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Order of Preachers

Pope Benedict’s August Prayer Intentions

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Pope Benedict’s general prayer intention for August is: “That World Youth Day in Madrid may encourage young people throughout the world to have their lives rooted and built up in Christ”.

His mission intention is: “That Western Christians may be open to the action of the Holy Spirit and rediscover the freshness and enthusiasm of their faith”.

St. Catherine of Siena – Doctor of Unity

St. Catherine of Siena as Spiritual Mother of the Second and Third Orders of St. Dominic, Cosimo Roselli  c.1499

Today, April 29, is the feast day of the great Dominican saint and Doctor of the Church, Catherine of Siena.  Her amazing life and spirituality has been well documented–which even began during her lifetime .  Catherine Benincasa was born in Siena on Palm Sunday, March 5, 1347, the 23rd of 25 children.  She is the patroness of large families!  At a very young age she began to show signs of her mystical spirituality.  At the age of 5 she would recite a “Hail Mary” for each step she climbed up the staircase of her home, and at age 6 she had the first of many visions:
“So it happened that Catherine, being arrived at the age of six, went one day with her brother Stephen, who was a little older than herself, to the house of their sister Bonaventura, who was married to one Niccol, as has been mentioned above, in order to carry something or give some message from their mother Lapa. Their mother’s errand accomplished, while they were on the way back from their sister’s house to their own and were passing along a certain valley, called by the people Valle Piatta, the holy child, lifting her eyes, saw on the opposite side above the Church of the Preaching Friars a most beautiful room, adorned with regal magnificence, in which was seated, on an imperial throne, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, clothed in pontifical vestments, and wearing on His head a papal tiara; with Him were the princes of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, and the holy evangelist John. Astounded at such a sight, Catherine stood still, and with fixed and immovable look, gazed, full of love, on her Savior, who, appearing in so marvelous a manner, in order sweetly to gain her love to Himself, fixed on her the eyes of His Majesty, and, with a tender smile, lifted over her His right hand, and, making the sign of the Holy Cross in the manner of a bishop, left with her the gift of His eternal benediction. The grace of this gift was so efficacious, that Catherine, beside herself, and transformed into Him upon whom she gazed with such love, forgetting not only the road she was on, but also herself, although naturally a timid child, stood still for a space with lifted and immovable eyes in the public road, where men and beasts were continually passing, and would certainly have continued to stand there as long as the vision lasted, had she not been violently diverted by others. But while the Lord was working these marvels, the child Stephen, leaving her standing still, continued his way down hill, thinking that she was following, but, seeing her immovable in the distance and paying no heed to his calls, he returned and pulled her with his hands, saying: ‘What are you doing here? why do you not come?’ Then Catherine, as if waking from a heavy sleep, lowered her eyes and said: ‘Oh, if you had seen what I see, you would not distract me from so sweet a vision!’ and lifted her eyes again on high; but the vision had entirely disappeared, according to the will of Him who had granted it, and she, not being able to endure this without pain, began with tears to reproach herself for having turned her eyes to earth.” Such was the “call” of St. Catherine of Siena, and, to a mind intent on mystical significance, the appearance of Christ, in the semblance of His Vicar, may fitly appear to symbolize the great mission of her after-life to the Holy See.
As one writer put it, “Such was the ‘call’ of Saint Catherine of Siena … and the appearance of Christ, in the semblance of His Vicar [the pope], may fitly appear to symbolize the great mission of her later life to the Holy See”.  For the pope was not in Rome but in Avignon, France, the so-called “Babylonian Captivity” of the papacy, where for political reasons the papal court had moved — and Catherine, years later, would attempt to persuade the pope to return to Rome, the See of Peter.  Pope Paul VI remarked at a general audience (April 30, 1969):
We must always remember that it was she, Catherine, who convinced the young French Pope (he was forty) Gregory XI, weak in health and faint-hearted, to leave Avignon, whither the Apostolic See had moved with Pope Clement V, after the sudden death of Benedict XI, and to return in 1376 to Italy, still rent by bitter divisions, to Rome, though it was turbulent and in very bad conditions. And it was Catherine who, immediately after the death of Gregory XI, supported his successor Urban VI in the first critical events of the famous “Western schism”, which began with the election of the anti-pope Clement VII.
At age 16 she took the Dominican habit and after three years of visions she experienced the famous vision known as her “mystical marriage to Christ”.  Catherine then dedicated herself to the poor, the sick and the conversation of sinners. In the summer of 1370 she received visions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven and a Divine command to enter the public life of the world.
She began to dictate and write over 400 letters to popes, princes, religious and lay people alike, was consulted by the papal legates about the affairs of the Church, and inserted herself into the most contentious of political affairs of the day.  She implored Pope Gregory XI to reform the notoriously corrupt clergy and the administration of the Papal States. Catherine was not afraid to write in the strongest of terms as this statement to three cardinals supporting the anti-pope:  “what made you do this? You are flowers who shed no perfume, but stench that makes the whole world reek.”  Through her influence, the pope left Avignon and returned to Rome.
On the fourth Sunday of Lent in 1375 she received the stigmata, that is, the wounds of Christ.  In about 1378 Catherine composed her “Dialogue”, said to have been dictated while she was in ecstasy, a book of meditations and reflections on the Creed and teachings of the Church, and on the sinfulness of man and the mercy of God.  Catherine died April 29, 1380 of a sudden and painful illness.
In 1970 Pope Paul VI proclaimed Saint Catherine of Siena a Doctor of the Church, a title given to certain ecclesiastical writers because of the benefit the whole Church has derived from their teaching and witness.  She was the first woman to get such a distinction, followed by St. Theresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux.
in meditating on the sufferings of Your Son
and in serving your Church,
Saint Catherine was filled with the fervor of Your love.
By her prayers, may we share in the mystery of Christ’s death
and rejoice in the revelation of His glory, for He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Saint Pius V

