This is not the place to argue the merits of any order, especially against the merits of another but to take comfort in the fact that the people who started those orders are saints. Not just saints for the few but for the whole Church.
Orders have people who have devoted their lives to serving God in a very specific way, though the actions that result from that service are myriad.
I have benefited from the rigorous and disciplined nature of the Jesuits, as have many; but I have also benefited from the prayerful attitude of Benedictines, the kindness of Franciscans, the eloquence of Dominicans, the passion of the Passionists, the patience of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the hospitality of the Christian Brothers...well you get the idea.
God calls us all to very specific vocations; the joy, beauty, and power of that vocation lies in the opportunities that God gives us to live them out.
We honor Ignatius and all of the thousands of other founders and the sacrifices they made in order to give us the diverse Church that worships the one God.
In the meantime the divine mercy was at work substituting for these thoughts others suggested by his recent readings. While perusing the life of Our Lord and the saints, he began to reflect, saying to himself: "What if I should do what St. Francis did?" "What if I should act like St. Dominic?" He pondered over these things in his mind, and kept continually proposing to himself serious and difficult things. He seemed to feel a certain readiness for doing them, with no other reason except this thought: "St. Dominic did this; I, too, will do it." "St. Francis did this; therefore I will do it." These heroic resolutions remained for a time, and then other vain and worldly thoughts followed. This succession of thoughts occupied him for a long while, those about God alternating with those about the world. But in these thoughts there was this difference. When he thought of worldly things it gave him great pleasure, but afterward he found himself dry and sad; but when he thought of journeying to Jerusalem, and of living only on herbs, and practicing austerities, he found pleasure not only while thinking of them, but also when he had ceased.
This difference he did not notice or value, until one day the eyes of his soul were opened and he began to inquire the reason of the difference. He learned by experience that one train of thought left him sad, the other joyful. This was his first reasoning on spiritual matters. Afterward, when he began the Spiritual Exercises, he was enlightened, and understood what he afterward taught his children about the discernment of spirits. When gradually he recognized the different spirits by which he was moved, one, the spirit of God, the other, the devil, and when he had gained no little spiritual light from the reading of pious books, he began to think more seriously of his past life, and how much penance he should do to expiate his past sins.
Amid these thoughts the holy wish to imitate saintly men came to his mind; his resolve was not more definite than to promise with the help of divine grace that what they had done he also would do. After his recovery his one wish was to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He fasted frequently and scourged himself to satisfy the desire of penance that ruled in a soul filled with the spirit of God.
The vain thoughts were gradually lessened by means of these desires — desires that were not a little strengthened by the following vision. While watching one night he plainly saw the image of the Blessed Mother of God with the Infant Jesus, at the sight of which, for a considerable time, he received abundant consolation, and felt such contrition for his past life that he thought of nothing else. From that time until August, 1555, when this was written, he never felt the least motion of concupiscence. This privilege we may suppose from this fact to have been a divine gift, although we dare not state it, nor say anything except confirm what has been already said. His brother and all in the house recognized from what appeared externally how great a change had taken place in his soul.
-- Autobiography, I, 26-18
There is contention about the validity and place of the Fathers in the practice of our Faith. It is the argument of some that it is their introduction of philosophical language which corrupts the true church. We who honor the Fathers see their efforts as helping to guide and remove corruption from the Church. Their ability to articulate understandings about the Faith answers doubt and rights inaccurate thinking. It is easy to dismiss them as non-biblical but to ignore the Fathers is to fall into many of the traps that they speak against.
Peter's ability to voice complex ideas succinctly and brilliantly led many to deeper understanding and practice of the Faith. In fact it would be easy to place a complete copy of any of his homilies here because they are so short and to the point. But for even more brevity I will only sample two with similar themes.
Christ’s birth was not necessity, but an expression of omnipotence, a sacrament of piety for the redemption of men. He who made humans without generation from pure clay made man again and was born from a pure body. The hand that assumed clay to make our flesh deigned to assume a body for your salvation. That the Creator is in his creature and God is in the flesh brings dignity to man without dishonor to him who made him.
Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God?
Why render yourself such dishonor when you are honored by him?
Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made?
-- From a Homily on the Nativity of Christ
The man made from the earth is the pattern of those who belong to the earth; the man from heaven is the pattern of those who belong to heaven. How is it that these last, though they do not belong to heaven by birth, will yet belong to heaven, men who do not remain what they were by birth but persevere in being what they have become by rebirth? The reason is, brethren, that the heavenly Spirit, by the mysterious infusion of his light, gives fertility to the womb of the virginal font. The Spirit brings forth as men belonging to heaven those whose earthly ancestry brought them forth as men belonging to the earth, and in a condition of wretchedness; he gives them the likeness of their Creator. Now that we are reborn, refashioned in the image of our Creator, we must fulfill what the Apostle commands: So, as we have worn the likeness of the man of earth, let us also wear the likeness of the man of heaven.
