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Bastille Day: Baptism by Blood

by John Zimrak; with edits

[…] 14 July is a day I usually try to commemorate. Not because I carry a single drop of French blood (more’s the pity — I’d be proud to be a cousin of Joan of Arc and François). No, it’s because I think Bastille Day is a solemn occasion every Catholic should remember — like the feast of the Martyrs of Mexico, or the Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War.

The Storming of Bastille

Bastille Day marks the beginning of the greatest organised persecution of the Church since the Emperor Diocletian, and the explosion onto the world of ideologies that would poison the next two centuries: Socialism and radical Nationalism. Between them, those two political movements racked up quite a body count: In his 1997 book Death by Government, scholar R. J. Rummel pointed out that

‘… during the first 88 years of this century, almost 170,000,000 men, women, and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; or buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed, or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens or foreigners.’

And the first such modern genocide in the West took place in France, beginning in 1793. It was undertaken by modern, progressive apostles of Enlightenment and aimed at Catholic peasants, and by its end up to 300,000 civilians had been killed by the armies of the Republic.

Execution of King Louis XVI

It was ordinary peasants of the Vendée and Britanny regions who rose up in that year against the middle-class radicals in Paris who controlled the country. The ideologues of the Revolution had already

  • Executed the king and queen, and left their young son to die of disease in prison;
  • Declared a revolutionary “War of Liberation” against most of the other countries in Europe;
  • Seized all property of the Church, expelling thousands of monks, priests, and nuns to fend for themselves, then sold the property to their cronies to raise money for their wars;
  • Ordered all clergy to swear allegiance to the French state instead of the pope; and
  • Launched the first universal conscription in history, drafting ordinary people (most of them devout peasants bewildered by the slogans that held sway in Paris) to fight for the Revolution.

When the Parisians came to take away their sons for the army, the Vendéens finally fought back and launched a counter-revolution in the name of ‘God and King’ [‘Dieu et Roi‘]. It quickly spread across the north-west of France, tying down the government’s professional armies — fighting untrained bands of devout guerrillas, many of them armed only with muskets suited to hunting.

As Sophie Masson — herself a descendant of Catholics who fought in the Vendée resistance — has written:

‘The atrocities multiplied, the exterminations systematic and initiated from the very top, and carried out with glee at the bottom. At least 300,000 people were massacred during that time, and those of the intruders who refused to do the job were either shot or discredited utterly. But still the people resisted. Still there were those who hid in the forests and ambushed, who fought as bravely as lions but were butchered like pigs when they were caught. No quarter was given; all the leaders were shot, beheaded, or hanged. Many were not even allowed to rest in peace; the body of the last leader was cut up and distributed to scientists; his head was pickled in a jar, the brain examined to see where the seed of rebellion lay in the mind of a savage…’

‘Not one is to be left alive.’ ‘Women are reproductive furrows who must be ploughed under.’ ‘Only wolves must be left to roam that land.’ ‘Fire, blood, death are needed to preserve liberty.’ ‘Their instruments of fanaticism and superstition must be smashed.’ These were some of the words the Convention used in speaking of the Vendée. Their tame scientists dreamed up all kinds of new ideas — the poisoning of flour and alcohol and water supplies; the setting up of a tannery in Angers which would specialise in the treatment of human skins; the investigation of methods of burning large numbers of people in large ovens, so their fat could be rendered down efficiently. One of the Republican generals, Carrier, was scornful of such research: these ‘modern’ methods would take too long. Better to use more time-honoured methods of massacre: the mass drownings of naked men, women, and children, often tied together in what he called ‘Republican marriages’, off specially constructed boats towed out to the middle of the Loire and then sunk; the mass bayoneting of men, women and children; the smashing of babies’ heads against walls; the slaughter of prisoners using cannons; the most grisly and disgusting tortures; the burning and pillaging of villages, towns and churches.

The persecution only really ended when Napoleon came to power in 1799 — and needed peace at home so that he could launch his wars of conquest. He patched together a modus vivendi with the pope, and the Vendée quieted down.

Lenin launched the October Revolution.

This story is little discussed in France. Indeed, a Catholic historian who teaches at a French university once told me over dinner, ‘We are not to mention the Vendée. Anyone who brings up what was done there has no prospect of an academic career. So we keep silent.’ It is mostly in the Vendée itself that memories linger, which may explain why that part of France to this day remains more Catholic and more conservative than any other region. The local government, to its credit, opened a museum marking these atrocities on their 200th anniversary in 1993 — with a visit by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who pointed out that the mass murders of Christians in Russia were directly inspired by those in the Vendée. The Bolsheviks, he said, modeled themselves on the French revolutionaries, and pointed to the Vendée massacres as the right way to deal with Christian resistance.

