Friday, October 03, 2014

St. Francis's Letter to All the Faithful

In our day, Saint Francis of Assisi is commonly portrayed as a gentle, happy-go-lucky friar who travelled around Italy preaching about being nice and blessing animals. The real Saint Francis was very far from this distorted caricature. He was a loyal follower of even the hardest teachings of Jesus Christ and a true son and soldier of the Catholic Church. He was not averse to preaching directly to the faithful in terms that would grate the soft sensibilities of many modern religious leaders. As we near the beginning of the extraordinary synod on the family, it is well to consider the words written by St. Francis in his Letter to All the Faithful:
“All those who refuse to do penance and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are blind, because they cannot see the light, our Lord Jesus Christ. They indulge their vices and sins and follow their evil longings and desires, without a thought for the promises they made. In body they are slaves of the world and of the desires of their lower nature, with all the cares and anxieties of this life; in spirit they are slaves of the devil. They have been led astray by him and have made themselves his children, dedicated to doing his work. They lack spiritual insight because the Son of God does not dwell in them, and it is he who is the true wisdom of the Father. It is of such men as these that Scripture says, their skill was swallowed up (Ps. 106: 27). They can see clearly and are well aware what they are doing; they are fully conscious of the fact that they are doing evil, and knowingly lose their souls.” Read the entire letter
Amazingly, despite his occasionally stringent tone, Francis succeeded in converting many and rebuilding the Church in his day. May our own Pope Francis follow in the footsteps of his illustrious namesake, Francis of Assisi, and not fear to preach the authentic truths of the Church loudly and with courage. For mercy is not imparted by redefining sin away, but by helping the sinner reject sin, despise the desire to sin, and aspire to be virtuous as Christ was virtuous.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, February 01, 2014

A first-hand account of the Plague of Justinian

With all the articles cropping up in the media this past week about new data connecting the Black Death of the 14th century with the lesser-known Plague of Justinian of the mid-6th century, I thought I would post an excerpt from Evagrius Scholasticus, a late-Roman Church historian who witnessed the Justinianic plague first hand. And not only did he witness the plague, he survived it himself and lost members of his immediate family to it. Here are Evagrius's own words:
“I will also describe the circumstances of the pestilence which commenced at that period, and has now prevailed and extended over the whole world for fifty-two years; a circumstance such as has never before been recorded. Two years after the capture of Antioch by the Persians, a pestilence broke out, in some respects similar to that described by Thucydides, in others widely different....Some cities were so severely afflicted as to be altogether depopulated, though in other places the visitation was less violent....Thus it happened in my own case—for I deem it fitting, in due adaptation of circumstances, to insert also in this history matters relating to myself—that at the commencement of this calamity I was seized with what are termed buboes, while still a school-boy, and lost by its recurrence at different times several of my children, my wife, and many of my kin, as well as of my domestic and country servants....Thus, not quite two years before my writing this, being now in the fifty-eighth year of my age, on its fourth visit to Antioch, at the expiration of the fourth indiction from its commencement, I lost a daughter and her son, besides those who had died previously.”
Evagrius goes on at length to describe the duration, recurrences and symptoms of the plague. The full account may be found here: The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius, Book IV, Chapter XXIX, page 161.

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Review: Saint Felix and the Spider

Throughout Christian history, an unusually friendly relationship between a person and an animal--especially a wild animal--is often considered a sign of sanctity. The affinity of St. Francis of Assisi for all of God's creatures is well known, but he is far from the only saint to have developed such friendships. Saint John Bosco had a mysterious large gray dog named "Grigio" that came to his aid. Saint Hugh of Lincoln tamed squirrels, sparrows, and even a wild swan who favored him alone and would not let anyone else approach.

Saint Felix and the Spider is the second children's book by Dessi Jackson about an obscure ancient saint who had a special friendship with faithful arthropods. Her first book, The Saint and His Bees, tells the charming story of Saint Modomnoc and the swarm of honey bees that followed him around.

In Saint Felix and the Spider, Dessi Jackson and illustrator Lydia Grace Kadar-Kallen relate the tale of Felix of Nola, a third century Italian saint who lived during the Decian persecutions. To escape from the Roman soldiers pursuing him, Felix hid in a cave. The soldiers failed to find him because a spider quickly wove a web over the entrance to the cave, making the soldiers think that no one had been in the cave for a long time.

