Category Archives: Saint Stories

Euripides and St. Romanos the Melodist

In Euripides’ tragedy Hecuba, the Trojan princess Polyxena is sacrificed to the ghost of Achilles, by the Greeks. Hecuba and Polyxena talk about this in the light of Polyxena being married to the god Hades, and finally Hecuba speaks about her daughter as “a bride unwedded.” (In the accusative.)

Of course, the Akathist Hymn directly calls Mary “O bride unwedded.” (In the vocative case.) It was almost certainly a deliberate literary reference.

The Hecuba play seems to have been very popular with Christians, as providing a pagan example of a young virgin dying with bravery and dignity. And it seems that both writers describing the deaths of Christian martyrs (male and female), and the martyrs themselves, used Polyxena as a source of inspiration, and of a righteous pagan heroine.

The interesting thing is that St. Romanos, by turning Polyxena’s title into one of the Virgin Mary’s, points out the sacrificial and martyr-like dimensions of Mary’s life, even though Mary was not martyred and did not die a human sacrifice.

Mary willingly committed her entire life to God by saying (along with Jepththah’s virgin daughter) “Be it done to me according to your will,” Nor did Mary turn back when warned that swords would pierce her heart. She was a heroine, and her life was a testimony.

All that said… Euripides must have been very startled to have become regarded as one of the pagan pre-Christian prophet-poets, and part of the Holy Spirit’s Preparation for the Gospel. (Much like Virgil must have been.) He seems to have been very influential on Paul and some of the Evangelists, too – probably because studying his plays (in writing) was a standard part of Greek education.

There is a St. Polyxena who’s supposed to be from Spain, the sister of St. Xantippe and the sister-in-law of St. Probus. Her day is Sept. 23.

A full-cast reading of Euripides’ Hecuba in English translation, from Librivox. The play takes place at about the same time as The Trojan Women.

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Even More about Bl. Terence Albert O’Brien

October 30 is Bl. Terence Albert/Toirdhealbhach O’Brien’s memorial day, and the day of his martyrdom! He was the Bishop of Emly and the titular bishop of Calama, in Numidia.

https://www.dib.ie/biography/obrien-terence-albert-muiris-o-briain-aradh-a6496 is his page at the Dictionary of Irish Biography. Good stuff with footnotes.

De Processu Martyriali blog has a great article about him by Reginald Walsh, O. P., copied over from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 1894 (“Some of Our Martyrs: Terence Albert O’Brien and Companions”) We learn that he was also called Frater Albertus Brian, Frater Bernardinus, and Albertus Bernardinus. A man of many names!

The treatment of his body is alluded to, fairly often, but this article explains it. His hanged body was left hanging from the gallows for three hours, and various Roundhead soldiers played pinata with it, with their muskets. At the end, his body was apparently beat up to unrecognizability.

However, his head was cut off and spiked up on the city walls, apparently at one of the river gates. And here’s a new fact — the head stayed incorrupt for at least four years, according to a contemporary writer. (I don’t know what happened to his head after that.)

A podcast interview with a guy writing a new book about Bl. Terence Albert O’Brien! Coool! (Roundtower Podcasts: Oct. 25, 2021 – “Discussing Blessed Terence Albert O’Brien with Mr. Paul McGregor.”)

I’m really impressed by this guy, Paul McGregor. He’s a convert from London, now living in Limerick, and very influenced by our Nashville Dominicans who serve over there.

Stained glass window depicting Bl. Terence Albert, from St. Ailbe’s in Emly.

I guess that Bl. Terence Albert is getting more popular, because I’ve just seen my first advertisement for stuff related to him, from a Catholic store. It’s a “healing oil.”

Apparently this Irish store’s procedure is that they find churches with altars dedicated to various saints, and then they bring their oils there and sit them on the altar for a while. Which isn’t wrong… but it’s not really enough to make it a sacramental. Calling the oils “dedicated” to a saint (as they do) is probably about as far as you can go, unless there’s relics in the altar related to that saint. (In which case, you could argue that the oils become third-class/fourth-class relics.)

But it’s not bad. It’s the sort of thing you do for yourself, if you go on a pilgrimage. And rubbing an oil on yourself isn’t going to hurt you, if the ingredients aren’t bad. It comes with a book of “Irish Blessings.” (And if the oil were a sacramental, then you’d be buying the book and getting the sacramental as a gift. Because blessed sacramentals and/or relics cannot be sold, only given away.)

They do have some fairly unusual/obscure saints too, like St. Charles of Mount Argus (who reminds me a lot of Bl. Solanus Casey).

They’ve even got some for a guy who’s not even a Servant of God yet (um… bold move, Cotton), a Wisconsin priest called Fr. Peter Rookey who served in Ireland, Italy, and the US, and who apparently had a healing gift. Here’s his cause’s website – he just died in 2014. Work with the cause was apparently assigned to an auxiliary bishop of Chicago, Jeffrey Grob. (The oil doesn’t seem shady; it’s just that the store is a little quick off the starting line to offer merch.)

