Francis of Paola

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“At the age of fifteen, Francis (of Paola) left his  home at Paula in Calabria to live as a hermit in a cave by the sea-coast.” Here his religious order takes form. (Here is a side story: In ancient times Calabria was referred to as Italy, it is the  first locality to be called  that name. It is located at modern Italy’s southern end.) For brief background leading up to life in a cave: His parents were devout Christians with a devotion to  St. Francis of Assisi. They had prayed for that saints intercession so that the infant Francis of Paola might be cured of an eye infection. Their son, as a child, wore the Habit of the Franciscan friars ( the little-habit). With that habit his eyes were immediately cured. Jesus cured the sight of many.

Now back to the cave by the seashore. Over time some “disciples” gathered around him. In 1436, and partially because of those followers,  he founded his own Franciscan order the “Minims.” Religious orders are approved by the pope,, and they must submit a rule for the order. Popes often rewrite those rules. Their original name was Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, hermits not monks, priests, or friars. Francis was a contemplative that eventually was called to active ministry. The Minims observed a perpetual Lent, and never touched meat, fish, eggs, or milk. That was their fourth vow, their addition to the rule of Assisi. It gave their order character. One interesting point about Francis is that the hermit was never ordained a priest. Many legends are associated with this saint. He can be researched, must I type everything? Do your homework ! He was Prophet, miracle worker, and said to have the ability to read minds. He is the patron saint of sailors. If one word is to be associated with him it is Charitas. They wore black wool robes. They started in southern Italy, many moved north and were found in Germany. There they were called Paulaner.

Franciscan’s were big in the time of the hermit of Saint Francis, and they had become much larger than the Saint from Assisi ever intended them to be.  They were popular. Francis of Assisi wanted his order to counter corruption and false devotion, the one from Paola wanted to do the same. They were contemplative. Is there a conflict or contrast here? They were Minims in the times of Kings. They were little people in the time of some very Big People, and one has to be around “Big People” to fully understand that. They were the counter-revolution and they took the world by surprise.

Interesting is how Francis (OM) order had changed, much in the same way his northern mentors (OFM) was changed at the request of the pope. Their intent was for an order that revolved around a small group of devotees, the pope’s intent was for an order that would change Europe. In looking at these medieval saints, it is often important to look at their period in history. It’s important to remember bureaucratic Churches, corrupt clergy, and powerful Kingdom’s. It is important to look at all of the Big people these little saints did battle with. Their was reason for their retreat from Society, and for the popes putting them back in the fight. They were a contrast, and what contrasts with today? On one hand there is Francis original devotion, that of a contemplative hermit. On the other is the Popes desire to create large orders. Francis of Payola was loyal to the chair of Peter. Francis also lived a long life, I wonder if he came full circle and ended at that cave by the seashore? If my memory serves me correctly, the one from Assisi ended up at the same grotto he started from. Both orders exist today, but the Order Minim is a fragment of what it once was. Hermits I here are on the rise. The Church the friar hermit served was at its height during the saints lives, today it is on the decline. What is the message of Francis of Paola today?

The breads of lent

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Meat-fast, egg-fast, dairy-fast, oil-fast and so-on and so-forth, Lent is a season of denial. It is a season of the mortification of the flesh. It is a season of fasting and of abstinence. Pray tell, how does one survive? Granted the regulations are not strict today but think to the centuries before. Little was allowed but bread and water. How does one cope, how does one survive? There are ways and some of these traditions still exist today.

The pretzel has its origins in medieval Lent. Tradition says that a young monk in seventh century Italy first prepared this Lenten bread. It consists of only of water, flour and salt. Dairy and animal products were not used because of the Lenten restrictions. Remember? To remind his fellow monks that Lent was a time of prayer, the baker rolled the dough into strips and twisted each strip in a distinctive pretzel shape . The design was inspired by the crossing the arms upon the chest during prayer.

Beer, and especially big beer (aka strong-beer, Doppelbock) has been associated with Lent since before the seventeenth century. A particularly noteworthy beer is produced by Paulaner brewery which had its origins with the monks of the same name. Their monistary is located at Neudeck ob der Au, Germany. The Paulaner monks are members of the religious order founded by Francis of Paola. Since the Lenten fast of the day was quite rigorous, and Paulaner monks already had a perpetual fast as part of their rule, the monastery brew master thought a dense and nutritious beer would help the monks survive the 40 days of Lent. The beer caries the name Salvator and is still brewed today.

