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St. Barnabas (Apostle)

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 00:00

Though not one of the twelve Apostles, St. Barnabas, along with St. Paul, was considered an Apostle and an important leader in the early Church. The Acts of the Apostles introduces him by saying, “There was a certain Levite from Cyprus named Joseph, to whom the Apostles gave the name ‘Barnabas’ (meaning ‘son of encouragement’). He sold a farm that he owned and made a donation of the money, laying it at the Apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37).

It was Barnabas who introduced Paul to Peter and the other Apostles; his acceptance of this former persecutor of Christianity helped the other Christians overcome their distrust of Paul. When the Church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas as an official representative to the newly-formed Christian community in Antioch, he had Paul accompany him. The two men instructed the Christians there for a year. Recognizing Paul and Barnabas as inspired leaders, the church in Antioch sent the two to preach to the Gentiles (non-Jews). At Barnabas’ insistence, they were accompanied by his cousin Mark (the eventual author of the gospel) — but the young man deserted them when the journey proved to be hazardous.

Paul and Barnabas traveled to Cyprus (Barnabas is regarded as the founder of the Church there) and throughout Greece. They had much success, though they also encountered opposition and persecution. When Paul refused to allow Mark to accompany them on a later missionary journey, Barnabas separated from Paul and took Mark with him to Cyprus; eventually all of them were reconciled. Little else is known about St. Barnabas, though one account states that he was martyred at the Cypriot port of Salamis.

Lessons

1. Encouraging other Christians in their faith is an important ministry; St. Barnabas — a true “son of encouragement” — provides a noble example of this truth.

2. Even Christians constantly need to be reconciled to one another. Barnabas and Paul split up over Mark’s earlier desertion, but all were eventually reunited in peace.

Blessed John Dominici (Bishop)

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 00:00

John Dominici was born into poverty in Florence around the year 1356. His childhood was marked by piety and devotion, and he could almost always be found praying in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella. When he was 15 years old, he attempted to join the Order of Preachers — or Dominicans, as they are more popularly known — but was originally rejected because of his lack of education and a severe speech impediment which would have made it impossible for him to carry out his vocation as a preacher. But by the time he was 17, the fathers relented and he was allowed to begin his novitiate. Found to be a superior student, John was sent to Paris to finish his studies in theology and Sacred Scripture.

The problem of his speech impediment was still an issue, however, and his superiors attempted to spare John embarrassment by assigning him to duties in the convent. John turned to prayer, invoking the intercession of St. Catherine of Siena who had just died, and he asked for a cure. Miraculously, the impediment disappeared, and John was thus able to begin preaching, eventually becoming one of the most famous of Dominican preachers.

John preached and taught throughout Italy for 12 years, then became prior of Santa Maria Novella where his vocation had begun. During this time, the plague known as the Black Death struck: Santa Maria Novella lost 77 friars within a few months; other convents fared even worse — the mortality rate being so high among the friars because of their unselfish aid to the sick and the dying. Because of the decimation of the order, many Dominicans felt the times called for a relaxing of the rule, and several houses began to operate accordingly. With permission of the master general of the order, Blessed Raymond of Capua, John took upon himself the task of correcting this laxity and bringing the Order of Preachers back to its first fervor.

He began his work with a foundation at Fiesole; among his first novices were young Antoninus of Florence (see May 10) as well as two brothers, gifted artists who became known as Fra Angelico and Fra Benedetto. Soon the house at Fiesole, and others modeled upon it, could be described as the first houses of the order were: “Homes of Angels.”

Pope Gregory XII made John his counselor and in 1408 named him archbishop of Ragusa and later cardinal of San Sisto. John was one of those who convinced Gregory to resign the papacy in order to end the Western Schism, and so the groundwork was laid for the election of a new and acceptable candidate, Pope Martin V. John himself resigned his cardinalate to clear himself of accusations that his actions were motivated by political ambition.

Martin V appointed John legate to Bohemia and Hungary to combat the heresies of the Hussites, but John died from a fever on June 10, 1419, soon after his arrival in Hungary. He was buried in the Church of Saint Paul the Hermit in Buda. Many miracles were worked at his tomb before it was destroyed by the Turks.

Lessons

1. John Dominici felt called to join the Order of Preachers, and he pursued his calling despite the seeming impossibility of his situation: his severe speech impediment and his lack of education. His persistence and trust in God — and in the intercession of the saints — should inspire any of us facing difficulties, physical or otherwise, to always keep our confidence in God, for whom all things are possible.

2. John played an important part as a healer of the great division in the Church known as the Western Schism. Let us all follow his example and create unity wherever we find divisiveness, for, as our Lord has said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house can never stand” (Mark 3:25).

