What does it take to be a saint? Do not worry about that question, live God's will, and I am pretty sure you will find out.
For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.
Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied.
With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it!
Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny....
-- New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton
We are reminded of all those who have gone before us, recognized in the Canon or not. Here lie the saints and the sinners, those in Heaven and those in Purgatory. We are all part of a communion of saints, a great gathering of all who live and sleep in Christ.
Today is also a good day to tell family stories, especially to the young, of those who have and continue to inspire us by their lives. Let us pray:
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.
-- 2 Macabees 12: 43-46
Martin is the patron of, among other things, mixed-race people. I think even after all this time that and the last lines of John XXII's homily say everything we need to learn from this saint today.
He excused the faults of others. He forgave the bitterest injuries, convinced that he deserved much severer punishments on account of his own sins. He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly he comforted the sick; he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; he helped, as best he could, farm laborers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves: thus he deserved to be called by the name the people gave him: ‘Martin of Charity.’
It is remarkable how even today his influence can still move us toward the things of heaven. Sad to say, not all of us understand these spiritual values as well as we should, nor do we give them a proper place in our lives. Many of us, in fact, strongly attracted by sin, may look upon these values as of little moment, even something of a nuisance, or we ignore them altogether. It is deeply rewarding for men striving for salvation to follow in Christ’s footsteps and to obey God’s commandments. If only everyone could learn this lesson from the example that Martin gave us.
-- Homily on the Canonization of Martin de Porres, John XXIII
A true reformer and practitioner of several of the the Beatitudes, Charles truly lived in the world without being part of it.
One of the residence halls at St. Joseph Seminary is dedicated to Charles. Let us remember to keep seminarians and priests in our prayers this day, offering them up to the protection and guidance of this saint.
If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well. Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.
"And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"
Jesus warns us about going to the front of the table just in case someone else more important comes in (Luke 14:7-11). Elizabeth seems to be the inspiration for the correct behavior that Jesus speaks about. She immediately defers to Mary. Certainly it usually would have been her, the older woman, who would have come to the aid of the younger woman in her pregnancy, and yet as the one further along, Mary rushes to aid her.
Elizabeth experiences only joy; her own infant leaps in her womb. Both her and John within her defer to Mary and Jesus within her. Elizabeth does not boast about her late in life pregnancy, does not make herself and her child the center of attention - does not take the seat at the head of the table. She is not embarrassed when Mary arrives.
I am certain that her pride would have swelled when she was eventually with child, to no longer feel the shame of being thought to be barren. The women of the time must have fawned over her and made her feel important. But it seems she is much more demure and much more willing to not have everything be about her.
This understanding she must have instilled in her son John. His actions and words show that while wildly popular and spiritually powerful he did not sit at the head of the table but took his proper place such that when Jesus arrived he could say:
"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” (John 1:29b-31) And then Jesus could say of John: "Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matthew 11:11)
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
-- Luke 1:41-45
We often forget about those who are marginalized, for whatever reason.
Leonard prayed to end an invasion, converted with Clovis, and was granted the ability to release any prisoner he so chose. He left the court and lived an austere life of holiness and preaching (the two are rarely separate).
It is his ability to pardon that catches my eye, and makes him the patron of POW's. How easy it is to be the victor, to treat/mistreat those we conquer with disdain and dismissal. We often dehumanize our enemies, enemies who God made human.
Leonard pray for us that we too may be kind and merciful, even to our enemies.
Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee. I, it is I who comfort you. Can you then fear mortals who die, human beings who are just grass, And forget the LORD, your maker, who stretched out the heaven and laid the foundations of earth? All the day you are in constant dread of the fury of the oppressor When he prepares himself to destroy; but where is the oppressor’s fury? The captives shall soon be released; they shall not die and go down into the pit, nor shall they want for bread. For I am the LORD, your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the LORD of hosts by name. I have put my words into your mouth, I covered you, shielded by my hand, Stretching out the heavens, laying the foundations of the earth, saying to Zion: You are my people.
-- Isaiah 51:11-16
We often gravitate toward the big, flashy saints. We know their names, we know their lives, and they truly are worthy of our honor. But there are many saints, who labor in quiet, who live long lives of service and die naturally of old age; people who quietly devoted their lives to the Gospel, growing in holiness and love.
Vincenzo is such a saint. He is very new, dying in 1917 and canonized in 2015 (a day he shared with the likes of Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guerin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux.), but he shows us that even today, amidst hustle and bustle or even war, we can quietly live out the Gospel, in peace and joy.
So let us commit Vincenzo to our daily lives, ask his guidance in how to live out the Gospel in the little things, in the daily moments of our lives.
