may 8

Friday, May 8, 2020

Good morning, Good morning,

This letter starts as a follow up to yesterday’s letter covering General George S. Patton.  In the letter we have the actual testimony from his chaplain, Fr. James H. O’Neil on the reason the general called for all the men of the US Third Army to say a certain prayer on the same night at the same assigned hour.  It was an appeal to the Almighty that He intercede on their part to calm a rainstorm so they might proceed into battle.  The catalyst motivating the general had to do with the infamous French doctor, Alexis Carrel (1873-1944).

“I wish you would put out a Training Letter on this subject of Prayer to all the chaplains; write about nothing else, just the importance of prayer. Let me see it before you send it. We’ve got to get not only the chaplains but every man in the Third Army to pray. We must ask God to stop these rains. These rains are that margin that hold defeat or victory. If we all pray, it will be like what Dr. Carrel said [the allusion was to a press quote some days previously when Dr. Alexis Carrel, one of the foremost scientists, described prayer “as one of the most powerful forms of energy man can generate”], it will be like plugging in on a current whose source is in Heaven. I believe that prayer completes that circuit. It is power.”

The prayer offered by two hundred and fifty soldiers led to the immediate and unexpected cessation of the storm and the Army proceeded to the Battle of the Bulge.  The first medal of the Battle of the Bulge was issued to Chaplain O’Neil.

Why should a quote from Dr. Alexis Carrel manage so stir the heart of the American general.  It was never supposed to be that way, in the designs of men.  Dr. Alexis Carrel, born and raised in a devout Catholic family lost his Faith as he stepped up the ladder of his studies in modern science.  He became an agnostic with a profound sense of narcissism.  His passion in life was to debunk the Catholic devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes and the purported miracles coming from the outlying city in Southern France.  He was consumed with the idea until the day when he was the official witness to the reality of a miracle.

In 1902 one of his colleagues was unable to join the train full of malades (sick and infirmed) going to the healing baths in Lourdes.  He found the sickest person on the train.  Her name was Marie Bailly.

“Carrel continued to take a great interest in her. He asked a psychiatrist to test her every two weeks, which was done for four months. She was regularly tested for traces of tuberculosis. In late November she was declared to be in good health both physically and mentally. In December she entered the novitiate in Paris. Without ever having a relapse she lived the arduous life of a Sister of Charity until 1937, when she died at the age of 58.”

Fr. Heisler recently reminded me that Carrel was worried how his colleagues would respond to his official report on the miraculous cure of Marie Bailly.  So, he signed the official document for his witness of the miracle by spelling his last name backwards, “Lerrac.”  No good.  They figured out his being a part of the story of a miracle and mocked his scientific capabilities.  With that he left France to seek better duties in Montreal, Chicago, and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  They admired him as much as the colleagues in France before the Lourdes experience.  And he accepted their accolades in the context of humility, as a devout Catholic in the Lourdes experience.

He would go on to great things in the field of medicine.  Notably, he developed the technique of splicing arteries with a suture covered with paraffin wax.  That technique won him a Nobel Peace Prize.  With the help of his friend Charles Lindberg he developed a mechanical heart to sustain a patient in heart surgery.  He helped to bring to the art of medicine a creative rise in new programs and projects that earned him the title of grandfather for modern organ transplants.  All in the context of a devout Catholic.  It was Lourdes that changed him rather than just young Marie Bailly.

Please understand, Dr. Carrel and his earlier friends would hardly be considered candidates for sainthood.  They were involved, and were strong proponents,  in the French eugenics programs.  They and their American counterparts, with the help of a woman named Margaret Sanger,  were the source of inspiration for the German eugenics programs.  The last group taking it upon themselves to identify children with physical and emotional/psychological handicaps.  They initiated programs for their extraction from society with the phrase, “Life not worth living.”  There is another story in that if you wish to Google the current Dutch and Belgian political initiatives to terminate children up to the age of three… in their dealing with autism.

