"Catholic Saints & Feasts" offers a dramatic reflection on each saint and feast day of the General Calendar of the Catholic Church. The reflections are taken from the four volume book series: "Saints & Feasts of the Catholic Calendar," written by Fr. Mich
Fourth Thursday in November: Thanksgiving Day (U.S.A.) Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Life is a gift replete with countless gifts It's 1542, and the Spanish Franciscan Juan de Padilla, a rugged ex-soldier, is trekking through the high, waving prairie grasses of the buffalo plains of North America at the head of a small band of explorers. Suddenly, an Indian war party of the Kansas people appears on the low horizon. The Spaniards scatter into the tall grasses for cover. But Father Padilla stays, slowly kneels in the moist soil, bows his head in prayer, and doesn't move an inch. The war party approaches, and as the Spaniards watch from afar, they stretch their bows and fill Father Padilla's torso with a volley of arrows. He is the first North American martyr. There are no dissenting Protestants anywhere in sight. It's 1570, and five Spanish Jesuits establish a mission, with chapel and school, to evangelize Indians in the future state of Virginia. In February of 1571, all the Jesuits are hacked to death with the very axes they had given to the Indians for chopping wood. A relief boat arriving a few months later finds Indians on the shore dressed in blood-stained cassocks. The English Potestant settlement of Jamestown is still thirty-six years in the future! It's April 30, 1598, in modern-day New Mexico. A Spanish explorer and a team of Franciscan priests erect a large cross and solemnly consecrate the vast land before them to Christ the King. The local Indians accept baptism and a large banquet is held, and is still held annually, to commemorate the event. The pilgrims who would one day land in Massachusetts are, in 1598, still in Europe. Throughout the American borderlands, in the Southwest, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and Texas, hundreds of Spanish missionaries in the 1500s were traversing the deserts, swamps, forests, and plains of the future United States of America saying Mass, teaching the faith, and baptizing, long before a single boat loaded with pilgrims ever slowly floated into an East Coast harbor. The people of the future United States of America gave thanks in many and varied ways long before President Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, established the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” North America's native tribes gave thanks in primitive ways common to all pre-modern societies. They honored the gods who formed the mountains like clay, who blew the winds across the prairies, and who caused the rain to fall. These Indians had their sacred dances, sacred dress, and sacred places where their holy men invoked the spirit gods equated with creation. These robust, but primitive, religious impulses lacked an equivalent moral dimension requiring respect for women, prisoners of war, children, or the unknown other. Christian missionaries brought a fuller, more complex religion which built a solid structure on the native culture's wide base of nature-based cosmologies. When dissenting Protestants disembarked in Massachusetts in 1620, they brought a deep belief in Jesus Christ and in His written word. After numerous settlers perished from disease, hardship, and starvation, they bonded with local Indians to offer thanks to God in 1621 for their tenuous survival. We need not live in desperate and difficult circumstances to fall to our knees in thanks to God for our life and all of its bounty. The intentional disciple must have a permanent attitude of gratitude if she finds it easy to believe when others struggle, if both of her parents were present as she grew up, if the children are healthy, if the job pays well, if the pain in the stomach was nothing at all, if the plane lands safely every time, if the bruised marriage heals, if there is always food at hand, gas in the car, a friend to call, or just one person who wonders where you've been the last few hours. There's a million reasons to be thankful and a million ways to express those million reasons. President Lincoln did not explain why he chose a Thursday as Thanksgiving Day, but perhaps the legacy of Catholicism influenced his decision. Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist, the ultimate act of Thanksgiving, on a Thursday evening—Holy Thursday. For the Catholic who goes to daily Mass, every day is Thanksgiving Day. God, creation is not just a forum for action but a gift to mankind, a place for men and women, alone created in Your image and likeness, to work out their salvation, to exercise their gifts, and to render due homage and thanks to You for life itself, the gift of all gifts.
October 2: The Holy Guardian AngelsMemorial; Liturgical Color: WhiteA personal spiritual bodyguard watches your backIntuition is a fully formed way of thinking. It is more than just the occasional hunch or subtle perception. Native instinct, or “gut,” is used to calculate, discern, and decide on matters big and small throughout daily life. We think we are dryly logical about a decision to trust one accountant and not another, to frequent this store over that, or to confide in this new friend rather than that old one. But in reality it may just be a small mustard stain on the accountant's shirt collar that convinces us that he is not the right man for the job. Squinty eyes, a weak handshake, a laugh, or just the way someone holds open the door or sips their coffee. We pay very close attention to the slightest nuances of facial gestures, body language, and tone of voice to draw immediate conclusions about people. We are not as coldly rational as we like to think.So when an atheist, for example, walks alone down a remote country road in the dark of night and hears a long lost voice in the whistling wind, or sees tree branches twist themselves into a bony finger, he grows frightened. If he were to feel the breathy presence of someone hovering just over his shoulder at that same moment, the atheist's sober rationality would be worth nothing. His valves of feeling and intuition would be fully open, the pores of his mind would be absorbing every ounce of strange reality, and a shiver of fright would run up his spine like an electrical charge. He would be in full contact with a reality as elusive to describe, yet as normal to experience, as intuition itself.The holy guardian angels are created spirits, whereas God is an uncreated spirit. A man, however, is more than a spirit. He is an enfleshed soul procreated by parents who participate in God's creative act. Though we are part spirit and part matter, we can nonetheless imagine what it would be like to be a pure spirit, like an angel. We close our eyes and imagine standing at the pinnacle of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and suddenly we are there, gazing over the City of Lights. The mind travels, the imagination soars, the soulreflects. It's our body that keeps our feet planted in one place and time. But if mind, soul, and imagination were not so tethered, then we would zip around the universe like an angel, a spirit unleashed, held back by nothing. God created the angels like He created us, out of nothing. God's will is creative in the strict sense of that word. “Let there be light,” He said, and there was light. His will brings worlds into creation and maintains them there. God willed the angels into creation to communicate His messages, to protect mankind, and to engage in spiritual battle with fallen demon angels.The age-old tradition of the Church is that every Christian, and perhaps every human being, has an angel guardian protecting him from physical and spiritual harm. Christ warned, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven” (Mt 18:10). An angel was at Christ's side in the Garden of Gethsemane, and an angel delivered Saint Peter from prison. The Fathers of the early Church wrote prolifically about the dense realm of the spirit inhabited by angels. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that the angels belong to Christ. “They are his angels” (CCC #331). The Catechism also quotes Saint Basil, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” (CCC #336).We intuit that the world was made for more than just us, whether those “others” are lit with holiness or obscured by darkness. Some people scan the skies for alien ships in Low-Earth Orbit. Others listen for strange patterns of speech transmitted like radio signals through the cosmos. Is there life on Mars? Are there colonies behind the sun? There is no need to search so far, to seek life in the cold blackness of space. There are spirits all around us. Some need to walk down a dark country road to finally touch the realm of the spirit. Others are more fortunate and know from childhood that our guardian angels are present and accounted for, standing right over our shoulder, at God's constant command to serve and protect.Holy Guardian Angels, we implore your continued vigilance over our lives. Keep us from physical and spiritual harm, increase our trust in your presence, and remind us to turn to you when our well-being is threatened in any way.
July 18: Saint Camillus de Lellis, Priest1550–1614In the U.S.A. this Optional Memorial is transferred to July 18Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: WhitePatron Saint of hospitals, nurses, and the sickA one-man Red Cross who burned with love for the sickLike so many saints, Camillus de Lellis ran hard in whatever direction he was heading. When he was a soldier, he ran hard toward the noise of battle. When he was a gambler, he ran hard toward the betting tables. When he was a sinner, he ran hard toward his taste of the day. And when he had a conversion, he ran hard toward the tabernacle. And there, finally, he stopped running. Once he found God, he stayed with Him. Today's saint spent long hours with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Silent contemplation fueled his soul, and he motored through each day with a high-octane love for the sick and the dying, which attracted numerous followers, led to the founding of a religious order, and eventually made Camillus a saint.As a physically large teenager, Camillus became a soldier, alongside his soldier father, to fight the Turks. In the army he learned to gamble, an addiction that matured with him and which ultimately reduced him to abject poverty. At a low point in his life, he volunteered to work at a Franciscan monastery that was under construction and became inspired by a monk to seek admission to the order. But they wouldn't take him. Camillus had a serious leg wound that refused to heal. He would have been more burden than blessing, so he moved on. He went to Rome to care for the sick in a hospital where he had previously been a patient. But he was repelled by the inadequate medical care, the moral deprivation of the nurses, and the lack of spiritual attention given to the patients. Camillus decided something better was needed for the sick and found the solution when he looked in the mirror.Camillus was inspired by his saintly spiritual director, Saint Philip Neri, to establish a company of consecrated men who would serve the sick purely out of love for God. They served in the hospital of the Holy Spirit, still found today on the Tiber River close to the Vatican. Camillus and his co-workers earned a reputation for providing excellent medical care, for indefatigable service, and for doing their work with an intense spirit of prayer. While carrying out this demanding apostolate, Camillus also attended seminary and was ordained a priest in 1584. As the years passed, more men joined, new houses were established in other cities, and the rule for the Order of Clerks Regular, Ministers of the Infirm (M.I.), simply known as the Camillians, was approved by the Pope in 1591.Father Camillus instituted medical reforms that were rare for his time in regard to cleanliness, diet, infectious diseases, the search for cures, and the separation of healthcare administration from healthcare itself. When his order expanded to other countries, they even staffed a medical field unit accompanying soldiers in battle, an important innovation. This, together with his order's habit bearing a large, simple, red cross on the front, made Camillus a precursor of the modern Red Cross.Saint Camillus was practical as well as mystical. He wanted the best, physically, spiritually, and morally, for all those he cared for. Every patient was his Lord and Master. No patient, no matter how diseased, foul, dirty, or rude, was beyond his care. Along with his religious brothers, he even took a special fourth vow to care for those with the plague who might infect him. Two Camillians died of the plague in Camillus' own lifetime. “More love in those hands brother” was his constant refrain to his confreres. His example resonated, and the work of the Camillians continues today in various countries. After his order was firmly established, Saint Camillus succumbed to various diseases in 1614 in Rome. Soon after his death, two doctors from Holy Spirit Hospital came to examine the body, as Camillus was already considered a saint. They cut open his chest wall and removed his heart. An eyewitness wrote that his heart was huge, and as red as a ruby. Camillus was canonized in 1746, and a large statue of him adorns a niche in the central nave of St. Peter's Basilica. Along with Saint John of God, who was also a soldier, Saint Camillus is the patron saint of hospitals and the sick. Just a few hundred feet from the tourist hordes crushing to enter the Pantheon in the heart of Rome, the modestly sized but luxurious baroque church of Saint Mary Magdalene fronts a small piazza. Inside, usually alone, and resting in peace, are the remains of Saint Camillus de Lellis.Saint Camillus, you knew the rough life of the soldier, gambler, and wanderer. Because of your experiences, you practiced great empathy for the outcast, the sick, and the dying. Help us to be like you, to translate our empathy into action, and to be motivated primarily by love of God.
June 30: First Martyrs of the Church of Rome 64 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: Red or White A madman burns Christians like human torches Wave after wave of huge British and American bombers, pregnant with ordnance, opened their bays over Dresden, Germany, on February 13 and 14, 1945. Fire joined fire until the city itself was a raging, screaming bonfire. A tornado of flames hungered for oxygen, sucked all air from the atmosphere, and suffocated to death anyone caught in its vortex. The center of Dresden melted. Only some stone walls remained erect. Human skeletons were mixed into the rubble of a skeletal city. In the old town of Dresden today, a modest memorial marks a mass grave, the location where an unknown number of civilians' scant remains were cremated shortly after the fire. It's easy to walk by without noticing it. Any number of countries have similar memorials marking the mass graves of the victims of plane crashes, sunken ships, war atrocities, or natural disasters. Many countries also have a memorial to an unknown soldier. That unknown fighter represents all those drowned at sea, lost in the jungle canopy, eviscerated by enemy fire, or simply never recovered in the heat and sweat of battle. On civic feast days, presidents, governors, and mayors lay wreaths and flowers at the graves of the unknown. In honoring him, they honor all. A nation's official remembering—in stone, statue, speech, or ceremony—preserves the past. A nation's common memory is preserved by its government, which guards against national forgetting through official acts of national remembering. The Church's liturgical calendar is a continual, public remembering of saints, feasts, and theology, by mankind's most ancient source and carrier of institutional memory—the Catholic Church. Today's feast day commemorating the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome did not exist prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Instead, the sanctoral calendar was crowded with various feast days to particular martyrs from this early Roman persecution. Apart from their centuries on the calendar, however, little else supported these particular martyrs' existence. Today's feast is a liturgical expression of the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or the flowers left at a mass grave marker. This feast commemorates those unknown and unnamed men and women who were cruelly tortured and executed in the city of Rome in 64 A.D. But instead of meeting in a park to sing a patriotic hymn and to see an official lay a wreath, we do what Christians do to remember these martyrs. We meet as the faithful in a church, in front of an altar, to participate in the sacrifice of the Mass and to remember our remote ancestors in the faith who died so that the true faith would not. In 64 A.D. a huge fire of suspicious origins consumed large sections of Rome. A deranged emperor named The Black (Nero) blamed Christians for the conflagration and executed large numbers of them in retribution for their supposed treachery. A vivid description of the persecution survives from a Roman historian named Tacitus, who relates that some Christians were sewn into the skins of animals to be attacked and consumed by beasts. Other Christians were slathered with wax, tied to posts, and then burned alive, human torches whose glow illuminated Nero's garden parties. Still others were crucified. This was not the barbarous hacking off of limbs and splitting of skulls later suffered by missionaries in the forests of Northern Europe. Nero's madness was highly refined evil. Today, we commemorate these Christians in the same fashion in which they would have commemorated the Lord's own death—by prayer and sacrifice. We are separated from 64 A.D. by many centuries, but we are united to 64 A.D. by our common faith. We remember because the Church remembers. Anonymous first martyrs of Rome, your blood is still wet, and your sufferings still felt, in the same Church of Christ to which you belonged through baptism. Through your intercession, help the baptized of today be as courageous as you in all things.
