Sunday, February 25, 2024

March 8--St. John of God, Religious


Hospitals are a true legacy of the Catholic Church. The Council of Nicea in AD 325 decreed that every cathedral city should have a hospital to care for sick travelers. The importance of caring for the sick goes back to Jesus and the corporal works of mercy, when he said of those he identified with: “I was … ill and you cared for me” (Mt. 25:36). So it is not unusual for us to find saints who either founded hospitals or religious orders to care for the sick. That is the case with today’s saint, St. John of God.

Born in Portugal in 1495, João Duarte Cidade, John of God, lived the life of a soldier. After 40 years, he sought meaning and, after hearing a sermon by St. John of Avila, realized his sinfulness and publicly beat himself begging for mercy and repentance. He was committed to a mental hospital where St. John visited him and advised him to serve others rather than inflict punishment on himself. This persuaded John of God and he started attending to the sick poor, begging for funds for medical supplies and attending to patients in the hospital. He gathered others around him and founded the Order of Hospitallers. He died in 1550 from pneumonia after saving a man from drowning in Granada, Spain. He was declared patron of the dying and of hospitals by Pope Leo XIII. The Order of Hospitallers of St. John of God administers over 300 hospitals, services, and centers in 53 countries.

Catholic hospitals serve God by healing as Jesus did. Today, the Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of health care in the world, with over 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care facilities in the United States alone! St. John of God, pray for us.

Monday, February 12, 2024

February 18–Blessed Fra Angelico, Religious

San Marco Altarpiece by Fra Angelico in the public domain.

The Italian Renaissance produced some amazing artists, including Raphael, da Vinci, and Michelangelo. The Italian Renaissance also produced some amazing saints, including St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Benedict the African, and St. Angela Merici. However, there is only one figure of the Italian Renaissance who is both an amazing artist and a saint, Blessed Fra Angelico. Born Guido di Pietro about 1395 near Florence, Italy, Brother John of Fiesole, also known as Fra Angelico, which means Angelic Brother, joined the Dominican order in 1423 and received training as an illuminator. He became famous for his art and painted frescoes, altarpieces, and other sacred artwork in Florence and Rome.

Pope St. John Paul II beatified him in 1982, and later declared him patron of Catholic artists: “Angelico was reported to say ‘He who does Christ's work must stay with Christ always’. This motto earned him the epithet ‘Blessed Angelico’, because of the perfect integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of the images he painted, to a superlative extent those of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

“The English writer and critic William Michael Rossetti wrote…: ‘From various accounts of Fra Angelico's life, it is possible to gain some sense of why he was deserving of canonization. He led the devout and ascetic life of a Dominican friar, and never rose above that rank; he followed the dictates of the order in caring for the poor; he was always good-humored. All of his many paintings were of divine subjects, and it seems that he never altered or retouched them, perhaps from a religious conviction that, because his paintings were divinely inspired, they should retain their original form. He was wont to say that he who illustrates the acts of Christ should be with Christ.’” Praise God for beauty, art, and holiness!

Monday, January 15, 2024

January 23--St. Vincent of Saragossa, Deacon and Martyr

St. Vincent of Saragossa by Tomás Giner licensed under public domain

As St. Stephen, a deacon, was the first martyr of the Church, so St. Vincent of Saragossa, also a deacon, was the first martyr of Spain. St. Vincent was commissioned by his bishop, St. Valerius, to preach throughout his diocese because he had a speech impediment. When the Roman Emperor Diocletian began his empire-wide persecution in the late third century both St. Vincent and St. Valerius were brought before the governor. St. Vincent was promised freedom if he would throw the Bible into a fire. He refused. “Speaking on behalf of his bishop, he informed the judge that they were ready to suffer everything for their faith, and that they could pay no heed either to threats or promises.” Thus, St. Vincent was tortured and cast into prison and died. St. Valerius was exiled. St. Vincent fulfilled his vocation as a Christian in dying for Christ and as a deacon in assisting and preaching on behalf of his bishop.

Vatican II restored the permanent diaconate and Pope St. Paul VI implemented the restoration in 1967. As of 2022 there were about 13,500 active permanent deacons in the United States. Deacons assist the bishop or priest at the altar and bring communion to the sick and shut-ins. They may preach the Gospel and give a homily. They are ordinary ministers of Baptism and can assist at and bless marriages, officiate at funeral and burial services. Many deacons are involved in pastoral care for parishes or work in parish ministerial and non-ministerial positions. However, 95% of active deacons are at least 50 years old, and their numbers are declining. “Permanent deacons are essential to the Church’s ministry of love and service, especially to the poor and vulnerable,” said Bishop Boyea of Lansing. Please pray for vocations. St. Vincent, pray for us.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

January 14--St. Felix of Nola, Priest and Confessor


St. Felix of Nola @ Catholic Online.

What happens when a person is persecuted for the faith, but does not die? That person is called a “confessor”. That is our saint today, St. Felix of Nola. Nola is near Naples. He was ordained a priest by the bishop, St. Maximus of Nola, and became his right-hand man. During the persecution of the Emperor Decius in A.D. 250 the bishop went into hiding so he could better administer the diocese. However, upon not finding him, the Roman troops turned upon St. Felix, torturing and imprisoning him. According to legend, St. Felix was released from prison by an angel. He was then guided to St. Maximus, who was sick and near death, and returned him to Nola. St. Maximus died soon after the persecution ceased in 251 and the people acclaimed St. Felix as bishop. He declined, retiring to a farm where he raised crops for himself and the poor. He died around 260.

