Devotions with Bishop Dolan, Episode 11: Doctors and Devotions
His Lordship Bishop Dolan, who passed into eternity yesterday (+May he rest in peace.+) is by himself in this episode to talk about devotions, the great treasures of our Catholic Faith.
We might think of devotions as forming the most richly varied garden, where even the meanest of its countless different colours and fruits will disclose to us afresh some unspeakable aspect of the Faith.
Bishop Dolan talks to the listener ‘one-on-one’ about this incredible subject, making many happy digressions that are full of anecdotes from saints’ lives, short stories, a confessor’s insight, and the personal applications we should make; all delivered with characteristic warmth and good humour.
What are devotions in the Catholic Church? We must distinguish it, says his Lordship, from the pagan idea of prayer, which sees it as a formula to bind God to do the will of human beings.
Our episode gets its title from Saint Pantaleon, on whose feast it was recorded. He was one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and a patron saint of doctors. He was a martyr under the Emperor Diocletian; and it is martyrdom, his Lordship points out, which teaches us to equate in our own life devotion and sacrifice.
Catholic devotions are defined by the Christian idea of sacrifice. They are always interior, always involve self-denial, and are inseparably connected to the Catholic liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice.
They are essentially sacrificial, and in this episode, it is Bishop Dolan’s constant theme and mission to get the listener to henceforth couple these two things in their mind: devotion and sacrifice.
They are connected in two very important ways.
A devotion may be defined as a pious practice by which we make our complete and irrevocable consecration to God. This practice, however, is always matched by and leads us to make a certain sacrifice. Sacrifice of self is the real purpose of any devotion, as part of the effort to attain perfect union with God.
Bishop Dolan also explains that they are also essentially sacrificial in that they are liturgical: they all have ultimate reference to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They are the unique forms of personal sacrifice directed towards and funnelled through the Sacrifice offered by Our Lord to God the Father.
‘Our devotions take our heart and put them upon the paten in union with the Mass,’ says His Lordship, and he says we should think of them as being simply ‘our Eucharistic sacrifice.’
After explaining what a devotion is, Bishop Dolan discusses their wonderful variety.
They are a ‘panoply of possibilities,’ he says, ‘for prayer, penitential practices, and the expression of our love and devotion to God and His saints; that they are all of them as so many channels used by the Holy Ghost to bring actual graces into our soul.’
Every devotion has been ordered by God in His plan for the sanctification of the human race and of all men considered individually.
Their variety has ensured that they have appealed to all human character, being ‘all things to all men.’ Particular devotions attract certain souls. They are the unique means God has given to each individual Christian to work out their salvation. A devotion loved and faithfully followed is a special gift from God.
This leads His Lordship to talk about the proper use of devotions.
Our devotions have to be interwoven into our lives, because they enable us to supernaturalise everything in the spirit of sacrifice. Even if we ask the saints to secure for us some temporal benefit, devotion makes it into an act of self-denial and to be very meritorious. The ultimate intention is the greater honour and glory of God, and so in that case we should not feel ‘guilty’ in asking for it.
‘It is fitting that the Church should ask this Saint for bodily health,’ says his Lordship, speaking of Saint Pantaleon. ‘Isn’t that often the most favourable intention for working for the glory of God? If that is your intention, confidently and enthusiastically pray for good health… ‘[The] uniting of things in the temporal order to the devotion we have supernaturalises them.’
This explains why the Church has held up to the faithful so many saints who have a patronage over every kind of spiritual and temporal matter. Non-Catholics scoff at these sometimes highly-specific patronages (Saint Pantaleon, for example, is patron of those suffering tuberculosis), because they consider devotion in a pagan way. They do not see in them the abundant means given for supernaturalising every aspect of our time on earth, and for making the sacrifices necessary for our sanctification and salvation.
What about the suffering we must undergo? Bishop Dolan reminds us that every trial we must face is planned, and in that sense is ‘taken care of’ by Our Lord. If we ask for good health in a truly devotional spirit, this is spirit of sacrifice.
Bishop Dolan points to Saints Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as being the highest examples of devotion properly practised.
These saints were unjustly afflicted by an intense public humiliation for their being childless. They both took up severe penances and united them to an unceasing prayer to God that He grant them a child. Of course, their prayer was more than answered.
How do we imitate them?
His Lordship exhorts us to pray ‘not just for a time, not just with great tears, but perseveringly, and away from the noise and the confusion of the world; And remember, if you want to make your prayer all the more powerful in the eyes of God, join with it not only compunction, true sorrow of heart for your sins, but join with your prayer your sincere petitions, the practice of penance, some little acts of self-denial, mortification or sacrifice. We say these acts of penance could be internal… a little thought that you deny yourself, some speech that you just forego; or they could be external, that is to say, mortification at the table in the manner of eating or drinking; mortification too of recreation, of fun, of enjoyment, as well as the sacrifice perhaps of sleep, in order to pray. Think about it. Ask the Holy Ghost; He will certainly inspire you in this matter.’
The penance of Saints Anne and Joachim was not their effort to make an exchange with God, but was the most fervent immolation of their hearts to His holy will. Seeing their devotion, God granted that Saint Anne would give birth to the Mother of the Saviour, the Immaculate Conception.
This episode is invaluable as it about devotion and sacrifice. We must know that they are never to be seen apart. The episode is available for free to everyone in memoriam of Bishop Dolan.
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+In your charity, and in gratitude for all he has done for us all, please remember to pray for the repose of the soul of His Lordship, Bishop Daniel Dolan.+