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Margaret of Scotland (1093), Queen

St. Landericus (Landry) (661), Bishop of Paris

St. Ephrem (Deacon and Doctor)

Thu, 06/09/2011 - 00:00

St. Ephrem (306?-373) was a Syrian poet and theologian. He was born in the Mesopotamian city of Nisibis; because of his Christian sympathies, his pagan father forced him to leave home. Ephrem was baptized a Christian, and became famous as a teacher. In 363 the Christian emperor was forced to cede Nisibis to the Persians. Ephrem, along with many other Christians, thereupon migrated to Edessa (in modern-day Iraq), where he soon gained a reputation for scholarship, especially in the Scriptures.

Ephrem was ordained a deacon, though he later declined to be ordained to the priesthood. (According to one legend, he was also nominated as a bishop later in life. Feeling himself unworthy of this honor, he avoided it by feigning madness.) The Church in the fourth century was divided by many heresies and controversies. Ephrem opposed false teachings and forcefully upheld true Catholic doctrine.

His unique and effective approach involved writing hymns against the heretics of the day; he would take popular songs of such groups and, using their melodies, compose very beautiful hymns expressing true doctrine. Ephrem was one of the first to introduce sung music into Christian worship, thereby continuing a venerable Old Testament and New Testament tradition (and gaining a reputation as “The Lyre of the Holy Spirit”).

Ephrem also composed many other religious works, and after his death his writings were translated into Greek, Latin, and Armenian. In spite of his great fame, he maintained a simple and unpretentious lifestyle, living in a small cave outside Edessa. He died in 373, and in 1920 was declared a Doctor (an eminent and reliable teacher) of the Church.

Lessons

1. Jesus once said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt 10:37). St. Ephrem was willing to give up his earthly family in order to belong to the family of God.

2. It’s been said that “whoever sings, prays twice.” Music and singing are powerful ways of expressing emotions — and Ephrem realized they can be a valuable form of worship and of proclaiming the truth.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Sts. Primus & Felician (297), Martyrs

St. Columba (Columbkille) (597), Abbott

St. William of York (Bishop)

Wed, 06/08/2011 - 00:00

Also known as William of Thwayt, William Fitzherbert was the son of Count Herbert, treasurer to Henry I, and to Emma, half sister of King Stephen. Perhaps because of his royal connections, he became canon and treasurer of York Minster and, in 1140, he was elected Archbishop of York. But Archdeacon Walter of York and the diocese’s Cistercian monks accused him of unchastity and simony, claiming that he had paid to be elevated to the archbishopric. The opposition by the Cistercians was no doubt influenced by the fact that the other candidate for the office had been Henry Murdac, the abbot of the Cistercian Fountains Abbey. (See June 7, Robert of Newminster.)

Because of the controversy surrounding the election, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to consecrate William, pending an appeal to Rome. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian, exercised his powerful influence against William in favor of Murdac, going so far as to say that William was, “rotten from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.” But in 1143, William proved his innocence so conclusively that he was finally consecrated as archbishop.

William set himself at once to carry out reforms in his diocese, and his gentleness and charity soon won him popularity. Unfortunately, through procrastination, he failed to receive the official pallium — the symbol of the pope’s authority — before the pope who sent it had died, and the papal legate took the pallium back to Rome. When William went to Rome to retrieve it, the new pope, Eugenius III, who was a Cistercian and who had sided with the archbishop’s opponents, suspended him. When a group of William’s followers violently attacked some of the monks of Fountains Abbey and set fire to the monastery farms, the pope then deposed William in 1147 and named Murdac archbishop of York.

William then retired to Winchester where he spent the next six years of his life living as a simple monk, spending his time in prayer and mortification. In 1153, after the pope, St. Bernard, and Henry Murdac all had died, he then appealed to the new pope, Anastasius IV, for restoration to his see, which was granted.

After now properly receiving the pallium, William returned to York, where he showed great kindness to the Cistercians who had opposed him, and promised full restitution to Fountains Abbey. But within only a few weeks he was dead.

William’s death on June 8, 1154 followed such a sudden attack of violent pain that many felt he had been poisoned. Some blamed Osbert, the new Archdeacon of York, but their suspicions were never proved. Miracles took place at his tomb, and in 1227 he was canonized by Pope Honorius III.

Lessons

1. We sometimes forget that saints are humans beings with faults and failings. It seems that William of York may have been something of a procrastinator, and it’s very possible that his first appointments were due to his royal connections. We can also see that St. Bernard of Clairvaux was extremely prejudiced against William and — dare we say it? — somewhat uncharitable in his language. But the true saint isn’t someone who is perfect, it is the person who keeps trying and who “endures to the end” (Mark 13:13).

2. Being falsely accused is probably one of the hardest trials to endure, and William certainly had to contend with much ill will, even by otherwise holy people. But William no doubt drew strength and courage from the example of our Lord, and so was able to freely forgive his enemies, just as Christ did from the cross.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces

St. Medard and Gildard (560), Bishops

St. Robert of Newminster (Abbot)

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 00:00

St. Robert was born at Gargrave, England, at the beginning of the 12th century. He studied at the University of Paris, was ordained a priest, and served as a parish priest in his native town. Later, he became a Benedictine and joined a band of monks in establishing a Cistercian monastery in which the strict Benedictine rule would be revived. In the winter of 1132, they founded Fountains Abbey on land given to them by Archbishop Thurston. In 1138, Robert went on to found the Cistercian Abbey of Newminster at Morpeth, Northumberland, which became a place of pilgrimage.

