Thursday, 30 August 2012

Teresa Higginson on judgement and purgatory: Part IV

Continuing from the previous letter to Fr. Powell on purgatory:

Bootle, December 19th 1880

In reference to what I stated concerning a person not dying in unconsciousness I mean that after the senses of the body are incapable of action the powers of the soul are quite collected, and in that final moment she sees represented to her her true condition before God and also what is revealed of God, so that she is capable of making for the last time in this transitory world an act of faith, hope, charity and contrition.  Every soul certainly has not the same amount of grace, but in many the indulgence and prayers of the Church, and more especially the Sacraments, supply for defectiveness in this respect; and then as all things are present with God He accepts in anticipation the act of charity and detestation of sin and the patient endurance of suffering, etc., which she will undergo in purgatory to atone for sin (through the infinite merits of Jesus Christ) for no guilt of sin is remitted in purgatory.

If the will is found to detest sin at the moment of death she is worthy of love, but if there exists an affection for sin, or in other words, if the will is opposed to the holy will of God at death, they are found worthy of hate, and for them there is no remission of sin, and such souls go to hell by God's appointment.  And if it were otherwise they would be forced to endure a hell as infinite in pain as it is in duration, but as it is, through the Death and bitter Passion and infinite merits of the Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, the divine mercy is felt even in hell itself.  The reason I say much and yet so little about this point is because I feel it is do difficult to express what I mean.  I repeat again that when time is over with us, merit is impossible, and no guilt of sin is remitted after death, for then the will is fixed for eternity.

You will perhaps ask me: if God accepts the act of charity in anticipation, how is it that the soul is not freed at once from the punishment as well as the guilt of sin?  And it is this: it is an imperfection in the soul not to have made that act while it had the power of will to do so, I mean it should have paid the debt which was demanded by humbly craving pardon for the love of God alone, and it neglected to do so, and the shadow which passes over the soul in consequence leaves its trace behind...

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Non Expedire to Teresa Higginson's beatification

On February 21st 1938 the then vice - postulator of cause of the Servant of God Teresa Helena Higginson Monsignor John O'Brien received this letter from a colleague in the Holy See:

You must have been expecting for some time news of me or rather of the cause that we have at heart - Teresa Higginson.  As a matter of fact I have not written to you for the last six months.  Since it was necessary just to have the approbation of the writings of the Servant of God and the Decree - Procedi Potest ad ulteriora.  I presented myself on several occasions to the Congregation in order to obtain information about the said decree, and behold, last Friday unexpectedly received the following note from His Excellency Monsignor Carinci, Secretary of the Congregation.

Mi reco a donare significazione alla P.V. Rev. ma alla che Introduzione della Cause Serva di Dio Teresa Helena Higginson, a stato posto dal Sant Uffizio il NON EXPEDIRE.  Tanto Le communico per sua intelligenze e norma, etc.

(Translation:  It is my duty to inform you Very Reverend Father that the Holy Office has apposed the NON EXPEDIRE (not expedient) to the introduction of the Cause of the Servant of God, Teresa Helena Higginson.  I communicate this to you for your information and manner of procedure etc.)

This morning I called on Monsignor the Secretary to beg for his explanation and advice.  I know of course that the Holy Office never publishes the facts which have influenced its decisions.  On that subject I did not expect any information from Monsignor Carinci, but he himself began to explain that it was not the Congregation of Rites which had pronounced the NON EXPEDIRE, and that one must be clear on this point.  Had the Holy Office discovered anything against the Servant of God - e.g. by reason of heresy or moral disorder, it would have pronounced against the introduction of the Cause its REPONATUR, and then that would have ended it completely, but it had pronounced its NON EXPEDIRE, and that means two things.

Palace of the Holy Office

Firstly, that it has found in the writings a reason apart from the person of the Servant of God.  At once I answered that I had already thought of the propaganda which Teresa had exercised of the Devotion to the Sacred Head of Our Lord.  "Exactly," answered Monsignor the Secretary, "we have had other cases where the Holy Office has pronounced the NON EXPEDIRE because the Servant of God promoted the Devotion to the Arms, the Feet of Our Lord, or some other new form of devotion not yet introduced into the cultus of the Church.

Secondly, it means that in itself a further procedure has been postponed ad tempus, in non perpetuum, for instance, a striking miracle could easily cause the Holy Office to revoke its NON EXPEDIRE.  Consequently the cause is not lost, only its progress has been stopped for the time being and for an indefinite period.  This being so, I asked Monsignor Carinci it I should continue, nevertheless, the translation of the Acts of the Diocessa in the process, and his answer was "No, you must stop the translation in order not to incur expenses which might prove useless."

I sincerely regret that the Cause should have come to this,  If the Devotion to the Sacred Head had just been a private devotion of the Servant of God I do not think they would have pronounced the NON EXPEDIRE, but she promoted and recommended this Devotion, and that is going too far.  I beg of you Monsignor to be do good as to acquaint His Grace the Archbishop of Liverpool (Richard Downey), our principal, on this matter.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Fr. Thomas Wells 1846 - 1889

Fr. Thomas Wells was the rector of St. Mary's church, Wigan, and the director of Teresa from 1873 - 1876, when her mystical life and experiences began in earnest, and when she received the stigmata and underwent the mystical betrothal.  He was the son of a farm labourer, was born at Heaton in Lancashire in 1846 and trained for the priesthood in St. Cuthbert's Seminary, Ushaw, Durham, where one of his classmates was Alfred Snow, Teresa's final director until her death.  He died aged 43 in 1886.

