Genoveva Torres Morales – 5th January

Genoveva Torres Morales was born on 3 January 1870 in Almenara, Castille, Spain. She was the youngest of six children but by the age of eight, both her parents and four of her siblings had died.

Genoveva was left to to care for their home and her very demanding and taciturn brother, José. Having been deprived of affection and companionship so young, Genoveva became accustomed to solitude. By the age of 10, she had developed a special interest in reading spiritual books and came to understand that true happiness is doing God’s will. This became her rule of life.

At the age of 13, Genoveva’s left leg had to be amputated at home, in order to stop a gangrene that was spreading there. Throughout her life her leg continued to cause her pain and sickness, and she had to use crutches.

From 1885 to 1894 she lived at the Mercy Home run by the Carmelites of Charity. In the nine years she lived with the sisters and with other children, the young Genoveva deepened her life of piety and perfected her sewing skills. It was also in these years that a diocesan priest guided the “beginnings” of her spiritual life. Reflecting on this period at the Mercy Home, she later would write: “I loved freedom of heart very much, and worked and am working to achieve it fully…. It does the soul so much good that every effort is nothing compared with this free condition of the heart”.

Genoveva wanted to join the Carmelites of Charity, but she was not accepted due to her physical condition. She longed to be consecrated to God and, being of a decided and resolute nature, in 1894 Genoveva left the Carmelites of Charity’s home and went to live briefly with two women who supported themselves by their own work. Together they “shared” the solitude and poverty.

In 1911, Canon Barbarrós suggested that Genoveva begin a new religious community, pointing out that there were many poor women who could not afford to live on their own and thus suffered much hardship. For years, Genoveva had thought of starting a religious congregation that would be solely concerned with meeting the needs of such women, since she knew of no one engaged in this work.

The first community was established in Valencia. Shortly thereafter, other women arrived, wanting to share the same apostolic and spiritual life. It was not long before more communities were established in other parts of Spain, despite many problems and obstacles.The Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Holy Angels received Pontifical approval in 1953.

Mother Genoveva died on 5 January 1956. She is remembered for her kindness and openness to all, and for her good sense of humour – even joking about her physical ailments.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • All who find themselves in caring roles as children.
  • All who spend a great deal of time alone or with no-one to talk to.
  • Amputees.
  • All who are told that they cannot do something because of their physicality and yet go on to achieve their goal anyway.
  • All who fill our lives with kindness and good humour.

 

Masochism and the saints…

Yesterday Sue Owen made a helpful and thought-provoking comment on Geneviève of Paris, which I would like to respond to here.

Thank you for these daily readings on the lives of different saints. I have always found it very difficult to read about some saints’ lives. Especially those that self-inflict mortification or punishment. It seems very unhealthy in mind and spirit. There seems to be enough suffering in the world without inflicting it on oneself! The Holy Spirit can be found in beauty and simplicity – so I really don’t understand why masochism is so revered in the saints. I’d appreciate your views on this. Thank you!

I think there are a number of things going on that lead to an apparent reverence for masochism in the life of the saints. It certainly isn’t something I’m trying to promote by sharing their stories.

A misleading biblical interpretation…

The early church blossomed in a Greek-speaking culture. All the ideas we can have are shaped by the language or means we have to articulate them. In Hebrew culture body and soul are inseparable. We are ensouled bodies. In Greek thinking bodies are vessels in which souls are carried for a time, before escaping to their true bodiless state. St Paul (A Hebrew living in this Greek-speaking world) used the language of body and flesh (soma and sarx) throughout his letters, contrasting them with life in the Spirit. In Paul’s letters neither body nor flesh is inherently negative in itself these are simply characteristics of being human; we are embodied, made of flesh.

When thinking about being saved however, Paul uses body and flesh as shorthand for describing how we are choosing to live. Flesh is usually contrasted with Spirit to describe whether we choose to live as if the world were created and ruled by human beings (in the realm of flesh) or in a world created and ruled by God (in the realm of the Spirit). Body is usually contrasted with psyche, asking whether we orient our being towards the outward, physical pleasures, desires and needs (definitely base considerations in Greek thought) or to the interior intellectual and spiritual concerns of prayer and learning. In strictly Christian terms these are contrasts between life lived in an earthly way or life lived according to the ways of the Kingdom of God; life lived with a heart aligned to humanity’s values or life lived with hearts aligned to the will of God.

People of a largely Greek mindset, who believed Jesus would come again soon, appear to have heard this teaching as the message that forsaking physical needs in favour of spiritual and intellectual ones is the surest path to heaven. There was a rejection of earthly society by the mothers and fathers of the desert and a desire to live on prayer alone, following the example of Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus in the Desert. These were the early monastics whose patterns others followed.

It seems to me that this developed into a kind of spiritual athleticism, which misses the main point of what Paul was talking about. I have no doubt that those who were alone for long periods of time and without food, were more likely to see visions or even have near death experiences. I don’t think this is why we revere them though.

