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.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

February 14: Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Monk and Bishop, Missionaries

February 14 is thought of only as St. Valentine’s Day. However, the Church’s official feast day on the 14th is that of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, two brothers who brought Christianity to the Slavic countries. Cyril and Methodius grew up in Greece, which was then a part of the Byzantine Empire, in the ninth century. They were chosen by the emperor to go to Moravia to spread Christianity when a Moravian prince requested missionaries. They spoke Slavonic, the language of the people, and subsequently translated the Mass and the Scripture into Slavonic for the people. Cyril even developed a written form for the language, which was the forerunner of the Cyrillic alphabet, used in Russia today. This was an unusual step, since the dominant languages of the Church were Latin and Greek. But the pope gave his approval.

Some may think that when missionaries go to different lands they bring Western culture and customs to the people. Missionaries spend much time learning about the culture and the language and customs of the people they minister to in order to fully bring the Good News to them in a way that matches their culture. The Good News is universal—catholic—in that it is for everyone, everywhere. Missionaries like the Columban fathers of Bellevue, or the Maryknoll missionaries, spread the Gospel by living with and teaching the people, meeting their corporal and spiritual needs as best they can. We can join in the missionary apostolate by praying on behalf of missionaries and by adapting the Gospel to meet the needs of the people we know and love. So let us go forth and be disciples by spreading the Good News of the Lord.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

February 6--St. Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs

Jesus told us to take up our cross, but that was figurative, right? Nobody has been crucified since the Roman persecutions. Wrong! St. Paul Miki and 25 other Japanese, European, and Mexican men and boys were crucified and lanced to death in 1597 in Nagasaki, Japan. Born the son of a Japanese military leader, St. Paul Miki was educated by the Jesuits and became a Jesuit brother preparing for priesthood. At his death he preached: “As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.”

Japan had been evangelized by St. Francis Xavier and others in 1549 and was looked upon with favor by the Japanese authorities. About 200,000 Japanese had converted, including local rulers. However, this changed when political elements of trade started to concern the primary leader, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and his successors to the point that they were outlawed, hunted, and executed. There are around 1,000 known martyrs of this period.

After Japan was opened to foreign interaction by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853, it was discovered that thousands of Japanese in the Nagasaki area had maintained their faith for almost 250 years without priests through the rite of baptism. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Today, there are 509,000 Catholics in Japan, less than one-half of one percent of the total population. St. Paul Miki and companions, pray for us.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

February 1--St. Brigid of Ireland, Abbess

Ireland is blessed with not one, not two, but three patron saints: St. Patrick and St. Columba, and today’s saint, Saint Brigid. Much of what we know about her comes from legend and folklore. She was the daughter of a Christian slave mother, Brocca, who was baptized by St. Patrick, and a chieftain of Leinster, Dubthach in the 5th century, dying in A.D. 525. As slaves, she and her mother were sold to a druid. She then returned to her father’s household and gave away his belongings as acts of charity. He took her to the king of Leinster, who was Christian, to sell her. As Dubthach spoke to the king, St. Brigid gave his sword to a beggar. The king convinced her father to free her because of her holiness. She eventually became the founder and abbess of a convent in Ireland at Kildare, as well as a men’s monastery, having authority over both and being considered the chief authority of all convents in Ireland.

St. Brigid is not only patroness of Ireland, but also patroness of children whose parents are not married, dairy workers (for her work as a youth), and scholars. She is called Mary of the Gaels, meaning Our Lady of the Irish. St. Brigid is portrayed with a reed cross, which she used to convert a man to Christianity on his deathbed, or an abbot’s crozier, for her ministry as abbess of Kildare.

St. Brigid is a blessing to us for her strength, her faith, her tenacity, her spirit, and her love of God. She is a gift to the Irish and through them to the United States, which benefitted greatly from the influx of Irish immigrants in the 19th century. St. Brigid of Ireland, pray for us.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

January 22--Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children

Today is not a feast day of the Church, but rather a day set aside for prayer. Since Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973 over 60 million babies have been aborted. The Church allows the readings of the Mass of the day or from the “Mass for Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life” with white vestments or from the “Mass for Peace and Justice” with purple vestments.

When we give thanks to God for the gift of human life, we remember that all good is due to the graciousness of God. He loves us, each one of us; the aborted baby; the mother who is undergoing tremendous suffering and stress given that our society says it is entirely her choice to do what she wants; and the abortionist who is entirely aware of the evil act that is being committed in the name of choice. We cannot condemn the souls of those who directly take innocent life; that is not for us. We pray for them that they may come to a conversion of heart and turn back to God and repent of their evil actions.

When we pray for peace and justice, we remember that God is the just judge and we pray for the marginalized, the oppressed, the poor, the destitute. The baby is the most innocent and oppressed, but the mother may also be oppressed into getting an abortion. Does she have the support she needs to bear and raise the baby? Is the father around? Why does she feel that she has to have an abortion? Is it due to the injustices of relationships that she is in? Are her parents, or her boyfriend, or husband abusing her by pushing her into this choice? Let us work and pray for justice for all, the baby and the mother and the family.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

January 20--St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr

What would you do if a dove landed on you and the people around you then declared you pope? According to a Church historian of the fourth century, that is exactly what happened to St. Fabian. The previous pope had died and St. Fabian had come into the city of Rome. Many men were proposed as popes, but when a dove landed on St. Fabian, the people took it as a sign and he was elected pope then and there. Besides this story we know very little about him. He was martyred in 250 at the start of a major persecution under the emperor, Decius.

Signs are indicators of what is or what should be done. A “Stop” sign means we should stop at an intersection. A “Sale” sign indicates that there is something that can be bought for a lower price than usual. For the people of Rome, a dove landing on St. Fabian was a sign to choose him pope.

What other signs does God send to us? We have the “Sign of the Cross” which demonstrates our faith in the Trinity and the redemptive death of Jesus. We have the sign of the sacraments, symbols which bring about what they indicate: Baptism, new life in Christ; Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus; Reconciliation, a return to a loving relationship with God. God places other signs in front of us every day: his presence in each one of us. We are signs of his love to others. We are signs of his efforts to bring about his Kingdom, as we pray, “Thy kingdom come.” When we look in the mirror do we see his love in our faces? Do we mirror his love? As St. Fabian was chosen by a sign, let us be a sign of choosing God’s love.