Saint of the Week

 

Saint of the Week 
May 1st

Saints Philip and James, Apostles First Century
Feast Day May 3
Patron Saint of hatmakers and pastry chefs (Philip) and pharmacists (James)

The smaller the town the bigger the man

     The popes follow one another chronologically just like the presidents of the United States. One after another, after another, each inheriting the powers and responsibilities of his office. President John F. Kennedy followed President Dwight D. Eisenhower, just as Pope Saint John Paul II followed The Venerable Pope John Paul I. But there is a difference. Jesus’ placing of Saint Peter as the symbolic and jurisdictional head of the universal Church is, of course, more significant than the popular election of a political leader. The papacy is also different in that every pope is, theologically speaking, the “direct successor” of Saint Peter, the first pope. From this perspective, every pope after Saint Peter is a second pope. So, for example, the two hundredth pope, chronologically, was still the second pope, theologically. No president would claim he is the direct successor of George Washington. He is the successor of his predecessor. Theological truths transcend space and time, since their source, God, exists outside of space and time.

      The Office of St. Peter is theologically guaranteed by the easy-to-find, on-the-surface-of-the-text words of Christ telling Saint Peter that he is the rock upon which He will build His Church. Today’s Pope, and every pope, occupies that same office, is protected by that same divine guarantee, and immediately succeeds Saint Peter when he is chosen by the Holy Spirit to occupy his chair.

       What pertains to the Office of the Bishop of Rome also pertains to the Office of the Twelve Apostles. Today’s saints, Philip and James, were called by name by Christ Himself. And after being called, they took the step that many who are called never take. They followed! The Twelve walked at Christ’s side on dusty trails during His years of public ministry. They ate and drank with Him by the fire. They slept under the cold desert sky with Him. And Jesus looked right into their eyes, and only their eyes, and spoke directly to their faces, and only their faces, when He said on a Thursday night that was deeply holy, “Do this in memory of me.” And then they did that, and many other things besides, in memory of Him, for the rest of their lives.

      The four marks of the true Church are proof of its authenticity. “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” are the trademark stamp of the true Church, proving it is the Church founded by Jesus Christ. No other ecclesial community bears this trademark, and none except the Orthodox even claims to bear it. The mark of “One” means the Church is visibly one in spite of its many tongues, nations, classes, and races. The Church is one in her doctrine, her Sacraments, and her hierarchy. This oneness is not theoretical. It is tangible, real, and identifiable even to those without a doctorate in theology. This one, Christ-founded Church began with twelve followers who gathered as one around Jesus. These Twelve eventually appointed their own successors, who then, in turn, appointed successors, and so on through the centuries down to the present.

      The universal college of bishops, the successor body to the Twelve Apostles, is the means by which the Oneness, or unity, of the Church is expressed, protected, and guaranteed. Bishops are not a secondary attribute or development of Christianity. They are embedded into and conjoined with the Word of God in one complex reality. They are not an outside source of authority external to Scripture. There simply would be no Scripture without that pre-existing authority which nurtured and developed it. The Church was the incubator of the New Testament.

      Not much is known with certainty about the Apostles Philip and James, apart from their names and some few references in the New Testament. Saint James, commonly called the “Less” due perhaps to his short stature, was probably the cousin of Jesus. He was the first Bishop of Jerusalem, likely elected to that post by his fellow Apostles, and was stoned to death by resentful Jews. Saint Philip was from tiny Bethsaida in Galilee. After he received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he descended the stairs of the Upper Room and just kept walking into the darkness, his later life and labors unknown to history. More than having specific details about their later Christian exploits, it is more critical to know that Philip and James, and all the Apostles, are the sheet of bedrock into which the nascent Church sunk her deepest pillars and upon whose sturdy foundation the Church’s great weight still rests. Philip and James’ theological legacy continues today in every Bishop who teaches, sanctifies, and governs the baptized people of God.

      Saints Philip and James, your hidden witness to Christ is less well-known than that of other Apostles but is eloquent testimony to your quiet fidelity to building the Church after the Ascension. From your exalted place in Heaven, intercede for all who seek your assistance.

 

Saint of the Week 
April 24th

Saint Mark the Evangelist c. First Century
Feast Day April 25
Patron Saint of lions, lawyers, Venice, interpreters, and prisoners

He chronicled what the first Pope witnessed

     John’s Gospel offers the reader this brief post-Resurrection scene: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat…” (Jn 21:3). The flock followed where Peter led. How easily Saint Peter moves to the fore in the Acts of the Apostles. How effortlessly he speaks for the entire Community of Faith. Saint Peter even leaves the running of the Church in Jerusalem to Saint James to show that he is not bound to one city or community. Instead, Peter walks toward the widest horizon of evangelization, the capital of the world—Rome. Traitor Peter becomes Pope Peter.

      Peter was, of course, a simple fisherman. It is more interesting to note that he did not remain a simple fisherman. He grew. He matured. He led. And leaders don’t have followers as much as joiners. Saint Mark, whom we commemorate today, was one of the most significant of the many joiners who uprooted themselves to join Peter in his dangerous adventure of founding the Church. Nothing is known for certain of Mark’s origins or his youth. He is not mentioned in the Gospel that bears his name and only the faintest biographical sketch is possible. What is known is that Mark left his homeland in Palestine to follow first Saint Paul, and later, Saint Peter. Mark sailed dangerous seas in primitive boats. He walked long stretches through desolate lands. He tried to convince hardened pagans and skeptical Romans that the Gospel message was true. The words of the Acts of the Apostles, the letters of Saint Paul, and the First Letter of Saint Peter all put dots on the large map of Mark’s life. Many blank spaces, however, still lay in between. Mark is traveling with Paul in Asia Minor, then he’s with Barnabas on a boat over here, then he’s with someone else over there, and then he disappears for a number of years. The scattered evidence ends, however, with clear testimony that Mark joined Peter in Rome. In Peter’s first letter, written from the city of his death to the Church in Asia Minor, Pope Peter sends greetings on Mark’s behalf and refers to him as “my son” (1 Peter 5:13).

