spots in Rome, will be dyed red in recognition of all Christians who even today give their life for the faith. The event is being organized by Aid to the Church in Need and seeks to ‘call attention to the drama of anti-Christian persecution.'”

Munich

Arrived in Munich from Nuremberg in the late morning and went directly to the Alte Pinakothek whose collection goes back to Wilhelm IV from 1508 to 1550 so over centuries an impressive collection has been assembled. The three to four hours were well spent in this museum.

The Rogier van der Weyden altar piece is the finest in the collection.

What intrigued me was not only the color and composition but also the small crucifix above the child Jesus. A small detail that one has to find; however it is the key that unlocks the unity of crib and cross.

Detail of van der Weyden altar piece

Detail of van der Weyden altar piece

Here are a few more paintings fitting the season.

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Leonardo Da Vinci, Maria mit Dem Kinde

Fra Filippo Lippi, Annunciation

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On my way to the museum I stopped by the Theatinerkirche which stands next to Feldherrnhalle. It is a magnificent baroque church whose construction ended in 1690. The picture of the church after the 1945 bombing and then comparing it to the church of today reminds one of the awesome task of reconstruction.
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Feldherrnhalle

Organ at St. Michael (upper church)

Leaving the Pinakothek I walked to the Dreifaltigkeitskirche, which is a Baroque church dedicated to the Trinity. It is one of the few historic buildings that avoided the bombing of 1945.

Michaelskirche is truly a monumental church from the late 16th century. I was overwhelmed when I walked in because it massive. I read that the barrel vaulting is second largest after Saint Peter in Rome.
  

From there I walked over to Bürgersaal and entered the lower church which is a shrine to Father Rupert Mayer who was an opponent of Nazism. He was beatified in 1987.

Tomb of blessed Ruppert Mayer

Tomb of blessed Ruppert Mayer

The Bürgersaal was built in the early 1700 for a Marian congregation. Although it was heavily damaged in the 1945 bombings the church still features original frescos.
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From there I walked to Karlstor which is the west entrance and part of the medieval fortifications.
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I continued the walk down Neuhauser Strasse where the major Christmas market is set up. There were many booths selling Nativity scenes which is a big part of Munich Christmas culture. The city prides itself that there are 32 costly creches set up in the center city.
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As I walked through the market I was stuck by the one selling stars.

Christmas market in Munich.

Christmas market in Munich.

Then on to the Frauenkirche which was partially bombed in 1945 but rebuilt in its Gothic style. The few treasures that escaped the bombing in 1945 are beautifully displayed as well as the monumental tomb of Emperor Ludwig IV of Bavaria.
 
 

From there I concluded the evening walk at the Neo Gothic Rathaus which was also rebuilt after the bombings of 1945 in Marienplatz which is Munich’s central square. The facade features the glockenspiel whose bells ring while mechanical knights fight a tournament and a crowd dances. This walk from Karlstor around Marienplatz to the Altes Rathaus in the midst of the Christmas market helps one realize that Munich was a bastion of Catholicism during the Reformation, and its churches witness that is was also a center of the Counter-Reformation that revitalized Catholicism.

Charles Bridge, Prague

This morning [Dec. 10] I set out to once again head up Palace Hill for further exploration. However I decided to hop off the tram and explore Charles Bridge which was built in 1357 by Charles IV. The bridge connects the castle and the old town. The bridge tower is said to be one of the most astonishing civil Gothic style buildings in the world.

Near Charles Bridge, Prague

Near Charles Bridge, Prague

Bridge Tower, Prague

Bridge Tower, Prague

Once again I encounter Saint John Nepomuk because there is a monument to him on the bridge where the King had him thrown over into the river to his death. Five stars appeared in the water over his body; that is why stars surround his head. But I was even more intrigued as I watched people come and pray and venerate the monument which marks the place where he was throw over into the Vltava River.

Statues on the Bridge, Prague

Statues on the Bridge, Prague

St. John Nepomuk shrine on the bridge

St. John Nepomuk shrine on the bridge

Where St. John Nepomuk was thrown into the river.

Where St. John Nepomuk was thrown into the river.