Jesus is the Servant of the Lord. His life and death, marked by an attitude of utter service (cf. Philippians 2:7), were the cause of our salvation and the reconciliation of mankind with God. The kerygma, the heart of the Gospel, testifies that his death and resurrection fulfilled the prophecies of the Servant of the Lord. Saint Mark tells us how Jesus confronted the disciples James and John. Urged on by their mother, they wanted to sit at his right and left in God’s Kingdom (cf. Mark 10:37), claiming places of honor in accordance with their own hierarchical vision of the Kingdom. Their horizon was still clouded by illusions of earthly fulfillment. Jesus then gives a first “jolt” to their notions by speaking of his own earthly journey: “The cup that I drink you will drink… but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared” (v. 39-40). With the image of the cup, he assures the two that they can fully partake of his destiny of suffering, without, however, promising their sought-after places of honor. His response is to invite them to follow him along the path of love and service, and to reject the worldly temptation of seeking the first place and commanding others.
Faced with people who seek power and success in order to be noticed, who want their achievements and efforts to be acknowledged, the disciples are called to do the opposite. Jesus warns them: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (v. 42-44). These words show us that service is the way for authority to be exercised in the Christian community. Those who serve others and lack real prestige exercise genuine authority in the Church. Jesus calls us to see things differently, to pass from the thirst for power to the joy of quiet service, to suppress our instinctive desire to exercise power over others, and instead to exercise the virtue of humility.
...The men and women canonized today unfailingly served their brothers and sisters with outstanding humility and charity, in imitation of the divine Master. Saint Vincent Grossi was a zealous parish priest, ever attentive to the needs of his people, especially those of the young. For all he was concerned to break the bread of God’s word, and thus became a Good Samaritan to those in greatest need.
-- From The Canonization Homily for Vincenzo Grossi, Mary of The Immaculate Conception, Ludovico Martin and Maria Azelia Guérin
We do not often see philosophers and theologian on the modern list of canonizations without them also being Doctors of the Church. He was a genius of thought and it is the power of John's theology that draws me, the power of Christ's love. In love is absolute freedom; we only grow in freedom as we grow in love. This alternate way of looking at the will was in answer to the rising idea of determinism. He took on the notion of determinism versus free will by thinking about it like this: if I begin to do something, and you asked me to stop, how can I stop if all is completely determined - it must play itself out to the end. I must have some sort of mechanism that allows me to go against determinism. But freedom was tied to love, not to some arbitrary notion or determinism. God is the foundation of all things but we may begin to know Him through our experiences, before we understand Revelation. Human reason has boundaries but we can begin to understand the perfection that is God...but I begin to go down a rabbit hole here, discussing the man's thoughts rather than his life.
What makes him a saint? His thought? His credentials as a teacher? Ultimately I think it is because he took St. John's definition of "God is love" (cf. 1 John 4:7-12) to heart. The wonder of the Incarnation was not required as payment for sin; it was the free willed expression of God’s love through all of eternity and was a result of God’s desire for union with His creation. So our redemption by the cross was not an appeasement of God’s anger or some sort of compensation for some bruising of God’s majesty caused by our sin but was part of that expression of love. Love is not revenge or payment.
God’s love should call forth from us an equal loving response: “I am of the opinion that God wished to redeem us in this fashion principally in order to draw us to his love.”
O Lord, our God, Catholics can infer most of the perfections which philosophers knew of you from what has been said. You are the first efficient cause the ultimate end, supreme in perfection, transcending all things. You are uncaused in any way and therefore incapable of becoming or perishing; indeed it is simply impossible that you should not exist, for of yourself you are necessary being. You are therefore eternal, because the span of your existence is without limit and you experience it all at once, for it cannot be strung out in a succession of events. For there can be no succession save in what is continually caused, or at least in what is dependent for its existence upon another, and this dependence is a far cry from what has necessary being of itself. You live a most noble life, because you are understanding and volition. You are happy, indeed you are by nature happiness itself, because you are in possession of yourself. You are the clear vision yourself and the most joyful love, and although you are self-sufficient and happy in yourself alone, you still understand in a single act everything that can be known. At one and the same time you possess the power to freely and contingently will each thing that can be caused and by willing it through your volition cause it to be. Most truly then you are of infinite power. You are incomprehensible, infinite, for nothing omniscient or of infinite power is finite . . . Neither is the ultimate end, nor what exists of itself in all simplicity, something finite. You are the end, nor what exists of itself in all simplicity, something finite. You are the ultimate in simplicity, having no really distinct parts, or no realities in your essence which are not really the same. In you no quantity, no accident can be found, and therefore you are incapable of accidental change, even as I have already expressed, you are so in essence. You alone are simply perfect, not just a perfect angel, or a perfect body, but a perfect being, lacking no entity it is possible for anything to have. Nothing can formally possess every perfection, but every entity can exist in something either formally or eminently, as it does in you, O God, who are supreme among beings, the only one of them who is infinite. Communicating the rays of your goodness most liberally. you are boundless good, to whom as the most lovable thing of all every Single being in its own way comes back to you as to its ultimate end.