June 29: Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles First Century Solemnity; Liturgical Color: Red Patron Saints of the city of Rome Like the sun, Peter and Paul rose in the East but set in the West Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. The Pope is the head of the churches. The invisible, heavenly Church, mystically depicted by the Book of Revelation and described by Saint Paul as “our mother,” is the “Jerusalem above” (Ga 4:26). This perfect, inner, Church of God has theological priority over all earthly churches, which are its shadow. The first Christian congregation, in Jerusalem, anticipated and grew into the universal Church. For a short period, the Jerusalem Church was the universal church. And from this original whole, smaller parts formed, until the one Church became present throughout the world. Unity exists, then spreads. The children do not create the parents. The many dioceses throughout the world are not stitched together into a patchwork quilt called the universal Church. Catholicism is not an international federation of dioceses or the end result of its own geographic stretch. The one Church precedes the many churches. It gives them birth. The progression is from God outward, from spirit to flesh, from ontological to historical, from Jerusalem to Rome, and from Rome to the world. All dioceses are sisters to one another. So Manila, Philippines, is a sister diocese to that of Vilnius, Lithuania; and Lagos, Nigeria, is a sister diocese to that of La Paz, Bolivia. But the universal Church is not herself a diocese. She has no sisters, lest her oneness be compromised by having a mirror church. The universal Church is a mother, not a sister. And the Mother Church was established in Rome by Saints Peter and Paul, whose feast we celebrate today. This feast also implicitly commemorates Rome's position as head of all the churches. Rome's particular vocation is to preserve the unity of God's Church on earth. This vocation is not an accidental historical addition to the Church's original nature. Unity is intrinsic to the Church's theology, and so there must be a practical force or power, internal to the Church, to preserve her unity. God's Son, after all, has only one bride, with whom he celebrates only one heavenly banquet for only one eternal, mystical wedding. In Matthew's Gospel, Christ states in unmistakably clear language that He will build His Church on Saint Peter (Mt 16:17–19). This was not a claim from Peter but a statement of fact from Christ. For many centuries, this text has been cited in support of both Roman primacy and papal infallibility. Yet an even more fundamental historical, not biblical, fact originally supported Roman primacy. The great Saint Irenaeus in the late second century clarifies that Rome is “the greatest and most ancient Church, founded by the two glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul.” No other city could claim to be the seat of two martyred Apostles. Not Jerusalem, not Antioch, and not Alexandria. Constantinople, the “New Rome,” could not claim to have been built over the bones of even one Apostle. Rome's headship over all the churches is rooted most deeply in the martyrdoms in the eternal city of Saints Peter and Paul, the Christian counterparts of Rome's twin pagan founders Romulus and Remus. Rome, the two-Apostle city, continues to draw pilgrims. If a plumb line were dropped hundreds of feet from the apex of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, it would come to rest directly over the tomb of the Apostle himself in the necropolis below the Basilica's main altar. A few miles away, under the main altar of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, lies the mortal remains of the great Apostle to the Gentiles. The inscription naming Saint Paul on an ancient marble cover for his tomb leaves no doubt whose bones were placed there. The cover even has small holes through which pilgrims could lower ribbons to touch Saint Paul's bones and thus complete their pilgrimage to Rome with a third class relic. It is a recent phenomenon to go to Rome to see the reigning pope. Traditionally, pilgrims went specifically to pray at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul. Our beautiful Church is a miracle. Theologically perfect but humanly flawed. Mystical and historical. All soul and all body. The Church reflects mankind—capable of so much, yet limited by her imperfections. The Church is founded upon a perfect God and two very different, great, and imperfect men whom God chose—Peter and Paul. Saints Peter and Paul, deepen our filial devotion to our Mother the Church, who gives us life through the sacraments and who preserves our hope of attending the eternal banquet of God in heaven. Protect our Mother from corruption to be a more perfect spouse of Christ.
June 27: Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor 376–444 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of Alexandria, Egypt He was the ultimate adversary What appears from a modern perspective to be theological hairsplitting and intellectual contortionism was, in the fourth and fifth centuries, the stuff of intense, erudite, and sometimes violent debate. Today's saint was of that heroic age when the Church, just legalized, came bursting out of her cage like a lion. She had been locked up, roaming her cramped space, half starved and small muscled when, all of a sudden, the door was lifted and the world was hers. There followed two centuries of aggressive debate, sharp criticism, harsh reactions, rough counter reactions, and prolific letter writing until several Church Councils standardized the Church's basic theology. Saint Cyril was a key actor in this theodrama. He was educated, irascible, strong willed, politically astute, brilliant, and utterly convinced that his theology of Christ was correct. It was. What mattered in the fifth century still matters today. Saint Cyril was the Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, from 412–444 A.D, when it was a major city in the late Roman Empire. The Patriarch of Constantinople as of 428 was a monk from Antioch named Nestorius. He taught that Saint Mary was the Christ-bearer but not the God-bearer. Nestorius is also associated with the related false teaching that there are two hypostatic unions in Jesus Christ, one divine and one human, a theory which locates two persons in the one body of Jesus. Various critics immediately identified the errors in Nestorius' teachings, but Cyril of Alexandria was the most tenacious in denouncing him. Cyril wrote to the Pope and demanded that the Patriarch of Constantinople either retract his false teaching or be excommunicated. A church council was called in Ephesus in 431 to settle the matter. The forceful Cyril took total command of the Council's proceedings, and, after numerous machinations as political as they were theological, the council declared Mary the Mother of God—and Nestorius a heretic. With explicit papal support, Nestorius was removed from his see. Recriminations and counter-recriminations followed, damaging the reputations of all involved. Some regions of Syria followed Nestorius' teachings and separated from the Church over the question of Christ's natures. Certain divisions remain even until today. But the teachings of the Council of Ephesus, and the related Council of Chalcedon in 451, dogmatically defined the Church's Christology for posterity. Cyril and his followers saved the day. The theological issue at stake was theoretical, but not merely theoretical. How could one person, Jesus of Nazareth, be both fully human and fully divine? Wouldn't the superior divine nature crowd out His human nature like light crowds out darkness? Some theologians before Cyril taught that the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, was a replacement for Jesus' human soul. This idea was condemned. Others, like Nestorius, claimed that behind the mask of Jesus, a Logos and a human soul lurked side by side. This created problems too. Most obviously, when Jesus said “I thirst” from the cross, was He speaking as God or man? What about when He said “Before Abraham was, I am”? Who wept over the death of Lazarus? Who raised him from the dead? Who lifted the chalice and spoke at the Last Supper? Who, precisely, was the “I” of Jesus of Nazareth? The Christ riddle needed to be solved. By the early fifth century, many had tried and failed. Saint Cyril solved this perennial riddle by teaching that the subject behind the “I” of Jesus was one, not two. Jesus was a complex God-man of two natures, united in one person, and these two natures continually exchanged their respective theological and human attributes. Despite Cyril's theological accomplishments, the tensions inherent to understanding a God-man still perdure. There are images of a tan Jesus with sandy blond hair and radiant white teeth tossing a frisbee: California Jesus. There is stained glass of a crowned Christ on His throne, scepter in hand, robed in majesty: Christ the King. And there is the wounded, naked, forlorn Jesus, hungry for air on the cross: The Suffering Servant Jesus. The Church's theology places guardrails on the road to make sure we don't veer off into heresy. Yet much is still left to the realm of prayer, spirituality, and mystery. Saint Cyril placed those guardrails. Don't go beyond here. Be careful there. Stay on the well-trod path. One person. Two natures. Indivisible. Without confusion. Perfect in Godhead. Perfect in manhood. Truly God. Truly man. Born of the Virgin Mother of God. Every heresy conquered is not a gravestone but a brick in the huge theological cathedral of the Church. Saint Cyril laid many of the bricks in the lower courses of our theological home. Saint Cyril of Alexandria, assist and inspire all teachers, preachers, writers, and thinkers to follow your example of rigorous analysis, of fidelity to Church councils, and of understanding tradition not as an anchor but as a dynamic force.
June 26: Saint Josemaria Escriva, Priest 1902–1975 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White (Saint Josemaria is not on the Church's universal calendar but is included here) Patron Saint of diabetics Work is our sacrifice and the earth is our altar When today's saint was a young priest, he was a rather well-known speaker in Madrid, Spain. Besides being an excellent homilist, he also preached retreats, gave parish missions, and taught classes. A young woman heard that Father Josemaria was scheduled to give some lectures nearby and, in light of his reputation, was eager to hear him. But first she went to one of his Masses. After that, the woman had no interest in hearing him lecture; instead she wanted to discover God's will for her life. Saint Josemaria's example of intense devotion and prayerfulness in saying Mass made her rethink her entire vocation. A good priest disappears into his vocation, submerges himself in Christ, and communicates a divine, not a personal, message. He makes people think of God, not him. At Mass the priest is not himself, yet is fully himself. He performs a sacrament because he is a sacrament. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is hidden behind the aspects of a man, similar to how the Holy Eucharist is hidden behind the aspects of bread and wine. It is the theology of the Church that every sacrament validly performed is efficacious, that it transmits sanctifying grace to the soul. But the fruitfulness of a sacrament for its recipient, either psychologically or spiritually, fluctuates. It can hinge on any number of factors, from the beauty of a Church, the quality of a homily, the sacredness of the music, or the intellectual preparation and ardor of the one receiving the sacrament. A holy, charitable, and educated priest infuses every sacrament he celebrates with a theological meaning that yields spiritual fruit that goes beyond efficaciousness. Saint Josemaria's writings, preaching, lectures, and talks were so rich, so chock-full of practical purpose and high meaning, that a great international family gathered around him, harvesting from his sustained example and insights an abundant banquet for their spiritual table. Josemaria Escriva was born in a small town in rural Spain. He attended diocesan seminaries in the nearby city of Zaragoza and was ordained a priest in 1925. In 1928 he experienced a vision which spurred him to found Opus Dei, an institution that quickly spread to all the major Christian countries. Opus Dei consists primarily of married lay men and women, while some members are unmarried and consecrated celibates. A few members are priests. After two thousand years of Catholic spirituality, it might be asked what new insight warranted the foundation of a new Church institution? It is a sign of the Church's theological and spiritual fecundity that Saint Josemaria did offer a new, innovative approach to living as a disciple of Christ nineteen hundred years after Christ returned to the Father. In a homily from 1967, Josemaria states his spirituality in clear terms: "...God is calling you to serve Him ‘in and from' the ordinary, material, and secular activities of human life. He waits for us every day in the laboratory, in the operating room, in the army barracks, in the university, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home and in the immense panorama of work. Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it." In other words, there is no need for a serious lay Catholic to abandon his work and routine, his family life, or his everyday relationships to fulfill God's will. God is found in and through ordinary life. Cardinal Albino Luciani, later Pope John Paul I, perceptively noted that Saint Josemaria was not teaching a ‘spirituality for lay people,' as Francis de Sales taught, but a 'lay spirituality.' It is not a question of praying the rosary while sweeping the floor, or contemplating scripture while driving. It is about “materializing” holiness by converting ordinary, well-done work into a sacrifice and prayer to God. Ordinary work, then, is not just the context, but the raw material, for lay holiness. All jobs are important. Daily life is not a distraction from God's will for us. Daily life is God's will for us. When we get to work, we get to God. Saint Josemaria, may your intercession help us to follow your teachings in making our daily labors divine labors. May our work, well done, mingle with Christ's work and sacrifice to form one perfect offering of praise and thanksgiving to God the Father.