He was a very kind, gentle and holy priest, but he was not learned and was at a loss with what to do when confronted with Teresa, in such a high state of mystical life.  Therefore it was by him that Our Lord was to severely try her and her obedience.  Just as happened with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the case of one of her directors, he sought the advice of his professor of moral theology at Ushaw the Rev. Dr. James Lennon in dealing with her.  On this he imposed many harsh penances upon her, denying her communion when it was her only food, publicly humiliating her in church, dismissing her offhand when she asked for his blessing, and ordering her not to cry out or complain when she was in agony.

Canon Alfred Snow on his Notes on the life of Teresa Higginson was to comment: “To begin with the last of these trials, Father Thomas Wells, the rector of St. Mary’s and her director, was a holy zealous and devoted priest, faithful in the discharge of every duty and withal a humble man. Finding himself in charge of so gifted and holy a soul, a position so remote from any experience he had hitherto had, in his humility and diffidence he sought advice and considered it his duty to follow it in all respects. Hence he came to guide her soul by proxy. He consulted and was in frequent communication with the Rev. James Lennon, D.D., professor of moral theology at St. Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw. 

This is a situation that has often arisen in the lives of the saints and other holy souls, arisen no doubt by the Providence of God for the greater purification of the soul, but one which in itself can hardly be considered consonant with the principles which should guide the confessor in his dealings with his penitent. It invariably happens in such cases that the priest consulted is never satisfied, especially where he has no personal knowledge of the penitent. He is ever in doubt and orders one test after another to be applied, one humiliation and trial after another, until the penitent and director are robbed of all peace. This is precisely what happened in the present case. Father Wells was one of those men, and there are many like him, who think that when they ask advice they ought conscientiously to take it. 

Hence he appears to have imposed upon Teresa all the trials and humiliations that Dr. Lennon suggested. At one time, he insulted her in public and drove her out of the church. This little affected her for she and all who witnessed the event, knowing as they did the habitual kindness and gentleness of Father Wells, would know that he was only acting. The humiliation was too apparent. What proved to be a real trial and suffering was a much more simple thing. He put her under obedience to take off her scapulars and medals and carry no pious object on her person. This caused her very great suffering as she considered she must in some way have made herself unworthy to wear them, and, moreover, thought that they were means of grace which she had thought necessary for her salvation.”

Indeed Teresa in one of her letters to Fr. Powell was to comment on Fr. Wells' treatment of her when she underwent the torments and attacks of evil spirits during her time in Wigan:

“I think the first visible temptation which I had at Wigan was as soon as I went. I think you know that without any permission I used to rise as soon after twelve as I conveniently could (I had not a bed to myself) to make my meditation etc. and each time I commenced the Devil used to beat and ill use the body, and spit horrible filth upon me in the face and eyes, in fact, completely cover me which made me very sick, and the stench was almost poisoning. 

And this I told to rev. T. Wells who told me he thought I had a very fertile imagination, and as far as I can judge he did not believe me, but he told me to tell him each time I fancied it, and when he saw that it still continued he asked me could he write to some priest of great experience about it. But in the meantime, he said, you must not rise to make your meditation. Night is the time to sleep and rest so that you may be able to do your work as duty requires. And so I did not rise intentionally, but several times I found myself rising, and when I at once returned the devils would shriek and yell and laugh in a most dreadful manner and mock me and say: ‘Most obedient maid how firm are your words of promise to the King of heaven!’ 

But I did not notice him. Of course each time I found myself getting out of bed I told my confessor as soon as I could see him and he said if the will was really desirous of being entirely obedient he did not see how I could be so continually rising; but I begged and prayed our Lord and His b. Mother to help me to accomplish perfectly and promptly whatever my director would wish, cost it me what it would. And so by degrees I did not rise, but I seldom slept, I could not help myself making my meditation though I think I strove hard to resist, and so I told Father Wells. Then he said I must sleep a certain time, I forget now but I think he said four hours, and under obedience I did so, and when I slept the Devil would rouse me. 

Sometimes he cried as though some poor child were out upon the doorstep; sometimes he used to throw me completely out of bed, throw things at me that were in the room, and make awful noises, and I used to be afraid at first that Miss Gallagher or the people of the house would hear. And several times when I awoke I perceived a smell of something burning, and the house being filled with smoke and brimstone, I thought surely the house was on fire. And other times I saw the whole bed and room full of flames and heard the crackling and I am afraid in this case I proved a coward, for I was frightened more than I can tell at first for there was no holy water: the Devil threw something against the bottle and broke it. 

But Mary and St. Michael were ever near and when I called upon her I knew he had no power to hurt. But I thought the house might really be burnt and I think it was the Devil so I told Fr. Wells that I felt afraid and he said I must tell the Devil he must not do it again. And any temptation I always noticed stopped at the command of my director. Fr. Wells told me to ask our b. Lord to change the temptation."

