Saturday, April 29, 2006


What is the difference between the act of St. Martin in giving his cloak to the beggar and the acts of St. Vincent de Paul in giving clothes to the beggars? St. Martin’s act was his initial act towards repentance leading him to the infused theological virtue of Faith, and eventually Hope and Charity. St. Vincent de Paul’s act was the expression of the virtue of Charity already possessed and expressed in love of neighbor. St. Martin was on his way to the Charity that St. Vincent de Paul already possessed.

The act of St. Martin of Tours, differentiated from St. Vincent de Paul's act, is described by Pope Benedict XVI thus: St. Martin of Tours' giving alms to the beggar can be compared to a flower, say a violet or a rose, viewed at night. The flower is there, its color is there, but we cannot see it due to the darkness. In the case of St. Vincent de Paul, his acts are like those flowers under the brightness of the sun, and we appreciate their full colors. The sun is Charity.

St. Vincent the de Paul and Mother Teresa, too, were once like Roses in the darkness of the night. St. Martin of Tours eventually turned into a bright flower under a full bright sun.

When St. Vincent de Paul and Mother Teresa reached Perfect Charity, their work afterwards became expressions of God’s Will known from Charity already possessed. Charity moved Mother Teresa to go to India. Charity moved St. Therese of the Child Jesus to remain in a convent instead of going to Vietnam to be a missionary.

Note that one and the same act can be, on the one hand, an act leading to Faith, Hope and Charity, while for another an expression of Perfect Charity already possessed. The effects are different. In the first, the effect is personal sanctification of the one doing the act. In the second, it is the 'Glory of God.' In the first, the good act is not yet enlightened by Perfect Charity, and therefore the recipients of such acts do not feel the goodness of, and the attraction to, God, unlike that which come from the overflow of Perfect Charity already attained : the recipients and, and even those who witness such acts, are attracted to the goodness of God or to the Christian religion, or may even be moved towards conversion.

The first, though motivated by the initial seed of charity, is not fully enlightened by the perfection of charity.

Martin was a catechumen when he first helped the beggar; he was at the onset of his climb to Faith. Then going into the monastic life (which St. Ignatius, likewise, did in his heremitical life at Manresa), he aimed at Faith and reached Perfect Charity, after which he preached and did other works as an overflow of Charity.

A common mistake is to consider every one helping the poor as a Mother Teresa or a Vincent de Paul. Though, ascetically, we don't have to know the difference, mystically, it is good to know the theological difference.

The difference is this: that God’s presence in the world is felt only in acts that are an overflow of Perfect Charity already possessed by the souls who do them. (Painting is "St. Martin and the beggar" by Gerard David, 1501.)

Saturday, April 15, 2006


We were born saints. And by God's grace are kept saints for a brief moment. It was to this brief moment in childhood that Christ pointed to us as the model when He said 'to become like little children,' and 'to learn from children.' He was not referring to children who have become spoiled brats, a sad occurence when original sin takes effect and the child slowly loses his initial holiness. If we could only stretch and maintain that brief moment, a thing which the parents of St. Therese of the Child Jesus were able to do, and which all parents must do....but are unable to.

Then comes the workings of worldly desires. The child begins to demand the satisfaction of his desires, and his parents cooperate by giving in. Everything in the world connives to teach him to demand the satisfaction of his concupiscence. And so the child grows up in his small world where his desires are his god . Pope Benedict calls this the dictatorship of relativism.

This is one side of a continuum: a soul wherein the self is god and whose every desire must be satisfied. On the opposite side of the continuum is God and His Will. It has become a battle between 'my will be done' versus 'Thy will be done.'

To attain charity, all we have to do is to move from 'my will be done' and cross over to 'Thy Will be done.' When we have reached a point in our lives when we no longer do our own will and are only occupied in doing and being resigned to God's will, then, THIS IS CHARITY. Theologians refer to this as 'uniformity with God's will.'

Of course, the road between the two continua is not smooth. There are a thousand obstacles between the two wills all managed by the devil. But Christ had provided a bulldozer to remove those obstacles. This is the spirit of repentance with its three elements of fasting, good works and prayer. Having eliminated those obstacles, the way is still a little rough. This is further smoothened out by poverty, chastity and obedience. From then on, everything will be smooth sailing towards the perfection of Charity. (Painting is "The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine.")

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Pope Benedict in his “Deus Caritas Est” mentioned two groups of saints. On one side he mentioned St. Martin of Tours and on the other, he grouped St. Ignatius, Vincent de Paul and Teresa of Calcutta among a few.

He mentioned St. Martin of Tours who, as a young Roman soldier, was attracted to Christianity because of the conversion of Constantine the Great.

He recalled Martin as a Roman soldier who met a shivering, half- naked beggar one cold day. Martin cut his coat in two and gave half to the beggar( the other half became a relic of the Frankish kings, referred to as “St. Martin’s cloak”). Then one night he saw Christ wearing the cloak he had given to the beggar. Still a catechumen he underwent instruction and was baptized. Converted by this experience he became a monk and became the disciple of the famous St. Hilary of Poitiers. He became a solitary at Liguge' putting into practice the monastic life he had learned at Gallineria. Monks gathered around him and they established the Gallic Thebaid, a real laura, which later became the celebrated Benedictine Abbey of Liguge'. Martin lived there for 10 years in solitude. From there he would occasionally go out to preach against idolatry around the western and central part of Gaul. Later made bishop of Tours, he continued to have a hermit’s cell near the Loire where he founded another great monastery, Marmoutier, that exist up to now. His Episcopal administration was outstanding. He died at the age of 81 exhibiting a great life of humility and mortification. Greatly venerated in France, two basilicas were built in his honor but were destroyed, first by the Protestants and the second by the French reign of terror who bent their ire on this famous saint.
There are three points I would like to deal with in his life. First, St. Martin’s giving of his cloak to the half-naked beggar as a catechumen; the second is his becoming a monk and founding monastic houses and thirdly his becoming an excellent bishop (after being tricked by the people of Tours into the Episcopal office).

