Disclaimer

NOTICE: I am a practicing Catholic, active and in good-standing with my local parish, who professes faith and loyalty to the Church. This ministry - my "little work" - is strictly a personal expression of that faith and loyalty, and not an officially recognized ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu.

~ Peter, Ministry & Blog Administrator


Monday, April 5, 2021

Another Round of "Faces of Holiness"...


I find this science very, very interesting - forensic facial reconstruction.  It's a field of science that aims to reconstruct the probable faces of the deceased based on standard reference points on their skulls.  More so, I get excited when the face being redone is a pre‐photography era SAINT; it's as though we now get to look at a photo of the individual rather than just a holy card based on someone's imagination.

I've posted on this topic several times before, but I accidentally came across a recent saintly facial reconstruction and, upon digging around, I actually discovered quite a few others.  In fact, it seems to be a trend for Catholic shrines/organizations to have their respective Saints' faces reconstructed, based on preserved skull-relics... and I like it!  So here we go with another round of "faces of holiness"...


+ +  St. John Nepomucene  + +

         
St. John's reconstructed face vs. a popular monument of the Saint in the Czech Republic 

This Saint was a priest in the court of King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia.  According to most accounts, he was the queen's personal confessor and, when the king suspected her of infidelity, he pressed the priest for personal details from her frequent confessions to him.  As one would expect of a devout priest, John refused and remained steadfast despite threats made against him by Wenceslaus.

The standoff between Saint and monarch culminated on March 20, 1393, when the king ordered the priest beaten then executed when he still persisted on remaining silent - John was thrown from the Charles Bridge, in city of Prague, into the frigid Vltava River and drowned as a result.

Deemed a Martyr, John Nepomucene was canonized in 1729 and is popularly considered the "Martyr of the Seal of the Confessional" and a Patron Saint of Bohemia, Czech Republic.  Interestingly, according to a tradition, his tongue was discovered preserved from corruption during a ritual exhumation in 1715, prior to his beatification.


+ +  Bl. Luca Belludi  + +

          
Bl. Luca's reconstructed face vs. an early depiction of him (a close likeness?)

This Blessed was an Italian friar, who was accepted into the Franciscan Order by St. Francis of Assisi (d. 1226), himself.  He was an assistant and close friend to St. Anthony of Padua (d. 1231), and died in Padua in 1286.  Like his illustrious friend, Bl. Luca was also a holy man and skilled preacher, and the Church recognized his sanctity through beatification in 1927.  His relics remain enshrined in the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua.


+ +  St. Magnus Erlendsson  + +

          
St. Magnus' face and the relic of his skull used in the reconstruction process

This obscure Saint was a Norseman; the Earl of Orkney in Norway.  Baptized Catholic, according to a certain biography, he was exceptionally pious and highly diligent in the practice of the Faith. Because of his gentle personality and his very open expression of Christian principles, Magnus was mocked by other pagan Viking rulers... but the people he ruled over benefited from his kindness.

Reluctantly caught up in the political intrigue and power struggles of his time and place, Magnus was betrayed and put to death by order of a rival Earl, via an brutal axe blow to the head, as evidenced by his skull.  Before dying he pardoned the executioner and his enemies, and prayed for them.

The spot where St. Magnus was killed and buried was rocky and barren ground, which reportedly grew over with lush green grass soon after his death.  He was considered a Martyr and many healings were subsequently reported at his grave, prompting his canonization in 1136.


+ +  The Jesuit Martyrs of Kosice  + +


These Jesuit clergymen (their individual names are listed above) were heroically martyred by Calvinist Protestants.  All three voluntarily ministered to the Catholic minority in Kosice, which was a Calvinist stronghold during their day.  In 1619, at a time of rising anti-Catholic sentiments, they were arrested and beaten with the intent of having them apostasize, which the trio refused to do despite torture.

As a result of their steadfastness, the priests were beheaded and their bodies thrown into a ditch where they lay for 6 months.  A sympathetic countess claimed their remains and provided the Martyrs with a Christian burial; their tomb immediately became a beacon of faith for the persecuted Catholics of Kosice.  The Church eventually canonized them as a group in 1995.


+ +  St. Peter of Verona  + +

          
St. Peter's reconstructed face vs. an early depiction of him

This Dominican Saint was a celebrated preacher, as well as a reputable wonder-worker.  He preached against heretical sects in central and northern Italy - particularly against the Cathars - bringing many back into the Church.

Infuriated by his success, Catharist leaders in Milan hired a pair of assassins to kill Peter, which took place on April 6, 1252, while the Saint made his way to their city.  The murderer, Carlino of Balsamo, struck him in the head with an axe.