-- From Sermon 117
I am always surprised about the tension and high feelings that come up about Martha and Mary, as if one of the things we have to do is compare ourselves to others and choose one over the other. Jesus certainly points out something but it is not a comparison. Jesus calls Martha to task over her worry, not her choice of actions. The mention of Mary is to call Martha to think about what she does and thinks and does not compare her to Mary as Mary being better. One other certainty is that later Mary wails over Lazarus' death while Martha proclaims her beliefs. Jesus calls us to be true to him no matter who we are.
Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
"Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me."
The Lord said to her in reply,
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her."
-- Luke 10:38-42
Often the charge of "you're making that up" is leveled at the Church, but come on, everybody has parents, even if we do not know their names (something you will be highly cognizant of if you have ever done genealogy). Mary is definitely the mother of Jesus - Scripture leaves not doubt of that. Two genealogies leave none of Joseph's father as well, sort of. But of Mary's anscestry we know very little, except the very early tradition of her parent's names.
Even if we do not know their names, do the man and the woman who raised Mary not deserve our honor? So many parents for millennia have labored in anonymity to mold good and loving children - we can often forget their efforts in our judgment of their children. We value celebrity and notoriety but not the parents who formed that person.
We know that Mary was betrothed when found with child, but how did these parents feel? Did they condemn her? Denounce her? Shame her? Abandon her? I am sure that Joseph, being a righteous man and not wanting to expose her, would not have returned her to anything but a loving family.
So we honor Mary's parents, we give them names so that we can identify them and call on them to help us raise children who's response to God's will and call is a resounding: "Yes!"
Joachim and Ann, how blessed a couple! All creation is indebted to you. For at your hands the Creator was offered a gift excelling all other gifts: a chaste mother, who alone was worthy of him. And so rejoice, Ann, that you were sterile and have not borne children; break forth into shouts, you who have not given birth. Rejoice, Joachim, because from your daughter a child is born for us, a son is given us, whose name is Messenger of great counsel and universal salvation, mighty God. For this child is God. Joachim and Ann, how blessed and spotless a couple! You will be known by the fruit you have born, as the Lord says: By their fruits you will know them. The conduct of your life pleased God and was worthy of your daughter. For by the chaste and holy life you led together, you have fashioned a jewel of virginity: she who remained a virgin before, during and after giving birth. She alone for all time would maintain her virginity in mind and soul as well as in body. Joachim and Ann, how chaste a couple! While safeguarding the chastity prescribed by the law of nature, you achieved with God’s help something which transcends nature in giving the world the Virgin Mother of God as your daughter. While leading a devout and holy life in your human nature, you gave birth to a daughter nobler than the angels, whose queen she now is. Girl of utter beauty and delight, daughter of Adam and mother of God, blessed the loins and blessed the womb from which you come! Blessed the arms that carried you, and blessed your parents’ lips, which you were allowed to cover with chaste kisses, ever maintaining your virginity. Rejoice in God, all the earth. Sing, exult and sing hymns. Raise your voice, raise it and not be afraid.
-- From a sermon by St. John Damascene
We know that James and John ("the beloved disciple") were brothers. We know that Peter, James, and John were extremely close to Jesus, going places with him that the others did not go - especially his moments of glory on Mt. Tabor and agony on the Mt. of Olives - their moments of shame.
We can infer that he (and therefore John) may have even been humanly related to Jesus which could also explain their closeness. We know so much about James that we do not know about other Apostles except through Tradition.
James and John, as siblings and possible relations, seem to also take some liberties not available to the other apostles, perhaps relying on that unique closeness to Jesus.
We really know James from these great yet intimate moments provided to us from Scripture. We see his humanity and his wisdom; we see him in vanity and selflessness. I only hope, for myself in vanity and pride, that if ever anyone portrays me, that they leave out such intimate details, that I remain in the background like some of the more anonymous apostles and disciples.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Scripture tells us even more about James; we know him as leader of the Church in Jerusalem, as a leader at the Council of Jerusalem, and as the first apostle to be martyred.
We get to see James before the Resurrection and after the Resurrection. We are able to see the transition from follower to leader; we see the confidence placed in his wisdom to lead the foundation and home base of the Church. In the first challenge to the Church he stepped forward and helped to clarify and support the changes to the early theology that we depend on so much today.
What becomes important when theology changes? Adherence to the Truth, the Truth not as we understand it, but as the Apostles handed on to us - the words, thoughts, and meaning of Jesus.
So it is not us who decide. In the end none of our speculation matters. As John Chrysostom points out below, our human thinking is flawed in the face of God, and God will always show us the truth, and that truth is for God's glory not our own.