As abbot, Robert provided a fine example leading his monks to sanctity: he recited the entire Psalter of 150 psalms daily and he ate sparingly to maintain his self-denial. He is said to have had supernatural gifts, particularly with special power over evil spirits, and he cured many people possessed by demons.

Robert was a close friend of the hermit Saint Godric and often visited him in his hermitage at Finchale, where they would discuss the things of heaven. The night Robert died, June 7, 1159, Godric is said to have seen his soul ascending to heaven like a ball of fire.

St. Robert’s relics were translated to the church at Newminster. Miracles were reported at his tomb, and it became a center of pilgrimage.

Lessons

1. St. Robert’s love of the psalms lead him to write a commentary on them, which has since been lost. Let us take a lesson from St. Robert and turn to the psalms for comfort, instruction, and praise of our mighty God.

2. In a time when exorcisms are on the rise, let us pray to St. Robert for protection against the devil and all evil spirits. We should not be overly fearful; however, as St. Robert knew, the only power Satan has is allowed by “divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history” (Catechism of the Catholic Church ).

St. Norbert (Bishop)

Mon, 06/06/2011 - 00:00

St. Norbert (1080?-1134) was born of a noble Rhineland family, and until about age thirty-five led the life of a courtier at various princely courts. Then, following a narrow escape from death, he underwent a conversion and dedicated his life to God. Norbert was ordained a priest, but his new enthusiasm antagonized many of the local clergy. Their opposition prompted him to sell all his goods and give the proceeds to the poor; he then went to visit the pope.

Pope Gelasius II gave Norbert permission to travel and preach wherever he wished. Norbert went to northern France, and was very effective in rekindling the faith of lukewarm Catholics. He and a young priest, Hugh of Fosses, established a religious order known as the Premonstratensian Canons, dedicated to the correction of heresies and to fostering a greater respect for the Blessed Sacrament.

Norbert continued his itinerant preaching until 1126, when he was chosen as archbishop of Magdeburg in Germany. The diocese was badly in need of reform, and Norbert undertook his duties with customary enthusiasm. He reformed local abuses, renewed sacramental life in the diocese, and reconciled enemies — though he made enemies himself by trying to recover territory stolen from the Church (and this led to several attempts on his life).

In 1130 Norbert supported Pope Innocent II in his struggle against an antipope, and just before his death was appointed chancellor for Italy. St. Norbert had a great devotion to the Holy Eucharist (his emblem is a monstrance, or “display case” for the Host); he died in 1134.

Lessons

1. A close call with death is often an invitation from God to change one’s life; St. Norbert realized this, and allowed his narrow escape to set him on the path to holiness.

2. As St. Norbert recognized, the Holy Eucharist is a great spiritual treasure, and deserves our profound gratitude and respect.

St. Boniface (Bishop and Martyr)

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 00:00

The missionary bishop and martyr St. Boniface (672?-754) has been called the “Apostle to the Germans.” He was born in England and given the name Wynfrith, which he later changed to Boniface. Until about the age of forty, he was a Benedictine monk, devoted primarily to scholarship; then, in 718, Boniface permanently left England and went to Germany as a missionary.

Christianity had earlier been established among the tribes of Germany, but, largely through the weakness and ignorance of the clergy, it had become riddled with superstition, and was affected by paganism and heresy. Boniface described these conditions on a journey to Rome in 722, and Pope Gregory II thereupon appointed him an archbishop and charged him with reforming and reinvigorating the German church. Boniface worked tirelessly among the Germans, preaching to the pagans and encouraging the Christians, and his efforts met with great success.

He made a point of restoring the obedience of clergy to their bishops, thereby strengthening the larger principle of unity with Rome; he also stressed the universal nature of the Church by seeking financial support from his friends in England and by involving foreign missionaries in his work.

Additionally, Boniface aided the Frankish kings in their reform of the Church in France, and did much to promote the unity of the Church in France and Germany with Rome. Though in his seventies, Boniface desired to convert the fierce pagans of Frisia (located in modern-day Holland). He and fifty-three companions went to Frisia for this purpose, but were ambushed and killed by the natives upon their arrival; St. Boniface himself is said to have been stabbed while reading in his tent.

Lessons

1. “Old age” isn’t necessarily a hindrance to doing valuable work for God’s Kingdom. St. Boniface didn’t begin his career as a missionary until age forty, and even in his seventies, he chose not to “retire,” but to undertake a difficult and dangerous missionary journey.

2. The true Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. St. Boniface particularly emphasized the first of these marks of the Church by emphasizing the importance of obedience and unity with Rome.

St. Francis Caracciolo

Sat, 06/04/2011 - 00:00

Francis was born on October 13, 1563, in Italy. At one point in his life he contracted leprosy, but after being miraculously cured, he vowed himself to the service of God. He gave away all his worldly goods and left for Naples in 1585 to study theology.

