Sunday, October 30, 2016

George Weigel's Toronto Speaking Engagement

A photo of George Weigel and myself at the CCRL AGM

George Weigel and myself at his speaking engagement in Toronto

On October 26, I had the privilege of meeting George Weigel, the author of Saint John Paul II's biography, Witness To Hope. Weigel was in Toronto, invited to speak at the Catholic Civil Rights League's (CCRL) Annual General Meeting. 

It was an extraordinarily gratifying feeling to be in attendance with Mr. Weigel, who I greatly admire and whose work and accomplishments I hold in high regard. I had the added privilege of introducing myself and spoke with him for several minutes, that included the expressing of my respect and gratitude for all his work.

For those of you who are not familiar with George Weigel, he is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a Catholic theologian and a leading American public intellectual. He also holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, the author of twenty books and his weekly column, The Catholic Difference, is syndicated to sixty newspapers. Weigel's essays and reviews regularly appear in major opinion journals and newspapers across the United States. He is the Senior Vatican Analyst for NBC News and a frequent guest on television and radio.

I first discovered George Weigel in 2001, when the DVD version of Witness To Hope, was aired on WNED Buffalo-Toronto, the local Public Broadcasting System (PBS) station. After watching it, I vividly recall becoming fascinated with the life of St. John Paul II—a fascination that only increased over time as I became more knowledgeable about his life—that I purchased the DVD.

After watching the documentary again, it wasn't long before I purchased the book version of Witness To Hope from the Rosary Center, which as of this post, still lists it in their book catalog page.

In addition to Witness To Hope, I have purchased and read three other books authored by Weigel: The End and the Beginning, a book on the legacy and the last years of St. John Paul II's life; God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church; and Evangelical Catholicism, a book on the deep reform of the twenty-first century Church.

George Weigel's enormous contributions to the Church and the world are a treasure trove of information for anyone who seeks understanding, knowledge and the truth.

Catholic Civil Rights League Annual General Meeting

The Annual General Meeting (AGM) first began with Mass at 5:30pm at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church located at 354 St. Clair Ave. West. Having to travel from suburbia, I allowed extra time for traffic, road construction, accidents, and any other delays. I arrived at around 4:30pm, which afforded me an opportunity to walk around for a few minutes and admire the fifteenth century English Gothic architecture of this church.

A photo of the front entrance of St. Clair Ave. West in Toronto, Ontario
Holy Rosary Catholic Church, St. Clair Ave., Toronto
It was a real gift to have arrived so early because I was afforded the opportunity to spend some private and quiet time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which segued into personal prayer, and eventually the recitation of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. I concluded my prayers by offering up my all my Rosary and personal intentions, including for a successful AGM, with the forthcoming Mass.

Directly after Mass, everyone went to the parish hall for some food and refreshments. It was during this time that I had the opportunity to meet the executive director, Christian Domenic Elia, PhD., and mingle a little, meeting new people in the process, and reconnect with a few familiar faces.

Phil Horgan, president of the CCRL, presided over the meeting. As a non-member, I listened attentively to the meeting's agenda, that included a summary of the work the CCRL is involved in. It was quite impressive to hear Horgan speak of issues that I have personally become interested in and one in particular that I have blogged about: the moral disorder cultivated in the medical profession with the ushering in of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and the removal of conscience rights, spearheaded by the College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPSO). I was first alerted to this issue when the CPSO held a public consultation for the drafting of the Professional Obligations and Human Rights policy, which I blogged about at length at my post, Professional Obligations and Human Rights - An Anti-Life Policy From Ontario's College Of Physicians And Surgeons.

After completing all the official business of the meeting, Horgan moved on to the much anticipated segment, George Weigel's talk. He gave a brief summary of Weigel's accomplishments and credentials, a summary so impressive that it seemed to fuel the audience's enthusiasm, which was finally released with the thunderous applause as Weigel approached the microphone.

George Weigel's Talk

Seated dead center in front of George Weigel, approximately thirty feet away, I watched and listened to what can only be described as one of the most thought provoking and intriguing talks I have ever had the privilege of attending.

Steeped in important details and references, Weigel's talk proved to be not only a time of learning, understanding and discovery of some of the key essential issues we as Catholic face in society, and the world as a whole, but a time of inspiration that has personally encouraged me to seek out the readings on the many topics he covered: the "dictatorship of relativism" taken from the homily of then, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Dean of the College of Cardinals) on April 18, 2005; expressive individualism; the "leviathan state" and its accommodation to and implementation of "expressive individualism" through political correctness; the ever shrinking Catholic sphere; the growing need for living our Catholic faith with fortitude and certitude, rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's; and the urgent need for the Church to embark on a serious effort to implement what St. Pope John Paul II called for some thirty years ago, the New Evangelization.

A photo from behind George Weigel, giving a talk to the CCRL
George Weigel's talk to the CCRL
In addition, Weigel referred to Judge Anthony Kennedy's perception of the human person as a "bundle of desires" and the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision: the landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held in a 5–4 decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples.

He also referred to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic Order of nuns who minister to the poor elderly, who were forced to defend themselves against the Obama administration's attempted imposition of the Affordable Care Act'sbirth control mandate.  

The Affordable Care Act requires all American insurance plans to cover twenty varieties of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved contraceptives at no cost to patients; in other words the "Little Sisters" would have had to provide coverage for contraception in their insurance plans.

Weigel's talk also included a call to Catholics to fight the good fight, by speaking out about the many issues we face in society, identifying the moral disorder in the process. He also pointed out that part of the good fight entails forming groups and associations.