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

St. Mary's, Standishgate, Wigan

The church of St. Mary, Standishgate, Wigan was were Teresa Higginson was based as a teacher in the Catholic school from 1873 to 1876 and was under the direction of the then rector Fr. Thomas Wells.  It was here in Wigan that her mystical life fully began in earnest.  She was to be given the marks of the stigmata on Friday of Passion week in 1874 and she underwent the mystical espousals on the Feast of the Sacred Heart later that year, the prelude to her ultimate mystical marriage to Our Lord in October 1887.  She was to write to Fr. Edward Powell:

“And when I was at Wigan in 1874, on the Friday morning in Passion Week, my Lord and my God gave me the marks of His five Sacred Wounds which I earnestly begged of Him to remove, but to give me an increase if possible of the pain. During all the following week they bled, and Fr. Wells saw one of them on the Good Friday, after which that disappeared, the others having done so earlier in the morning, and on several occasions they have reopened. This I think I have mentioned to you before but as I am not quite certain about it I thought it better to do so here.”

It is a fine church built in the pre - Pugin Gothick style that was widely fashionable at the time.  The first foundation Stone was laid on March 17th, 1818 , and the second one on April 23rd of the same year .  The Church was solemnly opened on January 27th, 1819,  in the years before Catholic emancipation in 1829. Unlike the fate that was to sadly befall St. Alexander's, Bootle in the 1941 blitz, this church is still alive and well although its life is in a much reduced form, and has been reasonably spared the liturgical vandalism that was befall so many 19th century churches in the 1960's and 1970's.  The parish has now been amalgamated with St. John's Church in the same town.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

A story of Teresa Higginson's intercession from the Catholic Fireside

This is a story that was published in the now defunct popular periodical the Catholic Fireside on January 20th 1933, during the height of the Great Depression and at the time that Teresa's cause for beatification was in progress, before Rome shelved it in 1938.
The true story of an unknown benefactress and 
a simple tale that implies the intercessory power of Teresa Higginson

by Francis Quinn

It was about four o'clock on a dull December afternoon as Mrs. Hanson placed the last garment on the pile before her, put the iron down on the saucer, and with a sigh, half of relief, half of weariness, straightened up and looked idly round the little room which was the parlour, dining room and kitchen combined of her home in Back Bolton Street.  Looking through the tiny window, she could scarcely see the dingy house opposite, dim and vague in the rapidly deepening dusk, and a sigh escaped her as she noted this sign of a long winter's night.

These sudden winter evenings had no charm for her now, as they had done two years ago when John, her husband had been in regular work.  Then the moments, when daylight departed and firelight awakened in the cosy little room, held for her a particular magic.  It was then that she would sit for a space, conscious that the long lonely work was done and anticipating the noisy entrance of the children and John, clamouring for their tea, all of them adorably, incredibly dependent on her the homekeeper.

The bright frosty fire would tell her these things, though she did not know it.  At these twilight moments it would suddenly come to life and flood the room with a warm, golden light.  It would pick out the glowing rubies on the surface of the mahogany sideboard, rouse the bronze horsemen there and set their shadows capering on the wall behind, reproduce itself with pretty effects on the glasses of the pictures hanging on the walls and in the midst of its hissings and cracklings whisper all kinds of things to her.  It would tell her that she was the happiest wife and mother in the world, but it had told her this so often, that she soon ceased to take any notice of it.  In fact if you ever asked her what the fire had told her, she would have been surprised even to laugh at you for she was not very imaginative.

 A typical back street court, as described in the story

But today the gloom and cold of the slum street invaded the house, unchallenged by the fire, which for all its magic qualities is born of sticks and coal - and money.  Mrs. Hanson was hardly aware that she was contrasting her present and past fortunes as her eyes travelled slowly round the room.  She hardly noticed the wooden boxes that served for chairs, the cheap deal sideboard which had replaced the mahogany one and all the rest of the evidence of the savage changes swift and deeper poverty makes in the homes of the already poor.

Just for a moment, her gaze stopped at a patch on the papered wall, a brighter green the rest of the surface.  Here she did note the first milestone which marked the family's road to destitution.  It had been a lovely picture, a wedding present, the first of the things that had to go.  If - when things mended, she thought if - when John found work, she would see that green patch covered with the same picture.  So she stood, her thoughts darting from the past to the future, when a knock on the door recalled her to the present.

It was Father Grey, one the of the priests from St. Stephen's.  He was returning to the presbytery and thought that he would just pop in and see how the Hansons ("a very nice family in desperate straights") were getting on.  Father Grey had a way of popping in at odd times to see his parishioners, casually and without any ceremony.  It was part of the secret of his remarkable success with this grim taciturn folk of his district, whose invitation to "take 'em as he found 'em" he long ago literally accepted.  

He understood them and recognised their outward dourness as a cloak under which they concealed a stoical endurance of their generally hard lot.  He never offended their pride by openly expressed pity, but he never failed to say the right thing at the right time and never lost the opportunity of doing a kindness.  Before he had been in the mining town a year, it was a commonplace there that the people of St. Stephen's would do anything for Father Grey.  The Hansons were only one of the families which had changed, since his coming into the town, from being indifferent to really good Catholics.