While he lay dying, St. Peter used his blood to scrawl his final profession of faith on the ground beside him: I believe in God... (from the beginning of the Apostles Creed).  His body was discovered and transferred to Milan, where it was met with immediate veneration and became a channel for miraculous cures.  Peter was so highly regarded, he was declared a Saint in March 1253, less than a year after his death.

As an uplifting postscript to this somber story, Carlino - the Saint's murderer - later repented of his crime and sincerely converted.  He joined the Dominicans in Forli and lived such a holy life he is now locally honored as Blessed Carlino of Balsamo.


+ +  St. Valentine  + +

          
St. Valentine's face and the relic of his skull used in the reconstruction process

This Saint's Feast is observed every year by millions, worldwide, on February 14th, but really ‐ how many people out there actually know about his life history and spiritual significance?

St. Valentine was a priest or bishop who ministered in ancient Rome; he was captured during a time of intense Christian persecution in the early years of the Church.  Refusing to offer sacrifices to pagan gods and betray Christ, he was beheaded in 269 AD.

According to one popular account, the Saint, among many other good works, secretly united Christian soldiers and their brides in holy matrimony, despite the Roman Emperor's edict forbidding active soldiers to marry.  It's a scenario that likely lead to Valentine being romantically branded as the Patron Saint of Lovers.


+ +  St. Zdislava Berka  + +

          
St. Zdislava's reconstructed face vs. an early depiction of her

A noblewoman of Czech descent, this Saint was highly pious as a child.  She actually attempted to run away from home at age 7 to become a hermit...  failed...  and was forced by her parents to marry a nobleman at 15-years-old.

Zdislava's husband turned out to be a brute, but through her patience and meekness, she gained his tacit approval to perform acts of charity and to establish two convents; all while dealing with her husband and raising their children.  Furthermore, her sanctity merited ecstasies and visions, and she reportedly performed miracles in her lifetime.

St. Zdislava Berka died in 1252 but wasn't canonized until 1995 - she's considered a Patron Saint of the Czech Republic, along with St. John Nepomucene.


... and finally - the Blessed Virgin Mary?

Obviously, this last image is not a true forensic facial reconstruction since Our Lady's body was assumed into Heaven, but the artist who created this beautiful and haunting piece - Julien Lasbleiz - based his representation of the Holy Virgin on the image of Christ, as imprinted on the Shroud of Turin.

Supposing the Holy Shroud is indeed the miraculous relic many purport it to be (I personally believe it is), then it really does capture the true face of Jesus... and since he only had one biological parent - Mary - it would be logical to assume that he closely resembled her.  So how genius is the artist in coming up with this notion and the unique rendering of our Blessed Mother?  Very clever.  I had to share it here after seeing it on several other websites because it really is an image worth contemplating.


The Lasbleiz painting above... and side-by-side with a painting
of Christ that was also based on the Holy Shroud.



To view this ministry's other posts on forensic "faces of holiness", click here.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Saint of the Month, April 2021: Maria Dominica Clara of the Holy Cross


The Servant of God
Maria Dominica Clara of the Holy Cross
A Victim Soul for the Priesthood

Mother Maria Dominica Clara Moes is a great spiritual figure who I'd bet most people don't know about, including Catholics, but I'd like to change that - at least in some small way through this blog.  Her biography is not just fascinating because of the rich mysticism this nun lived, but it's also quite edifying because she was a proven virtuous soul; exemplary enough for the Church to open an investigation into her life for possible sainthood.  So who was this hidden gem of a mystic, born Anna Moes in Bous, Luxembourg?

Anna came into this world on October 27, 1832.  Remarkably, immediately after her baptism on the day after her birth, she claims to have been gifted with the full use of her reason and could understand what was going on around her despite just being a baby.  Now this isn't really unique, at all, since there were a few other mystics who supposedly received this extremely rare grace, most notably the great visionary-stigmatic, Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich (d. 1824), with whom Anna Moes' life shared a lot of similarities.  Both were destined to be victim souls, whose voluntary sufferings were offered to God to ward off dangers facing the Church.  In the latter's case, her apparent mission included praying and expiating for the sanctification of priests, and it entailed a lot of suffering.

One other spiritual favor Anna received in infancy was the ability to see and interact with her guardian angel, as well as other holy angels, on an almost continual basis.  As such, she developed a very strong devotion to these heavenly messengers.  Again, not a unique grace in the lives of prime-level mystics, as there were several in Church history who were closely bonded to their guardian angels (e.g. St. Lydwina of Scheidam, St. Frances of Rome, Gemma Galgani, etc.)... but this is how Anna described her personal experiences with angels to one of her confessors:

  "Love and veneration of the Holy Angels had already been placed in my heart since my childhood, but with growing in age, it reached an ever higher degree.  My devotion to them was continuous, because there are very few moments when I do not think or talk to them... How can I not love and venerate the Holy Angels who have done so much for me and continue to dedicate such tender love to me!"