History tells us that when the brew master created that beer he and the monks found the beer to be so delicious that they feared it would no longer be suitable for a season of repentance. Salvator is a penitential beer after all. Mortification should not be taken lightly. Unsure of what to do, they packed up a cask of the nutritiously hearty beer and carted it off to Rome to gain a pontifical blessing for its Lenten suitability. In those days travel was slow, the trip was long, and summers hot; refrigeration had yet to be invented and casked beer is particularly perishable. By the time the cask had reached Rome, and the Pope poured a tankard of the liquid bread, it had spoiled. Spoiled, what we call skunked! What was once delicious became disgusting and so the Pope blessed the liquid logger, a-plus suitable for Lent. It was penitential and somber and disagreeable and thoroughly unenjoyable. Perfectly unpalatable! With that the strong-beer became a blessed Lenten tradition. Too bad the pontiff didn’t enjoy a fresh glass. So sad. It is delicious, I do proclaim.

Fast forward to today.

On the grounds of that monastery (which is no longer a monastery), a strong-beer festival takes place every year. It begins Saint Josephs Day (always in Lent) and runs for seventeen days. The festival is associated with the traditional ‘Holy Father Feast’ on April 2, commemorating Francis of Paola, founder of the Paulaner religious order. The festival highlights strong beers such as  Salvator. Beer and pretzels, a Lenten fasting tradition.

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Merry-Monk, happy-hermit.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

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A couple of days ago I rambled on about an Irish Saint and an Irish-American celebration. Today is the feast of Saint Joseph, and a day that is particularly celebrated in Italy and by Italians worldwide. If I rambled about the national celebrations of Patrick in food and drink, Josephs day should be treated in the same regard. In Italy this is the Feast of San Guiseppe and the word that I think deserves some attention is FEAST. Feasts are celebrated. An interesting twist is that Josephs day always occurs in Lent but it has developed its celebration per that season. One of the highlights of this feast day is the Saint Joseph altars that are constructed, and they are filled with a combination of religious items such as statues and an abundance of food. The altars are tiered to represent the trinity with Joseph at the top. The rest of the altar consists of breads and pastries baked in shapes that highlight Christianity.

It is an altar of abundance, but it is an abundance of thanks to Saint Joseph for answering the prayers of the Sicilians during a great famine. The food gives thanks, it is also used to help feed those in need. It is a feast truly in the spirit of Christ. The altar also is a true altar, it is not simply a banquet. Tradition dictates that the altar be adorned with images of loved ones, and that it contains prayers of petition. The altar feeds both body and soul.

“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

The Feast of Saint Joseph always occurs in Lent, and it is a food fest, but it is one that is respectful of the seasons fasts and abstinence. It also is an old celebration that dates to the middle ages, that is important because the Lenten season was considerably stricter centuries ago. While there is a copious amount of food on that altar, there is no meat. It is true to the season. Like Saint Patrick’s Day in America with its corned beef and cabbage, Saint Joseph’s feast day has a couple of food specialties of its own. The first acknowledges both the season of Lent and Josephs trade. That dish is Pasta con le Sarde, pasta with sardines. It features the fish to meet Lents requirements and is prepared with breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs represent the sawdust of the carpenter, and they are highlighted on this feast day. The second part of the meal is the dessert, and Sicily is famous for their deserts. For his feast day Saint Joseph gets a special desert made in his honor, Zeppole di San Giuseppe!

Finally, this special day has one more food item associated with it, the fava bean. That was the bean that sustained the Sicilians, through the intercession of Saint Joseph, during that drought so many years ago. The beans are often packaged in little bags with holy card or medal to be given to the hosts guests. The reminder is that a house with fava beans in their cupboard will never go hungry.

Why did I outline this food celebration of Saint Joseph without discussing that blessed Saint so much? I think it is because it highlights the honored tradition of celebrating Saints in festive ways, and festive ways that involve food and drink. Saint Joseph’s feast day goes back centuries and is steeped in tradition. Saint Joseph is the patron saint of families and that should be remembered. Saint Patrick’s feast in America, even though it is only a memorial, only goes back a hundred years or so. Granted it tradition gets a little rowdy, but it still does fit in with tradition if the SAINT is honored. Feasts like the Feast of San Guiseppe should be celebrated as a feast. That’s important, it’s a just dessert.

I included the little quote from the Angel that spoke to Joseph as he slept, telling him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home and for him to accept the Child she was carrying. It gives reason for the celebration, Joseph was obedient to that Angel. He was obedient to the LORD, and accepted what the LORD had planned for him. In embracing Gods plan Joseph accepted bot the joy’s and the sorrow’s and even things he could not yet understand. He listen to, and placed his trust in the LORD. He was grateful for all the LORD had given him as the people of Sicily are grateful for Joseph’s intercession during a time of need. He helped turn a famine into a feast. Is their any greater reason to celebrate than that?