At first, St. Martin was moved by the initial grace of charity that propels a soul into the beginnings of Faith. This initial movement of Charity is Repentance with its three elements of fasting, good works and prayer. Giving half of his cloak to the beggar was the initial act of repentance.

Secondly, Martin becomes a monk. He founded monasteries while living the monastic life in its fullest. This is how he advanced through Faith, receiving the gift of knowledge; reached Hope where he attained understanding; and eventually reached Charity where he received the gift of wisdom or contemplation.

Thirdly, after he had reached Charity, he ruled splendidly as bishop, helped the people physically and spiritually. His work was the overflowing of Charity attained.

In the first stage, he performed the 'works of mercy' to begin his repentance that led to the virtue of Faith. In the second stage - his monastic life - he progressed from repentance to faith, hope and charity. In the third stage his works of Charity became an outpouring of his Charity already attained.

What is the difference between his helping the poor in the first stage and the third stage? In the third stage, like St. Vincent the Paul, acts of charity are done purely for love of God -- or outpourings of Charity already attained; while in the first stage, they are done to start one’s personal sanctification. In the third stage, being an overflow of Charity -- or Perfect Love already attained -- the goodness of God is experienced by the recipient of such acts of charity, and therefore, is attracted to God and to the Catholic faith. St. Pachomius, a soldier like St. Martin of Tours, also became a monk and eventually started the cenobitic monastic movement, after being attracted to Christianity because of the charity shown him by some Christians.

Pope Benedict, in his encyclical, insists that bishops, like St. Martin, should be contemplatives, having reached Charity, before they can teach Charity, which is the essence of Christianity. In the early Church, monks who had reached Charity were the ones chosen as bishops. Otherwise, what will they teach? The Pope has shown us the way to reach it both in theory, in practice and in the examples of the Saints, like Martin, Ignatius and Mother Teresa. This is a daunting goal in an age where Charity has waxed cold. (Painting is "St. Martin and the beggar" by El Greco, 1597-99.)

Saturday, April 08, 2006


We have not tired of saying that the Catholic Religion is a revealed religion. It is a supernatural religion and, therefore, cannot be learned by man using his natural faculties. But it can be learned by man if he elevates himself to the supernatural level. Which is impossible unless he is aided by grace. And God had promised superabundant graces to enable man to do so. So man, to learn the Catholic Faith must elevate himself through the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.

Pope Benedict demonstrated this classical way of learning the Faith by issuing first the Catechism of the Catholic Church and secondly by writing his first encyclical on Charity. To be a good Catholic we must first know all the truths of the Catechism. Of course, we won't understand most of the truths there. That's all right. Just believe even if you do not understand. Then read the Deus Caritas Est and put it into practice. You will note that as you gradually grow in Charity, you will grow in your knowledge and understanding of the Catechism. Your knowledge won't be superficial. It will be deep. Thus the axiom, believe that you may understand.

A deeper knowledge of the Catechism is acquired not by studying but by practicing Charity, which is, the commandment of the Lord to love God and neighbor. The consequence of growing in Charity is a deeper knowledge of the Catechism.

Even before Faith God usually gives us the initial seed of Charity. This grace, if we will it, is what makes us deserving of the infused virtue of Faith. And the theological virtue of Faith, not theological courses, is what will enable us to go deeper into the knowledge of the truths of the Catholic Religion.

As the seed of Charity grows in us it makes us deserving of the theological virtue of hope where our understanding of the Catholic Faith becomes greater. As Charity grows into its perfection then we become deserving of Wisdom, wherein God reveals Himself to us.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus who showed outstanding knowledge of Love or Charity, mentioned that she did not learn this from any books or studies but directly from God. And yet her theology was perfect and could put any doctor of theology to shame. St. Francis de Sales compared the learning of William of Ockham, a known theologian of his time, to that of St. Catherine of Genoa thus: William's came from study while Catherine's from God.

How do we learn the Catholic Faith? Not from books nor teachers. But by losing one's life, "He who loves his life will lose it and he who loses his life for my sake will find it." We learn by living a way of life of self denial.

Scriptures described this manner of learning the Catholic Faith in many ways. Why we got it all wrong is bewildering. Christ, Himself, did not tell us to study Moral and Dogmatic theology, nor apologetics or Church History. He said to learn from Him 'humility and meekness.' Our knowledge of the things of God will depend on the degree of our humility and meekness and not on how many books we have read or how many degrees on theology we have acquired.

Let me put it another way. Our knowledge of Divine things will depend on how much we have experienced the goodness of God. We can read a whole tract on theology without learning anything on the goodness of God. And yet we can look at a sunset and experience the goodness of God. The brief encounter with the sunset could be more spiritually beneficial than a whole course in theology. That is how St. Catherine of Genoa was more informed about divine things than William of Ockham, as St. Francis of Sales noted.

Thus in Catholicism, meditation is thinking and learning the goodness of God. Meditation is not merely the meandering of one's thought on religious topic. Everytime we discover the depth of the goodness of God, we should react by loving Him. As our Love for God increases, our knowledge of the truths in the Catechism and on Divine things increase. When we meditate on God's goodness and suddenly find outselves face to face with His goodness, we fall in love with God -- this is contemplation. The reaction of the will is to love God -- this is Charity.