June 28: Saint Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr c. 125–c. 200 Memorial; Liturgical Color: Red Patron Saint of apologists and catechists The Church was explicitly Catholic from the start The iconic opening words of Julius Caesar's Gallic War are “All Gaul is divided into three parts.” The chieftains of these three regions of Roman Gaul (France) met yearly in the southern city of Lugdunum, known today as Lyon. These rough noblemen and their large retinues trekked to Lyon in 12 B.C. for the dedication of the Sanctuary of the Three Gauls on the slope of Lyon's hill of the Croix Rousse. The inauguration ceremony was an elaborate reinforcement of Rome's military, religious, and commercial dominance. Pagan priests performed pagan rites on pagan altars to pagan gods, asking those gods to favor the new sanctuary, the tribes present, and the city. This important sanctuary remained a focal point of Lyon's civic and religious life for centuries. And in the sand and dirt of this Sanctuary of the Three Gauls, in 177 A.D., the blood of the first Christian martyrs of Gaul was spilled. Here they were abused, tortured, and executed. Killed for their faith were about fifty Christians, including the Bishop of Lyon, Pothinus, and a slave woman named Blandine. While they were imprisoned and awaiting their fate, these future martyrs wrote a letter to the Pope and gave it to a priest of Lyon to carry to Rome. That priest was today's saint, Irenaeus. With the dead bishop Pothinus' mutilated remains tossed into the river, Irenaeus was chosen as his replacement. He would remain the Bishop of Lyon until his death. It was in this way that the tragic end of some raised others to prominence. As the first generation of Christians in Gaul retreated from history, the great Saint Irenaeus, the most important theologian of the late second century, emerged. Copies of Saint Irenaeus' most important works survived through the ages, likely due to their fame and importance, and are now irreplaceable texts for understanding the mind of an early Church thinker on a number of matters. Irenaeus was from Asia Minor and a disciple of Saint Polycarp, a martyr-bishop of Smyrna, who was himself a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist. The voice of Saint Irenaeus is, then, the very last, remote echo of the age of the Apostles. Similar to those of Saint Justin Martyr, Irenaeus' writings astonish in proving just how early the Church developed a fully Catholic theology. In keeping with other theologians of the patristic era, Irenaeus focused more on the mystery of the Incarnation, and Christ as the “New Adam,” than on a theology of the Cross. He also called Mary the “New Eve” whose obedience undoes Eve's disobedience. Irenaeus' writings primarily critique Gnosticism, which held that Christianity's truths were a form of secret knowledge confined to a select few. The only true knowledge is knowledge of Christ, Irenaeus argued, and this knowledge is accessible, public, and communicated by the broader Church, not secret societies. Irenaeus fought schismatics and heretics, showing just how early the connection between correct theology and Church unity was understood. His main work is even entitled “Against Heresies.” He promoted apostolic authority as the only true guide to the correct interpretation of Scripture and, in a classic statement of theology, Irenaeus explicitly cited the Bishop of Rome as the primary example of unbroken Church authority. Like Saint Cyprian fifty years after him, Irenaeus described the Church as the mother of all Christians: “...one must cling to the Church, be brought up within her womb and feed there on the Lord's Scripture.” This theology notes a beautiful paradox. While in the physical order, a child leaves his mother's womb and grows ever more apart from her as he matures, the Church's motherhood exercises an opposite pull on her children. Once she gives us new life through baptism, our bonds with Mother Church grow ever stronger and tighter as we mature. We become more dependent on her sacraments, more intimate with her life and knowledge, as we grow into adulthood. The Church becomes more our mother, not less, as we age. On Pope Saint John Paul II's third pastoral visit to France, in October 1986, his very first stop was the Sanctuary of the Three Gauls in Lyon. Excavated and opened to the public in the mid-twentieth century, it rests largely unknown, a ruin, in a residential neighborhood. Before dignitaries and a large crowd, the Pope prostrated himself and kissed the site where the many martyrs of Lyon died so many centuries before. Saint Irenaeus may have been looking on from the stone benches that fateful day in 177 A.D. when his co-religionists were murdered. The blood of those forgotten martyrs watered the seed that later flowered into the great saint we commemorate today. Saint Irenaeus, may your intercession strengthen our wills, enlighten our minds, and deepen our trust. Like you, we want to be loyal sons and daughters of God, and loyal, educated, and faithful members of His Church. Help us to fulfill our loftiest and our most noble goals.
June 24: Birth of Saint John the Baptist First Century Solemnity; Liturgical Color: White or Gold Patron Saint of converts and epileptics A rugged forerunner cuts a path for his cousin “Dies natalis” means “birthday” or “anniversary” in Latin. But for early Christians, “dies natalis” referred to a martyr's date of death and its subsequent commemoration in the Church's liturgy, most typically through the assigning of a feast day. Most saints, martyrs or otherwise, are commemorated on, or near, the date of their death, the date their body was transferred to its final resting place, or on another significant date in their lives—date of ordination, coronation as pope, consecration as nun, etc. Besides Christ Himself, only two saints' birthdays are commemorated liturgically: The Virgin Mary's on September 8, exactly nine months after the Feast of her Immaculate Conception; and Saint John the Baptist's on June 24, today's feast. Saint Mary and Saint John were both sanctified, or made holy, before they first opened their eyes to the light or ever gulped a mouthful of fresh air. A long span of years did not turn them into saints. God made them holy from the start. So we commemorate their lives from the start, from their birthdays. Only the Gospel of Saint Luke tells us the details of John's birth. John's mother and father were Elizabeth and Zechariah. They were beyond the age for having children. But Zechariah, a priest who served in the Temple in Jerusalem, was told one night by the Archangel Gabriel that Elizabeth would give birth to a boy they must name John. Zechariah was dumbfounded. Literally, when he disbelieved this annunciation, he was rendered speechless until the child's birth. When his speech was finally restored, a torrent of praise gushed out in the canticle known as the Benedictus. It is prayed as part of the Breviary every single day at morning prayer by hundreds of thousands of priests and nuns the world over. Zechariah's prayer of praise lives on. The celebration of the nativity of John the Baptist is perhaps the oldest liturgical feast day in all Christendom, much older than the Feast of Christmas itself. It was at one time celebrated with three distinct Masses—vigil, dawn, and daytime—just like Christmas still is. The beheading of John, celebrated on August 29, is of equally ancient origin. The oldest liturgical books even, incredibly, indicate that there was once a liturgical commemoration of the conception of John the Baptist celebrated nine months prior to his birth, on September 24. Today's feast is placed three months after the Annunciation, on March 25, because that gospel scene tells us that Elizabeth, John's mother, was pregnant for six months at the time. Three more months take us to June 24. (The one-day discrepancy between March 25 and June 24 is an accident of counting. If December and June each had thirty-one days, there would be no discrepancy.) Three related feast days line up beautifully: March 25, the Annunciation; June 24, the birth of John the Baptist; December 25, the birth of Christ. John's birth foretells Christ's birth. Although the historical chronology may not be exact, the dates show the theological interconnection among the three feasts.All parents are naturally curious to discover the sex of their child in utero. Some allow themselves to be told the sex. Others wait in high suspense. Elizabeth and her spouse Zechariah were told by a winged messenger of God Himself that they would have a boy. That little boy grew to be a man, a great man among men who accepted death rather than swallow his words criticizing the powerful Herod Antipas. John ran ahead of Christ, clearing the ground so that the Lord's pathway would be clear. This forerunner baptized the Christ, preached and prophesied like the Christ, fasted and prayed like the Christ, and died for the truth like the Christ. But he did not rise from the dead like the Christ. There is only one Easter. We rejoice at Saint John the Baptist's birth, because what followed merits rejoicing. We rejoice at his birth, because of the generous God who intervenes in our lives, who discovers us before we discover Him. May the birth of Saint John the Baptist deepen our love for all unborn babies, who must be given the chance to grow, to live, and to become the great men and women God invites them to be. God respected the laws of human biology when intervening in history. May we follow His example of seeing every child, every life, as a gift.
June 22: Saints John Fisher, Bishop and Martyr, and Thomas More, Martyr John Fisher: 1469–1535; Thomas More: 1478–1535 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: Red Patron Saint of the Diocese of Rochester (Fisher) and of lawyers and politicians (More) They would not bend to the marriage In 1526 a German painter named Hans Holbein could not find work in Basel, Switzerland. The Reformation had come to town. It shattered the stained glass, burned the wooden statues, and sliced up the oil paintings. Protestants don't “do” great art. There were no more commissions. So Holbein went north, to Catholic England, in search of wealthy patrons for his craft. On his way, he passed through the Netherlands to procure letters of introduction from the great humanist Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus was a friend of Sir Thomas More, an English humanist of the highest caliber. And thus it came to pass that one fine day, in England in 1527, Thomas More sat patiently while Holbein's brush worked its magic. Holbein's extraordinary portrait of Thomas More captures the man for all seasons, as one contemporary called More, at the pinnacle of his powers. More's head and torso fill the frame. There is no need for context, landscape, or a complex backdrop. More's mind is what matters. He is what matters. Nothing else. The shimmering velvet of his robes, the weighty gold chain of office resting on his shoulders, the detailed rose badge of the House of Tudor lying on his chest, all tell the viewer something important—this is not a frivolous man. He serves the King. His work is consequential. He also wears a ring. He is married and has children. He dons a cap. It is England, and he is cold. His stubble is visible. He is tired from overwork and did not have time to shave. He holds a small slip of paper—perhaps a bribe he rejected. His gaze, slightly off center, is earnest, serious, and calm. It is almost as if he is searching the room, attentive to any threat lurking behind the painter. He is watchful. The entirety of the work conveys that elusive quality that denotes great art—interior movement. The gears of More's brain are rotating. His personality has force. The viewer feels it. Saint Thomas More was the greatest Englishman of his generation. In a land with a highly educated aristocratic class, his erudition was unequalled. He was a devoted family man who carried out an extensive correspondence with his children and ensured that his daughters were as well educated as his sons. He served the English crown faithfully both at home and abroad. He charmed his many friends with a rich and engaging personality. He published scholarly works and communicated with other humanists of his era. Yet despite all of these accomplishments, the fraught times he lived in eventually overwhelmed him. He could not save his own head. More was a thoughtful and serious Catholic. He refused to bend to the will of King Henry VIII regarding divorce and Henry's self-appointment as head of the Church in England. For his silence, or lack of explicit support for Henry, More was brought to court, where a perjurer's words knifed him in the heart. More was condemned to death by beheading. This was a favor from the King, who admired More but could not brook his dissent. More had originally been sentenced to a far crueler form of capital punishment, but Henry decreed that his life end with one blow of the axe. So the unconquered Thomas More climbed a shaky scaffold on July 6, 1535, and had his head lopped off. His head was stuck on a pole on London bridge for one month afterward, a trophy to barbarity. More died a martyr to the indissolubility of marriage. Saint John Fisher was an academic who held various high positions at the University of Cambridge, one of the two universities in all of England, eventually becoming its Chancellor for life. He was a Renaissance humanist, like Thomas More, who encouraged the study of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Fisher was the personal tutor of Henry VIII when Henry was a boy, and he preached the funeral homily of Henry's father, Henry VII. John Fisher lived a life of extreme personal austerity and even placed a human skull on the table during meals to remind himself of his eventual end. He had many of the same qualities as More—great learning, personal uprightness, and academic accomplishments. But easy times don't make martyrs. When King Henry wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Fisher became her most ardent supporter. He openly stated in court that he would die for the indissolubility of marriage, thus incurring the lasting wrath of his former pupil Henry. All the bishops of England, save Fisher and two others, lost their courage and acquiesced, without a fight, to Henry VIII's takeover of the Catholic Church in England. Their weakness brought to a sudden, crashing end a thousand years of Catholicism in England. The faith endured in some form, of course, but would never be the culture-forming force it had been for so many centuries. It is an embarrassment of Catholic history that almost all the bishops of England fell like dominoes, one after another, at one slight puff of the breath of King Henry VIII on their cheeks. After various nefarious machinations, John Fisher was imprisoned in the harshest of conditions for over a year, even being deprived access to a priest. During this time, the Pope named him a cardinal, although Henry refused him the ceremonial placing of the red hat on his head. After a brief trial with the usual perjury, Cardinal John Fisher was beheaded on June 22, 1535. In order to avoid inevitable comparisons between Cardinal Fisher and John the Baptist, King Henry moved the cardinal's execution to avoid any connection to June 24th's Feast of Saint John the Baptist. Both Johns were martyrs to marriage. But there was no silver platter for John Fisher. His head was placed on a pole on London bridge for two weeks, only to be replaced by Thomas More's head. Saints John Fisher and Thomas More were beatified in 1886 along with fifty-four other English martyrs. The two were canonized together in 1935. Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, through your intercession, give all Catholics courage to resist the pressure to conform to falsehood, to the broad way, to popular opinion. You were both thoughtful and granite-like in your resistance. Help us to be likewise when times call for such.