They’ve also got pashmina prayer shawls, which they acknowledge are not blessed, but just prayed over by laypeople. But they come with a nice box and a nice scripture verse and flower, and they sure as heck have some obscure saints. (St. Luke Baanabukintu, patron saint of amnesia and memory loss?) So if you want to give somebody a really nerdy Irish and Catholic gift, that might do the trick.

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St. Patrick’s Owner

I never caught this.

The name of St. Patrick’s owner (who was a druid of rank) was named Mil-chu. And a mil-chu (large + greyhound, hound) was an Irish wolfhound.

And when Patrick was out herding sheep and guarding them from wolves, his friend was a mil-chu.

And when he caught a ride with pirates and got shipwrecked back in Roman territory (either in Gaul or Britain), his job was taking care of the mil-chu cargo.

One of St. Patrick’s converts and supporters, who granted him land in Down, was named Di-chu.

St. Patrick, pray for us!

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St. Anthony’s Treehouse

In the last days of his life, St. Anthony of Padua went on retreat to Campo San Pietro, a few miles from Padua, where there was a little Franciscan friary. It was right next to an estate that was owned by Lord Tisone, a member of the Third Order Franciscans.

The estate had a huge and beautiful walnut tree with six huge main branches radiating from its trunk. On seeing it, St. Anthony must have said something about wishing that he could climb that tree.

So Lord Tisone, himself, built three little treehouse “cells” on the branches of the tree — one for St. Anthony, and two for the guys taking care of him, Brother Luke and Brother Roger. He put little mats around them for comfort and safety, and I guess he helped the friars with ladders. (Probably used for harvesting the nuts.) St. Anthony prayed, meditated, and even wrote up there, in his treehouse. He went back to the friary for meals and singing the Hours.

(UPDATE! You can visit the place where the treehouse was! It’s a little chapel called “Santuario del noce,” or “Sanctuary of the Nut Tree.” Apparently it’s a nice place to visit by bike. The town is known today as Camposampiero, all one word. Here’s the official website of the chapel; and the tab “Tela d’abside” will show you a post-medieval artist’s impression of St. Anthony preaching to the local folks, from a perch in a tree.)

After a few days, Anthony fell ill while eating at the friary. He decided to go home, and the friars got him a carriage and sent him back to Padua. They met a monk named Vinoto on the way, who had been coming to visit Anthony at Campo San Pietro. He must have been alarmed, because he advised Anthony to stop a little way ahead, outside of Padua’s walls, at the convent of the Poor Clares in Arcella. They took him in.

He went to Confession, sang “O Gloriosa Domina” (his favorite Marian hymn in times of trouble), and then focused his eyes as if seeing something. His friends asked him what he was looking at, and he told them, “I see my Lord Jesus Christ.” They gave him Extreme Unction and sang the penitential psalms with him. He died on June 13, 1231, in the evening. He was only 36.

After his death but on the same day, he appeared to one of his old professors in Vercelli. He told the abbot that he had left Padua and was “going to his own country,” and then touched his throat and healed an injury there, before vanishing. Since Anthony was known to travel around a lot, the poor professor originally thought Anthony was just stopping by, on his way back to Lisbon. Everybody was very astonished when the professor kept looking around for Anthony, whom nobody else had seen. But later they learned of Anthony’s death, and understood what had happened.

Back in Padua, the Poor Clares and the friars were hesitant to announce Anthony’s death, because they knew it would make a big scene. But while they were wondering what to do, various children throughout the city simultaneously began to weep, and to yell out, “Anthony is dead! The holy father is dead, the great preacher is dead!”

So yeah… that’s an odd one.

The next couple of days in Padua were super-crazy, because everyone in the neighborhood closest to Arcella wanted to keep the body there, and were prepared to fight… and the rest of Padua wanted the body in the Franciscan church, St. Mary’s; or in the Cathedral. And they were also prepared to fight. Finally they got everybody to agree to abide by the decision of the bishop, who passed it onto the Franciscan superior, who passed it onto the voting of the friars, who basically inquired in prayer after the will of God. And the friars passed back their decision — that the body should go to St. Mary’s, with the other friars — to the bishop of Padua.

(But you know, the Middle Ages was all about centralized authoritarian rule by oppressors.)

So St. Anthony was entombed in St. Mary’s, in a nice sepulcher, and immediately the miracles started. Anything and everything got healed, everything else asked for was done. It was just an outpouring of God’s grace. And everybody who had been involved in the neighborhood wars went to the tomb and begged forgiveness from God.

And this is why St. Anthony of Padua was canonized within a year of his death, on Pentecost in May on 1232. There was one cardinal who wanted the canonization to be delayed for at least another six months, to make things a tad more normal… and he had a vision that changed his mind. The next day, he had barely left his house before he ran into a bunch of Paduans come to plead with him — and before they could start, he told them that he was already on board.

So yeah, sometimes “santo subito” is not just a good idea, it’s God’s idea!

Miracles are signs of God’s will and His love for us. The love is there, whether miracles are easily visible or not. But sometimes, we need that sign. And sometimes, God gives us signs in abundance.