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16   Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29  Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22   Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a  Lk 2:41-51a

Patrick’s day reminiscent

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It’s Saint Patrick’s Day and there is a fair amount of green floating about the landscape. It’s not the stuff covered by snow.A personal reflection is that it is not as green as the past, but that might be due to the authors drift into a later season. That, is a season, of a different color. In any case, Patrick’s day is a day I have endorsed even though it is celebrated against a saintly way. A raucous celebration in lent, and on a Lenten Friday to boot. To me this day is American, even more so then Irish-American. It has that rebellious character and that can be interpreted in a number of ways. Put blinders on. It is defiantly Catholic, a Catholic version of Yankee Doodle dandy. Probably not, but I can live with a delusion. It’s a Catholic Saint, and Americans celebrate that. Right? To my delusion, and it is a delusion, America is celebrating a Bishop of Christ. For that reason I celebrate.

I also have to think, this is a Friday of Lent. Monday’s through Thursdays of Lent are important, but the Friday’s of Lent are most important. That is the day of the Passion. That is the day of the sacred Stations of the Cross. Is it right to be decadent on that day? Again, I have let my opinion be known. Pat’s day should be celebrated in America according to American tradition. There’s something to remember though. In the celebration a reminder of a cross, a sacred Cross.

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Saint Pat’s day, this day, is a day of the cross. It is the day of those holy stations. I think, do I care to discuss every station and every pain and every agony? Not today I think, it is after all early in the season. I will speak of the early stations during this celebration of an important Irish Saint. Specifically I will limit it to the first few. With a Guinness in hand, there is that sentence of condemnation. The sentence by Pilate is for nothing our LORD did wrong, it was to appease a crowd. The crowd today wanted their celebration, did they not? Were the authorities stern, did they uphold the law or did they bend? What did Pilate do, did he bow under pressure? Tough decisions for mere mortals for sure! We all make mistakes, let’s remember that. An unjust sentence given and demanded by weak and stubborn men. Station one.

Then there is the scourging, man’s cruelty uninhibited. For this I switch to a sorrowful mystery.  The faults of justice magnified. Ponder that. Vengeance and hatred unleashed, unencumbered and uninhibited. We are left to do according to our will. Who wants to fast on this day? The anger and cruelty of man is something to remember. Let it not interfere with the celebration, but please give a moment of pause. To scourge someone is to unleash cruelty. Let’s remember that the HOLY Lenten penance is a restraint. Some things should be reined in and put under control.

Then turn to mockery, a crown of thorns. A sorrowful mystery again, before the cross is picked up by the Lord. Saint Patrick’s Day should not mock the King. If one is to celebrate, celebrate the LORD that Patrick celebrated. Make use of the day. The crown is a mockery, it is to hurl insults. It is to discredit and to insult. Patrick preached the gospel of Christ and that is what the day truly celebrates. I wonder, how many today will place that crown of thorns on the LORD. I drift in thought to Celtic Neopaganism, or Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism or Neo-Druidism that many will bring up today. It’s a latest thing, not just Irish, a crown of thorns. A drink for drunk, and not a salute. Not a Sláinte or the LORD. Not a toast to the health of that Church that the Saint celebrated, but a drink to be drunk. A mockery of the LORD. Again, I go back to the top. I celebrate this day, I celebrate it as Saint Patrick celebrated the LORD. But mockery does exist, look around. This is a Holy day to celebrate someone who celebrated our Lord. Oh, I guess this is a bit of a ramble.

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The Lorica of Patrick

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celtic-shamrock-800pxPatrick is said to have composed this hymn- prayer in the year 433. It was during the reign of the Druid Loegaire mac Neill, King of Tara  High King of Ireland. King Loegaire is described as “a great king, fierce and pagan, emperor of the barbarians”. Remember, Saint Patrick was a missionary and later the first Bishop of Ireland known as the “Apostle of Ireland.” He is the one that brought the faith to Ireland. The Druid King Loegaire is one who Patrick did spiritual and theological battle with, along with some mortal altercations too.

The Lorica of Patrick is a prayer or incantation for protection, and these type prayers were common among the (pagan) Celts of the day. The prayer protects the sayer against a multitude of evils. The term lorica refers to a knight’s body armor. That Latin word, lorica, translates breastplate. Another name for the prayer is “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” A quote from a source unknown to me eloquently says “when any person shall recite it daily with pious meditation on God, demons shall not dare to face him, it shall be a protection to him against all poison and envy, it shall be a guard to him against sudden death, it shall be a lorica for his soul after his decease.”

Patrick and his monks sang this prayer in anticipation of an ambush Loegaire set for them. Loegaire battled Patrick from spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the short form of the story. The druids were antagonistic to Patrick’s preaching of Christ, and that story is long. Anyway: as his druids hid in ambush, they saw Patrick and his men pass by simply as a gentile deer followed by twenty fawns. Patrick’s Lorica did not fail. St. Patrick and his men were saved from that ambush. The third name for the prayer is “The Deer’s Cry.” Here it is:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.
I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.
I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.