June 22: Saint Paulinus of Nola, Bishop c. 354–431 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of bell makers The best of Rome—the best of the Church Saint Paulinus was to the manor born. And it was a very nice manor. He was raised on an aristocratic estate near Bordeaux, France, in an elite Roman family replete with senators and other high officials of empire. Paulinus received a superior education from a well-known tutor and served, while still in his twenties, as Consul of Rome and Governor of Campania in Southern Italy. He was humble, sage, gentle, well read, and intellectually curious. Paulinus represented, in short, the very best of Rome. He would, in time, represent the very best of the Church. While serving as Governor of Campania, Paulinus witnessed the simple but sincere piety of the common people who went on pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Felix of Nola, who had suffered for the faith around 250 A.D. The people's faith moved Paulinus to his core and planted a seed in the soil of his soul. Paulinus suffered personal setbacks due to the political machinations inherent to empires, which awakened him to the fleeting nature of power and prestige. He moved to Milan and studied in the school of Saint Ambrose. When Paulinus returned to Bordeaux, he was baptized by the Bishop. The seed of faith planted in Campania had germinated in Milan and flowered in Bordeaux. It would bear fruit for decades to come. Paulinus married a holy Christian woman from Barcelona, and the two soon became three. But their son died after only a few days. Paulinus and his wife were thunderstruck. Another turning point. Face to face with the mystery of suffering in its crudest form, they threw their lives at God's feet. They abandoned their considerable material wealth and began to lead lives of continual prayer and asceticism. Paulinus rightly noted that poverty was not the goal, but the means to a closer bond with Christ: “...the athlete does not win because he strips himself, for he undresses precisely in order to begin the contest, whereas he only deserves to be crowned as victorious when he has fought properly." Paulinus, though married, was ordained a priest around 394 and then returned to the land that had first nourished his faith—Nola, in Compania. He would never leave it. After his wife's death around 410, Paulinus received episcopal ordination and served as Bishop of Nola until his death. He was part of a broader tradition of educated Roman men of the fourth and fifth centuries who served the Church as bishops rather than the empire as governors. As Bishop, Paulinus' greatness revealed itself. Although he never wrote theological or scholarly works like Saint Jerome, he maintained a steady correspondence with this great biblical scholar and many others, including Saint Martin of Tours. Paulinus wrote to a North African bishop whose close friend had just had a powerful conversion. Paulinus was curious and asked the bishop for more information. The friend's name was Augustine, and his response to Paulinus was the “Confessions.” History has Paulinus of Nola to thank for the world's first autobiography, the groundbreaking work of the great Saint Augustine. Paulinus and Augustine became close friends, although they probably never met. Saint Augustine even wrote: “Go to Campania...there study Paulinus, that choice servant of God.” If a man is known by the caliber of his friends, Paulinus' many impressive friends speak powerfully to his sterling character. Saint Paulinus was a master of the art of friendship, particularly spiritual friendship. He understood the Church, the Body of Christ, as a forum where true friendship flourishes. He wrote to Saint Augustine: "It is not surprising if, despite being far apart, we are present to each other and, without being acquainted, know each other, because we are members of one body, we have one head, we are steeped in one grace, we live on one loaf, we walk on one road and we dwell in the same house." Beautiful! The Church is a communion of souls, a theological and sacramental family where deeper relationships take root and flower. Saint Paulinus is still venerated in Nola and its environs, where on his Feast Day the faithful carry in procession enormous lily-adorned towers in which stand large statues of Saint Paulinus. Saint Paulinus of Nola, may your humility, education, and serenity be an example to all who are searching for God. May they imitate you in finding Him, in loving Him, and in dedicating their lives to Him amidst a large circle of like-minded friends.
June 21: Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious 1568–1591 Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of Catholic youth and plague victims Though he had many possessions, he did not go away sad The Jesuit Order, from its very founding, had a sharp sense of its educational superiority, its fidelity to the Holy Father, and its mission to educate and spiritually guide the elites among the courts and aristocracies of Europe. The Order did not, however, develop a strong community identity. There were, and are, common houses. But Jesuit communities built on common prayer, meals, and apostolates were rare. Much more common was the Jesuit alone, trekking under the canopy of a Canadian forest, riding the waves like a cork in a boat off the coast of India, or hiking the narrow mountain pathways in the mists of the high Andes. Where there was one Jesuit, there were all Jesuits. Each man embodied his entire Order. It was a community of many ones. Jesuits were united by their vows, their long education, and their common mission. Actually living, praying, eating, relaxing, and working together, so crucial to the common life of other Orders, did not play an equivalent role among the Jesuits. Jesuit superiors were aware of the dangers that isolation might pose to unity. So they encouraged, and even mandated, a means to sew into one fabric the patches of a thousand lives being lived across the globe. Letters! Jesuits were required to write letters to their superiors, giving regular accounts of their work. These letters had to be detailed, instructive, and inspiring. After they were reviewed, the most edifying were published and distributed to Jesuit houses. Through these letters, the Order was made one. Every Jesuit knew what at least some of his brothers were doing for God and the Church. These collections of letters, known as the Jesuit Relations, were eventually distributed beyond the confines of the Order. By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Relations were often exciting best sellers recounting the apostolic exploits of isolated Jesuits walking along the rim of Christendom. It was just such an inspiring letter, or relation, from India that inspired today's saint, Aloysius Gonzaga, to become a Jesuit. Saint Aloysius was known to his family as Luigi, Aloysius being the Latinized version of his baptismal name. He was the eldest of seven children born into an aristocratic family from Northern Italy. Kings and Queens and Cardinals and Princes ate at the family table, were family themselves, or were at least friends or acquaintances. Young Luigi knew, and detested, the frivolous existence lived by so many in his aristocratic milieux. He also suffered from various physical infirmities, which produced that vulnerability and perspective which leads so clearly and directly to a deep dependence on God. After receiving his First Communion at about the age of twelve, he came to personally know the great future saint Cardinal Charles Borromeo, who would later be his confessor and spiritual director. Borromeo was a Jesuit. His example, together with Aloysius' reading about the works of Jesuit missionaries, convinced him to enter the Jesuit Novitiate, against his family's wishes. So Aloysius went to Rome to begin his studies. And there he grew to embrace those of lesser education and refinement than himself. He volunteered to work bringing victims of a plague to a Jesuit hospital, despite his personal revulsion at the patients' decrepit physical conditions. After his own physical limitations restricted his participation in this corporal work of mercy, he still persevered and insisted on returning to the hospital over his superiors' objections. While working in the hospital, Aloysius contracted the plague from a patient he personally cared for, was incapacitated shortly thereafter, and, a few months later, died on June 21, 1591. He was twenty-three. His reputation for purity, prayerfulness, and suffering led many to consider him a saint soon after his death. Aloysius was beatified just fourteen years later, in 1605, and canonized in 1726. He is buried in the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in Rome. His contribution to the Jesuit canon was not a pagan tribe converted, a new ocean crossed, or an unknown language catalogued. His letter was his life, and it was to die young and to die holy. Saint Aloysius, you laid all your treasures, including your youth, on an altar to God. May your example of generosity, and your service to the sick and dying, inspire all Catholic youth to give God the gold of their early years, not just the silver of middle age or the bronze of their retirement.
June 19: Saint Romuald, Abbot 951–c. 1025 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Founder of the Camaldolese Benedictine Order To be alone with God is not to be alone It is easy today to slip down a technological hole into a cave piled high with televisions, video games, and the toys of virtual reality. Many technological “hermits” disappear from meaningful contact with society, and instead marinate, perpetually, in the blue glow of their screens. Retreating from sustained contact with everyday life has always been attractive for a very small number of people. These people are called monks. But a religious monk's motivation is not isolation for isolation's sake. Nor is it flight from overwhelming adult responsibilities. Today's technological monks separate themselves from society for different reasons than a religious monk does. Religious monks were not, and are not, merely recluses with antisocial or introverted personalities. They do not become monks because they are more comfortable playing war on a digital battlefield or retreating into sci-fi universes. Although they may have an innate disposition toward the interior life, religious monks do not enter a monastery primarily to flee, or hide from, something. Instead, they run toward someone—God. A monastery is not a cave. It is an oasis. Monks seek a Christ-centered community where mortification and self-discipline are easier to practice, where a chapel and the Sacraments are always available, and where spiritual direction, Church approval, and the reinforcement of fellow monks assure the community that they are doing the will of God. Since the time of Saint Benedict in the sixth century, there had essentially been only one monastic order in the Latin Rite Church, the Benedictines. Benedictine monasteries shone like stars in a broad constellation, blinking throughout Europe from east to west and north to south. Each monastery and school was like a vertebra strengthening the intellectual and spiritual skeleton of Europe. Over the centuries, however, and inevitably, the Benedictines atrophied, cracked from dryness, and needed new wine poured into their old wineskins. The saint who reformed Benedictine life and who founded the Cistercian Order was Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. But he was not born until 1090. It was today's saint, Romuald, much less well-known, who cleared the path for Saint Bernard and for the reform of monasticism, ensuring its survival in the middle ages. Saint Romuald was born in the middle of the tenth century in Northern Italy. After his father killed a relative in a duel, Romuald entered a local monastery for a few weeks of penance. But the weeks turned into months and the months into years. He stayed. Unfortunately, the monks were as lukewarm as old bathwater, and Saint Romuald told them so. He had to leave. He put himself under the tutelage of a wise hermit, then traveled to Spain to live as a hermit on the grounds of a Benedictine monastery. He subsequently spent about thirty years walking the length and breadth of Italy. He had acquired a great reputation as an ascetic and master of prayer and so founded, or reformed, various monasteries which sought his assistance. Finally, in 1012, he settled down in Tuscany and established a reformed branch of the Benedictines. The Order was named after the man who granted Saint Romuald the beautiful land on which he first built. The donor's name was Maldolus, and the new community was thus called the Camaldolese Order. The Order still exists in several countries and continues to attract those few men and women inclined to the radical isolation, prayer, asceticism, and deep hunger for God, which only a hermit's life can satisfy. Saint Romuald planted the seed of his Order in the Benedictine garden. But Camaldolese monks emphasize solitude more than their monastic cousins. In a typical Benedictine monastery, every single monk places his oar in the water to pull the monastery's school, or orchard, or farm, forward. The Camaldolese tradition is more hermit based (eremitical) while allowing some community based (cenobitical) life. Camaldolese monks generally live in individual structures but pray the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours together daily in the Church. They live simplicity, penance, and contemplation more intensely due to their total focus on these goals to the exclusion of all outside apostolates. Unlike modernity's reclusive technological monks enraptured by their screens, the Camaldolese choose to live without phones, the internet, or television. The tabernacle is their screen, and the scene stays the same. With this intense focus on solitude and prayer, Camaldolese monks perpetuate, in their narrow, unique, and faithful way, the vision of their pioneering founder. Saint Romuald, by your intense example of prayer, penance, and solitude, assist all the faithful to put God above all things, to conquer themselves before any other mountain, and so come to know themselves, and their Maker, more deeply.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Saturday following the Second Sunday after Pentecost Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Wing to wing, oar to oar, heart to heart The images by which the Church describes Herself are primarily feminine—Bride, Mother, Virgin, Spouse—while masculine terms are used for the Church's ministry— the Office of Saint Peter, Office of Bishop, Holy Orders, etc. The fatherly labor and paternal structure of the Church are an outgrowth of her essentially maternal nature. Ecclesia Mater, Mother Church, loves with a huge heart, while Apostles, bishops, priests, and deacons hold souls together in their common mother's embrace. In the thinking of Pope Saint John Paul II, the “Marian Church,” the Church of discipleship, precedes and makes possible the “Petrine Church,” the Church of office and authority. So authority serves discipleship, and discipleship has preeminence over, and makes sense of, authority. Even the fatherly and authoritative Saint Paul speaks with maternal concern, calling new Christians his “children,” saying he is like a “nurse” to them, and bragging that he has “begotten” them through the Gospel.On today's Feast of Mary's Immaculate Heart, the maternal warmth radiating from the core of Mary bakes the faithful soul. Our hearts glow when we look upon the seven-pierced heart of the mother of Jesus and commiserate with the holy longing in her tender eyes. Our love for Mary also softens our love for our mother the Church. Our minds know that the Church loves us and nourishes us with sanctifying grace. But intellectual convictions need to be felt. In the same way that Christ concretely and historically images the Father, so too Mary images, concretely and historically, the Church. Mary is not a mere symbol of the Church but anticipates and embodies what she gave birth to. Absent Mary, the Church would be just a little bit too hard, too distant, and too austere. It would be like a camping site or a large, cold, house, providing shelter but lacking a woman's touch. Mary converts the dry household of faith into a cozy family home. Without her heartfelt love, the house would simply not be the same. The prophecy of Simeon in the second chapter of Luke's Gospel is the first biblical indication of Mary's interior suffering. Simeon tells Mary that Jesus will be a sign that will be contradicted and that a sword shall pierce her own heart. Years later, Mary and Joseph panic when Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem while they return to Nazareth. When they recover him in the temple and return home, Luke tells us that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51). At the foot of the cross, Mary's pondering heart is crushed and bewildered when sin closes in on her Son. But just when Christ's life appears to be stillborn, Mary's heart is vivified by the resurrection, and she becomes the first-century Church's indipensable witness and most sturdy anchor. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is not a closed garden. We don't peek in through the window of the family home in Nazareth to spy Mary standing in the kitchen. Mary's life was not as public as her Son's, but it was not as private as her contemporaries. And in the Book of Revelation, her mystical significance is exposed for all to see. She straddles heaven and earth in a duel with the devil. Mary's wounded maternal heart beats strong and fast for the faithful and for the world, then, on a cosmic stage. Her heart is sinless but bruised, slit by seven swords of sorrow and dripping red for love of man. Vatican II's description of Mary as the Temple of the Holy Spirit (Lumen Gentium 52-53) implies that her heart is the red-hot tabernacle of that Temple. Today's feast was first referred to as Mary's “Admirable Heart” or “Most Pure Heart.” Yet all the titles reflect the same truth; just like the love of Jesus's Sacred Heart, Mary's love for Christ and us is a tangible, human love. The Queen and King of Hearts are united in their love of all that is worth loving. Immaculate Heart of Mary, your bruised but beating heart softens our love for you and the Church. Your love is maternal, warm, docile, and concerned. Infuse our hearts with love like yours so we can live like you in this world and the next.
