Monday, August 12, 2019

August 23--St. Rose of Lima, Virgin

“No pain, no gain!” We apply that to athletes, but what about saints? How should we act if we want to be totally dedicated to Jesus? Should we be willing to suffer to the nth degree. St. Rose wanted to be like St. Catherine of Siena and imitate her actions and acts of suffering. To that end she fasted often and sometimes made herself vomit after meals, which we would regard as bulimia. She frequently beat herself with a little whip! To make herself unattractive and unmarriageable she would rub pepper on her face. Eventually, she took a vow of virginity and became a third-order Dominican, like St. Catherine. She died in 1617 and was canonized about 50 years later, the first person in the Americas to be recognized as a saint.

Some of these actions are quite severe, although self-mortification is seen as a way of imitating the suffering of Christ. St. Rose of Lima found her way to God through such actions. But it was not without love or prayer or service to others. Today, we see athletes undergo severe suffering and admire their discipline and willingness to go beyond what others do. “No pain, no gain!” And yet, we shy at such a willingness to suffer for Christ.

God may not call us to undergo severe mortifications as St. Rose of Lima did. However, he does call us to pick up our cross and follow him. Being a disciple of Christ is not always easy and not always fun. But Jesus also said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt. 11:29-30) The key is to follow Christ as he calls us.

Monday, August 5, 2019

August 12--St. Jane de Chantal, Religious

When we think of saints, oftentimes it is in reference to their great works of evangelization and missionary work or writing volumes of theological insights or working amazing miracles. Today’s saint had none of those attributes. Rather, St. Jane Frances de Chantal was a baroness who bore seven children and became a widow when she was 28. She was known as an excellent manager of the properties of her husband as well as one who cared for others. She thought about becoming a cloistered nun, but her spiritual advisor, St. Francis de Sales, advised her against it. Instead, together they founded the Congregation of the Visitation, which consisted of women who were rejected by other religious orders due to age or infirmity. They served in the world in the same way as Mary did when she visited Elizabeth, namely going out to the sick and the poor and ministering to their needs. Eventually they were cloistered and could not go out into the world as they previously had done. However, their model served to show how women could be in the world and serve Christ and his Church as men did.

St. Jane de Chantal was an adept and sound administrator. By the time she died at the age of 69 in 1641, 86 houses were founded. She is the patroness of forgotten people, widows, and parents separated from their children. She also suffered a lifelong dark night of the soul, wherein she was tempted “to give up trying”. This temptation to give up on God tormented her, yet she remained faithful, even though it caused her terrible suffering.

When we think of saints, we need to remember the hidden saints who love and endure and serve and suffer and do the best they can, just as St. Jane de Chantal did.

Monday, July 29, 2019

August 9--St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr

Atheism has a hold on many in modern society on the grounds that immaterial things, like ideas and God, don’t exist; only material things, like bodies and matter, do. Atheism and materialism have many converts, including many scientists. They don’t seem to be able to deal with a reality that they can’t measure or perceive with their senses. Today’s saint, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, born as Edith Stein, was one such atheist, as well as philosopher.

She was born in 1891 to a Jewish family in Germany. She became an atheist at age 14 and later a philosopher. However, her search for truth, and reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, led her to convert to Catholicism. She taught in the universities in Germany until her Jewish heritage required her to step down. She became a Discalced Carmelite in 1933 and was sent to Holland in 1938 to escape Nazi oppression. Arrested in 1942 after the Dutch bishops condemned the Nazis, she was sent to Auschwitz where she was martyred along with her sister.

As a philosopher, she developed a proof for the existence of God based on the existence of human beings and our egos, which are dependent on the existence of a higher being, who is not dependent on any other being for existing. God is! We are because God is. But St. Teresa Benedicta did not die for a philosophical abstraction. Some claim that it is only because of her Jewish heritage that she was killed. However, her martyrdom was directly connected to the Dutch bishops’ condemnation of the immorality of the Nazis and thus, she is a true martyr. She died because she believed in a loving God who died for us. Atheism cannot comprehend such a love!

Friday, July 12, 2019

July 30--St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor

Pope Francis has placed the mercy of God as key to understanding God’s love in our lives. This was also true of today’s saint, Peter Chrysologus, who lived from A.D. 406-450 and was bishop of Ravenna, Italy. St. Peter was appointed bishop of the emperor’s administrative center in Italy when he was 27-years-old, probably at the emperor’s request.

He earned the title, “Chrysologus”, which means “golden-worded” because of his effective preaching and practical sermons. He is even called the “Doctor of Homilies” because of his simple, yet theologically profound words. He once said, “Ordinary language is dear to simple souls and sweet to the learned.”

