Monday, April 16, 2018

April 28--St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Holy Woman

We often hear about how our mothers have sacrificed so much for us. They carried us for nine months, bore us, loved us, raised us, prayed for us. All this is true. However, today’s saint sacrificed her life for her child. St. Gianna Beretta Molla was a wife, a mother, a pediatrician, and above all, a saint. She had four children, but it was while she was pregnant with her youngest child that she offered her life. She had a uterine tumor, which was removed during the second month of her pregnancy. For the next seven months she prayed for the life of her child. Her plea was: “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child – I insist on it. Save him.” Her daughter, Gianna Emanuela, was born safely, but one week later, the mother, St. Gianna, died after much pain and exclamations of “Jesus I love you. Jesus, I love you.” She was 39 years old.

Heroic virtue is what the saints live and offer to us as a witness of their love for God. But their love never ends there. St. Gianna shows us how much true love is given by mothers to their children, even to the point of dying. St. Gianna is not the only one who has consciously chosen to sacrifice her life for her child. It happens every day when a mother with cancer or some other illness heroically chooses to bear her child, knowing that her own life might be at risk. But that is what love is about, giving ourselves completely for others. Bl. Pope Paul VI remembered St. Gianna as: “A young mother from the diocese of Milan, who, to give life to her daughter, sacrificed her own, with conscious immolation.” St. Gianna, pray for us.

Monday, March 19, 2018

March 26--St. Margaret Clitherow, Holy Woman and Martyr

“You must return from whence you came, and there, in the lowest part of the prison, be stripped naked, laid down, your back on the ground, and as much weight laid upon you as you are able to bear, and so to continue for three days without meat or drink, and on the third day to be pressed to death, your hands and feet tied to posts, and a sharp stone under your back.”

This was the penalty for harboring a priest in Elizabethan England as pronounced by the judge. St. Margaret Clitherow knew this and, to avoid having her children testify in court, refused to plea whatsoever to any crime. Thus, her martyrdom came within fifteen minutes of the execution of the penalty. This occurred even though she was pregnant with her fourth child.

Hiding a priest, who could celebrate the Mass and the sacraments, was a capital crime because it was considered high treason. Priests were “traitors and seducers of the queen’s subjects.” But to St. Margaret Clitherow, whose two sons became priests, priests were men of God who brought people the Body of Christ.

We need to honor and respect the priests who bring us the Eucharist, who baptize us, who forgive our sins in the name of Christ, who preach the Word of God, who bring us together in community, who sacrifice themselves for our salvation. Priests act in personal Christi, in the person of Christ in their ministry. When we are forgiven, it is through their words that Christ absolves us. St. Margaret Clitherow died for the chance for priests to share Christ with her community. Would that we live for the chance to have priests share Christ with our community.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

March 22--St. Nicholas Owen, Religious and Martyr

During the persecution of the Church in England under Elizabeth I and James I, English Jesuits were smuggled into the country to fill the sacramental needs of recusant and hidden Catholics. They often hid in houses that had “priest holes” designed and built by St. Nicholas Owen. St. Nicholas Owen was a carpenter and mason, and became a Jesuit lay brother in 1577. We don’t know how many of these priest holes he built, but they saved many priests’ lives. Eventually he was hunted down after the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, captured, and tortured on the rack for information on his projects. However, he never revealed any information and was abused to the point that his stomach split open and his intestines spilled out. He died the next day, March 2, 1606, and is listed as one of the Forty Martyrs of England canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970. 

Called “Little John” because of his small size, St. Nicholas Owen was a man of huge accomplishments. He used his skills as a mason and carpenter to save lives and allow the sacraments to be celebrated. And yet, in the United States about 20% of those who call themselves Catholic attend weekly Mass. We have the greatest gift that God can give us, Jesus Christ, in the presence of the Eucharist for our worship and spiritual nourishment. There is an old phrase that is apropos here: “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.” Our very lives depend on the food we eat. Our very souls depend on the Eucharist we eat! Invite someone you know to Mass. Take your children to Mass. Go to Mass on weekdays. We thank St. Nicholas Owen for his witness to the necessity of the Eucharist.

March 12--Bl. Angela Salawa, Virgin and Third Order Franciscan

When we are scrubbing the kitchen floor or cleaning the toilet or making the beds or preparing food or vacuuming the living room, do we pray? Bl. Angela Salawa did. She was a domestic servant from the time she was fifteen till her death in 1922 at the age of 41 in Cracow, Poland. She helped other women who sought domestic work to live authentic Christian lives through their work and prayer. She said: “I love my work because it enables me to endure suffering, work harder and pray often; other than that I have no other desire in the world.” In 1900 she became a member of the Association of St. Zita, who is the patron of domestic workers. She joined the Third Order Franciscans in 1912 and during World War I assisted in the hospitals of Cracow and shared her rations with others. She was fired in 1916 from her job because of false accusations. She was often in poor health and, after being fired, homeless. She was discharged from the hospital and lived the last five years of her life in a basement room, abandoned by family, friends, and neighbors.