After being ordained a priest in 1587, he entered the confraternity of the Bianchi della Giustizia (The white robes of Justice) who ministered to prisoners who were condemned to death. By providence, he received a letter from Giovanni Agostino Adorno meant for another person of the same name, requesting him to assist in founding a new religious institute. He assisted in writing up the rules for the congregation and Sixtus V approved it on July 1, 1588. Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was kept and the monks continually practiced mortification. Francis was chosen general of the first house of the congregation in Naples in 1593, which was called St. Mary Major’s. He traveled to Spain three times to establish foundations and opened the house of the Holy Ghost in Madrid in 1599. On his second journey, he established Our Lady of the Annunciation at Valladolid and then in 1601, on his third trip, he opened a school for teaching science called St. Joseph at Alcala.

Francis remained humble throughout his life. Even though Pope Paul V desired Francis to be a bishop, Francis was not interested. He became ill and died on the vigil of Corpus Christi in Agnone on June 4, 1608 at the young age of forty-five.

Lessons

Francis Caracciolo was beatified by Pope Clement XIV in 1769 and canonized by Pope Pius VII in 1807. He was chosen patron saint of the city of Naples in 1838.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we pray that we might be like St. Francis Caracciolo in showing our love and appreciation for all Your blessings by living our lives for You. May the Holy Spirit live always in our hearts, and may we bring glory to Your Holy Name through our words and deeds. Amen.

St. Charles Lwanga and Companions

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 00:00

The nineteenth century martyrs of Uganda were the first black Catholic martyrs of Africa. St. Charles Lwanga first learned of Christ from two members of the court of an African chief named Mawulungungu. Charles became a catechumen (one actively preparing for baptism); soon after this, he entered the royal court of King Mwanga of Uganda, where he served as an assistant to Joseph Mukaso, head of the royal pages (errand boys).

King Mwanga at first favored Charles and the other pages (young men aged thirteen to thirty), but when they rejected his homosexual advances, the king grew angry, and ordered a persecution of “all those who pray” — meaning all Catholics. Joseph Mukaso, who had encouraged the pages to resist, was put to death at the king’s command.

On the night of Mukaso’s execution, Charles requested and received baptism; then, following his friend’s example, he attempted to protect the others from the king’s demands. Charles and his companions were imprisoned. On June 3, 1886, he and some of the other Catholics were burned alive, while still others were killed by the sword. The remaining Ugandan martyrs were killed early in 1887. St. Charles Lwanga and his twenty-one companions were canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

Lessons

1. Contrary to what some of the Church’s critics claim, Christianity is not merely a white, European institution; the gospel is intended for persons of every language, nationality, and race, and all people are capable of receiving it and of following Christ faithfully and heroically.

2. God gives wisdom and strength to all who seek these gifts. St. Charles Lwanga, though young and still only a catechumen, was able to recognize immorality and able to refuse to take part in it.

3. Though homosexuality is considered “politically correct” in our society, homosexual acts are sinful — and committed Christians accept this truth and, with God’s help avoid such activity.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Clotilde , (545) Widow, Queen of France

Saint Marcellinus, Priest, and Saint Peter, Exorcist

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 00:00

Saints Marcellinus and Peter were Roman Christians who suffered martyrdom for their faith at the beginning of the fourth century. Marcellinus was a priest in Rome and Peter was an exorcist. (At one point in the Church’s history, exorcists comprised a minor order in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, ranking below deacons and sub-deacons.) During the intense persecution of the Church ordered by the Emperor Diocletian, both men were arrested and imprisoned.

According to legend, Marcellinus and Peter not only strengthened the faith of other Christians imprisoned with them; they also made new converts, including the jailer — a man named Arthemius — and his wife and daughter. Along with the other Christians, Marcellinus and Peter were condemned to death about the year 304; the two saints were taken to a wood outside Rome named Silva Nigra, where they were beheaded in secret (so that their place of burial wouldn’t be known to the Church, and in the hopes that their example of courage and faith would be forgotten).

Ironically, their names have been preserved and venerated over the centuries in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) used at Mass. Pope St. Damasus (d. 384) had, while a boy, talked to Arthemius about the two saints; as pope, he later wrote an epitaph for their tombs.

Lessons

1. As Jesus said, “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be made known” (Mt 10:26). The Roman authorities attempted to execute Saints Marcellinus and Peter in secret so as to erase their memory — but through their courageous martyrdom, God has granted them eternal renown.

2. Difficulties and misfortunes can actually provide opportunities for spreading the gospel; Marcellinus and Peter used their imprisonment as a way of bringing still more people to know and follow Christ.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Erasmus (303), Bishop and Martyr, invoked against stomach ailments

St. Blandina (177), Martyr

St. Justin (Martyr)

Wed, 06/01/2011 - 00:00

St. Justin (100?-165) was the first Christian philosopher. He was born of a pagan Greek family in Palestine (the Holy Land). As a young man, he studied one system of philosophy after another. He was principally attracted to Platonism (based on the teachings of Socrates and Plato some 500 years earlier), but through Platonism he came to know of and accept Christianity, finding that it answered great questions about life and existence better than the teachings of any earlier philosophers.

