We might ask, rightly so or not, "What? Another Marian feast? Didn't we just have the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe?" And it is also another holy day of obligation?
But this is special. This one is more than all of the apparitions and Marian theology that surrounds it. This is the statement of statements about Mary.
Mary is the Theotokos - the God bearer, the Mother of God.
Spend a moment in awed contemplation of this fact.
God will accomplish what He wills through his creation but he requires of us not blind compliance and naive submissiveness. God's will is done, if not today by you and me then tomorrow by someone else (and even we get a chance again tomorrow). God entrusts us with and requires us to freely be part of the Economy of Salvation.
Mary submitted herself to God. She submitted her body and will to His Will. Not with the meekness of a coward, out of fear or ignorance, but with the meekness of a lamb, trusting and with determination; traits she instilled in her son.
Even in natural fear and uncertainty of the future she took God's Will into her body.
She nurtured the Incarnation in her womb.
She and Joseph raised him into a man.
That man submitted his human will to his divine will.
By him we are saved from ourselves.
Herein are the truths we celebrate everyday, in the Eucharist, in the saints, in the dual nature of Christ, in...well, you name it. Everything we are emanates from this simply stated fact.
This is the reason for the hyper-dulia, above all the honor of the saints, that we give to Mary. She is Jesus' mom. A mother like any other with all of the concerns, mistakes, uncertainty, near-misses, and home-runs of parenting.
She took on not just the conception but the raising of Jesus. We can forget the everyday trials and triumphs. The providing of a household, the feeding, the clothing, the bathing, the sick, the cuts and bruises, the good days and the bad days, the death of her husband, the pride, the worry , the pushing to action in Cana, the watching him die, the support of the Apostles...all of it; all of these were part and parcel of her great Amen.
And God allowed Himself to have a mother, to be raised by her.
I could go on and on. Why celebrate today? Spend some time and think about it - at the very least get to Mass early and spend some time thanking God for such a woman! Start your year contemplating the wonders God had done for those who love Him.
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.
-- Galatians 4:4-7
There is nothing like having a theological wing-man and a brother from a different mother. I sure miss you Jack!
Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land [Cappadocia], had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.
I was not alone at that time in my regard for my friend, the great Basil. I knew his irreproachable conduct, and the maturity and wisdom of his conversation. I sought to persuade others, to whom he was less well known, to have the same regard for him. Many fell immediately under his spell, for they had already heard of him by reputation and hearsay.
What was the outcome? Almost alone of those who had come to Athens to study he was exempted from the customary ceremonies of initiation for he was held in higher honor than his status as a first-year student seemed to warrant.
Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.
The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own.
We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that everything is contained in everything, yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.
Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.
Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.
-- From a sermon by Gregory Nazianzus
Canonized in 2014, Kuriakose is a fairly recent saint of the Church. I am intrigued by the lives of recent saints because often they overlap the time frame of my own experiences. I ask myself - I have lived in the same world as they - have I done enough to get into Heaven like them? The saints show us it can be done even today! It is not a race or a keeping up with the Jones, but a life lived for Christ. With entreaties to the saints and daily self-examination, each of us can prayerfully undertake the task to more fully live in Christ and he in us. It does not matter if we are cleric, religious, or lay - our vocation lies where we are and it matters that we live it!
Kuriakose reminds us that our example is what keeps the Church strong and 'suffers the little children to come unto it' and therefore Christ. How sad if we let one 'little one' be lost because of our actions!
Let us constantly pray for our Eastern and Western brothers and sisters.
Your children are divine investments and they shall be brought up in the best way possible and you shall extend to them all kinds of protection. They are to be purified in the Holy Grail, made his disciple and to be committed to Him on the Day of Judgment. This is the responsibility that Lord Jesus has assigned to you. All the members in a family shall have a deep rooted love for one another. This underlying love can bring in peace and friendship in the family, which in turn enables them to face the troubles and tribulations with utmost calm and thereby they overcome all the tragedies in life.
-- Oru Nalla Appante Chavarul, 2-3
It is interesting that the earliest declared American-born saints share such close feast days (John Neumann is tomorrow) but the time frame in which they live speaks to the development of the American Church and its center in Baltimore. While many priests and religions had devoted their lives to the establishment of the Faith in the Americas for centuries, Baltimore was within the newly independent and Protestant-dominated America. They are therefore just part of a line of Faith that continues on in the many more that arose to give it foundation and growth. The needs of the Church are great and the needs of the local Church are specific but both are continuous. We really do mission work wherever there is need - from the largest church to the tiniest mission - workers are needed for the vineyard.