from Friar BlogBelow is an English translation of the homily then Fr. Augustine DiNoia, O.P., preached to the members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on their patronal feast in 2004. The Mass celebrated by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation.

Imagine the scene: A cold January day in 1566, one saint kneeling at the feet of another in the Sistine Chapel. St. Charles Boromeo begging Michele Ghislieri to accept election as the successor to Pope Pius IV. The normally strong and self-controlled Cardinal Alessandrino (as Ghislieri was known) had burst into tears when St. Charles commanded: “In the name of the Church, pronounce your acceptance, most Holy Father!” “I cannot! I am not worthy,” he kept repeating. At last, Cardinal Boromeo’s ear caught the barely audible words of acceptance, and the Dominican Cardinal Alessandrino became Pope Pius V.

Since arriving in Rome over a decade earlier, the saint had wanted nothing more than to return to the beloved Dominican Friars with whom he had spent his life. At the suggestion of Cardinal Carlo Carafa, Pope Julius III had brought him to Rome to become Commissary General of the Inquisition. When a few years later, Carafa became Pope Paul IV, and Fr. Michele implored the new pope to allow him to return to his convent so that he could “live and die as a Dominican,” Carafa responded by making him a bishop and then a cardinal, saying: “I will bind you with so strong a chain that, even after my death, you will never be free to return to your cloister.” It is no surprise that, as a cardinal and even as pope, Michele Ghislieri strove to be faithful to the Dominican vocation he had first embraced when he was twelve years old.

The young Michele had startled two Dominican Friars who were passing through Bosco (the town of his birth) by asking if he could become one of them. They were so impressed by his answers to their questions that, with the blessing of his parents, they allowed him to travel with them to the priory of Voghera in Lombardy where his vocation could be tested. From the start, the Friars loved the boy. They called him a treasure, for his progress in the spiritual life outstripped his rapid advance in his studies. As a novice in Vegevano, his fellow novices looked upon him as one already far advanced on the road to sanctity – silent, recollected, prudent, yet docile, humble, reverent towards his superiors, and jealously observant of the Dominican rule.

There is no time this morning to recount his activities in his long life as a Dominican, most of it spent in studies, teaching, preaching, and governance. Ordained a priest in Genoa at the age of twenty four, Father Michele was known by his brethren to be the first to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament in the morning, and the last to say farewell at night. As a young professor, he used to say to his students: “The most powerful aid we can bring to this study is the practice of earnest prayer. The more closely the mind is united to God, the richer the stores of light and wisdom that will follow its researches.” His brilliant defense of the faith during the Dominican provincial chapter at Parma in 1543 brought him to the attention of the College of Cardinals, and he was subsequently appointed to the difficult and thankless post of Inquisitor at Como. A few years later, he would be called to Rome to head the Inquisition, and here he remained for the rest of his life.

