Friday, August 28, 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Our Lady of Czestochowa: The Marvelous Story of an Embattled Icon

In the monastery-fortress of Jasna Gora, in Czestochowa, Poland is venerated an ancient icon of Holy Mary and the Infant God, with a fascinating history. Tradition has it that it was painted by the apostle St. Luke on a table built by Our Lord Jesus in St. Joseph’s workshop. Empress Saint Helena who found Our Lord’s cross, also discovered this icon in Jerusalem, and took it to Constantinople where her son, Constantine, built a church to enshrine it.

The image remained in Constantinople for 500 years until, through dowries, it was taken to Russia to a region that later became Poland.
Monastery-fortress of Jasna Gora, in Czestochowa, Poland

This icon, now known as Our Lady of Czestochowa, has an embattled history.
While still in Constantinople, placed on the wall of the city, the icon so frightened an army of besieging Muslims that they took flight.

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Under a Holy King
In the 15th century, the polish king Saint Ladislaus installed the holy image in his castle. Tartar invaders besieged the castle and an arrow pierced the image in the region of the throat, leaving a scar.
Interestingly, repeated attempts to repair the damaged painting failed. The scar always reappears.
Wishing to protect the icon from subsequent attacks, Saint Ladislaus took it to his town of birth, Opala.
On the way, he stopped at city of Czestochowa to rest, placing it in the wooden church of the Assumption in the nearby place of Jasna Gora (Bright Hill).
In the morning, the horses pulling the carriage containing the icon refused to move. Taking this as a sign, St. Ladislaus re-installed the image in the church of the Assumption and confided sanctuary and monastery to the Pauline Fathers.
It was on this day, August 26, 1382 that Saint Ladislaus established the feast of the Madonna of Czestochowa and it is still observed today.

Next, the Hussites, followers of the heretic John Hus from Prague, attempted to harm the holy icon. In 1430 they stormed the monastery and stole the image. Placing it in a wagon, they were carrying it away when the vehicle stopped and could not be moved. The attackers hurled the image to the ground, breaking it in three pieces. One man pulled his sword and struck the image twice on the cheek leaving two deep scars. On attempting to slash it thrice, the man went into agonizing convulsions and died.
The two scars on the holy image as well as the one on the throat have always reappeared after attempts to repair them.

The holy icon’s great epic was the Siege of Czestochowa in 1655 when an army of 12,000 Swedish Protestant invaders led by a General Miller, attempted to take the monastery-fortress of Jasna Gora. The year before, a vision of a scourge in the face of the sun had been seen over the area. Indeed, King Karl Gustav, and the Swedes invaded and conquered most of Poland with the help of Calvinist Polish nobles, ousting King Jan Kasimir.
One monastery, led by a heroic prior, Fr. Augustine Kordecki, refused to surrender. Taking in five Catholic Polish nobles, the monastery resisted with only 300 men. The besieged faced treason, threats, and numerous assurances of the enemy’s “good will” in attempts to seduce them into an inglorious “peace”.
But placing their full trust in Our Lady, whose image they guarded, the monks answered, “Better to die worthily than to live impiously.” Thus began the 40-day siege, and nothing was spared to bring down the walls of Jasna Gora.
Meanwhile, the forty monks and the besieged prayed before the Holy Icon of Czestochowa. They prayed and fought, fought and prayed. And a mysterious “Lady”, dressed in a white or blue mantle, whom the Swedes called a “witch” began to appear on the ramparts, herself supplying the canons. The sight of her terrified the invaders.
A mysterious fog also enveloped the holy hill, which at times gave the illusion of the monastery-fortress being higher, at others lower, the result being that the canon-balls missed their target.
Finally, the mysterious lady appeared in the night to General Miller himself. After procuring a copy of the icon of Czestochowa, Miller said, "It is absolutely not comparable to that virgin who appeared to me; for it is not possible to see anything comparable on earth. Something of the celestial and divine, which frightened me from the beginning, shone in her face."
In the end, spooked and discouraged by these supernatural occurrences, the Swedes lifted the siege. From the victory of Czestochowa, the Poles again took heart, and rallying around King Jan Kasimir, took back their country.
(For the full account of the siege of Czestochowa Click here)
The next year, in the presence of the clergy, nobility and people, King Kasimir solemnly proclaimed Our Lady of Czestochowa Queen of Poland. Recognizing that Poland had been chastised for its sins, and oppression of the less fortunate, He promised to rule with equity.
In 1920, when the Russian army assembled at the River Vistula, the Polish people had recourse to their Madonna. The Russians quickly withdrew after the image appeared in the clouds over Warsaw.
In Polish history, this is known as the Miracle of Vistula.
During the Nazi occupation of Poland in WW II, Hitler ordered all religious pilgrimages closed. In a demonstration of love and trust in Our Lady, half a million Poles defied Hitler’s orders and visited the shrine. Following the liberation of Poland in 1945, a million and a half people expressed their gratitude to their Madonna by praying before the miraculous image.
Twenty eight years after the first attempt to capture Warsaw, the Russians took the city. That year 800,000 visited the Lady of Czestochowa in defiance of the invader.
And today, free from Communism, Czestochowa continues to be the religious heartbeat of Poland. To the miraculous, fearless Lady of Jasna Gora, the Polish go with their needs and petitions, their sorrows and their joys. Indeed she is their embattled, victorious, miraculous queen.

