Sunday, August 13, 2017

August 24: St. Bartholomew, Apostle

The only way we know St. Bartholomew from the New Testament is because his name is in the list of apostles.  That's it!  He is identified with the apostle Nathanael who, when told that the Messiah was from Nazareth, asked, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (Jn. 1:46)  Jesus paid him the compliment of saying that he was a true Israelite, without duplicity (Jn. 1:47).  So, we know that Bartholomew was an honest man.  We also know from legend that he died a martyr, undergoing the torture of having his skin cut off his body while still alive.  As an apostle, he was a missionary to distant lands; some accounts have him preaching in Ethiopia and Mesopotamia, as well as India and Armenia.

Nevertheless, he was an apostle; one sent to preach the Good News.  As an apostle, he had a special authority.  It is on the apostles that Jesus built his Church.  They are the ones who were trained by him, who were his closest friends and followers, who were called to witness to his mission.  We are Christians because they spread the Good News to our ancestors.

However, Jesus gave ALL his disciples a commission:  "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."  We are not apostles, but we are disciples.  We go forth, in union with the successors of the apostles, the bishops and pope, to bring Christ to all the world, and even to our own neighborhood and workplace.

August 8--St. Dominic, Religious

We may meet people on the street begging for food or money or anything that can be given. They may be veterans, homeless, families, or just passing through. Nonetheless, their situation is not enviable. Our present saint chose to be a beggar, but through the desire to offer good example to others.

St. Dominic de Guzman was from Spain in the 12th century, but on a trip through southern France encountered a dangerous heresy located in and near the town of Albi, thus the name Albigensianism. This group of "the pure" believed that there were two basic principles of the world, good and evil. But good was only spiritual, and anything material was thus evil, including the human body. This led to the denial of the Incarnation, as well as the sacraments and the preference of living together without Marriage to Marriage. They also preferred suicide as a way to "release" the soul from its confinement in the body. They were also anti-clerical due to the wealth and preferential benefits given to priests.

St. Dominic founded a religious order to preach to these people, but they would live lives of self-sacrifice rather than luxury. To that end, the Dominicans were a mendicant, or begging order, just like the Franciscans, their contemporaries. They preached by word and example. We are called to share our faith by word and example. Do we defend Church teachings when the rest of society attacks it in the name of autonomy or equality? Do we respect the dignity of all people, even when they support living contrary to natural law? Word and example--truth and love--are what are needed today to share Jesus' message.

August 1--St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Bishop and Doctor

Many people may remember a TV lawyer show called "Perry Mason" starring Raymond Burr. Every week Perry was called upon to defend someone who "obviously" committed the murder. By the end of the show Mason not only managed to clear his client of the charges, he also figured out who the murderer was. In ten seasons he lost only two cases. Today's saint lost only one case in his entire legal career, but it was enough to help him realize that God was calling him to the priesthood and to a life of care of souls rather than property.

St. Alphonsus Ligouri was important in the Church for many things. He founded the Redemptorist order in the 18th century, which was dedicated to serving peasants in rural areas. But he is also known for his guidance on moral matters. As a former lawyer and priest who heard confessions, he walked the fine line between being lenient and strict. He wanted people to both understand that sin is always an evil thing, but also that we are forgiven for our sins when we repent. He wrote extensively on the topic, which is why he is a Doctor of the Church and patron of moral theologians.

Some say that morality is whatever our consciences choose is right. Our consciences don't choose right or wrong, they discover the truth of the morality of an action. Plus, we have to form our consciences to help us know the truth. That means we must listen and follow those who guide us on moral truth, namely the Church's Magisterium, or teaching authority. St. Alphonsus knew this and guided his charges appropriately.

July 22--St. Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles

St. Mary Magdalene--Wasn't she the prostitute who washed Jesus' feet with her hair? No, that woman was unnamed. Oh, then she was the sister of Martha and Lazarus, right? No, that Mary was always mentioned with her sister and brother. Okay, then she was the wife of Clopas, okay? Nope, wrong again. Alright, was she the wife of Jesus? WRONG!

No, Mary of Magdala, or Mary Magdalene, was the woman from whom Jesus cast out the seven demons. She also was at the foot of the cross with the Blessed Virgin Mary and John. Finally, and most importantly, she was the first witness to the risen Jesus. In all four Gospels, she is mentioned by name, the only person to have that honor, thus showing her importance as witness. In John's Gospel, she is even commissioned by Jesus to go to the Apostles and let them know of his resurrection. That is why she is called Apostle to the Apostles.