God allows us to suffer to bring us closer to him. Bl. Angela Salawa accepted her sufferings, her loneliness, her state in life, and her opportunities to strive for holiness. She had a great devotion to the Eucharist and prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. Her occupation as a maid allowed her to serve similar to how Jesus served the apostles when he washed their feet at the Last Supper. We are all called to know, love, and serve God in this life. But even the menial tasks we are called to do can be opportunities to love, as Bl. Angela Salawa knew.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

March 9--St. Frances of Rome, Religious

Rome has two heavy hitters as patrons in Sts. Peter and Paul, who were both martyred there during the reign of the emperor Nero. But the eternal city also has a mother as a patron, St. Frances of Rome. St. Frances was born into a noble Roman family and married at the age of 12 to another Roman noble. Her marriage lasted for 40 years and she bore three children. While she was married she became a Third Order Franciscan. During an invasion of Rome people came to her farm, where she would give food and care for the sick, the starving, and the dying assisted by other Roman ladies. In 1425 she and six other women became oblates under the rule of St. Benedict. They eventually became a religious order in 1433. Their ministry was to serve the poor and work and pray for the pope and the peace of Rome.

As a mother, St. Frances of Rome suffered the death of two of her children to the plague. She opened part of her house as a hospital and bought what was necessary to help the sick. Her community of women helped others as mothers help their children.

Our mothers sacrifice themselves for us so that we may have what we need: food, clothing, comfort, medicine, and more. In times of sorrow our mothers console us. They do what must be done so that their children and their families are secure and safe. They, with our fathers, provide us with homes and love. But they do not do so alone. They have God to guide them. They have the Blessed Mother to watch over them. No family is perfect, but all families strive for happiness in their lives, which is only provided through God’s grace.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

February 27: St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, Religious

Who would want to pray for a slow death? St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows did so that he could prepare himself spiritually. He died in 1862 at the age of 23 of tuberculosis, which was a painful way to die: "When TB wakes up and gets into the lungs, it eats them from the inside out, slowly diminishing their capacity, causing the chest to fill up with blood and the liquidy remains of the lungs. It’s painful, it’s drawn out. It’s an awful way to die."

St. Gabriel was born Francis Possenti in 1838. After being cured twice of serious illnesses he joined the Passionist order at the age of 18. The Passionists are dedicated to the Passion of Jesus. When St. Gabriel was dying, he maintained a cheerful demeanor and was a source of inspiration to his fellow novices. He was named the patron of clergy, students, and young people.

We actually live a slow death. Each day we progress to our ultimate end, which we pray will lead us to Christ in Heaven. We have an advantage that St. Gabriel did not have. He knew his death was near. We do not. With the state of medicine, we can count on a long life, as long as we are freed from tragic accidents. We can maintain a cheerful demeanor in our daily life as we prepare for our death. We can be a source of inspiration to others in our appreciation of the goods of the earth that God has given us and the goods of Heaven that we receive in the grace of the sacraments and prayer. Let us imitate St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows by dedicating our lives to living, and dying, as faithful disciples of Christ.

February 23--St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr

“In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church, the apostles left bishops as their successors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #77). St. Polycarp is one of the earliest of those successors, ordained bishop of Smyrna by the Apostle John, who was his teacher. He, along with St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch, are called Apostolic Fathers. He was born in AD 69 and was martyred in AD 155. He was known for his leadership when he was chosen to discuss the date of the Easter celebration with the pope. There was a major controversy as to whether it would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox or whether it should be celebrated on the date that Easter originally occurred, the date of the Jewish Passover. Both agreed that both customs were acceptable.

The account of his martyrdom is the earliest of the stories about martyrs. He was arrested and burned at the stake, but then stabbed to death when the fire failed to kill him. According to the Martyrdom, St. Polycarp said: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

St. Polycarp provides us plenty to reflect upon. He was a martyr who died for Christ. He was a bishop who maintained orthodoxy against heretics. He was a leader in the Church who promoted peace within the Church. He was recognized by other saints as a holy man. We can look to St. Polycarp as a man of “much fruit”, which is what his name means. We must look at the fruits we bear and share them with others in bringing others to Christ as St. Polycarp did.