Mrs. Hanson was glad to see him.  Would Father take a chair?  No, thanks all the same, Mrs. Hanson - he hardly had a minute, but just thought he would ask if Mr. Hanson had nabbed that slippery customer, "Work," yet?  No?  Not yet?  Well, they must all keep on hoping and praying to Teresa Higginson; she would get him work as sure as she would be canonised.  And the children - all well and out of mischief?  Not back from school yet?  But, of course, fancy him forgetting; they would be at the breaking up party - if he didn't hurry straight off he would miss the fun and get into terrible hot water.  With which Father Grey whisked himself off...  He had been gone fully a minute before Mrs. Hanson saw two half - crowns he had left on the dresser.

The evening wore on.  The children had returned and were now in bed.  She had told her husband of Father Grey's kindness and as she told him, saw in his eyes the thought that was in her own mind: there was no limit to Father Grey's generosity but there was to his half crowns.  Both of them had fallen silent, their thoughts hovering fearfully round the half guessed future.  John had done all he could to find work; there was nothing left for him to do but hope with the hope of a good Catholic who has done his best.  His mother had just lately made a pilgrimage to this Teresa Higginson's grave at Neston and left a petition for him there.  Perhaps something would come of it.  The novena Father Grey had recommended had finished that day; somehow he did not fell quite as downhearted tonight...

The next day a queer thing happened at 12, Back Barton Street.  A boy from Kays' the grocers had called and left a large parcel of groceries.  He told an astonished Mrs. Hanson that they had been paid for, and instructions should be sent to Mrs. Hansons, 12 Back Barton Street.  At once Mrs. Hanson hurried round to the grocers to rectify what she sure was a mistake.  No, there had been no mistake.  A funny little woman, "dressed like my grandmother's aunt," the assistant told her, had ordered the things and told him where to send them.  "No, there has been no mistake, mum," said the assistant.  "Unless, happen, she made one.  And she didn't look that kind for all her queer clothes," he added.

After consulting with her husband, Mrs. Hanson decided to accept the gift, but, rack her brains as she might, she could not think who the benefactress could be.  She asked Father Grey, but he could not help her, and after asking a few more "suspects" she gave it up.  All the same she wished she could thank the unknown friend.  

The next day. when a strange coal loader called and left an unopened bag of coal, she was hardly surprised.  She had a curious feeling of knowing exactly what he was going to say - a lady had paid for it and told him.  No, mum, he did not know the lady.  Never seen her before; a queer looking piece and not what you might call well off looking.  Anyway, she paid on the nail and he delivered the stuff.  He wasn't going to worry...

For three weeks the thing went on.  Christmas came and went, a joyful time for the little family.  Mrs. Hanson had given up trying to find out the identity of her benefactress.  Evidently she wished to remain unknown and, by not enquiring, Mrs. Hanson could respect that wish.  Also Mrs. Hanson felt that would not find out however hard she tried.

When the fourth week came round and neither grocer's boy nor coal dealer had called, Mrs. Hanson felt surprised but, strangely, not disappointed.  Father Grey called that day.  Mrs. Hanson looked curiously at the parcel he put on the table.  Not food she thought, it looked more like a picture.

"I did not know you had an old lady staying here," he said, "is she ill?"  

Old Lady?  Mrs. Hanson looked up, surprised.  "There's no old lady, here, Father," she said quietly.

It was Father Grey's turn to look surprised.  This was mysterious.  Was he witness to a miracle, he wondered.  "You know Hurtley's, the picture framers?" he asked.  Mrs. Hanson nodded.

"They sent this to me," he continued, pointing to the parcel on the table, "and left word that a lady had asked then to frame it, and given instructions that, when finished, they should take it to me and ask me to leave it in your house.  Which I have done," he concluded rather breathlessly.  

The two looked at each other.  Then as moved by a common impulse, the hands of both reached to the parcel on the table.  Father Grey opened it.  "It's a picture of Teresa Higginson," he said.

A few hours later John came in.  "What do you think's happened, Joan," he was smiling.  Joan smiled too.

"I know," she answered, "you've got work."

"Right first guess - hello who's this?"  He pointed to the picture.  Joan smiled again - a serious kind of smile.

"I think I know that, too," she answered, "It's a picture of our unknown friend." 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Teresa Higginson on judgement and purgatory: Part III

Continuing from the previous letter to Fr. Powell on purgatory:

Bootle, December 19th 1880
In honour of the Seat of Divine Wisdom I will try to put clearly before you what I understand concerning those truths you told me to ask our dear Blessed Lord about.
In the two previous letters which I have written I appeared to contradict myself and thus raised a theological difficulty by saying in one that all guilt of sin was remitted by the last act of the will, and in the other that when a soul saw herself in God she then detested them, I mean her sins and imperfections, and by that act of perfect charity all the sin was remitted.  You told me also to ask our dear Lord Jesus Christ how in the cases of persons who die in an unconscious state and are not able to make an act of contrition.