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St. Anthony of Padua’s Forensics

St. Anthony of Padua was called that because he died there. He was born in Lisbon, and his original name was Fernando Martins de Bulhoes (or de Bouillon), because his dad’s name was Vicente Martin de Bulhoes, or originally, de Bouillon. (His mom’s name was Teresa Pais Taveira.)

One of the lesser-known stories about his life is that his parents lived near two feuding families. One of the family members killed a member of the other family, and then panicked. He snuck the body into the garden of Vicente’s house and buried it as well as he could, to hide it.

Well, of course if somebody goes missing, there’s going to be a search of the area. And if a dead body is found in somebody’s garden, it looks like the garden owner must have been the murderer… so Vicente was arrested. The rest of the family was also arrested, on the grounds that they must have known, and abetted the murder.

At this point, God told St. Anthony that his dad was in trouble, and that he was supposed to go to Lisbon and save his dad. So St. Anthony went to his superior at the Franciscans in Padua, asked for permission to leave, got permission, packed up and left…

And got picked up by an angel. And suddenly found himself in Lisbon, 1500 miles away.

Apparently he just checked in with the Franciscans in Lisbon, no big deal.

So the next morning, he headed over to see the judge of the case, protesting that his dad was innocent, and so was the rest of the family. The judge was apparently not impressed that a saint was talking to him, and told him that his family was guilty as sin. So Anthony asked to see the coarpse of the murdered man.

The judge went with Anthony to see the corpse, to prevent any funny business.

Anthony addressed the body, and asked the man to tell them whether Vicente, or any member of the de Bouillon family, had killed him.

The corpse sat up, said that he hadn’t been killed by any de Bouillons, and then went back to being dead. (He didn’t reveal who did kill him.)

The judge was convinced by this and let the whole family go home. St. Anthony hung out with them for the rest of the day, told the other Franciscans he was leaving Lisbon, and… got carried back to Padua by another angel.

Angel Express. Quicker than the Concorde.

There’s also a story that St. Anthony briefly bilocated to Lisbon to vindicate his father from charges of malfeasance, since apparently the dad thought honor was sufficient proof and that you didn’t need receipts. Apparently having an angry saint bilocate into court is a move worthy of Perry Mason, because the dad’s accusers instantly confessed. (But next time, get receipts.)

St. Anthony also performed miracles that vindicated the honesty of unjustly accused women, and rebuked their jealous, abusive husbands. The remarkable thing is that these miracles also turned the hearts of the husbands, and permanently made them into gentle people.

In general, his preaching, miracles, and examples seem to have been remarkable for changing stubborn people’s minds, and getting bad people to become good.

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St. Anthony’s Sermon to the Fish

St. Anthony of Padua famously is said to have preached to fish, when humans wouldn’t listen to him. But that’s not the whole story.

What happened was that he was in Rimini, which was having a lot of trouble with various medieval heresies. Anthony was already famous, and he had some success in Rimini with his preaching. But a lot of people just listened and went away again, or refused to come. So he went around preaching in various places in the city, making himself hard to avoid.

So one day, he decided that he’d go down to the riverside, close to the sea, to preach. He called out to the people working there, and got some attention. And then he made a rhetorical flourish, and called out, “Come, o you fish of the sea and the river, to hear the Divine Word which faithless and treacherous men refuse to hear.”

And the fish all popped their heads out, and listened. And apparently they even hung out in groups of separate species, making it really obvious that it was all the different kinds of fish that lived in the area. (Medieval people really liked organization, and it does make it really obvious that this was a miracle.) Also, they didn’t die up on the surface, which is pretty miraculous in itself.

St. Anthony stopped waiting on the human audience to increase, and preached to the fish.

Apparently he gave them a full Scholastic type of sermon, preaching on the various benefits given to them by God, from the way water is a great environment for life, to the various Biblical starring roles of fish. He ended his sermon by telling the fish that they should always remain thankful for these gifts.

Apparently the fish received this well, bowing their heads prayerfully and thankfully, and then waited around until St. Anthony blessed them and dismissed them. Then they swam away, perfectly fine.

All this happened in full view of hundreds of Rimini people. His mission success improved a lot after this.

(This story cracks me up. Obviously St. Francis preached to birds, but he was more a five minute sermon kind of guy. The material St. Anthony used — it must have been twenty or thirty minutes, at least.)

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Saints Everybody Heard in Their Own Language

There’s dispute about St. Francis Xavier. Fine.

But apparently a huge crowd of pilgrims who were in Rome for Easter, did in fact hear St. Anthony of Padua preaching miraculously in their own tongues, when he was preaching in only one language, to everyone simultaneously. There was sworn testimony to this effect presented for his canonization, which included the eyewitness testimony of the pope and a ton of other Church hierarchy folks. So that seems pretty definite!

The book about St. Anthony where I read this did mention in passing that St. Bernardino of Siena did this too, at the Council of Florence. I’ve never heard this before, and will have to look into this.

He also mentions St. Ludovic Bertrand (who?) and St. Francis Solano in South America.

St. Luis Beltran, aka Lluis Bertran or Louis Bertrand, was a missionary in the Americas; but he was a Dominican. He’s one of the patron saints of Colombia. He was related to St. Vincent Ferrer on his dad’s side, and apparently took after his cousin in the working of miracles.

