Tag Archives: saints

Saints of Advent

In the revision of the church calendar after the Second Vatican Council an effort was made to reduce the celebration of saints feast days and emphasize the celebration of the mysteries of Christ in seasons like Advent and Christmas. Why then, are we still celebrating feasts of the saints, for example, St. Francis Xavier (Dec 3), St. John Damascene (Dec 4), St. Nicholas (Dec 6), St. Ambrose (Dec 7) and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (Dec 8)?

The reason is that saints are signs of holiness, and holiness is not found only in biblical times, but in every age. Holy people are not only people of the Bible, they’re found yesterday, today and tomorrow. They reveal God’s plan unfolding in time. Expressing the mystery of Christ in their time and place, saints ask us to do the same in our time and place.

St. Francis Xavier (December 3) in his time fulfilled a message powerfully  proclaimed in Advent, especially by the Prophet Isaiah– God wills his saving message be brought to all nations. He says to us “Portuguese merchants and officials brought me to the Indies in the 16th century. How are you bringing the gospel to all nations today?”

St. John Damascene (December 4) is an 8th century saint of the Eastern church whom the Roman church included in its calendar as a doctor of the church in 1890 during the pontificate of Leo XIII. By recognizing him and his teaching, the Roman church recognized the holiness and teaching of the Orthodox churches. John Damascene is a sign that God works, not just through one church, but through other churches as well. He asks us now: “How do you recognize God’s teaching in churches other than your own?”

John Damascene defended the use of images against those who saw them as impediments to knowing a transcendent God. He validated the work of Michelangelo and Bach and generations of Christian artists. We might not have Christmas creches today without him.

There’s probably not a saint more closely connected to Christmas in the popular mind than St. Nicholas, Santa Claus (December 6). The delightful story of Nicholas throwing pieces of gold into a house where three poor girls are threatened with slavery is a story that mirrors the story of the Incarnation. Jesus, the Word made flesh, a gift of God’s mercy, comes hidden as an infant into our poor world and quietly gives us eternal life, humbly asking nothing in return. 

Nicholas, Santa Claus, asks us to give quietly, humbly, in our time, as Jesus did.

St. Ambrose (December 7) was born in the 4th century into a Christian family and became a lawyer and high official of the Roman government in northern Italy. He was called by popular acclaim to be bishop, though not yet baptized! Eight days after his baptism he was ordained bishop and became one of the great Christian bishops of our church

He immersed himself in the scriptures and preached God’s word. He wrote once to another bishop: “Drink from Christ, so that your voice may be heard…He who reads much and understands much, is filled. He who is full refreshes others.”

One of those Ambrose refreshed with his preaching was St. Augustine, whom he awakened to the beauty of God’s word. He baptized Augustine and his friends and was an example to them. His voice was heard, the voice of Christ.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is remembered in a number of feasts in Advent and she has an important role in Luke’s Gospel which we read towards the end of Advent. She helps us understand so much about the coming of Jesus Christ. Do we need a reason to celebrate her in Advent and Christmas?

Saints are signs of Christ, yesterday, today and forever. They tell us to be signs of Christ in our time.

Saving Santa Claus

Santa’s coming to town for Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade. From the parade he’ll go into the store  for Black Friday and be there for the rest of the days till Christmas.

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But Santa Claus is more than a saleman, isn’t he? He’s a saint– Saint Nicholas. He reminds us Christmas is for giving rather than getting. His story of quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways we can save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the rest. First, take a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our  modest contribution for bigger children– like us:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADevygB9jNs

Saints of Korea

The founders of churches throughout the world have an important place in our church calendar, because they did what Jesus commanded: “Go out to the whole world and preach the gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 25 ) 

Church founders are apostles like Peter and Paul, founders of the church in Rome, (June 29), or monk-bishops like Boniface, founder of the church of the Germanic peoples, (June 5), Patrick, founder of the church in Ireland, (March 17) Ansgar, founder of the church in Scandanavia, (February 3),  Cyril and Methodius, founders of the church in the Slavic nations (February14).

The church in Korea, whose founding we celebrate today, can be traced back to the 17th century. Its foundation is special, as Pope John Paul II noted at the canonization of the Korean Martyrs, May 6, 1984:

“The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by laypeople. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these many martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today’s splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians of the Church of Silence in the north of this tragically divided land.” – Pope John Paul II at the canonization of the Korean Martyrs, May 6, 1984.

A priest, Andrew Kim Taegon and a layman Paul Chong Hasang, head the list of 103 martyrs canonized in 1984, but the early Korean church was from the first a church of laypeople. Decades before those celebrated today, it was without priests or bishops. All lay people, they kept faith alive at great cost and offered it to others. 

 By its nature, the Catholic Church draws from its member churches the gifts God has given them. The church is the body of Christ. May our churches today, old and new, be blessed with lay people like those who founded the church in Korea.