Justin was about 33 when he became a Christian. He remained a layperson, but actively proclaimed the gospel. He was an apologist, or defender of Christianity, and his writings (the Apologies and the Dialogue with Trypho ) are valuable to us today because of the information they give about early Christian teachings and customs. Justin was a dedicated philosopher, combining Christianity with the best elements of Greek philosophical thought. He traveled widely as a missionary, twice staying in Rome.

In the year 165 Justin was denounced as a Christian and arrested, along with five other men and a woman. Upon being ordered by the Roman prefect to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods, Justin replied, “No right-minded man forsakes truth for falsehood,” and his companions said, “Do with us as you will — we are Christians, and we cannot sacrifice to idols.” St. Justin and the others were thereupon beheaded. Ever since then, he has been known as St. Justin the Martyr.

Lessons

1. Sometimes an inadequate but sincere search for wisdom can lead a person to accept the truth of the gospel; St. Justin’s familiarity with Greek philosophy predisposed him to believe the claims of Christianity.

2. St. Justin realized that once we have discovered the truth, we must not forsake it for anything, even at the cost of our lives — for as Jesus said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Angela Merici (1540), Virgin, Foundress of the Ursulines

Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Tue, 05/31/2011 - 00:00

Following the Annunciation in which the angel Gabriel came to Mary and pronounced she would become the mother of our Lord, Mary traveled from Galilee to Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth, an elderly woman, who after a lifetime with a barren womb had conceived a child. Elizabeth, whose pregnancy also followed a message from the angel Gabriel, would give birth to John the Baptist.

And while Gabriel greeted Mary with the words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women,” Elizabeth proclaimed, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” These two moments recorded in Scripture form the first part of the Hail Mary prayer we say today. The entire Visitation account is recorded in Luke 1:39-56.

Here, scripture goes on to tell us that John the Baptist, still unborn, leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. We are shown in this passage the transition between the Old and the New Covenant. On the one hand, we have a woman too old to conceive a child through ordinary means, yet through the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit, her womb is prepared and granted the grace to bear the last prophet of the Old Covenant. On the other hand, we have a woman quite young and not ready to conceive a child through ordinary means, but again through the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit her womb is chosen and prepared to bear the New Covenant Himself.

It is through this powerful encounter between these two holy women that the Old and New Covenant intersect and the totality of salvation history is made clear.

This feast was formerly celebrated on July 2, but was changed to fall between the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord and the birth of John the Baptist to more closely mirror the gospel accounts.

Lessons

1. How did Elizabeth know that Mary was carrying our Lord? What made her understand that her young cousin would be the most blessed woman of all time? She knew it because she recognized the Holy Spirit’s presence within her signified through the extraordinary life “leaping for joy” in her womb.

2. We must learn to recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence in our own lives and mirror the experience of Elizabeth and Mary. Through the submission of will and the acceptance of extraordinary grace, Christ can grow within each of us and we will be driven more and more to act and react with peace, thanksgiving, and joy.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

St. Petronilla (1st Century), Virgin

St. Joan of Arc

Mon, 05/30/2011 - 00:00

On January 6, 1412, Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d’Arc, as she is known in France) was born to pious parents of the French peasant class, at the obscure village of Domrémy, near the province of Lorraine. Joan seems to have been the youngest of a family of five. She never learned to read or write, but was skilled in sewing and spinning. At the age of 13, she experienced her first supernatural visions: it was at first simply a voice, as if someone had spoken quite close to her, but the voice was accompanied by a blaze of light. Later on she clearly came to discern those who spoke to her as St. Michael, St. Margaret, St. Catherine, and others.

At first the messages were personal and general. But in May 1428, the voices told Joan to go to the King of France and help him reconquer his kingdom. She was originally laughed at by Robert de Baudricourt, the French commander at Vaucouleurs, but his skepticism was overcome when Joan’s prophecies came true and the French were defeated in the Battle of Herrings outside Orléans in February 1429.

After an examination by theologians at Poitiers cleared her of all suspicion of heresy, the 17-year-old girl was given a small army with which she lead an expedition to relieve besieged Orléans on May 8, 1429. She then enjoyed a series of spectacular military successes, during which the king was able to enter Rheims and be crowned with her at his side.

In May 1430, as she was attempting to relieve Compiègne, she was captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English while Charles and the French did nothing to save her. After months of imprisonment, she was tried at Rouen by a tribunal presided over by the infamous Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, who hoped that the English would help him to become archbishop.

Charged with heresy and witchcraft, her visions were declared to be of diabolical origin. Joan was trapped into making some damaging statements and was later tricked into signing a form of recantation on May 23, 1431. But when she again dressed in male attire, which she had agreed to abandon, she was condemned as a lapsed heretic and burned at the stake at Rouen on May 30, 1431, the victim of her enemies’ determination to destroy her. She was nineteen years old.