We cannot enter into the many achievements of his pontificate: his implementation of the reforms of the Council of Trent, especially in the liturgy; his promotion of devotion to the Rosary; and his successful efforts to mobilize the leaders of the nations against the threat of the Turks (of whom it was said that they feared the prayers of the pope more than they feared all the armies of Europe).

Although St. Pius was never able to return to his Dominican cloister, the legacy of St. Dominic remained with him in at least one important respect that is also significant for us and for our work in the Congregation: love of the truth and zeal for souls. His intellectual formation as a Dominican, combined with his long experience as a champion of the faith, gave him a profound awareness of the power of error to contribute to unhappiness and disorder in human life, and thus of the authentically pastoral necessity of proclaiming the full truth of the Catholic faith without compromise. In imitation of this great saint, we must pray for the love and the zeal that form the deepest wellspring for the proclamation of the doctrine of the faith.

The election of Cardinal Alessandrino had not been greeted with much enthusiasm by the people of Rome on that cold January day in 1566 because he was regarded as too severe. At the time, he had prayed: “God grant me the grace to act so that they may grieve more for my death than for my election.” Such was indeed the case when St. Pius V died peacefully in the early hours of the morning on the 1st of May 1572.

Eucharistic Adoration for Students at the Angelicum

My former classmate is the Dominican interviewed in this spot on Eucharistic Adoration for students at the Angelicum in Rome.

Helping Others In Making God’s Love Known

How important a role do we allow God to play in our daily life?  During the season of Lent we reflect on our relationship with God and how receptive we are to His limitless love for us.  We focus on those things that obscure and damage this relationship and take the necessary ‘corrective measures’ to re-orient our lives toward Him and reflect that love to others.  Penance, fasting and abstinence are effective tools we can use to accomplish personal conversion and extend God’s love to others.  Alms-giving allows us to help those beyond our reach by assisting others in utilizing their own efforts and talents to bring God’s love to others. 

I have written before about Fr. Tom’s Kids and the Dominican Mission in East Africa.  Fr. Martin Martiny, OP (my former classmate) has written an “update” on the incredible work being done by the Dominican priests and sisters, bringing Christ’s love to a small part of the world that knows none.  Please read the letter below–perhaps you may be inspired to send some alms their way.


7 March 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Die when I may, I want it said of me that I plucked a weed and planted a flower wherever I thought a flower would grow.”

We Dominican Friars have no illusions here in the midst of the rainy season in Kisumu, Kenya that our actions will save the world from the ravages of poverty, HIV, typhoid, malaria, war, rape, polygamy…. We are confident, nonetheless, that we can plant a few flowers, and sow and nurture the seeds of the faith in a part of the world where beauty and faith are most in need.

As a Dominican priest and missionary, I, Fr. Martin Martiny, serve with my brother and sister Dominicans, along the shores of Lake Victoria, the source of the White Nile amongst a community of Kenyans who are mostly of the Luo tribe. As a Dominican family, we are teaching, preaching, serving as chaplains at a local university, running a primary/secondary school called Our Lady of Grace, and a program of focused charity called Fr. Tom’s Kids, in honor of Fr. Tom Health who was killed in a robbery in 2005 and who had a great devotion to the youths of the area.

Our Lady of Grace school offers daily Mass and is home to the only chapel in a high school in this archdiocese with the Blessed Sacrament in permanent repose. We have around 220 full time students, almost all of them boarders and none of them able to pay the fees necessary to go to school. Today, we have about 70 kids attending Our Lady of Grace whose sponsors have been unable to continue their contributions. Undesignated donations have enabled us to keep all of them so far but it has been ‘a close run thing’, as Wellington described the battle of Waterloo. Even in the midst of the financial challenges, we have continued to accept the cases of kids who are really impossible to turn away.