Weigel reminded all of us that we are in mission territory, that there is a great need for the New Evangelization, to reclaim what was once Christian territory, which begins at our own kitchen tables.

For a talk that lasted approximately ninety minutes, it was a real privilege to have benefited from George Weigel's generosity to be amongst us, here in Toronto. Attending the AGM was time well spent; a faith strengthening time that has really encouraged me to improve upon my "labouring in the vineyard."

Saint John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici

If you are somewhat uncertain as to what I mean by "labouring in the vineyard," it is in reference to Saint John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (Christ's Faithful People), in which he explained the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world. He identified in the first section of the Introductionwho the lay members of Christ's Faithful People are:
...[T]hose who form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the labourers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew's Gospel: "For the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard." (Matthew 20:1-2)
Our "vineyard" is the vast world we live in, one that is to be transformed according to God's plan whereby everyone, both of men and women, are called to labour in anticipation of the final coming of the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps Saint John Paul II's "It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle" quote from Christifideles Laici is one of the most relevant quotes of the entire document; one that has certainly increased in its relevancy in today's world. Here is the quote contained in the paragraph it was written in, "A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle." (3)

Christifideles Laici's importance and relevance is something that George Weigel also referred to in Evangelical Catholicism, Chapter Nine: The Evangelical Catholic Reform of the Lay Vocation: 
Although the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity remains an important reference point for Evangelical Catholicism in the twenty-first century, the Magna Carta of the deep reform of the lay mission will be found in the 1988 postsynodol apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici, a bold exploration of the various evangelical roles of "Christ's Faithful Laity," written by a pope, John Paul II, who until his young-adult years intended to live out his Christian life as a layman, and who as a priest and bishop had a broader pastoral experience of the lay apostolate than any other pope since the early Christian centuries. (192)
I could not help think of both Christifideles Laici and Evangelical Catholicism, and the connection to Weigel's point of the importance and urgency of implementing the New Evangelization. I consider both references key essential readings for anyone who is serious about boldly evangelizing and affecting a real positive change in society.

Catholic Civil Rights League

My attendance at the AGM was my first contact with this organization. I originally discovered the CCRL when reading about their opposition to the parliamentary report, Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach; a report that ushered in euthanasia and assisted suicide as new includes in palliative care, and the removal of conscience rights for medical professionals who object to the "new includes," based on religious or moral beliefs. I blogged about this at my post, My Support For Medical Professionals and Their Conscience Rights.

I was impressed with the CCRL's opposition. It certainly was encouraging to know that there was an active Catholic organization who cared to voice their concerns and speak out about the increasing moral disorder in Canada.

At the AGM, I was further impressed by the humility with which Phil Horgan expressed the need to focus on raising funds; that such a reality had to become a greater priority in order for the CCRL to effectively take action in the future and reach its goals. 

If you visit the web site, you will be no doubt be impressed by their work. But what you may not know, that might further impress you, is that much of it is done through the generosity of time and effort of its members, at no charge, who sincerely care and are driven to affect a positive change in society.

Here is how the CCRL describes itself from their About page:
The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) is a national lay Catholic organization committed to combating anti-Catholic defamation, working with the media to secure a fair hearing for Catholic positions on issues of public debate, and lobbying government and intervening in court challenges in support of law and policy compatible with a Catholic understanding of human nature and the common good. 
Founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization, the CCRL received permission from the late Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter to use the name Catholic. With a Board of Directors and membership that spans the country, the CCRL is faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium and works in cooperation with local bishops across Canada. 
The work of the CCRL is exclusively sustained through donations.
If the work of the CCRL resonates well with you, and you are seeking to donate to a worth while organization, you may want to consider the CCRL.

Conversions and the Spiritual Battle

One of the most important points that Weigel made regarding the desired changes in society, was that if positive changes were to occur, they would be realized as a result of conversions.

Conversions are definitely something that we all need to pray for. One can only imagine how different the landscape would be with the increased personnel and other resources, affording us the opportunity to better establish and defend moral order, justice, peace, and the building up of the common good. 

We need only look to the times of St. Dominic and the Albigensian heresy, and how it was eradicated from Southern France through the conversions brought forth by the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that most effective weapon against the evils of society, the Rosary.

I think it is fair to say that we, as human beings, can at times forget that the battle is primarily a spiritual battle, that must be primarily fought with spiritual weapons. Like any spiritual battle it should begin with and be sustained by time and prayer (on our knees) in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Add to this frequent Mass attendance, daily recitation of the entire Rosary, and fasting.

The enemies we fight are unseen enemies as St. Paul warns us in Ephesians: The Whole Armour of God, "For our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Eph 6:12)

May we never lose heart to fight the good fight and pray for God's mercy and the Blessed Virgin Mary's intercession.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Rosary: An Effective Weapon Against the Evils of Society

A black and white photo of Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII who reigned as Pope from
February 20, 1878 until his death on July 20, 1903
With October being the "Month of the Rosary," I thought it fitting to share another papal document from my reading list, Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, Supremi Apostolatus Officio, on devotion to the Rosary and its efficaciousness as a remedy for the many evils of society.

Written in 1883, Pope Leo XIII not only encouraged devotion to the Rosary, but spotlighted how important it has been in the history of the Catholic Church when faced with several threats; namely, the violence of heresy, intolerable moral corruption, and aggressive Islamic attacks by the Ottoman Turks.

This document is not only an intriguing read, but a historical lesson that has not lost its relevance for the many evils of today's society. As I read it, I couldn't help but think of Winston Churchill's 1948 speech to the House of Commons, in which he paraphrased George Santayana (The Life of Reason, 1905), "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."