For a guy in the Order of Preachers… he basically had no natural talent for preaching. His voice is described as “raucous,” and his memory was unreliable (which basically meant you were seen as stupid, since the art of memory was the foundation of scholarship and rhetoric). He also had no sense of humor that anybody could detect, which was weird for a medieval guy.

But because he was so darned earnest and fervent, and because he was the kind of person who was happy to tend plague victims up close and personal, somehow he managed to put across his preaching, to the point that the churches couldn’t hold all the people who came to listen. St. Teresa of Avila consulted him about reforming her Carmelite order.

But he asked to go to the Americas as a missionary, and his superiors didn’t refuse him. He defended the rights of natives, while convincing them to willingly convert by the thousands. (And yes, it’s documented that they heard and understood his Spanish/Catalan preaching in their own languages.) He recorded every baptism with his own hand, and many of these baptismal registers still survive. He baptized at least 32,000 people during the seven years of his mission, mostly in Colombia and Panama.

He was sent back as a sabbatical, pleaded for the rights of the Indians at the Spanish court, and then pleaded to be sent back to work. His order decided against it, and used him in Spain for the rest of his life. He fell ill while preaching at Valencia Cathedral, had to be carried down the stairs from the pulpit, and died on October 9, 1581.

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Nazis and Commies Love to Burn Things

For example, this church built by an oppressed immigrant minority group in 1878.

St. Colman Catholic Church in Shady Spring, West Virginia. Burned to the ground, apparently by arson. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Services were no longer held there, but there is an associated cemetery.

The local fire department and sheriff would really like to talk to anybody who knows anything, at crimestopperswv.com.

There are several St. Colmans.

St. Colman of Cloyne (Cluain Uamha, Cork) was a pagan fileadh or poet, who was the son of Lenan; his father was also a poet. He was born about AD 522 and was brought up and worked at the court of the kings of Cashel. The kings during his life were Catholic, but Colman remained pagan.

His job as a royal poet was to represent the needs of the people and land and the demands of the law, whenever the king needed reminding; to counsel the king and remind him of history and legend; to be the king’s best friend, eating at his table, entertaining his guests with talk, and even sleeping in the same bed at times; to prophesy what would happen in battle; to maintain historical records and genealogies; to know what was going on with other kings; and to compose any kind of formal poem needed, while his followers recited the poem and provided music.

In the year 570, when Colman was about 48 years old, there was a succession dispute between Aodh Dubh (apparently the same guy as Coirbre Cromm, the crooked) and Aodh Caomh, two king candidates. St. Brendan of Clonfert was called in, and apparently ended up spending a lot of time encouraging Colman to convert. During the deliberations/lobbying for votes, the people providentially discovered the lost relics of St. Ailbe of Emly — and Colman was one of those who did the finding. St. Brendan was much impressed by this, and decided it was a sign that Colman should not just convert (to keep the hands that had touched a holy thing undefiled from now on), but become a priest. Colman must have had some kind of conversion experience, because he finally agreed.

Colman was not his original name, but his baptismal name. It is Col(u)m, dove, + -an, one. So “dove guy” or “Holy Spirit guy.” Or even “Jonah guy,” since Jonah also means dove.

At a fairly advanced age, then, Colman went back to school and learned Christian scholarship from St. Iarlaith of Tuam (aka Jarlath). Afterwards he came back as a priest, and started preaching and teaching. Colman baptized the future St. Declan at this time.

As a Christian, St. Colman continued to write poetry in Irish, and his surviving poetry is some of the earliest Christian Irish literature that we have. He wrote a praise poem about St. Brendan, a metrical life of St. Senan, and all kinds of other stuff.

He founded a monastery at Cluain Uamha, a piece of land given to him by King Coirbre Cromm, and he was buried there. His feast is November 24, and he died in AD 600.

His remains were exhumed and thrown into the sea in the 1700’s by the Anglican bishop of Cloyne, Charles Crowe, in order to prevent the continuation of pilgrimages to his grave.

The other famous St. Colman was St. Colman of Dromore, in Northern Ireland. He was a disciple of St. Coelan, and the teacher of St. Finnian of Moville. He was born about AD 514, so it’s likely that Colman of Cloyne took his name because he was a fan of this earlier Colman. His feast is on June 7.

There’s another famous poet Colman too: Colman nepos Cracavist, who wrote a lot of poems preserved at the Irish monastery at Bobbio, in Switzerland. He wrote the earliest known poem we have about St. Brigid.

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Servant of God Akash Bashir

“I will die, but I will not let you in.”

Servant of God Akash Bashir, pray for us!

(Btw, “Akash” means “sky, upper atmosphere” in Hindi. So it’s a name like “Celestine” or “Ouranos.”)

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Padre Pio vs. the USAF

Okay, this is a HUGE story, and I’ve never heard it before. It probably explains some of the Padre Pio devotion in my local area, because we’ve got a lot of Air Force people around here.

Apparently the USAF doesn’t just report unidentified flying objects.

In WWII, they encountered a totally identifiable flying monk.

