St Dominic’s Ash Wednesday Miracle

On Ash Wednesday in 1218, the abbess and some of her nuns went to their new monastery of St. Sixtus, to take possession of it. They were in the chapter house with St. Dominic and the three cardinals above mentioned treating of the rights, revenues, and administration of the new community, when, on a sudden, there came in a person, tearing his hair, and making great lamentation, crying out, that the lord Napoleon, cardinal Stephen’s nephew, was thrown from his horse, and killed by the fall.

At this news the afflicted uncle fell speechless with his head upon the breast of St. Dominic, who sat by his side; and his silence was more expressive of his sorrow than any words could have been. The saint endeavored at first to alleviate his grief; then ordered the body of Napoleon to be brought into the house, and bid brother Tancred make an altar ready that he might say mass. When he had prepared himself, the cardinals with their attendants, the abbess with her nuns, the Dominican friars, and a great concourse of people went to the church.

The saint, in celebrating the divine mysteries, shed a flood of tears, and while he elevated the body of Christ in his pure hands, was himself in an ecstasy lifted up a whole cubit from the ground, in the sight, and to the amazement of all that were present. The sacrifice being ended, the blessed man went to the corpse, to implore the mercy of God, being followed by all the company; and standing by the body, he disposed the bruised limbs in their proper places; and then betook himself to prayer.


Dominic raises Napoleon Orsini to life

After some time, he rose up, and made the sign of the cross over the corpse; then lifting up his hands to heaven, he himself being, by the power of God, at the same time raised from the ground, and suspended in the air, cried out with a loud voice, “Napoleon, I say to thee in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, arise.”
That instant, in the sight of the whole multitude, the young man arose sound and whole. Not only all present, but the whole city, particularly the sacred college, and the pope, gave solemn thanks to the Almighty who, in their unhappy days, had vouchsafed to renew the wonders which he had wrought in the establishment of his church.

The Dominican friars having taken possession of the church and convent of St. Sabina, the nuns of St. Mary were settled in that of St. Sixtus before the first Sunday in Lent, receiving a new habit from the hands of St. Dominic, together with his rule.

Yvo, bishop of Cracow, and chancellor of Poland, was at Rome when Napoleon was raised to life, and an eye-witness to that stupendous miracle. He entreated St. Dominic to give the habit of his Order to his two nephews SS. Hyacinth and Ceslas, and to two others of his domestics. The saint sent certain religious brethren to Bologna in 1217, there to lay the foundation of a convent, which has continued ever since one of the most flourishing monasteries in the world.

The story above was taken from, The Lives Of The Fathers, Martyrs, And Other Principal Saints; Compiled From Original Monuments, And Other Authentic Records written by Rev. Alban Butler and published by Excelsior Publishing House in 1903.

Three things concerning the Passion of the Lord

WE ought to consider three things concerning the Passion of the Lord — firstly, its nature; secondly, its power; thirdly, its benefit.

I. On the first head it is to be noted, that the Passion of Christ was very bitter for three reasons — (1) On account of the goodness of Him suffering. (2) On account of the indignity of His Passion. (3) On account of the cruelty of those carrying out the sentence. The goodness of Him suffering is manifest from three circumstances — Firstly, because He harmed no one: 1 S. Peter ii. 22, “Who did no sin.” Secondly, because He most patiently sustained the injuries laid upon Him: 1 S. Peter ii. 23, “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again;” Jer. xi. 19, “I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter.” Thirdly, He was doing good to all: Acts x. 38, “Who went about doing good;” S. John x. 32, “Many good works have I shewed you from My Father.” The indignity of His Death is manifest from three things — Firstly, he was judged, which was the most wicked of all: S. Luke xxiii. 21, “But they cried, saying, Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Secondly, because of the many indignities which He suffered: S. Matt, xxvii. 27-30, “Gathered unto Him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped Him, and put on Him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in His right hand ….. And they spit upon Him.” Thirdly, because He was condemned to a most shameful death: Wisd. ii. 20, “Let us condemn Him to a most shameful death.” The cruelty of those who crucified Him is seen from three things — Firstly, very cruelly flagellated Him before death: S. Matt, xxvii. 26, “When he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” Secondly, in giving Him at the point of death vinegar and hyssop to drink: S. John xix. 29, “They filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to His mouth;” Ps. Ixix., “In My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink.” Thirdly, in wounding Him even after death: S. John xix. 34, “One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side.”