Pope Leo XIII was keenly aware of the threats of his time, and the necessity to implore the aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary, "It has always been the habit of Catholics in danger and in troublous times to fly for refuge to Mary, and to seek for peace in her maternal goodness; showing that the Catholic Church has always, and with justice, put all her hope and trust in the Mother of God." (2) 

So great was the need for divine intervention during Pope Leo XIII's time, that he compared it to the troubling times of St. Dominic's life and the Albigensian heresy, that itself was remedied by the Rosary, which the Blessed Virgin Mary introduced to the Church through Her chosen vessel, St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers.

Like in Pope Leo XIII's time, one that he referred to as, an "age of error," we too are in great need of divine intervention for the many evils that threaten Christianity today, and society as a whole: Islam (violent conflicts, terrorism and aggressive "immigration"); New Age and occult practices; left-wing political parties; secularism and consumerism; the contamination of political correctness and liberal ideas in universities, moral disorder being cultivated in professional associations; elements of the Culture of Death permitted at law such as abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, contraception, in vitro-fertilization, human embryo research, and other threats to the value and inviolability of human life; attacks on the conscience rights for medical professionals; the LGBTQ agenda; the many negative ramifications of the global sexual revolution and gender mainstreaming. 

We need help from heaven, the sole means of effecting anything

With so many evils running rampant in society and the much needed restoration to a Culture of Life, it seems so daunting for anyone to even think about, let alone seriously consider, how to affect such a change, but nothing is impossible with God. As Catholics, we have the privileged opportunity to call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary for Her intercession, to draw upon us God's mercy and Divine intervention. This is precisely what Pope Leo XIII stressed in the first section of Supremi Apostolatus OfficioIn it Pope Leo XIII states:
...We constantly seek for help from Heaven - the sole means of effecting anything - that our labours and our care may obtain their wished for object. We deem that there could be no surer and more efficacious means to this end than by religion and piety to obtain the favour of the great Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the guardian of our peace and the minister to us of heavenly grace... (1)
Pope Leo XIII goes on to encourage those to whom this encyclical is addressed, the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and Bishops of the Catholic Church, to spread the Rosary Devotion with the greatest earnestness, that by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus will, "...[B]e appeased and softened in the evils which afflict us." (1)  

The Rosary is a powerful weapon against heresy, moral corruption and the Church's enemies

The brilliance of the Rosary Devotion has shown itself in a greater way when the Church Militant implored Our Lady's intercession when endangered by the violence of heresy, moral corruption or attacks of powerful enemies. History has shown that not only was the Mother of God pleased to come to the assistance of the Church, and obtain peace and tranquility, but in her honour, she was given titles of helper, consoler, mighty in war, victorious, and peace-giver.

Amongst all the historical references to the Rosary as a powerful weapon, Pope Leo XIII made special note of two events in particular: the first, the efficaciousness of Rosary Devotion against the Albigensian heresy that began in Southern France during St. Dominic's life (born in 1170, at Calaruega, Burgos, Old Castile and died on August 6,1221, at Bologna, Italy); and the second, the victory achieved through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571).

The Albigensian heretics sprung from the sect of the later Manicheans, who sought to fill Southern France and other parts of the Latin world, with pernicious errors, and who by the terror of their arms, strove to rule by massacre and ruin. Here is what Pope Leo XIII wrote on how God responded to Albigensian heretics:
Our merciful God, as you know, raised up against these most direful enemies a most holy man, the illustrious parent and founder of the Dominican Order. Great in the integrity of his doctrine, in his example of virtue, and by his apostolic labours, he proceeded undauntedly to attack the enemies of the Catholic Church, not by force of arms; but trusting wholly to that devotion which he was the first to institute under the name of the Holy Rosary, which was disseminated through the length and breadth of the earth by him and his pupils. Guided, in fact, by divine inspiration and grace, he foresaw that this devotion, like a most powerful warlike weapon, would be the means of putting the enemy to flight, and of confounding their audacity and mad impiety. Such was indeed its result. Thanks to this new method of prayer-when adopted and properly carried out as instituted by the Holy Father St. Dominic-piety, faith, and union began to return, and the projects and devices of the heretics to fall to pieces. Many wanderers also returned to the way of salvation, and the wrath of the impious was restrained by the arms of those Catholics who had determined to repel their violence. (3)
The victory of Christian forces over the Ottoman naval fleet during the Battle of Lepanto

Pope Leo XIII dedicated section four to the victory of the Christian forces against the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of LepantoHe described this historical event as one in which, "The efficacy and power of this devotion was also wondrously exhibited in the sixteenth century, when the vast forces of the Turks threatened to impose on nearly the whole of Europe the yoke of superstition and barbarism." (4)

The Pope at the time, Pope St. Pius V (a Dominican who became Pope in 1566 until his death in 1572) had united all Christian princes, striving for a common defence against the Ottoman naval fleet, but sought above all, with the greatest zeal, to obtain victory from Our Lady's intercession.

A map of the Battle of Lepanto showing the Christian and Ottoman naval forces
Map of the Battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571

He goes on to note that as Christ's faithful warriors prepared for battle, those who were unable to take part, formed a "...[P]ious band of supplicants, who called on Mary, and unitedly saluted her again and again in the words of the Rosary, imploring her to grant victory to their companions engaged in battle." (4)

The united Christian naval force was granted victory over the Ottoman Turks on October 7, 1571. Pope Leo XIII described the victory as follows, "Our Sovereign Lady did grant her aid; for in the naval battle by the Echinades Islands, the Christian fleet gained a magnificent victory, with no great loss to itself, in which the enemy were routed with great slaughter." (4)

To celebrate the anniversary of so memorable a struggle and honour the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Pius V desired to have a feast established which became known as, Our Lady of Victories. Under his successor, Pope Gregory XIII (Pope from 1572 until his death in 1585) this feast was renamed, Our Lady of the Rosary, which remains to this day.