...then trembling to communion half dead with the inward struggle, when they said the Body and blood of Christ - Oh Amabilia - no words for my trial - and I remember in my old Prayer book of former edition when I was a child it was not as now, said to be Spiritually taken and received, - however to get thoughts away I took the daily exercise of good Abbe Plunket to read the prayers after COMMUNION, but finding every word addressed to our dear Saviour as really present and conversing with it, I became half crazy, and for the first time could not bear the sweet caresses of the darlings or bless their little dinner - O my God that day - but it finished calmly at last abandoning all to God, and a renewed confidence in the blessed Virgin whose mild and peaceful love reproached my bold excesses, and reminded me to fix my heart above with better hopes - Now they tell me take care I am a Mother, and my children I must answer for in Judgment, whatever Faith I lead them to - that being so, and I so unconscious, for I little thought 'till told by Mr. H[obart] that their Faith could be so full of consequence to them or me, I WILL GO PEACEABLY and FIRMLY TO THE CATHOLICK CHURCH - for if Faith is so important to our Salvation I will seek it where true Faith first begun, seek it among those who received it from GOD HIMSELF, the controversies on it I am quite incapable of deciding, and as the strictest Protestant allows Salvation to a good Catholick, to the Catholicks I will go, and try to be a good one, may God accept my intention and pity me - as to supposing the word of our Lord has failed, and that he suffered his first foundation to be built on by Antichrist, I cannot stop on that without stopping on every other Word of our Lord and being tempted to be no Christian at all, for if the first church became Antichrist, and the second holds her rights from it, then I should be afraid both might be Antichrist, and I make my way to the bottomless pit by following either - Come then my little ones we will go to Judgment together, and present our Lord his own words, and if he says "You fools I did not mean that," we will say since you said you would be always "even to the end of ages" with this church you built with your blood, if you ever left it, it is your Word which misled us, therefore please to pardon Your poor fools for your own Words sake - I am between laughing and crying all the while Amabilia - Yet not frightened for on God himself I pin my Faith...
-- From a letter to Amabilia, January 1805
John was born in Germany but, lucky for us, they had too many priests and he felt a call to missionary work. So he loaded up the truck and moved to the United States to be ordained for New York, eventually rising to the rank of Bishop of Philadelphia.
We all have saints we like to carry with us. I literally have John with me, as I am blessed to have a relic procured by classmates during the visit of John Paul II; for my part, I try to let him watch a Phillies game every once in a while.
"My Lord and my God! Have mercy on me and those sheep who, for the time being, have been entrusted to me. Give to my tongue words of life. purify their hearts and make them heed all sound advice and every admonition. Your grace must do everything because I can do nothing but sin—Oh, Jesus, my Redeemer, I am taking Your place. Let me be a redeemer for this parish." Again, before the Blessed Sacrament he went down on his knees as he prepared his first sermon as a priest and begged "God, beseech You to enlighten my mind. Give to my words power and unction that like a two-edged sword they may penetrate deeply into the hearts and minds Of my heart." Much to his satisfaction, his first sermon was well received.
-- Prayers taken from Venerable John Neumann, C.SS.R. Fourth Bishop of Philadelphia By Michael Joseph Curley
This may seem like an odd combination, but what is the goal of Faith here on Earth? To get as many people from here on Earth into Heaven. To accomplish this we need tools, we need examples, and we need to travel far to the God right next to us. Humility plays an important role in our lives as Christians. We may not always live it but it is the foundation that grounds us amidst all of the wonder and power of God. Jesus, small, weak, insignificant to the world, becomes the center of the world and receives gifts worthy of the rich and powerful. Amidst this worldly wonder his humility shines. At table, in the Temple, on the hills, surrounded by crowds for his wisdom and healing power he remains "meek and humble of heart" (Matthew 11:29).
And so it was for Andre. Sick, orphaned, looked down upon, dismissed even by his own superiors and community, he shown the power of God in healing through the intercession of St. Joseph. Amid the power he remained "meek and humble of heart." Humility helps to remind us of the power of God within our own weakness and sinfulness. Andre teaches us to humbly hold the door open to others, realizing that what seems a simple, menial job is the doorway to salvation for others. Hold it open wide, hold it open in hope, hold it open in humility, and someday you too may pass through.