And this is what I understand, that no person ever dies without having a full consciousness to detest sin, that when all the earth has faded away from the soul, before its entire separation from the body, sees its true position and knows all that is revealed of God, and in this knowledge (which light was purchased by the darkness our Lord endured in His last moments) she renounces sin which she sees is the only thing which can keep her from at once possessing and enjoying God, who alone is worthy to be loved and desired.

With time all merit so far as we are concerned ends; when the soul leaves the body the will has no more freedom: it is passive, it wills or desires nothing but what God ordains, but the act of sorrow and the desire of God is mostly excited through a selfishness, I mean because she sees her loss and mourns over the cause of it; and through the infinite merits of the Redemption these wounds are healed, and when healed God shows them to the soul that she may know and see on her entrance into eternity why she is to suffer, and after that she no more looks to herself or her sufferings nor the reasons of them, for if she were to behold them she would be driven to despair; but these imperfections and weaknesses which are in the soul are not sins but the effect of sins: they are as it were so much rust that covers over the real metal and which is burnt off it (the soul) in the furnace of divine love.

So in like manner through neglected graces and not trying really to know God here, the soul is enveloped in a mist or fog or veil, which prevents to light of God actually shining in the soul, and the soul being weak (as a person with sore eyes cannot look at the sun) so the soul feels her weakness and unfitness to enjoy God and stand in the light of His dazzling Beauty and awful Purity.  And if she were compelled to remain thus, a dreadful condition would be hers, for a pain more terrible than many purgatories would arise within her.

O how the holy souls admire the mercy and love of God in allowing them thus to suffer in the fire of purgatory, and the greater the knowledge and love of the good God, the more intense their longing and the greater their pain; yet these unutterable pangs do not prevent them enjoying a most holy peace and an excessive joy, which is not prevented by their suffering, and as the mist and rust is cleared off the soul and the light of God shines in more powerfully, the greater the impetuosity within the soul.  And the fire does not lesson their suffering, nor indulgences nor prayers nor alms nor even the Holy Sacrifice: it only diminishes the time of duration, if we may call it time beyond the grave.  For the purer the soul becomes the more clearly it see and knows and therefore enjoys God, and this love which consumes it is the great cause of pain, I mean the more it loves the greater it suffers.  O my Father there are not words to express what I would say.

Then with regard to the other question: how it is by the act of perfect Charity which the soul makes on beholding God in the essence of His infinite perfections it is not freed from all punishment, as our holy Mother the Church teaches in an act of perfect contrition remits not only sin but also punishment due to it.  So it does if it is made while we have the power of free will, that is before death; but after death we cannot merit, no more than we can sin.  And it is this very charity with the knowledge of imperfection in the soul that makes up its purgatory, and as soon as the impediment which hinders God from shining in the majesty of His glory into the soul is removed, then though she were left in purgatory it would cease to cause any pain, for she would have attained that purity which God had given her at Baptism.

If I have not answered all I will do so again...

Monday, 13 August 2012

A Wirral miracle in 1940

A reader sent in this story of a cure of her grandmother in Wirral in 1940 by Teresa Higginson's intercession.  This is an edited version:

Blessed Teresa Higginson cured my nan (grandmother) in Wirral in 1940.

Birkenhead docks

My late nan had nine children and my grandad worked on the docks.   My nan was very ill and doctors said her illness was not curable.  My grandfather said he would put the children in a Catholic home, and see them when not working.  My nan said it wasn't an option.  She travelled to the Wirral with my Aunt Winifred, and when she arrived she was ill and weak.  She was taken to a small room, given a prayer and a small piece of cloth to hold, (probably a second class relic of Teresa Higginson) and she said that she felt all the illness lift out of her.  She left and went back home. I don't know if this was recorded or not, but I thank Our Lord, Our Lady, blessed Teresa and all the angels and saints that it did.  This was one of my favorite childhood stories, and my nan went on to live to eighty.

Name withheld

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Teresa Higginson's prayers to the Sacred Head

O Wisdom of the Sacred Head, guide me in all Thy ways!

O Love of the Sacred Heart, consume me with Thy fire!

Glory be...

(repeated three times over in honour of the Divine Understanding, Memory and Will)

O Seat of Divine Wisdom, and guiding Power, which governs all the motions and love of the Sacred Heart, may all minds know Thee all hearts love Thee and all tongues praise Thee, now and for evermore!

Prayer for the beatification of Teresa Higginson

O Jesus by Thy bitter Passion, O Hidden God by all Thy yearning love for mankind in the Blessed Sacrament, grant we humbly beseech Thee, that if it be for Thy greater glory and the good of souls, the halo of the Blessed may soon be placed on the head of Teresa Higginson, Thy Servant.  Amen.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Teresa Higginson's obedience

 When faced with Teresa Higginson for the first time, or for that matter any mysticism or private revelation that claims to expound devotions or messages from God, the crucial question presents itself: was she genuine, or was she a diabolical or natural fraud?  What test is there whose validity cannot be fudged either by the devil or an impostor, and will almost certainly find them out?

