Sunday, February 5, 2023

February 15--St. Claude la Colombière, S.J., Priest and Religious

Saint Claude La Colombière priant le Sacré-Cœur de Jésus by Octave 444 licensed under CC by-SA4.0

"Death by a thousand paper cuts!"  Today's saint was familiar with how we can be cut to ribbons by the little things.  St. Claude la Colombière was a Jesuit priest from France in the 17th century.  At the time, the Catholic Church was fighting Jansenism, which taught that we did not have free will.  This is patently false because God gives us free will as a part of our human nature.  We can freely choose what God wants:  "God's free initiative demands man's free response" (CCC, 2002).  So therefore, we can freely overcome the cuts and little things that annoy us by responding to God's grace.

He wrote:  "All our life is sown with tiny thorns that produce in our hearts a thousand involuntary movements of hatred, envy, fear, impatience, a thousand little fleeting disappointments, a thousand slight worries, a thousand disturbances that momentarily alter our peace of soul.  For example, a word escapes that should not have been spoken.  Or someone utters another that offends us.  A child inconveniences you.  A bore stops you.  You don't like the weather.  Our work is not going according to plan.  A piece of furniture is broken.  A dress is torn.  I know that these are not occasions for practicing very heroic virtue.  But they would definitely be enough to acquire it if we really wished to."

How often do we lose our temper over little things?  St. Claude teaches that these little things are great opportunities.  It takes time to develop the virtues of patience and humility.  God provides us with time.  He allows us to endure the little cuts to bring us closer to him.  "Far from allowing us to be depressed at the sight of our faults, it strengthens us in the idea of the infinite goodness of our Creator."

Sunday, January 22, 2023

January 30--St. Balthild, Holy Woman

Two grave sins that have plagued America are slavery/racism and abortion/infanticide.  But these sins are not unique to America or to our time.  Nonetheless, Christianity has sought to eliminate both these plagues on humanity.  Today's saint is one who dedicated her power to do so!

St. Balthild (or Bathildis) was a slave herself, an Anglo-Saxon from Britain sold to a court official of the the Frankish king, Clovis II, in the seventh century.  Clovis was impressed by her intelligence and skills and married her.  She beame famous for her service to others and her donations.  Two abbeys were founded due to her gifts.  She bore Clovis three sons, all of whom succeeded him as kings.  When Clovis died, she became queen regent and guided the affairs of state.  Here is where her faith became critical in helping her people come closer to God.

According to her biography:  "She ... ordained that yet another evil custom should cease, namely, that many people determined to kill their children rather than nurture them, for they feared to incur the public [taxes] that were heaped upon them by custom...."  Furthermore, "she prohibited the sale of captive Christian folk to outsiders and gave orders through all the lands that no one was to sell captive Christians within the borders of the Frankish realm.  What is more, she ordered that many captives should be ransomed, paying the price herself."

Some might say, "Not enough!"  But the point is she did what she could do!  Do we?  Do we continue to promote life for the unborn?  Do we work to eliminate racism in our society?  These are NOT contradictory efforts!  God has given us dignity by virtue of creating us in his image and likeness.  That dignity belongs to all of us, no matter what our status, location, abilities, or development!  St. Balthild, pray for us!

Monday, January 16, 2023

January 27--St. Angela Merici, Religious

St. Angela Merici by GFreihalter licensed under CC by-3.0.

For those who grew up in the second half of the 20th century, women religious in the Catholic schools were a common sight.  They seemed to be everywhere!  They were dedicated to their faith and to sharing and living their faith in the Catholic schools as teachers and administrators, as well as sponsors of extra-curricular activities.  The first woman to begin this kind of vocation was today's saint, St. Angela Merici.  Born in 1474 in northern Italy, she was a third-order lay Franciscan and devoted herself to good works throughout her life, organizing unmarried women in various cities to live at home, but serve their neighbors.  In 1535 she organized these groups into the Company of St. Ursula, a popular medieval saint.  She structured the society in a military manner by dividing the towns they served into separate areas run by more mature members.  The Ursulines served in prisons, hospitals, and the poorest neighborhoods.  Eventually, they became the first female teaching order and the first Catholic sisters in the United States.  There are 15 Ursuline schools in the U.S. today.

St. Angela wrote the rule for the community, which included this advice:  "'Do not lose heart, . . . even if you should discover that you lack qualities necessary for the work to which you are called.  He who called you will not desert you, but the moment you are in need he will stretch out his saving hand.'"  This is truly wise for we are beset by our own sins and failings, as well as adversities God allows to challenge us.  We are called to persevere despite our weaknesses.  She also wrote:  "I ask you, Lord, to receive all my self-will that by the infection of sin is unable to distinguish good from evil.  St. Angela, pray for us!

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

January 18--St. Charles of Sezze, Religious

St. Charles of Sezze by Antonio Sicurezza in the public domain.