When you say to God, Our Father, he has his ear right next to your lips.
-- Andre Bessette, quoted from The Cross, Our Only Hope: Daily Reflections in the Holy Cross Tradition
Like the codification of Scripture, the codification of Canon Law speaks to the importance of Canon Law. Just as the Hebrew Scriptures and Rabbinic teachings codify the Law in order to make things plain, so the gathering of laws creates standards, not to control behavior but for understanding how to act based on oral and written Tradition.
It is the effort of bringing things together which allow for their discussion, and from that discussion an understanding of the meaning of the Law. If the Law was set, was an inert, static thing, then there would be no need for the prophets. It is not that the Law can be changed but that it can be understood better. This is why God writes in on our heart not just on stone tablets.
Raymond's efforts pulled together a myriad of confusing and differing rules which sought to help explain the will of God and made them a cohesive whole capable of helping to explain the will of God.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
-- Luke 4:14-22
Catechists perform an important job on our Church. Those who do it well do it from the deep well the Faith gives them and they do it with conviction and humility, from weakness and humanity powered by the Holy Spirit. They create relationships which tell others about Jesus as much or better than their words do.
They say that if you want to learn something, teach it. It starts with a desire to share but moves beyond that to a personal deepening of one's relationship with Jesus which only fuels the desire to share it more.
The task of coherently spreading knowledge of God into the hearts of others is on going and demanding but the people who rise to do it always have my admiration and prayers.
Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and Blood. The Spirit is the one who testifies, and the Spirit is truth. So there are three who testify, the Spirit, the water, and the Blood, and the three are of one accord. If we accept human testimony, the testimony of God is surely greater. Now the testimony of God is this, that he has testified on behalf of his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has this testimony within himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar by not believing the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.
-- 1 John 5:5-13
In history class we often only hear about the bad things that led to historical events. Rarely do we hear about the everyday Faithful people who did not have multiple mistresses, illegitimate children, lavish tastes, cruel habits, or less than lofty spiritual goals. But they did and do exist. In the midst of horrible circumstances and spiritual decadence, saints live everyday lives devoted to Christ. It is for their lives that our Church continues to serve in humility and love today.
Andrew, like so many saints, had a dissolute youth but transformed and was a monk in a holy monastery at a time of less than spiritual monasteries. He also served during the midst of the Black Death which ravaged not only all of Europe but his fellow monks as well. He took on the role of bishop and dealt with the aftermath of spiritual poverty and disease with zeal and compassion. He may not be well remembered but we would do well to remember him and ask his support in our efforts.
Resolve to think often of heaven, and make use of every opportunity of impressing yourself with a high idea of its happiness. When you see beautiful objects, think with a holy servant of God, how much more beautiful is God! When you taste any thing that pleases you, think, how much delight is found in the enjoyment of heaven. When you hear fine music, think of the choirs of angels.
-- From the May 31st reflection by Archbishop Peter Kenrick (The New Month of Mary...) after using Andrew as an example of devotion to Mary.
To have certainty of Faith one must give one's self completely over to the mysteries of that Faith.
Living in the shadow of older and more vocal siblings and friends can be tough, if our desire is to be known and admired. Gregory's feast even sits in the shadow of his older brother Basil's and Gregory Nazianzen's feast back on January 2nd.
But Gregory seems to have handled it well, and though not as well known, certainly holds his own with Basil and Gregory.
It is this humility and devotion, not to fame and notoriety but to Christ and the mystery of the Trinity, which shines. Had he viewed others as rivals for attention or affection he would have squandered the everlasting in favor of the passing. It is the effect of giving his life completely over to Christ that permeates his writings and his life.
He was instructed in the Faith early in life by his older sister and brother. After their passing, he took up the torch of orthodoxy and shown as brightly. He is considered as one of the three Cappadocian Fathers, along side Basil and Gregory Nazianzen. He stood not in their shadow but shown on his own and joined his shadow to theirs.
It is not for us to judge by today's standards his words or deeds, or to give hims unsought forgiveness for them. Saints are not perfect, just recognized as living lives worthy of Heaven. Gregory's writings are not all that we judge him by. His stewardship and shepherding of this flock bear out many of his words.
Though constantly beset, he trusted in God and not in his own strength or in political support. That we may have the courage to be humble and give ourselves over to God with a trust born of certainty.