Of course, it wasn’t supposed to work out this way. The Revolution had begun with a financial crisis, and promised to pare back an absolutist monarchy, perhaps along British lines. King Louis XVI — a kindly if not terribly competent king, who’d lifted legal penalties against Protestants and Jews — had bankrupted his kingdom bankrolling the American Revolution. (In gratitude, the U.S. Congress hung a portrait of the monarch in the Capitol, and named for his family the southern county which gave birth to bourbon.) The legislators who met in 1789 for the first time in over a century intended at first to reform their government, not replace it

And some reforms were certainly needed: the ruthless centralization imposed by Louis XIV and XV had hollowed out French political life and concentrated power over the lives of citizens almost entirely in Paris, in the hands of technocrats. Predictably, they’d made a mess of things.

The Society of Jesus and the Immaculate Conception

Unlike its sister kingdom across the channel, France had no sitting parliament, no common law protecting its subjects from arbitrary arrest, and an economy largely driven not by free citizens but the state. The French ‘Gallican’ Church, while still in communion with Rome, was largely controlled by the kings — who appointed its bishops and set its policies. Indeed, the kings of France, Portugal, and Spain had arranged in 1767 for the suppression of the Jesuits — whose loyalty to Rome and rejection of the Divine Right of Kings made them suspect, and whose defence of the rights of Indians got in the way of ‘progress’.

The educational vacuum created by the destruction of this order was quickly (and ironically) filled by Enlightenment philosophes. The first generation to rise without the Jesuits would come of age in 1789. The abuses that would mark the Revolution — including mass executions of priests and nuns — were endorsed by intellectuals schooled on the slanderous pamphlets of Diderot, full of pornographic falsehoods about the ‘secret lives’ of monks and nuns

Indeed, there’s a chilling similarity between the anti-clerical literature that prepared the public for the looting of monasteries and the anti-Semitic canards that were spread by the Nazis. The euphemism that was used to describe stealing monastic property for the state — ‘secularisation’ — found its echo in the 1930s in the term the German government employed for robbing the Jews: ‘Aryanisation’. If the Jews are indeed a priestly people, it is not surprising that such diabolical parallels exist.

Just as Fascists excused their atrocities by pointing to Jewish prominence in the financial sphere and the press, leftists still defend the persecution of the Church by pointing to her political influence. We shouldn’t let them get away with it. I wait in vain for the historian who will write a comprehensive comparison of anti-Semitism and anti-clericalism.

Coeur Vendéen

In the meantime, I’ll mark Bastille Day as best I can. In 1989, I helped organize a Requiem Mass for all the Revolution’s victims […]. On several subsequent anniversaries, I’ve thrown a memorial party on the day, with foods and wines from the Vendée and counter-revolutionary songs. […] In the Christian spirit of transforming suffering into joy, I think that the hearty folk who fought for God and king would appreciate the gesture. But in the Vendée itself, a French friend has told me, some people still wear black armbands on their country’s national holiday.


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Promises of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

by Reverend Irenaeus Schoenherr, O.F.M.

Most Sacred Heart of Christ the King

God has always dealt with men in a way consonant with their nature – by drawing them to His Holy Will by promises of reward. It was so with His dealings with the chosen people under the Old Dispensation. It was the way of Christ in the New, promising even a hundredfold return for compliance with His desires. And so it is in the history of the revelation and propagation of the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

‘That men might more readily respond to that wonderful and overflowing desire of love,’ wrote Leo XIII in his Encyclical Annum Sacrum (1899) on the devotion, ‘Jesus, by the promise of rich rewards, called and drew all men to Him.’ Saint Margaret Mary in her writings insists again and again on the ardent desire of Christ to pour out blessings with a royal generosity on those who would honour His Divine Heart and return Him love for love.

These Promises of the Sacred Heart, in the form in which they are now popularly known and approved by the Church, far surpass in variety, universality and importance those attached to any other exercises of devotion in the Church.

They are addressed to all sorts of persons: to the fervent, the tepid, and the sinful. They embrace every condition of life: priests, religious, and seculars. They promise relief to the afflicted, strength to the tempted, consolation to the sorrowful, peace to the family, blessings in the home, success in our enterprises, mercy to the sinner, high sanctity to fervent souls, courage to the cold of heart. They promise power to the priest to soften the hardest hearts. They promise strength and courage on our deathbed, and tell us of the priceless gift of final perseverance and of a refuge in the Heart of Christ at the last moment.

What greater or more valuable favours than these could even the omnipotent and boundless love and goodness of the Sacred Heart bestow on us? These Promises help us to an understanding of the truth of Saint Margaret Mary’s glowing words: ‘Jesus showed me how this devotion is, as it were, the final effort of His love, the last invention of His boundless Charity.’

