Monday, November 28, 2011
And when the king came back out of the garden set with trees, and entered into the place of the banquet, he found Aman was fallen upon the bed on which Esther lay, and he said: He will force the queen also in my presence, in my own house. The word was not yet gone out of the king's mouth, and immediately they covered his face. And Harbona, one of the eunuchs that stood waiting on the king, said: Behold the gibbet which he hath prepared for Mardochai...And the king said to him: Hang him upon it. So Aman was hanged on the gibbet...and the king's wrath ceased. (Esther VII: 8-10)

Queen Esther observed in prayer, before she went before her lord, king, and husband's face, that the threat against the Jews had been visited upon them as punishment for sin. Great then had been her personal mortification before she undertook to save her people. Likewise, she demanded fasting and weeping from them, before she ventured to beg Artaxerxes to spare the lives of the Israelites.

Father Augustyn Kordecki, and later King Jan Kazimierz, made the same observation concerning the Swedish 'Deluge' (1655-1660), the former ascribing that chastisement to the sins of Poland's people, and the latter to the crimes of her rulers. His majesty spoke these words after he had crowned the Virgin as his nation's queen:

As I see, to the great sorrow of my soul, that all the adversities which have fallen upon my Kingdom in the last seven years—the epidemics, the wars, and other misfortunes—were sent by the Supreme Judge as a punishment for the groans and the oppression suffered by the peasants, I promise and vow, after the conquest of peace, in union with all the states, to use all means to free my people from all unjust burdens and oppressions. Grant, Oh most loving Queen and Lady, that I obtain the grace of Thy Son to do all that I propose, and which Thou hast inspired me! (Memoirs of the Siege of Częstochowa, Augustyn Kordecki, C. S. P., translated by Plinio Correa de Oliveira)

This noble resolution was most wisely entrusted to Our Lady's keeping. After all, it had been the miraculous survival of her shrine that had turned the tide of the war in Poland's favour. 

Yet, while the great men living through this fiery era beat their breasts for their own sins and prepared to save their fatherland with mortification and repentence, the enemy were unwittingly blunting their own swords by committing iniquities themselves. Like Nabuchodonozor's warrior, Holofernes of the Book of Judith, General Burchard Müller, might have fared better in his campaign against the Catholics of Poland if he had had his own Achior to warn him thusly: 

Wheresoever they went in without bow and arrow, and without shield and sword, their God fought for them and overcame. And there was no one that triumphed over this people, but when they departed from the worship of the Lord their God. But as often as beside their own God, they worshipped any other, they were given to spoil, and to the sword, and to reproach. And as often as they were penitent for having revolted from the worship of their God, the God of heaven gave them power to resist. (Judith V: 16-19)

Alas for him, the general's religious sect had ousted that book from Holy Scripture, so he could not profit from its wisdom.  Making the same mistake as General Holofernes, he sallied forth in contempt of the Church still revered in Poland, even referring to the shrine he wished to capture as a 'henhouse.' History would soon turn him into another proof that God is not mocked, and only a fool spits on His beloved.

Still, no one could call him unreasonable for expecting the surrender of a single, Polish fortress (and a monastic one at that) when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had already buckled under the Swedish invasion. And did he not go about the siege with the greatest of human wisdom? Did he not send Polish, Catholic aristocrats and even old friends to treat with those stubborn Paulines? Did he not offer them the hope of preserving their monastery if they would yield? Did he not cajole them not once, but eleven times? One of these emissaries even begged Father Kordecki to give in by threatening the defenders of Jasna Góra with damnation: 

...the aim of a religious order is to abstain from temporal matters. What do you have to do with the turbulence of war, you whose rules call you to solitude and silence. Ponder it well, lest the arms which you brandish instead of your Rosaries, carry you to perdition…. (ibid.)

Yet, though the Polish king was a refugee in Silesia, the nobles had surrendered to the invaders, and all tactical and technical prospects of defending the Bright Mountain were bleak, Father Kordecki was driven by one fierce determination--no one who despised Our Lady would stain her sanctuary with his impious feet.