Perhaps, then, the memory of anyone distinguished in life would be enough to fill our need for a beacon light and to show us how we can bring our soul to the sheltered harbor of virtue where it no longer has to pass the winter amid the storms of life or be shipwrecked in the deep water of evil by the successive billows of passion. It may be for this very reason that the daily life of those sublime individuals is recorded in detail, that by imitating those earlier examples of right action those who follow them may conduct their lives to the good.
The Life of Moses, 13
Here is a saint you do not hear much about and a story which might be surprising.
Vitalis moved to Alexandria in Egypt to minister to the prostitutes of the city. His method was certainly unusual. He worked a day job and then would take the money and pay a woman for their time, taking care of their material need, but would just ask them to not sin that night and with the stipulation that they could tell no one what he was doing - I imagine first to let him continue in this ministry without angering anyone against him or the women and second to allow him to truly minister to them without confusing the purpose. You can imagine how that must have caught them off-guard but also the rumors and the scandal that arose! According to some biographers, he met with every prostitute in the city leading many away from the life and helping them to overcome the situations that had driven them to it.
But what is important to me is that like Jesus, he met them where they were at, met the immediate need that put them into that life, and then called them to freedom in Christ. And like Jesus that sparked some serious controversy.
He was eventually killed by a pimp for interfering with his business - which also sounds vaguely familiar even centuries later. What unoriginal kinds of sinners are we!
For all who seek to serve those who walk in the soft underbelly of the world, not seeking the low-hanging, visible fruit but serving the fruit that has fallen from the tree, I have only the greatest of admiration. To fully live the command of Christ in places that most people avoid, picking up people passed by and over, the exploited - well what could be more Christ-like?
I am reminded of the story of Hosea and Gomer. While I quote some of it here, you should take a moment and read the whole book - it is relatively short, but it speaks of God's love even for those who seem to completely forsake Him.
On that day—oracle of the LORD— You shall call me “My husband,” and you shall never again call me “My baal.” I will remove from her mouth the names of the Baals; they shall no longer be mentioned by their name. I will make a covenant for them on that day, with the wild animals, With the birds of the air, and with the things that crawl on the ground. Bow and sword and warfare I will destroy from the land, and I will give them rest in safety. I will betroth you to me forever: I will betroth you to me with justice and with judgment, with loyalty and with compassion; I will betroth you to me with fidelity, and you shall know the LORD. On that day I will respond—oracle of the LORD— I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth; The earth will respond to the grain, and wine, and oil, and these will respond to Jezreel. I will sow her for myself in the land, and I will have pity on Not-Pitied. I will say to Not-My-People, “You are my people,” and he will say, “My God!”
-- Hosea 2:18-25
Obscure saints often miss our attention, usually working in obscurity or in the shadow of much better known saints. But it is the foundation that they lay down which builds the Faith that we enjoy so easily today. Benedict is one such person. Born to wealth and honor he took vows and became a monk. Having had traveled broadly, when it was time for him to establish an abbey, he brought Romanesque architecture to England. But greater yet, within that stone monastery he built and the guidance to the monks he gave, rose up St. Bede, a saint whose name we all do recognize.
It does us all good to remember that without Benedict, where would be Bede!
Abbot John taught the cantors of the monastery the theory and practice of singing and reading aloud, and he put into writing all that was necessary for the proper observance of festivals throughout the year. This document is still preserved in this monastery, and many copies have been made for other places. John’s instruction was not limited to the brethren of this monastery alone; for men who were proficient singers came from nearly all the monasteries of the province to hear him, and he received many invitations to teach elsewhere.
-- St. Bede
Not all Fathers are recognized or well known and Hilary is one such Father. He defended Athanasius when he was exiled and earned the same punishment himself, but managed to write the work from which this quote comes.
Thus my mind, full of these results which were attained by its own reflection and the teaching of Scripture, rested with assurance as on some peaceful watch-tower, upon that glorious conclusion, recognizing that its true nature made it capable of homage to its one Creator, and of none other, whether greater or less; homage namely of conviction that His is a greatness too vast for our comprehension but not for our faith. For a reasonable faith is akin to reason and accepts its aid, even though that same reason cannot cope with the vastness of Eternal Omnipotence.
-- On the Trinity, 8
Eastern Saints need to be celebrated in the West as well, especially when they had a hand in shaping Europe.