James helped to guarantee that the glory and praise belong to God alone.
James, pray for our leaders and teachers.
So far at least were they from understanding clearly what He said, that the sons of Zebedee at the same time came to Him, and spoke to Him of precedence. "We desire," it is said, "that one should sit on Your right hand, and one on Your left." ...But rather let us learn, first, what do they ask, and with what disposition, and whence they were moved to this? Whence then were they moved to this? They saw themselves honored above the rest, and expected from that they should obtain this request also. ...Wherefore also Christ in the first place leads them off from these thoughts, commanding them to await slaughter and dangers, and the utmost terrors. For, "Are you able," says He, "to drink of the cup that I drink of?" But let no man be troubled at the apostles being in such an imperfect state. For not yet was the cross accomplished, not yet the grace of the Spirit given. But if you would learn their virtue, notice them after these things, and you will see them superior to every passion. For with this object He reveals their deficiencies, that after these things you might know what manner of men they became by grace. That then they were asking, in fact, for nothing spiritual, neither had a thought of the kingdom above, is manifest from hence. But let us see also, how they come unto Him, and what they say. "We would," it is said, "that whatsoever we shall desire of You, You should do it for us." ...But they out of shame and confusion of face, because under the influence of a human passion they had come to do this, took Him privately apart from the disciples, and asked Him. For they went before, it is said, so that it might not be observable to them, and so said what they wished. For it was their desire, as I suppose, because they heard, "You shall sit on twelve thrones," to have the first place of these seats. And that they had an advantage over the others, they knew, but they were afraid of Peter, and say, "Command, that one sit on Your right hand, one on Your left;" and they urge Him, saying, "Command." What then says He? Showing, that they asked nothing spiritual, neither, if they had known again what they were asking, would they have ventured to ask for so much, He says, "You know not what ye ask," how great, how marvelous, how surpassing even the powers above. After that He adds, "Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" Do you see, how He straightway drew them off from their suspicion, by framing His discourse from the contrary topics? For you, He says, talk to me of honor and crowns, but I to you of conflicts and labors. For this is not the season for rewards, neither shall that glory of mine appear now, but the present time is one of slaughter, and wars, and dangers.
And see how by the form of His question, He both urges and attracts them. For He said not, "Are you able to be slain?" "Are you able to pour forth your blood?" but how? "Are you able to drink of the cup?" Then to attract them to it, He says, "Which I shall drink of," that by their fellowship with Him in it they might be made more ready.
And a baptism again calls He it; showing that great was the cleansing the world was to have from the things that were being done.
-- John Chrysostom, Homily 65 on Matthew
Sometimes in the noise and clutter we Romans forget our Eastern brothers and sisters. But we occasionally remind ourselves of our modern connection through such shared saints as Charbel. Charbel was a Maronite, a Lebanese Catholic rite and a Church that is aligned with Rome. But Charbel was not Roman. He adhered to Eastern monasticism and asceticism
We have a tradition of recording saints lives that at some times can seem fantastical. Early martyrologies speak of miracles and feats that can raise a person far beyond our own lives. In the West we have focused more on a practical, lived experience, social justice kind of lives of the saints, where miracles come after death to show the presence of the person in Heaven. In the East it is almost expected that the holy live miraculous lives, as Jesus predicted, and then they seem to live contented in Heaven.
Who is to say that one is better than the other? Either way, the Communion of Saints is a powerful teaching and lends itself to both.
So I must say, that the focus on the mundane practices of holy people has its appeal AND the focus on the power of God within the world as seen in the miracles practiced by holy people also has its appeal. Take a moment and think about that. Now we must ask ourselves, do I live Christ in the quiet moments? Do I live Christ as alive and powerful in this world?
Father of Truth, behold Your Son a sacrifice pleasing to You, accept the offering of Him who died for me…
-- His prayer before the Tabernacle
I created all things for the sake of mankind, and placed all things under his authority, but he loves all things except Me, and hates nothing but Me. I bought back the inheritance for him which he had lost because of his sin. But he is so foolish and without reason that he prefers this passing glory - which is like the foam of the sea that rises up for a moment like a mountain, and then quickly falls down to nothing - instead of eternal glory in which there is everlasting good.
-- Revelations and Prophecies, Book One, Chapter Two
At what point do we worry about who Mary of Magdalene was? To phrase it a different way, "Scripturally, who is Mary Magdalene and does it matter?"
Western and Eastern traditions vary on the matter. The Scriptures indicate 3 Marys and in the West we try to tie them together: possessed, sinner, disciple.
We may celebrate the progression she represents; we may celebrate only her final role as disciple and first announcer of the Good News; we may try to make sense of things that make no sense. We may try many things but they only bog us down when considering who we think she is.
