Saint John Damascene

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Saint John Damascene

Doctor of the Church
(676-780)

Saint John was born in the late 7th century, and is the most remarkable of the Greek writers of the 8th century. His father was a civil authority who was Christian amid the Saracens of Damascus, whose caliph made him his minister. This enlightened man found in the public square one day, amid a group of sad Christian captives, a priest of Italian origin who had been condemned to slavery; he ransomed him and assigned him to his young son to be his tutor. Young John made extraordinary progress in grammar, dialectic, mathematics, music, poetry, astronomy, but above all in theology, the discipline imparting knowledge of God. John became famous for his encyclopedic knowledge and theological method, later a source of inspiration to Saint Thomas Aquinas.

When his father died, the caliph made of him his principal counselor, his Grand Vizier. Thus it was through Saint John Damascene that the advanced sciences made their apparition among the Arab Moslems, who had burnt the library of Alexandria in Egypt; it was not the Moslems who instructed the Christians, as was believed for some time in Europe. Saint John vigorously opposed the ferocious Iconoclast persecution instigated by the Emperor of Constantinople, Leo the Isaurian. He distinguished himself, with Saint Germain, Patriarch of Constantinople, in the defense of the veneration of sacred images.

The Emperor, irritated, himself conjured up a plot against him. A letter was forged, signed with Saint John’s name, and addressed to himself, the Emperor of Constantinople, offering to deliver up the city of Damascus to him. That letter was then transmitted by the Emperor to the Caliph of Damascus, advising him as a good neighbor should do, that he had a traitor for minister. Although Saint John vigorously defended himself against the charge, he was condemned by the Caliph to have his right hand cut off. The severed hand, by order of the Caliph, was attached to a post in a public square. But Saint John obtained the hand afterwards, and invoked the Blessed Virgin in a prayer which has been preserved; he prayed to be able to continue to write the praises of Her Son and Herself. The next morning when he awoke, he found his hand joined again to the arm, leaving no trace of pain, but only a fine red line like a bracelet, marking the site of the miracle.

The Saint was reinstated afterwards to the favor of the local prince, but he believed that heaven had made it clear he was destined to serve the Church by his writings. He therefore distributed his property and retired soon thereafter to the monastery of Saint Sabas near Jerusalem, where he spent most of his remaining years in apologetic writings and prayer. Occasionally he left to console the Christians of Syria and Palestine and strengthen them, even going to Constantinople in the hope of obtaining martyrdom there. However, he was able to return to his monastery. There he died in peace at the age of 104, and was buried near the door of the monastery church, in the year 780.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 5; The Catholic Encyclopedia, edited by C. G. Herbermann with numerous collaborators (Appleton Company: New York, 1908).

Meditations for Each Day of Lent – Passion Friday

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Meditations for Each Day of Lent
by St. Thomas Aquinas

Passion Friday

Our Lady’s Suffering in the Passion

Thy own soul a sword shall pierce– Luke ii. 35.

In these words there is noted for us the close association of Our Lady with the Passion of Christ. Four things especially made the Passion most bitter for her.

Firstly, the goodness of her Son, Who did no sin (i Pet. ii. 22).

Secondly, the cruelty of those who crucified Him, shown, for example, in this that as He lay dying they refused Him even water, nor would they allow His mother, who would most lovingly have given it, to help Him.

Thirdly, the disgrace of the punishment, Let us condemn him to a most shameful death (Wis. ii. 20).

Fourthly, the cruelty of the torment. O ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorroiv (Lam. i. 12).

The words of Simeon, Thy own soul a sword shall pierce, Origen, and other doctors with him, explain with reference to the pain felt by Our Lady in the Passion of Christ. St. Ambrose, however, says that by the sword is signified Our Lady’s prudence, thanks to which she was not without knowledge of the heavenly mystery. For the word of God is a living thing, strong and keener than the keenest sword (cf. Heb. iv. 12).

Other writers again, St. Augustine for example, understand by the sword the stupefaction that overcame Our Lady at the death of her Son, not the doubt that goes with lack of faith but a certain fluctuation of bewilderment, a staggering of the mind. St. Basil, too, says that as Our Lady stood by the cross with all the detail of the Passion before her, and in her mind the testimony of Gabriel, the message that words cannot tell of her divine conception, and all the vast array of miracles, her mind swayed, for she saw Him the victim of such vileness, and yet knew Him for the author of such wonders.

