Monday, July 13, 2020

July 20—St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr


If at first, you don’t succeed… well you know the rest. But what about attempting the conversion of others? What about facing continued rejection, intimidation, and even threats of persecution and death? Are we required to share our faith with others who hate us and hate what we believe? Are we called to bring Christ to them, or should we leave them be? Afterall, Jesus did say, “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet” (Mt. 10:14) and “When they persecute you in one town, flee to another” (Mt. 10:23).

This may have been in the mind of today’s saint, Apollinaris. According to legend, he was sent by St. Peter to the city of Ravenna, Italy. With the working of miracles, he attracted attention and converts, but also enemies, who beat him and drove him out. He was found and hidden by Christians, but then captured, compelled to walk on coals and again expelled. He stayed in the area and preached, but later returned a third time to Ravenna. “Again he was captured, hacked with knives, had scalding water poured over his wounds, was beaten in the mouth with stones, … was flung into a horrible dungeon to starve to death;” but then put on a ship to Greece. After four years he returned to Ravenna a fourth time, staying hidden, but was discovered and, again, savagely beaten, after which he died.

What compelled him to keep returning when he knew what would happen to him? It may be, that as bishop he wanted to be with his flock. Whatever his reasons, he faced death for the sake of the Gospel. We may not be called to die for the faith, but we are called to witness.

Monday, June 29, 2020

July 9--St. Augustine Zhao Rong and Companions, Martyrs


Is Catholicism a Western ideology or a universal religion? This is an important question if we are to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. St. Augustine Zhao Rong was one of 87 native Chinese, along with 33 foreign-born missionaries who were martyred between 1648 and 1930. He was a soldier assigned to escort a French bishop in China. St. Augustine was so impressed by the priest and his patience he converted and soon became a priest. However, Catholicism was seen as a foreign religion and a threat to Chinese culture. Shortly after his ordination, St. Augustine Zhao Rong was “jailed, tortured, and left to die in prison” in 1815. Many were martyred during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, one a nine-year-old. None of the martyrs were engaged in political activities, nor were they agents of Western colonial powers, although that was what the governments feared. They were living their faith in Jesus.

The word catholic means universal. We have been given a command by Jesus to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19-20). To do so we must inculturate, or adapt to the local culture, the message of Jesus and the faith of the Church. That is what missionaries do and have done through the centuries! Some have been more successful than others, but the goal has never been to wipe out other cultures to supplant it with Western culture, although many in modern society have accused the Church of doing so. Thus, the destruction of statues of St. Junipero Serra! We are called to love, not destroy.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

July 17--The Sixteen Blessed Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne, Religious and Martyrs


When does might make right? Is it when we force others to do something because we know it is right? Is it when we punish others for not doing what we know to be right? Is it when we rule as a mob and persecute those who don’t have a right belief? Oh, this isn’t about the current civil unrest. No, this is about the Committee of Public Safety in Revolutionary France. This was the ad hoc government which oversaw the Reign of Terror in France with Maximilien Robespierre as their leader. From 1793 to 1794 16,594 men, women, and children were executed. Of those were sixteen women who were evicted from their convent in 1792. They were arrested in 1794 for refusing to recognize Reason as France’s official religion.

When brought before a prosecutor to answer to the charge of “persistent fanaticism,” one of the nuns asked what that meant. The prosecutor responded, “By fanaticism, I mean your attachment to childish practices and your stupid beliefs.” He then sentenced the sixteen women to death on the guillotine. They were executed that night, starting with a nineteen-year-old novice, who started chanting Psalm 117: “Praise the Lord, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples! His mercy for us is strong; the faithfulness of the Lord is forever. Hallelujah!” The sisters took up the chant. The last to be executed was a seventy-nine-year-old nun who shouted, “I forgive you as heartily as I wish God to forgive me.” They offered their lives in martyrdom and love on July 17, 1794.

Might does not make right. It didn’t during the Reign of Terror. It doesn’t today. It won’t tomorrow. God’s love makes right because Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn. 14:6). May we follow in their footsteps!

Monday, June 22, 2020

July 5--St. Elizabeth of Portugal, Holy Woman



Do you have a peacemaker in your family; someone who can patch things up when one relative insults another, or when family members get into a dispute? Well, the Iberian peninsula and all its royalty had a saint to help them out, Elizabeth of Portugal. She was born to the future King of Aragon in 1271, betrothed to the King of Portugal in 1282, and married in 1288. Her brothers were kings of Aragon and Sicily; her son-in-law, King of Castile. So her whole family tended to want their way, being kings! She, on the other hand, was devout, even as a child. She is quoted as far as understanding her role in life: “God made me queen so that I may serve others.” And she served in many ways, but most notably as a peacemaker by stopping a civil war between her husband and son and as well as stopping a war between her son and son-in-law. Legend has it that in the civil war she rode on a mule between the two sides to prevent combat. She even negotiated a peace treaty with the Queen of Castile. After her husband died in 1325, she became a Third Order Franciscan, retired to a convent, and died in 1336.