II. On the second head it is to be noted, that the power of His Passion appeared in three things — (1) In heaven; it took away the light from it, S. Luke xxiii. 44, 45, “There was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened.” (2) In earth, for it trembled, S. Matt, xxvii. 51, “The earth did quake and the rocks rent.” (3) In Hades, who delivered up its dead, S. Matt, xxvii. 52, “Many bodies of the Saints which slept arose.” The heavens declare the power of the Passion of Christ; the earth proclaims it; Hades announced it. Phil. ii. 8, 9, “Obedient unto death ….. That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.”

III. On the third head it is to be noted, that the benefit of the Passion extended to inhabitants of heaven, earth, and hell. By the Passion of Christ the heavenly ones were recruited; earthly men were liberated from the hand of the Devil; and the holy fathers who were in Hades, were delivered from that place. Of the first, Coloss. i. 20, “To reconcile all things unto Himself by Him, whether things in earth or things in heaven.” Of the second, S. John xii, 31, “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the princes of this world be cast out;” Coloss. ii. 15, “Having spoiled principalities and powers.” Of the third, Zech. ix. 11, “I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas, Lenten Homily #12

Reflection for fourth week of Lent

Even a person minimally versed in Scripture will recognize the parable of the Prodigal Son. The terms “prodigal son” or “prodigal daughter” are part of daily parlance. Once when I returned late from a college party my mother was sitting up waiting. As I closed the door behind me she said, “The prodigal son has returned.” See what I mean? Of course such familiarity with biblical stories is not always advantageous since the familiar might just evoke the same response we made when last we approached the text. “What’s new?” It’s the question the preacher wrestles with this Sunday as we ponder the parable of the Prodigal Son. If the Word of God is always fresh bread then, potentially, everything is new.

Speaking of bread, before we go on, let’s look at our first reading. It’s about the cessation of one form of bread and the beginning of another. In Joshua we read that the Israelites are completing their arduous and long journey under God’s guidance; they came out of Egypt and spent 40 years on their wilderness journey. They have finally crossed the Jordan and entered the Promise Land. They have left the land of Egypt and can now claim the land of Canaan. In the new land they finally eat “the produce of the land.” No longer would food be scarce when they had to rely on the daily manna God provided for them. Now the land would produce more than enough to satisfy the people.

There is a danger in that, isn’t there? During the hard times they had to learn to trust that God would take care of them. It was a daily act of trust because each day the manna had to come anew. Now, in the Promise Land, they could care for themselves – or so it would seem – planting, harvesting and shepherding. It’s a danger for us too. No one wants hard times, but for the believer who learns to lean on God each day, difficult times can teach us trust. In good times, we risk forgetting God.

Whatever sins the people committed in the desert, especially their disloyalty to God and the temptation to turn to other gods, would now be forgiven. As our Psalm says, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” The manna may have ceased, but God is still providing the daily bread of forgiveness.

The Israelites, like our parable’s younger son, wandered in the wilderness and lost their way. God takes them back after their infidelities and declares to them, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” While, in the parable, it is the father who rescues and redeems his son from his past wanderings. “He was lost and has been found.” The Israelites feast after God’s cleansing; the prodigal son enters the feast after his father’s words and embrace. Our Eucharistic feast today is our welcome back from wandering and our acceptance to the banquet.

The context for a parable can give us a clue to its meaning. The parable of the prodigal is one of the responses Jesus gives to his critics. The scribes and Pharisees have complained that he associates too closely with sinners. So, he responds with three parables about things lost and found. However, they are not repetitious: the first two are about lost things which, when found, are cause for rejoicing – the lost sheep (15:1-7) and a lost coin (8-10). Both parables link the findings with repentance, “In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (15:10).

The Prodigal Son parable brings us into a household under stress. This is a comfortable family with “issues.” There would be very few families in the congregation this weekend who wouldn’t be able to put a specific name of a family member, or someone from a friend’s family, in place of the wayward son in the parable.