He also spoke about how mercy is one of the three things through which faith stands firm, along with prayer and fasting: “When mercy dries up, fasting suffers drought, for mercy is to fasting what rain is to the earth. The one who fasts may prepare his heart, cleanse his flesh, pull out his vices and sow virtues. But if he does not sprinkle his plants with streams of mercy, he does not gather his harvest. O faster, when your mercy fasts, your field fasts too.”

“Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you” (Ps. 33:22). This could be the motto of St. Peter Chrysologus, or even of Pope Francis. Jesus told us in the parable of the unforgiving servant: “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” (Mt. 18:33). He told the Pharisees: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” He is also telling that to us! Pope Francis called an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy for 2015-2016. That may be over, but the purpose of the Jubilee Year is not. We are all called to holiness and a supreme expression of holiness is mercy!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

July 21--St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Priest and Doctor

We are familiar with many Doctors of the Church, men and women who have outstanding holiness, depth of doctrinal insight, and an extensive body of writings that help us to know and understand our faith. We know Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Catherine of Siena. There are 36 altogether. But today’s saint is one of the lesser known doctors, St. Lawrence of Brindisi. He was born in Italy in 1559, joined the Capuchin Franciscans in 1575, and died in 1619. He was a linguist, diplomat, miracle-worker, healer, superior of the Capuchins, preacher, theologian, scholar, writer, crusader, and of course, saint.

Each of these functions is worth a book in itself. He was so good at Hebrew that he was tasked to preach to the Jews in Rome, who thought he was a convert from Judaism, he was so well-versed in Hebrew, the Old Testament, and in the Aramaic commentaries. As a diplomat he was asked to reconcile Christian princes with one another and their subjects. He healed people of illnesses and even levitated during Mass. He was chosen to be superior of the Capuchins when he was only 31. He preached in Lutheran Germany and won thousands back to Catholicism. He wrote that God would have become man even if there was no Original Sin, because God is love and he highest expression of God’s love is the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He held up a crucifix and led Christian soldiers against the Muslim armies who were attempting to invade Europe at the Battle of Shuhlweissenburg in Hungary in 1601. Through it all he maintained holiness and love of Jesus.

We are not called to do what St. Lawrence did, but we are called to live out our faith. We are all called to be holy by the grace of God.

Monday, July 8, 2019

July 19--St. Macrina the Younger, Virgin

The eldest in a family oftentimes has the responsibility of assisting the parents in raising the younger siblings and, even though parents are the first teachers of all their children, a first-born can be quite influential. Such is true with today’s saint, Macrina the Younger, born about A.D. 327. Named for her grandmother, also a saint, Macrina was the eldest of St. Basil and St. Emmelia’s ten children. Her brothers were St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Peter of Sebaste.

St. Macrina was prominent in helping her brothers become the saints they were. She was taught by her mother in the ways of Scripture and helped form her siblings. She helped St. Basil realize the importance of Scripture and persuaded him to be a monk. She also became a nun.  St. Gregory found her to be eloquent regarding death and future life.

In his biography of her, he wrote her words: “O Lord, you have freed us from the fear of death. You have made the end of life here the beginning of a true life for us. For a time, you give rest to our bodies in sleep and you awaken us again with the trumpet. The dust from which you fashioned us with your hands you give back to the earth for safe-keeping. And you will recall it, transforming with immortality and grace our mortal and graceless remains. …

“You who have power on earth to forgive sins, forgive me so that I may be refreshed. May I be found before you once I have put off my body, having no fault in the form of my soul. May my soul be received into your hands, blameless and spotless, as an offering before you.”

Would that we always follow our elder siblings in the faith! St. Macrina, pray for us.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

July 9—St. Veronica Giuliani, Abbess

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote one way we can combat scandal is through a greater reverence for the Eucharist: “The way people often simply receive the Holy Sacrament in communion as a matter of course shows that many see communion as a purely ceremonial gesture. Therefore, when thinking about what action is required first and foremost, it is rather obvious that we do not need another Church of our own design. Rather, what is required first and foremost is the renewal of the Faith in the Reality of Jesus Christ given to us in the Blessed Sacrament.” 

Today’s saint spoke of the joy of communion about 300 years ago! St. Veronica Giuliani was a holy woman who became novice mistress and abbess of her convent. She also received the stigmata of Christ, which caused her humiliation. However, she experienced a profound communion with God and shared that in her diary: “While I was about to go to Holy Communion, I seemed to be thrown wide open like a door flung open to welcome a close friend and then shut tight after his entry. So my heart was alone with him—alone with God. … Love makes the heart leap and dance. Love makes it exult and be festive. … Love possesses it and gives it everything. Love takes it over completely and dwells in it. But I am unable to say more because if I wished to relate all the effects that my heart experiences in the act of going to Holy Communion and also at other times, I would never finish saying everything. It is sufficient to say that communion is a … mansion of love itself.”

Jesus blesses us with his presence and brings us to holiness by giving us himself! Would that we remember what that really means! We would be focused on Jesus, joy, and holiness, rather than scandal.