Kings often have huge egos. We also tend to have huge egos, inflated by pride and self-righteousness. When we perceive a comment as an insult or even a disagreement with a cherished belief, we tend to lash out, causing pain and suffering. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt. 5:9). Many times he gives us those peacemakers to calm the waters and, even sometimes, to deflate our egos. If we have egos the size of royalty, may God send us peacemakers, such as St. Elizabeth!

Monday, June 15, 2020

June 22--St. Paulinus of Nola, Bishop


What is a friend? A companion; someone to be with and share time with. Aristotle said a friend is “a single soul in two bodies.” Holy friendship is beyond that. It is a companionship in Christ. Our saint today was a holy friend to many saints, Augustine, Ambrose, Martin of Tours, Jerome, and more.

St. Paulinus of Nola was a political man, becoming Governor of Campania in Italy in the fourth century at a young age, serving the people. However, he lost favor with the political authorities and learned the limits of earthly ambition. He went to learn from St. Ambrose and then went to his native land of Bordeaux and was baptized. He found a new friend in his wife Therasia of Barcelona, with whom he had a son. But after their son died a week after birth they saw that God had another path for them. They gave up all their possessions and moved back to Nola in Campania, where they lived as brother and sister in a community. He had been ordained in Barcelona and took up priestly duties in Nola, eventually being chosen as bishop.

He writes about holy friendship: “It is not surprising if, despite being far apart, we are present to each other and, without being acquainted, know each other, because we are members of one body, we have one head, we are steeped in one grace, we live on one loaf, we walk on one road and we dwell in the same house” (Ep. VI, 2). Jesus said to his disciples: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn. 15:13-14). Paulinus invites us to remember what true friendship is, life in Jesus Christ!


Monday, June 8, 2020

Friday Following the Second Sunday After Pentecost—Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus


“The veneration of the Sacred Heart is a summary of all our religion and, moreover, a guide to a more perfect life. It more easily leads our minds to know Christ the Lord intimately and more effectively turns our hearts to love him more ardently and to imitate Him more perfectly” (Pope Pius XI, 1928). So that is all you need to know.

But wait, there’s more! The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus came from devotion to the humanity of Jesus, but it developed from the devotion to the Passion of Jesus and the Sacred Wounds. Many saints fostered this devotion, including St. Bonaventure, St. John Eudes, and the mystics St. Lutgarde, St. Mechtilde and St. Gertrude the Great. But the saint who promoted it in its modern form is St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. She had a vision of Jesus showing his heart in flames—“a sign of his burning love for the souls He had ransomed with his sacrifice on the Cross.” With the help of the Jesuit, St. Claude de la Colombière, she fostered the devotion to the point where it was liturgically celebrated in 1670, established as a feast for the whole Church in 1856, and raised to the highest rank of solemnity in 1928. Since 2002, it is also a special Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests.

That’s the theology and history, but what about its place in our hearts? Jesus’ Sacred Heart is a sign of his complete love for us. Further, the entire month of June is the Month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This guides us away from the secular celebration of “Pride” month, pride being the worst of the seven deadly sins! Love is about humility, service, and sacrifice, all of which are shown through Jesus’ Sacred Heart.

Monday, June 1, 2020

June 9—St. Ephrem the Syrian, Deacon and Doctor of the Church


I bet you learned your ABCs by singing the Alphabet Song. You may also know songs that tell what the planets are. You may have difficulty with the Star-Spangle Banner but try reciting it! I imagine you will break into song within the first five lines. Why is that? Music appeals to a different part of the brain and memorization is a lot easier when put to music. Today’s saint probably knew that. St. Ephrem, also known as the “Harp of the Holy Spirit,” would write over 400 hymns to counter the heretical songs then prevalent.

St. Ephrem was born in AD 306 in Nisibis, Syria, now located in Turkey. He became a deacon but declined the priesthood. He died around AD 373 and was named Doctor of the Church in 1920. When Nisibis fell to the Persians he moved to Edessa and founded a school to teach orthodoxy against Arianism, Manicheism, Gnosticism, and other teachings and religions. He used poetry and music to bring people to Christ. For example, he wrote a hymn about Mary, which also taught about the Incarnation:

“A wonder is Your mother: the Lord entered her
And became a servant; He entered able to speak
And He became silent in her, He entered her thundering
And His voice grew silent; He entered Shepherd of all;
A lamb He became in her; He emerged bleating.” (113, L. Gambero)

The New Evangelization is a method of bring Christ’s message to those who have already heard it. We need to speak, or as St. Ephrem did, sing the Good News. We need to engage our brothers and sisters to stir their hearts in the joy and peace of Christ’s love through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. Let us follow in St. Ephrem’s “song” steps.