His staunch defiance cannot be justified or condemned in the light of human reason. The probability of clemency on the part of the Swedes would have been a matter for diviners, not logicians. Though defeat was certain, stalling for time in the face of capitulating to an unendurable peace possessed its own wordly wisdom. In the end, surrender is always a gamble, and choosing one side of a coin is not mad.

Can the priest be condemned on religious grounds then? Was the nobleman correct in admonishing him against taking such an active stance on what must in the end be a secular affair--the identity of one's sovereign?

There can be no doubt that fire for one's homeland and the principles of natural pride consumed many of the hearts defending Jasna Góra's walls. But the motto carved above so many portals in Polska is Bóg, Honor, i Ojczyzna. When some of the monks complained against Father Augustyn that it was for God's providence to determine the fate of kings and sovereigns, he did not dispute this fact, but made a new argument:

“…what Faith is ours,” he bellowed, “what love, what gratitude to God Who is so generous to us—that such small damage to our earthly comforts is able to turn us away from the guard and protection of the chest containing the celestial treasures of the eternal King? Let us consider that it is far more prudent for us to defend the integrity of the House of God, the Holy Faith and at the same time our own liberties, than for us to lose all and, in addition, to go into exile and eternal slavery.” (ibid.)

There would be no trust given to the devil, nor a chance for him to commit defamation. This resolve, united with hopeful reports of the king, does much to justify the Pauline's reason, but the feeling remains that there was also something--rather someone--else, who would not allow him to give in. As with Ozias, the Israelite ruler of Bethulia, this someone was very likely a woman.

When Holofernes lay siege to the above-mentioned city, the inhabitants (like those sheltered in the monastery) did not religiously apostatize as they became parched with thirst. Separating their earthly state from their eternal duties, they argued for capitulation on different grounds:

For it is better, that being captives we should live and bless the Lord, than that we should die, and be a reproach to all flesh, after we have seen our wives and our infants die before our eyes. We call to witness this day heaven and earth, and the God of our fathers, who taketh vengeance upon us according to our sins, conjuring you to deliver now the city into the hand of the army of Holofernes, that our end may be short by the edge of the sword, which is made longer by the drought of thirst...

and their ruler, Ozias, was prepared to give in:

 Ozias rising up all in tears, said: Be of good courage, my brethren, and let us wait these five days for mercy from the Lord. For perhaps he will put a stop to his indignation, and will give glory to his own name. But if after five days be past there come no aid, we will do the things which you leave spoken.
(Judith VII 16-17, 23-25)

In the modern world, with its restive field of free choice, we so often forget what our individual duties are or if we have any at all. What is explicitly holy or evil is taught to us and inscribed on our hearts, but the things we owe to God and the world as ourselves is a thing we hardly ever stop to consider. Living life according to the universal virtues, it does not often occur to the modern thinker that what is allowed for him, may not be permitted another man or that the reverse may be true.

Hence, while such a resolution as Ozias's is not objectively impious, and a Christian state of today may even be permittied it, it was wrong. The matter was apparent for the noblewoman Judith:

And who are you that tempt the Lord? This is not a word that may draw down mercy, but rather that may stir up wrath, and enkindle indignation.You have set a time for the mercy of the Lord, and you have appointed him a day, according to your pleasure...And therefore let us humble our souls before him, and continuing in an humble spirit, in his service: Let us ask the Lord with tears, that according to his will so he would shew his mercy to us: that as our heart is troubled by their pride, so also we may glorify in our humility. (Judith VIII 11-13, 16-17)

Perhaps the Pauline priest was not reading Judith in his time of great trial, but he responded to a traitorous, Polish lord that came to urge his surrender with the same fire as that great lady:

“On account of former benefits which Your Excellency has conceded to this sanctuary, your life has been spared various times during this siege; but lower thy head, do not abuse the patience of God!” (ibid.)

Yes, lower thy head lest a hand mightier than Judith's sever it as she severed that of Holofernes's. It was not until after the siege, and from the mouth of enemy witnesses, that the Virgin's gallant knights learnt she had been with them all the time:

"What witch is this that is to be found in your cloister of Czestohowa, who covered with a blue mantle sallies from the cloister and walks along the walls, resting from time to time on the bastions – and whose sight makes our people drop with terror, so much so that, when she appears, we have to turn our faces to the ground and protect our eyes?" (ibid.)