Sacred Heart of Jesus Friday following the Second Sunday after Pentecost Solemnity; Liturgical Color: White Behold the heart which drips red for love of man It's always the tissue of male heart muscle when the molecular structure of a Eucharistic miracle is examined under a microscope. Jesus had “heart” but, more importantly, He had a heart. The word “heart” is synonymous with grit, soul, intuition, love, strength, generosity, and, in its most total sense, the very center of man. Today's feast embraces all of those meanings. Christ's Sacred Heart teaches us that God loves us as a friend loves a friend, as a parent loves a child, or as a sibling loves his closest brother or sister. That is, Christ loves us in the same way as a person loves us, only more intensely. Our God doesn't shift the planetary order, redirect the rays of the sun, or create a parallel gravitational field to magnetize His love for mankind. Science fiction requires a fluid imagination. Understanding God's love should not, and does not, demand such mental contortionism. Understanding God's love should be as simple as recalling your little hand in your father's big hand as you walked next to him at night as a little girl. It requires remembering running into your mother's soft embrace, cheek to cheek, after skinning your knee. Jesus Christ's love for man is as human and as clear as a beating heart. Simply put, Jesus loves us from just above His solar plexus, where His heart pulsates with emotion for every sacred creature who harbors a human soul. The widely loved devotion to the Sacred Heart is not rooted in a feast of ancient pedigree similar to those of Holy Week. No Christian of the first millenium ever gazed into the haunting eyes of Christ as He stared out from a Sacred Heart image enthroned on the family-room wall. It was only in 1856 that Pope Pius IX placed this feast on the Church's universal calendar. The Pope acted after almost two centuries of devotion to the Sacred Heart, which had grown out of the thinking, preaching, and prayer of the indefatigable Saint John Eudes and out of the visions of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. Both of these saints were indebted, in turn, to the medieval revelations of the Sacred Heart granted to Saint Gertrude the Great. We love the Heart of Christ because His heart loved us first. We adore the adorer, love the lover, and worship the worshiper. Because God comes first, all of our love for Him is the repayment of a debt. We are not doing God a favor by loving him any more than a hammer does a carpenter a favor by slamming nails into wood. Religion is about raw justice, not doing God favors. That God loves us is not readily apparent from creation itself or from the history of mankind. The gods were many things to many races throughout the ages, but love was not one of them. Christianity had to tell the world that God was love. And Jesus had to attach His arms to a cross and die for that message to be convincing. The visions of Saint Margaret Mary made God's love concrete and comprehensible, while the visions of Saint Faustina Kowolska deepened the meaning of this feast still more. In these challenging visions, Christ rips open His heart to Sister Faustina and shows her a calm and deep ocean of mercy waiting to bathe repentant sinners in its saving waters. Three strands—the Sacred Heart, love, and mercy—are now braided in a tight belt of spiritual truth. True heart is not proven by waving to the crowds from a car in a victory parade or by luxuriating on the beach with friends. Real heart is in the last stretch of the neck over the finish line, in climbing the stage to receive a diploma after years of academic struggle, or in pulling yourself out of bed to go to nocturnal adoration. True heart is synonymous with long suffering, perseverance, and conquering through adversity. True heart is dying on the cross when you didn't deserve it. A true heart is a Sacred Heart. That's the heart of our God. No athlete goes to the Olympics to compete for the silver. Jesus reached for the gold from the dais of the cross, slick with his own blood. There's no need for us to keep on searching for a heart of gold in this world. We know in exactly whose body that heart beats. It's all gold, it's all sacredness, and it loves us like Himself. Sacred Heart of Jesus, You told us to ask and we shall receive, to seek and we shall find, to knock and the door shall be opened. Today, we ask, we seek, and we knock, in the sure and certain hope that you will hear us and answer us.
June 13: Saint Anthony of Padua 1195–1231 Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of lost articles He mastered the Word of God Saint Anthony of Padua is a famous Franciscan saint especially honored at an impressive shrine in Padua, in Northern Italy. But he was not born as Anthony, was an Augustinian priest before he became a Franciscan, and was from Lisbon, Portugal, not Italy. Saint Anthony, along with Saint Bonaventure, another early Franciscan, lent theological heft to the somewhat esoteric movement founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis was uniquely sensitive and eccentric, unsuited to leadership, and vexed by the need to exercise authority. It was Saints Anthony and Bonaventure who gave the Franciscan Order credibility, who anchored it in sound theology, and who assured its survival and continued growth. Today's saint was baptized Fernando and grew up in a privileged environment in Lisbon. He received a superior education and entered the Augustinian Order as an adolescent. While living in the city of Coimbra, he met some Franciscan brothers who had established a poor hermitage outside of the city named in honor of Saint Anthony of the Desert. Young Father Fernando was very attracted to their simple way of life. From these friars, he also heard about the martyrdom of five Franciscan brothers at the hands of Muslims in North Africa. These martyrs' bodies were ransomed and returned for burial in Fr. Fernando's own abbey in Coimbra. Their deaths and burials were a life-changing moment for him. The Augustinian Fr. Fernando asked, and received, permission to leave and join the Franciscans. At that point he adopted a new religious name, Anthony, from the patron saint of the hermitage where he had first come to know the Franciscan Order. The newly christened Father Anthony then set out to emulate his martyr heroes. He sailed for North Africa to die for the faith or to ransom himself for Christians held captive by Muslims. But it was not to be. Anthony became gravely ill, and, on the return voyage, his ship was providentially blown off course to Sicily. From there he made his way to Central Italy, where his education, mastery of Scripture, compelling preaching skills, and holiness brought him deserving renown. Paradoxically, it was because Anthony received excellent training as an Augustinian that he became a great Franciscan. Saint Francis himself soon came to know Father Anthony, a man whose learning legitimized the under-educated Franciscans. Saint Francis had been skeptical of scholarship, even prohibiting his illiterate followers from learning how to read. Francis feared they would become too prideful and then abandon their radical simplicity and poverty. Saint Francis only reluctantly, several years after founding his Order, allowed some of his brothers to be ordained priests. He had originally relied exclusively on diocesan priests to minister to his non-ordained brothers, and he distrusted his followers who aspired to the honor of the Priesthood. The presence of Anthony, and later Bonaventure, changed all that. In time, Father Anthony became a famous preacher and teacher to Franciscan communities in Northern Italy and Southern France. His knowledge of Scripture was so formidable that Pope Gregory IX titled him the “Ark of the Testament.” In Anthony's Shrine in Padua, a reliquary holding his tongue and larynx recall his fame as a preacher. These organs had not disintegrated even long after the rest of his body had returned to dust. Saint Anthony is most often shown either holding the Child Jesus in his arms or holding a book, a lily, or all three. His intercession is invoked throughout the world for the recovery of lost items and for assistance in finding a spouse. Anthony died at the age of just thirty-five in 1231, about five years after Saint Francis had died. He was canonized less than one year later. In 1946 Saint Anthony was declared a Doctor of the Church due to the richness of his sermons and writings. He was conscious as he succumbed to death. In his last moments, the brothers surrounding his bed asked him if he saw anything. Saint Anthony said simply, “I see the Lord.” Saint Anthony of Padua, we seek your powerful intercession to have the right words on our lips to inspire the faithful and to correct and guide the ignorant. Through your example, may our words also be buttressed by our powerful witness to Christ.
The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) Thursday after Holy Trinity unless otherwise indicated. In the U.S, the solemnity is transferred to the Sunday after the Holy Trinity Solemnity; Liturgical Color: White The gift of all gifts Standing at the crowded table in the dim candle light of the Upper Room during the Last Supper, Jesus Christ did not hand out Bibles to the Twelve Apostles and solemnly tell them, “Take this, all of you, and read it. This is my book, written for you.” Jesus gives us Himself, not a book. On today's Feast, we commemorate God's greatest gift to mankind, the person of Jesus Christ. God gives us His Son, and then Christ gives us Himself, body and blood, soul and divinity, under the accidents of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. Gift, gift-giver, and receiver meld into one in this sacrament of sacraments. In the era of the early Church, it was customary for an excess of bread to be consecrated at Mass so that the Eucharist could be carried to the sick who had been unable to attend the Holy Sacrifice. This practice led to the adoption of the pyx as the first sacred vessel for reservation of the Eucharist. Some modern churches pay homage to these Eucharistic origins by hanging an oversized pyx on their wall to use as a tabernacle, imitating the early Church custom. Permanent reservation of the Eucharist led, over the centuries, to enthroning the Lord amidst the greatest splendor in churches. By the early medieval period, the time had long passed when the Eucharist was reserved merely to be brought to the sick. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, street processions, chants, confraternities, songs, flowers, and all the splendid trappings of a feast day covered this dogma in glory by the High Middle Ages, and continue to wrap it in honor today. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that the most necessary sacrament was Baptism but that the most excellent was the Holy Eucharist. This most excellent sacrament has been, for some, too excellent. In the Gospel of John, when Jesus tells His disciples that they must eat His body and drink His blood, many are incredulous and walk away. But Jesus does not compromise or say He was misunderstood. He lets them keep on walking. This initially hard teaching for the few was destined, over time, to be lovingly welcomed by the many. The Old Covenant of the Old Testament was gory. In a kind of primitive liturgy, Moses had goats and sheep slaughtered on an altar and their blood gathered into buckets. He then splashed this blood over the people, sealing their acceptance of the written law. Flying droplets of animal blood splattered against people's skin to remind them of their promise to God. No such bloody drama breaks out at Sunday Mass. We each bless our head and torso with holy water and receive a pure white host on the tongue. The New Covenant is based not on the blood of goats, bull calves, or on the ashes of a heifer. It is rooted in the generosity of the Son of God, who “offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit.” Christ's Covenant with his people is established verbally and liturgically at the Last Supper and physically on the cross the following day. The consecration of the Sacred Species at Mass continues Christ's physical presence among us, while adoration of the Blessed Sacrament suspends the consecration of the Mass, stretching it out into hours, days, months, and years. We naturally desire to leave a part of ourselves to our loved ones. We send photos, solemnly pass on a cherished memento, or give a baby a family name. Soldiers used to carry a locket holding a few strands of their wife's or girlfriend's hair. We need to be close, physically close, to those we love in concrete, tangible ways. Jesus desired the same, and, not being constrained by the limitations of human nature, He did the same, and more. He has left us Himself! That dogma processing down the street is a person! And that dogma behind the golden doors of the parish's tabernacle is the same person! So bend that body low and set that heart on fire, for the Saving Victim opens wide the gate of heaven to all below. We stand as close to Christ in the Holy Eucharist as the Apostles ever did on Mount Tabor. Lord of the Eucharist, we venerate You with heads bowed, as the old form of worship gives way to the new. With faith providing for what fails the senses, we honor the Begetter and the Begotten, loving back at what loved us first, apprentices in the school of love.
June 11: Saint Barnabas, Apostle Early First Century–c. 62 Memorial; Liturgical Color: Red Patron Saint of Cyprus A multi-talented disciple recruits Saint Paul Today's saint was an Apostle in the exact same sense in which St. Paul was an Apostle. Saint Barnabas was not one of the Twelve original followers of Christ nor a replacement for one of the Twelve, like Saint Matthias. But the term “The Twelve” quickly disappeared after the Gospel events, because “The Twelve” themselves propagated into dozens, hundreds, and then thousands of successor Apostles, known alternatively as Episcopoi or Prebyteroi: Overseers or Elders. Saint Barnabas is among that generation of Christian leaders whose name first surfaces immediately after the Resurrection. So although he was not in the circle of “The Twelve,” he stood in the next outer ring.The earliest name for the movement initiated by Jesus of Nazareth was “The Way.” This term is used in the Acts of the Apostles and in the ancient catechetical document known as the Didache. But “The Way” was replaced early on by another term. The Acts of the Apostles explains: “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians'” (Ac 11:25–26). We owe Saint Barnabas, then, the credit for the word “Christian” as the standard description of the followers of Jesus Christ. The persecution and martyrdom of Saint Stephen forced many Christian leaders to flee Jerusalem. The unforeseen effect of Stephen's assassination and the subsequent persecution of Christians was the spread of the Gospel into greater Syria, the Greek Islands, and North Africa. This expansion led to contact with Greek and Roman Gentiles, or non-Jews, a growth presaging the transformation of Christianity from a localized Jewish sect into a multiethnic worldwide Church. When some converts from North Africa and Cyprus went to Antioch, the capital of the Roman province of Syria, they converted a great number of Greek speakers. And when “news of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem...they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Ac 11: 22–24a). Saint Barnabas played a crucial role in the first unfurling of the Gospel message beyond Palestine. Acting as a kind of talent scout, he lassoed Saul from his hometown of Tarsus to begin the extraordinary missionary efforts which would forever change the Church and the world. Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas are repeatedly mentioned together in the Acts of the Apostles as they traverse the port cities, the waters, and the dusty highways of the Eastern Mediterranean world. Together, they call down the Holy Spirit, commission new Apostles, confront Jews and Roman citizens alike, challenge a magician, speak to governors, and, of utmost consequence for the Church's future, convince the other Apostles not to force new converts to become Jews first and Christians later. Saint Barnabas was a dynamic force of nature who spun like a tornado from town to town in the early Church. He was a giant of that first generation of risk-taking, manly, apostolic leaders. The citizens of Lystra in Asia Minor compared him to the Greek God Zeus. They were so impressed that they tried to crown him with garlands and to sacrifice the blood of oxen to both him and Saint Paul (Ac 14:12–18). After numerous adventures in tandem, Paul, the better preacher, writer, and organizer, ultimately sails off on his own. The last we hear of Barnabas, he is returning to the Island of Cyprus, his native land. When Saint Paul writes from his Roman prison in about 62 A.D., he mentions that Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, is with him (Col 4:10). Barnabas' absence at Paul's side in his hour of need is a clue that Barnabas is likely dead by the year 62. Tradition tells us that Barnabas was martyred on Cyprus, perhaps by a Jewish mob angered at his successful preaching in the synagogue of Salamis. His relics and memory are particularly honored on Cyprus to this day. Saint Barnabas, you gathered infant Christianity from its cradle and carried it into the world beyond. You poured the message of salvation into new wineskins without any guile. May all Christians be so confident, so convincing, and so successful through your intercession.