      Saint Mark is, of course, best known as the author of a Gospel. Like Saint Luke and Saint Paul, he was not one of the Twelve Apostles and so likely never met Jesus Christ in person. Scholars believe that the Gospel of Saint Mark relates the experiences of Saint Peter, Mark’s mentor. Each Gospel has its own unique sources, emphases, and audiences. Mark writes for non-Jews who would be impressed by Christ’s miracles more than His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. So, in Mark’s Gospel are found certain colorful details that suggest the writer was relating the words of an eyewitness. For example, in Mark 5:41 Jesus enters the home of Jairus, a synagogue leader whose daughter lay dead. Christ says to her, “Talitha koum.” Mark then tells the reader what “Talitha koum” means, presumably because his readers did not speak Aramaic. No other Gospel includes this touching detail of the untranslated words coming from the mouth of Christ that day. Mark also places other Aramaic words on Christ’s lips: “Ephphatha,” “Abba,” and “Hosanna.”

     Peter was there when it happened. Peter heard the Lord speak. And Peter was getting old, or was in prison, or was threatened with death. The Gospel he had shared and repeated verbally so many thousands of times had to be written down to send to others, to preserve the accuracy of the story, or to contradict counterfeit versions. And so, the natural progression from oral to written history slowly occurred. The Gospel was a spoken word before it was a book, and the word has primacy over the book. Saint Mark the Evangelist preserved for all time the Word of God, Jesus Christ, by committing Peter’s words to writing, thus ensuring that the spoken, eye-witness accounts of Christ’s life did not just float away in the breeze. Once the Word was enshrined on papyrus, Saint Mark had accomplished his mission forever and always.

      Saint Mark, you were a friend of the Apostles and shared their commitment to spreading the faith. From your home in Heaven, may you strengthen all those who lack the courage to live the Gospel message in their own lives so they can witness it to others.

Saint of the Week 
April 17th

Saint Anselm of Canterbury, Bishop and Doctor of the Church c. 1033–1109
Feast Day April 21

His pen pierced the blue sheet above to see God

       Few bishops have been canonized as saints since the Catholic Counter-Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The earlier history of the Church is, however, replete with saintly bishops. In the patristic era, in the first few centuries after Christ, a vast constellation of saintly bishops shined on the Church. Today’s saint was a scholar bishop in the mold of the educated churchmen of an earlier time. Saint Anselm was a world-class thinker, a politically aware defender of the Church’s rights, a contemplative monk, a faithful son of the pope, and the greatest philosopher of the eleventh century.

      Saint Anselm entered the Monastery of Bec in Normandy, France, as a young man and quickly impressed his superiors with his character and incisive mind. He was elected prior, then abbot, at a young age. He was a deeply prayerful abbot who was close to his monks and who hated to be away from the cloister. The monastery had many dealings with England due to its close proximity to that country, however, so Anselm travelled there regularly. These visits eventually led to his appointment as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm spent many years as archbishop in conflict with English civil power over who had the authority to “invest,” or empower, a bishop with the symbols of office at his installation Mass. The lay investiture controversy was a long simmering dispute throughout Europe. It was eventually resolved in favor of the Church’s right to invest its own bishops with crozier, miter, and ring.

      Much more than his role as a pastor in church-state conflicts, Saint Anselm’s most enduring legacy is as a philosopher and theologian. Thinking was his avocation even as the monastery was his vocation. Anselm’s famous definition of theology as “Faith seeking understanding” has guided centuries of Christian thinkers. Anselm was a working intellectual who produced erudite works on a range of complex subjects. He is the originator, in particular, of the ontological argument for the existence of God. The argument is ontological (or just “logical”) in that it is not empirical (scientifically verifiable). It does not argue from outward in, starting with external, observable evidence and then moving toward internal conclusions. The argument is powered, instead, by the raw strength of reason itself. As an example of a reason-driven argument, no one needs to search the world over for square circles to conclude that square circles don’t exist. Circles are round, by definition. And no one needs to interview every single bachelor to know that a bachelor is male. A bachelor is, by definition, male. Similarly, the very definition of God, Anselm’s holds, is proof that God exists.

      Anselm argued that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined. Supposing that the mind can imagine nothing greater than God, and further supposing that what exists in reality is greater than what exists only in the mind, then God must exist in reality. God’s non-existence is, then, logically impossible. This argument assumes that the maximum, or upper limit, to what the mind can attribute to God is self-contained in the meaning of the word God. No such upper limit exists in defining pain, temperature, length, or numbers, for example. A longer line can always be drawn, a greater number imagined, a sharper pain experienced, or a hotter temperature described. But to imagine a being greater than God would just be to imagine God more fully. As long as the mind’s concept of God is rational, then the argument is convincing. Anselm’s nuanced argument has provoked centuries of sophisticated commentary.

       Anselm’s life began among the Alps of today’s Northern Italy, a land of jagged, snow-encrusted mountains which stand over the green valleys below. One night the boy Anselm, asleep in his remote valley home, had a vision. He was called to the court of God on a high summit. Ascending to the very peak of a mountain, he entered the presence of the royal court and sat at the feet of the Master. God asked the boy who he was and where he came from. Anselm answered well and was rewarded with sweet bread from heaven. And then he woke up. Anselm never forgot this dream. He recounted it, in detail, many decades later, to the fellow monk who wrote his first biography. Saint Anselm’s mind never really came down from that high court he first visited in a childhood dream. He walked in the highest ranges, above the clouds, hiking from summit to summit, his pen piercing the blue sky to gaze directly into the realm above.