Much of what we know about St. Felix comes from St. Paulinus of Nola, who took him as his patron. St. Paulinus wrote a poem each year to celebrate Felix’s feast day: “This festive day celebrates Felix’s birthday, the day on which he died physically on earth and was born for Christ in heaven, winning his heavenly crown as a martyr who did not shed his blood. For he died as a confessor, though he did not avoid execution by choice, since God accepted his inner faith in place of blood.” 

We can learn two things from St. Felix: one, doing God’s will does not always require martyrdom, although it can involve suffering; two, we need to lean on our patron saints, men and women who intercede for us and can help us do God’s will throughout our lives. St. Felix, pray for us!

Sunday, November 19, 2023

December 30--Bl. Eugenia Ravasco, Religious and Foundress

Bl. Eugenia Ravasco by Unknown Artist licensed under public domain.

Bl. Eugenia Ravasco was one of the 1,344 people beatified by St. John Paul II. He wanted to show that holiness is possible for all of us. This was true for Bl. Eugenia. She had a difficult childhood due to the death of her mother at age 3 and her father at age 10. She was then raised by an aunt, and later an uncle, who died when she was 16, leading her to run the household of 12 children! She discerned a vocation to religious life, which upset the plans to have her married to nobility.

“As time went on, Eugenia felt that God was calling her to found a religious order that would form ‘honest citizens in society and saints in Heaven’. Other young women had also joined her in this effort. On 6 December 1868, when she was 23 years old, she founded the religious congregation of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Canon (later Archbishop) Magnasco had prepared her carefully and she continued, together with the sisters, to teach catechism and to open schools.”

“Thus schools, catechism teaching, associations and oratories arose. Mother Ravasco's educational project was to educate young people and train them in a solid, industrious, open Christian life, so that they could be ‘honest citizens in the midst of society and saints in heaven’; she wanted to educate them in the faith and in reading the facts from a historical-salvific perspective, proposing holiness to them as a life goal.”

Holiness needs to be our life goal! We need to grow in holiness so we can live God’s plan for us. That plan involves loving, serving, and worshiping God and loving and serving each other, and especially those who need our love the most! Bl. Eugenia, pray for us!

Saturday, November 18, 2023

December 22--"Bl." Jacopone da Todi, Religious

Bl. Jacopone da Todi by Paolo Uccello licensed under public domain.

    There are quotation marks around this “blessed” because he has never been beatified by the Church. However, there have been efforts to bring his cause to the Church by the Franciscans. So who was this “blessed” man? Jacopo dei Benedetti was a lawyer from a minor noble family in Italy during the 13th century. He was married and when his wife was killed in an accident he discovered she was wearing clothing as penance for his sins. He was so mortified that he quit law, gave away his possessions and became a Third Order Franciscan. He acted the fool as a way of sharing his spiritual vision, and was nicknamed Jacopone, or “Crazy Jim”. He once wore a saddle and crawled on all fours. Another time, he appeared at his brother’s wedding tarred and feathered.

    But wait, there’s more. He eventually was accepted into the Franciscan Order, despite his previous antics. Instead, his poetry showed the depth of his spirituality. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, his writings became a fount for penance. Jacopone became connected to the Spiritual Franciscans, who were suppressed by the pope. Jacopone wrote satirical verses against those who opposed the Spirituals, including the pope. He was eventually captured, imprisoned, and excommunicated. He accepted prison as penance for his sins, during which time he wrote Stabat Mater:

    “At the Cross her station keeping,
    Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
    Close to Jesus to the last:

    “Through her heart, his sorrow sharing,
    All his bitter anguish bearing,
    now at length the sword has pass'd.

    “Oh, how sad and sore distress'd
    Was that Mother highly blest
    Of the sole-begotten One!”

    Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
    and let perpetual light shine upon him.
    May the souls of all the faithful departed,
    through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

December 10--Our Lady of Loreto

The Miracle of the Holy House of Loreto by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo licensed under public domain.

Our Lady of Loreto actually refers to the house in which Mary was born and lived! Tradition holds that it is where she experienced the Annunciation and where the Holy Family dwelled. Veneration of the Sancta Casa, or Holy House, in Nazareth is ancient. However, Loreto is located near the Adriatic Sea northeast of Rome. How, may we ask, did the Holy House get from Nazareth to Italy? This is where the story gets interesting!

According to one story angels carried the house from Galilee to Italy. However, some theorize that this actually refers to a medieval family called the Angelos, which is translated as “angels”. This makes sense in that it appears in Loreto in the late 13th century, around the time of the last of the Crusades. So why is there a feast celebrating a house and why is it called Our Lady of Loreto?

The house is important because it connects with Mary and the Incarnation of Christ. In 1995, St. John Paul II stated in a homily: “The threads of the history of the whole of humankind are tied anew in that house. It is the Shrine of the House of Nazareth, to which the Church that is in Italy is tied by providence, that the latter rediscovers a quickening reminder of the mystery of the Incarnation, thanks to which each man is called to the dignity of the Son of God.”

In 2019, Pope Francis directed this optional memorial to be celebrated and Cardinal Sarah wrote in the declaration: “This celebration will help all people, especially families, youth and religious to imitate the virtues of that perfect disciple of the Gospel, the Virgin Mother, who, in conceiving the Head of the Church also accepted us as her own.” Our Lady of Loreto, pray for us.