Memorial of St. Polycarp

If you are like most folks, St. Polycarp is not so familiar to you; probably unknown. But he is one of the prominent people in the generation of the apostles and early disciples. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, who was ordained to serve the Church of Smyrna (a city in western Turkey on the Mediterranean).

According to Irenaeus, Polycarp was a companion of Papias, another disciple of St. John and a correspondent of Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius addressed a letter to him and mentions him in many of his other letters. Irenaeus notes that Polycarp was converted to Christianity by apostles, was consecrated a presbyter by an apostle, and communicated with many who had seen Jesus.

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Diana Ortiz

I suspect many readers will not recognize the name in the title. She passed away at age 62 on Friday. She was an Ursuline Sister, born in Colorado, raised in New Mexico, vowed in Kentucky, and served the Ursuline Sisters in Guatemala’s western highland during the years of that country’s civil war. She was an elementary school teacher. Please take a moment to read her Washington Post obituary – it tells her story, in part.

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Finding peace

There are three events that seem to highlight the “period of crisis” in Francis life during the period from late 1205 until the summer of 1206:

  • Francis’ experiences at the abandoned San Damiano chapel – especially his prayers before the cross
  • Francis’ “leaving the world” as he turns away from his family towards the Church and an unknown path with God.
  • Francis and the leper (or lepers)

There is no consensus on the order of the events – and there is some question about later embellishments of the event – and even questions about whether some accounts indicating a single event is actually a compilation of a series of experiences. But then the 13th century writers were not trying to capture “history” they were trying to tell their understanding of the “meaning” of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Continue reading

Franciscans and the Stations of the Cross

When Holy Land pilgrims returned home, they often brought back a bit of Palestine. In addition to relics, the pilgrims also brought back the desire to re-create scenes from the Holy Land in order to share their experiences with those unable to visit the holy places firsthand. When the  Holy Land was closed to western visitors, European replicas of the sacred sites became increasingly popular. Outside of Jerusalem, the tradition of walking the via sacra in commemoration of Christ’s passion, death, and burial with “stations” is mentioned as early as the twelfth century and all of the references point to an outdoor celebration. There was no standard celebration of the via sacra.  Depending on the location there were as few as seven and as many as 42 stations. Interestingly, in the beginning, the customary route apparently was the reverse of ours, starting with Calvary and ending at Pilate’s house – and included many other stops that are no longer considered part of the Via Dolorosa (“Sorrowful Way”).

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Still the applause

In today’s readings for Ash Wednesday, we encounter Jesus in the midst of the “Sermon on the Mount” from the Gospel of Matthew. As my friend, Fr. Bill points out, the entire context of these verses is that prayer, fasting, and alms giving are a “given.” Jesus is operating out of the understanding that faithful people already are doing those things. In other words, Jesus doesn’t recommend a new set of practices, rather he addresses the underlying attitude about those practices.

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No turning back

St Francis of Assisi – Cimbue

“When I was in sin…. I delay a little and left the world.” (Testament of St Francis 1-2)

In the previous article about this period of Francis’ life we highlighted his experiences at the abandoned San Damiano chapel – especially his prayers before the cross – and how they seemed to lead Francis from a burdened and directionless existence to the first steps on the path of conversion. In this same time period we also have the moment when Francis chose to “leave the world.”  The order of the events in late 1205 and early 1206 are not clear and are the content of some debate within the Franciscan world.  In other words, did Francis choose to “leave the world” and then have the San Damiano experience or vice-versa?  When did his famous encounter with the leper occur with respect to these events (the topic of the next article)? Hard to say, so I will simply tell the stories as best I can. Continue reading

Preparing the heart for Lent

Back in the day when I was working in the world and spending way too much time on airplanes accumulating way too many frequent-flyer miles, it seemed to me business travelers did three things on longer flights: sleep, work, or read Stephen’ Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” The book argues that one should align universal and timeless principles with one’s values. Covey sees principles as external natural laws, while values remain internal and subjective. Covey asserts that values govern people’s behavior, but principles ultimately determine the consequences. If sales volume is a measure of the usefulness of this self-help book, then 25+ million copies sold says something. Maybe there are some possibilities for a parallel book about the best practices and habits for Catholics. Might be a Lenten best seller! “The 7 Habits of a Clean Heart.”

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The struggling veteran

In the previous article we had left Francis in the spring of 1205, in his early 20’s, just released from a year as a prisoner of war, suffering severe physical effects and psychological burdens, that to the modern mind fit the description of PTSD. He returned with compromised health, face drawn and sallow, digestion impaired, and was plagued with bouts of recurring fever. When he was out of bed he was listless and kept to the house.  A biography written within two years of Francis’ death (by Thomas of Celano, 1C) records Francis’ convalescence from his imprisonment in Perugia as follows: “When he had recovered a little, he began to walk about through the house with the support of a cane… [and] one day, he went outside and began to gaze upon the surrounding countryside. But the beauty of the fields, the delight of the vineyards and whatever else was beautiful to see, could offer him no delight at all [and he] considered those who loved these things quite foolish.” (1C4) Continue reading