-- Treatise on God as the First Principle
The Lateran is the oldest established Basilica, built by the command of Constantine soon after the legalization of Christianity. Constantine gave the ancient palace of the Laterani family to Pope Miltiades. Pope Sylvester dedicated the basilica around 324 as Most Holy Savior; only after the 6th century were the names of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist used.
While many home churches existed before that time this marks the beginning of something special, and reflects the many churches throughout the world from small to large, open wooden structures to massive stone edifices.
The beauty and harmony of the churches, destined to give praise to God, also draws us human beings, limited and sinful, to convert to form a “cosmos,” a well-ordered structure, in intimate communion with Jesus, who is the true Saint of saints. This happens in a culminating way in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the “ecclesia,” that is, the community of the baptized, come together in a unified way to listen to the Word of God and nourish themselves with the Body and Blood of Christ. From these two tables the Church of living stones is built up in truth and charity and is internally formed by the Holy Spirit transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself more and more to the Lord Jesus Christ. She herself, if she lives in sincere and fraternal unity, in this way becomes the spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.
Dear friends, today’s feast celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24). But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God. Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become, like her, the “house of God,” living temple of his love.
— Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, November 9, 2008
There can be only one. Of the many things Leo did that made him great, it was his attention to authority that really jumps out at me. He certainly establishes a hierarchy but it is a collegial one. Each bishop or metropolitan has control in his flock but he instructs that each should be prudent and not hasty and in the end turn to the Apostolic See in order to resolve disputes or be guided in their office.
Not vetting those who would lead was as dangerous as allowing those who would break with Tradition to have free rein (though reign may be as appropriate). The consolidation of authority in a collegial hierarchy allowed for a more catholic Church, one with consistency throughout. Whereas the people might put forth a candidate, the appropriateness and worthiness of that candidate might not be conducive to harmony and orthodoxy. Of course, the same may be said later when all appointments came from the top down.
Yet, without that tight hierarchy and a single, final authority (based, as he so rightly points out, in the office of Peter), many of the heresies that plagued the Church and the Communion would have sundered her.
It is the duty of that hierarchy to serve its flock, not the other way around. Leo saw that and required that Christ-like servant behavior of the bishops who held power over their flocks. Forgiveness and mercy should be at the heart of any servant.
Let us pray daily for our bishops and priests, that they may be able to serve us in love as Leo calls them to.
The brotherly love of our colleagues makes us read with grateful mind the letters of all priests; for in them we embrace one another in the spirit as if we were face to face, and by the intercourse of such epistles we are associated in mutual converse. But in this present letter the affection displayed seems to us greater than usual: for it informs us of the state of the churches, and urges us to a vigilant exercise of care by a consideration of our office, so that being placed, as it were, on a watch-tower, according to the will of the Lord, we should both lend our approval to things when they run in accordance with our wishes, and correct, by applying the remedies of compulsion, what we observe gone wrong through any aggression: hoping that abundant fruit will be the result of our sowing the seed, if we do not allow those things to increase which have begun to spring up to the spoiling of the harvest.
...Noble precedents must be followed with eagerness that we may show ourselves in all things like those whose privileges we wish to enjoy. We wish you to imitate your last predecessor but one as well as of your immediate predecessor who is known equally with the former to have both deserved and employed this privilege: so that we may rejoice in the progress of the churches which we commit to you in our stead. For as the conduct of matters progresses creditably when committed to one who acts well and carries out skillfully the duties of the priestly position, so it is found to be only a burden to him who, when power is entrusted to him, uses not the moderation that is due....
-- Letter VI to To Anastasius, Bishop of Thessalonica.
No Christian should lightly be denied communion, nor should that be done at the will of an angry priest which the judge's mind ought to a certain extent unwillingly and regretfully to carry out for the punishment of a great crime. For we have ascertained that some have been cut off from the grace of communion for trivial deeds and words, and that the soul for which Christ's blood was shed has been exposed to the devil's attacks and wounded, disarmed, so to say, and stripped of all defense by the infliction of so savage a punishment as to fall an easy prey to him. Of course if ever a case has arisen of such a kind as in due proportion to the nature of the crime committed to deprive a man of communion, he only who is involved in the accusation must be subjected to punishment: and he who is not shown to be a partner in its commission ought not to share in the penalty. But what wonder that one who is wont to exult over the condemnation of priests, should show himself in the same light towards laymen.