Although he did not get into the details of other battles, Pope Leo XIII did include two other similar successful victories against the Ottoman Turks: the battles at Temeswar in Pannonia (modern day Timișoara, Romania) and Corfu, Greece. Both battles coincided with feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary and concluded with public devotions of the Rosary.

Promotion of the Rosary Devotion

The Rosary, being a prayer that is particularly pleasing to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and suitable as a means of defence for the Church and all Christians, it is noteworthy that in addition to Pope Leo XIII, many of his predecessors also did their part to promote the Rosary Devotion: 
...Urban IV, testified that "every day the Rosary obtained fresh boon for Christianity." Sixtus IV declared that this method of prayer "redounded to the honour of God and the Blessed Virgin, and was well suited to obviate impending dangers;" Leo X that "it was instituted to oppose pernicious heresiarchs and heresies;" while Julius III called it "the glory of the Church." So also St. Pius V., that "with the spread of this devotion the meditations of the faithful have begun to be more inflamed, their prayers more fervent, and they have suddenly become different men; the darkness of heresy has been dissipated, and the light of Catholic faith has broken forth again." Lastly Gregory XIII in his turn pronounced that "the Rosary had been instituted by St. Dominic to appease the anger of God and to implore the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary." (5)
Pope Leo XIII made another reference to St. Dominic, who divinely enlightened, perceived that no remedy would be more adaptable to the evils of his time; that through its recitation men would return to Christ and seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom it was given to destroy all heresies.

As a further encouragement to the Church, Pope Leo XIII not only exhorted all Catholics to the pious recitation of the Rosary, publicly or privately, individually and within a group setting, but desired that the whole month of October should be consecrated to the "Holy Queen of the Rosary." In addition, he decreed and ordered that, "...[T]he whole Catholic world, during this year, the devotion of the Rosary shall be solemnly celebrated by special and splendid services." (8)

This included making every chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, accessible for the recitation of five decades of the Rosary and the Litany of Loreto. Add to this his desire that Mass shall be celebrated or the Blessed Sacrament shall be exposed, and Benediction given. 

Pope Leo XIII also encouraged for the Confraternities of the Most Holy Rosary to go, in procession, throughout towns as a public demonstration of their devotion.

To reward the faithful for their piety, he granted indulgences for all those who took part in public recital of the Rosary and the Litanies, and prayed for His intentions. For those who were "hindered by a lawful cause," from joining in the public prayers, he granted indulgences to them as well, so long as they have "...[P]racticed those devotions in private and shall have prayed to God for Our intention." (9) Further, a plenary indulgence was granted to those who, "...[E]ither on the feast of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary or within its octave, after having similarly purified their souls by a salutary confession, shall have approached the table of Christ and prayed in some church according to Our intention to God and the Blessed Virgin for the necessities of the Church." (9)

Pope Leo XIII further encouraged the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and Bishops of the Catholic Church, to a more diligent effort to nourish piety amongst the people toward the Blessed Virgin Mary, that there may be an increased confidence in her intercession.


Every October I make an effort to improve upon my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and strengthen my understanding of the Rosary. Reading Supremi Apostolatus Officio has certainly helped in that regard.

In addition, it has also encouraged me to a more fervent recitation of the Rosary, and reinforced how important the Rosary is in the fight against the evils of today's society.

If you are somewhat new to papal documents—which can be found at the Vatican's Holy Father dedicated page of documents from the papacies of Pope Leo XIII to Pope Benedict XVI—and you are interested in learning more about the Rosary, Supremi Apostolatus Officio (only five pages in total and a relatively easy read), is the perfect document to begin with during the "Month of the Rosary." 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Lives of The Brethren: The Origins of The Order of Preachers and The Legend of St. Dominic

A photo of the front courtyard at the Basilica of St. Dominic, Bologna, Italy
Basilica of St. Dominic, Bologna, Italy with the
bronze statue of St. Dominic's blessing (1623)
The Vitae Fratrum, or Lives of The Brethren, a book on the origins and growth of the Order of Preachers (O.P.), the Dominicans, is not only a historical account of how the Order came into being, but a "collection of legends" on the life of Saint Dominic, its founder, and of Blessed Jordan of Saxony, considered to be its second founder, and many other Dominican brothers, detailed in the three hundred sixty-nine pages.

At its core, it is an edifying read of the many first-hand accounts and stories compiled about the lives of the brethren from 1206-1259, that is sure to stir the reader: to live a more virtuous life; to frequent reception of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation; to greater penance; to renewed fervent prayer; to seek a closer relationship with God, and the Blessed Virgin Mary; and to confidently invoke the intercession of St. Dominic, Bl. Jordan, and other Dominican brothers when petitioning God, that by their merits, all may be granted, if it be God's will.

The spiritual life, in addition to prayer and the sacraments, is nourished by a well developed reading list that includes: meditations, biographies of the saints, the history of the Catholic Church, documents from the Vatican, Catholic blogs and web sites, the Catechism of The Catholic Church, and the Bible. As a historical document, Lives of The Brethren, is an invaluable read that chronicles the origins and growth of the Dominican Order in the early 1200s; without which we would not have the details of the early difficulties, the providential care of the brethren, and Our Lady's love for the Order. Those seeking to benefit from variety in the spiritual life, would do well to add Lives of The Brethren to their reading lists.

Although it does not compare with meditations such as the Imitation of Christ, Divine Intimacy or My Daily Bread, Lives of The Brethren, proved to be more than just a read; it helped to quiet down all the "noise" of the day, and ushered me into the spirit of prayer.