       We ask your intercession, Saint Anselm, to help our faith to understand its object. You did not leave man’s sense of wonder unchallenged but sought to organize human thought to meet the challenge of God. Help all thinkers to be open to finding as much as searching.

 

Saint of the Week 
Saint Martin I, Pope and Martyr c. 590–655

Saint Martin I, Pope and Martyr c. 590–655
Feast Day April 13

Exiled, alone, abandoned, and starving, a Pope dies for sound theology

      After being elected the Bishop of Rome in 649, today’s saint called a local Council which established the correct theology of the Church regarding the two wills of Christ. For this teaching and its broad dissemination, Martin was abducted in Rome by emissaries of the Byzantine Emperor Constans II, brought to Constantinople, and humiliated. Martin refused to retract or bend to the emperor’s incorrect theology, which denied that Christ had a human will. Martin was imprisoned, publicly flogged, maltreated, condemned for treason, and exiled from Constantinople to the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. And there the Pope died—naked, starving, forgotten, and alone—far from Rome, in the year 655, a victim of bad theology and the last pope, so far, venerated as a martyr.

      The Council of Chalcedon in 451 had synthesized centuries of theological debate by teaching, authoritatively, that the divine nature of the Second Person of the Trinity and the human nature of Jesus were distinct but united in the one person of Jesus Christ. This merging of divine natures in one person is called the hypostatic union. The Son of God, then, truly took flesh and experienced all things, save sin, that a man experiences. So, when Jesus said, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28), He didn’t mean to say, “Just my human nature is thirsty.” And when His majestic voice echoed off the stone walls of Bethany calling, “Lazarus, Come Out!” (Jn 11:43), He didn’t mean to say, “The divine nature inside of me, and only the divine nature, says ‘Lazarus, Come Out!’”

      Yet Eastern Christians, primarily in Egypt and Syria, clung to a Monophysite, or one nature, theology of Jesus Christ long after Chalcedon had settled the matter. The Second Council of Constantinople in 553 attempted, unsuccessfully, to pull the Monophysites back into the orbit of Chalcedon. By the 600s, tensions between Chalcedonians and Monophysites were a political problem for the Byzantine empire. So some Eastern theologians, supported by the Emperor, looked for common ground and proposed a one-willed Christ, instead of a one-natured Christ. This one-will heresy is called Monothelitism (monos = one; thelos = will). The issue of Christ’s will(s) had never been formally resolved, so the Emperor hoped a one-willed, instead of a one-natured, Christ would placate the Monophysites and unite his theologically diverse subjects.

       Chalcedon’s teaching on Christ’s two natures was ontological, or just logical, and did not explain how a person operates with dual intellects and wills. Monothelitists argued that if Christ’s two natures could seamlessly unite in one person, then so could His two wills. There was no human will in Christ, the argument went, because it was totally subsumed into the mightier divine will. But Pope Martin and others knew that this was theologically impossible, since a Christ without a functioning human will would have been a zombie, a ghost of a man. Nor could one argue that Jesus had one will divided into a divine and a human sphere, as Jesus was not a schizophrenic with a split identity.

      Martin’s theology of the two wills was vindicated when it was explicitly defined by the Third Council of Constantinople in 681. This Council taught Christ’s human will was “in subjection to his divine and all-powerful will.” That is, Christ’s two wills were separate in their natures but freely united in their object. How do two wills inside of one person enter into communion? In the same way that two wills in two different persons enter into communion. Each will gives free and independent assent to a principle, idea, or truth shared with the other will. The two wills retain their independence but freely unite in their assent to a common value. Thus Jesus’ human will, in total freedom, submitted to the will of the Son of God.

       During his captivity, Martin was hurt by the indifference which the Church of Saint Peter in Rome paid to one of their own. Martin was also deeply pained when a new Pope was elected though he was still alive. It is every pope’s duty to preserve the unity and integrity of the Church by preserving the unity and integrity of Christ. Martin did just that. The fruits of Martin’s martyrdom advanced theology toward its correct conclusion on Christ’s two wills in the decades after he died, even though poor Martin himself has been largely forgotten. His remains were returned to the Eternal City after his death and he now rests in peace somewhere under the marble floor of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

       Pope Saint Martin I, through your intercession before the Father in Heaven, fortify all teachers and leaders of the Church to remain steadfast in the truth, to advocate for the truth, and to suffer for the truth, no matter the personal cost.

 

Saint of the Week 
March 27th

Saint John Baptist de la Salle, Priest 1651–1719
Feast Day April 7
Patron Saint of Christian teachers

Great faith, charm, and skill opened school doors to millions

A cowboy mounts a horse and lassos a calf to show the next cowboy how to wrangle. A fisherman tosses a net into the ocean so that his son learns to put food on the table for dinner. And a good teacher teaches an apprentice how to teach. The passing on of professional knowledge doesn’t happen by accident. Those who are skilled teach those who are less so. Today’s saint, John Baptiste de la Salle, was a lifelong educator, an excellent teacher who had innovative and effective ideas on how to educate youth. Most importantly, he also had faith, perseverance, and the administrative skills to bring his educational vision to fulfillment in the face of stiff resistance.

      A good teacher must do much more than master content. He must do much more than manage his classroom. A good teacher is an artist who combines mastery of the material with psychological insights, discipline, charm, preparedness, and love, all in careful equilibrium. At the time Saint Jean Baptiste began to teach teachers, the custom in France was to teach children Latin. And once they had learned Latin sufficiently, the custom was to teach the students every other subject in Latin. Lower class, poorer children, were often not taught at all or only for a few brief years. Jean Baptiste wanted all children to have access to a good education, for their schooling to be free of charge, and for classes to be in French. These ideals, combined with his own charm, holiness, and upper class savoir faire, drew many idealistic young men to his side. They wanted to be teachers too, and to dedicate themselves to the Lord. Originally Jean Baptiste was reluctant to live with, and train, men who belonged to a social class far below his own. He remarked that his first teacher trainees ranked below his own servants. In the end, though, Jean overcame his reluctance and innate prejudice and threw himself wholeheartedly into the educational work that would make him famous.