St. John Nepomuk, statue on bridge

St. John Nepomuk, statue on bridge

More pictures from near the bridge:
Near Charles Bridge

Approaching Charles Bridge

Second Sunday of Advent, in Dresden

Since this morning is the Second Sunday of Advent I decided to make church a high priority. First I went to the Kreuzkirche, the Evangelische, that is the Lutheran Church, for their morning service. The trombones and trumpets performed beautiful advent musical selections from Mendelssohn, Schutz, Eccard, Rutter, Handel, and vigorous congregational singing of traditional Advent hymns from which I derive such joy and spiritual benefit.

Kreuzkirche, the Evangelische church, in Dresden

Kreuzkirche, the Evangelische church, in Dresden

The organ in Kreuzkirche, Dresden.

The organ in Kreuzkirche, Dresden.

At the conclusion I had a delightful walk to the Hofkirche that is the Catholic cathedral and when I walked in I was overjoyed because it was overflowing and I had to stand, and I was 10 minutes early. Although Mass was in German I felt right at home with the Latin chants. What a wonderful church where you feel at home. Of course great congregational singing accompanied by the Gottfried Silbermann organ. It was stunning but more stunning was the men-and-boys’ choir.

The Dresden bombing of 1945 when 25,000 residents were killed that night was ever present on my mind all through Mass. This church was leveled but reconstructed in all its glory and filled with believers. Hope is what Advent is all about.

Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden (the Catholic Cathedral)

Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden (the Catholic Cathedral)

Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden (the Catholic Cathedral)

Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden (the Catholic Cathedral)

Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden (the Catholic Cathedral)

Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden (the Catholic Cathedral)

Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden (the Catholic Cathedral)

Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden (the Catholic Cathedral)

Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden (the Catholic Cathedral)

Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden (the Catholic Cathedral)

There was a chapel in the cathedral dedicated to all those innocent men, women and children whose lives went up in flames that night. The memorial is explicit in that it reminds us we can only obtain peace through Christ. And on the wall were the names of 30 priests in the Dresden diocese who suffered because of their resistance to the Nazis. There is also a chapel to a priest of that diocese who has now been beatified. He was murdered on 3 February 1943 by the Nazis and as the pamphlet reminded us, Blessed Alojs Andritzki was with 1000 priests at Dachau. We must not forget the heroic witness of so many Christians. He was beatified and on 14 June 2011 his ashes were transfered to the cathedral in the presence of 11,000 people. What a witness to faith incarnate in the life of a man who resisted evil even to point of giving up his life.

Alojs Andritzki, priest and martyr, killed in Dachau in 1943. Beatified in 2011.

Alojs Andritzki, priest and martyr, killed in Dachau in 1943. Beatified in 2011.

Wandering around the city was delightful but also pensive in that the night of the carpet bombing was ever present in my mind. How quickly a cultural heritage can go up in flames with the slaughter of innocent lives and yet there is hope as this Sunday proclaims.

Then back to Kreuzkirche for an organ concert of selections from Bach, Messiaen, and Buxtehude. All day I have heard variations on “How Brightly Beams the Morning Star.” After the concert the bells were pealing, the air brisk so I decided to go to evening Mass at the Hofkirche. The church and its fine instrument are attractive however a church full of people singing great Advent hymns is even more appealing.  I was not disappointed. Once again a full church with vigorous hymn singing. This has been a wonderful second Sunday of Advent in Dresden.

A Christmas market in Dresden.

A Christmas market in Dresden.

Christmas Market in Dresden

Christmas Market in Dresden

Christmas Market in Dresden

Christmas Market in Dresden

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

This ancient Solemnity of the second century commemorates the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul, the founders of the diocese of Rome. This is a day of grand celebration in Rome complete with fireworks. http://www.nola.com/travel/index.ssf/2013/06/romans_celebrate_the_feast_of.html

May we ponder the words of Saint Augustine whose homily for this Solemnity unfolds for us why thus should be a day of grand celebration.

“Both apostles share the same feast day – for these two were one and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostle’s blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their suffering, their preaching and their confession of faith.”