The process of gathering the information for what we now know to be the, Lives of The Brethren, began in 1256 in Paris during the ordination of the General Chapter of the Friars Preachers, during which it was requested, " 'Let every Prior who has heard or known of any miracle or edifying occurrence happening in the Order, or concerning it, write diligently to the Master so that the memory of it may be preserved.' " (9) In response to this, many brethren sent their individual contributions, the bulk of which was gathered and compiled, verified, corrected, and ready for publication within four years. It is generally accepted that the book was written somewhere between 1256 and 1259, in Limoges, France. 

The book, available for reading in portable document format (pdf), was translated by the Very Rev. F. Placid Conway, O.P., and edited with notes and introduction by Bede Jarrett, O.P. It was published in 1955 in London, England, by Blackfriars Publications. Written in a straight forward and simple manner—many times requiring reference to a dictionary for English words seldom used anymore, at least on this side of the pond—reading it proved to take longer than anticipated.

Throughout I could not help but marvel at God's love, mercy, and forgiveness revealed in the many blessings and gifts bestowed upon the brethren. Add to this the motherly affection of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the brethren, her powerful intercessory role in their lives, and her protection from the Evil One and his demons; reading this document was truly a faith strengthening and peaceful time that never lost its intrigue.

Lives of The Brethren is segmented into six parts: Part I The Foundation of The Order of Preachers; Parts II and III The Legend of St. Dominic; Part IV The Legend of Blessed Jordan of Saxony; Part V Progress of The Order; and Part VI Departure of The Brethren From Out This World.

To do justice to Lives of The Brethren, and the wonderful gift of the Dominicans to the Church, would entail at the very minimum, a summary of all six parts; something that I am prayerfully considering, especially to honour Blessed Jordan of Saxony. As for today's post, and for the sake of brevity, I decided to focus on the Part I The Foundation of the Order of Preachers, and selected chapters from Parts II and IIIThe Legend of St. Dominic.

I also quoted a substantial amount of the original text, when it was abundantly clear that any attempt to have summarized the same text, just wouldn't have sufficed.

The Foundation of The Order of Preachers

In Part I The Foundation of The Order of Preachers, Chapter I The Order Was The Fruit of The Blessed Virgin Mary's Prayers, attributes the Order's beginnings to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

It states in the very beginning that from a clear and careful reading of holy scripture, the Blessed Virgin Mary is a compassionate advocate and powerful helper of mankind. It goes on to state that, "By her prayers the fire of God's wrath kindled against sinners is tempered lest they perish, and countless blessings are showered down upon the world...One of the examples of this is the fact, revealed to many of God's servants, that this great Order was raised up by Almighty God's mercy for the salvation of souls, through her all prevailing intercession." (18)

Our Lady's intercession for the establishment of the Order of Preachers was revealed through a monk, who for three days and nights was wrapped up in ecstasy. Some years later, when the Dominicans had been well established, and were tasked to go about preaching, two brothers arrived at this monk's location. Not having ever seen their habit before, he enquired as to their name and manner of life. Realizing that the Dominicans were the Order, he stated the following:
'I feel, brethren, that the hour is come for me to reveal the secrets which the Lord was pleased in his goodness to unfold to me and about which I have hitherto been silent, for I now see that they have come to pass. During the time that I was caught up in rapture I saw our Lady, Mary the Mother of God, during those three days and nights, upon bended knees and with clasped hands, pleading with her Son on behalf of mankind, and beseeching him to forbear yet a while that the world might repent. But although during all that time he spoke never a word, at length upon the third day he yielded and made answer: "My own Mother, what can I, or what ought I to do further for the race of men? I sent them patriarchs for their salvation, and for a brief space of time they gave ear unto them; I sent them prophets, and for a while they did penance. After that I myself went unto them, and I gave them apostles, but me they crucified and them they killed. I have since sent them martyrs, confessors, and doctors, and many more, yet despite their toil the world has not amended; nevertheless, at thy prayer -- for it is not beseeming that I deny thee aught -- I will send unto them preachers and men of truth, through whom the world shall be enlightened and reclaimed. If it so prove, it is well; but if not, there remains no further remedy, but I will myself come in judgement and be avenged upon them."' (19)
Mary's intercession for the creation of the Order, is also well documented in the shared vision that both St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi had, of Jesus who was going to send a punishment to mankind, but stopped at the pleading of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In that vision, both saints saw Our Lady pleading with Jesus to be merciful, and accept her plan which included two of her faithful servants, St. Dominic and St. Francis, whom she presented to Jesus. Upon seeing both men, Jesus accepted Our Lady's plan. This was revealed to the Dominicans by a friar-minor, who had long been the companion of Saint Francis. Here is the account of the shared vision:
A friar-minor, who had long been the companion of St Francis, told some of our brethren -- one of whom in turn related it to Brother Jordan, then Master of the Order that when St Dominic our Father was in Rome, during the sitting of the Lateran Council, pressing his suit before God and the Pope for the confirmation of his Order, as he was praying one night -- according to his custom -- in the church, he beheld our Lord Jesus Christ standing by his throne in midair, and holding three lances which he was about to hurl against the earth. At the same moment the Virgin Mother, falling on her knees, besought him to have mercy on those whom he had redeemed, and to temper his justice with mercy. 'Seest thou not what countless wrongs they continue to heap upon me?' said he. 'Right willingly would I have mercy, but my justice will not allow evil to go unpunished.' Thereupon the Queen Mother again addressed him: 'My Son, I know, as dost thou, who knowest all things, how thou canst restore mankind to thy favour. I have by me one trusty liegeman whom thou shalt send into the world to make known thy word, and thenceforth it will forsake and bewail its evil ways, and follow thee, its Saviour. To him as fellow labourer shall I give another of my servants to toil in even way.' Upon this her Son answered; 'Behold, now I am appeased and I accept thy plan; yet show me the man thou hast chosen.' Then the glorious Virgin, taking St Dominic by the hand, led him to our Lord Jesus Christ, who, with an approving smile, replied: 'Right well and manfully shall he carry out what thou hast said.' She then brought forward St Francis, whom our Lord praised evenly. The blessed Dominic earnestly scanned the features of his companion while the vision lasted; on the morrow recognising him in the blessed Francis, although hitherto a stranger to him, he ran up and tenderly embraced him with a kiss, saying: 'You are my comrade, let us stand together, and no foe shall prevail against us.' After this he told his vision, and from that hour they became but one heart and one soul in God, and enjoined their sons to foster this brotherly spirit to the end of time. (22)
Other individuals who foretold of the rise of the Order of Preachers include: Prior Stephen of the Carthusian Monastery of Partes; a Cistercian bishop of the diocese of Orange, in the Province of Arles; Bl. Mary D'Oignies of the diocese of Liege; Bishop Fulk of Toulouse; an elderly and holy woman from Tuscany; and Abbot Joachim, the founder of a monastery in Florence. 