So yeah, I guess it’s unfortunate for Monte Cassino, which was full of Nazis using it as a fort; but there really wasn’t any cache of weapons at San Giovanni Rotondo, so it’s just as well that it wasn’t bombed.

Indeed, it’s a very positive “mighty work” for people in the military, because the bomber crews were not allowed to do something inadvertently unjust, but not prevented from doing their real job or punished for trying.

General Nathan F. Twining, who went on a mission in 1943 and legendarily did see Padre Pio bilocated up in the clouds and causing early bomb release, met with Padre Pio later.

(This article says Twining also converted to Catholicism, but I can’t find anything to confirm that.)

General Bernardo Rosini of the Italian Air Force (which had switched to the Allies’ side by that point) testified to the incidents being reported at the time by air crews based in Bari; it is in the “positio” for St. Padre Pio’s canonization.

In 1947, Twining sent a famous memo commenting on the large number of Air Force personnel having seen “flying discs.” He said that it should be further investigated, because it was “something real, and not visionary or fictitious.”

Twining went on to serve as Air Force Chief of Staff, and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was known for reducing interservice rivalry, for encouraging research and development, and for modernizing the Air Force. He died in 1982.

There’s a lot of talk about his son (Nathan F. Twining, Jr.) having privately told various people that his dad told him the truth about Roswell, etc. But this is all friend-of-a-friend stuff, and Twining passed away in 2016 and can no longer be asked, himself. This Twining sold land he owned on the Belen Mesa to various “intentional community” people, who mostly seem to have been hippies, farmers, and hippie farmers; he is kindly remembered there as having loved the desert.

More USAF stories about Padre Pio, on page 7 of this church bulletin. Apparently Padre Pio was very much into their business, in a good way!

More military and American stories about Padre Pio. (Includes one of the early US helpers of Sr. Maria Montessori, Adelia Mary Pyles, who was also a great helper of Padre Pio and of US soldiers in WWII.) The military stories start about halfway down the page. I particularly like the pictures of the 463rd Bomb Group Choir.

Interestingly, there’s a bit where Padre Pio instructs a guy to follow the now-deprecated practice of giving a name to his guardian angel. (In a non-cringy way, not in the cringy way that caused the practice to be discouraged.) So it sounds like it was an Italian devotion, back in the day.

Anyhow… Padre Pio was drafted in WWI, and had to leave the monastery and serve in the military for three years. So that’s probably why he was so sympathetic to soldiers and airmen. He was sick the whole time, with lung problems from long before he was drafted, so he didn’t end up having much experience of military service. San Giovanni Rotondo was up in the mountains and helped his lungs a lot, which was why he was assigned there for the rest of his life.

More about Mary Pyles – an heiress disinherited for becoming Catholic, whose brothers and sisters each contributed money to her so that she would still get an equal share with them. She helped build all sorts of needed facilities in the town of San Giovanni Rotondo, including a hospital.

UPDATE: Allegedly there are Army Air Force reports about this, but nobody seems to quote one or show pictures of them, online. Also there are supposed to be many testimonies, but the only named person is this Italian Air Force general who testified in the canonization positio.

So possibly this is an urban legend? But I don’t really have the resources to research it. Maybe I can push this off onto Jimmy Akin? Or maybe I can get somebody at the Air Force Museum to tell me where to find mission records?

This link cites Positio III / 1, p. 689-690. It says there was a German ammo dump in San Giovanni Rotondo. Oops, my bad for trusting the wrong sources!

This is a Facebook page for Amendola Air Base, an Italian Air Force base that was built in 1931 in San Giovanni Rotondo, and was later taken over by the Luftwaffe after Italy joined the Allies in 1943; and eventually was captured by the US. It still serves as an Italian base today, and they have a lot of UAVs there. So this would have been a legit target for US bombing in 1943, as per the story.

An Army Air Force truck driver’s story – Pfc. Ray Bunten.

Padre Pio as a prophetic political/war analyst, and more about him during WWII. (Although after Germany switched sides on Moscow, it wasn’t ridiculous that Padre Pio would think Italy might change sides.) It does include a verified story of a Protestant who converted because of Padre Pio — more than 40 years later! Well, that’s real life for you. We also learn that Padre Pio liked American beer, and that he said a special Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve for the GIs.

MORE UPDATE: The book Padre Pio and America includes a lot of stuff about American soldiers and pilots visiting Padre Pio. Chapter 25, “The Flying Monk,” deals with various aerial stories about Padre Pio, and with the question of documentation of such stories. So ha! Somebody else already did the work!

Apparently there are multiple stories (Padre Pio “catching” Italian pilots who had to bail out is a big one), and multiple sources who seem pretty reliable, but a big lack of documented names of pilots and crew. (To be fair, going on record with weird stuff has traditionally been a career-ender and got you grounded.)

However, the author of Padre Pio in America did find a named aircrew guy, Gaetano Pavone, who served as both a flight engineer and a gunner, who did put himself on record as having seen the face of a monk, in color, in a break in the clouds. He later recognized the face he had seen as Padre Pio. But he says he kept his mouth shut and didn’t tell anyone else for years, or even call attention to it by the other people on the plane, so he obviously wasn’t the story spreader!

