Sunday, January 19, 2020

January 27--St. Angela Merici, Virgin


There are many ways to follow God’s baptismal call to holiness: single life, married life, consecrated life, and the ordained life. Of these, consecrated life has the most variations, including religious orders as well as hermits, consecrated virgins and widows, secular institutes, and societies of apostolic life. Today’s saint was one of the women who pioneered a new form of consecrated life, akin to modern-day secular institutes.

St. Angela Merici founded the Company of St. Ursula in 1535 in Brescia, Italy. They were meant to be in the world, but not of it. Their members consecrated themselves to God and promised celibacy, but they lived at home with their own families and served in their communities, primarily as teachers of girls in order to re-Christianize family life through being holy wives and mothers. Later they gathered in communities with one another and served throughout the world.

St. Angela started early in life as a Third Order Franciscan, maintaining a life in the secular world with a holy intent. She converted her home into a school where she taught the girls of the town in the basics of Christianity. Later, she started a school in Brescia, where, with her companions, they established the first women’s teaching order. She died in 1540 and was canonized in 1807.

Most of us are called to be in the world, not of it. That means we are called to transform the world, to help bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. We are all called to holiness through single life or married life or consecrated life or ordained life. We are called to listen to how God wants us to respond. Are we called to teach, serve, love, pray, and live as disciples? Absolutely! We are freed by our calling! St. Angela Merici, pray for us.
*Image: Benedetto Pietrogrande, “Angèle Merici”; Peter Kostner, sculptor, 1990. Church of St. Angela, Desenzano

Sunday, January 12, 2020

January 21--St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr

File:Saint Joseph's Catholic Church (Central City, Kentucky) - stained glass, St. Agnes, detail.jpg*

Why is virginity celebrated? In our day and age virginity is celebrated in absentia; namely, chastity and purity are held in low regard and the right to engage in sexual activity is not only expected, but promoted, even among minors. But the Catholic Church holds that virginity and chastity and self-restraint in the face of overwhelming societal promotion of self-indulgence are not only commendable, but holy and graced by God. Marriage between a man and a woman is the proper relationship of sexual love with its complementary unity and openness to procreation.

Today’s saint respected virginity AND marriage to the point of offering herself up for martyrdom in witness to her love for Jesus. St. Agnes was about twelve years old when she was arrested. Although there are many legends that surround her passion and death, the core of the stories conveys the truth of her holiness. She was soon to be able to be married when she refused propositions because she had consecrated her virginity to Jesus. She was reported to the authorities during the reign of Diocletian, the most comprehensive persecution in the ancient world, in AD 304. The judge of her trial tried to get her to give up her faith and threatened her with fire and torture. She was stripped at a brothel and threatened with rape. She was executed in a stadium by being hacked to death with a sword.

We have a modern martyr just like St. Agnes in St. Maria Goretti, who was eleven years old when she was killed for not giving in to lustful advances. Martyrdom is a gift for those who love God enough to suffer the ultimate sacrifice, life. St. Agnes, St. Maria Goretti, and others have offered their lives for the sake of love of God, the true offering of virginity.


Sunday, January 5, 2020

January 13--St. Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop and Doctor

File:Saint-Hilaire-de-Poitiers Reliquienschrein.jpg*

Arianism is the heresy that teaches that Jesus cannot be God because there is only one God and if Jesus is God, then there are two gods. Arius got it partially right and completely wrong. There is only one God AND Jesus is God: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father” as it says in the Nicene Creed adopted at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

So, what does this have to do with our saint? St. Hilary of Poitiers was born in 315, was baptized in 350, and was acclaimed bishop in 353. As bishop he held the truth of the Catholic Church against Arianism and was banished by the emperors, who supported Arianism. St. Hilary wrote a major treatise against Arianism in order to teach why Jesus is God as well as the Son of God. St. Hilary died in 368. Arianism was condemned again in 381 and finally defeated in the sixth century in France.

Heresies start out as logical conclusions based on specific choices, but without taking into context the whole of the faith. For example, Arianism was based on the oneness of God, which is true. However, it did not take into account the faith that Jesus is God. And for that, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, were lured away from the true faith. People today are also lured away from the faith by denials of the truths of God. They rely on their own choices and make up their own faith and call it Catholic. We must stand true to the faith of Jesus in the Church, even if it means banishment from our society.


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

January 7--St. Raymond of Penyafort, Priest and Religious


''The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.'' (Dick the Butcher in ''Henry VI,'' Part II, act IV, Scene II, Line 73) This line by an English rebel shows the respect due to lawyers in keeping justice in a society. The same respect for canon lawyers, or lawyers who interpret Church law, is also necessary.

St. Raymond of Penyafort was both a secular and a canon, or Church, lawyer. Born in 1175 in Spain, he joined the Dominicans at the age of 47 in 1222 and developed a book of case studies to help confessors guide penitents, which became a medieval classic. As a canon lawyer he also collected the decrees of the popes and councils for over 80 years. These became the basis for canon law until 1917. Not only was he a great canonist, but he was also a great preacher who converted thousands of Moors in Spain. He was the third leader of the Dominicans. He died in 1275.