Sabas born into royalty as the son of Stephen I, he became a monk on Mount Athos in Greece, eventually joined by his father when he gave up his crown. Together they founded a monastery in the region for Serbs. This brought him back into the political realm in the fight between his brothers. He rose up to become Metropolitan over Serbia and established many monasteries that still exist to this day, despite oppression.
It was his efforts at reconciliation and peace in the political realm, education and religious orthodoxy and translations into the vernacular in the religious realm that captures our attention.
The stabilization of the Balkan region helped keep Christian Europe safe from invasion. His peace and holiness as well as his upbringing made him a natural diplomat to the Holy Land. He died on his way home, but his legacy lives on and he intercedes for us from his place in Heaven.
Jesus came to Capernaum with his followers, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
-- Mark 1:21-28
When I usually think about saints, I think not about their historical significance but their spiritual significance, because, honestly, which one is more lasting?
Remigius, like those apostles in England and Ireland, started at the top. As in the Bible where the patriarch gives himself over to the Lord and his whole household with him, so it was when Clovis submitted to baptism by Remigius (though I am certain that his wife Clotilda may have had some influence).
Thus begins the historical total conversion of the French.
The significance to history may or may not be all it is discussed to be, but it did signal the beginning of the unification of the continent, where the Roman Church began to stretch from shore to shore and eventually, through political expansion by these European powers, to the world as a whole. It shows the significance of one action. Aside from the later descriptions of his miraculous life and actions, as evidenced in the letter below, he was obviously eloquent and persuasive. So he does not come down to a single act but that single act comes down to how he made Christ present in the lives of those he served.
Thus is Christ "known to all the world."
One of our citizens of Clermont (I know the man, but forget his business, which is immaterial) went recently on a journey to Belgic Gaul, and while at Rheims so won your copyist or your bookseller by the charms of his manner or of his purse that he wormed out of him, without your consent, a complete set of your Declamations. After his triumphant return with such a splendid spoil of volumes, he insisted on presenting the whole series to us as his fellow townsmen, though we were quite ready to purchase them----a rather graceful act. All of us here who are devoted to literature were properly desirous of reading the books, and we at once began to transcribe the whole, committing to memory as much as we were able. It was the universal opinion that there were few men living who could write as you do. There are few or none who before even beginning to write could arrange their subjects so well, so calculate the position of syllables, or the juxtaposition of consonant and vowel; and besides, there is none whose illustrations are so apposite, whose statements are so trustworthy, whose epithets are so appropriate, whose allusions so full of charm, whose arguments are so sound, whose sentiments carry such weight, whose diction has such a flow, whose periods come to so sudden a conclusion. The framework is always stout and firm, bound with many a delightful transition, and close caesura, but withal quite easy and smooth, and rounded to perfection; it helps the reader's tongue to pass without obstacle, so as never to be troubled by rough divisions, or roll in stammering accents on the palate. All is fluent and ductile; it is as when the finger glides lightly over a surface of polished crystal or onyx, where there is not the slightest crack or fissure to stay its passage. I have said enough. There is no orator alive whom your masterful skill would not enable you easily to surpass and leave far behind. I almost dare to suspect (forgive my audacity) that a flow of eloquence so copious and so far beyond my powers of description must sometimes make you vain. But do not think that because you shine with the twofold brilliance of your holy life and your consummate style you can therefore disregard our opinion; remember that though our authorship may be worth little, our criticism may count for much. In future, then, cease to evade our judgement, from which you have nothing either mordant or aggressive to fear. For I must warn you that if you leave our barrenness unenriched by the stream of your eloquence, we shall take our revenge by engaging the services of burglars, whose clever hands will soon despoil your roll-cases with our connivance and support. If you are imperturbable before a friendly request to-day, you will soon learn what perturbation means to-morrow, when the thieves have cleared your shelves. Deign to keep me in remembrance, my Lord Bishop.
-- Letter of Sidonius Apollinaris to To the Lord Bishop Remigius
In the shifting winds of political change, it is rarely the people at the top who suffer, but the marginalized. When politics and religion intertwine then it is even worse, because political loyalty become confused with religious belief. Add in the native populations who are not even considered within the purview of colonizers and triumph of the Devil becomes evident.
But there also exists people who transcend politics and practice their Faith amidst hardship and opposition as well as those who devote their lives to it.
When we so perfectly devote our lives to God then the miracles never cease. We are as great a conduit for the love and power of God as we allow ourselves.