June 9: Saint Ephrem, Deacon and Doctor Early Fourth Century–373 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of spiritual directors The Harp of the Holy Spirit The Councils of Ephesus in 431 and Chalcedon in 451 ended a centuries-long scorpion dance. Bishops, theologians, and scholars from Egypt to Syria had long circled one another with suspicion, stinging their enemies with sharp words and pointed tongues. Did Jesus Christ have one or two natures? If two natures, were they joined in His will or in His person? If united in His person, at conception? Was He one person or was He two? Smart, educated men defended every shade of every subtlety of every complex question with all of their considerable skill. The answers hacked out at Ephesus and Chalcedon, whose hurly-burly political intrigues were less than inspiring, answered the relevant questions definitively, establishing orthodox teaching for all time. The theological language coined during those fifth century debates is still familiar to the Church today: hypostatic union, monophysitism, Theotokos, etc. Today's saint, Ephrem, was active a century prior to the great conclusions and clarifications of the fifth-century Councils. Although Ephrem did not deviate from what later Councils would explicitly teach, he used far different language to communicate the same truths, anticipating later teachings through poetry. Saint Ephrem was a poet and a musician first and foremost. His language is more beautiful, compelling, and memorable because it is metaphorical. Exactness in words risks dryness. You can say that the average density of the air in the ship's hull eventually equaled the average density of the surrounding water. Or you can say that the ship sank like a stone to the ocean floor. You can write that a day's high dew point caused the air's water vapor content to slow evaporation. Or you can write that it was so hot and humid that people melted like candles. The Church can teach that we eat Christ's body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. Or we can speak directly to Christ with the poet Ephrem and say, “In your bread hides the Spirit who cannot be consumed; in your wine is the fire that cannot be swallowed. The Spirit in your bread, fire in your wine: behold a wonder heard from our lips.” The Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon taught that the one person of Jesus Christ united in Himself a fully divine nature and a fully human nature from the moment of His conception. Saint Ephrem wrote “The Lord entered (Mary) and became a servant; the Word entered her, and became silent within her; thunder entered her and his voice was still; the Shepherd of all entered her and became a Lamb…” Poetry, metaphor, paradox, images, song, and symbols. These were tools in Saint Ephrem's nimble hands. Theology for him was liturgy, music, and prayer. He was called the Harp of the Holy Spirit, the Sun of the Syrians, and the Column of the Church by his admirers, who included luminaries such as Saints Jerome and Basil. Saint Ephrem was a deacon who declined ordination to the priesthood. He lived radical poverty, wearing a patched and dirty tunic. He had a cave for his home and a rock for his pillow. Ephrem founded a theological school and was deeply involved in catechesis through preaching, liturgy, and music. He died after contracting a disease from a patient he was caring for. Saint Ephrem is the Church's greatest Syriac language writer, proof that Christianity is not synonymous with the West or European culture. Ephrem's world thrived for centuries with its own unique Semitic identity in today's Syria, Iraq, Iran, and India. Saint Ephrem's Syria was not the “Near East,” as Europeans later called the region. To him, it was just home, the deep cradle of the new way of loving God that was, and is, Christianity. Saint Ephrem was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. Saint Ephrem, you wrote tenderly and lovingly about the truths of our faith. Help all Christian artists to stay true to the Truth and to communicate Jesus Christ to the world through beauty, music, and images that raise the mind and lift the heart to God Himself.
June 6: Saint Norbert, Bishop c. 1080–1134 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of Bohemia and of expectant mothers Thrown down like Saint Paul, he stood up a changed man Today's saint was born into an elite Central European family with connections to imperial dynasties and the nobility of his time. He received an excellent sacred and secular education in keeping with his high status. And as a young man he received tonsure, the particular shaving of the hair on the scalp denoting one a cleric. He was then appointed a canon, a member of a bishop's inner circle who prayed the liturgical hours in common with other canons. As a young adult, Saint Norbert was well on his way to a career as an ecclesiastic typical of his era: well connected, intelligent, politically aware, committed to the Church, an adviser to princes and bishops, and materially comfortable. His life was almost indistinguishable from those of the laymen whose company he mostly kept. Norbert avoided priestly ordination and turned down a chance to become a bishop. In a one-Church world where civil power and church power were intertwined, canons lived comfortably and held a quasi-civil office which dispensed prayers, graces, and spiritual favors for which the populace paid handsomely. If not for a near-death experience when he was thirty-five years old, Saint Norbert would be known as just Norbert, and he would be resting, forgotten, under the stone floor of a German cathedral. But one day in 1115, Norbert was riding his horse when a lightning bolt struck nearby. He was thrown hard to the ground and was unconscious for a long time but survived. It was jarring, both physically and spiritually. Norbert was changed. He was penitent. He would abandon his life of frivolity. He would take his religious commitment seriously. This powerful experience of the fleetingness of life and its pleasures compelled Norbert to deviate from the wide, crowded road he was traveling, in order to walk, instead, a narrower, stonier, less-traveled path. And as Norbert walked, he shed his past step by step until over many years Saint Norbert emerged, miter on his head, bishop's crozier in one hand, and a monstrance in the other. One moment changed his life. It ceased to be just a moment, in fact, but was converted into a permanent event. God broke through, touched his deepest core, and created a new man. Soon after this near-death experience, Norbert was ordained a priest, went on a month-long retreat, founded a monastery with his own wealth, and began to preach about the transitory nature of the world. He had the fervor of a convert, the ardor of one for whom all things were new. Life was a permanent Spring day. He sold all that he had except what was necessary to say Mass, divested himself of all his properties, and gave everything to the poor. He wore a simple habit, went barefoot, and begged for food. He started to preach throughout France and Germany and became well known. At the instigation of the Pope, he founded a religious Order, which quickly expanded. He was so well respected in Germany that, despite being the founder of an Order, he was named bishop of a large see. Saint Norbert became involved in various ecclesiastical arguments of his day of both a political and theological nature. Saint Norbert's efforts to reform the clergy of his day were not always well received. He was spat upon and rejected. But he persevered. No one outdid him in devotion to the Holy Eucharist, which he preached about constantly. Centuries after his death his body was transferred to near Prague after the German city where he had been buried turned Lutheran. Saint Norbert is most often depicted as a bishop holding either a monstrance or a ciborium, both of which hold the Holy Eucharist. The Norbertine Order continues to thrive, nine hundred years after it was founded. Would that anyone would speak just our name nine hundred years after we die! The Church remembers her saints, preserves their memories, and ensures that the heroes of our faith are held up for emulation long after their earthly work is done. Saint Norbert, your conversion led to your life of total dedication to Christ and the Church. This change was nourished by reception of and devotion to the Holy Eucharist. May we be continually nourished with and converted by the same food from heaven.
June 5: Saint Boniface, Bishop and Martyr c. 675–754 Memorial; Liturgical Color: Red Patron Saint of Germany Pagans cut down a man of action in his grey hairs In the treasury of the Cathedral of Fulda, Germany, there is a medieval Codex, a large, bound book of prayers and theological documents, which very likely belonged to Saint Boniface. The rough cover of the Codex is deeply sliced with cuts from a sword. A tradition dating back to the generations just after Saint Boniface's own time attests that he wielded this very book like a shield to ward off the blows of robbers who attacked him and a large band of missionaries in Northern Germany in 754. Our saint tried to protect himself, both metaphorically and literally, with the written truths of our faith. It was to no avail. Saint Boniface and fifty-two of his companions were slaughtered. Ransacking the baggage of the missionaries for treasure, the band of thieves found no gold vessels or silver plates but only sacred texts the unlettered men couldn't read. Thinking them worthless, they left these books on the forest floor, to be recovered later by local Christians. The Codex eventually made it into the Treasury at Fulda where it is found today. One of the earliest images of Saint Boniface, from a Sacramentary dating to 975, depicts the saint deflecting the blows of a sword with a large, thick book. The Codex is a second-class relic, giving silent witness to the final moments of a martyr. Saint Boniface is known as the “Apostle of the Germans” and is buried in the crypt of Fulda Cathedral. However, his baptismal name was Winfrid, and he was born and raised in Anglo-Saxon England. He was from an educated family, entered a local monastery as a youth, and was ordained a priest at the age of thirty. In 716 Winfrid sailed to the continent to become a missionary to the peoples on the Baltic coast of today's Northern Germany. He was able to communicate with them because his Anglo-Saxon tongue was similar to the languages of the native Saxon and Teutonic tribes. Winfrid was among the first waves of those many Irish and Anglo-Saxon monks who saved what could be saved of Roman and Christian culture in Europe after the Roman Empire collapsed. Large migrations of Gothic peoples, mostly Arian Christians, pagans, or a confusing mix of the two, filled the vacuum created after Roman order disintegrated, and they needed to be inculcated in the faith to rebuild a superior version of the culture they had helped decimate. Winfrid traveled to Rome the year after first arriving on the continent, where the pope renamed him Boniface and appointed him missionary Bishop of Germany. After this, he never returned to his home country. He set out to the north and proceeded to dig and lay the foundations of Europe as we know it. He organized dioceses, helped found monasteries, baptized thousands, pacified tribes, challenged tree-worshipping pagans, taught, preached, held at least one large Church Council, convinced more Anglo-Saxon monks to follow his lead, ordained priests, appointed bishops, stayed in regular contact with his superiors in Rome, and pushed the boundaries of Christianity to their northernmost limit. Boniface was indefatigable. He was in his late seventies, and still pushing to convert the unconverted, when he was surprised and slain in a remote wilderness. Saint Boniface was well educated, and many of his letters and related correspondence survive. But he was, above all, a man of action. He was daring and fearless. He was a pathbreaker. His faith moved mountains and tossed them into the sea. His labors, combined with his great faith, are the stuff of legend. More incredibly, though, they are the stuff of truth. Saint Boniface, through your powerful intercession, help all those who labor for the faith to be as intrepid as you were in challenging those who reject Christ. May your example of tireless witness inspire all missionaries, both at home and abroad, to persevere.
First Sunday after Pentecost: The Most Holy Trinity Solemnity; Liturgical Color: White God is more like a family than a monk We pray in the “name” of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, not in their “names.” God must logically be only one. To hold that there is a vast government of gods is to hold that two mountains are the tallest in the world, that three oceans are the deepest, and that on four days the sun shone the brightest. Another way to say “God” is to say “the best.” God is the best. And there can only be one “best,” “tallest,” “deepest,” and “brightest.” God is the ultimate superlative adjective whose nature admits of no competing god. Christian monotheism stops us from approaching different gods for different things. We believe in one God with one will, one mind, and one plan for mankind. The Holy Trinity, the God of Christianity, is complex. Clear language must be used and clear thinking deployed to grasp the Christian God. There are no backyard garden statues of the Holy Trinity like there are of Saint Francis of Assisi, because the Trinity is cerebral in a way that Saint Francis is not. On this solemnity, we celebrate the dogma of all dogmas because dogma matters. We sing songs to dogma, put flowers on the altar to dogma, and wear our best clothes for dogma. The Church's thinking about God is not child's play. Once we accept thoughts, they own us. At some point we no longer choose our thoughts, they choose us. So we must get God right so that we get everything else right—marriage, family, work, love, war, money, philosophy, humor, religion, fun, sports, etc. Bad people can be forgiven, but bad ideas less so. And bad ideas about God are dangerous. They caused skyscrapers to crumble to the ground. The Church believes that God is one in His nature and three in His persons. This means that if you were in a pitch-black room and sensed a presence nearby, your first question would be “What is that?” “Is it the dog or the cat, my spouse, or the wind?” If it were God in the darkness, He would answer the question of “what” by saying “I am God.” Satisfied that the presence was a person and not an animal or the wind, the next question would be “Who are you?” And to that question, God would reply in three successive voices: “I am the Father. I am the Son. I am the Holy Spirit.” A nature is the source of operations, but a person does them. A statue has eyes but it is not its nature to see. It is not man's nature to lay eggs or to breathe under water, but it is the nature of a bird or of a fish to do so. Our nature sets the parameters for what actions are possible for us. The daughter of a lion is a lioness and does what lions do. The son of a man is a man and does what men do. And the Son of God is God and knows, loves, and acts as God does, perfectly. Our Trinitarian supernova is both a unity and a plurality, both one and many at the same time. This means that God does not exist alone but in a community of love. God is not narcissistic, admiring his own beauty and perfection. Instead, the love of the Father is directed toward the Son for all eternity. And the love of the Holy Spirit animates, and passes between, the Father and the Son. The Trinity's three persons do not share portions of the divine nature, they each possess it totally. This theology means, by extension, that because man is made in the image and likeness of God, every person is created in order to model the Trinity by living with, and for, another, just as God does in His inner life. Because God is a Trinity of persons, His perfection is more fully embodied by an earthly community, such as a family, rather than by a lone monk. The Trinity is not just scaffolding which obscures the true face of God. Nor are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit three masks which conceal the one face of God. The one God exists as a Trinity. The Church's belief in God and the Church's belief in the Trinity stand and fall together. The Trinity is not just the summit of our faith, something we work toward understanding, but also our faith's foundation. The truth of the Holy Trinity is learned early and often. Our God, distinct in His persons, one in His essence, and equal in His majesty, is solemnly invoked as the water spills on our heads at Baptism and as the oil is traced on our palms at our anointing. God, in all of His complexity and in all of His simplicity, is with us always in this world and, hopefully, in the world to come. Most Holy Trinity, we look to Your three persons as a model of true love, knowledge, and community life. Help all marriages and families strive for the high ideal of perfection You set before the world, no matter the discouragement resulting from our sins and imperfections.
