30 September 2016

Follow Christ!

On October 1st, thirty-seven years ago, I was standing on the Boston Common with about 600,000 others. I was a young Episcopal cleric, and a Catholic priest friend of mine had encouraged me to go to Boston "to see the Pope." It rained for most of the day, and I was standing in it with no umbrella. An excited community of religious sisters was in front of me, screaming their heads off and waving their signs to no one in particular. I didn't know a single person around me, and after standing in the mud and rain for nearly seven hours, I didn't think I'd ever want to do this again.

But then... the Holy Father arrived. The Mass started. The memory of the long and uncomfortable wait we'd had melted away. I didn't hear anything but his voice.

When he began his sermon, my heart was ready. And when he repeated, "Follow Christ!" that's all I wanted to do. So I made my decision then and there. I would become a Catholic. I didn't know how, and I didn't know when, but to follow Christ meant that I had to become a Catholic.

Little did I know at the time that I was listening to a saint. I thank God every day that I heard his words, and that the Holy Spirit urged me to respond.

Follow Christ. That says it all.

26 September 2016

St. Vincent de Paul, Apostle of Charity


St. Vincent was born of poor parents in a little village in France, in about 1580. He was able to go to school, which was run by a community of Franciscans, and it was there that he learned the value of humility and poverty, and the importance of serving others. Young Vincent was a good student, and in fact, he made such good progress that when he was in his fourth year of school, a wealthy man chose him to be a tutor for his own children, and Vincent was able to continue his studies at the same time, using the money he earned to pay for his education. When he was about sixteen, he went to the University for his theological studies, and he was eventually ordained to the priesthood.

St. Vincent was a very young priest in 1605, and he was travelling on a ship off the coast of France, when the ship was attacked by a band of pirates. They were Muslims from north Africa, and they captured St. Vincent and carried him off to Tunis, where he was sold into slavery. He lived as a slave for about two years, but then he managed to escape. Having gained his freedom, he went immediately to Rome to give thanks to God, and he then returned to France. Once again he became a tutor for the children of a wealthy family, and it was during that time that he had an important experience which changed the direction of his life.

There was a poor servant in the household who was dying. St. Vincent went to him to hear his last confession and to prepare him for death, and as he visited him, St. Vincent realized that the poor and those who worked in service to others really hadn’t been receiving very much spiritual care. When he brought this to the attention of his employers, they urged him to do what he thought best to remedy the situation. He began to a great ministry to the poor, preaching missions so they could know the Gospel, and he founded a religious community for men and also another for women, whose purpose was to serve the poor.

St. Vincent’s work was recognized throughout the Church, and although many wanted to honor him, he himself remained completely humble, continuing his work for the poor. He became known as the Apostle of Charity, continuing his work, until he died at the age of eighty. His work continues through the communities of priests and sisters which he established, and also through the Church’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which encourages laypeople to join in the work of alleviating the needs of the poor.

O God, who didst strengthen blessed Vincent de Paul with apostolic power for preaching the Gospel to the poor, and for promoting worthiness in the clergy: grant, we beseech thee; that we who reverence his pious deeds may also be taught by the example of his virtues; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

25 September 2016

Saints Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs


The commemoration of St. Cosmas and St. Damian is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, and these two martyrs have been honored in the East and West in many ways, including the building and dedication of churches in their honor in many places, including Rome and Constantinople. Along with St. Luke, they are the patron saints of doctors. Although we cannot be certain of the details of their lives, the information that has come down to us is of very early origin.

Saints Cosmas and Damian were venerated in the East as the "moneyless ones" because they practiced medicine at no charge. They were twin brothers, born in Cilicia (in what is now Turkey). They studied in Syria and became skilled physicians.

Since they were prominent Christians, they were among the first arrested when the great persecution under Diocletian began. Lysias, the governor of Cilicia, ordered their arrest, and they were beheaded in about the year 287. Their bodies, it was said, were carried to Syria and buried at the ancient Syrian city of Cyrrhus, which then became known as Hagioupolis – the City of the Holy Ones.

