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Saint Anselm

St AnselmThe Church, in particular the Benedictines, liturgically remember the great Saint Anselm, monk and Archbishop of Canterbury (1034-1109). He is known for his writings on the existence of God and the meaning of Christ’s atonement on the cross. Many outside of the world of theology and monasticism would not really know of Anselm in any significant way. In short, we can say that he was “a monk with an intense spiritual life, an excellent teacher of the young, a theologian with an extraordinary capacity for speculation, a wise man of governance and an intransigent defender of the Church’s freedom…. [and he is] one of the eminent figures of the Middle Ages who was able to harmonize all these qualities, thanks to the profound mystical experience that always guided his thought and his action” (Pope Benedict XVI, Sept. 23, 2009). So, his monastic formation speaks clearly and forcefully than his ability to engage in secular or religious politics. In 1720, Pope Clement XI names Saint Anselm a Doctor of the Church.

I think the reflections of Dame Catherine –the Digitalnun– gives me (and hopefully you) a keen sense of why Anselm is relevant for us today: that being a person of intense prayer forms and informs all things for God’s greater glory. You can be gifted in many ways but knowing the Lord through prayer and sacrament is the only way to lead the Christian life. Everything else is secondary. This is what Sister Catherine said today:

For Anselm, as for many before and since, the whole venture of faith implies a connectedness, a rootedness in Christian tradition. Professor Denys Turner, one of the most perceptive of contemporary writers, argued very persuasively in the last chapter of his The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism that what so many now think of as ‘an experience of God’ had a wider meaning in former times. I think Anselm would have agreed that it is a phenomenon rooted in prayer, both public and private, in liturgy, in the sacramental worship of the Church and in theological reflection and exploration — moments of perception, of affirmation and negation, intended for the whole Church, not some specially privileged part of it. That is why the concept of sentire cum ecclesia, of thinking with the Church, is so essential.

Learning to think with the Church requires effort and self-discipline, finding out rather than simply opining. It is an activity rooted in prayer but calling for hard work, too. St Anselm was a great theologian because he was a man of prayer but also because he read — widely, attentively, thoughtfully — and because he put what he read and prayed into practice. We are not all called to be monastics, but shouldn’t every Christian be, to some degree, a theologian?

A brief biography is helpful

Saint Anselm was a native of Piedmont. When as a boy of fifteen he was forbidden to enter religion after the death of his good Christian mother, for a time he lost the fervor she had imparted to him. He left home and went to study in various schools in France; at length his vocation revived, and he became a monk at Bec in Normandy, where he had been studying under the renowned Abbot Lanfranc.

The fame of his sanctity in this cloister led King William Rufus of England, when dangerously ill, to take him for his confessor and afterwards to name him to the vacant see of Canterbury to replace his own former master, Lanfranc, who had been appointed there before him. He was consecrated in December, 1093. Then began the strife which characterized Saint Anselm’s episcopate. The king, when restored to health, lapsed into his former sins, continued to plunder the Church lands, scorned the archbishop’s rebukes, and forbade him to go to Rome for the pallium.

Finally the king sent envoys to Rome for the pallium; a legate returned with them to England, bearing it. The Archbishop received the pallium not from the king’s hand, as William would have required, but from that of the papal legate. For Saint Anselm’s defense of the Pope’s supremacy in a Council at Rockingham, called in March of 1095, the worldly prelates did not scruple to call him a traitor. The Saint rose, and with calm dignity exclaimed, If any man pretends that I violate my faith to my king because I will not reject the authority of the Holy See of Rome, let him stand, and in the name of God I will answer him as I ought. No one took up the challenge; and to the disappointment of the king, the barons sided with the Saint, for they respected his courage and saw that his cause was their own. During a time he spent in Rome and France, canons were passed in Rome against the practice of lay investiture, and a decree of excommunication was issued against offenders.

When William Rufus died, another strife began with William’s successor, Henry I. This sovereign claimed the right of investing prelates with the ring and crozier, symbols of the spiritual jurisdiction which belongs to the Church alone. Rather than yield, the archbishop went into exile, until at last the king was obliged to submit to the aging but inflexible prelate.

In the midst of his harassing cares, Saint Anselm found time for writings which have made him celebrated as the father of scholastic theology, while in metaphysics and in science he had few equals. He is yet more famous for his devotion to our Blessed Mother, whose Feast of the Immaculate Conception he was the first to establish in the West. He died in 1109.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).

Splinters of the Cross

A friend of mine wrote this poem three years ago and recently shared it with me. “Splinters of the Cross” makes for a good meditation today, Good Friday.