The Carrel conversion experience well represents the three step in spirituality for Catholics.  His experience seems very similar to a man once named, “Saul,” who became “Paul.”  The steps are:  Purgation, Illumination, and Unification.  In the first one moves away from the pride that blinds one to presence of God in the world of nature, and science. The step of humility.  In the second one finds His foot marks all around the fields of science.  The step of Wisdom.  And third one apply’s his new found convictions into the practical way of life.  The step of Devotion.  In short, in the case of Carrel he spoke out on the power of prayer in the world.  It was all about Lourdes.

And, twenty years later General Patton would find in the Frenchman a prophetic call to prayer.  A prayer that affected his initiatives on the battlefield.  It was all about Lourdes.

No one expected the young woman to live to see Lourdes.  No one expected the scientist to ever talk about prayer.  No one expected the American General to rotate the souls of his Army around the admonition of a French Catholic doctor.  And no one expects any of us to make a difference in the world we live.  It is all about Lourdes. Let us pray for one another.

Today is the Feast Day of St. Peter St. Peter of Tarantaise, Cistercian Archbishop.  This letter is dedicated to our dear Cistercian monks at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia.  May the Lord bless them with great health, happiness, and holiness as they bring many blessings to us.

Birth:  1102
Death:  1175

Cistercian archbishop. Peter was born near Vienne, in Dauphine, France, and joined the Cistercian Order at Bonneveaux at the age of twenty with his two brothers and father. Known for his piety, at age thirty he was sent to serve as the first abbot of Tamie, in the Tarantaise Mountains, between Geneva and Savoy. There he built a hospice for travelers. In 1142, he was named the archbishop of Tarantaise against his wishes, and he devoted much energy to reforming the diocese, purging the clergy of corrupt and immoral members, aiding the poor, and promoting education. He is also credited with starting the custom of distributing bread and soup the so called May Bread just before the harvest, a custom which endured throughout France until the French Revolution. After thirteen years as bishop, Peter suddenly disappeared. Eventually he was discovered serving as a lay brother in a Cistercian abbey in Switzerland and was convinced to return to Tarantaise and resume his episcopal duties. Trusted as an advisor by popes and kings, he defended papal rights in France and was called upon to assist in bringing about a reconciliation between King Louis VII of France and then Prince Henry II of England. Peter was canonized in 1191. He should not be confused with Peter of Tarantaise, who became Pope Innocent V.

Of the many accolades that stand out in the life of St. Peter of Tarantaise the one I found most interesting  involved the reconciliation of King Louis VII, of France, and Prince Henry II of England.  Henry II , as king, will be remembered for his friendship with, and martyrdom of,  St. Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.  1162-1170.

I enclose the Youtube website for the movie Becket.

Though I am hardly a critic for Films or Theater, I do think this movie is demonstrative of the  skills of the greatest of actors, Richard Burton.  In the movie he is threatened by one of the King’s guards.  The guard draws a sword on Archbishop Becket and the voice only Burton could use,  drills the guard.  “Sheath your sword lest you impale your soul upon it.”  With such force, it is as if the movie stops.

The greater scene involves Archbishop Becket at prayer with the young unexpected recalcitrant monk standing, listening, at the door.  I have a copy of the prayer in my breviary.

“My Lord Jesus,

I find it difficult to talk to you.  What can I say?  I who have turned away from you so often with indifference.  I have been a stranger to prayer and undeserving of your friendship and your love.  I have been without honor and feel unworthy.

I am a weak and shallow creature clever only in the segregated world in the arts of seeking my comfort and pleasure.  I gave my love, such as it was, elsewhere.  Putting service to my earthly king before my duty to you.  But now, they have made me the shepherd of your flock and guardian of your Church. 

Please Lord, teach me now how to serve you with all my heart.  To know what it really is to love, to adore, so that I may worthily administer your kingdom here upon earth and find my true honor in observing your divine will. 

Please Lord, make me worthy.”

When Burton offers the prayer with such incredible strength is seems as if the movie never existed.   Let us pray for one another.




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