The Legend of St. Dominic
A monument of the remains of St. Dominic in the Basilica of St. Dominic, Bologna, Italy.
A monument that contains the remains of
St. Dominic, located in Dominic's chapel,
Basilica of St. Dominic, Bologna, Italy

Unlike the lives of other saints, such as Sts. Augustine or Francis of Assisi, whose dramatic conversions shattered their previous lives, St. Dominic is one of those saints who came from a very holy family. He not only had two devout parents who lived virtuous lives, but two holy brothers; one of whom also joined the Order of Preachers, and the other gave himself up entirely to the service of the poor by works of mercy in a hospital.

In an effort to capture the essence of who Saint Dominic was, I selected certain chapters from the legends that includes: the miracles wrought by his fervent prayers; some of the many gifts bestowed upon him; his humility, charity, and patience in striving to win souls for God; some of the more dramatic moments of his battles with the devil and his demons; and the deliverance of individuals from demonic possession.

Conversion of a Heretic by His Joyful Patience

Saint Dominic was a man of great humility and patience. During his time there were many heretics, and on this one particular occasion, a debate with them was agreed upon. The local bishop desired to arrive with a "pompous retinue," but St. Dominic suggested otherwise that, "...[W]e should rather strive to win them over by our humility and virtuous example, than by mere show and display or by contentious words: and since the present meeting is not without its fears, let us arm ourselves with humility and go thither barefooted.' (74)

Not knowing how to get to the meeting place, enquiries were made with a man, who they assumed to be Catholic, but was in fact a heretic, whose intention was to lead them astray. Seeing that the brethren were barefoot, he lead them among thorns and brambles so that their feet and ankles became covered in blood.

As to how St. Dominic responded to all this. Here is the official account:
All this the servant of God bore all this with unruffled patience, breaking forth joyfully at times into the divine praises, and exhorting the others to do the same. 'Be of good cheer, dearest brethren,' he would say, 'put all your trust in God, for our sins have now been all wiped out in our blood, and the victory will surely be ours.' The heretic, seeing his marvellous endurance, and the joyful forbearance of the whole company, and feeling touched by his words, became changed in heart, confessed his cruel deceit, and abjured his errors before them. (75)

His Gift of Tongues

In reading this particular story, I could not help but be amazed at God's generosity in granting St. Dominic and another brother he was travelling with, the gift of speaking fluent German.

While travelling from Toulouse to Paris in the company of Brother Bertrand de Garrigue, St. Dominic met a band of pilgrims from Germany. Hearing them reciting the Psalms and Litanies, they both joined them, and upon arrival at the next town, remained with them for three days.

Saint Dominic was troubled by the fact that the brothers received material good things from the German pilgrims, yet could not provide spiritual ones in return. Saint Dominic suggested that he and Br. Bertrand kneel down and pray so that God would, in St. Dominic's own words, "...[E]nable us to understand their tongue, that we may preach Jesus to them." (81)

To the bewilderment of the pilgrims, they began to speak fluent German. For the next four days, St. Dominic and Br. Bertrand conversed with them about Jesus.

In all humility, St. Dominic stated the following to Br. Bertrand: 

'Brother, we are now going to enter Paris, and if our brethren here only knew of that miracle which God wrought in us they would repute us to be saints, whereas we are but sinners, and if it got rumoured abroad we should be liable to vanity: wherefore, in virtue of holy obedience I forbid you to mention it to a soul until after my death.' (82)
As commanded upon him, Br. Bertrand did not divulge this information to the brethren until after St. Dominic's death. 

How He Met The Devil Prowling Round The Convent

There are several stories of St. Dominic's confrontation with the devil and his demons. This particular story is perhaps the most dramatic of all.