This is a very engaging story for children (ages 4-9)  told in charmingly simple prose accompanied by vividly detailed illustrations. A brief biography of Saint Felix is helpfully included at the end. As solid Catholic books for children are often hard to come by, I recommend this one as dealing with a unusual subject in a particularly attractive way. My own children thoroughly enjoyed it.

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Book Review: Bilbo's Journey by Joseph Pearce

Another Hobbit blockbuster is headed to theaters in a few days, so what better time to review Professor Joseph Pearce's excellent book, Bilbo's Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of the Hobbit.

Most folks know that J. R. R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, so it is perhaps to be expected that his works, such as The Hobbit, include Catholic undertones. These undertones were explained brilliantly by Prof. Pearce in a lecture I had the pleasure of attending earlier this year at the IHM National Catholic Homeschool Conference in Fredericksburg, VA. In this talk, Prof. Pearce touched upon a multitude of themes in the Hobbit which resonate strongly with the Catholic faith. Bilbo's Journey is an expanded version of that talk which elaborates on these themes, among them:
  • Bilbo's development from a self-centered creature focused on his own comforts, to an adventurer who puts his comrades' welfare ahead of his own safety.
  • The idea of "luck" as a stand-in for Providence.
  • Greed as the "dragon sickness" which destroys those who are enslaved by it.
  • Humility as a virtue that allows the accomplishment of great deeds whereas pride truly goeth before a fall.
  • The ultimate message that happiness is not gained by acquiring goods or treasure, but in putting the needs of others ahead of ones own needs, even if it leads to suffering.
If you are reading (or re-reading) The Hobbit in anticipation of seeing the movie, Bilbo's Journey makes an exceptionally compelling and insightful companion. It adds a layer of depth to the tale and elucidates themes that will not be apparent to the average reader. Though an academic, Prof. Pearce writes in clear and enticing prose which does not intimidate nonspecialists.

In short, Bilbo's Journey is a concise and enlightening read that fans of Tolkien will most certainly enjoy and appreciate.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Book Review: Yes, God! What Ordinary Families Can Learn about Parenting from Today's Vocation Stories by Susie Lloyd

Are you a Catholic parent? Wait, let me back up a second. Are you the type of Catholic parent who would be mortified if your child decided to enter the seminary or the convent? Or would you consider it a tremendous blessing to have one or more of your children called to the priesthood or religious life? If you are the latter, then Catholic humorist Susie Lloyd has written a book you will enjoy and treasure.

G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” Susie Lloyd's newest book, Yes, God! What Ordinary Families Can Learn about Parenting from Today's Vocation Stories, is all about “ordinary” people who have somehow managed to raise extraordinary children. Recognizing that a vocation to the religious life is a gift from God, this book contains a sequence of entertaining vignettes that provide a sneak peak into the amazing family incubators where such vocations are encouraged and nurtured.

Packed within 120 pages, Mrs. Lloyd offers cheerful capsule histories of the early family lives of four priests and three sisters. Each of the stories is told with Susie's usual wit and spunk, making this book a thoroughly enjoyable read that ends much too soon.

Yes, God! is a little gem of a book that every Catholic parent should read and ponder.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Book review: The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch

Like many boys his age, Peter is fascinated with castles and heroic tales of knights in armor. While on vacation in Wales, Peter and his friend Gwyn tramp about the wilderness, exploring the ruined castle at Carreg Cennen and learning the history of the area from the knowledgeable Vicar of Llanferon. But something strange happens when Peter takes a nap near the ruins of the castle. When he wakes, he finds a mysterious ancient gauntlet on his arm, and to his shock, he is addressed as Peter de Blois by a man in medieval armor. Peter has been transported back to the 14th century!

Originally published in 1951, The Gauntlet is a fun and engrossing bit of historical fiction for young readers. Peter's adventures in 14th century Wales include details of life in a medieval castle, lessons in archery and falconry, a trip to the Abbey of Valle Crucis where Peter learns about the life of the Cistercian monks, a tournament, the relations between the Norman lords and the Welsh people, and a medieval siege and battle. The scenes are well set and the action is well described.