St. Raymond advised people on how to engage in spiritual combat and bear suffering: “The preacher of God’s truth has told us that all who want to live righteously in Christ will suffer persecution. . . . Your purity of life, your devotion, deserve and call for a reward; because you are acceptable and pleasing to God your purity of life must be made purer still, by frequent buffetings, until you attain perfect sincerity of heart. If from time to time you feel the sword falling on you with double or treble force, this also should be seen as sheer joy and the mark of love.” Thus, suffering is a sign of God’s love and a call to love as Jesus did. When we love, we are open to suffering! St. Raymond, pray for us.


Sunday, December 8, 2019

December 29--St. Thomas Beckett, Bishop and Martyr


One of the great films of saints is about St. Thomas Becket entitled Becket, starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole from 1964. The synopsis states: “Debauched King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) installs his longtime court facilitator Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) as the Archbishop of Canterbury, assuming that his old friend will be a compliant and loyal lackey in the King's ongoing battles with the church. But Becket unexpectedly finds his true calling on the ecclesiastical side, and aligns himself against the king's selfish wishes, causing a rift and an eventual showdown not only between the two men, but also the institutions they represent.”

St. Thomas Becket was martyred by his erstwhile friend because Henry wanted his own way with the Church. St. Thomas was murdered while saying Mass at Canterbury Cathedral on December 29, 1170. But what led up to such a falling out? “He quickly began to take his new office very seriously. It is said that he lived an almost ascetic lifestyle, rising early to pray, enduring humilities like washing the feet of the poor, wearing a purposely uncomfortable hair shirt, scourging himself out of indifference to his flesh, studying the scriptures, and surrounding himself with learned churchmen. It was not long before he came into conflict with the king over the rights and authority of the church, as well as the notion of church taxation.” (

In other words, the worldly Thomas became saintly Thomas. We are all called to holiness. Sometimes that call means a call to metanoia, or conversion. Conversion means changing from what keeps us from God to what draws us to God. That may mean a change of life or a change of practice or a change of philosophy or a change of policy. Nonetheless, God’s call is a radical call that will brook no Henry II.

December 28--The Holy Innocents, Martyrs


“When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
     ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
     sobbing and loud lamentation;
     Rachel weeping for her children,
     and she would not be consoled,
     since they were no more.’” (Mt. 2:16-18)

Why do we celebrate a day dedicated to evil and violence and the massacre of innocent babies? We commemorate what Jesus came to earth to overcome. Jesus was a near-victim of such violence, foreshadowing his own innocent death, the execution of God. Jesus defeated evil with his own Paschal Mystery. There is still evil in the world and will be until Jesus comes again with the Final Judgment.

In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church proclaims the praises of these innocent children: “Clothed in white robes, they will walk with me, says the Lord, for they are worthy.” And, “These children cry out their praises to the Lord; by their death they have proclaimed what they could not preach with their infant voices.” And again, “From the mouths of children and babies at the breast you have found praise to foil your enemies.” And finally, “At the king’s command these innocent babies and little children were put to death; they died for Christ, and now in the glory of heaven as they follow him, the sinless Lamb, they sing for ever: Glory to you, O Lord.”

We can “celebrate” this event, not because of its evil, but because of its warning to us. The sixty million Innocents also sing to God for justice to be done and evil to be banished forever.


December 17--St. Olympias, Widow

File:Saint Olympia.JPG*

Today’s saint, St. Olympias, is primarily known for her charity as well as her friendship with a saint who caused no end of trouble to the rulers of Constantinople.  St. Olympias lived from about 365 to 408 A.D. in either Constantinople or Antioch.  She was a relative of the emperors and after the death of her husband was even courted by Emperor Theodosius.  However, she dedicated her life to the Church and gave away her wealth to the needy and to the Church.  She also built a hospital and orphanage.  She became a friend and supporter of St. John Chrysostom, a patriarch of Constantinople who offended the empress, to the point of being exiled.  Her support was so strong that she, too, was exiled, ending her religious community and charitable works.  She died in exile in 408.

St. John Chrysostom wrote these words to Olympias:  “I cannot cease to call you blessed.  You have borne your sorrows with patience and dignity.  You have managed delicate affairs with prudence and wisdom.  You have thrown a veil over the malice of your persecutors with charity.  Thus you have won a glory and reward that in the future will make all your sufferings seem light and passing in the presence of eternal joy.”

Friendship is a great gift and also a responsibility.  When we have a friend, we are called to support and care for that friend to bring the friend to Jesus, our ultimate friend.  We encourage our friends in Christ so that they may develop in holiness and love.  Many saints had friends with other saints, such as Sts. Olympias and John Chrysostom.  We need to look for and develop saintly friendships so we, too, may be brought to Jesus in Heaven with our friend.  St. Olympias, pray for us.