I find this stuff pretty fun, honestly, because people tend to think that miracles don’t happen in modern times. But people like Padre Pio or Brother Solanus Casey are having miracles every day and twice at breakfast, during modern times. (And btw, here’s Bl. Solanus Casey visiting a man with COVID-19.)

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English Language Source for Korean Saint Stories

CBCK is a site for all kinds of information about the Catholic Church in South Korea, and its history. It’s got a ton of info on the Korean martyrs, many of whom are very inspiring.

I have to admit that my favorite is St. Agatha Kim A-gi, who was very devout and determined, but who also had so much trouble memorizing and understanding things that she not only couldn’t learn her catechism, but couldn’t even learn the basic prayers. All she could do was repeat the names of Jesus and Mary.

But when she was arrested and questioned, and could only explain her faith by saying Jesus and Mary, she still refused to renounce it.

“Is it true you believe in the Catholic Church?”

“I don’t know about anything but Jesus and Mary.”

“If you can save your life by rejecting Jesus and Mary, wouldn’t you reject them?”

“I would rather die than reject them.”

She was tortured, but stayed stubborn, and eventually was taken to prison and the company of other Catholics. “Agatha who only knows Jesus and Mary” was a great inspiration to everyone. She hadn’t been baptized before because she had had such trouble learning the faith; but at that point, it became obvious that her heart-knowledge was that of a confessor, and she was baptized in prison. This gave her new strength, which was good because she was targeted for tons of torture and punishment before she was martyred.

Something I didn’t know that this site told me: she was a woman from a pagan family who married into a pagan family, but her older sister became Catholic and then basically nagged Agatha into belief. (To be fair, this sort of thing is an older sibling’s job in Korean culture!)

St. Lucia Pak Hui-sun is another great example. Even as a teenaged pagan/Confucian, she was outstandingly virtuous, serving as the queen’s lady in waiting and resisting the advances of the king. She was also as learned as she was beautiful, studying deeply in Chinese as well as in Korean. But she was unsatisfied, and at age 30 she began to study the forbidden — Catholicism. She escaped the court by feigning illness, and persisted despite family disapproval, living in poverty rather than going back to normal court lady life. Her sister came and lived with her, and both ended up converting to Catholicism.

When the police came to arrest them, St. Lucia came outside to greet them, inviting them to share food and wine as welcome guests. She said that since their coming was permitted by God’s will, it was good to receive them willingly.

In prison, St. Lucia acted as a catechist and evangelist, teaching everyone. (But not doing so well with St. Agatha, who apparently already knew all she needed to know!) Since she had the standing of a court lady, she received worse treatment than most of the others. (Because her conversion was seen as a betrayal of the Korean court and Korean law.)

As with a few of the women in prison together, she was tortured in open court and clearly was wounded savagely, as well as having her leg broken. But their wounds repeatedly healed in the course of a day or a few days, so that they could appear in court without wounds. This caused their judges and torturers both fear and an increase in fury. The miraculous healings were attributed to evil magic.

St. Lucia admonished her executioner not to hold back, but to execute her with a single stroke of the sword. She was beheaded on May 24, 1839, along with St. Agatha Kim A-gi, St. Petrus Kwon Tug-in, and several other martyrs of various walks of life.

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Crux Ignores Business Saints

It’s good that Crux is promoting the cause of an Argentine businessman, the Venerable Enrique Shaw.

But this is just not true:

“But if [his canonization] happens, this Argentine will become the first saint businessman since St. Homobonus, a 12th century Italian merchant who’s the patron of businesspeople, tailors, shoemakers, and cloth workers.”

Oh, come on. You don’t even have to think hard.

What about St. Zelie Guerin Martin, who ran a laceworking business employing many home laceworkers, or her husband, St. Louis Martin, who was a watchmaker, and later became his wife’s business manager?

What about St. Petrus Kwon Tug-in, who made and sold crucifixes and holy pictures, and was martyred for the faith in Seoul, Korea? When he was beheaded, there was a smile on his face even in death.

What about Bl. Bernadino de Feltre, the pious, miraculously healed Franciscan who organized a network of church-run pawnshops (monti di pieta or mons pietatis) to provide the poor with fair lending rates? (Well, okay, he’s not a saint yet.)

There’s many more examples, although of course it’s more common to hear about members of religious orders. Because religious orders have more time to push canonization causes.

But the Martins are pretty famous! Hard to forget them!

This is the sort of thing that happens with press releases. People are enthusiastic, but they’re not thinking or looking stuff up.

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Blessed Benedict Daswa: Debunker of Witchcraft, Martyr

Here’s a story that’s sad and beautiful. It happened in Mbahe, Limpopo Province, South Africa. Mbahe is a village close to Kruger National Park, a place familiar to those of us who watch WildEarth.

On January 25, 1990, there was a bad thunderstorm, and lightning struck several thatched huts, burning them to the ground. The village council held a meeting, and the elders decided that the lightning strikes (and those previously suffered during a storm in November) had been caused by witchcraft. Therefore, they would collect a special tax from everyone in the village to pay for a witchfinder (“sangoma”).