Peter is a boy of about 12 years, so the ideal reader for this book is probably about that age. That said, the book can easily be read and enjoyed by readers older or younger. Enhancing the text are about ten pen-and-ink illustrations which are of excellent quality, though a couple of them make Peter look strangely dainty.

Overall, The Gauntlet is a superb book, and a perfect introduction to the realities of life in the Middle Ages for younger readers. The book is available in several different editions, but I recommend the beautiful hardcover edition by Lepanto Press as pictured with this review.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Letter of Saint Andrew Kim Taegon (martyr) to Bishop Jean Joseph Ferréol, 1846

Saint Andrew Kim Taegon,
martyred near Seoul,
Korea in 1846.
Letter of Saint Andrew Kim Taegon to Bishop Jean Joseph Ferréol

My Lord, Your Excellency will have already heard what has happened in the capital since we parted. We set sail as soon as we had completed our preparations, and a favourable wind brought us in safety to the sea of Yen-pieng, which was covered at that time by a quantity of fishing boats. My people bought some fish, and went to the harbour of the island of Suney to sell it again, but not finding purchasers, they sent a sailor ashore to salt it.

In the course of our voyage we passed by Pokang, and the islands of Maihap Thetsinmok and Sotseng Taitseng, and at last cast anchor near Pelintao. I saw there about a hundred fishing junks from Canton; they kept very near to the shore, but the crew were prevented from landing by sentinels, who were posted on the elevations of the coast, and the tops of the hills. Curiosity drew a crowd of Coreans from the neighbouring islands round the Chinese. I myself went near them at night, and was able to speak to the master of a boat. I entrusted him with the letters of your Excellency, and wrote some to MM. Beneux, Libois, and Martre, as well as to two Chinese Christians. I added to these two maps of Corea, with a description of the islands, rocks, and other remarkable features of the coast of Hoang-hai. This place appears very favourable for the introduction of missionaries, and for the transmission of letters, provided sufficient precautions are taken in making use of the Chinese. They make an appointment here for the fishing every year, about the beginning of the third month, and remain there till about the end of the fifth.

After having executed your Lordship's orders, we set out again, and returned to the harbour of Suney. Up to this time my voyage had been very prosperous, and I hoped for an equally fortunate termination of it. The fish which we had left was not yet dried, which obliged us to stay longer in port. My servant Veran asked leave to go on shore to reclaim some money which he had left in charge of a family, with whom he had been concealed for seven years for fear of persecution.

After he had gone the mandarin came to our boat, with some of his people, and asked to be allowed to use it to drive away the Chinese junks. Corean law does not allow the boats of the nobles to be taken for the public service, and as I had been made, I do not know how, to pass with the people for a ianpan of high rank, as the nobles are called, I should have fallen in their estimation, and so done an injury to our future expeditions, if I had given up my boat to the mandarin. Besides, Veran had prescribed for me a line of conduct which I was to pursue in similar circumstances. I therefore replied to the mandarin, that my boat was for my own use, and that I could not give it up to him. His officers abused me violently, and took my pilot away with them.

They came back in the evening, and taking away another sailor, brought him into the court, where the answers which both of them made when questioned, threw grave suspicions upon me. The mandarin was aware that the grandmother of one of them was a Christian. The officers then consulted together, and said: "We are thirty; if this person is really noble, perhaps one or two of us may be put to death, but not all; let us go and seize him." They accordingly came at night, accompanied by several women of bad character, and throwing themselves upon us like madmen, they dragged me by the hair, some of which was pulled out, and tying me with a cord, they showered kicks and blows with their hands and with sticks upon me. In the mean time the remaining sailors under cover of the darkness of the night crept quietly down into the boat, and rowed away as fast as they could.

When we reached the shore, the officers stripped me of my clothes, bound and
beat me again with every sort of insult and sarcasm, and brought me to the court, where a great many persons were assembled. The mandarin said to me: "Are you a Christian?"

"Yes, I am," I answered.

"Why do you practise this religion contrary to the king's orders? Give it up."

"I practice my religion because it is true; it teaches me to know God, and brings me to eternal happiness: I know of no such thing as apostasy."

The torture was then applied to me, and the judge said, "If you do not apostatise you shall die under the blows."

