Monday, June 18, 2018

June 30--First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church

These men and women were arrested because of their faith in Jesus, and because they were an easy group to blame for the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote:

“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.… Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

“Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”

According to a National Catholic Register article of Jan. 16, 2018, “There are more than 215 million persecuted Christians worldwide, according to the 2018 ‘World Watch List,’ Open Doors USA’s annual ranking of the 50 worst countries for violence and persecution against Christians.” This includes 3,066 Christians killed, 1,252 abducted; 1,020 raped or sexually harassed; and 793 churches attacked.

We need to be aware that martyrdom is not an ancient phenomenon. We need to pray for our brothers and sisters, who are witnessing to our faith. Mary, Mother of Martyrs, pray for us.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

June 17—St. Albert Chmielowski, Religious

Saints come from many ways of life; soldiers, such as St. Martin of Tours and St. Sebastian; aristocratic families and wealth, such as St. Francis Borgia and St. Katherine Drexel; artists, such as St. Catherine of Bologna and St. Luke; or even celebrities, such as St. Bernadette of Lourdes and St. Catherine of Siena. Today’s saint had all those characteristics: St. Albert Chmielowski. St. Albert was born into an aristocratic family near Krakow, Poland in 1845. As Poland had been partitioned three times in the 18th century, many Poles rebelled, including St. Albert. He was part of the January Insurrection of 1863-1864 and lost his leg during a battle. After the uprising, he became a painter and was celebrated as one of the premier artists of Poland.

However, he wanted more from life, namely, to grow closer to God. He became a Third Order Franciscan and was allowed to run Krakow’s homeless shelter. He sold his paintings to pay for improvements. He banned alcohol from the shelter, asked residents to work, taught them working skills, and taught them the Catechism. He set up two religious orders, the Albertine Brothers and Sisters, who were dedicated to serving the poor. St. Albert died in 1916. Pope St. John Paul II was deeply impacted by St. Albert, writing a play about him in 1949, Our God’s Brother, which is about a legendary meeting between St. Albert and Vladimir Lenin.

God calls us wherever we are and in whatever state we are. He calls us to be holy and to come closer to him through our brothers and sisters who are dependent on our efforts. God saves us through others and he calls us to save others through our service to them and our love of them. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

June 12--108 Blessed Martyrs of Poland

Today, we remember the men and women of Poland who offered their lives in witness to their faith. Between 1939 and 1945, 108 bishops, priests, brothers, sisters, and laity were martyred due to the hatred of the faith, odium fidei, the Nazis held toward Catholics. In 1999, when Pope St. John Paul II beatified these faithful, he said:

“Today we are celebrating the victory of those who, in our time, gave their lives for Christ, in order to possess life forever in his glory. This victory has a special character, since it was shared by clergy and laity alike, by young people and old, by people from different classes and states. Among them are Archbishop Antoni Julian Nowowiejski, Pastor of the Diocese of Plock, tortured to death at Dzialdowo; Bishop Wladyslaw Goral of Lublin, tortured with particular hatred simply because he was a Catholic Bishop. There are diocesan and religious priests who died because they chose not to abandon their ministry and because they continued to serve their fellow prisoners who were sick with typhus; some were tortured to death because they defended Jews. In the group of Blessed there are religious brothers and sisters who persevered in the service of charity and in offering their torments for their neighbor. Among the blessed martyrs there are also lay people. There are five young people formed in the Salesian oratory; a zealous activist of Catholic Action, a lay catechist tortured to death for his service and an heroic woman, who give up her own life in exchange for that of her daughter-in-law who was with child. These blessed martyrs are today inscribed in the history of holiness of the People of God on pilgrimage for over a thousand years in the land of Poland.

“If we rejoice today for the beatification of one hundred and eight martyrs, clergy and lay people, we do so above all because they bear witness to the victory of Christ, the gift which restores hope. As we carry out this solemn act, there is in a way rekindled in us the certainty that, independently of the circumstances, we can achieve complete victory in all things through the One who has loved us (cf. Rom 8:37). The blessed martyrs cry to our hearts: Believe in God who is love! Believe in him in good times and bad! Awaken hope! May it produce in you the fruit of fidelity to God in every trial!”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

May 27—St. Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop and Missionary

Our country is tilted toward England more than the other European countries that colonized this land. So, in many respects our culture leans toward the British. We follow English common law, the Magna Carta is a basis for the Constitution, and we speak English, allowing us to enjoy the great literature of our common tongue. So, it is worth considering the saint that brought the Church back to England in 597, St. Augustine of Canterbury.

England was Christian when the Roman empire was Christianized. But with the withdrawal of Roman legions from England in the 5th century, the island was overrun by Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from Germany. The king of Kent in southeastern England was Æthelbehrt, who married a Frankish princess, who was Catholic. This allowed St. Gregory the Great to send St. Augustine and a number of monks to Canterbury to convert the king and his kingdom. St. Augustine, not the great philosopher from Africa, was a Benedictine monk from Rome. Although his group of 40 companions were daunted by their task, St. Gregory encouraged them onward. Soon after his arrival they met with the king who converted that same year. Large-scale conversions of the people occurred quickly, although King Æthelbehrt never coerced his subjects to do so. He died in 604. St. Augustine of Canterbury is called the “Apostle to the English”.

Some say that King Æthelbehrt was predisposed to receive the Gospel by virtue of his marriage to a Catholic princess. It gives us a chance to keep in mind how we can predispose others to a deepening of their faith. WE MUST PRACTICE OUR FAITH! We are disciples called to spread the Good News. Our actions and our words show the depth of our discipleship.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

May 25--St. Bede the Venerable, Monk and Doctor of the Church

“History is more or less bunk,” according to Henry Ford. On the other hand, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said George Santayana. So, which is it? Do we need history, or can we skip it? St. Bede the Venerable would probably disagree with both statements. St. Bede was the author of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, a book about how the Church was established in England. This work established his claim to the title, “The Father of English History”. 

St. Bede, who became known as the Venerable Bede for his holiness, was educated in a monastery in the north of England, in the 7th century. He became a monk and then a deacon and priest. He wrote volumes on theology, including commentaries on the Old and New Testaments, as well as educational works and poetry. He knew science, philosophy, astronomy, arithmetic, and more. He is patron of scholars. He died in 735 and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1899 by Pope Leo XIII.

History is more than just a remembrance of things past. For Christians, history is about remembering where we came from and why. We came from men and women who followed Jesus. During the Mass, we respond to the Mystery of Faith: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.” Or, “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.” Or finally, “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.” Each of these is an “anamnesis”, which means “remembering” of the mystery of our faith. History is a good thing. We remember that Jesus saved us and continues to save us each day because he loves us.

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.