Entering into the suffering of others…

I think fasting and self-mortification, at their most prayerful, are bodily ways of entering into the suffering of others. We fast alongside those without food, alongside those in poverty, alongside those in need of healing or too deep in mourning to eat. I believe the self-mortification was supposed to help a monastic enter into the suffering of Christ during the passion, but it is a tradition much abused. Again, I don’t think these are the reasons why people are revered, even though they were taken to be signs of someone trying to live a holy life. I entreat any readers to avoid all practice of self-harm as this is not the way we treat a beloved child of God.

My personal understanding, which has no scholarly ground to stand on…

I have included saints, within this neurodiverse community’s calendar, who amongst other things have used fasting, self-mortification and isolation in their spiritual journeys. This is not because I revere these practices, but because I see them as symptomatic of how vulnerable and broken even those we revere as holy were.

I hope you have noticed through the emphasis of the intercession pointers, where I see people disappearing into isolation through grief, I wonder at how God made them founders of communities.

I know myself, that I have a daily struggle with anxiety to go about my daily living and regularly fantasise about being able to move to an isolated island. Some days I function quite well and at other times, even the ringing of the telephone is terrifying. I often wonder why I wasn’t called to a monastic life, but that was not where God wanted me. So those entrusted to my care struggle with me as I manage my hermit-like tendencies against the public-demands of a priest’s role. (Not an uncommon story.)

When I see people starving themselves, I wonder how someone who has such a difficult relationship with food can achieve such remarkable things. I don’t mean to glorify the extreme fasting, but to say: ‘here is a person who despite feeling that they did not deserve to eat for whatever reason, was used to show the glory of God in the world’.

Self-harming is one of the most widespread problems faced by teenagers in Britain at this time. Here are people who felt just as desperate, doing much the same thing and yet they are revered as holy – not because of the self-harm (it is always an incidental to the story) but because of some amazing act of courage, love, kindness or imagination that led others to God.

I don’t know how to make this more explicit without being triggering for people. Doubtless this post is very clumsy. Any ideas readers may have are very welcome.

Geneviève of Paris – 3rd January

Geneviève  was a peasant girl born in Nanterre. On the deaths of her parents, she went to live with her godmother Lutetia in Paris. There the young woman became admired for her piety and devotion to works of charity, and practiced corporal austerities which included abstaining from meat and breaking her fast only twice in the week. “These mortifications she continued for over thirty years, till her ecclesiastical superiors thought it their duty to make her diminish her austerities.”

Geneviève had frequent visions of heavenly saints and angels. She reported her visions and prophecies, until her enemies conspired to drown her in a lake. Through the intervention of Germanus, their animosity was finally overcome. The Bishop of Paris appointed her to look after the welfare of the virgins dedicated to God, and by her instruction and example she led them to a high degree of sanctity.

Shortly before the attack of the Huns under Attila in 451 on Paris, Genevieve and Germanus’ archdeacon, persuaded the panic-stricken people of Paris not to flee but to pray. It is claimed that the intercession of Genevieve’s prayers caused Attila’s army to go to Orléans instead. During Childeric’s siege and blockade of Paris in 464, Geneviève passed through the siege lines in a boat to Troyes, bringing grain to the city. She also pleaded to Childeric for the welfare of prisoners-of-war, and met with a favorable response. Through her influence, Childeric and Clovis displayed unwonted clemency towards the citizens.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • all who trust in the power of prayer.
  • all with courage despite apparent powerlessness.
  • all who are faithful to their work in the face of criticism
  • all whose homes are under attack or siege.

St Seraphim of Sarov – 2nd January

 

After experiencing visions and miraculous healing as both a child and a young monk, Seraphim  began to withdraw into his “farther hermitage”—the forest wilderness about five km from Sarov Monastery. Wild animals—bears, rabbits, wolves, foxes and others—came to the hut of the ascetic. The elder of the Diveevo monastery, Matrona Plescheeva, witnessed how St. Seraphim fed a bear that had come to him out of his hand: “Seraphim’s face was particularly miraculous. It was joyous and bright, as that of an angel,” she described. While living in this little hermitage of his, Seraphim once suffered greatly at the hands of robbers. Although he was physically very strong and was holding an axe at the time, St. Seraphim did not resist them. In answer to their threats and their demands for money, he lay his axe down on the ground, crossed his arms on his chest and obediently gave himself up to them. They began to beat him on the head with the handle of his own axe. Blood began to pour out of his mouth and ears, and he fell unconscious. After that they began to hit him with a log, trampled him under foot, and dragged him along the ground. They stopped beating him only when they had decided that he had died. The only treasure which the robbers found in his cell was the icon of the Mother of God of Deep Emotion (Ymileniye), before which he always prayed. When, after some time, the robbers were caught and brought to justice, the holy monk interceded on their behalf before the judge. After the beating, Seraphim remained hunched over for the rest of his life.

Soon after this began the “pillar” period of the life of Seraphim, when he spent his days on a rock near his little hermitage, and nights in the thick of the forest. He prayed with his arms raised to heaven, almost without respite. This feat of his continued for a thousand days.