First Promise: ‘I will give to My faithful all the graces necessary in their state of life.’

The duties of our daily life are numerous and often difficult. God grants us in response to prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments all the necessary graces for our state of life. There are also extraordinary graces which lie outside the usual action of God’s Providence, graces that He gives to His special friends. These are more efficacious graces, more plentifully given to the clients of the Sacred Heart.

Second Promise: ‘I will establish peace in their homes.’

‘Gloria in excelsis Deo! Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.’

‘Peace is the tranquillity of order, the serenity of mind, simplicity of heart, the bond of charity.’ (Saint Augustine) It was the first thing the Angels wished to men at the birth of Jesus. Our Lord Himself bade His disciples to invoke it: ‘Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”‘ (Luke 10:5) In the Heart of Jesus will be found the true peace, that makes the home the reflex and anticipation of our heavenly Home.

Third Promise: ‘I will comfort them in all their afflictions.’

The desire to comfort the sorrowful is the mark of a noble and kind heart. The Sacred Heart is the most noble and generous of hearts, both human and divine. How does He console us? Not necessarily by freeing us from sorrow and affliction. He knows the priceless value of the cross – that we have sins to expiate. By His grace, He makes what is painful tolerable. ‘I am filled with comfort, I overflow with joy in all our troubles.’ (2 Corinthians 7:4)

Fourth Promise: ‘I will be their secure refuge in life, and above all in death.’

Saint Longinus pierced the side of Jesus with a lance.

‘One of the soldiers opened His side with a lance, and immediately there came out blood and water.’ (John 19:34) Christ’s side was opened to show that Divine Providence wished all men to find in His Divine Heart an assured refuge against the enemies of our salvation. In His Heart we can find protection, strength in our frailty, perseverance in our inconstancy, assured refuge in the dangers and toils of life, and at the hour of death.

Fifth Promise: ‘I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.’

‘God is love.’ He is ready to give His children abundant temporal blessings as long as they do not imperil our eternal interests. His ‘special’ Providence protects and watches over those devoted to the Sacred Heart with peculiar love and tenderness. However, we should not be discouraged if our prayers for temporal favours are not always answered, for God always puts our eternal good before our temporal good.

Sixth Promise: ‘Sinners shall find in My Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy.’

The Redemption is the immortal drama of God’s mercy; and our Divine Redeemer is, as it were, God’s Mercy Incarnate. ‘With the Lord is kindness and with Him plenteous Redemption.’ (Psalms 129:7) On earth the Heart of Christ was full of mercy toward all. Now in His glorified humanity in Heaven Jesus continues to show forth His boundless mercy, ‘always living to make intercession for us’. (Hebrews 7:25)

Seventh Promise: ‘Tepid souls shall become fervent.’

Lukewarmness is a languid dying state of the soul that has lost its interest in religion. The Holy Spirit expresses deep disgust for such a soul: ‘You are neither cold nor hot … I am about to vomit you out of My mouth.’ (Apocalypse 3:15) The only remedy for it is devotion to the Sacred Heart, Who came ‘to cast fire on earth’, that is., to inspire the cold and tepid heart with new fear and love of God.

Eighth Promise: ‘Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.’

High perfection is the reward that Christ bestows on the fervent clients of His Divine Heart; for this devotion has, as its special fruit, to transform us into a close resemblance to our Blessed Lord. This is done by kindling in our hearts the fire of divine love, which, as Saint Paul says, ‘is the bond of perfection’. (Colossians 3:14) Through devotion to the Sacred Heart self-love will give way to an ardent zeal for His interests.

Ninth Promise: ‘I will bless every place in which an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honoured.’

Sacred Heart of Jesus, Furnace of Charity

Religious pictures are a powerful appeal and inspiration. The Sacred Heart is an open book wherein we may read the infinite love of Jesus for us in His Passion and Death. He shows us His Heart, cut open by the lance, all aglow like a fiery furnace of love, whose flames appear bursting forth from the top. It is encircled with thorns, the anguishing smarts of unheeded love. May it ever impel us to acts of love and generosity.

Tenth Promise: ‘I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.’

The conversion of a sinner calls sometimes for extraordinary graces. God never forces the free will of a human being. But He can give actual graces with which He foresees the sinner will overcome the resisting attitude of the most obstinate sinful soul. This, then, is what occurs in the case of priests who are animated with great devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Eleventh Promise: ‘Those who promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be effaced.’

This Promise holds out to promoters of devotion to the Sacred Heart a wonderful reward; they ‘shall have their names written in My Heart’. These words imply a strong and faithful friendship of Christ Himself, and present to us the ‘Book of Life’ of Saint John: ‘I will not blot his name out of the Book of Life.’ (Apocalypse 3:5)

Twelfth Promise: ‘To those who shall communicate on the First Friday, for nine consecutive months, I will grant the grace of final penitence.’