 St Faustina Kowalska

To answer this question we can turn to another mystic similar to Teresa, whose sanctity and  the devotion she advanced have now been fully recognised by the church, and who has been raised to full sainthood.  This is St. Faustina Kowalska of the Divine Mercy.  She wrote in her diary concerning spiritual direction by confessors: "Satan can take on the cloak of humility, but he cannot take on the cloak of obedience."  In other words, the test of private revelation and mysticism is total and complete submission to ecclesiastical authority and judgement, particularly when they are wrong, mistaken or unjust.  A false apparition or an imposter will always be motivated by pride and vainglory, and will never submit to such a test.

The Divine Mercy devotion itself was to be most rigorously tested by the church and this was foreseen by St. Faustina herself.  In 1959 the Holy Office, working from a poor French translation of her diary which made it seem heretical, declared the devotion forbidden and ordered all pictures of it to be removed from churches.  This was complied with, and St. Faustina's director Canon Michael Sopocko was to suffer very greatly from this and came under censure.

So how did Teresa conduct herself under the test of obedience under ecclesiastical authority, and to what extent was she tested?  The period after she left her convent school in  Nottingham and she began her teaching career was the one in which her mystical experiences began in earnest.  This was a time when she was based at the school of St. Mary's in Wigan, and  was experiencing the prayer of union and ecstasy frequently, she had come to live on nothing but the Blessed Sacrament, was displaying the stigmata, and experiencing the passion.  She was to come under the direction for a while of the rector Fr. Thomas Wells, who was a holy but not a very learned priest. 

Confronted with all these experiences and not knowing at all what to do with her sought the advice by correspondence of Dr. Lennon, professor of moral theology at St. Cuthbert's seminary, Ushaw.  On Dr. Lennon's advice he was to impose many a terrible penance on her.  He ordered her not to wear any scapulars or crosses, which she promptly complied.  When she was ill he tried her by denying her communion, which was all that she lived on for her food, causing her great agony.  As Lady Cecil Kerr was to write of the account of Teresa's friend Susan Ryland:

Teresa’s longing for holy Communion when she could not get out was intense. “The sufferings she went through on that account I could only liken to a person dying of hunger with food before them which she could not touch. When I came from holy Communion you would think she would devour me and to listen to her craving was most painful. I went to Father Wells about it and all he said was: ‘She has no business to go on that way. Tell her from me she is not to do it.’ I had to tell her, of course, and after that she became perfectly silent.”

Sometimes Miss Ryland would beg of Father Wells to bring her Communion, but he would not always do so — no doubt to try her. On Holy Thursday, 1875, she waited all day long. She was in bed and whenever Miss Ryland asked her to take anything she would only reply: “He will come.” At last, at nine o’clock at night, the curate who had been all day in Liverpool brought her the Blessed Sacrament. 

Fr. Edward Powell was to be equally severe with her as a director.  He ordered her to eat when he saw her complete abstinence from food, which she did and was promptly sick.  When she organised a collection round St. Alexander's parish without his knowledge, he ordered her to stop and return the money to everyone she got it from, much to her embarrassment.  And most important of all, both he and Canon Alfred Snow ordered her to bare the secrets of her soul to them in her letters, which was to cause her very great pain, yet by this we know so much about her and the Sacred Head devotion.  But the most crucial tests of obedience came when she was in a state of ecstasy, when she was undergoing the prayer of union, and no action no matter how violent by those around her could rouse her.  However a simple command from a priest for her to come to would never fail to end such a state, and bring her back to normal.  If she had failed to do this, it would be clear proof that her mysticism was not from God.

Fr. Bertrand Wilberforce was to comment in his Memorandum on her:

Obedience is proved by the promptitude and simplicity with which she lays bare her secret soul under authority in spite of all repugnance, and gives up at once any penance or exercise without agitation of mind when commanded. Moreover, her confessor after many trials is unable to detect any failing of obedience. The humble way in which she accuses herself of a very slight act of childish disobedience shows the light of the Holy Spirit and reminds us of St. Philip Neri.

It was widely asserted by Canon Snow that this childish act of disobedience to her mother was the only sin that she ever committed that was a matter for the confessional, and such was the horror that she had of it she never displayed the slightest act of disobedience again.

For us who wish to spread devotion to the Sacred Head, we would be wise to bear in mind the prompt obedience of Teresa Higginson to the authority of the church, for Our Lord has stated of it, "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." (Luke 10:16).  If we are to succeed, it is imperative that we submit to the judgement of the church, even if it may seem completed misguided.  For 20 years the Divine Mercy devotion was condemned by the Holy See, yet those who spread the devotion submitted completely to that judgement, until in 1978 it was lifted by the intervention of Archbishop Karol Wojtiya, who soon after became Pope John Paul II.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Feast of the Sacred Head

The Feast of the Sacred Head that was proposed by Teresa Higginson falls on the octave day of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, that is the Friday after that feast.  She was to state in a letter to Fr. Powell on June 2nd 1880:

As I told you, our dear B. Lord expressly asked me to tell you from Him that He wished His most Sacred Head to be publicly worshipped and honoured as the Seat of Divine Wisdom, and said too that the Friday, octave day of the feast of the Sacred Heart, should be dedicated as a festival day in its honour, and special reparation and atonement be then offered to Him.