       So many young men gathered around him that Jean Baptiste founded an Order which was, after his death, officially recognized by the Church—the Christian Brothers. Just when his educational apostolates needed funds to expand, Jean Baptiste inherited a fortune from his parents. He was tempted to use the money to open new schools but instead donated it to the poor, deciding to rely only upon providence for the support of his schools. The members of his Order were intentionally not ordained to the Priesthood so that sacramental responsibilities would not distract them from teaching. His Christian Brothers also had no obligation to pray the Divine Office (the Breviary) and were prohibited from physical mortifications beyond the Church’s norms on fasting. Jean felt that teaching well was itself a mortification which required heroic self-discipline. Jean wanted nothing less than ambassadors of Christ to the young, not just teachers. All of this was novel for its time a body of men with no ordained members dedicated exclusively to education was unheard of.

         For all his successes in opening new schools, however, Jean Baptiste had numerous setbacks. Over many years he was verbally attacked, sued in court, and vilified by some religious Orders and clerics. They saw his free schools and universal educational goals as a threat to their own local monopolies on education. Jean Baptiste dealt with all of this with admirable courage, humility, and magnanimity. It’s not easy times that make one great. It’s hardship, adversity, and persecution. Jean Baptiste’s trials made a good man into a great man, and a great man into a saint. He fasted continually, mortified himself harshly, and traded his early life of comfort for hard scrabble poverty. After relinquishing the heavy burden of his Order’s leadership and administration, Jean was so obedient to his successor that the new superior joked that Jean would not die unless he was given permission to do so. The Counter-Reformation fervor behind so many great saints of sixteenth-century Italy and Spain arrived late to France, but it arrived no less ardent. Jean Baptiste was one of its greatest exemplars. The Christians Brothers peaked at over sixteen thousand members in the 1950s and are still active today in numerous countries, operating over a thousand educational institutions. The legacy of their dynamic, innovative, and indefatigable founder continues to thrive.

Saint John Baptiste de la Salle, through your intercession, give all teachers of the Faith the perseverance, grace, and love they need to teach the uneducated, especially the poor and those who struggle to learn. Your determination inspires. Your heavenly assistance guarantees fruitfulness.

 

Saint of the Week 
March 27th

Saint Vincent Ferrer, Priest c. 1350–1419
Feast Day April 5
Patron Saint of builders

He slept on the floor, fasted endlessly, performed miracles, and converted thousands. 

       Saint Dominic de Guzman, a Spanish priest, founded the Order of Preachers in the early thirteenth century. He wanted to establish an Order of priests who were well educated in theology, adept at preaching the truths they lived, and who had more flexibility than a monastery-bound priest to travel and evangelize. Over a century later, today’s saint was born in Saint Dominic’s own country, joined the Dominican Order, and carried out in the most dynamic and complete way the essential vision of Saint Dominic. Saint Vincent Ferrer was well educated and a powerfully effective preacher. He travelled almost without cease throughout Western Europe, impacting the lives of untold thousands of people through his example of holiness, his supernatural gifts, and his preaching. Saint Vincent was the ideal Dominican.

       Vincent was born in Valencia, on the southern coast of Spain, to an English father and a Spanish mother. He was named in honor of Saint Vincent Martyr, who met his death in the same city in the fourth century. Vincent received an excellent education and earned a doctorate in theology at a young age. It was said that he read exclusively Scripture for three full years and had committed much of it to memory. He taught philosophy and then took up advanced studies, in Barcelona, of Islam and Judaism. Spain had a sizeable minority of Jews, and Muslims still controlled large portions of Southern Spain in Saint Vincent’s day. So, these studies were not merely theoretical. Saint Vincent converted a large number of Spanish Jews and interacted with Spanish Muslims on a regular basis.

       The ecclesial event which most marked our saint’s life was the Western Schism of 1378–1418. This painful episode saw two, and eventually three, cardinals claim to be the validly elected pope. This open wound pained the Church for two generations. Some Europeans lived their whole lives knowing only a bitterly divided papacy. The Western Schism proved so intractable a problem, and caused such scandal, that it can be argued that it was the remote spark of the Reformation which caught fire through Northern Europe about one hundred years later. Such were the complexities of the Schism that Saint Vincent found himself on opposite sides of the issue from Saint Catherine of Siena and various other deeply committed and holy Catholics.

       Our saint spent most of his life as an itinerant preacher on the highways and byways of Spain, France, and Italy, drawing enormous crowds and inspiring them to a deeper life in Christ. Near the end of his life, Vincent’s effective preaching played a decisive role at the Council of Constance in 1414. He convinced the Spanish King to cease supporting the very pope who Vincent had previously backed in the Schism. Vincent was man enough to see that his candidate had become an obstacle to Church unity. Vincent thus lived a hard lesson in humility when his man was abandoned, excommunicated, and judged by history to have been an antipope. Saint Vincent fittingly died on one of his incessant missionary journeys, far from home in Northern France, at the age of sixty-nine. His reputation for holiness was such that he was canonized a saint in 1455, within the lifetime of many who had heard him preach.

Saint Vincent Ferrer, you lived a life of fervor and dedication to the truths of the Catholic faith, imparting the education you received to others through your witness and preaching. Come to the aid of all teachers and preachers to emulate your virtues with your same zeal for the house of the Lord.