“I will see you in heaven,” man says on deathbed, after doing the 1st 5 Saturdays devotion

A Timely Response to Our Lady’s Request

While visiting a home in Ohio, I heard an amazing story about the First Five Saturday devotion that Our Lady requested at Fatima.
She asked all Catholics to make reparation to her on the first Saturday of five consecutive months by going to confession, praying at least one rosary, making a fifteen minute meditation and receiving Communion. Our Lady promised that she would “…assist them at the hour of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation.”  

The family, of good practicing Catholics, decided to take up the devotion. However, as it often happens when one sets out to do God’s will, all kinds of obstacles run into our path.
On the Friday preceding the first Saturday they had a car accident. On the Saturday some were called to their jobs and some children fell ill. However, all still managed to fulfill Our Lady’s devotion requests, including the father.
Their resolution to do Our Lady’s request could not have been timelier.  After completing the five month devotion, the father became extremely sick.  Doctors found that he had cancer in an advanced stage and only had a few days to live.
The family asked their fellow parishioners for prayers and Masses in his intentions.  Many family members began a round-the-clock vigil praying the rosary around his bed.  For a whole week, those faithful prayer warriors continued to give him spiritual and psychological support with their generous vigil.
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Through all the suffering, the completion of the 5 First Saturday devotion was a continuous source of consolation to the father and family. “I will see you in heaven,” he reassured his children.
Shortly before his death a priest gave him last rites and he peaceably surrendered his soul to the Lord.

By Godofredo Santos

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August 25 – King, Crusader, Saint

Saint Louis IX

King of France, son of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile, born at Poissy, 25 April, 1215; died near Tunis, 25 August, 1270.
Marguerite of Provence, wife of St. Louis IX
Marguerite of Provence, wife of St. Louis IX

He was eleven years of age when the death of Louis VIII made him king, and nineteen when he married Marguerite of Provence by whom he had eleven children. The regency of Blanche of Castile (1226-1234) was marked by the victorious struggle of the Crown against Raymond VII in Languedoc, against Pierre Mauclerc in Brittany, against Philip Hurepel in the Ile de France, and by indecisive combats against Henry III of England. In this period of disturbances the queen was powerfully supported by the legate Frangipani. Accredited to Louis VIII by Honorius III as early as 1225, Frangipani won over to the French cause the sympathies of Gregory IX, who was inclined to listen to Henry III, and through his intervention it was decreed that all the chapters of the dioceses should pay to Blanche of Castile tithes for the southern crusade. It was the legate who received the submission of Raymond VII, Count of Languedoc, at Paris, in front of Notre-Dame, and this submission put an end to the Albigensian war and prepared the union of the southern provinces to France by the Treaty of Paris (April 1229). The influence of Blanche de Castile over the government extended far beyond St. Louis’s minority. Even later, in public business and when ambassadors were officially received, she appeared at his side. She died in 1253.
Blanche of Castile Sculptor Antoine Etex located at Versailles
Blanche of Castile Sculptor Antoine Etex located at Versailles

In the first years of the king’s personal government, the Crown had to combat a fresh rebellion against feudalism, led by the Count de la Marche, in league with Henry III. St. Louis’s victory over this coalition at Taillebourg, 1242, was followed by the Peace of Bordeaux which annexed to the French realm a part of Saintonge.
It was one of St. Louis’s chief characteristics to carry on abreast his administration as national sovereign and the performance of his duties towards Christendom; and taking advantage of the respite which the Peace of Bordeaux afforded, he turned his thoughts towards a crusade. Stricken down with a fierce malady in 1244, he resolved to take the cross when news came that Turcomans had defeated the Christians and the Moslems and invaded Jerusalem.  Between the two crusades he opened negotiations with Henry III, which he thought would prevent new conflicts between France and England. The Treaty of Paris (28 May, 1258) which St. Louis concluded with the King of England after five years’ parley, has been very much discussed.
Treaty of Paris. King Henry III of England does homage to Saint Louis.
Treaty of Paris. King Henry III of England does homage to Saint Louis.