"As you please, but I will never abandon my God. Do you wish to hear the truth of my religion? Listen. The God whom I worship is the Creator of heaven and earth, of men and of everything that is: He punishes sin and rewards virtue, &c. Whence it follows that all men are bound to do homage to Him. For my part, I thank thee, O mandarin, for making me suffer these tortures for His love. May my God reward you for this benefit, and raise you to a higher rank."


At these words the mandarin and the whole assembly began to laugh. They next brought me a cangue about eight feet long, which I immediately took up, and put on my neck, at which bursts of laughter broke from all parts of the audience. I was thrown into prison with the two sailors, who had already apostatised. My hands and feet, my neck and my loins were tightly bound, so that I could neither walk, nor sit, nor lie down. A crowd of people pressed round me out of curiosity, and I spent part
of the night in preaching the faith to them, and they declared that they would embrace it if it were not forbidden by the king.

The officers finding some Chinese articles in my bag believed that I was of that country, and the next day the mandarin sent for me and asked if I was a Chinese.

"No,'' I answered, "I am a Corean."

Not believing what I said he asked, "In what province of China were you born?"

"I was brought up in Macao in the province of Koang-tong; I am a Christian, and curiosity and the desire of propagating my religion brought me to this country."

He then sent me back to prison, from whence, five days later, I was taken by a subaltern and several men to Kaiton, the capital of the province. The governor asked me if I was a Chinese, and I answered as I had done to the mandarin of the island. He put a great many questions to me about my religion, and I gladly took the opportunity of speaking to him of the immortality of the soul, hell, paradise, the existence of God, and the necessity of worshipping Him in order to be happy after death.

He and his people answered, "What you say is good and reasonable: but the king does not allow us to be Christians." They afterwards asked me many things which would have compromised the Christians and the mission, and I was very careful not to reply to them. "If you do not tell us the truth," they said angrily, "we will torment you in various ways.''

"Do what you please," I answered; and running to the instruments of torture I took them up and threw them at the governor's feet, saying, "See, I am ready, strike me. I do not fear your tortures."

The officers removed them immediately, and the servants of the mandarin came up to me and said: "It is the custom for every body who speaks to the governor to call himself So-in" (which means fool.) "What are you saying?" I answered, "I am a great nobleman, and know nothing of such an expression."


Some days afterwards the governor sent for me again, and overwhelmed me with questions about China, sometimes speaking by an interpreter to find out if I was really a Chinese, and ending by ordering me to apostatise. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled to express my pity for him. The two Christians who were arrested with me were overcome by the severity of the torture, and pointed out the house where I had lived in the capital, besides betraying your excellency's servant, Thomas Ly, his brother Matthew, and several others: they confessed that I had communicated with the Chinese junks, and given some letters to one of them. A detachment of soldiers was immediately sent off to the junks, which brought back the letters to the governor. We were very strictly guarded in separate cells, with four soldiers watching us night and day, and a long cord tied to our loins. The soldiers seeing seven scars which had been left on my breast by the ten leeches which I had put on when I was ill at Macao, declared that I was the Great Bear, and amused themselves by many jokes about it.

As soon as the king heard of our arrest he sent some officers to bring us to the capital: he had been told that I was a Chinese. During the journey we were not bound as we were in prison, but our arms were tied with a red cord, as is done with robbers and great criminals, and our heads were covered with bags of black cloth. We suffered greatly on the way from the crowds, who thought I was a foreigner, and pressed to see me, some even climbing up trees and getting on the roofs of houses as I passed.

When we reached Seoul we were thrown into the prison of thieves. The people of the court, hearing me speak, said I was a Corean. The following day I appeared before the judges, who asked me what I was.

"I am a Corean," I answered, "and I was educated in China." Interpreters of Chinese were then called that I might speak with them.

In the persecution of 1839 the person who betrayed us declared that three young Coreans had been sent to Macao to study the language of the Europeans, so that it was impossible that I should not be recognized: besides, one of the Christians who was arrested with me had told them that I was their countryman. I confessed to the judges that I was Andrew Kim, one of the three Coreans mentioned, and I related to them all that I had gone through in order to return to my country.

When I had told my story every one exclaimed, "Poor young man! From his infancy upwards he has been in trouble."

