doctors of the church

The Newest Doctor of the Church

February 26, 2015

St Gregory of NarekOn February 21, Pope Francis designated the 10th century Armenian monk, St. Gregory of Narek, as a Doctor of the Church. This has been in the works for some time, no doubt, and is most timely considering the upcoming centennial of the Armenian genocide by the muslim Turks and the extinction of many Christians in the Middle East today. Honoring an Eastern master of the spiritual life in these days is a way of letting our persecuted brethren know we hold them in our hearts even though we cannot physically stand by them in their present agony. Now when I think of St. Gregory, I can ask him to pray for all our fellow Christians in the Middle East, and also those who are being slaughtered simply because they are not muslims.

We are extremely blessed to have saints speak to us over the centuries with their timeless, powerful thoughts and prayers. I find our Eastern Fathers and Doctors particularly appealing because their writings are steeped in both the Old and New Testaments which form the basis of our journey towards God.

At you can find information about his life and the stimulus of his greatest work, the Book of Lamentations. There we find this:

A leader of the well-developed school of Armenian mysticism at Narek Monastery, at the request of his brethren he set out to find an answer to an imponderable question: what can one offer to God, our creator, who already has everything and knows everything better than we could ever express it? To this question, posed by the prophets, psalmist, apostles and saints, he gives a humble answer – the sighs of the heart – expressed in his Book of Prayer, also called the Book of Lamentations.

In 95 grace-filled prayers St. Gregory draws on the exquisite potential of the Classical Armenian language to translate the pure sighs of the broken and contrite heart into an offering of words pleasing to God. The result is an edifice of faith for the ages, unique in Christian literature for its rich imagery, its subtle theology, its Biblical erudition, and the sincere immediacy of its communication with God.

In Section A of the first prayer St. Gregory writes:

The voice of a sighing heart, its sobs and mournful cries,
I offer up to you, O Seer of Secrets,
placing the fruits of my wavering mind
as a savory sacrifice on the fire of my grieving soul
to be delivered to you in the censer of my will.

Compassionate Lord, breathe in
this offering and look more favorably on it
than upon a more sumptuous sacrifice
offered with rich smoke. Please find
this simple string of words acceptable.
Do not turn in disdain.

May this unsolicited gift reach you,
this sacrifice of words
from the deep mystery-filled chamber
of my feelings, consumed in flames
fueled by whatever grace I may have within me.

As I pray, do not let these
pleas annoy you, Almighty,
like the raised hands of Jacob,
whose irreverence was rebuked
by Isaiah, nor let them seem like the impudence
of Babylon criticized in the 72nd Psalm.

But let these words be acceptable
as were the fragrant offerings
in the tabernacle at Shiloh
raised again by David on his return from captivity
as the resting place for the ark of the covenant,
a symbol for the restoration of my lost soul.

All of the Biblical references in his writing are referenced in the sidebar so that if one desires, he can turn to the section of sacred scripture and enhance his meditation. I am reading at least one section, if not the whole prayer of each of the 95 this Lent as part of my daily prayer time and will continue until I’ve completed them all. Their exquisite poetry moves the soul seeking to become lost in the embrace of God. With deep humility as the departure point, one can hardly fail to delight the Lord by offering these prayers as one’s own, making way for Him to transform the soul into the image of Christ in perfect unity with Him. Is that not, in the end, the heart’s desire of all Christians? Is that not what our final destination is meant to be?

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)


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Two New Doctors of the Church

October 8, 2012

To open the Synod on Evangelization yesterday, Pope Benedict formally declared St. John of Avila and St. Hildegard von Bingen Doctors of the Church. The Pope announced at World Youth Day in Spain this year that St. John of Avila would be numbered among the Doctors so I learned a bit about him.

John of Avila (1499-1569) was a major figure in the ecclesial reform and spiritual renewal that finally came to pass in 16th-century Spain.  He joined other greats of the time, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Borgia, and St. John of God in contributing to a renewal of faith in Spain and Europe.

What many don’t realize is that St. John of Avila was of Jewish descent and endured discrimination in the Church because of it.  That didn’t stop him from being educated at the great universities of Salamanca and Alcala, centers of Christian studies in Spain.  After he was ordained a priest, he served as a diocesan priest in Andalusia, being a preacher, confessor, spiritual director, catechist, evangelist, educator, mystic, and theologian. He was called “The Apostle of Andalusia”.

St. John focused a great deal of effort on establishing colleges and universities for the education of laity and priests, and on reforming the priesthood.  He was a spiritual director for many religious and laity.  We can learn a lot from him today by reading and meditating on his great work, Audi Filia:  John of Avila: Audi, Filia (The Classics of Western Spirituality).

This spiritual masterpiece helps the reader focus on hearing the word of God in Scripture and contemplating the face of Christ, especially in His passion.  Doing so with a sincere heart helps one along in a spiritual transformation in communion with the Father and the Son.  Although this book was written in a specific time to deal with specific problems of the age, the parallels between the Church circumstances of today and that of the Protestant upheaval and unscrupulous clerics in the sixteenth century make it of particular value, especially to today’s laity.  Thus, like all writings of the Doctors of the Church, it is timeless.

St. Hildegard von Bingen

I wrote about St. Hildegard’s life here if you are interested.  I am a big fan of her music which is unlike any composer before or since, something which I mention in the post.  Some of my favorite albums of her music are: Canticles of Ecstasy; Symphoniae: Spiritual Songs; Ordo Virtutem (probably her most famous work; and 11,000 Virgins – Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula.  Click on the image to learn more about each album. 

You can get some of this via MP3 download, but I’m old-fashioned and own the albums instead.

May the intercession of these two new Doctors of the Church assist us during the hardships of living the Faith in these times!

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Monday, October 8th, 2012 Catholic Church, spirituality 4 Comments


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