Who hasn’t heard about a parent who helped a particularly needy or wayward child with financial assistance, only to cause rancor among the siblings, who claimed, “You’re wasting our inheritance on your no good son/daughter!” Parents will claim to love all their children, but if you were to ask, “Which one do you love the most?” – the response would sound like a version of today’s parable, “The one who needs me the most.”

The atmosphere in the parable is complicated from the beginning, when the younger son asks for part of the inheritance. The nerve! It was as if he couldn’t wait for his father’s death so that he could get his hands on some money. Those of us listening to the parable would want to interrupt to tell the father, “Don’t be such a foolish old man! Don’t waste your hard-earned money on that ne’er-do-well son of yours!”

But there’s no stopping this father, he’s going to go ahead and risk his property and reputation on this irresponsible son. Imagine what the father’s associates, family and townspeople would say about his reckless generosity. What will happen to his standing in the community? The father has risked more than his money on the boy.

God could be accused of a similar foolish risk. God is taking a big chance on us by generously giving us: our faith, talents, other people and the created world. We do tend to go off on our own, into a “distant country,” forgetting our connection to God; focusing more on what we have been given and less on gratitude to the Giver; using and spending as if all we are given is just for our sole use.

“In coming to his senses,” the conniving boy hatches a plan to fill his belly and so, once more, he goes to his father for help. Forget whatever notions we might have about how the father should teach the boy a lesson or two for his reckless behavior before taking him back. The father puts all his dignity, as head of the household aside, to rush out to welcome his son home. He even cuts the son off before he can finish his rehearsed speech of contrition.

While we might like to interject some words of wisdom on good parenting to the father, this isn’t a lesson on how to raise children. It’s a parable about how it is between us and God. The first two of these three parables were about repentance, but the emphasis in this parable is less on the son’s repentance. It doesn’t say he was sorry for taking advantage of his father, rather he “came to his senses” – an ambiguous description.

It’s a story of grace. Forgiveness does not rely on the son’s doing acts of penance and reparation. Nor did he have to confess his contrition and plans for reform with a properly worded speech. What got the boy’s welcome and his re-installment back into the heart of the family (symbolized by “the finest robe… a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet”) were the embrace and words of the father. Who gets a welcome, or welcome-back, into God’s kingdom? Judging from the dynamics of this parable, anyone who even dares approach and hope for a reception.

The older brother didn’t appear to be a “lost sheep or lost coin” – not the way his younger brother was. Still, the older, like the younger son, was a lost child as well. He reasons the way we do: he did the work, did not break the rules and stayed around while his brother went off. He is like a lot of us good church folk. But, while he did everything he was supposed to, he never appreciated the uniqueness of his father. He misinterpreted the world in which he lived: he did his work, but missed the grace of what it meant to live in his father’s house. “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”

What we can say about the older son is that he gets it: he names how foolish and outrageous his father’s princely welcome is to his younger brother. He understands that the boy has done nothing, not even finish his apology, yet he receives a royal welcome home. What the father showed the younger son, he now offers, in a slightly different way, to the resentful brother. He doesn’t cast him off for his disrespect, but reaffirms their relationship by calling him, “My son,” reminding him that he is a member of the household – “everything I have is yours.”

We presume the younger son grabbed the opportunity to get back into the bosom of his family. We don’t know how the observant son responded. Will he also “come to his senses” and reenter the family home to join the feast and celebrate the gifts of his life? Will we?

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Couplets for Lent and Easter

Clean up your house, prepare the feast;
for He comes soon, our great High Priest.

To find ourselves we journey far;
the answer’s here, just where we are.

We strive to reach the pinnacle
when all we need is the cenacle.

Worldly triumph, unworldly doom.
Dispose of acclaim with a humble broom.

Life is long, life is short;
we must dress well for the heavenly court.

The shepherd came to tend his sheep,
but all had left or gone to sleep.

A thousand groans, a million sighs,
but by our stones the sparrow dies.

A woman smiles, a man may scorn,
together they weave a crown of thorns.

He was just here, they hung him there;
the world grows dim, does no one care?

Where have they laid my lovely Lord?
The music ends on a screeching chord.

The heaviest stone is cast aside,
the highest gate is opened wide.

In wood and word, by nail and song,
all praise the Lord forever long!

mr. Ron Vardiman, O.P.