The important thing to me and the importance of her feast (again, to me) is who Jesus thought she was, and thanks to the Communion of Saints, who she is.
In John, she among all of the Apostles and disciples, is first at the tomb. In the Synopics, she is mentioned first in any list at the tomb. In John, she alone speaks with Jesus. In all she returns with the message from God.
What strikes me is that in all situations she alone, though blinded by grief, seeks Jesus.
Jesus had deep loving relationships (think about the use of agape and philo in John 21:15-19). Mary and Peter often figure as the first in any list. That tells me a lot. No matter how she came to the Lord, according to Scripture, she remains out front, even before Peter.
On the first day of the week,a Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” ...Then the disciples returned home. But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”* which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.
-- John 20:1,2,10-18
Sometimes we create ivory towers for ourselves. When it comes to our areas of expertise we lose the ability to communicate effectively with those outside of our field. We become inarticulate or dismissive, maybe even prideful.
Lawrence was a brilliant scholar and yet compassionate and concerned for those around him. A Doctor of the Church, papal envoy, and head of his order just to mention a few things.
Despite his learning and lofty titles, Lawrence seems to have had the ability to remember why he did what he did: Jesus. My First Theology professor started our first seminar with the statement that theology, out of the context of the love of God and the death and resurrection of Jesus, was meaningless. It profits one nothing "to gain the whole world and forfeit his life." (Matthew 16:26)
Lawrence understood and lived this truth. Lawrence pray for us in our dealings with others, especially those whom we guide and teach.
There is a spiritual life that we share with the angels of heaven and with the divine spirits, for like them we have been formed in the image and likeness of God. The bread that is necessary for living this life is the grace of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. But grace and love are nothing without faith, since without faith it is impossible to please God. And faith is not conceived unless the word of God is preached. Faith comes through hearing, and what is heard is the word of Christ. The preaching of the word of God, then, is necessary for the spiritual life, just as the planting of seed is necessary for bodily life. ...Preaching therefore, is a duty that is apostolic, angelic, Christian, divine. The word of God is replete with manifold blessings, since it is, so to speak, a treasure of all goods. It is the source of faith, hope, charity, all virtues, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, all the beatitudes of the Gospel, all good works, all the rewards of life, all the glory of paradise: Welcome the word that has taken root in you, with its power to save you.
For the word of God is a light to the mind and a fire to the will. It enables man to know God and to love him. And for the interior man who lives by the Spirit of God, through grace, it is bread and water, but a bread sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, a water better than wine and milk. For the soul it is a spiritual treasure of merits yielding an abundance of gold and precious stones. Against the hardness of a heart that persists in wrongdoing, it acts as a hammer. Against the world, the flesh and the devil it serves as a sword that destroys all sin.
--From a sermon
We do not often think of Old Testament players as "Saint". We do not say St. David or St. Moses, but we believe that they are, because we believe that Christ opened the gates of Heaven and all the souls that had been waiting were granted admittance. We also know that Elijah and Moses stood with Jesus on Mount Tabor; knowing Jesus like that is a pretty good sign of being a candidate for Heaven. So as a saint, Elijah is celebrated in both the East and the West.
Elijah's name takes the two names for God used in the Pentateuch and brings them together: "my G*d is Y**H" or simply, "El[ohim] is Y**H". Though there is only one God, we recognize His distinct aspects, what we would call "persons", and that is what Elijah's name points out.
Aside from that powerful theological witness, Elijah is also the patron of desert monks, especially the Carmelites, because he defeated the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel and took refuge in a cave on Mt. Horeb and found God there.
He left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the wilderness, until he came to a solitary broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “Enough, LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” He lay down and fell asleep under the solitary broom tree, but suddenly a messenger touched him and said, “Get up and eat!” He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat or the journey will be too much for you!” He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb. There he came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the LORD came to him: Why are you here, Elijah? He answered: “I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.” Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD;* the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, Why are you here, Elijah?
-- 1 Kings 19:3b-13
I know it will be said that a priest ordayned by authority derived from the See of Rome is, by the Law of the Nation, to die as a Traytor, but if that be so what must become of all the Clergymen of the Church of England, for the first Church of England Bishops had their Ordination from those of the Church of Rome, or not at all, as appears by their own writers so that Ordination comes derivatively from those now living.
-- From his speech on the scaffold
Care of the sick is a Corporeal Work of Mercy. Let us pray for all who care for the sick and infirmed, and let us pray for his intervention for when we are care-givers or care-receivers.
Let me start with holy charity, the root of all the virtues and the gift most characteristic of Camillus. He was so fired by this virtue, both towards God and towards his neighbors, especially the sick, that just to see them was enough to melt his tender heart and to make him forget every pleasure, every earthly delight and attachment. Indeed, even when ministering to just one sick man, he seemed to burn himself up and wear himself out with the utmost devotion and compassion. Gladly would he have taken upon himself all their sickness and sufferings to alleviate their pain or take away their weakness.