They were venerated very early and became patrons of medicine, known for their miracles of healing. The Emperor Justinian asked the heavenly aid of these saints, was cured by their intercession, leading the emperor to give special honor to the city of Cyrrhus where their relics were enshrined. Their basilica in Rome, decorated with beautiful mosaics, was dedicated in the year 530. They are named in the Roman Martyrology and in the Canon of the Mass, testifying to the antiquity of the celebration of their feast day.

Cosmas and Damian were not only ideal Christians by their practice of medicine as an act of Christian charity, but they also testify to God's blessing upon the science and art of healing, affirming the Christian understanding of the physical and spiritual unity of each person.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we who celebrate the heavenly birthday of Saints Cosmas and Damian, thy Martyrs, may by their intercession be delivered from all evils that beset us; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

23 September 2016

Our Lady of Walsingham

In 1061, so the story goes, the lady of the manor of Little Walsingham in Norfolk, a widow named Lady Richeldis, prayed to our Lady asking how she could honour her in some special way. In answer to this prayer Mary led Lady Richeldis in spirit to Nazareth and showed her the house in which she had first received the angel's message. Mary told Richeldis to take the measurements of this house and build another one just like it in Walsingham. It would be a place where people could come to honour her and her Son, remembering especially the mystery of the Annunciation and Mary's joyful 'yes' to conceiving the Saviour.

The late eleventh century and all through the twelfth and thirteenth century was the era of the crusades, which saw a growing interest in the sites consecrated by the human presence of Jesus in the Holy Land. But now pilgrims need not go so far; in England itself there was a 'new Nazareth' built by one of their own countrywomen.

The actual house from Nazareth was moved – perhaps even miraculously – to Loreto, and we find that the measurements of the house in Loreto and the house in Walsingham are the same.

Why venerate a house? Because it reminds us that the Word-made-Flesh lived as Man with mankind.

O God, who, through the mystery of the Word made flesh, didst in thy mercy sanctify the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary: do thou grant that we may keep aloof from the tabernacle of sinners, and become worthy indwellers of thy house; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

22 September 2016

St. Pius of Petrelcina

St. Pius was born in 1887 in Petrelcina, a town in southern Italy. His family were farmers, and his father worked also as a shepherd to support the family. In fact, when St. Pius was a boy his father was gone for periods of time because he had come to America looking for work, sending money back to his family. When St. Pius was 15 he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars and made his first vows when he was 19. He suffered several health problems, but he was eventually ordained at age 22 on 10 August 1910, and was known after that as Padre Pio.

He had been a priest for about eight years. One morning he was praying before a crucifix, when he received the stigmata. He is the first priest ever to receive this outward mark of union with Christ Crucified – St. Francis of Assisi was a deacon. In fact, because this became a source of curiosity for so many people, Padre Pio was forbidden from having any public ministry for some years, even having to say Mass privately. This was a tremendous burden for him, but he accepted it in complete obedience to his superiors. But as word spread, especially after American soldiers brought home stories of Padre Pio following WWII, the priest himself became a point of pilgrimage for both the pious and the curious. He would hear confessions by the hour, reportedly able to read the consciences of those who held back. He was able to bi-locate, levitate, and heal by touch, although he himself never understood or emphasized these gifts.

People always seem to be most fascinated with these dramatic gifts, but the foundation of St. Pius' life was his total love for Jesus, especially in the Blessed Sacrament, and his life of prayer for others, especially prayer for healing – both spiritual and physical healing. In fact, in 1956 he founded the House for the Relief of Suffering, a hospital that today serves about 60,000 patients a year.

St. Pius died in 1968, and people continued to report many miracles and healings that had come through his intercession. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1999, and then in 2002 he was canonized in the presence of more than 300,000 people who gathered in Rome for the Mass.