Although Our Lady knew by faith that it was God’s will that Christ should suffer, and although she brought her will into unity with God’s will in this matter, as the saints do, nevertheless, sadness filled her soul at the death of Christ. This was because her lower will revolted at the particular thing she had willed and this is not contrary to perfection.

THE SEVEN DOLORS

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THE SEVEN DOLORS

Devotion approved by Pope Pius VII in 1815

The purpose of the Devotion of the Seven Sorrows is to promote union with the sufferings of Christ through union with the special suffering that Our Lady endured because she was the Mother of God. By uniting ourselves with both the Passion of Christ and His holy Mother, we enter into Jesus’ Heart and honor Him greatly; He is more honored because we have so honored His Mother.

The Seven Dolors are taken from Scripture events and the devotion has a long history, although it was not officially promulgated by the Church until the early nineteenth century. Before Pope Pius VII’s formal approval, the Servite Order had permission in 1668 to celebrate the Feast of the Seven Dolors because the Order was instrumental in popularizing the Seven Sorrows Devotion.

In the Middle Ages, Catholic theology concentrated mostly on Christ’s Passion; at the side of the Man of Sorrows, however, the faithful always contemplated the Queen of Martyrs. Devotion to the Crucified Christ and to Our Lady of sorrows grew side by side. On Calvary there were in a sense two altars, one in the Body of Jesus, and the other in the Immaculate Heart. Christ immolated His flesh, Mary, her heart, her own soul. This day the Church commemorates the compassion of Mary; but it is fitting during the year, especially during Lent, to honor the Sorrows of Mary.

Mary is not mentioned in the Gospel accounts of Christ’s Transfiguration, His entry into Jerusalem, but she is recorded as being present at Calvary. She understood what the Will of God was and was faithful, co-operating with her Son as Co-redemptrix. She had prepared the victim for sacrifice and now she offered Him on the altar of Calvary.

The Gospel, John 19:25, says: “Near the Cross of Jesus stood His mother, his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.” At Christ’s bequest, Mary was proclaimed the universal Mother of mankind from the Cross.

Mary had three loves in her Immaculate Heart: God, her Son, and souls. She so loved the world that she gave her only Son. As St. Bernard said, “The sword would not have reached Jesus if it had not pierced Mary’s heart.” Mary loved souls and on Calvary, after suffering such cruel torments she merited being the mother of all mankind.

Mary is the Apostle because she is Co-redemptrix: Behold Mary on Calvary, she suffers and prays; she stands, as one offering sacrifice.

St. Ambrose said, “I read that she stood, but I do not read that she wept.” When Mary gave us her Son, she gave us everything. Therefore it can very well be said: “Behold this heart which has so greatly loved all people that it has spared nothing for them.”

The Seven Graces of this Devotion

1. I will grant peace to their families.
2.They will be enlightened about the Divine mysteries.
3. I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.
4. I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my Divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.
5. I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.
6. I will visibly help them at the moment of their death, they will see the face of their Mother.
7. I have obtained this Grace from my Divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and dolors, will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son and I will be their eternal consolation and joy.

Benefits of the Devotion to the Mother of Sorrows

1. To realize the value of a soul, worth the supreme Sacrifice on Calvary.
2. To work for souls, by evangelization, duty to life’s duties, and
prayer for sinners.
3. To pray always, in a life of union with God; whoever has a heart similar to Jesus’ and Mary’s hearts, will work for the salvation of souls.

When we commit sin we bring sorrow to Our Lady, for she is, indeed
our very Mother, our spiritual Mother, and she watches over
us as she watched over her Baby, nearly two thousand years ago.

It is the desire of Jesus that we should think of His Passion, to offer Him
our devotion and to renew our sorrow for sin. It is also His desire,
as the Church makes clear to us, that we should think of the
compassion of Mary in His Passion.

The Mass for the Feast of the Seven Dolors includes the traditional hymn, the Stabat Mater, which is traditionally included by verses in the 14 Stations of the Cross. St. Bonaventure is considered the author of the Hymn. We present it below in its entirety both in Latin and in English. At the conclusion of the 7th Sorrow you will find two prayers to Our Lady of Sorrows, one by St. Bonaventure and one by St. Alphonse Liguori.