At this point, the village council’s secretary arrived, who was also the principal of Nweli Primary School, and he objected. Strongly.

Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict Daswa (born in 1946 in Mbahe) was a man of the Lemba people, and of the Bakali clan. The Lemba followed Jewish practices and ate kosher, but also believed in blaming witches for all disasters. His family was happy and hospitable, with lots of kids. His chores included watching his dad’s small herd of cattle. While attending Mbahe Primary School, he lived with his uncle, Ralson Ramudzuli Matshili, who was the principal and lived in town. Matshili was Catholic. Daswa admired Catholicism and his uncle’s Catholic friends, and began to take catechism classes. He was baptized at the age of 17, in 1963, at Malavuwe village; and his catechist, Benedict Shadrack Risimati, was his sponsor.

Then his father died young from an accident, and so he worked and supported his siblings until they were grown up. (Although his mom also started a business, brewing traditional beer!) He got a job in Sibasa with a Christian employer — but then, his new boss told him that he’d have to stop being Catholic and join his boss’ church. Daswa quit, and started looking for another job.

He moved away, worked his way through college, and became a teacher, graduating in 1973. He married in 1974 with Shadi Eveline Monyai, and they had seven kids at the time of his death. (She died in 2008, but she lived through all this, poor lady.) He was considered unusual for a man, particularly one of high status, because he helped with “women’s work.” He cooked and did laundry at the river. He particularly insisted on doing the hard work of carrying water from the river, and the finicky work of ironing his own shirts!

He worked as both a secular teacher at Nweli School and a religious catechist, eventually helping build Nweli Church (aka the Church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary). The pilgrimage booklet says that all the decorative stones were transported from the Mutshundudi River in the back of Daswa’s pickup truck, back in 1984. His wife testified that he’d told her that he didn’t feel like he could build them a house and move into it, until the Lord’s house had been finished.

He became a byword for honesty and determination. In 1977, he had become his school’s principal. (Nweli was a village right next to Mbahe, with Shangaan tribespeople, many of whom were Catholic. His catechist was a Shangaan man from Nweli.) He was the first to arrive and the last to leave, and he kept everything organized. People knew that if kids didn’t show up for school, he’d come looking for them; and he persuaded parents to let their girls finish school instead of marrying them off first. Both as a subordinate and as the guy in charge, he encouraged working together and helping each other. He loved sports, teaching and playing field hockey, volleyball, and soccer, and starting the local Mbahe Eleven Computers soccer team.

But he was also stubborn in another way. When his amateur soccer teammates decided to use “muti” (medicine, magic) to try to defeat other teams, he ended up leaving the team and starting his own rival team: the Mbahe Freedom Rebels. He also strongly discouraged witchcraft beliefs, as well as the burning and killing of suspected witches.

So yeah… it’s probable that the elders were trying to make their decision before Daswa got there, if you ask me.

When Daswa heard about the witchfinder plan, he patiently explained that lightning was a natural phenomenon, and rejected witches as an explanation. He explained the science. His argument was overridden. He then announced that he wasn’t paying any 5 rand fee, because as a Catholic, he was forbidden to mess with any of this magical stuff. Naturally the elders weren’t thrilled to be told that hiring a sangoma was also dealing with magic!

A lot of grumbling ensued about his lack of public-spiritedness, and his lack of support for traditional folkways like burning witches. He was a stumbling block, keeping them from dealing with the witches. Maybe he was a witch!

And so, on February 2, 1990, his neighbors and former students conspired to ambush his car and kill him, right next to the soccer field, in the traditional method of a witch hunt. Returning home, he found his road blocked by a fallen tree. When he honked to get help from villagers, a mob of men swarmed out of the roadside bushes and started to stone him. He ran to a shebeen selling beer, but his mother’s business colleague told him to get out. He ran to a nearby woman’s house and hid, but the mob threatened her life and she told them where he was. Members of the mob dragged Daswa out of the house. One of them assured him that he’d be okay, and one point the mob kept a guy with a knobkerrie, a traditional war weapon, from hitting Daswa. But as he prayed, “God, into Your hands receive my spirit,” apparently some of the mob got set off and started beating him up more. In the confusion, the knobkerrie guy came up behind Daswa and clubbed him over the head. That’s what killed him. He was 43.

At which point, the mob boiled some water and poured it into his ears and nose, to make sure he was really dead.

After the mob left, the woman got in touch with one of Daswa’s brothers, who sat with the body until it could be removed to Daswa’s house. He received a Catholic funeral at Nweli Church, and the priests wore red vestments because they knew he was a martyr. In the wake of his death, his mother converted to Catholicism as well. (She’d been going to Mass with the family for years.) Later in 1990, his wife Eveline gave birth to a posthumous child, Ndifhedzo Benedicta Daswa.

The parishioners of Nweli Church went to his grave every year on the Sunday closest to All Saints’ Day, asking for his prayers.

Feeling strongly about this whole incident and taking notice of the local private devotion to him, the diocese of Tzaneen submitted his cause to Rome in 2008. His martyrdom status was accepted quickly, in 2013, and he was beatified in 2015. Thirty thousand people attended his beatification in Tshitanini. His parish has his body in a vault, and they are working on building a shrine. (In Tshitanini, because the local tribe made the land available.)