Saint of the Week 
March 20th

Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo, Bishop 1538–1606
Feast Day March 23
Patron Saint of Latin American Bishops and native people’s rights

A late vocation, he made up for lost time through ceaseless apostolic labors 

     Today’s saint was the second Archbishop of the second most important city in Spain’s Latin American empire in the 1500s. Lima, Peru, stood only behind Mexico City in importance to the Spanish Crown during the pinnacle of its colonial ambitions. So when Lima’s first Archbishop died in 1575, the King of Spain, not the Pope, searched for a suitable candidate to send over sea and land to replace him. The King found his man close at hand, and he was more than suitable to the task. Turibius of Mogrovejo was a learned scholar of the law who held teaching and other posts in Spain’s complex of Church and civil courts. Yet for all his learning, piety, faith, and energy, there was one huge obstacle to him being a bishop. Turibius was not a priest. He was not even a deacon. He was a very good, albeit unmarried, layman. The arrangement for centuries between Spain and the Holy See was that the Spanish Crown chose bishops while the Pope approved, or rejected, them. So after the Pope approved the appointment, over the candidate’s fierce objections, Turibius received the four minor orders on four successive weeks, was ordained a deacon and then ordained a priest. He said his first Mass when he was over forty years old. About two years later, Turibius was consecrated as the new archbishop, and then sailed the ocean blue, arriving in Lima in May 1581.

      Archbishop Turibius was extraordinarily dedicated to his episcopal responsibilities. He exhausted himself on years-long visits to the parishes of his vast territory, which included present day Peru and beyond. He acquainted himself with the priests and people under his care. He convoked synods (large Church meetings) to standardize sacramental, pastoral, and liturgical practice. He produced an important trilingual catechism in Spanish and two native dialects, learned to preach in these indigenous dialects himself, and encouraged his priests to be able to hear confessions and preach in them as well. Archbishop Turibius’ life also providentially intersected with the lives of other saints active in Peru at the same time, including Martin de Porres, Francisco Solano, and Isabel Flores de Oliva, to whom Turibius gave the name Rose when he confirmed her. She was later canonized as Saint Rose of Lima, the first saint born in the New World. Saints know saints.

      Archbishop Turibius was a fine example of a counter-reformation bishop, except that he did not serve in a counter-reformation place. That is, Peru was not split by the Catholic versus Protestant theological divisions wreaking such havoc in the Europe of that era. Saint Turibius implemented the reforms of the Council of Trent, not to combat heretics, but to simply make the Church healthier and holier, Protestants or no Protestants. From this perspective, the reforms of Trent were not a cure but an antidote. If Turibius’ energy and holiness were motivated by any one thing besides evangelical fervor, it was his desire to make the Spanish colonists of Peru recover the integrity of their own baptisms. The indigenous population needed authentic examples of Christian living to respect and emulate, and few Spanish colonialists provided such models of right living. Saint Turibius’ greatest enemy, then, was simply original sin, which returns to the battlefield every time a baby is born.

      After exhausting himself through total dedication to his responsibilities, Saint Turibius fell ill on the road and died at age sixty-seven in a small town far from home. His twenty-four years as Archbishop were a trial of strength. He had baptized and confirmed half a million souls, had trekked thousands of miles on narrow paths made for goats, had never neglected to say Mass, and did not accept any gifts in return for what he gave. Turibius was canonized in 1726 and named the Patron Saint of Latin American Bishops by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1983. Perhaps his unforeseen ordination explains his sustained fervor and drive. What came late was valued for having come at all. He bloomed late and bloomed beautifully, becoming the Spanish equivalent of his great contemporary, the Italian Saint Charles Borromeo.

       If a visitor searches for the tomb of the saintly Archbishop in the Cathedral of Lima today, he will not find it. There are only fragments of bones in a reliquary. His reputation for holiness was immediate and his relics were distributed far and wide after his death. He is in death as widely shared as he was in life, all the faithful wanting just a piece of the great man. In January 2018, Pope Francis prayed before the relics of Saint Turibius in Lima and invoked his memory in a talk to Peru’s bishops. Saint Turibius did not, Pope Francis said, shepherd his diocese from behind a desk, but was a “a bishop with shoes worn out by walking, by constant travel, by setting out to preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance, and fear.”

 

Saint of the Week 
March 13th

Saint Patrick, Bishop Fifth Century
Feast Day March 17
Patron Saint of Ireland

The black arts of pagandom were no match for this one-man fortress 

      Today’s saint, the Patron of Ireland, was English. He was born in an unknown year to Catholic parents in an educated home in Roman Britain. His father was a deacon and his grandfather a married priest. When he first went to Ireland, he did not go willingly. He was kidnapped by pirates at the age of sixteen and enslaved. He went from the warm embrace of his home to herding pigs, exposed to sleet and cold, starving on the rain-soaked coast of rural Ireland. Times of great danger and deprivation are often times of great grace. In young Patrick’s years of isolation, cold, hunger, and loss, prayer was his only nourishment and comfort. His captivity turned a boy into a man and transformed a tepid Christian into an ardent soul burning with love for the Holy Trinity.

       After six years of torturous enslavement, Patrick escaped his captors and made the difficult voyage back to his own nation, family, and language. But the Irish were never far from his mind. One night, he had a dream. Patrick sees a man he knew in Ireland named Victoricus approaching from the west. Victoricus holds countless letters and hands one to Patrick. It is titled “The Voice of the Irish.” As he begins to read the letter, Patrick hears a multitude of voices rising, as if one, from a forest near the Western Sea: “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.” Patrick is deeply moved. Unable to read any more, he wakes up.

