Twilight of the Idols, Part I: A Riddle

“For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect.” Mat. 24:24

The purpose of this piece is to expose the prejudice that some Catholics exhibit when considering the life and the work of a specific Protestant author. Here, the prejudice is in the Protestant author’s favor. I intend to point out why this prejudice is incorrect. Let’s start:

Catholic missionaries evangelized the region around Nagasaki, Japan, in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Then the Japanese government turned against the Catholics, martyred the priests, and forced the Church underground. After Japan began to open up to the Western world in the 1800s, a Catholic priest arrived. A group of wary local women approached him and asked three questions (I paraphrase):

1.) Do you venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary?
2.) Do you obey the Pope of Rome?
3.) Do you have a wife?

The priest answered Yes to first two questions and No to the last one. The women then went away. Sometime later, the men of their village returned to the priest, revealing that they were “Kakure Kirishitan,” the secret Christians of Japan.* Continue reading

“Good King Wenceslas Went Out Upon the Feast of Stephen” . . . for Eucharistic Adoration

The English-language Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” relates how St. Wenceslas of Bohemia went out upon the feast of Stephen to feed a poor peasant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_King_Wenceslas). According to the legend, St. Wenceslas’ servant found it very cold following him through the snow, so St. Wenceslas told the servant to follow in his footprints. By a miracle, the footprints stayed warm to protect the servant’s feet.

By divine providence today (the very feast of St. Stephen, Dec. 26, regardless of the date stamp above), I came upon an alternative story of the legend that says the miracle occurred during a visit St. Wenceslas made to the Blessed Sacrament. This version comes from St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Doctor of the Church and founder of the Redemptorists.  Continue reading

St. Sebastian: Bastion of Catholic Identity

This post is inspired by a homily that the parish priest at my home parish in Illinois* preached about a month ago. The Rio Olympics were in full swing, and the priest commented on American gymnast Simone Biles. He related that Biles, a Catholic, had a devotion to St. Sebastian and lit candles to him. I subsequently found out that St. Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes and of Rio de Janeiro, where the Olympics were held. The full name of Rio de Janeiro is São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, which in Portuguese means St. Sebastian of the River January (the Portuguese first landed there in January). This got me thinking about St. Sebastian’s role as an icon and bastion of Catholic identity.

Here are the basics of St. Sebastian’s story. He was a Roman soldier who was martyred during one of the persecutions inflicted on the Church by the Roman Emperors. He was sentenced to be tied to a tree and shot through with arrows. He miraculously survived the arrows, so he was clubbed to death. The Christians buried him in catacombs outside the city of Rome that have been called St. Sebastian’s Catacombs ever since. Now a basilica in St. Sebastian’s honor stands over the catacombs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Sebastiano_fuori_le_mura). Here’s a photo I took of St. Sebastian’s martyrdom as depicted on the ceiling (!) of the nave of the Basilica of St. Sebastian’s Outside the Walls:

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St. Sebastian became very popular in the Middle Ages for a number of reasons**. Here, I’ll focus on just one: the all-out awesomeness of his martyrdom. I think in many Catholics’ mind, the martyrdom of St. Sebastian is the template for their own perseverance in the face of persecution and temptation. If you think of it, his martyrdom is very reminiscent of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. He was bound to a tree, with his face to his persecutors, as they pierced his flesh. He is the patron saint of grit-your-teeth-and-take-it.

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Where Are Youth Groups in Scripture?

The next time a “Sola Scriptura”-type Protestant asks you where some Catholic practice is in Scripture (statues, candles, incense, etc.)*, ask them where the following are in Scripture:

–Organized youth groups. Where does St. Paul ever say, “Organize youth groups so teenagers can flirt with each other and have sleep-overs and get away from their parents”?

–Church camps. Ditto above.

–Church-affiliated schools and universities. Ditto yet again.

–Formal church buildings. I don’t remember Our Lord ever building a physical church building. To our knowledge, the Apostles didn’t, either. They met in a dining room (the Cenacle).

–Pews at church. If you have an issue with statues, why not with pews, or stained glass, or steeples, or bells, or tacky banners?

–Asking people if they’re saved. Where in Scripture does a Christian ever walk up to someone and ask them point-blank, “Are you saved?” Continue reading

The Decollation of St. John the Baptist

Today we honor the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner of Our Lord. According to Fr. Zuhlsdorf*, the feast began as the feast of the translation of St. John’s head to the Basilica of San Silvestro in Capite** (St. Sylvester “in the Head”) in Rome. This basilica was the occasion of a serendipitous event when I was studying Latin with Fr. Reginald “Reggie” Foster, O.C.D., in Rome during the summer of 2007.

I was wandering around the Eternal City a few weeks into the class. Having already visited all of the main pilgrim churches (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore, etc.), I muttered to myself, “I’m surprised I haven’t run into a head of St. John the Baptist. There’s supposed to be one in Rome.” I then looked up and saw a basilica I’d never noticed before, and said, “Really, *another* basilica? How many of these are there? Oh, well, ‘when in Rome.'” Upon entering, I discovered the shrine where they preserve what is purported to be the relic of St. John’s head (definitive proof is lacking).
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Feast of St. Anthony of Padua, Roman Style

Happy feast day to St. Anthony of Padua, my first patron saint! Nine years ago, I was in Rome, and I guess at least one local festival was postponed until the following Sunday, June 17. I remember it well. Reggie’s Latin class had gone to Ostia for the day, but I needed to head back to Rome to make it to Mass; Reggie’s schedule made virtually no allowance for Mass. I wanted to go to the Latin Mass at San Gregorio dei Muratori, literally a hole in the wall church in the Campo Marzio.

To make it to Mass on time, I had to skip out of Ostia before our tour even reached the site where St. Augustine and his mother, St. Monica, had their famous vision. The class was going to read St. Augustine’s account of the vision in his Confessions while standing at the very site where it occurred. And I left for Rome too late to make it to San Gregorio, or at least I foolishly missed my bus near the statue of Skanderbeg, and had to go to Mass at San Saba instead. 169

Skanderbeg. For St. Anthony, continue reading.

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Westward, ho!

Among the many traditionalist shibboleths is the supremacy of worship ad orientem, “toward the east.” For those of you, who don’t know, that means the priest faces away from the people when he offers Mass.

“What?! No! It means that the priest and people both face eastward, which is the traditional posture of Christian prayer going back to the Apostolic era. Christ is our ‘east,’ the rising sun of justice. The idea that the priest is ‘facing away from the people’ is a modern misunderstanding! Don’t you know that in the Roman basilicas the priest faces the people so he can face east, due to the alignment of the churches? And in the early centuries, the congregation faced east, *away* from priest, at certain times during the Mass?”

Why, thank you for that trad smackdown. I’m sure it was very cathartic for you . . . Ennnnyyy-hooo, let me get back to my point about why ad orientem worship in practice means that the priest has his back to the people. Continue reading