Recently, Dominican sisters brought us out of the blue, 5 kids whom they could no longer assist. One is a small girl who is just about completely blind, another is a healthy and cheerful dwarf, and three others are suffering from rather severe physical handicaps—missing hands, feet, or a substantially shortened leg. We could not in good faith take the girl going blind; but were able to get her into a school for the blind run by Franciscan sisters about 45 minutes from here. The rest we did accept as an act of faith and we are feeling our way to how we can best help them. So far we just treat them like any other students and they seem to be thriving under these circumstances. None of these kids, however, has a sponsor; so….

We have also accepted responsibility for a young boy whose bone marrow has essentially shut down. He has been in and out of the hospital because he has almost no platelets and a far below minimum level of blood cells. We, with the help of a local couple, are keeping him in school while keeping an eye on him. There is no good reason why he is able to go to school. By all rights an infection should have already taken him away. We have placed him under the spiritual protection of Mother Rose Hawthorne, the founder of the Hawthorne Dominicans, and to date he remains in school as an actively participating student.  This is Wycliff, for whom some of you have offered prayers.

We do not, moreover, send away young girls who get pregnant—where would we send them? We do our best to avoid making them feel rejected. Most come from incredibly challenging backgrounds and have suffered severe humiliation and extraordinary emotional harm in their earliest years. We stress patience and kindness in the midst of personal self-discipline.

We have one girl who was brought at the age of 12 by a religious sister and relative. She was a total orphan and had bounced from relative to relative all of her life. No one would accept responsibility for her for longer than a few days. She was, consequently, starved for love and respect at the same time she had never had anyone demand that she live by rules and guidelines. She was okay at first; then became wild and kept running away. Eventually, I had to call in her grandfather and tell him we could not help her if she was always running away. We do not run a prison. The grandfather took her home; but she essentially was without any supervision.

Although she was not ours, I continued to send for her about every month or so to see how she was doing—not well. Eventually, she showed up at my office beaten, covered with dirt, wearing torn clothing and smelling like a polecat. She was just exhausted and at the end of her tether. We talked for a while. I asked if she was pregnant. She said she did not know. I sent her up to get a bath and afterwards we talked some more. We gave her a pregnancy test. She was a thirteen year old positive for motherhood and negative for all the local diseases. She was also in shock. The father, in his mid twenties, disappeared, of course, from the picture. We did not send her away and did our best to reassure her that she remains our daughter. She eventually gave birth to a daughter, Clare Siena Shakira, and is now reenrolled in primary school grade 6. Her determination to complete school and to be a good mother is impressive, although we have to remind ourselves now and again that she is still only 15 years old.

We are purchasing Catholic bibles for our religion program. Believe it or not, one cannot get a Revised Standard Version of the bible with the Apocrypha in Kenya. We would like to get 100 copies of the Good News for the primary and another 136 copies of the RSV for the secondary students—both with the Apocrypha. Few, if any, Catholic schools in Kenya use the Catholic version of the bible because it either doesn’t exist in the RSV for high school or it is more expensive in the Good News Version. The missing 7 books, however, are important in teaching about marriage and about the Resurrection, just to mention two areas.

So these are some of the challenges we face in trying to preach Christ to the locals here and my less than brief introduction to Our Lady of Grace School and Fr. Tom’s Kids in Kisumu, Kenya. We ask for your continuing prayers and are grateful to all our benefactors.

God bless,

Fr. L. Martin Martiny, O.P.

Ash Wednesday at Santa Sabina

At the Holy Father’s Wednesday Audience earlier today, Pope Benedict directed our attention to the formula of the imposition of ashes, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”–or “Convert and Believe the Gospel”:

“Conversion means changing the direction of the path of our lives. (…) It is going against the current when the “current” is a superficial, incoherent, and illusory way of life that often drag us down, making us slaves of evil or prisoners of moral mediocrity. Nevertheless, through conversion we tend to the highest measure of Christian life, we trust in the living and personal Gospel who is Jesus Christ. He is the final goal and the profound path of conversion, the path that we are all called to travel in our lives, allowing ourselves to be illuminated with his light and sustained by his strength, which moves our steps”.
“With the distribution of ashes we renew our commitment to follow Jesus, letting ourselves be transformed by his paschal mystery so that we may conquer evil and do good, so that we can let our ‘old selves’, tied to sin, die and let the ‘new person’ be born, transformed by the grace of God”.