By this treaty St. Louis gave Henry III all the fiefs and domains belonging to the King of France in the Dioceses of Limoges, Cahors, and Périgueux; and in the event of Alphonsus of Poitiers dying without issue, Saintonge and Agenais would escheat to Henry III. On the other hand Henry III renounced his claims to Normandy, Anjou, Touraine, Maine, Poitou, and promised to do homage for the Duchy of Guyenne. It was generally considered and Joinville voiced the opinion of the people, that St. Louis made too many territorial concessions to Henry III; and many historians held that if, on the contrary, St. Louis had carried the war against Henry III further, the Hundred Years War would have been averted. But St. Louis considered that by making the Duchy of Guyenne a fief of the Crown of France he was gaining a moral advantage; and it is an undoubted fact that the Treaty of Paris, was as displeasing to the English as it was to the French. In 1263, St. Louis was chosen as arbitrator in a difference which separated Henry III and the English barons: by the Dit d’Amiens (24 January, 1264) he declared himself for Henry III against the barons, and annulled the Provisions of Oxford, by which the barons had attempted to restrict the authority of the king. It was also in the period between the two crusades that St. Louis, by the Treaty of Corbeil, imposed upon the King of Aragon the abandonment of his claims to all the fiefs in Languedoc excepting Montpellier, and the surrender of his rights to Provence (11 May, 1258). Treaties and arbitrations prove St. Louis to have been above all a lover of peace, a king who desired not only to put an end to conflicts, but also to remove the causes for fresh wars, and this spirit of peace rested upon the Christian conception.
St. Louis’s relations with the Church of France and the papal Court have excited widely divergent interpretations and opinions. However, all historians agree that St. Louis and the successive popes united to protect the clergy of France from the encroachments or molestations of the barons and royal officers. It is equally recognized that during the absence of St. Louis at the crusade, Blanche of Castile protected the clergy in 1251 from the plunder and ill-treatment of a mysterious old marauder called the “Hungarian Master” who was followed by a mob of armed men — called the “Pastoureaux.” The “Hungarian Master” who was said to be in league with the Moslems died in an engagement near Villaneuve and the entire band pursued in every direction was dispersed and annihilated.
St. Louis IX.  Painting in Notre-Dame de Poissy
St. Louis IX. Painting in Notre-Dame de Poissy

But did St. Louis take measures also to defend the independence of the clergy against the papacy? A number of historians once claimed he did. They attributed to St. Louis a certain “pragmatic sanction” of March 1269, prohibiting irregular collations of ecclesiastical benefices, prohibiting simony, and interdicting the tributes which the papal Court received from the French clergy. The Gallicans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries often made use of this measure against the Holy See; the truth is that it was a forgery fabricated in the fourteenth century by juris-consults desirous of giving to the Pragmatic Sanction of Charles VII a precedent worthy of respect. This so-called pragmatic of Louis IX is presented as a royal decree for the reformation of the Church; never would St. Louis thus have taken upon himself the right to proceed authoritatively with this reformation. When in 1246, a great number of barons from the north and the west leagued against the clergy whom they accused of amassing too great wealth and of encroaching upon their rights, Innocent IV called upon Louis to dissolve this league; how the king acted in the matter is not definitely known. On 2 May, 1247, when the Bishops of Soissons and of Troyes, the archdeacon of Tours, and the provost of the cathedral of Rouen, despatched to the pope a remonstrance against his taxations, his preferment of Italians in the distribution of benefices, against the conflicts between papal jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the ordinaries, Marshal Ferri Pasté seconded their complaints in the name of St. Louis. Shortly after, these complaints were reiterated and detailed in a lengthy memorandum, the text of which has been preserved by Mathieu Paris, the historian. It is not known whether St. Louis affixed his signature to it, but in any case, this document was simply a request asking for the suppression of the abuses, with no pretensions to laying down principles of public right, as was claimed by the Pragmatic Sanction.
Frederick II
Frederick II