The angel's influence on Anna was intimate and powerful - at just age 6 he showed his young protege a heart encircled with thorns, and prophesied this to her:

  "Fear not, dear daughter, the Divine Savior chose you to participate in a special way in the sufferings bestowed upon him by wicked men in his Holy Church, upon which great and continuous tribulations will ensue!  Hell will rise with all its might to the point where the children of the Church, themselves, rebel against it and pursue to the extreme... but the Lord of armies will crush them.  Go, my dear daughter - for all this, the Divine Savior seeks comfort and help in you.  He'll send you many great tribulations, but he'll never deny you his help.  It is his holy will that you offer all your sufferings for the intention for which he has chosen you.  His Sacred Heart will be your perpetual refuge..."

Anna's angel then led her to the foot of the altar in the local church where the girl pronounced a vow of virginity and voluntarily offered herself, wholeheartedly, to God, to which her guardian angel solemnly responded: "Now, my child, you have entered the school of suffering that you will not abandon until your soul is brought by the angels to the throne of God, to be crowned there by your Heavenly Bridegroom."  From that moment on, Anna was plagued with poor health but her mystical experiences escalated:

  • At age 9, she celebrated her First Holy Communion and received a revelation from God that it was his will for her to reestablish the Dominican Order in Luxembourg
  • In addition to seeing her guardian angel from her earliest childhood, she received visits from the Holy Mother of Christ who favored her with signal blessings, such as purity of soul and help against demonic assaults
  • In 1850, at the age of 18, she underwent the lofty grace of Mystical Marriage to Christ
  • Among her other charisms were Ecstasies, Visions, Mystical Communions from the hands of angels, visits from Purgatorial Souls... and the Stigmata, which appeared to bleed only on Fridays and, which Anna managed to successfully hide for a period of time

In 1861, at age 29, the Lord's commission to Anna concerning a Dominican monastery in Luxembourg was finally initiated by her and a few like-minded friends in the region of Limpertsberg.  It was a rocky start, made more difficult by the physical harassment of the devil against the foundress... but the small group persevered, and the establishment thrived and was eventually affiliated with the Dominican Order in 1884.  Anna, by then, was the elected Prioress and had taken the religious name of Maria Dominica Clara of the Holy Cross (referred to as "Mo. Dominica" from here on).

Despite her success in establishing the monastery, it wasn't the end of the mystic's trials - others followed.  Mo. Dominica, in her humility, had made an earnest effort to hide her supernatural gifts from the community, but the visible nature of the ecstasies and the Stigmata, simply made it impossible to do so indefinitely.  A few of the nuns, perhaps either through jealousy or misunderstanding, suspected the foundress of fanaticism, or worse yet - outright fraud - and even gossiped maliciously about her to the townspeople so the unusual occurrences in the monastery became common knowledge; skeptics took to publicly ridiculing Dominica, going so far as to obscenely parody her stigmata during a local festival.

When word reached the ecclesiastic authorities of the superior's alleged misdeeds, a lengthy investigation was launched into the matter.  Mo. Dominica was subjected to intense scrutiny, as well as commanded to document her remarkable experiences, to be reviewed by her investigators.  The nun obeyed, but the order pained her all the more because she loathed being considered as privileged in any way because of her extraordinary mysticism.  At the end of it all, the judgement pronounced was in her favor and Mo. Dominica was vindicated, which further boosts her credibility as a genuine instrument of God.

The grave of Mo. Dominica Clara in Limpertsberg.

In spite of being cleared of any wrong doing, the Prioress did not rest on her laurels.  She continued to lead her community with humility, practicality, and piety.  The wondrous manifestations continued but Dominica still tried to hide or dismiss them (e.g. except for a couple of trusted confidants, she forbade anyone from coming into her cell when the stigmata were active then personally washed the linens stained with blood from her wounds); insisting that her nuns not place their focus on the supernatural.  Instead, she advised them in this manner:

  "God demands solid virtue from us and will not have a Sister fix her heart upon a soul because it is visited by ecstasy...  To see a person receive Holy Communion in an ecstasy does not justify one in priding oneself upon it.  It is true and remains true that only genuine virtue makes a person holy...  One single humiliation counts more before God than ecstasies and miracles, were these ever so numerous."

After spending decades praying and sacrificing for the needs of the Church, especially for priests, the prodigious life of Maria Dominica Clara of the Holy Cross ended on February 24, 1895 - she was 62-years-old.  As of this writing, this author believes her Cause for Sainthood is still active... so let us pray together for this saintly Dominican's speedy Canonization.

Mother Maria Dominica Clara, pray for us!