Splinters of the Cross

Bolek Kabala

May 15, 2013

36_nailiLike men hounded, harried

we pressed on, pelted by the rain

The hulk of the shipwreck behind us, obscured by the tempest

What demon had driven us to capsize here?

Our clothes were tattered

blood flowing from the pricks of brambles and thorns

the gleam of a wolf’s eye in the darkness

the chant of a crazed medicine man in the void

Lightning tore the sky asunder

And we started up the hills, the rock, the crag

Barren

Desolate

Crying for mercy, we struggled on

But wrath was upon us

It drove us onwards, and upwards

Until we could find a way forward only on our knees

Lord, will you not intercede on behalf of a sinner?

De Profundis

Then the sky was stilled

The sulfurous acridity of insomnia lifted

And lo, we beheld it

The Cross

The Cross atop the Rock of our madness and despair

A shaft of light broke through the clouds

It was a cross – there could no longer be any doubt

Its splinters beckoned

A creeping vine burst forth, and I exhaled

Yes, maybe green would grow here again

They have no wine

Wedding FeastThe most devastating words in the New Testament is the sentence: “They have no wine.” At the first blush we snicker. On the second, the lack of wine indicates that the wine of the sacred Banquet, that of the new covenant is desired, thirsted for. Only Jesus can provide it. Today’s Gospel reading for the Second Sunday the Year relates to us The miracle of the Wedding Feast at Cana.

St. Alphonsus Liguori once said: “Why are Mary’s prayers so effective with God? The prayers of the saints are prayers of servants, but Mary’s are a mother’s prayer, from that flows their effectiveness and authority. Since Jesus has immense love for his mother, she cannot pray without being listened to…There was a shortage of wine, which naturally worried the married couple. No one asks the Blessed Virgin to intervene and request her Son to come to the rescue of the couple. But Mary’s heart cannot but take pity on the unfortunate couple…it stirs her to act as intercessor and ask her Son for the miracle, even though no one asks her to…If Our Lady acted like this without being asked, what would she have not done if they actually asked her to intervene?”

Here’s a thought from Pope Francis:

“But Mary, at the very moment she perceives that there is no wine, approaches Jesus with confidence: this means that Mary prays….The family is a school where prayer also reminds us that we are not isolated individuals; we are one and we have a neighbor close at hand: he or she is living under the same roof, is a part of our life, and is in need.”

St Michael the Archangel

Michael, Archangel
Of the King of Kings,
Give ear to our voices.

We acknowledge thee to be the Prince of the citizens of heaven:
And at thy prayer God sends
His angels unto men,

That the enemy with cunning craft shall not prevail
To do the hurt he craves
To weary men.
Yea, thou hast the dominion of perpetual Paradise,
And ever do the holy angels honour thee.

Thou wert seen in the Temple of God,
A censer of gold in thy hands,
And the smoke of it fragrant with spices
Rose up till it came before God.

Thou with strong hand didst smite the cruel dragon,
And many souls didst rescue from his jaws.
Then was there a great silence in heaven,
And a thousand thousand saying “Glory to the Lord King.”

Hear us, Michael,
Greatest angel,
Come down a little
From thy high seat,
To bring us the strength of God,
And the lightening of His mercy.

And do thou, Gabriel,
Lay low our foes,
And thou, Raphael,
Heal our sick,
Purge our disease, ease thou our pain,
And give us to share
In the joys of the blessed.

– Alcuin, Sequence for St Michael (translated by Helen Waddell, Medieval Latin Lyrics (New York, 1948), pp.91-3;

Blessed Margaret Pole

Blessed Margaret PoleBlessed Margaret Pole, daughter of the Duke of Clarence and niece of King Edward IV and King Richard III of England. Margaret was married to Sir Richard Pole in 1491 and the mother of five, one of whom became a cardinal. As her guardian, King Henry VIII, granted her the title of Countess of Salisbury and governess to his daughter, Princess Mary.

Margaret opposed King Henry‘s plan to marry Ann Boleyn and as a consequence was driven from his court in disfavor. Her son, Cardinal Reginald Pole, wrote against Henry‘s presumptions to spiritual supremacy which led the king to reject the family. Margaret’s two sons were executed in 1538 for the crime of being the brothers of the Cardinal.

In 1539, falsely arrested and charged with plotting revolution and was sent to the Tower of London for nearly two years before in 1541 had a weak trial and was martyred by beheading. The axman could not lop off her head and she had suffered greatly.

Pope Leo XIII declared Margaret blessed on 29 December 1886.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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