For He said, ‘See oh my beloved daughter, I am clothed and mocked as a fool m the house of my friends; I am crowned in derision, I who am the God of Wisdom and all Knowledge, I the King of Kings, the Almighty and All-powerful One am presented with a sham sceptre, and if thou wouldst make some return, thou canst not do better than tell my servant E. from me that I now wish the Devotion made known which I have so often communicated to you, and I wish the first Friday after the feast of my Sacred Heart to be set apart as a festive day in honour of my Sacred Head as the Seat of Divine Wisdom, and that public adoration be offered to Me for all the outrages and sins which are continually being committed against Me.’

He also said that you must not be disheartened at difficulties that may and will arise and crosses that will be numerous. He will be your support and your reward is great. ‘And anyone who shall assist in furthering this Devotion shall be blessed a thousand fold, but woe to him that shall reject or go against my wish in this respect, for they shall be scattered in my wrath and shall know their place no more, but to them that honour Me I will give of my might, and I will be their God and they shall be my children and I will place my sign upon their foreheads and my seal upon their lips.”

The Sacred Head devotion was intended to be the crowning of all devotions, and the completion of the one of Sacred Heart, as the Sacred Head, seat of Divine Wisdom, governs the motions of the Sacred Heart.   Hence it is a feast that completes the Sacred Heart Octave, and is the final one that is determined by Easter, and the completion of the liturgical cycle of the Paschal mystery.  In many respects it is similar to the Feast of the Divine Mercy, that falls on Low Sunday after Easter, and which is at the end of the Easter Octave.  The Divine Mercy Feast is the first to be determined by Easter, and the Sacred Head the last.  And likewise both spring from the great fount of Mercy the Sacred Heart, pierced by the lance from which flowed blood and water.

The Feast and Octave of the Sacred Heart is a fairly recent addition to the calender: the liturgical propers of the mass and the office were compiled by St. Jean Eudes in around 1670, and feast only became celebrated in the universal church in 1856 by decree of Blessed Pope Pius IX.  Unfortunately the Octave of the Sacred Heart was abolished by Pius XII in the pre - Vatican II reforms of 1955 of the missal and breviary.  And for the Feast of the Sacred Head, there are still no official mass and divine office propers that can be used, as the church does not officially recognise the feast at present.  Hence the faithful currently can only celebrate it in a private capacity.  However in the future this will change, please God!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Teresa Higginson on judgement and purgatory: Part II

Continuing from the previous letter to Fr. Powell on purgatory:

Bootle, December 16th 1880

I trust you were able to understand all I wrote in my last.  I think I told you how the soul on leaving the body see herself as she really is, and in this one glance too she sees that through the precious merits of our dear Lord Jesus Christ all her wounds are healed, and when God has healed them He shows them to her, which causes such a fire of burning love to spring up within her that in it are consumed every imperfection and impediment, and in that glance she sees Him too in all the beauty of His infinite perfections; and she is so enamoured of Him that she entirely forgets herself and the reason why she suffers.  She knows it is God's holy will and she adores His infinite wisdom in a silence of unspeakable love.  His will is all she desires, and she could not but choose to be there.

O my Father, it is that very condition which I have told you that I experienced within myself and which those alone can understand whom it pleases God to instruct.  It is, I was going to say the loss, but I mean the separation from God or not being able at once to possess him eternally whom she loves with an unspeakable love that causes the great pain which I have often mentioned and which at times causes such impetuosity in the soul, and yet the whole while such a peace and a holy calm, such a desire to do God's holy will and enjoy Him eternally she would not wish but to remain here, so long as it is to His glory; and the more terrible is this excessive burning the more clearly she sees and desires Him, and the more clearly He shines upon the soul the more her joy increases, but the pain does not grow less, only the length of endurance, and the more the soul knows and loves Him the more terrible the pain.

How shall express the excess of torture that the soul endures?  It is precisely the torments of hell which are caused by the soul seeing in itself something which is displeasing to God whom it knows is infinite Goodness, Wisdom and Love, and as the soul is above the body, so the sufferings which she endures are beyond the comprehension of the body.  The sufferings the poor body can endure are but a painted shadow or as a picture of a fire compared to an immense and terrible furnace.  Yet when it pleases our dear God to send us this purgatory here the body also participates in these unutterable pains...

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

St. Winefride

St. Winefride, Virgin and Martyr, was a saint that Teresa was deeply devoted to and had many connections with.  Teresa was born in the saint's shrine town of Holywell, lies buried in the churchyard of St. Winefride's, Neston, Cheshire, and had a mystical life and piety much in common with St. Winefride.  And it could be said that having been decapitated and brought to life again, St. Winefride is connected to the devotion to the Sacred Head.  The details of her life are gathered from a manuscript in the British Museum, said to have been the work of the British monk, Elerius, a contemporary of the saint, and also from a manuscript life in the Bodleian Library, generally believed to have been compiled (1130) by Robert, prior of Shrewsbury.