A court appointed by Pope Callistus III found her innocent in 1456, and she was canonized in 1920. She is considered one of the patrons of France, as well as the patron of soldiers.

Lessons

1. While it’s unlikely that any of us will be called upon by God to perform such extraordinary deeds as Joan, why do we find it so hard to deal with ordinary peer pressure? Joan was no doubt fully aware how ridiculous it would seem for a young girl to come forward and claim that God had given her the power to free France — but she did as God commanded anyway, and people eventually came to see that God was indeed with her. Let us pray to Joan for the courage to do God’s will, no matter how unpopular or ridiculous we may seem in the eyes of others.

2. While historians puzzle over the fact that Joan returned to her male dress after agreeing to abandon it, one likely theory is that she did it to protect her honor against the rude attentions of the English guards, whom she had complained about bitterly. If this is so, then it becomes clear that Joan, knowing that male attire would lead to her being condemned once again as a heretic, chose modesty over the preservation of her own life — something to think about in a time when modesty seems to be an all-but-forgotten virtue.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

St. Felix I (274), Pope, Martyr

St. Ferdinand III (1252), King of Castile & Leon

St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

Sun, 05/29/2011 - 00:00

Catherine de Pazzi (1566-1607) was born of a noble family in the Italian city of Florence during its golden age; instead of taking her expected role in society as a matron and mother, she chose to devote herself to meditation and the service of God. Catherine learned to meditate at the age of 9, and received her First Communion the following year (which was much earlier than normal at that time); soon afterward she made a vow of perpetual virginity.

At the age of sixteen Catherine entered a Carmelite convent, choosing the name Mary Magdalene. One year later she became seriously ill. Because death seemed imminent, her superiors allowed her to make her final profession of vows. She was carried on a cot to the chapel for the ceremony, after which she experienced an ecstasy lasting two hours. This spiritual event was repeated each morning after Communion for the next forty days.

Mary Magdalene’s mystical experiences gave her great insight into the ways of God. At the request of her confessor, five volumes were dictated by her to other sisters describing the nature of her experiences and visions. All who came into contact with her were impressed by her faith and holiness, and it was said she had the gifts of bilocation (being in two different places at once) and reading minds. Mary Magdalene’s special gifts were given her by God to prepare her for a five-year period of profound spiritual anguish and isolation, during which she had violent temptations and great physical suffering. She remained faithful to God through all this, and died peacefully at the age of forty-one.

Lessons

1. Visions and mystical experiences are not necessary for holiness, but sometimes God grants these gifts to certain persons, such as St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, as a reminder of the new life awaiting us.

2. Saints are not immune to periods of dryness or aridity; as Mary Magdalene de Pazzi discovered, remaining faithful in spite of these experiences can be a source of great spiritual growth.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Maximinus of Trier (4th Century), Bishop

Blessed Margaret Plantagenet Pole

Sat, 05/28/2011 - 00:00

Margaret Plantagenet, daughter of the Duke of Clarence and niece of King Edward IV and Richard III of England, was born in 1471 at Farley Castle near Bath, England. When she was about 20 years old, she married Sir Richard Pole and bore him five children. When Henry VIII became king, she was widowed and had her estates, which had been forfeited by attainder, returned to her by Henry, who made her countess of Salisbury in her own right.

She was governess of the king’s daughter Mary, but incurred his enmity by her disapproval of his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Despite his remark that she was the holiest woman in England, she was forced to leave the court. When her son Reginald Cardinal Pole wrote against the Act of Supremacy, Henry swore to destroy the family. In 1538, two other sons were arrested and executed on a charge of treason, even though Cromwell had previously written that they had “little offended save that he [the Cardinal] is of their kin.”

Margaret was arrested ten days later and in May 1539, Parliament passed a bill of attainder against her for complicity in a revolt in the North, and she was imprisoned in the Tower for two years, where she was “tormented by the severity of the weather and insufficient clothing.” When another uprising occurred in Yorkshire in April 1541, it was then determined to enforce without any further procedure the Act of Attainder passed in 1539.

On the morning of May 28, 1541, Margaret was told she was to die within the hour. She answered that no crime had been imputed to her; nevertheless she walked calmly from her cell to East Smithfield Green, within the precincts of the Tower, where a low wooden block had been prepared, and there, by a clumsy novice, she was beheaded at the age of 70. She was never tried and no guilt was ever proven against her except her possession of a white silk tunic embroidered with the Five Wounds, which was supposed to connect her with the uprising in the North.

Lessons

1. Every one of us hopes to die peacefully in our beds, and what else should a 70-year-old widow have expected? She had been a faithful wife, mother, and governess to a princess, loyal to her king in all things except for his unlawful marriage to Anne Boleyn. Perhaps she could have saved her life by keeping quiet or by denying her son’s position against the king. But Margaret remained faithful to her true King; while she suffered on earth, we know that she has been rewarded according to His promise: “Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or land for the sake of my name will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).