What is our legacy? How will we be remembered; as Catholics dedicated to truth and love, commissioned by Jesus to live our lives as disciples even when we are opposed and called bigots; or as cafeteria Catholics, those dedicated to the truths and loves with which we agree, living as though what we believed should not influence our actions so that we can practice "tolerance" of one another? We are not called to tolerance, but to love! Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commands," not suggestions, not guidelines, not political platforms that can be disregarded or waived. Mary Magdalene has one legacy that is essential: She loved and obeyed Jesus.

July 16--Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Besides being saints and blesseds, what do St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, St. Simon Stock, and St. Elizabeth of the Trinity have in common? They are all Carmelites, or members of the Order of Mt. Carmel. When hermits lived in a cave on Mt. Carmel in northern Israel in the 12th century, they dedicated a chapel to Our Lady. By the next century they became known as the Brothers of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel.

The order spread to Spain where St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross reformed the order in the 16th century. Both are Doctors of the Church. St. Therese of Lisieux is also a Doctor of the Church and was a member in 19th century France. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was a member in 20th century Germany and an esteemed philosopher before she was martyred by the Nazis. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi was a 16th century Italian mystic; St. Simon Stock was a 13th century Englishman who was an early leader of the order; and St. Elizabeth of the Trinity was a 20th century French mystic.

Although we do not necessarily belong to the Order of Mt. Carmel, we still have the same powerful patroness as they do, the Blessed Virgin Mary. We can follow the Carmelites, who honor Mary, who worships Jesus, who is our Lord and Savior. We share with them the joy that the Holy Spirit gives us when we profess our faith, witness to our hope, and live our love of God.

June 28--St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Bishop and Martyr

What if there was a "secret" knowledge of Jesus that only a few "real" believers knew about? It would be like being a member of a secret society, with certain code words and beliefs that no one else would understand without being privy to that "knowledge". This describes the Gnostic heresy that today's saint had to combat.

St. Irenaeus was a disciple of St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist, thus emphasizing Apostolic Succession. He lived in the second and third centuries and was a great theologian. The heresy he faced was Gnosticism which consisted of various groups and teachings. However, the main teaching was that the Gnostics had access to a secret oral tradition of Jesus that only they knew about and was superior to the teachings of the Church. St. Irenaeus researched all the variations of the time and wrote the book Against Heresies to both accurately explain the false teachings of the heretics and the correct teachings of the Church.

St. Irenaeus emphasized the role of the Church and Apostolic Succession in his teachings, pointing out the novelty of the new teachings and the truth of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition. We run across the same situations today, with people sharing false new versions of who Jesus is, such as being the husband of Mary Magdalene or just being a good teacher of morality or one who would accept everyone no matter who they "loved" as long as they "loved" them. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching" (Heb. 13:8). St. Irenaeus, pray for us.

June 27--St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor

Are saints always well-mannered, polite, tactful, correct in their practices and policies? Do they ever behave rashly or rudely or even sinfully? Today's saint was not always "saintly”. St. Cyril was a Church Father and Doctor of the Church due to his correct teaching about Jesus as being both God and man.

In the fifth century the Church was trying to figure out the true understanding of Jesus. The Council of Ephesus was convoked in 431 because there was some false teaching about Jesus that indicated that he was not both fully God and fully man. Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, had declared that Mary could be called the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of Christ, but NOT the Mother of God. This was an attack on Jesus as God and man! St. Cyril led the way in affirming that Mary was Theotokos, which means God-bearer, at the council. This helped in understanding of Christ as having two natures.

However, early in his career he had participated in the removal of a saint from the patriarchate of Constantinople, he expelled the Jews from Alexandria for their attacks on Christians, and he confiscated church buildings from a heretical group of Christians. In other words, he was intemperate and unwise. One could even say sinful.

No saint claims to not be a sinner. One does not become a saint at conception (except for the Virgin Mary, of course), but rather it takes a lifetime of conversion. Our call to holiness, our call to sainthood, is a lifelong journey and struggle. But with the grace of God, we can overcome our intemperance, folly, and even sinfulness, as did St. Cyril.