So vividly did he picture and honor the person of Christ in them that often when distributing food to them he thought of them as his ‘Christs’, and would beg of them grace and the remission of sins. Hence he was as reverent before them as if he were really and truly in the presence of his Lord. Of nothing would he speak more frequently or fervently than of holy charity. He longed that it should take root in the heart of every man.
-- From a Life of St Camillus
Bonaventure is more that just a theologian and Doctor of the Church. If we think of him as a Franciscan first, then we have to start with his commitment to poverty, his love of the natural world, and his opposition to rigid structures. Then we have to move into his mysticism which has a very practical side. The natural world, Creation, is the first step towards God but it is not everything. Understanding starts in the world around us and flows upwards, toward God
Blessed is the man whose help is from You. In his heart he is disposed to ascend by steps, in the vale of tears, in the place which he has set [Psalm, 84:6]. Since beatitude is nothing else than the fruition of the highest good, and the highest good is above us, none can be made blessed unless he ascend above himself, not by the ascent of his body but by that of his heart. But we cannot be raised above ourselves except by a higher power raising us up. But we cannot be raised above ourselves except by a higher power raising us up. For howsoever the interior steps are disposed, nothing is accomplished unless it is accompanied by divine aid. Divine help, however, comes to those who seek it from their hearts humbly and devoutly; and this means to sigh for it in this vale of tears, aided only by fervent prayer. Thus prayer is the mother and source of ascent in God.
-- From The Mind's Road to God 1,1
Sometimes we make things into victories and completely miss the true victory. Kateri was a Native American who became Catholic, nothing more, nothing less. It is not proof of the power of missionaries, nor the power of one faith or denomination over another, nor the power of Western culture over Native culture, nor any other number of things.
It is, however, a victory for God and God's love.
I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love. The state of helpless poverty that may befall me if I do not marry does not frighten me. All I need is a little food and a few pieces of clothing. With the work of my hands I shall always earn what is necessary and what is left over I'll give to my relatives and to the poor. If I should become sick and unable to work, then I shall be like the Lord on the cross. He will have mercy on me and help me, I am sure.
Even if his brothers had trouble following him, even if the did try to kill him, Benedict created a rule which still inspires, instructs, challenges, and defines Western monasticism. His rule also give viable instruction to those of us who live outside the cloister.
A special thank-you and prayers to the monks and abbeys that have been a part of my life and given me such a wonderful sense of Catholicism, prayer, liturgy, and friendship. Ora et labora!
And so, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us follow in his paths by the guidance of the Gospel; then we shall deserve to see him who has called us into his kingdom. If we wish to attain a dwelling-place in his kingdom we shall not reach it unless we hasten there by our good deeds.
Just as there exists an evil fervor, a bitter spirit, which divides us from God and leads us to hell, so there is a good fervor which sets us apart from evil inclinations and leads us toward God and eternal life. Monks should put this fervor into practice with an overflowing love: that is, they should surpass each other in mutual esteem, accept their weaknesses, either of body or of behavior, with the utmost patience; and vie with each other in acceding to requests. No one should follow what he considers to be good for himself, but rather what seems good for another. They should display brotherly love in a chaste manner; fear God in a spirit of love; revere their abbot with a genuine and submissive affection. Let them put Christ before all else; and may he lead us all to everlasting life.
-- From the Rule of Benedict
Today celebrates many martyrs, especially Augustine Zhao Rong, his companions, and John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse. Augustine was one of the escort soldiers for Dufresse on his way to his execution. Moved by the patient example of Dufresse, Rong sought baptism and then ordination. Later he and some 119 of his companions - each saint in their own rights and worthy of our honor - were killed for being Christian in a persecution that continued on for another 30 years.
Once we demonize a people, a person, or an idea, it is hard to undo the damage. The persecution of Christians (or any group for that matter) has very immediate results but the power quickly lags. It is hard to keep up official, sanctioned persecution. It is harsh and difficult but really it is the lingering ignorant hatred which holds the most power. That hatred, distrust, suspicion, and skepticism has a life of its own and waxes and wanes but never really goes away. That is the festering pool, simmering beneath the surface ready to boil over at any moment.
We see it everywhere and in all times. We see the retaliatory nature of it. Jews, Catholics, social, racial, economic groups - you name it. Waves and waves of hatred flowing and ebbing, but like the waves against the beach, constant.
So it is the example of the martyrs that guides us. Bishop Dufrensse offered his life for Christ and the Chinese people, not just as a martyr but first as a missionary. As happens so often, his patience and kindness and lack of vitriol for his captors, his willingness to go to a peaceful death ended the cycle of violence even as it was happening and so inspired others to seek that peace. Rong carried that peace with him and gave it to others. The hatred and violence does not stop us unless we let it. It is patient correction and love that truly win the day.
