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I seem to overdo posts on the Mercedarians but I love their fourth vow: to offer themselves as “ransom” in place of someone who is in danger of losing the faith. The picture to the right depicts The Martyrdom of Saint Serapion by Francisco de Zurbarán. Hung by ropes, he is obviously at the end of his life. A beautiful picture of self-sacrifice resembling Christ’s image on the Cross.
Serapion was born in Ireland and entered the army of King Richard the Lion-Hearted. While fighting with the Christians as they were battling the Moslem army in Spain, he met St. Peter Nolasco and the Mercedarians. He joined their “army” and received the habit in 1222.
Serapion was captured in Algeria during his fourth redemption of a Christian held captive by the Moors. In this month when many of us are saying the Novena to St. Andrew, Serapion is a fitting martyr for he was nailed to an X-shaped cross, like Saint Andrew’s cross, and savagely dismembered. The barbarian and cruel King of Algiers, Selín Benimarin, was the one who gave the Church and the Mercedarian Order this martyr on November 14, 1240.
The Mercedarians carry on their work today focusing their priestly ministry specifically at the service of those in danger of losing their faith from modern forms of captivity. They are celebrating the ordination to the priesthood of Fr. David Michael Spencer, O de M, who was ordained in November 17th. (Click here to see ordination video). Father Spencer is parochial vicar of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Philadelphia.
As someone who does not have cable TV, I miss out on a lot (whether this is good or bad is debatable). But I did miss most of the coverage of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and his trip to Brazil as covered by EWTN. Therefore, watching this video, put out by the Mercedarians, is a real treat.
The Mercedarians have taken footage of Pope Francis’ drive through the enormous crowds as the backdrop for a very interesting narrated talk that the Holy Father gave when he was still Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Given on August 31, 2005, the feast of St. Raymond Nonnatus (one of the first Mercedarians), he spoke about the culture of death and the need, in the face of persecution, to stand up for life. He picked a very appropriate feast day for this talk because St. Raymond Nonnatus (which means “not born”) was cut from his mother’s womb after her death in childbirth, thus his life was spared.
Here are a few tidbits of the then-Cardinal’s talk:
I was reading a book a while back, where this disturbing phrase was found: “In the world of today, the cheapest thing is life, what costs the least is life” — which is, therefore, the most disregarded thing, the most dispensable thing.
This elderly man, this elderly woman, are useless; discard them, let’s throw them in the nursing home like we hang up the raincoat during summer, with three mothballs in the pocket, and let’s hang it in the nursing home because they’re now disposable, they’re useless.
This child who is on the way is a bother to the family. “Oh no, for what? I have no idea. Let’s discard him and return him to the sender.”
That is what the culture of death preaches to us.
This child that I have at home, well, I don’t have time to educate him. Let him grow up like a weed in the field, and this other child who doesn’t have anything to eat, not even little shoes to go to school, and well, I’m very sorry, but I’m not the redeemer of the whole world.
That’s what the culture of death preaches. It’s not interested in life. What interests it? Egoism. One is interested in surviving, but not in giving life, caring for life, offering life.
Today, in this shrine dedicated to life, in this day of the patron saint of life, Jesus again says to us: “Care for it! I came to bring life, and life in abundance, but care for it! You are going to be surrounded by wolves; you are to be the ones to defend life, to care for life.
Care for life! What a beautiful thing one sees — which I know! — that a grandfather, a grandmother, who perhaps can no longer speak, who is paralyzed, and the grandson or the son comes and takes their hand, and in silence cherishes them, nothing more. That is caring for life. When one sees people who take care so that this child can go to school, so that another doesn’t lack food, that is caring for life.
Open your heart to life!
St. Raymond, Patron Saint of expectant mothers and midwives, pray for us!
New on the Mercedarians’ website is an video showing what life was like in a 1951 Mercedarian monastery in Spain. Most interesting is to see the celebration of the Saturday Mass of Saint Mary, along with the singing of the Salve.