On one occasion when St. Dominic, who like a watchful sentinel, was making his rounds throughout the convent, one night met the devil. Here is the account of what the two communicated:
...[A]nd bidding him stand still, the holy father accosted him thus: 'Why are you prowling in this fashion?' 'I do so,' said the other, 'on account of the profits I reap hereby."And what do you gain in the dormitory, may I ask?' said St Dominic. 'I keep the brethren from enjoying their rest, and then tempt them not to rise for matins, and when this does not work, I send them foul dreams and illusions.' Then taking him to the choir, the holy father continued: 'And what do you gain in this holy place?' 'I make them come late and retire soon, and busy them with distractions.' On questioning him about the refectory, he made answer, 'Who is there who does not either eat more or less than he should" When brought to the parlour he chuckled with glee: 'Ho, ho! this is my spot, this is the place for laughter, and folly, and idle talk.' But when they came to the chapter house the devil tried to make off: 'I loathe this place, for I lose here whatever I may have gained elsewhere, since the brethren are here told of their faults, correct one another, do penance, and are absolved.' (86)
He Snatches A Paper From The Devil

On another occasion, Saint Dominic had spied on the devil in the church at midnight, holding a piece of paper, trying to read it by the light of one of the lamps.

Saint Dominic confronted the devil, and had asked him what he was looking at. The devil's reply, " 'I am reading over your brethren's sins.' " (87)

Determined to take the paper, St. Dominic seized hold of, but the devil would not let go. He bid the devil, in God's name, to release it. Written on the paper were some faults of the brethren, whom St. Dominic corrected accordingly.

He Delivers a Glutton Possessed by the Devil

One of the brothers, in charge of the sick, had without permission, been eating leftover meat. One evening the devil entered into him and bellowed horribly. Saint Dominic had come to the spot where the rest of the brethren had rushed to the brother's assistance. He then asked the devil w
hy he had gone into him. The following is the exchange between St. Dominic and the demon:
I hold possession of him since he richly deserves it, for contrary to the letter of your constitutions, and without leave, he has been in the habit of eating the meat left by the sick.' On hearing this the tender father replied: 'And I, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, do absolve him from his sin, and command you in the name of the same Jesus, that you go out of him and vex him no longer'; and at once the brother was freed from his tormentor. (90)
He Beholds Angels Guarding His Brethren

A citizen from Bologna, a lawyer by profession, joined the Order of Preachers, much to the chagrin of his family and friends. A plan was set in motion to forcibly remove the new brother. Terrified of the anticipated violence, the brethren sought to call upon men-at-arms to guard their enclosure. Such measures proved to be completely unnecessary as St. Dominic assured them that, " 'We require no such protection, for at this very moment I see more than two hundred angels ranked round the church and convent who have been sent to guard us.' " (89) At the same moment their assailants fled panic-stricken and in confusion, and the novice summoned up enough courage to remain and persevere in the Order.

How St. Dominic Helped Calm a Storm

A ship on its way from Trapani, Sicily to the coastal city of Genoa, Italy, was overtaken by a violent storm, that threatened its destruction, and all on board. So severe was the storm that the masts and sails had been swept away; the ship was drifting at the mercy of the wind and waves.

Some passengers endeavoured to ease the load by throwing the cargo overboard, while others were making their last confession. Pleading for help, everyone was invoking their patron saints.

On board was a Dominican brother, William of Valencia, a very devout man who always put his trust in God. Hearing no mention of anyone invoking St. Dominic, he urged everyone to call upon him from their hearts, assuring them of the certainty of St. Dominic's assistance. Here is the official account of what followed:
...At this, every soul present pledged himself that if St Dominic stood by them they would go barefoot to his church carrying lighted tapers directly they touched land. Their vows made, and while they were all yet crying out at the top of their voices, ' O St Dominic, do come to our assistance!' the sky suddenly brightened, the storm hushed, the sea grew calm, and the whole face of the deep lay rippling in the sunbeams. Joy took the place of despair, moanings became shouts of joy, hearty thanks were poured out, and the name of Dominic extolled. Nor were they slow in redeeming their promise on reaching Genoa, but straightway all walked in procession behind our brethren, in the way they had promised, until they came to our church, and there devoutly prostrated themselves before his altar. (97)
How He Rid a Woman of Seven Devils

During the second Sunday of Lent, St. Dominic set out to preach at St. Sixtus Church in Rome, where Benedictine sisters had taken up residence near by.

A great crowd had gathered, and St. Dominic stood by the grating so the Sisters could both hear and see him preaching the word of God. Amongst the great crowd of men and women, was a woman possessed of seven demons, who began to disturb his preaching shouting, " 'Knave and fool, thou hast already robbed me of four persons who were mine, thou hast robbed me of my own'..." (119) The demons kept calling St. Dominic "knave," which means "dishonest man."

The crowd became increasingly disturbed by this woman, so St. Dominic directed the demons to "Hold your tongue," but to no avail. The demons responded, " 'Thou shalt not turn us out, for she is ours, and we refuse to leave her.' " (119) The demons also revealed how they possessed her.

As the confusion grew from this disturbance, St. Dominic lifted up his hand, and made a sign of the cross over her, saying, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I command you to go out of her, and not to torment her any longer." (120) Instantly the woman began to vomit up a quantity of coals, and a tremendous amount of blood. Saint Dominic had her brought to a house close by, with orders that she be cared for until her recovery.

After a long time had passed, when this woman recovered, and was on her way to the shrine of St. James the Apostle, she saw a group of Sisters who were on their way to St. Agnes convent in Bologna. Being quite well and in sound health, she conversed with them pleasantly.

How The Blessed Virgin Mary Appeared to Him While at Prayer, and Showed Him The Care She Takes or the Order

Once when St. Dominic was passing the night in prayer in the church, it was around midnight that he went to the dormitory. After looking in on his brethren, he resumed his prayer at the entrance.

Standing erect in prayer, he saw at the other end of the dormitory, three very pleasant looking women advancing toward him. The central figure seemed to be more dignified, and of higher rank than the others.

One of the two attendants carried a beautiful and resplendent vessel of holy water, and the other a sprinkler, which she presented to the third, who was between them.