However, the Poles had soldiered on by faith and not by sight. That vision which terrified the Swedes had not consoled their earthly eyes. Persevering with the sacraments without fail, honouring Our Lord without fear, and praying without ceasing had been their preservation and sweetness of spirit. In the end, it prevailed in Heaven and on earth.


“Contemplate, oh Poland of posterity, what a great benefit was conferred upon Thee by the Mother of God, whose devotion thy Apostle and martyr Saint Albert, Archbishop of Gniezno, so zealously propagated together with the Roman Catholic Faith! Follow then the holy example of thy forefathers, for, if you guard your devotion to Mary, propagate it zealously, and defend it generously, you will attract even greater mercies and become terrible to the followers of hell! Let Christendom look and admire how courageously our Queen of Heaven and earth protects Her kingdom, and how efficaciously She sends aid to Her subjects, deprived of all human help! May the angel of the armies of the Lord, guardian of Poland, deign to move the heavenly militias to pay homage together with us to the supreme majesty of God for such great benefits and may He, with His powerful hand, disperse all the enemies who ally themselves in order to eradicate from Poland devotion to the Queen of Angels!”
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Pan, why do you stop, 
and why do you stare? 
How was I to know you were standing there? 
I am come to the side of one who fell, 
Not in pomp of solemn combat, 
But murdered meanly like a rat, 
And what I sang, was but his fate to tell. 

In sooth, ‘twas you gave me the fright, 
I had thought myself alone this darkling night. 
I fear not the suffering souls, 
Who have lost all means to harm, 
Who would not e’en want the demon’s charm, 
And I hold not in the power of ghouls. 

Yet, you look askance at my soft, votive light, 
And eye sidelong this flimsy dress of white. 
As if the candle and the shift, 
Were signs of something odious. 
But endurance of cold may be pious, 
And blessed lights do misty darkness lift.

You now have placed your left foot back, 
Setting off rearward down the track. 
I'd not mind your staying, if rounding a string of beads. 
Yet, I ’m more with him below; 
Our minds contemplate what He’d bestow. 
And for soul’s perfection, my soul, like his, bleeds. 

Ach, look, you stand there still! 
Motionless too long will catch you a chill. 
Perhaps I shall, too, with my arms all bare, 
Or mayhaps you think, I feel not, 
Being parted from this fleshly, mortal lot. 
Against that thought, I’ll not urge you to declare. 

Still let this not stop the prayer on your tongue. 
One day, this communion, which you do shun,
Shall be yours wholly,
When of and with fleshless, suffering shades,
We shall love prayer and penance, the aids,
Given freely by the living and the holy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

There are many precious devotions and special traditions which the faithful have been deprived of in our ecumenical age. Some measure of this expropriation on the part of Church leaders is understandable. One appeals to an intellectual through philosophy, to a hedonist through his abhorrence of suffering, and to a Protestant through Holy Scripture, and solely that. It is indisputable that in argument, one may only appeal to authority recognized by both parties. In the case of a dispute between a Catholic and a Protestant, it is also obvious that the Catholic may not cite the Deuterocanonical books of the Bible, as the Protestant will not heed evidence from those verses.

Long years of such disputation with our separated brethren have taught Catholics how to trim their arguments, avoiding theological feats and historical observations in favour of Biblical battles, chapter for chapter and verse for verse. However, the unfortunate effect of being so long an apologist is that it may make one more apologetic. We must not forget all the wonderful treasures of our Faith that we may enjoy when not evangelizing, one amongst them being the apocrypha which is allowed by the Church and endorsed by the saints.