On this day when we confess the apostolicity of the faith, we also join our prayers to those Christians who today confess their faith in the face of the threat of death. Our thought turn to Meriam Ibrahim. In an insightful article by Professor Gabriel Said Reynolds , a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame, he states:

‘We all can learn from the example of Meriam Ibrahim. After her conviction in May, Meriam was given three days to embrace Islam and save her life. This would have been an easy choice to make, but Meriam refused, declaring: “I am a Christian and I will remain a Christian.” Those who wonder whether heroic—and saintly—courage still exists can look to her.’

On this Sunday we confess our faith in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church and pledge our prayer and support for those whose lives are threatened and those who are tortured and martyred for that confession.

 

 

 

 

 

O God, who on the Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul
give us the noble and holy joy of this day,
grant, we pray, that your Church
may in all things follow the teaching
of those through whom she received
the beginnings of right religion.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Robert Southwell, Poet, Witness, Saint

To be a martyr is to be a witness. A man who wishes to witness will bring forth treasures he has from his storehouse, to spend them on behalf of his Master. When those treasures consist of Holy Orders, an education with the Jesuits, a brave spirit, and the imagination of a poet, the result is a Saint Robert Southwell, a priest and a writer of prose and poetry. One of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, he was executed in 1595, for the alleged crime of treason.

His writing was circulated and was popular in his lifetime. Some was probably set to music. (Modern composers including Benjamin Britten still set some of his works to music. See parts of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols). His writing influenced English writers of the time, probably including Shakespeare. He was a missionary in England for six years before he was arrested. Once imprisoned, he was treated cruelly, left in the Tower for three years and tortured thirteen times.

Finally his execution date was set. From “They Died at Tyburn”: ‘Arrived at Tyburn he made the sign of the Cross as well as he could with his manacled hands, and then began to speak to the people in the words of the Apostle”: “Whether we live, we live to the Lord, or whether we die, we die to the Lord; therefore, whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.”‘

Many were grieved at his execution, possibly including queen Elizabeth. He seems always to have been determined to place all of his life, including his literary gifts, into the service of Christ, as a witness. Here in this season of Advent, enjoy this poem by Southwell.

The Burning Babe
By Saint Robert Southwell

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat
which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorchëd with excessive heat,
such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames
which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke,
the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defilëd souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callëd unto mind
that it was Christmas day.

Please see these links for more poems and information on Robert Southwell, SJ, poet and martyr:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/robert-southwell  – A good essay
http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/players/player40.html
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14164a.htm
http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/southbib.htm
http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=4620
http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_021.htm

In Search of the English Martyrs

The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun;
it is of God, it cannot be withstood.
So the faith was planted: so it must be restored.

– Saint Edmund Campion, hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in witness to the truth of the Catholic Faith.

A few weeks ago I had the grace to visit the site of the martyrdom of so many English men and women who held fast to the ancient faith of the English people. When I stood Tyburn Tree, the beautiful words of the hymn “Faith of Our Fathers” echoed through my mind. These words, authored by Father Faber, who converted from Anglicanism to the ancient faith of the English people, struck so deeply in my heart. These martyrs held fast to their conscience “in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword.”

That hymn was written to commemorate the English martyrs of the 16th and 17th century and the perseverance of Catholics in England through the continuing persecution in the 18th and early 19th centuries. A government-sanctioned persecution of the faith that spanned almost 400 years… and today the Catholic faith is alive in England.

In these days ahead we too are called to reflect deeply on the meaning of conscience and pray for the docility to be formed by the same Catholic tradition so we can stand in freedom before God. The faith of our fathers to which the English martyrs testified by their very lives is the faith to which are called to be true to death.

Get to know these martyrs, especially those in the group called the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. One is Father John Southworth, whose remains are now in Westminster Cathedral, who gave his ministry to ministering to Catholics and Protestants, so he offered himself as an oblation on the altar of the humanity for which Our Lord became incarnate for our salvation.

Pray through the intercession of Mary for our country. She is powerful in that she sustains the church in her suffering since a sword pierced her heart. She knows what it is to suffer for her Son. She, and the Forty Martyrs, and that great cloud of witnesses, pray with us and testify to the truth of the Catholic faith. This should be for us a cause of joy in the face of near-insurmountable challenges.