-- Letter X to the Bishops of the Province of Vienne.
Martin reminds that everyone has been created by God and that we are are all God's children. Good or evil, Christian or not, there is not one faction or another, nor that one group is human and another is not. We are all God's creation and worthy of His love. "[God] makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust." (Matthew 5:45b)
Why else should we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? (cf. all of Matthew chapter 5)
And so it is. While still not baptized and still beholden to the traditions of the Roman gods, his simple act of giving a beggar part of his cloak earned him the approval of Jesus. There are many who either have not heard the Good News or because of hurt or pain from the human Church do not recognize or acknowledge Christ but who still do the will of the Father. Fortunately for them -- and us -- we believe God's mercy and salvation is not contained by our ability to forgive and is open to all God's children.
Jesus appears in forms to us all, no matter how deeply we believe or not. Jesus is not interested only in those who follow him, but is here for all to bring all to the Father. "I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance." (Luke 15:7)
Martin help us to be more Christ-like, especially with those we do not agree with or who we see as not worthy of God's love.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’
-- Matthew 7:21-23
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
-- Matthew 9:9-13
Once again he went out along the sea. All the crowd came to him and he taught them. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard this and said to them [that], “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
-- Mark 2:13-17
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
-- Luke 5:27-32
The seeds of unity and the seeds of division can often flower in the same garden.
But what does unity mean? Sameness or diversity? Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy?
Josaphat sought to show the means of unity in diversity. There are a lot of hard feelings between the East and the West built over centuries, and the struggles of the late 16th, early 17th centuries in the West did not make it seem like a port in the storm either. Many, both Orthodox and Roman, resisted any effort at reconciliation.
Trying to reconcile much less unify would be an enormous effort. But Josaphat was willing to try.
In the end, it cost him his life. The Roman Church sought out his much abused remains and brought them to be buried in St. Peter's. Though not Roman they added him to the Roman canon and sanctoral calendar. Some may find this an affront, a usurping of the correct judgement on such a heretic. But I see it as the recognition, not that he saw the light and came to the "right side" (he never did that) but that he worked to make us one as Christ calls us to be one.
As Pius XI noted: "He felt, in fact, that God had inspired him to restore world-wide unity to the Church and he realized that his greatest chance of success lay in preserving the Slavonic rite and Saint Basil’s rule of monastic life within the one universal Church." (Ecclesiam Dei)
Many want us all to be one or the other, Catholic or Orthodox - but that is not as Paul describes the Church: "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:27-28)
Josaphat, pray that we may be one Body, one Body in Christ.
They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.
-- John 17:16-23
My first introduction to the young Polish Jesuit Stanislaus Kostka was through the Mass my great-grandfather wrote to honor him - possibly for the young men he taught as Spring Hill College, perhaps for his roommate at the Freiborg conservatory Ignacy Paderewski. Stanislaus was only 17 when he died, and barely in the novitiate, but he truly impressed his superiors in that short time. When we think of impressive lives determined to be lived for Christ then Mother Francis Xavier Cabrini immediately jumps to mind as well - considered too ill to join two convents, she created her own, dedicated to those marginalized like her.
This is the reason that we hold up the saints for our edification and inspiration. It does not matter the length of our lives or the 'quality'. We cannot forget that in the Communion of Saints they are with us now, hoping through prayer in eternal life to continue the work that they started in earthly life. We too can live these lives of quiet love.
Consider how hard it is for a person to be separated from any place he has loved deeply. How much harder the soul will find it when the time comes to leave the mortal body, its companion so dear. And the great fear it will experience in that moment because its salvation is at stake and it must stand in the presence of the one it has so offended. If the just man will scarcely be saved, what about me a sinner?
But think of the great joy the good will feel at the thought of the service they’ve paid to God. They will be glad because they’ve suffered something for love of him back there and didn’t fix their hope and attention on the things of this world that we leave so soon. Think of the joy that the soul will feel in its escape from the prison of this body. So long has it lived in perpetual exile, expelled from its own heavenly home. How much greater its uncontainable joy and complete satisfaction when it arrives in its own country to enjoy the vision of God with the angels and the blessed.
I am so ashamed and confused because I see how many have been lost on account of a single mortal sin, and how many times I have deserved eternal damnation.
I shall reflect on myself and ask: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?”