Almighty everliving God, who, by a singular grace, didst give the Priest Saint Pius a share in the Cross of thy Son and, by means of his ministry, renewed the wonders of thy mercy: grant that, through his intercession, we may be united constantly to the sufferings of Christ, and so brought happily to the glory of the Resurrection; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

16 September 2016

St. Robert Bellarmine


Born in the year 1542, Robert Bellarmine's family was large and relatively poor. His mother was especially devout and was given to works of charity, fasting, and regular prayer. Young Robert learned these things from her, and never forgot them. As a very young man he entered the Society of Jesus, and was eventually ordained. He had a tremendous gift for preaching, and was also a notable scholar, going on to teach at the University of Louvain. The Church recognized his faithfulness and his intellectual brilliance, and after a time he became a bishop, and was named a Cardinal.

He never forgot the lessons he learned at home, and his charity to the poor was manifested in the fact that even though he lived in a Cardinal’s palace, he ate the same food as the poor would eat, he dressed in rough clothing, and he even stripped the plush curtains and tapestries from the walls to sell them and gave the money to the poor. As he said, “The poor can catch cold; the walls cannot.”

He lived at the time when the Protestants were causing great dissension in the Church, and St. Robert Bellarmine used his considerable talents in presenting Catholic truth, and helping others to see the errors of protestantism.

He knew the best way to keep the Church strong was to make strong Catholics, and he compiled an important catechism for teachers and students. In fact, it was his work with the young that gave him the most satisfaction, and he had an immense effect on the lives of the students who learned from him. One the most famous of his students was a young man named Aloysius, who eventually was himself raised to the altar, and is known to us as St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

St. Robert Bellarmine – a great man who never forgot his humble beginnings, and who loved the Church and worked for her unity.

O God, who didst adorn blessed Robert Bellarmine, thy Bishop and Doctor, with wondrous learning and virtue, to banish the wiles of error and contend for the rights of the Apostolic See: grant by his merits and intercession; that we may grow in the love of truth, and that the hearts of those that err may return to the unity of thy Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

15 September 2016

Ss. Cornelius & Cyprian, Martyrs


Rome had been without a bishop for about a year because of the persecution of the Emperor Decius, when Cornelius was elected Bishop of Rome in 251. Although it was a time of persecution, that wasn’t the biggest problem he had to face. Divisions in the Church had been taking place, stemming from the argument about whether or not the Church could forgive a person’s very serious sins – for instance, if someone had turned away from their faith, but then wanted to return to the Church, the question was whether the Church could give forgiveness and take that person back. A fairly popular priest during that time named Novatian was against the practice of giving forgiveness. He claimed that the Church had no power to pardon those who had lapsed during time of persecution. The same applied to cases of murder, and other serious sins. In fact, Novatian felt so strongly about this that he set himself up as a rival pope.

However, St. Cornelius, with the strong support of St. Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in North Africa, insisted that the Church did have the power to forgive apostates and other sinners, and that they could be re-admitted to Holy Communion after having performed an appropriate period of penance. Some letters of Cornelius to Cyprian together with Cyprian’s replies have survived.

A synod of Western bishops in Rome in October 251 upheld Cornelius, condemned the teachings of Novatian, and excommunicated him and his followers. When persecutions of the Christians started up again in 253 under Emperor Gallus, Cornelius was exiled and he died as a martyr.

His great friend and supporter, St. Cyprian was from a very wealthy pagan background, but he became a Christian, and was known as a great orator. After his baptism he distributed most of his wealth to the poor, and was eventually ordained as a priest, and then became the bishop of the city where he had grown up, Carthage. Just as Pope Cornelius faced persecution, so did Cyprian. He was a strong defender of the teaching of Cornelius, and even though they lived a continent apart, after they were both martyred, they were always linked together in the mind of the Church as having stood up for the mercy of God, and His desire to forgive the sins of those who repented.

O God, who didst give Saints Cornelius and Cyprian to thy people as diligent shepherds and valiant Martyrs: grant that, through their intercession, we may be strengthened in faith and constancy and spend ourselves without reserve for the unity of the Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.