Praise be to the Lamb that was slain!
They sang a new hymn:
“Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth.” I looked again and heard the voices of many angels who surrounded the throne and the living creatures and the elders. They were countless in number, and they cried out in a loud voice:
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out:
“To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.”
-- Revelation 5:9-12
Maria is touted as a saint for many reasons but the one thing about her story that strikes me is her total reliance on God. Certainly she saw God with her when she rebuffs Alessandro's sexual advances but when he attacks her it seems to me that at that moment she relied the most heavily on God and so after the horrible moment passes she sees it through God's eyes and is therefore, even in her pain and suffering, able to give him the gift of true forgiveness.
That is the lesson her life gives to me: to know that God is with me at every moment, good and bad, and that love does not change even amidst great evil.
Maria, pray that I may have the strength in life's struggles to keep God ever before me so that even the greatest of evils done to me are seen as but the merest of slights.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me."
-- John 12:24-26
When we reflect upon the events of the Reformation and the lives of those caught up in it we often find people of great faith and courage. But we forget that The Church, while one, was not always together. We know of some saints whose heroic efforts turned the tide against separation and towards reform but we also know of the everyday saints, those in the trenches, far removed from illiterate priests, absent bishops, Cardinal princes, and papal fops. Bishops, priests, religious, communities, and laity, all guided by the Holy Spirit contributed to the fact that the Church survived and flourishes.
Answer me when I call, my saving God. When troubles hem me in, set me free; take pity on me, hear my prayer. How long, O people, will you be hard of heart? Why do you love what is worthless, chase after lies? Know that the LORD works wonders for his faithful one; the LORD hears when I call out to him. Tremble and sin no more; weep bitterly within your hearts, wail upon your beds, Offer fitting sacrifices and trust in the LORD. Many say, “May we see better times! LORD, show us the light of your face!” But you have given my heart more joy than they have when grain and wine abound. In peace I will lie down and fall asleep, for you alone, LORD, make me secure.
-- Psalm 4
Thomas is one of the few Apostles to get his own feast day, but that is probably because we know so much about him compared to other Apostles.
Jesus seems to pick people who are able to be bold to the point of putting their foot in their mouth. Peter, Simon, James, Thomas; all good men and good friends but ones who put themselves out there - asking questions, making statements, trying to second-guess Jesus and his message.
We love them, not just because they loved the Lord and he them but because we can easily identify with their zeal and their ignorance. When they think as men think then they fail but the light bulb always seems to come on and they begin to see what it means to think like God.
Jesus does not shame them, but challenges them, gently (mostly) chiding them to come around to God's way of thinking.
And when they do, great things happen. Let us ask Thomas to help us "who have not seen" to proclaim "My Lord and my God!"
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.
-- John 20:24-30
When we set out to do the Lord's work, who knows where that vineyard will be. He took a humble name and lived a humble life of study and academia but yearned for the mission fields.
A relatively recent addition to the Canon, he has long been admired and noted by both the religious and secular - all an interesting situation, considering his constant opposition to secular and political authority. There are also some questions about the effects of his efforts.
Being Canonized, being added to the role of those we declare to be in Heaven, requires some proof, from what we can determine from this part of the Kingdom, that you are in the presence of God and able to directly intercede for those of us on Earth. We rely upon their life on Earth to direct our understanding of the saint to sinner ratio but it is not the only determining factor. Miracles also factor into the formula - the here and now activities of the individual who has the influence of the saints.
We are all of us sinners during life, there is no one who disputes that. As David McLaughlin, historian and executive director of the California Missions Resources Center, reminds us that Serra should be seen as a talented but flawed man who was a product of his time. He “lived an exemplary religious life by the terms of his day”, and the Franciscan missions of California could be perceived as a“modification” that tried to reform the Spanish strategies that had devastated Central America and Peru.
Serra devoted himself to the people he ministered to the best of his ability; he sought to give them dignity aside from the political and secular understanding and as children of God. Even if we fall short in such a goal, the Lord will bring it to fruition. Might the world still inject evil and chaos? Yes. Do we not try? No!
“...for I trust that God will give me the strength to reach San Diego, as He has given me the strength to come so far. In case He does not, I will conform myself to His most holy will. Even though I should die on the way, I shall not turn back. They can bury me wherever they wish and I shall gladly be left among the pagans, if it be the will of God.”
-- From his diary
The persecutions of Christians started in Rome in 64 AD. Years earlier, in 49, Jews and Jewish Christians had be expelled from the city because their monotheism and their in-fighting was seen as civil unrest and disturbing to the Pax Romana. By 54 they must have eventually drifted back into town and taken a lower profile but by then Gentile Christians probably outnumbered them.