St. Winefride, from  a window in the Holy Name, Oxton

She was born at Holywell, Wales, around 600 and died at Gwytherin, Wales, on 3 November 660.  Her father was Thevit, a Cambrian magnate, her mother Wenlo, a sister of St. Beuno. St. Beuno had led at first a solitary life, but afterwards established a community of cenobites at Clynog-vawr. While in search of a suitable place for a monastery he came to visit his sister's husband whose lands lay on a bluff overlooking the town of Holywell on the valley side of the well.  Tradition points this out as the spot on which the convent of St. Winefride was afterwards built. From this eminence there is a steep incline down to the stream and the well, and beneath this incline St. Beuno lived and built a chapel in which he said Mass and preached to the people. 

St. Beuno

Winefride was then one of his most attentive listeners. Though only fifteen years old she gave herself to a life of devotion and austerity, passing whole nights watching in the church. Prior to the conquest of Wales the saint was known as Guenevra; after that her name was changed to the English form of Winefride. She was a maiden of great personal charm and endowed with rare gifts of intellect. Under the guidance of St. Beuno, Winefride made rapid progress in virtue and learning and with her parents' consent prepared to consecrate herself to God.

The fame of her beauty and accomplishments had reached the ears of Caradoc, son of the neighbouring Prince Alen, who resolved to seek her hand in marriage. Coming in person to press his suit he entered the house of Thevit, and found Winefride alone, her parents having gone early to Mass. The knowledge that Winefride had resolved to quit the world and consecrate herself to God seemed only to add fuel to his passion, and he pleaded his cause with extraordinary vehemence, even proceeding to threats as he saw her turn indignantly away. At length, terrified at his words and alarmed for her innocence, the maiden escaped from the house, and hurried towards the church, where her parents were hearing Mass, that was being celebrated by her uncle, St. Beuno. Maddened by a disappointed passion, Caradoc pursued her and, overtaking her on the slope above the site of the present well, he drew his sword and at one blow severed her head from the body. The head rolled down the incline and, where it rested, there gushed forth a spring.

St. Beuno, hearing of the tragedy, left the altar, and accompanied by the parents came to the spot where the head lay beside the spring. Taking up the maiden's head he carried it to where the body lay, covered both with his cloak, and then re-entered the church to finish the Holy Sacrifice. When Mass was ended he knelt beside the saint's body, offered up a fervent prayer to God, and ordered the cloak which covered it to be removed. Thereupon Winefride, as if awakening from a deep slumber, rose up with no sign of the severance of the head except a thin white circle round her neck. Seeing the murderer leaning on his sword with an insolent and defiant air, St. Beuno invoked the chastisement of heaven, and Caradoc fell dead on the spot, the popular belief being that the ground opened and swallowed him.

Miraculously restored to life, Winefride seems to have lived in almost perpetual ecstasy and to have had familiar converse with God. In fulfillment of her promise, she solemnly vowed virginity and poverty as a recluse. A convent was built on her father's land, where she became the abbess of a community of young maidens, and a chapel was erected over the well. St. Beuno left Holywell, and returned to Cærnarvon. Before he left the tradition is that he seated himself upon the stone, which now stands in the outer well pool, and there promised in the name of God "that whosoever on that spot should thrice ask for a benefit from God in the name of St. Winefride would obtain the grace he asked if it was for the good of his soul." St. Winefride on her part made agreement with St. Beuno that so long as she remained at Holywell, and until she heard of his death, she would yearly send him a memorial of her affection for him.

After eight years spent at Holywell (reckoning from the departure of St. Beuno), St. Winefride, hearing of his death, received an inspiration to leave the convent and retire inland. She was welcomed at Gwytherin, near the source of the River Elwy, by St. Elwy (Elerius), who gives his name to the River Elwy, and by whom the first life of the saint was written. She brought her companion religious with her, and found there other nuns governed by an abbess. She seems to have lived at Gwytherin as an acknowledged saint on earth, first in humble obedience to the abbess, and, after the latter's death, as abbess herself until her own death. Her chief feast is observed on 3 November, the other feast being that of her martyrdom held on June 22nd. Her death was foreshown to her in a vision by Christ Himself. 

During her life she performed many miracles, and after her death, up to the present day, countless wonders and favours continue to be worked and obtained through her intercession.  After her death Winifride was interred at her abbey.  In 1138, her body was translated to Shrewsbury Abbey to form the basis of an elaborate shrine. On its way there it was laid in the hamlet of Woolston near Oswestry in Shropshire overnight, and a spring sprang up out of the ground.  The water is supposed to have healing powers and be good at healing bruises, wounds and broken bones.  The well is covered by a 15th-century half-timbered cottage, which is maintained by the Landmark Trust. 

St Winefride's Well Woolston

Another spring arising from the laying down of Winifred's body is at Holywell Farm, midway between Tattenhall and Clutton, Cheshire. There is a spring in the garden of this non-working farm which supplies two houses with their drinking water. The shrine at  Shrewsbury Abbey became a major pilgrimage goal in the Late Middle Ages, but it was to be destroyed by Henry VIII in 1540, and most the relics destroyed.  However one survived throughout penal times which is now at the Catholic parish church in Holywell above the well.
Shrewsbury Abbey