“The friars in the video are taking part in one of the oldest rituals of our Order, ‘the Saturday Salve,’” said Fr. Joseph Eddy, O de M. “This beautiful rite, which we still do today, was started by our founder, St. Peter Nolasco (d. 1256) to give honor to Mary on her day, Saturday. This immemorial Marian custom was also performed in thanksgiving when the redeemers returned with the redeemed Christian Captives.”
The eleven minute video is in Spanish but the images are stirring. “We don’t wash clothes in outdoor cisterns any more — at least in the U.S.,” said Fr. Joseph, vocation director of the U.S. province. “But the noble history of the Mercedarians, the devotion to communal prayer, and the spirit of fraternity among the friars is the same.”
The fourth vow of the Mercedarians — to give one’s life for someone in danger of losing their Christian faith, is no mere relic of the past. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), 19 Mercedarians were declared by the Vatican in 2011 to be martyrs for the Faith, a major step on their road to sainthood.
The Order of Mercy (Mercedarians) is looking for a cloistered religious community who would like to make the scapular for distribution. The Mercedarian community in the U.S. is growing in size, and due to the importance of this part of their apostolate, they are expanding their website to include a page that will make the sacramental available.
The Mercedarians were founded by St. Peter Nolasco in 1218 to redeem Christian captives from their Muslim captors. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, their members take a special fourth vow to give up their own selves for others whose faith is in danger. The Order exists today in 17 countries, including Spain, Italy, Brazil, India, and the United States. In the U.S., its student house is in Philadelphia, and it also has houses in New York, Florida, and Ohio.
The Order is seeking a scapular maker in the United States, and is willing to pay a fair price for bulk orders. This would be a great cottage industry for a religious community.
For more information, contact Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M., at 267-670-0503 (cell), or email@example.com.
Offering one’s life in exchange for another Christian whose faith is in danger is certainly a noble cause. Maybe that’s why a new video on the history of a men’s order founded to do just that is attracting so much attention.
The nine-minute video, “Redeeming Medieval Captives–The Story of The Order of Mercy,” has gone viral on the Catholic video website Gloria.TV, with more than 2,000 views this week.
The nine-minute video explains the origins of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, complete with period paintings and drawings depicting 13th century ships, ancient drawings of men captured by Muslims, as well as prayerful modern-day Mercedarian friars.
Quoting the Mercedarians’ official historical record, the video says, “The real risk of captivity for a Christian captive in the power of the Saracens was the danger of renouncing the true faith. . . . The very circumstances of captivity were a real, ongoing and serious temptation for Christians whose faith was not very strong.”
Find out what experience motivated St. Peter Nolasco to found the Order by viewing the video and visiting the Order of Mercy site.
When Fr. Joseph Eddy was looking for a religious community to join ten years ago, there were several characteristics that just had to be there. He found these and more in the Order of Mercy.
“I was looking for a community that was Marian, Eucharistic, and faithful to the Magisterium,” explained the 33-year-old priest, who was ordained in 2008.
“It was amazing to find this ancient order which possessed all the characteristics that I was looking for,” said Fr. Joseph, who serves as the vocation director for the order, which has as its formal title, The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.
The U.S. branch of the order boasts of ten men in formation against a backdrop of 22 solemnly professed friars. “That’s a healthy sign,” Fr. Joseph said. “The older orders such as ours tend to struggle to get vocations. God is blessing us with these new men, and we look toward a grace-filled future.”
The order’s friars, which consist of brothers and priests, wear crisp white habits, pray the Divine Office together, and live a community life based on the Rule of St Augustine. The men teach in schools, administer parishes, and engage in other apostolic work.
No wonder the order is doing well. Traditional groups are those that are attracting vocations today, according to a 2009 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.
The Order of Mercy, also known as the Mercedarians, has its U.S. motherhouse in Philadelphia. Their website is www.OrderofMercy.org. Hear the men chant the Salve on their YouTube video, or visit Fr. Joseph’s Facebook page.