-- From the Journal of Stanislaus Kostka
It is something during this month of November that we do readily - remember those who have lived lives worth remembering, from All Saints, All Souls, to the secular Memorial Day - whether we know who they are or not. Or to perhaps put it another way, to remember every life - period. Someone knew them; someone benefited from their life. We remember those who no one is left to remember as well as those who are on the calendar. So many orders celebrate their brothers and sisters this way - celebrating those who surround the glassy sea and praying for those who may be waiting to enter the gates.
If we think about it we may say it on All Souls Day, but take a moment often in your life to say a blessing and a prayer for all those who have brought you to where you are.
Jesus said: "Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, ’Come and have your meal at once?’ Would he not be more likely to say, ’Get my supper ready. Fasten your belt and wait on me while I eat and drink. You yourself can eat and drink afterwards’? Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say ’We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty.’”
-- Luke 17:7-10
If we think about the influence our lives have in the world we may (vainly?) wonder as to the effectivity of that influence. Sometimes our lives are a mystery, sometimes they are clear.
Albert is perhaps one of the greatest thinkers of the Medieval Church, and yet he championed not his own thought but that of his student Thomas Aquinas, even after the Thomas' death. I wonder about the devotion and the self-awareness that he exhibited in placing himself second to that of his student. Did learning the living-for-Christ attitude color his actions? Teaching was his thing, and as any good teacher knows it is the success of our students that makes the difference. I already understand what I teach and that is part of the zeal I have for sharing it; it is seeing truth become part of someone else's life, watching them make it their own and further it that rewards. So I also say that Albert was also one of the greatest teachers of the Church, not just theologically but spiritually.
He may be known as "the Great" but for him it was that his student was greater. It recalls the words of John: "I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire." (Matthew 3:11)
Now it must be asked if we can comprehend why comets signify the death of magnates and coming wars, for writers of philosophy say so. The reason is not apparent, since vapor no more rises in a land where a pauper lives than where a rich man resides, whether he be king or someone else. Furthermore, it is evident that a comet has a natural cause not dependent on anything else; so it seems that it has no relation to someone’s death or to war. For if it be said that it does relate to war or someone’s death, either it does so as a cause or effect or sign.
— De Cometis
Two great saints on one day, not that is not true on so many days but today are two of the great ones. A mystic who excelled in the theological arts, Gertrude seems to have had a tragic early life, having to be raised in a Benedictine monastery from an early age, eventually joining the order when she became of age. She spent her life in intellectual pursuits, developing a deep love of philosophy until a vision told her to back down from her own pursuits and concentrate on Scripture and the Fathers. Her visions are brilliant, even though bounded. Rather than regret her boundaries she flourished within them.
Margaret too had a rough childhood, exiled, forced to be a refugee, and shipwrecked. But her charity and her compassion brought her forward into a blessed marriage which produced even more saints. As with Gertrude, after a rough start, once she found her place she flourished.
Keeping in mind where we come from and what is our foundation, we can overcome many obstacles. Whatever our "limitations" may seem to be, they are merely the distractions that pull us away from God. If we learn to "grow where we are planted", to take our "true selves", the self that we are created to be, then we will know the forgiveness, the mercy, and the love that will guide our actions. Whatever our beginnings, we know where our end will be.
May my soul bless you, O Lord God my Creator, may my soul bless you. From the very core of my being may all your merciful gifts sing your praise. Your generous care for your daughter has been rich in mercy; indeed it has been immeasurable, and as far as I am able I give you thanks. I praise and glorify your great patience which bore with me even though, from my infancy and childhood, adolescence and early womanhood, until I was nearly 26, I was always so blindly irresponsible. Looking back I see that but for your protecting hand I would haven been quite without conscience in thought, word or deed. But you came to my aid by giving me a natural dislike of evil and a natural delight in what is good, and provided me with necessary correction from those among whom I lived. To make amends for the way I previously lived, I offer you, most loving Father, all the sufferings of your beloved Son, from that first infant cry as he lay on the hay in the manger, until that final movement when, bowing his head, with a mighty voice, Christ gave up his spirit. I think, as I make this offering, of all that he underwent, his needs as a baby, his dependence as a young child, the hardships of youth, and the trials of early manhood. To atone for all my neglect I offer, most loving Father, all that your only-begotten Son did during his life, whether in thought, word or deed. And now, as an act of thanksgiving, I praise and worship you, Father, in deepest humility for your most loving kindness and mercy. Though I was hurrying to my eternal loss, your thoughts of me were thoughts of peace and not of affliction, and you lifted me up with so many great favors. Finally, you drew me to yourself by your faithful promises of the good things you would give me from the hour of my death. So great are these promises that for their sake alone, even if you had given me nothing besides, my heart would sigh for you always and be filled with a lively hope.