What are my excuses? Which ones are legitimate and which ones do I hide behind?
Let it known to all who see this "Letter of Bondage", angels, human beings and all creatures, that I, Fr. Joseph Vaz, sell and offer myself as a perpetual slave of the Virgin Mother of God. This I do through a free, spontaneous and perfect act of devotion which in law is known as an irrevocable act among the living. I give myself and all that I possess so that She, as my true Mistress and Mother, may dispose of me and my possessions as She wills. And because I consider myself unworthy of such an honor, I beseech my Guardian Angel and the glorious Patriarch St. Joseph, the most blessed Spouse of this Sovereign Lady and the Saint whose name I bear, as well as all the citizens of heaven that they may obtain from Her this favor to be included among the number of Her slaves. I confirm this and seal it with my name. I would have liked to sign it with my heart's blood. Written in the Church of Sancoale, at the foot of the altar of the same Virgin Mary Mother of God, Our Lady of Health, on this day the 5th of August, the feast of Our Lady of Snows, in the year 1677.
-- Letter of Bondage
Antony is the originator of the concepts of the monastic life as we know it in Christianity. Known as a "Desert Father" even though he was not "learned", he was the first to model the life of solitude and engagement for those who hear the words of the Gospel and abandon all to live fully for Christ. In that, he is the first in a long line including the likes of Benedict, Dominic, Francis, and Clare that stretches to this day.
The story of so many of these communities, many that come and go in the ebb and flow of history, start with the actions of one person, someone who sees a need in their own life, or in the community around them, or in the Church at large, and does something about it. Often they are engaged with friends who support one another in the founding; others strike out on their own and end up with a gathering of like minded individuals around them. Whatever the source, we the Church owe them a great debt not just for their courage but for their shared wisdom and continued prayers which benefit us all.
And Antony also was exceeding prudent, and the wonder was that although he had not learned letters, he was a ready-witted and sagacious man. ...two Greek philosophers once came, thinking they could try their skill on Antony; he was in the outer mountain, and having recognized who they were from their appearance, came to them and said to them by means of an interpreter, "Why, philosophers, did you trouble yourselves so much to come to a foolish man?" And when they said that he was not a foolish man, but exceedingly prudent, he said to them, "If you came to a foolish man, your labor is superfluous; but if you think me prudent become as I am, for we ought to imitate what is good. If I had come to you I should have imitated you; but if you to me, become as I am, for I am a Christian." But they departed with wonder, for they saw that even demons feared Antony.
-- From The Life of Antony (72), by Athanasius
The best thing about Athanasius' bio of Anthony is that it was contemporary; it is well written and worth reading in full.
There are actually two Priscas remembered, both celebrated today, both martyred in Rome in the early day of the persecutions, and both buried in the Catacomb of Priscilla.
Very little is known about either and historical accounts are probably speculation by later writers. What do we know? One was older and probably for whom the Catacomb is named; the other younger but both are revered as martyrs, holding close their faith in Christ unto death.
The catacombs themselves are quite impressive with many saints and even popes having been buried there. Though the relics are long since transferred away, the Early Christian artwork that adorns the walls really took my breath away not just considering the age but also the strength and courage behind them.
Finally, the Benedictine nuns who live there are a delight and their vestments are magnificent - a true testament to those whose lives are commemorated there and to those who carry on the work.
Every high priest is taken from among men
and made their representative before God,
to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring,
for he himself is beset by weakness
and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself
as well as for the people.
No one takes this honor upon himself
but only when called by God,
just as Aaron was.
In the same way,
it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest,
but rather the one who said to him:
You are my Son:
this day I have begotten you;
just as he says in another place,
You are a priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek.
In the days when he was in the Flesh,
he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverence.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
-- Hebrews 5:1-10
We do not often talk about it but mental illness has been blamed for so many things throughout history. Recognized but not acknowledged the way we treat it is often the method of sweeping it under the rug. Mental illness, the physical kind, based in imbalances or physical injury embarrasses us, frightens us, causes us to turn our head. We ignore the sick and focus instead on the kind that leads right thinking people to do horrible things to one another, in housing, employment, but especially during war.
Filllan was born in Ireland then moved to Scotland. He became a monk and then abbot of a monastery in Fife. He was purported to have healing powers, especially for those who were mentally disturbed. For centuries after his death, miraculous cures of the mentally ill were reported. It seems somewhat brutal by our standards today but the process was being dipped in a fountain named for the saint then being tied up, and left overnight near his relics.