This Promise contains a great reward, which is nothing less than heaven. ‘Final perseverance is a gratuitous gift of God’s goodness, and cannot be merited as an acquired right by any individual act of ours.’ (Council of Trent) It is given as the reward for a series of acts continued to the end: ‘He who has persevered to the end will be saved.’ (Matthew 10:22)

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Eucharistic Devotion of Saint Thomas Aquinas

taken from the January–February 1996 issue of the Soul Magazine, a publication by the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima; written by Warren H. Carroll, renowned ecclesiastical historian and author

Mother of the Eucharist – the Inexhaustible Chalice

Since the Blessed Virgin Mary bore Our Lord Jesus Christ in her immaculate womb, and as His one human parent alone gave Him His physical body, she has an intimate and unique association with the Eucharist, Christ’s Real Presence among us in the Host consecrated at Mass. Our Lady is therefore present in a special way in Eucharistic devotion, and has a particularly close relationship with those who practice it ardently.

St Thomas Aquinas is usually thought of as one of the greatest – perhaps the greatest – of Catholic philosophers and theologians; and that he most certainly was. But he was also one of the supreme advocates of Eucharistic devotion and exponents of the nature of the mysterious process by which the host becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Indeed, it was Saint Thomas Aquinas who not only explained transubstantiation but provided for the first time the word for it.

His work was not intended only for the very learned. Saint Thomas Aquinas, an active Dominican, was a great teacher. Of his teaching he said, at his inaugural lecture at the University of Paris in 1256:

‘Teachers are comparable to mountains for three reasons: their elevation from the earth, their splendour in illumination, and their protective shelter against harm. … Therefore teachers should be elevated in their lives so as to illumine the faithful by their preaching, enlighten students by their teaching, and defend the faith by their disputations against error.’

When a new Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) was added to the Church calendar in 1264, Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote the liturgy for it. Saint Thomas’ Corpus Christi liturgy included the magnificent Sequence ‘Laude Sion‘, the Vespers hymn ‘Pange Lingua‘ (concluding with the ‘Tantum Ergo‘, sung during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament), the Matins hymn ‘Sacis Solemnis‘ (concluding with ‘Panis Angelicus‘) and the Lauds hymn ‘Verbum Supernum Prodiens‘ (concluding with another Benediction song, ‘O Salutaris Hostia‘). Familiar for centuries to every Catholic, these glorious Latin hymns continue to be widely sung to this day.

Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord

The fourth stanza of the ‘Pange Lingua‘ contains in a few words the essence of the Eucharistic doctrine of Saint Thomas Aquinas, totally embraced by the Church:

Word made flesh, by Word He maketh
Very bread his flesh to be;
Man in wine Christ’s Blood partaketh,
And if his senses fail to see,
Faith alone the true heart waketh,
To behold the mystery.

The Common Doctor of the Church (as Saint Thomas Aquinas has long been known) did not write only for scholars. In the office of Corpus Christi he wrote for the simple Catholic worshipper all down the ages.

By 1272, Saint Thomas had completed the second part of his supreme work, the Summa Theologiae, and begun on the third, concerning the Incarnation and the Sacraments. His last disputation at the University of Paris was on the Incarnation. Later, in 1272, he established a new study centre in his home territory near Naples, and there in Lent 1273 he delivered a series of 59 homilies on charity, the commandments, the Apostles Creed, the ‘Our Father’, and (significantly) the ‘Hail Mary’. One of these homilies was given every day. Thousands of people came out from Naples to hear them.

One night, in the chapel of the Dominican priory in Naples where Saint Thomas was then living, the sacristan concealed himself to watch the Saint at prayer. He saw him lifted into the air, and heard Christ speaking to him from the crucifix on the chapel wall:

‘Thomas, you have written well of me. What reward will you have?’

‘Lord, nothing but Yourself.’

St Thomas Aquinas in his glory

His request was soon answered. On 6 December 1273, Saint Thomas Aquinas was saying Mass for the Feast of Saint Nicholas in the chapel where the crucifix had spoken to him. Some profound experience – spiritual, mental, and physical suddenly overwhelmed him. He showed few external signs of the change at first; but he declared to his long-time secretary that he could write no more. ‘All that I have written,’ he said, ‘seems like straw to me.’

During the next few weeks he spent almost all his time in prayer; on 7 March 1274, he died. He was only 49, but his work was done. Christ’s Church and its Mother Mary had their champion upon the loftiest peaks of human intellect! No greater mind has been seen among the children of men than the mind of Thomas Aquinas, and he laid all his genius at the feet of Christ.

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