-- from Revelations by Saint Gertrude
While we are all subject to being influenced by the saints we are also each capable of bringing ourselves to the table because we are all sancti - holy ones. Elizabeth was greatly inspired by Francis of Assisi but made the love of the poor her own. She brought her own brand of Francis to those around her, not content to stand only in his shadow.
In holiness, we must each seek to reach it not just through the grace of God but through our personal efforts to live that grace that is given to us.
As in heaven Your will is punctually performed, so may it be done on earth by all creatures, particularly in me and by me.
Elizabeth was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castles should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband's empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband's four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor.
Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Elizabeth went to visit the sick. She personally cared for those who were particularly repulsive; to some she gave food, to others clothing; some she carried on her own shoulders, and performed many other kindly services. Her husband, of happy memory, gladly approved of these charitable works. Finally, when her husband died, she sought the highest perfection; filled with tears, she implored me to let her beg for alms from door to door. Good Friday of that year, when the altars had been stripped, she laid her hands on the altar in a chapel in her own town, where she had established the Friars Minor, and before witnesses she voluntarily renounced all worldly display and everything that our Savior in the gospel advises us to abandon. Even then she saw that she could still be distracted by the cares and worldly glory which had surrounded her while her husband was alive. Against my will she followed me to Marburg. Here in the town she built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table.
Apart from those active good works, I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman.
Before her death I heard her confession. When I asked what should be done about her goods and possessions, she replied that anything which seemed to be hers belonged to the poor. She asked me to distribute everything except one worn-out dress in which she wished to be buried. When all this had been decided, she received the body of our Lord. Afterward, until vespers, she spoke often of the holiest things she had heard in sermons. Then, she devoutly commended to God all who were sitting near her, and as if falling into a gentle sleep, she died.
-- Conrad of Marburg
We do not celebrate buildings but the saints that inspire us to build them, the saints who inspire us to seek God out and gather to Him.
God builds the house from bricks of humans. Christ is the foundation and we rest on him.
After the king had taken up residence in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent!” Nathan answered the king, “Whatever is in your heart, go and do, for the LORD is with you.” But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell David my servant, Thus says the LORD: Is it you who would build me a house to dwell in? I have never dwelt in a house from the day I brought Israel up from Egypt to this day, but I have been going about in a tent or a tabernacle. As long as I have wandered about among the Israelites, did I ever say a word to any of the judges whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?
Now then, speak thus to my servant David, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the flock, to become ruler over my people Israel. I was with you wherever you went, and I cut down all your enemies before you. And I will make your name like that of the greatest on earth. I will assign a place for my people Israel and I will plant them in it to dwell there; they will never again be disturbed, nor shall the wicked ever again oppress them, as they did at the beginning, and from the day when I appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you: when your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom. He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. If he does wrong, I will reprove him with a human rod and with human punishments; but I will not withdraw my favor from him as I withdrew it from Saul who was before you. Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.
-- 2 Samuel 7:1-16
The Church has, throughout its history, been often cast as a usurper. Within our thinking we see ourselves as blessed, righteous, champions, savior of souls; but to those around us we can seem to be bullies or pawns of the State and in fact can be both in our blindness and sinfulness.
Roque and his companions were martyred because they championed Christ among the tribes of Brazil and championed the human rights of these tribes against the ruling States that wanted to control them (one such was his own brother - who apparently reneged after Roque's harsh words to him). The Jesuits of the time were assailed from all sides, mainly by the jealous - both in European and tribal leaders. At the time the Spanish conquistadors were brutalizing and enslaving the local indigenous people of South America, even though the pope had declared them off-limits. Similar to attempts by missionaries in California, Roque and his companions successfully worked to make them self-sufficient and free by gathering them into groups. Though I could find no source for it, it is said that years later, even Voltaire - a true hater of Jesuits (he does have Candid go and "fight for the Jesuits" (Chapter 14) before killing one) - praised them for this effort.
This is nothing new. Something to keep in mind at this time is to celebrate the lives of the Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter brutally murdered by state-sponsored death-squads in El Salvador on Nov 16, 1989.
We have to keep all that in mind, even though we are in every corner of the world. Missionary work is not about winning territory, but about winning souls for Christ and at least bringing Christ's dignity to all, regardless of religious or political affiliation. We must speak truth to power for the sake of the Kingdom even if it costs our lives.
I have received your letter and understand from it and other letters the strong feeling and complaints you have regarding the Indians and especially the feelings you have against us.
This is nothing new nor anything that started yesterday. The encomendero gentlemen and soldiers have long complained and even gone further by stirring up strong opposition to the Society of Jesus.
This is, in fact, a great honor to us.
