Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Good Philip

In Florence, on the 22nd of July in the year 1515 Philip Neri, the eldest of four children was born into a family of modest wealth but of Tuscan nobility. His father, Francesco was a notary and had a friendship with the Dominicans of Florence. It was this early relationship with the Dominicans that would set the foundation for Philips religious inclinations. At the age of 16, a wealthy uncle hired him into his business at S. Germano near monte Cassino. He worked hard and his uncle promised to make Philip and heir but Philip had other plans. 

After working for his uncle for two years Philip sold all his possessions, cut himself off from any of his family's patronages and moved to Rome in 1533 to do charitable works and to study. Arriving in Rome without a penny to his name he took up residence in the house of Galeotto Caccia, who gave him a room in his home in exchange for acting as a tutor to Galeotto’s two sons. During his time in Rome as a layman, Philip Neri made a living as a tutor and did all he could to win souls for God by visiting people in the hospitals, shops, warehouses, banks and public places and exhorting them to follow Jesus. Over the next 17 years, he would attract many followers, especially young men who were attracted to his deep spirituality and joyous nature. In 1550 he considered ending his active wok and retire into solitude but God had other plans for him. 

In 1551 at the behest of his spiritual director and confessor, Philip Neri was ordained a priest and expanded his ministry and focused on promoting the frequent reception of the sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist. He would spend the hours from dawn until noon in the confessional and then celebrate mass. In his afternoons he would dedicate his time to the spiritual development of the young men of Rome. Through this ministry to young men, he attracted many men, both priests, and layman. Many of these priests worked with him to develop the spiritual life of those they encountered but though they lived and worked together they had no yet taken any vows. This band of priestly brothers worked out of Saint Girolamo Church in Rome, until in 1575, having grown in size, we recognized by Gregory XIII as the Congregation of the Oratory and were given the Church Saint Maria in Vallicella. This newly found order was founded with the intention of sanctifying themselves through the accomplishment of their priestly duties and to work for the sanctification of their neighbors.

Saint Philip Neri died in 1595 on the 26th of May after having spent the day in the confessional. He was beatified in 1615 by Paul V and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622. 

Saint Philip Neri, pray for us.

The Madonna Appearing to Saint Philip Neri
Sebastiano Conca

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Was King Henry VIII A Willing Reformer?

We’ve all, at one time or another heard the story. Henry VIII, the King of England, split from the Catholic Church and divorced or killed his wives so he could have a male heir. While there is truth behind this picture of Henry VIII it might not be the full picture.

Portrait of Henry VIII
by Hans Holbein the Younger

The Defender of the Faith

On the 11th of October in 1521, Pope Leo X declared King Henry VIII the Fidei Defensor (a.k.a. Defender of the Faith) This was done in response to Henry’s writing of a book titled Defence of the Seven Sacraments. In Defence of the Seven Sacraments, Henry defends the teaching of the Catholic faith against the heresies promoted by Martin Luther. Regarding marriage, he defends the indissolubility of marriage based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 19. He also dedicates the book to Pope Leo X and in a letter to the Pope states...

“As We Catholic sovereigns should uphold religion, when We saw Luther’s heresy running wild, for the sake of Germany, and still more love of the Holy Apostolic See, We tried to weed out this heresy.” 

Henry goes on further to subject the contents of his work to the approval of Pope Leo X.

How could a man declared the Defender of the Faith, a staunch defender of the indissolubility of marriage, and a dedicated supporter of the Holy See turn around and become a tyrant who broke from Rome, divorced numerous wives and execute countless Catholics in his country? 

The Rest of the Story

Some say he was a capricious tyrant who defended the faith so long as it suited him and his political gain. But is there another possibility? Could something have happened that led to the downfall of the Defender of the Faith? Three Researchers from the Department of Neurology at the Yale School of Medicine think so.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience, Ikram, Sajjad and Slardini delve into the medical history, biographies and personal letters of King Henry VIII to evaluate this question. What they found was a man who was “vigorous, generous and intelligent in his youth” who turned into “a cruel and petty tyrant in his old age.” This transition happened after Henry received two successive head injuries one during jousting and one during hawking, the practice of pole vaulting over ditches filled with water. These occurred in 1524 and 1525 respectively. It was after these injuries that Henry would begin his acts of tyranny. He then suffered another severe head injury while jousting in January of 1536 and in May of 1536 he would condemn Anne Boleyn to death. She would not be the only wife executed on the orders of the King, Katherine Howard, wife number five, was executed in 1542. 

Is it possible that King Henry VIII was not culpable for his actions separating the Church in England from the Church in Rome? Should we end this blog with, “King Henry VIII, pray for us?” 

Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have Mercy on Us.


Ikram, Muhammad Qaiser, Fazle Hakim Sajjad, and Arash Salardini. "The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury." Journal of Clinical Neuroscience, vol. 28, no. 1, 2016, pp. 16-19.