Such an example of this is the 'Story of St. Joseph the Carpenter.' The protective, gentle shadow, (whose
generosity and compassion causes him to stand above so many saints mentioned in the Gospels) is not often spoken of, yet those who knew Jesus through His first thirty years knew him as the Son of the carpenter. St. Joseph is the patron of departing souls, and there are many of the faithful who pity him that he could not taste Heaven immediately after his death, but had to wait for the fruition of Good Friday. I always imagined St. John the Baptist and St. Joseph as the first two souls that Christ wrenched out of Limbo when He harrowed Hell. Death must have been terrifying for that just man so keenly aware of his transgressions in an age that as yet existed without Sacraments. The apocryphal tale mentioned above relates how an angel revealed to St. Joseph the nearness of his death. Below was the prayer on his lips:

O God! Author of all consolation, God of all compassion, and Lord of the whole human race; God of my soul, body, and spirit; with supplications I reverence you, O Lord and my God. If now my days are ended, and the time draws near when I must leave this world, send me, I beseech You, the great Michael, the prince of Your holy angels: let him remain with me, that my wretched soul may depart from this afflicted body without trouble, without terror and impatience. For great fear and intense sadness take hold of all bodies on the day of their death, whether it be man or woman, beast wild or tame, or whatever creeps on the ground or flies in the air. At the last all creatures under heaven in whom is the breath of life are struck with horror, and their souls depart from their bodies with strong fear and great depression. Now therefore, O Lord and my God, let Your holy
angel be present with his help to my soul and body, until they shall be dissevered from each other. And let not the face of the angel, appointed my guardian from the day of my birth, be turned away from me; but may he be the companion of my journey even until he bring me to You: let his countenance be pleasant and gladsome to me, and let him accompany me in peace. And let not demons of frightful aspect come near me in the way in which I am to go, until I come to You in bliss. And let not the doorkeepers hinder my soul from entering paradise. And do not uncover my sins, and expose me to condemnation before Your terrible tribunal. Let not the lions rush in upon me; nor let the waves of the sea of fire overwhelm my soul— for this must every soul pass through — before I have seen the glory of Your Godhead. O God, most righteous Judge, who in justice and equity wilt judge mankind, and wilt render unto each one according to his works, O Lord and my God, I beseech You, be present to me in Your compassion, and enlighten my path that I may come to You; for You are a fountain overflowing with all good things, and with glory for evermore. Amen.

'Remember the four last things, my son, and you will not sin forever.' The very marrow of my bones melts in fear at my own impending expiration, when I contemplate the terror this great saint felt when his sickness strengthened unto imminent death:

What shall I do when I arrive at that place where I must stand before the most righteous Judge, and when He shall call me to account for the works which I have heaped up in my youth? Woe to every man dying in his sins! Assuredly that same dreadful hour, which came upon my father Jacob, when his soul was flying forth from his body, is now, behold, near at hand for me. Oh! How wretched I am this day, and worthy of lamentation! But God alone is the disposer of my soul and
body; He also will deal with them after His own good pleasure.

Hearing this lament, the young Christ, perhaps eighteen or nineteen according to this legend, took compassion on His foster father and went to comfort him. It was then that He saw:

...Death ready approaching, and all Gehenna with him, closely attended by his army and his satellites; and their clothes, their faces, and their mouths poured forth flames. And when My father Joseph saw them coming straight to him, his eyes dissolved in tears, and at the same time he groaned after a strange manner. Accordingly, when I saw the vehemence of his sighs, I drove back Death and all the host of servants which accompanied him. And I called upon My good Father, saying:

Father of all mercy, eye which see, and ear which hear, hearken to my prayers and supplications in behalf of the old man Joseph; and send Michael, the prince of Your angels, and Gabriel, the herald of light, and all the light of Your angels, and let their whole array walk with the soul of My father Joseph, until they shall have
conducted it to You. This is the hour in which My father has need of compassion. And I say unto you, that all the saints, yea, as many men as are born in the world, whether they be just or whether they be perverse, must of necessity taste of death.

And thus did St. Joseph, perhaps, receive a special conduct on his death. So, as we hover between the feasts, All Saints and All Souls, let us recall one who keenly shared the lot of both. And humbly, let us ask for his guardianship at the hour of our own death, counting on his paternal empathy and compassion.

Sancte Joseph, Patróne moriéntium, ora pro nobis.

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Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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