I say this because the cause of the Indians is so just and because they have and have had a right to be free from the harsh slavery and forced labor called personal service. Indeed, they are exempt from this by natural law, both divine and human.
These complaints grew even more serious after members of the Society fulfilled their obligation as faithful ministers of God and vassals of his majesty the King and supported what he order most justly through his visitor that the Indians should be free from servitude in which they were kept.
-- From a letter to his brother Francesco, lieutenant governor of Asuncion
"...so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me." (John 17:21)
Why we do not work for unity but instead work to be right confounds me.
Ambrose, a brilliant scholar and pious monk, worked constantly as a mediator for reconciliation, even producing the final document from the Council of Florence - the attempt to reconcile the Roman Church with the Greek Church.
Pray today and ask Ambrose to intercede for us. Pray today that Christ's prayer will be fulfilled through us because it is a prayer for our conversion to his love.
I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.
-- John 17:14-26
What happened in Mary's life to shape her into being the person she was? How do we know that Mary was so holy? How do we know that she was able to present herself as worthy of being the Theotokos, the God bearer?
Simple answer is: we do not.
We do know from Scripture that she "had found favor with God" (Luke 1:30b), a powerful statement to her disposition.
Most of our traditions of Mary's early life come to us from stories in sources like the apocryphal Proto-gospel of James. There the story goes that her parents, Anne and Joachim, we so excited to have the blessing of a child in their old age that they gave (presented) her to the Temple where she subsequently lived, studied, and grew in holiness until such an age that she was presented in marriage to Joseph.
What we are probably celebrating today is the dedication of a Marian church that was located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem but subsequently destroyed.
Let us present ourselves to the Lord in His temple and be ourselves dedicated to service, consecrated to God, able to present ourselves as worthy of being God bearers to the world. Mary help us to find favor with God as well.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name. He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation. He has shown the strength of His arm, He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has come to the help of His servant Israel, for He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and His children for ever.
It is not everyday that being in a romance novel gets you on the Roman Canon of Saints. The cult of Cecilia really does not begin until the late 5th century but it is then that she is added to the Roman Sacramentary by Pope Gelasius. We still recall her name today in that same Eucharistic Prayer, and like all the unknown martyrs of the early Roman Church she reminds us of the cost of discipleship.
We might question the accuracy of her narrative or Chaucer's retelling, if we accept it, and even the wisdom of her actions within it. Again though, it is the nature of her devotion to Christ that we remember, the tacit hope of Christ's imminent return, and the miracles that we will witness and participate in if we but give ourselves over so completely to Christ.
This mayden bright Cecilie, as hir lif seith, Was comen of Romayns and of noble kynde, And from hir cradel up fostred in the feith Of Crist, and bar his gospel in hir mynde. She nevere cessed, as I writen fynde, Of hir preyere and God to love and drede, Bisekynge hym to kepe hir maydenhede. And whan this mayden sholde unto a man Ywedded be, that was ful yong of age, Which that ycleped was Valerian...
-- Chaucer, The Second Nun's Tale
Peter, Linus, Cletus, Clement: the line of the First Century popes; you might recognize them from Eucharistic Prayer I.
Possibly mentioned in Philippians 4:3 and later by Jerome and Origien, there is little that we know of Clement except for his letter to the Corinthians which has survived as the earliest Patristic (non-Scriptural) writing that we have. What we can know is that it does show a concern for the larger Church by the bishop of Rome, if anyone wants to be part of that fight.
We speak about a Roman Catholic Church, or a Greek Orthodox Church, or any number or 'Rite' Churches, but Clement shows us the catholic nature of the Church that we speak of in our shared Creed. What he tells the Corinthians is nothing surprising or new and sounds very Pauline to me. What the letter does do is continue the Apostolic leadership that we speak of, whether talking about a bishop, a metropolitan, a patriarch, or a pope within a catholic Church. We each, in our own traditions, have much to share and teach one another...all we have to do is start listening in the love that Clement so eloquently speaks about.
Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the [blessed] bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love bears all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony. By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the love He bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls.
You see, beloved, how great and wonderful a thing is love, and that there is no declaring its perfection. Who is fit to be found in it, except such as God has vouchsafed to render so? Let us pray, therefore, and implore of His mercy, that we may live blameless in love, free from all human partialities for one above another. All the generations from Adam even unto this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ. For it is written, "Enter into your secret chambers for a little time, until my wrath and fury pass away; and I will remember a propitious day, and will raise you up out of your graves." [Isaiah 26:20] Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us. For it is written, Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile. This blessedness comes upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
-- Letter to the Corinthians 49-50
Flora grew up in a divided country. The Moors had conquered the south of Spain but Christians still remained there as well and so there was an overlap of cultures. She and her mother converted (in their case from Islam to Christianity -- a big no-no in both cultures) while the rest of the family (father, brother, sister) remain Muslim. But it was a man's world then and her parents (read father) promised her in an arranged marriage to another Muslim, meaning she would be unable to practice her Faith or her vow of chastity. She fled with another Christian friend, hiding at her sister's, who when she probably came to understand the situation turned her out which exposed her. Her own brother turned her in to the authorities and she suffered torture, escaped, was captured and tortured more.