Henry VIII, King of England, Assertio septem sacramentorum, Defence of the Seven Sacraments, translated O’Donovan, Louis.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Saint Catherine of Sienna

Saint Catherine of Sienna

The holy virgin Catherine steadfastly begged the Lord to restore peace to his holy Church, alleluia.
- Antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah, April 29th, Liturgy of the Hours

Saint Catherine was born the youngest of 23 children in the year 1347 to parents Giacomo and Lapa Benincasa. Her father was a dyer and her mother was the daughter of a local poet. Catherine was a holy child having consecrated her virginity to Christ at the age seven. At the age of sixteen, she entered the Third Order of Saint Dominic and her father gave her her own room for prayer and meditation in which she spent three years in prayer, seclusion, and meditation. About the age of 20, Catherine experienced what hagiographers call, a “spiritual espousal” in which she received a vision of Christ taking her for Hid Bride in a personal way, bestowing upon this spouse a spiritual grace that gives the recipient an augmentation of charity and familiarity with God. Other saints such as Blessed Angela of Foligno, St. Colette, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Ricci, Venerable Marina d'Escobar, St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi, St. Veronica Giuliani, and Venerable Maria de Agreda, have been said to have received similar visions.

This grace manifested itself in Catherine’s life when in 1366 she left her life of seclusion and began to tend to the sick, serve the poor and work to convert sinners. It is said that Saint Catherine of Sienna had a deep devotion to the Eucharist subsisting on the Eucharist alone for long intervals of time. She attracted many followers due to her holiness. As she grew older she began to preach more and with the candor and authority of a person deeply committed to Jesus. This on some occasions led to opposition by both secular authorities and members of the clergy. Despite her extreme fasting and the opposition, she experienced Catherine was known for her radiant happiness and practical wisdom. 

Jesus’ grace continued to manifest itself in her life and she began to work on behalf of the Church in public affairs helping to start a crusade to the Holy Land, worked for peace between Florence and the Pope, helped to heal the Great Schism of 1378 and was key in persuading the Pope in Avignon to return to Rome. She died on April 29th in 1380, was canonized a saint in 1461 and declared, along with Saint Theresa of Avila, a doctor of the church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. 

in meditating on the sufferings of your Son
and serving your Church,
Saint Catherine was filled with the fervor of your love.
By her prayers,
may we share in the mystery of Christ’s death
and rejoice in the revelation of his glory,
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
on God, for ever and ever.
- Prayer from the Proper of Saint for the 29th of April, Liturgy of the Hours.

Saint Catherine of Sienna Pray for us.

A reliquary containing
the head of Saint Catherine of Sienna
in the Basilica of San Domenico in Sienna


Gardner, E. (1908). St. Catherine of Siena. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved March 13, 2017 from New Advent:

Monday, March 6, 2017

Saint Rose of Viterbo

Saint Rose of Viterbo

Saint Rose was born around the year 1233 to parents John and Catherine, a devout family that worked for the Poor Clare’s monastery in Viterbo, a commune of the Papal States. As a young child, she had a deep devotion to the poor which manifested itself through prayer and acts of aid.  After receiving what was reported to be a visitation from the Blessed Virgin Mary, Rose became a Third Order Franciscan at the age of ten and began preaching against heresies that were being spread in the region of Viterbo. Through her preaching, she attracted many followers. She became what we today would refer to as a community organizer. In her late teenage years, she organized marches and protests in favor of Pope Innocent IV against the secular authorities of led by Fredrick II. Due to this action, the governor of Viterbo banished Rose and her family from their home city of Viterbo. Moving to Soriano, Rose and her family continued to preach in favor of the Church and Pope. Legend has it that in early December of 1250, Saint Rose predicted the death of Fredrick II and the Pope would be victorious in the struggles. Later that month on the 13th Fredrick II died and the pope regained control of the papal states. Her family would move back to Viterbo in 1251 and Saint Rose would attempt to join the Poor Clare’s convent that her parents worked in but because her family did not have the means to support her she was not accepted into the convent. Saint Rose died on March 6th in 1252 and was interred in that convent five years later on September 4th. She was canonized 200 years later by Pope Callixtus III. 

There are two stories of miracles that accompany the life of Saint Rose. At a very young age, a favorite aunt of hers took ill and died from the sickness. It was said that, when her aunt was laid in the coffin, the three-year-old Rose knelt down, lifted her hands in prayer and upon praying the name of her aunt she rose from the coffin and from the dead. 

The second miraculous story of Saint Rose, came later in her life when her family was exiled from Viterbo. Before returning to Viterbo they had settled in the town of Vitorchiano. A sorceress was gaining renown and Rose would preach against her. Through her preaching, Rose was able to convert the sorceress’ followers but the sorceress remained unrepentant. To convert the sorceress Rose built a wooden pyre in the town square, climbed atop and had it lit. She stood amidst the flames unaffected for three hours. This miraculous event demonstrated the power of God and converted the sorceress.

Miracles surrounding Saint Rose of Viterbo continue to this day. Saint Rose of Viterbo is one of the incorruptibles. Her skin has darkened but remains flexible and her internal organs, having been evaluated in 2010, remain in good condition. 

Saint Rose of Viterbo, Pray for us.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI prays at the body of Saint Rose of Viterbo


2. Cleary, G. (1912). St. Rose of Viterbo. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved March 6, 2017:

3. Miller, Fr. Don O.F.M, Saint of the Day: Saint Rose of Viterbo. Retrieved March 6, 2017:

4. Swaim, Colleen. Radiate: More Stories of Daring Teen Saints. Liguori Press, Missouri (2012)