We can guess that their community existed before Paul's letter because it is a letter of introduction to them and a detailed laying out of his theology. It appears to be a community strong by the 40's, within years of Jesus's death and Resurrection. Initially it appears to have been a Jewish Christian community, maybe even founded by those inspired by Peter's speech at Pentecost. This can be conjectured from the expulsion order in 49. There is no evidence of apostolic visits before that.
But by the 60's the community was more diverse, as Paul's letter indicates. Still it was strong enough community to warrant a letter and the request to support further missions to the west. Solid enough then for visits not just from Paul but from Peter as well.
It says something also to the Faith of this community that Paul was able to wait to turn to it until after feeling that he had established the Faith securely in the East. The 20 years of strong community before his letter possibly meant that he could put off such a journey. It also meant that it was strong enough to serve as a base of operations in the West.
Not that there were not problems, as the letter tells us, but the letter also indicates that they were familiar with and mature enough in Faith to handle the depth, breath, and length of the letter and its theology.
This level and strength of Faith are borne out in Nero's persecutions starting in 64, and involving both Peter and Paul; how they must have witnessed to each other! How they witness to us now!
We are not a new philosophy but a divine revelation. That's why you can't just exterminate us; the more you kill the more we are. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. You praise those who endured pain and death - so long as they aren't Christians! Your cruelties merely prove our innocence of the crimes you charge against us. When you chose recently to hand a Christian girl over to a brothel-keeper rather than to the lions, you showed you knew we counted chastity dearer than life. And you frustrate your purpose. Because those who see us die, wonder why we do, for we die like the men you revere, not like slaves or criminals. And when they find out, they join us.
-- Tertullian, From Apologeticum
We call this feast "Peter AND Paul", which I sometimes think is in juxtaposition to the "Peter OR Paul" or "Peter VS. Paul" thinking that goes on.
Though there may have been some amount of it, theirs is not a rivalry but a complementary relationship. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, throughout time, have tried to emphasis one over the other, or to surpass one with the other in order to explain some point or to justify some belief system. But they die in sync, in Rome. One a citizen, the other a Jew. One martyred 'nobly' the other ignobly but both for Christ.
So it is Peter AND Paul, as apostles of Jesus, that we celebrate; they who did Christ's bidding, not for their own gain but for his. Neither surpasses the other and most importantly, neither surpasses Christ. We celebrate them together like so many of the early Roman martyrs (tomorrow).
I think that is what so many people miss. We do not "follow Paul or Apollos" (cf. 1 Corinthians), we follow Jesus with their help and guidance. It is his mandates, not Peter's or Paul's that we follow. So many problems between denominations would be solved if we just walked that line.
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.
For by your providence
the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul bring us joy:
Peter, foremost in confessing the faith,
Paul, its outstanding preacher,
Peter, who established the early Church from the remnant of Israel,
Paul, master and teacher of the Gentiles that you call.
And so, each in a different way
gathered together the one family of Christ;
and revered together throughout the world,
they share one Martyr’s crown.
And therefore, with all the Angels and Saints,
we praise you, as without end we acclaim:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts...
-- Preface from the Solemnity of Peter and Paul
We think of great events, like D-Day and the men who lived it and came home with stories, and we realize how tightly we hold those stories after their tellers are gone.
Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who was, in turn, a disciple of John, Apostle and gospel writer, who himself was a disciple of Jesus. For that reason he jealously guarded the gift given to him.
How often are stories lost or mangled within just a few generations! How tightly must we hold to the truth, the truth that has only one source.
For in no other way could we have learned the things of God, unless our Master, existing as the Word, had become man. For no other being had the power of revealing to us the things of the Father, except His own proper Word. For what other person "knew the mind of the Lord," or who else "has become His counselor? " Again, we could have learned in no other way than by seeing our Teacher, and hearing His voice with our own ears, that, having become imitators of His works as well as doers of His words, we may have communion with Him, receiving increase from the perfect One, and from Him who is prior to all creation. We who were but lately created by the only best and good Being, by Him also who has the gift of immortality, having been formed after His likeness (predestined, according to the prescience of the Father, that we, who had as yet no existence, might come into being), and made the first-fruits of creation have received, in the times known beforehand, [the blessings of salvation] according to the ministration of the Word, who is perfect in all things, as the mighty Word, and very man, who, redeeming us by His own blood in a manner consonant to reason, gave Himself as a redemption for those who had been led into captivity.
-- Against Heresies, Book V, 1
The role that religion plays in American politics and everyday life today is a far cry from the role it played in the 5th century. Today we wrangle about the application of belief systems, in those days they fought about the very meaning of the belief system and the ramifications it had in everyday life. Then, more so than now, God was everywhere, not just in indignant people and talking heads; God permeated the air and was thought to be vital to life and therefore to politics.