Documents prove that St. Louis did not lend an ear to the grievances of his clergy against the emissaries of Urban IV and Clement IV; he even allowed Clement IV to generalize a custom in 1265 according to which the benefices the titularies of which died while sojourning in Rome, should be disposed of by the pope. Docile to the decrees of the Lateran Council (1215), according to which kings were not to tax the churches of their realm without authority from the pope, St. Louis claimed and obtained from successive popes, in view of the crusade, the right to levy quite heavy taxes from the clergy. It is again this fundamental idea of the crusade, ever present in St. Louis’s thoughts that prompted his attitude generally in the struggle between the empire and the pope. While the Emperor Frederick II and the successive popes sought and contended for France’s support, St. Louis’s attitude was at once decided and reserved. On the one hand he did not accept for his brother Robert of Artois, the imperial crown offered him by Gregory IX in 1240. In his correspondence with Frederick he continued to treat him as a sovereign, even after Frederick had been excommunicated and declared dispossessed of his realms by Innocent IV at the Council of Lyons, 17 July, 1245. But on the other hand, in 1251, the king compelled Frederick to release the French archbishops taken prisoners by the Pisans, the emperor’s auxiliaries, when on their way in a Genoese fleet to attend a general council at Rome. In 1245, he conferred at length, at Cluny, with Innocent IV who had taken refuge in Lyons in December, 1244, to escape the threats of the emperor, and it was at this meeting that the papal dispensation for the marriage of Charles Anjou, brother of Louis IX, to Beatrix, heiress of Provençe was granted and it was then that Louis IX and Blanche of Castile promised Innocent IV their support.
Statue of St. Louis IX in Notre Dame Church of St-Vincent de Lyon
Statue of St. Louis IX in Notre Dame Church of St-Vincent de Lyon

Finally, when in 1247 Frederick II took steps to capture Innocent IV at Lyons, the measures Louis took to defend the pope were one of the reasons which caused the emperor to withdraw. St. Louis looked upon every act of hostility from either power as an obstacle to accomplishing the crusade. In the quarrel over investitures, the king kept on friendly terms with both, not allowing the emperor to harass the pope and never exciting the pope against the emperor. In 1262 when Urban offered St. Louis, the Kingdom of Sicily, a fief of the Apostolic See, for one of his sons, St. Louis refused it, through consideration for the Swabian dynasty then reigning; but when Charles of Anjou accepted Urban IV’s offer and went to conquer the Kingdom of Sicily, St. Louis allowed the bravest knights of France to join the expedition which destroyed the power of the Hohenstaufens in Sicily. The king hoped, doubtless, that the possession of Sicily by Charles of Anjou would be advantageous to the crusade.

St. Louis led an exemplary life, bearing constantly in mind his mother’s words: “I would rather see you dead at my feet than guilty of a mortal sin.” His biographers have told us of the long hours he spent in prayer, fasting, and penance, without the knowledge of his subjects. The French king was a great lover of justice. French fancy still pictures him delivering judgements under the oak of Vincennes. It was during his reign that the “court of the king” (curia regis) was organized into a regular court of justice, having competent experts, and judicial commissions acting at regular periods. These commissions were called parlements and the history of the “Dit d’Amiens” proves that entire Christendom willingly looked upon him as an international judiciary. It is an error, however, to represent him as a great legislator; the document known as “Etablissements de St. Louis” was not a code drawn up by order of the king, but merely a collection of customs, written out before 1273 by a jurist who set forth in this book the customs of Orléans, Anjou, and Maine, to which he added a few ordinances of St. Louis.
St. Louis was a patron of architecture. The Sainte Chappelle, an architectural gem, was constructed in his reign, and it was under his patronage that Robert of Sorbonne founded the “Collège de la Sorbonne,” which became the seat of the theological faculty of Paris.
A Painting of the Hôpital des Quinze-Vingts in 1809. It is still in existence at 28 de la rue de Charenton.

He was renowned for his charity. The peace and blessings of the realm come to us through the poor he would say. Beggars were fed from his table, he ate their leavings, washed their feet, ministered to the wants of the lepers, and daily fed over one hundred poor. He founded many hospitals and houses: the House of the Felles-Dieu for reformed prostitutes; the Quinze-Vingt for 300 blind men (1254), hospitals at Pontoise, Vernon, Compiégne.

The Enseignements (written instructions) which he left to his son Philip and to his daughter Isabel, the discourses preserved by the witnesses at judicial investigations preparatory to his canonization and Joinville’s anecdotes show St. Louis to have been a man of sound common sense, possessing indefatigable energy, graciously kind and of playful humour, and constantly guarding against the temptation to be imperious. The caricature made of him by the envoy of the Count of Gueldre: “worthless devotee, hypocritical king” was very far from the truth. On the contrary, St. Louis, through his personal qualities as well as his saintliness, increased for many centuries the prestige of the French monarchy. St. Louis’s canonization was proclaimed at Orvieto in 1297, by Boniface VIII. Of the inquiries in view of canonization, carried on from 1273 till 1297, we have only fragmentary reports published by Delaborde (“Mémoires de la société de l’histoire de Paris et de l’Ilea de France,” XXIII, 1896) and a series of extracts compiled by Guillaume de St. Pathus, Queen Marguerite’s confessor, under the title of “Vie Monseigneur Saint Loys” (Paris, 1899).
(Catholic Encyclopedia)