This evening (Rome time) the Holy Father gathered in the Benedictine monastery of S. Anselmo and processed to Santa Sabina, the first Stational Church of Lent.  Santa Sabina is a pristine Roman Basilica built in 422.  Pope Honorius III entrusted the basilica to the Dominican Order in 1219, three years after its founding.  Considered “Dominican Headquarters”, it’s walls have seen the likes of St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope St. Pius V.

The Mendicant Friars Necessary Today

Pope Benedict has dedicated these past Wednesday Audiences to teaching about the great mendicant friars, St. Francis and St. Dominic.  These two pillars of renewal were called by the Spirit to transform the “dramatic and disquieting situation of the Church at that time, with her superficial faith that neither formed nor transformed life, her clergy little committed to its duties,…and the interior decay of her unity due to the rise of heretical movements”.

At last week’s Wednesday Audience Pope Benedict dedicated his catechesis to St. Francis of Assisi, referring to him as “a true giant of sanctity who continues to enthrall many people of all ages and religious beliefs”.  The Holy Father mentioned Pope Innocent III’s dream in which he saw the Basilica of St. John Lateran about to collapse, but a ‘small insignificant friar’ held it up to prevent its fall.  Pope Innocent recognized the friar to be Francis.  “Innocent III was a powerful Pontiff, who possessed profound theological culture as well as great political power, but it was not he who renewed the Church.  It was the ‘small and insignificant’ friar, it was Francis, called by God.  Yet important to recall that Francis did not renew the Church without the Pope or against the Pope, but in communion with him.  The two things went together: Peter’s Successor, the bishops and the Church founded on apostolic succession, and the new charism that the Spirit had created at that moment to renew the Church”.

At today’s audience Pope Benedict heralded the life and legacy of Saint Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers.  Shortly before his birth in Caleruega, Spain in 1170, his mother, Bl. Juana of Osma, dreamed that a dog leapt from her womb carrying a torch in its mouth and seemed to set the world ablaze.  Dominic “distinguished himself for his interest in the study of Sacred Scriptures and his love for the poor”.  After his ordiantion to the priesthood and election as a canon of the cathedral of Osma “he did not consider this as a personal privilege, nor as the first step in a brilliant ecclesiastical career; rather, as a service to be rendered with dedication and humility.  Do not career and power represent a temptation to which even those who have roles of leadership and government in the Church are not immune?” the pope asked.

Upon traveling on diplomatic missions St. Dominic became aware of “the existence of peoples still un-evangelized,…and of the religious divides that weakened Christian life in the South of France, where activity of certain heretical groups created disturbance and distanced people from the truth of the faith”.  Dominic was asked by Pope Honorius III “to dedicate himself to preaching to the Albigensians” and he “enthusiastically accepted the mission, which he undertook through the example of his own life of poverty and austerity, through preaching the Gospel and through public discussions”. 

It was Dominic’s itinerant apostolic life, rooted in “solid theological formation”, “founded on Holy Scripture but respectful of the questions raised by reason” that sparked renewal in the Church.  Pope Benedict teaches that “Christ is the most precious treasure that men and women of all times and places have the right to know and love!  It is consoling to see how also in today’s Church there are many people (pastors and lay faithful, members of ancient religious orders and of new ecclesial movements) who joyfully give their lives for the supreme ideal of announcing and bearing witness to the Gospel”.  He encouraged everyone, “pastors and lay people, to cultivate this ‘cultural dimension’ of the faith, that the beauty of Christian truth may be better understood and the faith truly nourished, strengthened and defended.  In this Year for Priests, I invite seminarians and priests to respect the spiritual value of study.  The quality of priestly ministry also depends on the generosity with which we apply ourselves to studying revealed truths”.

Pope Benedict concluded, “With his sanctity, he shows us two indispensable means for making apostolic activity more incisive; firstly Marian Devotion, especially the praying of the Rosary which his spiritual children had the great merit of popularizing, and secondly, the value of prayers of intercession for the success of apostolic work”.

Pray for all Franciscans and Dominicans, an increase in vocations to their consecrated life, and a renewed fidelity to their great founders’ calling to make the most precious Treasure known, loved and defended.

Saint Francis and Saint Dominic pray for us!