When the bishop of Constantinople (i.e. the Pope in the East) muddied the waters about the nature of Christ it would be as if Pope Francis declared that most of the teachings of the Church were wrong. When doctrine is not well defined, though believed, it can be the cause of scandal among the faithful. Blind acceptance is not the problem but taking truths for granted is. The little understood or misunderstood truth can be fodder for error and those not well taught can easily be misled or fall into error.
Cyril fought hard but he did so with love as the end goal. After the bloody and cruel fight he was the first to seek reconciliation in order to bring all together under Jesus, understood as both God and human, and into the protection of his mother the Theotokos.
Today we might learn a lesson about extracting the truth from human foible and living to make it vital and important in the everyday, not just on passing, knee-jerk, hot-button issues. Today many of the arguments remain the same, as do the errors which lead the faithful astray, only the proponents have changed.
P.S. This is not about everyday relativism, this is about foundational truths.
Forgive me for having resolved to speak not only against a king, but also for the glory of Christ, the great King, who reigns with his Father over the world; it is with him alone that it is true to say: "Through me kings reign", because he is the "Lord of glory" in heaven and on earth. It is because of that the champions of the divine teachings (us, in fact - given this office by Christ) must oppose those who intend to defile his glory and to plead his cause, to appear sound to readers, to be a more useful aid for those whose heart is easily led astray and is inclined to yield to difficulties, and for those on the other hand who are well established in the faith to be a kind of stick able to support them in the strengthening of this faith and to maintain undimmed the tradition of orthodoxy.
Who is it that has entered into war against the glory of Christ? They are legion, those who at various periods have let themselves go at this foolishness, driven by the perversity of the devil; but none as went far as Julian, who damaged the prestige of the Empire by refusing to recognize Christ, dispenser of royalty and power. Before his accession to the throne, he was counted among the believers: he had even been admitted to Holy Baptism and had studied the Holy Scriptures.
But some sinister characters, followers of superstition, entered, I do not know how, into connections with him and sowed in him the maxims of apostasy; then, allied with Satan in this design, they led him towards the practices of the Greeks and transformed into a servant of impure demons one who had been raised in holy churches and monasteries: "bad company corrupts good upbringing", as the very wise Paul says. However, I affirm that those who wish to preserve solid thought, and who keep in their spirit, like an invaluable pearl, the tradition of the true faith, do not have to offer to the peddlers of superstition any occasion to insinuate themselves, yet in any case should speak to them freely. Is it not written: "You will be holy with the holy, irreproachable with the irreproachable, chosen with the chosen, and you will outwit the cheat"? With the eloquence with which he was gifted, the all-powerful Julian argued against our common Savior Christ; he composed three books against the holy gospels and against the very pure Christian religion, he used them to shake many spirits and to cause them uncommon wrongs. Indeed, the light-minded and easily seduced fall easily into his sights, and constitute a welcome amusement for the demonic powers; but not the spirits of those strengthened in the faith which do not let themselves be disturbed yet sometimes they believe that Julian knows the holy and divine Scriptures, since he uses them in his own works — without otherwise knowing well what it says!... — a number of testimonies that he borrows from them.
Very many followers of superstition, when they meet Christians, overpower them with any kind of sarcastic remarks, and rely on the works of Julian to attack us, which they proclaim to be of an incomparable effectiveness, adding that there never was a learned man on our side able to refute them, or even show them at fault; also, at the instigation of more than one person, and full of confidence once again in the word of God: "Get under way, and I will open your mouth!", I put myself to the duty of rebutting this Greek eyebrow raised against the glory of Christ, to help to the extent of my abilities those which have been deceived, in order to convict of error and of ignorance of the Scriptures the man who has accused our common Savior Christ.
-- Against Julian, Prefatory Address (3-5)
The life of the Christian has three distinguishing aspects: deeds, words and thought. Thought comes first, then words, since our words express openly the interior conclusions of the mind. Finally, after thoughts and words, comes action, for our deeds carry out what the mind has conceived. So when one of these results in our acting or speaking or thinking, we must make sure that all our thoughts, words and deeds are controlled by the divine ideal, the revelation of Christ. For then our thoughts, words and deeds will not fall short of the nobility of their implications.
What then must we do, we who have been found worthy of the name of Christ? Each of us must examine his thoughts, words and deeds, to see whether they are directed towards Christ or are turned away from him.
-- From a treatise on Christian Perfection, St Gregory of Nyssa
Truth to Ponder
I decided to spend a year thinking about the Faith celebrated in the sanctoral calendar. There are also just some events, Scriptural, and other quotes that strike me on random days; or randomly on days, as the case may be.
Saint's Days by Month
Days by Entry