     Patrick decides to be a slave of Christ and to return as a missionary to Ireland. Feeling himself unprepared, he first studies for many years at monasteries in France. After receiving an excellent education in the Faith, he receives priestly and episcopal ordination. He then embarks as a fully equipped missionary for his adopted homeland. There he finds a rustic people steeped in paganism. It is not today’s paganism—well read, superior, and too sophisticated to believe in religious “mythology.” Real paganism, the paganism of remote Ireland, called upon dark forces to conquer the white spirits and angels of God. Real paganism casts spells, calls down lightning from the night sky, mixes potions to poison its enemies, and forms flames into swords for battle. Real paganism invokes the devil because it knows satan keeps his appointments. This is the dark paganism Patrick finds lurking in the foggy hills and bogs of his new land. Fifth-century Ireland had a deeply entrenched, richly layered culture of pagan worship. And Bishop Patrick used his crozier, like a dagger, to stab it right in the heart.

      Saint Patrick converts the Irish, one tribe after another. He matches the tribes’ preternatural forces with supernatural powers. There are numerous anecdotes, of dubious historicity, describing how Patrick turned an enemy into a fox, converted his walking staff into a tree, or drove all the snakes out of Ireland. These tales illustrate a deeper point—Saint Patrick had command over creation itself and used that power to communicate the truth of the Christian God who created creation. There is no doubt that Saint Patrick harvested an immense number of souls.

     For the Church to send a bishop to Ireland in the fifth century was to land a man on the moon. Beyond Ireland there was no one and nothing. Patrick evangelized a rugged, clever people in a rugged, clever way. He conquered their witches, wizards, and warlocks with the Holy Spirit. He vanquished their incantations, potions, brews, demons, and sorcery with the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Son of God in the Mystery of the Altar we call the Blessed Sacrament. He overcame the “black laws of pagandom” with a protecting God who walks always and lovingly at our side. Many centuries of saints, abbots, missionaries, scholars, and monks set sail from tiny Ireland to traverse the globe in service of the Gospel. They owe the rich Catholic culture of their homeland to that mighty pillar of faith known as Saint Patrick.

      Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, assist us through your intercession to trust in the raw power of God to conquer evil. Give us confidence to confront evil spirits, however they may show themselves, so that the peace of true religion may reign where it does not reign now.

Saint of the Week 
March 6th

Saint Frances of Rome, 1384–1440
Feast day March 9
Patron Saint of motorists and widows     

 

Just to be near her was thought a blessing

       Today’s saint, born into a wealthy noble family in the Eternal City, was married to a man from a similarly privileged family when she was just thirteen. Saint Frances earnestly sought to do the will of God in serving her husband, her children, and her home while also attempting to live a high level of holiness modeled on the life of a nun. She had desired to enter religious life from a young age, but her father refused to break his promise to give Frances in marriage to a fellow nobleman. Frances struggled with an internal conflict between her married state and the religious state to which she had originally felt called. This was not a choice between a good and a bad option. It was a natural tension in the soul of a holy woman who saw two paths open before her, both of which led to God. After her husband died and her children were grown, Saint Frances did live the ordered life of a religious, albeit outside of a convent.

      The divine pull that Saint Frances felt in the direction of two unique callings was not unusual. The Church has other female saints who were wives and mothers before they entered religious life. The spiritual theology of the Church in the twentieth century, ratified by the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, now offers a vision of holiness which resolves much of this earlier tension in trying to discern a vocation. The primary calling of all Christians is imparted through Baptism, fortified in Confirmation, and nourished in reception of Holy Communion. These Sacraments are sufficient armor to fit one for holiness in any and all circumstances. The married life and its natural domestic concerns is, then, as much a theater for holiness as a cloister.

      The Church wants all Catholics to understand daily life as its own drama in fulfilling, or rejecting, God’s will. It is not that one is distracted with the details of work, family, domestic chores, and children while the real action takes place in the parish, the monastery, the retreat center or the convent. The real action is at home, in the domestic church. It is precisely at home where Christians spend most of their time, raise their children, engage with their spouses, and accomplish the multitude of tasks that make life happen. Home and work are not spheres of life. They are life. And it would be absurd to argue that the will of God lies outside of life itself. To say that holiness is for everyone is to say that all of creation is a forum to pursue it, and that no vocation limits the opportunity to accomplish God’s will.

        Saint Frances of Rome was a model wife and mother for forty years, often in violent and difficult circumstances provoked by skirmishes related to the Western Schism, the era of more than one pope which divided Rome’s elites into warring factions. Frances’ husband loved and revered her, her servants admired her, and her children adored her. In addition to performing her domestic duties so faithfully, Frances also fasted, prayed, had a vibrant mystical spirituality, and was generous with the poor. Her charity toward the destitute was not the modern charity of making charitable donations. She did the work, not someone else. She herself made personal contact with the homeless, the hungry, and beggars. Her sterling example of piety and service led her to found a group of like-minded women who lived in the world but who bound themselves to a life of prayer and service. The group was later recognized as an order in the Church under the title the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome. So in addition to fulfilling her own duties, Frances also helped similarly high-placed women to avoid lives of frivolity.

        Saint Frances of Rome was generous in all things, saw her guardian angel at her side for many years, ate little more than dry bread, and had a provable gift of healing. As her reputation for holiness spread in her later years, to be in her mere presence was considered a blessing by the people of Rome. As wife, mother, and later Oblate, she stretched herself to the limit in seeking out and doing God’s will, precisely as that will was transmitted to her by the Church she loved with such fervor.

      Saint Frances of Rome, through your intercession, aid all wives and mothers to live lives of generous service to their families. Help them to serve the domestic Church by creating, and fortifying, that cradle of holiness and culture the Church so needs to flourish.

 

Saint of the Week 
February 27th

St. Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor 950–c.1003     
Feast Day February 27

A mystical Eastern monk praises God like a troubadour

      A crowning glory of the Armenian people is that their nation was the first to adopt Christianity as its official religion. Approximately twelve years before the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313, an Armenian King converted to Christianity. Following the universal custom of mankind, the King’s religion then became his people’s. Though the actual conversion of individual souls required decades of subsequent evangelical effort, this early baptism of an entire nation has granted the Armenian Apostolic Church unique status as the custodian of Armenian national identity. Living proof of Armenia’s ancient Christian pedigree is found in the old city of Jerusalem. An Armenian patriarch, cathedral, and seminary anchor the peaceful Armenian Quarter, one of the four neighborhoods packed behind the walls of the city where it all began.