The judges ordered me to conform to the king's orders and to apostatise, but I answered, "The God who orders me to worship Him is above the king, and to deny Him is a sin which the king's order cannot justify."

When it was suggested to me to denounce the Christians I objected to them the duties of charity and the commandment of God to love our neighbour. Being asked about religion I spoke to them at length of the existence and unity of God, of the creation and immortality of the soul, of hell, of the necessity of worshipping our Creator, and of the falsehood of the religions of the heathen.

When I had finished speaking the judges answered: "Your religion is good, but ours is so also, and therefore we practise it."

"If such is your opinion," I replied, "you ought to leave us alone and live at peace with us. But instead of that you persecute us, and treat us worse than the greatest criminals: you confess that our religion is good, and you attack us as if its teaching was abominable.''

They laughed loudly at my reply, and handed to me the letters and papers they had taken. The judges read the two that were written in Chinese; they only contained salutations to friends. They then told me to translate the European letters, but I only explained to them what was of no consequence to the Mission. They asked me about MM. Berneux, Maistre, and Libois, and I answered "esse philosophantes in Sinis,'' that they were studying philosophy in China.

Finding a difference between my letters and those of your Excellency they asked me who had written the latter. I said
in general that they were my letters. They showed me those of your Excellency, and desired me to write like them, intending to entrap me, but I was too cunning for them. "These characters," I said, "were written with a metallic pen; if you will bring one I will do as you wish.

"We have no pens of metal."

"Unless I have one I cannot form characters like these."

A quill was then brought, and the judge gave it to me saying, " Cannot you write with this instrument?"

"It is not the same thing, but it will serve to show how a person who uses the European characters can write different hands." Then making a very fine pen I wrote several lines in a small hand, and afterwards I cut off the point and wrote much larger. "You see," I said to them, "these characters are not the same.'' This satisfied them, and they did not press me further, but your Lordship will see from this how far our learned men in Corea are behind those of Europe.


The Christians who were taken with me have not yet been put to any torture in the capital. Charles and his companions are in another prison, where we cannot communicate with them. Of the ten who are here four have apostatised, but three of them repent of their weakness. Matthias Ly, who played so vile a part in 1839, appears full of courage and desirous of martyrdom, His example is followed by the father of the convert Sensiri, by my pilot, and by Peter Nam, who formerly gave such scandal to the faithful. We do not know when we shall be led out to death, but we are full of confidence in the mercy of the Lord, and trust that He will give us strength to confess His holy Name up to our last moment.

The government has decided upon seizing your Excellency's servant Thomas, and several other important persons. The police seem rather tired, and not caring to look for Christians any more, have said that they have all gone away to Itsen Iantsi Ogni, and into the provinces of Tshong-tsheng and Tsella. I entreat your Excellency and M. Daveluy to remain concealed until after my death.

The judge tells me that three vessels, believed to be French, have anchored near the island Oiento. He says they have come by order of the Emperor of France, (a convenient expression in these countries,) and that they threaten to do much harm to Corea; that two of them have gone away with the intention of returning next year, and that the third still remains in Corean waters. The government seems frightened, remembering the death of the three Frenchmen who were martyred in 1839. I was asked if I knew the reason of their coming, and I replied that I knew nothing about it, but that they need not be afraid, for that the French never did harm to any one without good reason. I have spoken to them of the power of France, and of the liberality of her government. I think they believe me, but they object to me that they have killed three Frenchmen without coming to any harm. If French ships have really come to Corea, your Excellency will doubtless be aware of it.

I have had to translate an English map of the world, and have made two copies of it in colours, which have pleased them much; one is intended for the king. Just now I am engaged, by order of the ministers, in making a small compendium of geography. They take me for a very learned man. Poor people!

I recommend Ursula, my mother, to your Excellency. She was allowed to see her son for a day or two after an absence of ten years, and then he was taken from her again. Have pity upon her, I beseech you, and console her in her sorrow.

Prostrating myself in spirit at your Excellency's feet, I salute for the last time my beloved father and revered bishop. I likewise salute Mgr. De Besi, and send my respectful compliments to M. Daveluy.

May we meet in heaven.

From prison, 26th August, 1846.
-Andrew Kim, Priest, Prisoner of Jesus Christ

Labels: , ,