June 3: Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs 1860–1886 Memorial; Liturgical Color: Red Patron Saint of African youth Young African Christians die like the martyrs of old Many of the faces of the saints in heaven that shine with the light of God are dark faces. North Africa was one of the first regions to be evangelized and was home to a vibrant, diverse, and orthodox Church for over six hundred years. North Africa had over four hundred bishoprics and enriched the universal Church with a wealth of theologians, martyrs, and saints. That Catholic culture drowned under the crushing waves of Arab Muslim armies that inundated North Africa in the seventh century, altering its cultural and religious landscape. Small pockets of Christianity continued to exist in isolation for a few centuries more. But by 1830, when French colonists and missionaries settled in Tunisia and Algeria, local Christianity had totally disappeared. The Christian light had gone out in North Africa centuries before. Yet today's saints are nineteenth-century African martyrs. While North Africa has remained in the tight grip of Islam, sub-Saharan Africa has lived a contrary reality. It has embraced Christianity. Throughout the nineteenth century, daring missionary priests and religious from various European countries penetrated deep into the towns, savannas, jungles, and river deltas of the “dark continent,” carrying the light of Christ. For the most part, they were well received and initiated the long and complex process of evangelization, inculturation, and education that has turned today's sub-Saharan Africa into a largely Christian region.Charles Lwanga and his companions were all very young men, in their teens and twenties, when they were martyred. They ran afoul of their local ruler for one reason and one reason only—they were Christians and adhered to Christian morality. The ruler did not otherwise question their loyalty, devotion, or service to him. He was suspicious of the European priests who had brought the faith, wary of outside interference in his kingdom, and also eager to impress his subjects with a display of ruthlessness and power. He was also a sodomite who wanted these young men to engage in unholy sexual acts with him. For refusing to satisfy his disordered and abusive lust, they became victims of homsexual violence. The ruler and his court questioned the young males who served as their pages and assistants to discover if they were catechumens, had been baptized, or knew how to pray. Those who answered “Yes” were killed for it. One was stabbed through the neck with a spear and another's arm was cut off before he was beheaded. But most were marched miles to an execution site, cruelly treated for a week, then wrapped in reed matts and placed over a fire until their feet were singed. They were then given one last chance to abjure their faith. None did. These tightly wrapped human candles were then thrown onto a huge pyre and reverted to the dust from whence they came. One of the executioners even killed his own son. The executioners and onlookers knew their victims had succumbed to the flames when they no longer heard them praying. The site where these Ugandan martyrs died is now a popular shrine and a source of pride dear to the heart of African Catholics. Charles Lwanga and his companions, though new to the faith, acted with the maturity of the wise and the aged, choosing to sacrifice lives full of promise rather than surrender the pearl of greatest price—their Catholic faith. Saint Charles Lwanga and companions, help us to be courageous in the face of threats, to stand tall for our beliefs, and to suffer ridicule and hatred rather than renounce or minimize our relationship with Christ and His truth.
June 2: Saints Marcellinus and Peter, Martyrs Mid-third Century–c. 304 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: Red Their memory was preserved by their very executioner Saint Helen went to the Holy Land and returned to Rome with remnants of the true cross of Christ. This same Helen was the mother of Constantine, the Roman Emperor who legalized Christianity in 313 and who called the Council of Nicea in 325. When Saint Helen died around 328, her Emperor-Son placed her body in a monumental, sumptuous sarcophagus of rare, porphyry marble from Egypt. The deeply carved red stone shows Roman soldiers on horseback conquering barbarians. These are not scenes likely to adorn a pious woman's tomb. It was probably meant to be Constantine's own sarcophagus, but when his mother died, he used it for her. And Constantine did one more thing for his mother. He built a large church on the outskirts of Rome over the catacombs, or burial place, of today's saints, Marcellinus and Peter, and placed his mother and her giant tomb inside of the church. That one so famous and powerful as Constantine would build a church over the catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, and honor this church still more with his mother's tomb, testifies to these martyrs' importance to the early Christians of Rome. And since they were martyred in approximately 304, only a decade before Constantine conquered the eternal city, their memory must still have been fresh when Christianity was legalized. Until this time, Christians worshipped in dark, hidden places. As they first stepped into the public light to build the ancient churches whose walls, pillars, and foundations are still visible today, these Christians honored those who came before them. They honored those whose deaths were all the sadder because they perished so close to the day of Christian liberation. They honored Saints Marcellinus and Peter. Little is known with certainty about Saint Marcellinus and Saint Peter. Tradition tells us that Marcellinus was a priest and Peter an exorcist and that they were beheaded on the outskirts of Rome. A few years after the bloody event, a little boy from Rome heard about their deaths from the mouth of their very executioner, who later became a Christian. That little boy was named Damasus, and he went on to became Pope from 366–384. Decades later, remembering the story he had heard as a child, Pope Damasus honored Marcellinus and Peter by adorning their tomb with a marble inscription recounting the details of their martyrdom as he had heard them so long ago. Unfortunately, the inscription is lost.The circumstances of Marcellinus' and Peter's deaths were likely similar to those of other, better-documented martyrdoms: some public declaration of faith, arrest, perfunctory trial, a chance to offer sacrifice to a Roman god, a refusal, a last chance to be an idolater, a last refusal, and then a swift, businesslike beheading. It was over quickly. Then came the calm. Then came the night. And out of that darkness emerged a candle-lit procession of humble Christians, walking slowly and silently toward the place of execution. The headless corpses were placed on white sheets and carried solemnly to an underground burial niche. A small marble plaque etched with the martyrs' names was placed nearby. An oil lamp was lit and left burning. Thus the veneration began. Thus it continues today. Marcellinus and Peter were important enough to be included in the official list of Roman martyrs and to have their names remembered in the liturgy of Rome. As the Mass celebrated in Rome became standard throughout the Catholic world, the names of Marcellinus and Peter were embedded into the Roman Canon, the First Eucharistic Prayer. And there they are read at Mass until today, more than one thousand seven hundred years after they died. The Body of Christ forgets nothing, retains everything, and purifies its memory to honor those who deserve honoring. The catacombs and the first Basilica of Marcellinus and Peter fell into ruins at the hands of two enemies—time and the Goths. A “new” church was built nearby to replace it and is still a parish. Saint Helen's bones were removed from her imperial tomb in the twelfth century and swapped with the body of a Pope. The tomb was later emptied again and, in 1777, moved to the Vatican museums. Hundreds of thousands of tourists walk right by the tomb every year, seeing perhaps just a huge chunk of marble, oblivious to the rich history connecting the monumental tomb to ancient Christianity and the martyrs we commemorate today. Saints Marcellinus and Peter, help all those who seek your intercession to face persecution and intimidation of any kind, via words, or arms, or threats, with bravery and heroic resistance.
May 31: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Feast; Liturgical Color: White Two young mothers and their treasures meet Only in the Catholic Church would a Feast Day first celebrated in the thirteenth century be considered “new.” But that is when the Visitation first appeared in some liturgical calendars. Our oldest liturgical feasts date from the apostolic period. That is, they were likely celebrated by the Apostles themselves in the years immediately following the earthly life of Christ. The original historical events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday transformed into liturgical events so rapidly and so naturally that the earliest Christian writings are of a liturgical nature. Other Feast Days, such as Christmas, Mary the Mother of God, and the Birth of John the Baptist had to wait their turn. They are ancient but cede pride of place to the foundational events of Holy Week, just as America's Presidents' Day must cede to the more essential Independence Day. Without a country, there would no presidents, and without a death and resurrection, there would be no Christianity or Christian calendar in the first place. The Visitation falls, liturgically, when it happened historically. Mary conceived Jesus Christ in late March. Saint John the Baptist was born in late June. And it was between these two bookends that pregnant Mary visited her pregnant cousin Elizabeth. Perhaps it was in late May. We may be surprised in heaven to discover that many of our biblically based feast days are commemorated on the exact historical dates they occurred. Would God deceive us otherwise? After all, no good father would tell the family to celebrate his son's birthday on a date other than when he was born. It is the Gospel of Saint Luke that recounts for us so many details of Mary's life that otherwise remain untold. Saint John writes at the end of his Gospel that Jesus did and said many other things which are not written down. Perhaps the same could be said of Mary. Many words were spoken, gestures made, and events transpired, yet so much remains a mystery. Yet if we knew all there was to know about God and the things of God, then heaven would be a bore and not be heaven at all. The Visitation is the first time that Mary publicly exercises her role as Mediator of the Son of God. God chose not only to become a man but to become such in the same way that all men do, through gestation and birth, with His virginal conception the sole miracle. Catholicism is a religion that believes in secondary causality. God directly intervenes in creation only rarely, instead inviting His creatures to perfect His raw creation by using their God-given talents. God did not cure the cancer. The skilled surgeon removed the tumor. He used the gifts God gave him. It was not a direct intervention. It was not a miracle. It was the doctor's mind and hands being put to their highest use. Mary generously mediated the Incarnation, placing her body at God's disposition. She, the Mother of the Church, carries the entire Church in her womb. She, the Ark of the Covenant, houses a treasure more precious than Moses' stone tablets of old. And she, the Morning Star, shines in the blackness before the blazing sun rises in the east, dawning a new day. Christ's presence in Mary's womb radiates outward with x-ray power and reverberates in the words of faith which arise from Elizabeth and her child, John. Jesus' cousin leaps for joy inside his mother. And Elizabeth reacts by speaking those graceful words, which countless voices will go on to pray, in countless languages, many billions of times in the centuries since and in the ages to come: “Blessed are you among women, and Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” The Visitation is one of the sources of the Hail Mary. Elizabeth is a prophet. We are her hearers. For a prophecy to be a prophecy, it has to become true. Elizabeth's words were true and are true. Mary is indeed blessed among women, and her fruit has indeed changed the world. Mary's humility instinctively deflects. She praises the source of all goodness, God, rather than the goodness of her own generosity. All things, save evil, can be traced back to God. Mary is at the head of the trail in clearing the tangled path overgrown since the sin of Eve. With mankind close behind, Mary leads us back to discover anew the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty.Mary and Elizabeth, your generosity in cooperating with God's will initiated the events of the New Testament. May we be equally generous in cooperating with God's plans for our lives, knowing the beginning but not the end, lighting a fire that warms the lives of unknown others.
Monday after Pentecost: The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church Memorial; Liturgical Color: White One Mother, two motherhoods Mary mothered Jesus, Jesus then gave life to the Church with water and blood from His side, and the Church then mothers us into existence through baptism. Devotion to Mary goes hand in hand with devotion to the Church because both are mothers. Mother Mary gives the world Christ. Mother Church gives the world Christians. The metaphorical parallels between Mother Mary and Mother Church are spiritually rich and deeply biblical. Mary was understood by many early theologians as both the mother of the Head of the Church, Jesus, and also the symbol of the Church par excellence. Mother Mary is a virgin who conceived the physical body of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation. In a parallel way, Mother Church is the Mystical Body of Christ who gives every Christian rebirth through the power of the Holy Spirit received at Pentecost. Both Mary and the Church conceived through the same Spirit, without the aid of human seed. Mother Mary makes Christ's body physically present in Palestine in the first century. Mother Church, in turn, makes Christ's body mystically present through baptism and sacramentally present in the Eucharist, in every time and place. It was common for a baptismal font in early Christianity to be described as a sacred womb in which Mother Church gave her children life. The theological cross-pollination between Mother Mary and Mother Church has produced a field ripe for spiritual and theological cultivation. Christ is from Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Galilee. But He is most deeply from the Father. He is one Son but lives two sonships. Similarly, all Christians are born from one Mother expressed in two motherhoods: Mary's and the Church's. Mary and the Church, understood most profoundly, form one mother. Both are the mother of Christ, but each mutually assists the other to bring Christ physically, sacramentally, and mystically into the world in all His fullness. Neither Mary nor the Church can exercise their motherhoods alone. Today's feast, formally integrated into the Church's calendar by the authority of Pope Francis in 2018, specifically commemorates Mary's motherhood of the Church rather than her motherhood of God, a feast celebrated on January 1. Mary likely showed as much tender concern for Christ's mystical body as it slowly matured in its native Palestine as she did for His physical body in Nazareth. Pope Pius XII perceptively noted Mary's dual maternity in his encyclical on the Church: “It was she who was there to tend the mystical body of Christ, born of the Savior's pierced heart, with the same motherly care that she spent on the child Jesus in the crib.” It is possible the Apostles held their first Council in about 49 A.D. in Jerusalem precisely because Mary still dwelled in the holy city. She was likely the young religion's greatest living witness and pillar of unity. We can imagine her presiding over early Christian gatherings with reserved solemnity, nursing primitive Christianity just as she had Christ. Ancient pagans spoke of imperial Rome as a Domina, a divine female master. Rome was praised as a conquering mother who brought vanquished peoples close to her own heart, incorporating them as citizens into her vast, multicultural, polyglot realm. Other empires executed prisoners of war, exiled peoples, imposed a foreign culture, or displaced populations. Not Rome. Rome absorbed them all. The early fathers understood Mother Church as the successor to this Domina. In baptism this Mother does not release her children from her body but absorbs them, making them fully her own unto death. Since the early Middle Ages, feast days and devotions to the Virgin Mary have proliferated in Catholicism. Now Pope Francis has given the Church a feast to compliment that of January 1. The two motherhoods of Mary reflect one profound truth, that Christ approaches us in time and in space, in history and in sacrament, in mysterious and beautiful ways. In the words of Saint Augustine: “What (God) has bestowed on Mary in the flesh, He has bestowed on the Church in the spirit; Mary gave birth to the One, and the Church gives birth to the many, who through the One become one.” This is all cause for deep reflection. Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, God prepared you to be the sacred vessel to replace Mother Synagogue with Mother Church. Eve approaches you like mother to daughter, old Eve to New Eve, two mothers of the living. Help all Chritians to see both the Church and you Mary, as their mother.