We are all touched by mental illness in some why, shape, or form and prayers for those affected and for their families are necessary. We can certainly lift them up and ask for Fillan's intercession.
Jesus then went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He taught them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon,u and he cried out in a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?* I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm. They were all amazed and said to one another, “What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”
-- Luke 4:31-36
First off, Fabian, the 50's and 60's pop star, should not to be confused with his namesake and though St. Sebastian is probably the better known of the martyr saints for this day, I say, hats off to Fabian. Not many of us are hand-picked by the Spirit to lead the Church, but this unknown individual who wandered into the fray after Pope Anteros died in 236 received such an honor.
As Eusebius attests, a dove came along and chose him out of the crowd and he was proclaimed as "worthy." Which also boded well for the Church, because Phillip became emperor and proclaimed tolerance of Christianity and Christians which briefly allowed for stability in the Church and its practices. This only lasted as long as Phillip did and when he died and Decius ascended the throne, persecution redoubled and Fabian was martyred - that is just how lucky he was.
While this story comes to us from some time later, we are reminded of the words of Scripture:
"Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
It is said that Fabian, after the death of Anteros, came from the country along with others and stayed at Rome, where he came to the office in a most miraculous manner, thanks to the divine and heavenly grace. For when the brethren were all assembled for the purpose of appointing him who should succeed to the episcopate, and very many notable and distinguished persons were in the thoughts of many, Fabian, who was there, came into nobody’s mind. But all of a sudden, they relate, a dove flew down from above and settled on his head as clear imitation of the descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove upon the Savior; whereupon the whole people, as if moved by one divine inspiration, with all eagerness and with one soul cried out “worthy,” and without more ado took him and placed him on the episcopal throne.
-- Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6
The idea of virginity - in anything - is often the fodder for scorn. Virginity implies naivete, that one is out of step with the cognoscenti around them, but I perceive that subconsciously it is scorned first because of the concept that one denies oneself some thing in order to focus on another and second because of regret for the loss of one's own innocence.
And yet, for all the scorn, we value the innocence that goes with it. This juxtaposition of thinking comes because we pigeon-hole truths away from each other. Sex and sexuality, prudence and temperance, are on the one hand not something we should "deny" and on the other are also not something that should be taken lightly. They are part of the whole person. Purity of heart, devotion to Christ: these are really the things that define us - even more than our physical and emotional appetites - and the guide of them as well.
Living for God is not some super-human feat, but is a truly human feat. We make it seem hard because of our own fears, weaknesses, and failings. The stories of the saints, especially the early martyrs, inspire us but should not intimidate us. That thinking is the temptation of sin, the devil whispering in our ear. We all die, but we fear dying for the right thing and willingly cling to life for the wrong thing. Let us be, as Paul reminds us, free from the fear of death and living for Christ. (cf. Galatians 2:19-20)
Agnes died, and now lives, not because she was naive, but because she had both eyes open. Sin tells us that our eyes are open to the truth but they are really closed to the Truth. "Pay attention to this, you foolish and senseless people, Who have eyes and do not see, who have ears and do not hear." (Jeremiah 5:21)
Because of the stories surrounding her martyrdom, Agnes is the patron of rape victims. The rage of the blind and sinful against the innocent should always be a concern for us because a simple joy for life, especially on in Christ, should never be the cause for scorn.
To the clean all things are clean, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is clean; in fact, both their minds and their consciences are tainted. ...For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another.
-- Titus 1:15; 3:3
What do deacons do? Inspire popes, bishops, and laity, through faithful service, that is what.
Pray for our deacons.
To you, said the Apostle Paul, it has been granted for Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.
Vincent had received both these gifts; he had received them, and he kept them. After all, if he had not received them, what would he have had? But he did have faithfulness in his words, he did have endurance in his sufferings.
So do not any of you be too self-assured when offering a word; do not be too confident in your own powers when suffering trials or temptations; because it is from him that we have the wisdom to speak good things wisely, from him the patience to endure bad things bravely.
Call to mind the Lord Christ warning and encouraging his disciples in the gospel; call to mind the king of martyrs equipping his troops with spiritual weapons, indicating the wars to be fought, lending assistance, promising rewards; first saying to his disciples, In this world you will have distress; then immediately adding words that would allay their terrors: But have confidence: I myself have vanquished the world.