2. Today our lives may not be on the line for our beliefs, but are there opportunities to speak the truth that we are avoiding because we don’t want to lose friends, the respect of our co-workers, or because we fear possible derision? Let us pray to Blessed Margaret to help us calmly and fearlessly stand up for the truth, no matter the cost to ourselves.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Augustine of Canterbury (604), Bishop, Apostle of England

St. Bernard of Montjoux (1081), Priest, Religious, Patron of Mountain Climbers

St. Germanus (576), Abbot, Bishop

St. Augustine of Canterbury

Fri, 05/27/2011 - 00:00

The sixth-century bishop St. Augustine of Canterbury (d. 605) is famous for his missionary work in England. (He is not to be confused with St. Augustine of Hippo, the great Church thinker of the fourth century.) Augustine was the prior or abbot of a monastery in Rome. In 596 the Pope, St. Gregory the Great, chose him to lead a group of thirty monks on a missionary journey to England. (There were some scattered Christian communities there, but the land as a whole was still predominantly Anglo-Saxon and pagan.)

Augustine’s group set out, but on reaching France, heard terrifying stories of the treacherous waters of the English Channel and the ferocious temperament of the Anglo-Saxons. Augustine hurried back to confer with the pope, but Gregory reassured him that his fears were groundless, and sent him back on his way.

The missionaries arrived in England in 597. King Ethelbert, a pagan married to a Christian, received them kindly, and their work flourished. On Pentecost Sunday the king was baptized, along with many of his subjects. Augustine journeyed briefly to France, where he was consecrated a bishop, and then returned to England, establishing his see, or diocese, in Canterbury. The see at Canterbury continued to prosper, and additional dioceses were later established at London and Rochester.

Not all of Augustine’s efforts were successful; his attempts to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon converts and the original Christian inhabitants of England failed, and for a time the missionaries’ work progressed slowly. By the time of St. Augustine’s death in 605, however, a solid foundation for England’s later widespread conversion to Christianity had been established.

Lessons

1. Even saints can be reluctant to fulfill their mission; St. Augustine had to be encouraged by the pope, who helped him overcome his fears by telling him, “He who would climb to a lofty height must go by steps, not leaps.”

2. God is able to use us in spite of our weaknesses and failures, as long as we’re willing to let His grace work in and through us.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Bede the Venerable (735), Priest, Doctor

St. John I (526), Pope, Martyr

St. Philip Neri (Priest and Founder)

Thu, 05/26/2011 - 00:00

The Italian priest St. Philip Neri (1515-1595) greatly contributed to the spiritual reformation of the Church in the sixteenth century. He was born in Florence to a wealthy family, and after receiving a good education, was apprenticed to a relative with a flourishing business which Philip was intended to inherit.

However, after having a mystical experience, Philip decided to devote himself entirely to religious matters. He went to Rome to study philosophy and theology, and supported himself by tutoring. Saddened by the immoral state of the city, Philip formed a group of young men who met regularly for prayer, study, and recreation. This “oratory” (named after the upper room where they met) was unique in combining a quest for virtue with laughter and an enjoyment of life. In 1551 Philip, at the urging of his confessor, was ordained a priest. He soon made a name for himself as a confessor, for he had the gift of reading hearts, and was gentle and friendly with penitents.

Philip continued his work with young men, several of whom were ordained priests; with their help, he established an order called the Congregation of the Oratory. There was some opposition to the Oratory, for people were suspicious of a group in which laymen were actively involved, and in which the members enjoyed themselves while serving God and His people; nonetheless, Philip and his followers continued to influence many people through their example. Because of the great spiritual renewal that resulted from his efforts, St. Philip Neri was called “the Apostle of the city of Rome.” He died in 1595, and was canonized in 1622.

Lessons

1. Religion doesn’t have to be a somber and unpleasant experience. As St. Philip Neri realized, faith and virtue can be combined with humor and a wholesome enjoyment of life — for life is meant to be a gift from God, not a burden to be endured.

2. St. Philip showed that holiness is both possible and practical. He emphasized that all Catholics — not only priests and religious — have a role to play in the life of the Church, for one of the ways we glorify God while also growing in grace is by using the gifts He has given us.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Eleutherius (188), Pope, Martyr

St. Bede the Venerable

Wed, 05/25/2011 - 00:00

St. Bede (672?-735) was an English scholar and monk widely acknowledged as a saint even in his own lifetime. As a youth, he was sent to the monastery of St. Paul in Jarrow, and it was there that he remained for virtually the remainder of his life. Bede became a monk and a priest, and the monastery provided the ideal setting for his great spiritual growth. It also provided the opportunity for him to write and study. He once said, “I have devoted my energies to the study of the Scriptures, observing monastic discipline, and singing the daily services in the Church; study, teaching, and writing have always been my delight.”