       Today’s saint, Gregory of Narek, was a medieval Armenian monk who wrote mystical poetry, hymns, and biblical commentaries. He is one of Armenia’s greatest literary figures and poets. His principal work, the “Book of Lamentations,” consists of ninety-five prayers he composed as an encyclopedia of prayer for all people. The twentieth-century Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that while Western Medieval piety developed the rosary as a lay substitute for praying the Psalms, the Armenian tradition developed hymns and songs to Mary as the primary expression of popular piety, as seen in the works of St. Gregory of Narek (CCC #2678). Pope Saint John Paull II also referenced St. Gregory in his encyclical on Mary, Redemptoris Mater: “…with powerful poetic inspiration (St. Gregory) ponders the…mystery of the Incarnation, …an occasion to sing and extol the extraordinary dignity and magnificent beauty of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Word made flesh” (31).

       Like St. Ephrem, a centuries-earlier Syrian archetype of Eastern monasticism, St. Gregory uses metaphor, songs, litanies, and poetry to communicate Christian truth. The Western tradition, especially since the time of St. Augustine, tends to communicate the truths of Christianity in less artistic ways—through close reasoning, apologetics, the synthesis of Greek philosophy with Christian doctrine, and by showing the internal harmony of Scriptural texts.

       The Armenian Christian tradition, like related ancient churches born near the cradle of mankind, has not sharpened its sword of thought by constant clashing with enemy metal, as has occurred in the West. The benefit of a monoculture—of a people who all speak the same language, kneel before the same God, profess the same faith, and sing the same songs—is deep unity. A monoculture has no need to hone arguments. When everyone agrees on the fundamentals, when the tapestry of a culture is not torn or frayed, the writer, priest, poet, composer, or monk can sing, whistle, ruminate, and dream like a madman or a troubadour. When he describes a rainbow as God’s bow in the sky, hears the sweet voice of Mary in a lark, imagines a devilish sea-monster lurking in the wine-dark sea, or is convinced that the blood dripping from the side of Christ soaks and sanctifies the earth itself, the faithful quietly nod in agreement and humbly whisper: “Thus it is. Thus, it shall always be.”

         Little is known of the life of St. Gregory of Narek, other than that he was a dedicated monk who lived his entire adult life in a monastery situated in todays’ eastern Turkey, in the Armenian homeland between the Black and Caspian Seas. Saint Gregory’s essence is truly to be found in the spaces between his words. He is his writings. Saint Gregory was never formally canonized, a not uncommon fact for holy men and women of his era. During a Mass in 2015 commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks, Pope Francis declared St. Gregory of Narek a Doctor of the Church, the thirty-sixth person so honored and only the second from the churches of the East.

      Surprisingly, St. Gregory was not a Catholic, though he did pertain to an apostolic church with legitimate sacraments and a hierarchical structure which, however, is not in formal communion with Rome. The narrow theological arteries that run east from Constantinople become thinner as they spread ever eastward, often terminating in ecclesiastical cardiac arrest—in churches without people, in thrones without bishops, in altars without sacrifices, and in monasteries without monks. It is one of the holy obligations of the still robust Roman Church to exalt those whom others cannot, to witness to beauty wherever it may be found, and to call Christian leaders to gather in the immensity of St. Peter’s Basilica to anoint the memory of a gifted Christian of long ago with the noble title of doctor.

      Saint Gregory of Narek, your quiet, humble, and hidden life produced a rich garden of poems and prayers. May your redolent words and rich images fire our imaginations and inflame our hearts so that our flame of faith burns as hot as yours in its love for Christ and Mary.

Saint of the Week 
February 20th

Saint Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church 1007–1072
Feast Day: February 21
Patron Saint of Faenza and Font-Avellano, Italy

A wise and holy monk becomes a Cardinal and thunders for reform in the Church

     Every Catholic knows that the Pope is elected by, and from, the Cardinals of the Church gathered in the Sistine Chapel. Every Catholic knows that the Pope then goes to a large balcony perched high in the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica to greet the faithful and receive their acceptance. This is simply the way things are done in the Church. But it’s not the way things were always done. A Catholic in the early Middle Ages would have described a papal election as something like a bar room fight, a back-alley brawl, or a political horse race replete with bribes, connivings, and promises made just to be broken. Everyone—far-off emperors, the nobility of Rome, military generals, influential laity, priests—put their hands on the wheel to turn the rudder of the Church in one direction or another. Papal elections were sources of deep division, causing lasting damage to the Body of Christ. Then along came Saint Peter Damian to save the day.

      Saint Peter headed a group of reform-minded Cardinals and others who decided in 1059 that only Cardinal Bishops could elect the Pope. No nobles. No crowds. No emperors. Saint Peter wrote that the Cardinal Bishops do the electing, the other clergy give their assent, and the people give their applause. This is exactly the program the Church has followed for almost a thousand years.

       Today’s saint sought to reform himself first, and then to pull every weed that choked life from the healthy plants in the garden of the Church. After a difficult upbringing of poverty and neglect, Peter was saved from destitution by an older brother named Damian. Out of gratitude, he added his older brother’s name to his own. He was given an excellent education, in which his natural gifts became apparent, and then entered a strict monastery to live as a monk. Peter’s extreme mortifications, learning, wisdom, uninterrupted life of prayer, and desire to right the ship of the Church put him into contact with many other Church leaders who desired the same. Peter eventually was called to Rome and became a counselor to a succession of popes. Against his will, he was ordained a Bishop, made a Cardinal, and headed a diocese. He fought against simony (the purchasing of church offices), against clerical marriage, and for the reform of papal elections. He also thundered, in the strongest and clearest of language, against the scourge of homosexuality in the priesthood.