Humility is a watchword for holiness.  In the case of today's saint, it is absolutely true!  St. Charles of Sezze lived in Italy in the 17th century.  He devoted himself as a Franciscan friar to doing mundane tasks, such as being porter (person who allowed people to enter the monastery), sacristan (person in charge of setting up and caring for the altar), and gardener of his community.  He also went out into the streets as a beggar.  Remember, the Franciscans were a mendicant, or beggar, order.  He never wanted to become a priest, valuing the humility of being a lay brother.

His life was filled with such holiness that his confessor asked him to write his autobiography, which became popular.  Though he was not a priest, others came to him for spiritual advice.  Even popes requested his spiritual aid.  When Pope Clement IX was dying he requested that St. Charles come to him and bless him, which he did.  He was canonized on April 12, 1959 by Pope St. John XXIII.

Humility is a worthy virtue for us to develop.  Humility puts us at the service of others and does not ask for recognition or awards, only the honor of love in serving others as Jesus did.  In the Last Supper account in John's Gospel  Jesus washes his disciples feet, the job of a servant.  He said:  

"'I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.  Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it." 
(Jn 13:15-17)  St. Charles truly understood this.  We are called to serve in humility as well!

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

January 9--Bl. Alix Le Clerc, Religious


Who deserves to be educated? In our society we would say everyone deserves an education, but in the time of Bl. Alix Le Clerc, only young men with money could afford an education. So she set out to serve and educate young women by founding the Congregation of Notre Dame with St. Peter Fourier, her pastor. On Christmas Day, 1597, she and four other women took private vows for their association because women's religious orders were normally cloistered, or enclosed, in convents. She was foundress of what we would call the first religious order of sisters, rather than nuns, because they worked in the world. The next July they started their first free school for young women in Nancy, France. Their goal was to provide free education to any girl, poor or wealthy, Protestant or Catholic. "Both believed that education would empower people, especially the girls who would grow up to become mothers in families. An education containing religious instruction would then benefit the entire family and strengthen faith in the family and society."

The Sisters of Notre Dame founded schools for girls in 43 countries, including the United States in Omaha, Nebraska, where they founded Notre Dame Academy in 1926. In 1974 it merged with Rummel High School to form Roncalli Catholic High School where its legacy of "Help all and harm none," the motto of St. Peter Fourier, and "Do the most good," the model of Bl. Alix, continue to this day.

Catholic education, whether it has been through all-boys schools, all-girls schools, co-ed schools, private schools, parochial schools, or diocesan schools, has greatly benefited society. Over 1.6 million students are educated in U.S. Catholic schools in over 5,900 schools. We need to remember and be grateful for the men and women who had the vision to found Catholic schools, like Bl. Alix Le Clerc.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

January 3--Most Holy Name of Jesus


"Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11).

What does the name "Jesus" actually mean? In Greek, it is "Ἰησοῦς". In Latin, it is "Iesus". In Hebrew and Aramaic it is "ישוע" or "Yeshua/Y'shua". It has the same root as the name "Joshua". It's meaning is given to us in the Scriptures when the angel Gabriel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Mt. 1:20-21). It literally means "Yahweh saves". The name is also connected to the prophecy from Isaiah: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us'" (Mt. 1:23/Is. 7:13).

Okay, that's the background!  What does that mean for us?  Lots!  One, Jesus' name gives us a real connection to a real human being who is also really God!  Second, since Jesus is God, his name is as holy as God's and his name must be respected.  It is not a curse word or an exclamation!  Third, and most important, it means we have a relationship with God on a first-name basis; he is our brother who loves us and calls us to love him.  Names have power.  Jesus' name saves!  Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

December 31--St. Sylvester I, Pope


"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).  This famous saying seems to indicate that whoever gives has the ability to remove what was given.  If that is so, then how does the Catholic Church exist, except by the allowance of the state?  It's a fair question that had to be dealt with by today's saint, Pope St. Sylvester I (AD 314-335).  Emperor Constantine I granted the Church the right to freedom of religion in the 313 Edict of Milan.  This was a great gift to the Church because now it could exist without fear of off-and-on persecution; it could preach and influence the populace so as to win disciples to Christ; and it had the backing of the emperor, who remained in power for over 30 years.

So how did St. Sylvester I deal with this strong and benevolent ruler?  We don't know!  There is not a lot of knowledge of St. Sylvester's rule, except by inference.  We know he was pope at the same time as Constantine was emperor.  We know that he approved of the decisions of the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, called by that same emperor.  We know that the emperor donated buildings, land, and privileges to the Church.  Yet, we know that the Church did not become the tool and "yes-man" of the emperor.  That means that St. Sylvester must have been wise and skilled in diplomacy.  That doesn't mean that Constantine didn't try to use the Church to further his imperial ambitions.  He did.  But the Church remained the Church and not a department of state.  St. Sylvester I can guide us in the virtue of prudence so we can bring about God's will in the face of strong, and sometimes, oppositional, forces.