The middle woman sprinkled the brethren, who were asleep, except for one, which caught the attention of St. Dominic.

Eventually St. Dominic threw himself down at her feet, and begged her to reveal who she was, although he knew all along it was the Blessed Virgin Mary. She replied, "I am she whom you greet every evening, and when you say 'Turn then our Advocate,' I prostate myself before my Son for the preservation of the Order.' " (124) As to the brother who did not receive the blessing, Our Lady replied," Simply because he was unworthy of it." (125) Sprinkling the remaining friars, she then went away. What happened next to Saint Dominic is best described by the account from Lives of The Brethren:
St Dominic returned to his prayers, and was caught up in spirit from where he was standing to the throne of God, and there he beheld our Lord, and the Blessed Virgin sitting on his right hand, whilst she appeared to our holy father to be wearing a mantle of deep blue colour. As lie gazed round he saw religious men of every Order in the Church standing in God's presence, but not one of his own family, so he began to weep bitterly and would not presume to come near our Lord and leis holy mother. Thereupon she made a sign with her hand for him to draw nigh, but still he did not dare to do so until our Lord also beckoned to him; then he came up and threw himself down before them, weeping as if his heart would break. Then Christ bade him arise, and asked him gently: 'Why weepest thou thus sorrowfully?' 'I am grieving,' said St Dominic, 'because I see here members of every religious Order, but of my own not one.' Then our Lord said: 'And would you see your Order?' To this the saint answered trembling: 'Yes, Lord, of a surety I would.' Placing his hand lovingly on the Blessed Virgin's shoulder, Christ replied: 'I have given over your Order to my mother's care.' At this the Blessed Virgin drew back her mantle, and opening it wide before St Dominic, it seemed to enclose nearly the whole of that heavenly country, so vast was it, and beneath it he saw a great host of his brethren. Casting himself down, St Dominic returned right hearty thanks to Christ and his holy mother; soon the vision passed away, and once again regaining his natural consciousness he rang the bell for matins. When the morning office was over he summoned the brethren to the chapter-house, and there spoke to them with burning words, exhorting them to love and reverence ever the blessed Virgin, and amongst the rest he told them of his vision. When the chapter was over he called aside the friar whom our blessed Lady had neither sprinkled nor blessed, and tried by gentle speech to discover whether there was not some secret sin which he had not confessed, for the brother had made a general confession to St Dominic. The brother made this reply: 'Holy father, I have nothing to reproach myself with in conscience except this, that on that night I retired to rest without being dressed according to rule.' St Dominic recounted this vision to Sister Cecilia and the other sisters of St Sixtus, yet as if it had befallen someone else, but the brethren present then, who had heard him relate it before, gave the sisters to understand that the person was none other than himself. It was on this account that St Dominic made it a rule that all his brethren should sleep in tunic and girdle wherever they might be.
How St. Dominic Founded The Convent at St. Sixtus

At the request of Pope Honorius, St. Dominic had gathered nuns scattered from various monasteries in the city, in order to unite them at St. Sixtus, where the brethren dwelt at the time.

Amongst all the nuns was Sister Cecilia, and the abbess of St. Mary's, where a picture of St. Mary stood. All but one, made their profession into St. Dominic's hands, and entered his enclosure, upon the condition that Our Lady's picture stayed with them at St. Sixtus. If this condition was not met, and the picture was returned to its former resting place, then all the nuns would be dispensed from their vows. Saint Domenic agreed.

Once the professions were made, St. Dominic told the nuns that they were not permitted to go outside the enclosure anymore to see family and friends. When this became known, some of their family and friends became angry for what they thought would be the destruction of a monastery, and for placing themselves into the hands of a man no one knew anything about.

As a result, some of the nuns regretted their profession, but St. Dominic knowing all this by the light of the Holy Spirit went to the nuns and addressed them with the following words, "My daughters, are you changing so soon, and do you want to go back from the way of the Lord? I want every one who means to enter of her own free will now to renew her profession." (133) In response, all the nuns renewed their profession.

Saint Dominic took all the monastery keys, and entrusted its safety to lay-brothers to guard it day and night, and provide provisions for the nuns.

As for the picture of Our Lady, St. Dominic and two assistants carried it from its original location to St. Sixtus, secretly in the night. They did this at night to avoid any hindrance from the citizens of Rome, who did not wish to see it leave because they had better access to it where it was. Bare foot, and with tapers (slender candles) to light their way, St. Dominic and his assistants transferred the picture to St. Sixtus with great devotion and due reverence to Our Lady.

The picture of Our Lady remains at St. Sixtus to this day.

Concluding Thoughts

Reading Lives of The Brethren is time well spent; an encouragement to a live a holy life. It certainly challenges the reader to examine his or her own life, and seek understanding and clarity as to what needs to be improved upon and what is missing. 

As to the numerous lessons that can be drawn from the many stories, it really is a function of each individual's faith journey, and how each one responds to God's love, mercy, forgiveness, graces, and blessings.

However, there are some lessons that each individual can benefit from, no matter where you are in your faith journey: the need to discover, recognize, and acknowledge our faults and defects; the necessity for a daily examination of conscience, and to strive for compunction of heart; frequent confession and Mass attendance; the importance of silence after Evening Prayer (Liturgy of the Hours); a new or renewed understanding of the spiritual combat against the Evil One and his demons; the importance of prayer; the need to place complete trust in God, and Our Lady's intercession in our lives; the much needed reminder to be always on guard against temptations, in its many forms and disguises; and how the beginning and growth in the virtuous life, often comes by way of hardships, difficulties, and chastisements.

It is my hope that you found today's post an intriguing read, that will encourage you to readLives of The Brethren, in its entirety.