So why should we be surprised, dearly beloved, if Vincent was victorious in him by whom the world was vanquished? In this world, he says, you will have distress; such that, even if it distresses, it cannot oppress you; even if it knocks you down, it cannot knock you out. The world mounts a double attack on the soldiers of Christ. It wheedles in order to lead them astray; but it also terrifies, in order to break them. Let us not be held fast by our own pleasures, let us not be terrified by someone else’s cruelty, and the world has been vanquished.
At each attack, Christ comes running to the defense, and the Christian is not vanquished. If, in this passion of Vincent’s, one only gave thought to human powers of endurance, it would begin to look unbelievable; but if one acknowledges divine power, it ceases even to be wonderful.
Such hideous cruelty was being unleashed on the martyr’s body, and such calm serenity was displayed in his voice; such harsh, savage punishments being applied to his limbs, but such assurance echoing in his words, that we would have imagined that in some marvelous way, while Vincent was suffering, that it was someone else and not the speaker that was being tortured.
And indeed, my dearest brethren, that is how it was; undoubtedly that is how it was: someone else was speaking. Christ, you see, promised even this to his witnesses in the gospel, when he was preparing them for this sort of contest. For he said: Do not think beforehand about how or what you are to speak. For it is not you that are speaking, but the Spirit of my Father who is speaking in you.
So the flesh was suffering, and the Spirit was speaking. And while the Spirit was speaking, not only was ungodliness being confounded and convicted, but weakness was even being strengthened and comforted.
-- Augustine, From a Sermon on St. Vincent
When I was young I read of St. Damian and his work with the lepers. Cannot explain why but it was very influential. The part of the story that I missed was of Marianne Cope who took over from Fr. Damian. Now I know, as the saying goes, "the rest of the story."
To see the infinite pity of this place,
The mangled limb, the devastated face,
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,
A fool were tempted to deny his God.
He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,
Lo, beauty springing from the breast of pain!--
He marks the sisters on the painful shores,
And even a fool is silent and adores.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson, Kalawao, 1889
Jesus had the ability to make complex things simple; he used parables to explain deep and difficult ideas. Even then he often had to turn around and explain them to his closest disciples!
What if you could simplify ideas so that people who were angry, who were confused, disappointed, or marginalized could understand and find peace? What if you could show that things that seem far above the average person were actually understandable and available to them? What would you do with such power? Where would you practice it? What would you risk? How would you go about it? What if you had to accomplish it from a distance?
As bishop and shepherd, Frances set forth into the heart of Calvinism and with humility and gentleness he worked to answer the questions that Calvinism addressed. What did it take to be holy? How can one find salvation amidst the world's snares? Who is the ultimate authority?
He not only used the Church's tried-and-true answers, he also used the popular media of the day, the way in which Protestants reached their broad audience, not just from the pulpit but through pamphlets and other writings.
Above all, he did it in love. I have read that Cardinal Du Perron, one of his friends, said of him that 'if you want heretics to be convinced of their errors, you may send them to me; but if you want them to be converted, send them to the Bishop of Geneva.'
We are not about numbers and show but about the dignity of each soul; success is not measured - at all; there is no metric which speaks to our success. Only the individual, joined in community, can have success with their relationship with God. The Spirit is the one who "every day...added to their number those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47b); our job is to facilitate and live appropriately so "that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." (Matthew 5:16b)
When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.
I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.
...Not only does [true devotion] not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.
Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its color, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.
It is therefore an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, from the artisans’ shops, from the courts of princes, from family households. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic, and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state.
Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.
-- From The Introduction to the Devout Life
When we think about the Church that we enjoy today, we would be remiss if we did not keep in mind and celebrate the events that got us here. There are many seminal events, from creation itself, to the work of the Apostles, and into today through the many saints who have lived and died to make it so.
The God who creates and sustains us worries not about the many bad choices we make because, as the Psalmist and prophets tell us, He formed us in our mother's wombs to be who we are. He sent His only Son to take care of the bad choices problem because He is worried more about the good choices we make and our ability to make them after our fall in the Garden.
Paul's conversion reminds us about our own conversion and the daily renewal of not just ourselves but the whole Church. We celebrate not only the gift of Paul to the Church and what that meant for us all, but we also celebrate the ability to be converted and what that means for us all.
Now I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it, and progressed in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my race, since I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions. But when [God], who from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; rather, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus.
-- Galatians 1:11-17