So she died as a martyr. She had devoted her life to chastity and compassion, caring for Christian prisoners, just trying to practice the love that yesterday Clement spoke so eloquently of. There was no war between the religions for her, only the desire to love completely and be devoted to God, sentiments that should ring through Christian and Muslim alike.
What does she tell us? That maybe we should all get along better.
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to come to a mutual understanding in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my true yokemate, to help them, for they have struggled at my side in promoting the gospel, along with Clement and my other co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.
-- Phillipians 4:1-9
If you follow philosophy or run in philosophical circles, you may have heard of Hypatia of Alexandria who, for whatever reason, was martyred by a crowd. This is often used as an argument against the Church for suppressing ideas, especially those of women. The truth is probably much more complex than that, but it certainly serves as fodder for refutation of the Faith.
I do not want to be seen as callous or patronizing here about Hypatia's death, which for whatever reason was wrong and unnecessary. What I do want to point out is that she and Catherine were two people who lived at approximately the same time (Catherine was born about 50 years earlier and died about 30 years before Hypatia was born).
The story seems similar for both. Brilliant, they both appear to challenge the intellectual authority around them and paid the ultimate price for it. Catherine, it is said, went to challenge the emperor Maxentius about his persecution of Christians and he was so impressed with her abilities that he set her to debate with a cadre of philosophers. She apparently not only stumped them but, it is reported, caused soldiers, philosophers, and even members of the emperor's family to convert - all of whom were eventually killed for it.
Thus unable to defeat her rhetorically or to intimidate her into giving up her belief, the emperor ordered her to be tortured and imprisoned, eventually beheading her.
I think that the lesson today is not that the patriarchy kills uppity-women, but that, whether for secular or religious reasons, those who challenge authority often end up on the short end of the stick. No one deserves to die for their intelligence but we know that despotic rulers go for the intelligentsia first. Those of conscience, of conviction, of deep belief often go against the status quo, doing so in honesty and well within their rights, both intellectually and spiritually. Only those who do not know the truth are challenged by it or fear it and consequentially seek to destroy it. Jesus certainly teaches us that.
So the Church recognizes and honors women of virtue, intelligence, and deep spirituality - not every time, but with the understanding that women and men both stand well before God for using the gifts they are given. We are not "male or female" as Paul reminds us, and must each use the gifts God has endowed us with to further the Kingdom, speaking truth to power whenever necessary, unafraid of the consequences.
The king told Ashpenaz, his chief chamberlain, to bring in some of the children of Israel of royal blood and of the nobility, young men without any defect, handsome, intelligent and wise, quick to learn, and prudent in judgment, such as could take their place in the king's palace; they were to be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans; after three years' training they were to enter the king's service. The king allotted them a daily portion of food and wine from the royal table. Among these were men of Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
But Daniel was resolved not to defile himself with the king's food or wine; so he begged the chief chamberlain to spare him this defilement. Though God had given Daniel the favor and sympathy of the chief chamberlain, he nevertheless said to Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king; it is he who allotted your food and drink. If he sees that you look wretched by comparison with the other young men of your age, you will endanger my life with the king." Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief chamberlain had put in charge of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, "Please test your servants for ten days. Give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then see how we look in comparison with the other young men who eat from the royal table, and treat your servants according to what you see." He acceded to this request, and tested them for ten days; after ten days they looked healthier and better fed than any of the young men who ate from the royal table. So the steward continued to take away the food and wine they were to receive, and gave them vegetables.
To these four young men God gave knowledge and proficiency in all literature and wisdom, and to Daniel the understanding of all visions and dreams. At the end of the time the king had specified for their preparation, the chief chamberlain brought them before Nebuchadnezzar. When the king had spoken with all of them, none was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; and so they entered the king’s service. In any question of wisdom or understanding which the king put to them, he found them ten times better than any of the magicians and enchanters in his kingdom. Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
-- Daniel 1:1-6. 8-21
(This is the First Reading that can fall on today. The story continues for several chapters, contains the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to worship anything or god other than God, and the jealousy that got Daniel thrown into the lions' den; I thought it fitting but decided not to copy several chapters into the blog, so look up and read the full story!)