Because of a special vision of the Mother of God he was given toward the end of his life, St. Seraphim took upon himself the feat of becoming an elder. He began to admit everyone who came to him for advice and direction. Many thousands of people from all walks of life and conditions began to visit the elder now, who enriched them from his spiritual treasures, which he had acquired by many years of efforts. Everyone saw Seraphim as meek, joyful, pensively sincere. He greeted all with the words: “My joy! Christ is risen” To many he advised:

“Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”

No matter who came to him, Seraphim  bowed to the ground before all, and, in blessing, kissed their hands. He did not need the visitors to tell him about themselves, as he could see what each had on their soul.

One winters day, an follower of Seraphim, called Motovilov, was sitting on a stump in the woods.  Seraphim was squatting across from him and telling his pupil the meaning of a Christian life, explaining for what we Christians live on earth.

“It is necessary that the Holy Spirit enter our heart. Everything good that we do, that we do for Christ, is given to us by the Holy Spirit, but prayer most of all, which is always available to us,” he said.

“Father,” answered Motovilov, “how can I see the grace of the Holy Spirit? How can I know if He is with me or not?”

St. Seraphim began to give him examples from the lives of the saints and apostles, but Motovilov still did not understand. The elder then firmly took him by the shoulder and said to him, “We are both now, my dear fellow, in the Holy Spirit.” It was as if Motovilov’s eyes had been opened, for he saw that the face of the elder was brighter than the sun. In his heart Motovilov felt joy and peace, in his body a warmth as if it were summer, and a fragrance began to spread around them. Motovilov was terrified by the unusual change, but especially by the fact that Seraphim’s face shone like the sun. But St. Seraphim said to him, “Do not fear, dear fellow. You would not even be able to see me if you yourself were not in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Thank the Lord for His mercy toward us.”

INTERCEDING

On this day, lift before God:

  • all who seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • All who seek to live peaceably.
  • All who pray for healing.
  • All who have compassion.
  • All who lead others into the Christian life.

 

The Holy name of Jesus

Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus.

  • V. Lord, have mercy on us.
    R. Christ, have mercy on us.
    V. Lord, have mercy on us. Jesus, hear us.
    R. Jesus, graciously hear us.
    V. God the Father of Heaven
    R. Have mercy on us.
    V. God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
    R. Have mercy on us.
    V. God the Holy Spirit,
    R. Have mercy on us.
    V. Holy Trinity, one God,
    R. Have mercy on us.
    V. Jesus, Son of the living God, R. Have mercy on us.
    Jesus, splendor of the Father, [etc.]
    Jesus, brightness of eternal light.
    Jesus, King of glory.
    Jesus, sun of justice.
    Jesus, Son of the Virgin Mary.
    Jesus, most amiable.
    Jesus, most admirable.
    Jesus, the mighty God.
    Jesus, Father of the world to come.
    Jesus, angel of great counsel.
    Jesus, most powerful.
    Jesus, most patient.
    Jesus, most obedient.
    Jesus, meek and humble of heart.
    Jesus, lover of chastity.
    Jesus, lover of us.
    Jesus, God of peace.
    Jesus, author of life.
    Jesus, example of virtues.
    Jesus, zealous lover of souls.
    Jesus, our God.
    Jesus, our refuge.
    Jesus, father of the poor.
    Jesus, treasure of the faithful.
    Jesus, good Shepherd.
    Jesus, true light.
    Jesus, eternal wisdom.
    Jesus, infinite goodness.
    Jesus, our way and our life.
    Jesus, joy of Angels.
    Jesus, King of the Patriarchs.
    Jesus, Master of the Apostles.
    Jesus, teacher of the Evangelists.
    Jesus, strength of Martyrs.
    Jesus, light of Confessors.
    Jesus, purity of Virgins.
    Jesus, crown of Saints.

V. Be merciful, R. spare us, O Jesus.
V. Be merciful, R. graciously hear us, O Jesus.

V. From all evil, R. deliver us, O Jesus.
From all sin, deliver us, O Jesus.
From Your wrath, [etc.]
From the snares of the devil.
From the spirit of fornication.
From everlasting death.
From the neglect of Your inspirations.
By the mystery of Your holy Incarnation.
By Your Nativity.
By Your Infancy.
By Your most divine Life.
By Your labors.
By Your agony and passion.
By Your cross and dereliction.
By Your sufferings.
By Your death and burial.
By Your Resurrection.
By Your Ascension.
By Your institution of the most Holy Eucharist.
By Your joys.
By Your glory.

V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. spare us, O Jesus.
V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. graciously hear us, O Jesus.
V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. have mercy on us, O Jesus.
V. Jesus, hear us.
R. Jesus, graciously hear us.

Let us pray.

O Lord Jesus Christ, You have said, “Ask and you shall receive, seek, and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Grant, we beg of You, to us who ask it, the gift of Your most divine love, that we may ever love You with our whole heart, in word and deed, and never cease praising You.

Give us, O Lord, as much a lasting fear as a lasting love of Your Holy Name, for You, who live and are King for ever and ever, never fail to govern those whom You have solidly established in Your love. Amen.