       After being personally involved in various ecclesiastical battles for reform, he requested leave to return to his monastery. His request was repeatedly denied until finally the Holy Father let him return to a life of prayer and penance, where his primary distraction was carving wooden spoons. After fulfilling a few more sensitive missions to France and Italy, Peter Damian died of fever in 1072. Pope Benedict XVI has described him as “one of the most significant figures of the eleventh century…a lover of solitude and at the same time a fearless man of the Church, committed personally to the task of reform.” He died about one hundred years before Saint Francis of Assisi was born, yet some have referred to him as the Saint Francis of his age.

      More than two hundred years after our saint’s death, Dante wrote his Divine Comedy. The author is guided through paradise and sees a golden ladder, lit by a sunbeam, stretching into the clouds above. Dante begins to climb and meets a soul radiating the pure love of God. Dante is in awe that the heavenly choirs have fallen silent to listen to this soul speak: “The mind is light here, on earth it is smoke. Consider, then, how it can do down there what it cannot do up here with heaven’s help.” God is unknowable even in heaven itself, so how much more unfathomable must He be on earth. Dante drinks in this wisdom and, transfixed, asks this soul its name. The soul then describes its prior earthly life: “In that cloister I became so steadfast in the service of our God that with food seasoned just with olive-juice lightheartedly I bore both heat and cold, content with thoughtful prayers of contemplation. I was, in that place, Peter Damian.” Dante is among refined company in the loftiest heights of heaven.

     Saint Peter Damian, your reform of the Church began in your own monastery cell. You never asked of others what you did not demand first of yourself. You even endured the detraction and calumny of your peers. Help us to reform others by our example, learning, perseverance, mortifications, and prayers.

Saint of the Week 
February 13th

 

Saints Cyril and Methodius
Feast Day: February 14
Co-Patrons of Europe and Apostles to the Slavs

Two makers of Europe ignite the steady flame of Christianity in the East

The Cyrillic alphabet used by hundreds of millions of people in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Russia, is named after today’s Cyril. Numerous proofs could be advanced for why a certain person is historically significant. Few proofs, however, can eclipse an alphabet being named after you. The evangelical labors of Cyril and Methodius were so path breaking, long lasting, and culture forming that these brothers stand in the very first rank of the Church’s greatest missionaries. Shoulder to shoulder with brave men such as Patrick, Augustine of Canterbury, Boniface, Ansgar, and others, they baptized nations, mustered clans from the forests, codified laws, transcribed alphabets, and gathered the crude pagan gropings for the divine into the transcendent worship of the one true God at Mass. Saints Cyril and Methodius helped form the religiously undivided reality of Christendom long before it was ever called Europe.

     Cyril was baptized as Constantine and was known by that name until late in his life. He and Methodius were from Thessalonica, in northern Greece, where they spoke not only Greek but also Slavonic, a critical linguistic advantage for their later missionary adventures. Cyril and Methodius received excellent educations in their youth and, as they matured, were given important educational, religious, and political appointments in an age when those disciplines were braided into one sturdy cord. The people, the state, and the Church were an undivided whole. Cyril and Methodius served the imperial court, the one true Church, and their native land as professors, governors, abbots, deacons, priests, and bishops.

      Sometime after 860 the brothers were commissioned by the Emperor in Constantinople to lead a missionary crew heading into Moravia, in today’s Czech Republic. They walked straight into a tangled web of political, religious, linguistic, and liturgical controversies which have vexed Eastern and Central Europe even until today. The Church of Rome allowed only three languages to be used in its liturgical and scriptural texts (Hebrew, Greek, and Latin) the three languages inscribed above Christ’s head on the cross. The Church in the East, juridically under Rome but culturally spinning off into its own orbit over the centuries, was a patchwork of peoples where local vernaculars were used in the liturgy. Languages are always spoken long before they are written, and the spoken Slavonic of Moravia had unique sounds demanding new letters populating a new alphabet. Cyril created that new alphabet, and then he and Methodius translated Scripture, various liturgical books, and the Mass into written Slavonic. This led to some serious tensions.

       The newly Christianized German bishops were suspicious of missionaries in their own neighborhood who came from Greece, spoke Slavonic, and who celebrated the sacred mysteries in a quasi-Byzantine style. Moravia and the greater Slavic homeland were under German ecclesiastical jurisdiction, not the Greeks. How could the Mass be said in Slavonic, or the Gospels translated into that new language? How could a Byzantine liturgy co-exist with the Latin rite? Cyril and Methodius went to Rome to resolve these various issues with the Pope and his advisers.

       The brothers were treated respectfully in Rome as well-educated and heroic missionaries. Cyril died and was buried in the Eternal City. Methodius returned to the land of the Slavs and to ongoing tensions with German ecclesiastics and princes. He translated virtually the entire Bible into Slavonic, assembled a code of Byzantine church and civil law, and firmly established, with the Pope’s permission, the use of Slavonic in the liturgy. After Methodius’ death, however, German and Latin Rite influences prevailed. The Byzantine Rite, the use of Slavonic in the liturgy, and the Cyrillic alphabet were all forced from Central to Eastern Europe, particularly Bulgaria, shortly after he died. While they were always honored in the East, the Feast of Ss. Cyril and Methodius was extended to the entire Catholic Church only in 1880. Pope Saint John Paul II named Saints Cyril and Methodius Co-Patrons of Europe. Their massive legacy inspires the two lungs of the Church, both East and West, to breathe more deeply the enriched oxygen of the entire Christian tradition.

       Saints Cyril and Methodius, you prepared yourselves for brave and generous service to Christ and His Church through long years of preparation and, when the time came, served heroically. May we so prepare, and so serve, until we can serve no more.