May 29: Saint Paul VI, Pope 1897–1978 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White An erudite introvert helms the Church in stormy waters Over the two millennia of its storied existence, the papacy has piled prestige upon power upon privilege like so many bricks in a high, impregnable, theological fortress. The Bishop of Rome is without doubt the world's greatest institutional defender of tradition. There is simply no other office which telescopes into one man all that is meant by the compressed phrase “Western Civilization.” Giovanni Baptista Montini, today's saint's baptismal name, was as perfectly prepared by education and experience as any man before him to carry the torch of tradition handed to him by his predecessor Pope John XXIII. Yet for all of his erudition and decades of practice walking along the high ridges of church life, the mid-1960s suddenly demanded of the Pope a mix of lace-like delicacy and raw political power alien to his sensitive character. The unity of the Church after the Council was quickly unwinding under potent centrifugal forces. In order to keep the core intact, it was no longer enough for the Pope to be just the bearer of the great tradition. Paul VI had to be Peter, a man of office and authority, yes, but also a tireless missionary like Saint Paul, and a silently courageous disciple and sign of contradiction like Saint Mary. The future Pope Paul VI was born in the last years of the nineteenth century in Northern Italy to an educated and dignified family that was deeply committed to the Church. Giovanni was ordained a priest at the tender age of twenty-two and entered the service of the Vatican a few years later. He spent approximately thirty years serving in the central administration of the Holy See in roles placing him in close contact with three popes. He was appointed Archbishop of Milan in 1954 and a Cardinal in 1958. “Habemus Papam” could have been announced before the Cardinals ever mustered in the Sistine Chapel for the papal conclave of 1963, as few doubted whose experience best prepared him to be pope or who Pope Saint John XXIII wanted to succeed him. Cardinal Baptista took the name Paul, the first Pope of that name in over three hundred years. The new Pope very consciously united the stability and authority represented by Saint Peter with the zealous evangelical outreach represented by Saint Paul. Paul VI became the first pope ever to travel to other continents, going on apostolic pilgrimages to the Holy Land, India, Colombia, the United States, Portugal, and Uganda. Paul also continued the Second Vatican Council and shepherded it to its conclusion in 1965. After the Council, Paul VI promulgated a new liturgical calendar, missal, breviary, and simplified rites for all the sacraments, thus impacting the lives of Catholics the world over in a personal way that few popes had ever done before. Paul VI was also deeply immersed in the theological and moral deliberations over the Church's response to new technologies making artificial means of contraception accessible and affordable to the masses. Paul's 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, heroically restated the Church's perennial teaching on the immorality of using artificial means of contraception. Although Humana Vitae was not as compelling and humanistic a presentation of the Church's rich teachings on married love as would later be advanced by Pope Saint John Paul II, it was replete with prophecies. Paul VI's predictions about the far-reaching and negative repercussions of the widespread use of contraceptives have all come true! No other individual or institution at the time foresaw, or anticipated in any way, even one of the ticking time bombs whose cultural shrapnel Paul inventoried with such accuracy. The intense storms that blew over Humanae Vitae in Northern Europe and North America lashed the aging Pope, and he never issued another encyclical. At times in the late 1960s and 1970s, it seemed as if chunks of Catholicism, Christianity's mighty rock of Gibraltar, might fall away and drop into the sea. But Paul VI's steady, if undynamic, hand avoided fissures in the Church's facade. Though no schisms surfaced during his pontificate, the Pope did publicly warn about the smoke of satan entering the temple of God. Our saint was in many ways a tragic figure, tasked with leading a huge, complex Church in a confusing time. Paul's confessor, a holy and faithful Jesuit, said, after the Pope's death, that "if Paul VI was not a saint when he was elected Pope, he became one during his pontificate." The Church was Paul VI's perennial love and undying concern. He died on the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, and was buried, per his request, in a simple casket placed directly in the earth in the grottoes under St. Peter's Basilica, near so many of his predecessors who sat on the same Chair of Peter. Pope Saint Paul VI, you resisted a swell of voices to uphold the Church's teachings on authentic human love. May all bishops and popes be as courageous as you in their fidelity to the Church's undying tradition.
Pentecost Sunday c. 33 A.D. Sunday after the Seventh Sunday of Easter Solemnity; Liturgical Color: Red Happy Birthday, Church! All living things have a birthday. The Church is a living organism and Pentecost is her birthday. Pentecost was a Jewish Feast Day. The author of the Acts of the Apostles identifies the day before the Holy Spirit ever descended. But Semitic Pentecost immediately acquired a new and perennial Christian meaning when the wind swirled and wisps of flame descended upon the heads of the Apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem. In a frightening display of God's raw and awesome power, the Lord and Giver of Life, as the Nicene Creed defines the Holy Spirit, vivified the nascent Church with fire. The Church is still vivified by that same Spirit which has never left the room. Every living thing has an esprit de corps: there is team spirit, company culture, a platoon's bravado, an orchestra's élan, or the country spirit known as patriotism. As a living thing, the Catholic Church has a Spirit too, one which indwells in her more fully than in any other Church. The Holy Spirit stamps Catholicism with a trademark of authenticity. It guarantees the Church's fidelity to the God who gave her life. The dramatic events of the first Christian Pentecost have linked, not illogically, the Holy Spirit with spontaneity, impetuosity, miracle working, supernatural gifts, and high octane evangelization. When a throng of Christians thunders praise and makes the ground tremble, no one attributes the heaving to God the Father. When a tumor disappears and a first-class sinner publicly weeps in repentance, or when upraised hands wave to and fro, heads jut toward the sky above, bodies sway, and pores drip sweat in the heat of the night, all agree that the Holy Spirit is pulsating in sync with the mighty deeds of God. And yet…there is also the still, small voice of the Prophet Elijah. There is also the Monday morning and the Thursday afternoon. Not every day is a rollicking God party. Few days, in fact, involve rollicking God parties. Everyday life is not a crashing wave. It's more like a constant tide, rising and receding at regular intervals. The Church is often as mundane as everyday life because she is part and parcel of everyday life, as a real religion should be. And so the Church's Holy Spirit is vitally present in the tide of everydayness just as she is present in the racket of a Saturday night bash. The Holy Spirit is a spirit of unity, drawing all people toward the flame of truth. The Holy Spirit is not an alternate third column creating ‘churches of one' who speak only for themselves. Christ truly desires that His followers be one, “as we are one” (Jn 17:11). The Church's unity is forged out of human diversity through a visible structure which channels the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments and their sanctifying graces. Structure and Spirit indwell. The Church's visible nature embodies the Holy Spirit in the same fashion that an Independence Day parade with its well-known leaders and predictable route embodies a country's patriotism. The tightly choreographed pattern walked by the smartly uniformed soldier at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier causes citizens to stand in respectful silence and their hearts to swell with pride for their nation because the ceremony makes visible what is otherwise only vaguely felt. Public rituals express communally what otherwise remains emotionally elusive and difficult for individuals to verbalize. The same applies for the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church.Watching the incense slowly rise over the altar at a solemn Mass, whispering on our knees in the deep quiet of the confessional, lighting a candle at the Grotto of Lourdes, or walking and praying as the Corpus Christi procession moves slowly forward are tangible experiences of a living Church. It is in moments such as these that we feel intensely the presence of the Holy Spirit. If we didn't feel the Spirit in these events, we would not feel His presence at all, or we would not be sure it was not, instead, just powerful auto-suggestion at work. The Church protects us from such illusions.At Pentecost the Holy Spirit did not descend as a communal bonfire. The one Spirit of God parted and came to rest on each of the Apostles individually. The lesson? We each receive our share of God. God is the answer to the question that is every human soul. And God comes to us through a Church, not willy nilly in sweat and song. A tongue of fire is lit in every soul at baptism. We each house an eternal flame burning deep within. That flame will never be extinguished, even at death. Our personal flame of the Spirit, lit in our soul by the Church at baptism, will never die, because the Lord and Giver of Life is eternal. He waits patiently to gather together again every spark and flame that ever parted from Him into the one great conflagration of love that is the never-ending Pentecost of heaven. Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest, fill the soul of every guest with that fire of love searing Father to Son. Hovering over the Apostles in flames of grace, You made a new high summit, the upper room, the source of unity for the human race. Holy Spirit come.
May 27: Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop Early Sixth Century–604 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of England The Church's Augustus conquered by example Gaius Octavius Thurinus was a noble Roman. Julius Caesar became his stepfather when he adopted Octavius, posthumously, in his will. Octavius then added his dead stepfather's name to his own, becoming Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. He defeated his political enemies in 31 B.C. and thus became the first Emperor of Rome. To recognize his status, the Roman Senate added another link to his long chain of names—Augustus. And it is as Augustus that he is known to history. This very Augustus called for the census forcing Mary and Joseph to transfer to Bethlehem: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Lk 2:1). Augustus reigned well and lived long, until 14 A.D. He is considered the iconic Emperor of the “Pax Romana,” a tranquil, vast, expanding, organized, rich, united, and unconquerable realm, an enormous map of which Augustus pondered from his throne in Rome. The eighth month was renamed to honor Augustus during his own lifetime. But greatness is not limited to the Roman Emperor or his Empire. The best of Rome was absorbed, filtered, purified, and reborn in the Catholic Church. As Rome declined, popes and bishops did not pickpocket the corpse of Rome or rifle through the drawers of its abandoned dressers. The transformation from Empire to Church was organic, slow, and unrelenting, like all true cultural change. It happened imperceptibly, year by year, person by person, family by family, town by town, until one day everything was different. The arc of cultural change doesn't have a right angle. It is fitting and poetic, then, that the Church has her own great Augustus, indirectly evoking the laurel-crowned Emperor. In fact, the Church has two Augustines: Saint Augustine of Hippo, in North Africa, a Doctor of the Church; and Saint Augustine of Canterbury, today's saint. But their marble statues are not in museums. They are in churches. Saint Augustine of Canterbury was born in an unknown year about a century after his Christian namesake's death in 430 A.D. in North Africa. He also conquered a king, like his secular namesake, but not for his own glory. Saint Augustine of Canterbury is called the Apostle to the English (not to the British.) The history is complex. Christianity was deeply rooted in Roman Britain. British bishops attended Church Councils in France in the fourth century, and two famous Roman British Catholics well known to history lived centuries before Saint Augustine—Pelagius and Saint Patrick. But after the Romans abandoned Britain around 410 A.D., invasions of the pagan Saxons from Northern Europe mixed with native tribes to alter the cultural and religious landscape. Old Roman Britain faded as Anglo-Saxon England dawned. Christianity was relegated to the margins of the British Isles, surviving in remote regions and in an extensive network of monasteries, not parishes or dioceses, under the wise tutelage of Irish monks. This two-hundred-year British-Irish hibernation of Catholicism was aroused from its sleep when, in 595 A.D., Pope Saint Gregory the Great had a plan. The goal? Convert King Ethelbert. Why? Because he was an Anglo-Saxon pagan. The hope? His wife was Catholic. The means? A large missionary train. The man for the job? Saint Augustine. Our saint, an educated Benedictine monk from Rome, headed a large team that struggled through France on horseback, crossed the English Channel in simple boats, and finally walked to Ethelbert's seat of power in Canterbury. The King of all Kent heard the missionaries and…converted to Catholicism! And then all his subjects converted as well. The plan worked. Mission accomplished! More missionaries followed. Schools were established. Monasteries were founded. Bishops were appointed. Priests were ordained. Parishes were opened. Rough Anglo-Saxon England put on the yoke of Christ and the lovely, rolling, deep green countryside of England became Mary's dowry. Nothing is known of the life of Saint Augustine before 595 A.D. He is famous because he was a missionary monk and later bishop. His life and his mission are indistinguishable. He accepted a dare from the Pope and did the impossible. He was himself the foundation stone upon which a Catholic nation built its house of faith for almost a millennium.Saint Augustine, your long years of prayer, asceticism, and reading as a monk prepared you for greater things. May all who seek your intercession prepare themselves in times of quiet for future challenges. May all missionaries be as daring as you in fulfilling what is asked of them.