Bede was an expert in many fields of learning, including natural philosophy, astronomy, arithmetic, grammar, Church history, and Scripture; he authored many books, including the famous History of the English Church and People, and was the first known writer of English prose. As his reputation spread, various kings and even the pope desired his presence as a scholar-in-residence, but except for a few months teaching in the school of the Archbishop of York, Bede remained in the monastery of St. Paul until his death.

Only a century after he died, St. Bede was unofficially given the title “Venerable” (worthy of honor), and in 1899 Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor (an eminent and reliable teacher) of the Church.

Lessons

1. As the life of St. Bede shows, scholarship can lead to holiness; the Book of Wisdom states, “Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her” (6:12).

2. Serving God is more important than one’s own reputation; rather than seeking honor as a scholar-in-residence, St. Bede preferred to continue his studying and writing in the obscurity of the monastery.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Gregory VII (1085), Pope

St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi (1607), Virgin

St. Urban I (230), Pope, Martyr

St. Madeleine Sophie Barat (1865), Virgin, Foundress

Sts. Donatian and Rogatian (Martyrs)

Tue, 05/24/2011 - 00:00

Donatian and Rogatian were brothers of a notable Roman-Gallo family living in Nantes, Brittany. Donatian had become a convert to Christianity and led such an edifying life that his brother Rogatian was eventually moved to desire the sacrament of baptism. The story is told that, because the persecution of Emperor Maximian was raging, the bishop had been forced into hiding, so Rogatian was unable to be baptized. However, it does seem that Donatian would have been aware that he could have administered the sacrament to his brother himself. At any rate, both brothers were arrested when they refused to worship the gods. They were thrown into prison where it is said that they spent the night in fervent prayer. The next day, after declaring their willingness to suffer anything for the Name of Jesus, they were stretched on the rack, their heads pierced with lances, then they were finally beheaded. Their martyrdom occurred around the year 287. At the end of the fifth century, a church was built over their tomb. Bishop Albert of Ostia translated their relics to the cathedral in 1145.

Lessons1. So many of us are willing to follow Christ ” as long as it doesn’t require too much of us. But as Jesus reminded the rich young man, we have to go beyond merely keeping the commandments: God wants everything we have to give. Donatian and Rogatian would have been fully aware of the kind of tortures that awaited those who professed belief in Christ, yet they bravely continued to preach the Faith, both by word and deed.

2. St. Donatian should give hope to those who are praying for the conversion of a family member or close friend. As his exemplary Christian life finally brought about the conversion of his brother, let us pray that we too may live lives that proclaim Christ’s love to all the world.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Our Lady, Help of Christians

St. Joanna (1st Century)

St. John Baptist Rossi (Priest)

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 00:00

St. John was born in Voltaggio, Italy, in 1698, one of four children. When he was young, a nobleman and his wife who spent their summers in Voltaggio took him back to Genoa to be trained in their home. He stayed for three years and during that time gained the good opinion of two visiting Capuchin friars, which led to an invitation from his cousin, a canon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, to come to Rome to study at the Roman College.

He completed the classical course of studies, but began practicing severe mortifications after reading an ascetical book. Their severity, combined with a heavy course load and a bout of epilepsy, led to a breakdown, and he was forced to leave the college. He recuperated and completed his training at Minerva, but was never again very strong.

At age 23 he was ordained a priest. He had visited hospitals as a student, and now he focused his attention upon them. He concentrated especially on the hospice of Saint Galla, an overnight shelter for paupers that had been founded by Pope Celestine III.

St. John spent the next 40 years of his life ministering to the sick and the needy, especially homeless women for whom he founded a refuge. Assigned to Santa Maria Church near the Aventine, he acquired a reputation as a confessor that drew throngs of penitents to his confessional. Pope Benedict XIV also chose St. John to instruct prison and other state officials, including the public hangman. His preaching was in great demand, and he was often asked to give addresses in religious houses.

His frail health eventually compelled him to move to the Trinita dei Pellegrini in 1763, where he suffered a stroke and received the last sacraments. He recovered enough to resume celebrating Mass, but in 1764 he had another stroke and died at the age of 66. The hospital of the Trinita undertook to pay for the poor priest’s burial. His funeral was attended by 260 priests as well as the papal choir. He was canonized in 1881.

Lessons

1. St. John’s only thought was for souls, so much so that he was called “Hunter of Souls.” In all our relationships, we too should always consider what good we may do for others’ souls. Let us pray for the love which casts out all fear so that everything we do will be for the salvation of others.

2. St. John’s life was one of complete poverty and trust in the Lord’s providence. Any money he was given was immediately distributed to the poor or spent on the needs of his parish. May we too learn to trust God to take care of all our temporal needs so that we can more generously share with others all the gifts He has given us.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Julia of Corsica (440), Virgin, Martyr, Patron of Corsica

The mission of St. Mary’s Parish is to proclaim and celebrate our salvation through Jesus Christ,our pilgrimage to the Father’s Kingdom enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Our Catholic faith community is nourished by our sacramental life, especially the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. With Mother Mary as our model, we demonstrate our faith through worship, education, vocations and service.