To avoid conflicting with the Feast of the Presentation/Candlemas, and hence not giving him his due (especially given that it’s a Marian feast and he was from a Marian parish), Bl. Benedict Daswa’s local feastday is celebrated on February 1. He’s a good feastday neighbor to our St. Brigit! He was a layman, a father, a good son, a student, a true educator, and a martyr for Truth Himself. He is called an “Apostle of Life,” because he worked to lead people to a fuller life, without enslavement to the occult and ritual murder. He also makes a good intercessor for South Africa, which is having plenty of problems.

Blessed Benedict Daswa, in this time of craziness and unreason, pray for us!

Pilgrimage tour booklet about Bl. Benedict Daswa. PDF. Lots of interesting info, like his mom being a brewster!

Testimony and memories of him by his eldest daughter, Helen. She worked in the UK, and ended up telling her dad’s story to a co-worker. The guy couldn’t get it. “Why didn’t he just pay the five rand?” Argggh.

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Mary Among the Evangelists

Last night I started reading an interesting book called The Definitiive Guide for Solving Biblical Questions about Mary: Mary Among the Evangelists, by the Rev. Dr. Christiaan Kappes and William Albrecht.

This is a great book for my current interests, because it deals particularly with Gospel information about Jesus, His mom, His foster-father, and the whole situation with His disciples and His extended family. It turns out that the literary structures used by the Evangelists, and the parallel verses and Greek usages in the Septuagint, provide a lot of additional story that is “left out” in most English translations.

Some of it is even present in the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, but still gets ignored, or translated in a non-transparent way. For example, in the story of Jephthah and his daughter, the text doesn’t say “she was a virgin” as it is often translated. The Hebrew says, “she did not know man,” and then the Greek uses “ouk egno andra,” which is the same thing but in the aorist tense. So even though it’s an unusual Hebrew phrase, it does show up in the Bible elsewhere. Even without being native Hebrew or Aramaic speakers, we are supposed to be thinking about Jephthah’s daughter… especially since in the Greek and Hebrew both, Jephthah’s daughter tells her dad, “Let this thing be done to me according to your word.”

Okay, according to your “rhema” in Luke and according to your “logon” in our Septuagint, and according to your “dabar” in Hebrew; but using synonyms is still saying the same thing — especially since Mary’s doing some wordplay, using the same “rhema” that Gabriel just used.

It’s kind of a witty thing for Mary to say, especially to cap the words of an angel — but it comes with a heavy implication that she’s scared as heck. I mean, Jephthah’s daughter was assenting to being killed. And then what does Mary do? She goes up to the hills for a few months and spends time with another woman before coming back home, just like Jephthah’s daughter went to the mountain with her friends for a couple months before reporting home to become a human sacrifice. I mean, yes, Luke is also using Ark of the Covenant language, but the rest of the implications are freaking dark. So the Magnificat is even more amazing in context — Mary is not mourning herself, but is praising God.

The other interesting bit is that, when Gabriel says “rhema,” the primary meaning is “word, thing said,” but the extended sense is “things that happen, factual occurrences.” So he does simultaneously say, “For all things are possible with God” and “For every word will be possible with God.”

So of course, Gabriel is saying “What I’ve just said to you, which comes straight from God, will come true.” But he’s also talking to a girl, who by all tradition and implication of what she just said, is a vowed virgin. Her vow is also a “rhema,” just as Jephthah’s vow was a “logon.” So Gabriel is telling Mary that her spoken vow will not be disregarded; again, God shows His lovingkindness and courtesy. “For with God, every word is not impossible.”

The Bible is deep stuff. You can’t say that too often.

PS – This also makes Jephthah’s daughter the exact female parallel to Abraham’s son Isaac, by making Mary the New Jephthah’s Daughter against Jesus being the New Isaac. She is the ewe lamb who does her part, even though her Son is the True Lamb of God. This time it’s the daughter who is spared and the Son Who dies. Last time, the women mourned Jephthah’s daughter every year; this time, Mary is “blessed among women” and “all generations shall call me blessed.”

Another interesting bit is that Jewish tradition is adamant that Jephthah should have tried harder to get out of his vow, by asking around, and by determining that it was not fitting to sacrifice a human, willing or not. (The Book of Judges is all about people doing “what seemed right in their eyes,” and mostly doing sinful things because of it.) God doesn’t want us to be stubborn and keep bad vows, or abet others in toxic pigheadedness. So if God says through Gabriel that Mary’s vow is good, and that her parents and Joseph letting her keep it was good, that means that Mary as antitype improves on Jephthah’s daughter as type. She offered herself up in a fitting way, which is part of why it was fitting for God to take her up on it, and offer her an even more important depth of offering.

(There’s also a minority interpretation that Jephthah’s daughter remained alive and was sent to serve God at the Tabernacle, having been vowed a virgin by her dad instead of by herself. Which would also be relevant to Mary.)

Either way, Mary is obedient and responsive to God… but she’s also got that dark Jewish sense of humor. Obediently snarky.

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