The Second Vatican Council, 60 years or so ago,  called for increasing the role of the laity in the Catholic Church. It seems to me that goal has still to be met, at least in my country. 

“Once again, Jesus sends lay people into every town and place where he will come (cf.Luke 10:1) so that they may show that they are co-workers in the various forms and modes of the one apostolate of the Church, which must be constantly adapted to the new needs of our times. Ever productive as they should be in the work of the Lord, they know that their labor in him is not in vain (cf.  1 Cor.15:58).”  (Decree on Laity, 33)

O God, who have been pleased to increase your adopted children in all the world, and who made the blood of the Martyrs Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gǒn and his companions a most fruitful seed of Christians, grant that we may be defended by their help and profit always from their example.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 12th is the feast of Our Lady Guadalupe, which recalls the appearance of Mary on a hilltop near Mexico City to Juan Diego, a humble Mexican laborer, in 1591, ten years after the Aztec Empire was crushed by the colonial armies of Spain. Mary appeared dark skinned, with native features and in native dress, not at all like one from the colonial powers. In appearing like them, Mary helped many of the native peoples accept Christianity.

Keep this story in mind when the next discussion on immigration comes up.It’s a strong reminder of Isaiah’s ancient call in our Advent readings: God wishes all to be his children.

Pope John Paul II said this about St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, whose feast is celebrated December 9th:

“He has lifted up the humble. God the Father looked down onto Juan Diego, a simple Mexican Indian and enriched him not just with the gift of rebirth in Christ but also with the sight of the face of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a role in the task of evangelizing the entire continent of America. From this we can see the truth of the words of St Paul: those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.

“This fortunate man, whose name, Cuauhtlatoatzin, means “the eagle that speaks,” was born around 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, part of the kingdom of Texcoco. When he was an adult and already married, he embraced the Gospel and was purified by the waters of baptism along with his wife, setting out to live in the light of faith and in accordance with the promises he had made before God and the Church.

“In December 1531, as he was travelling to the place called Tlaltelolco, he saw a vision of the Mother of God herself, who commanded him to ask the Bishop of Mexico to build a church on the site of the vision. The bishop asked him for some proof of this amazing event.

“On 12 December the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego once more and told him to climb to the top of the hill called Tepeyac and pick flowers there and take them away with him. It was impossible that any flowers should grow there, because of the winter frosts and because the place was dry and rocky. Nevertheless Juan Diego found flowers of great beauty, which he picked, collected together in his cape, and carried to the Virgin. She told him to bring the flowers to the bishop as a proof of the truth of his vision. In the bishop’s presence Juan Diego unfolded his cape and poured out the flowers; and there appeared, miraculously imprinted on the fabric, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which from that moment onwards became the spiritual centre of the nation.

“The church was built in honor of the Queen of Heaven. Juan Diego, moved by piety, left everything and dedicated his life to looking after this tiny hermitage and to welcoming pilgrims. He trod the way to sanctity through love and prayer, drawing strength from the eucharistic banquet of our Redeemer, from devotion to his most holy Mother, from communion with the holy Church and obedience to her pastors. Everyone who met him was overwhelmed by his virtues, especially his faith, love, humility, and other-worldliness.

“Juan Diego followed the Gospel faithfully in the simplicity of his daily life, always aware that God makes no distinction of race or culture but invites all to become his children. Thus it was that he enabled all the indigenous peoples of Mexico and the New World to become part of Christ and the Church.”

Pope John Paul II

Passionist Saints

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 The Passionists, are a small and relatively new community in the Roman Catholic Church, but we have a good number of canonized saints and members proposed for canonization. Beginning with our founder, St. Paul of the Cross, who died in 1774, each generation of Passionists has produced men and women recognized for their holiness.

We’re hoping Father Theodore Foley who died in 1974 may join the ranks of Passionist saints such as Paul of the Cross, Vincent Strambi, Gabriel Possenti, Dominic Barberi, Gemma GalganiCharles Houben, Isidore DeLoor and Eugene Bossilkov.

Saints are God’s answer to the poison of their times, and it’s important to see them as they oppose it. Saints are firm believers and examples of heroic virtue. They’re signs of God’s power in a sinful world and God marks them out as saints through miracles performed through their intercession.

For example, St. Paul of the Cross was an antidote to the forgetfulness of the passion of Jesus which followed the Enlightenment, a 17th century movement that denied or minimized the role of faith and religion in human life. We’re still feeling the effects of the Enlightenment today.

St. Vincent Strambi opposed the Enlightenment as it was expressed in the political schemes of Napolean Bonaparte, who tried to subordinate religion to his own dreams of European domination. Vincent was a brave Italian bishop who resisted the emperor and suffered for it.  Like him, the Bulgarian Bishop Eugene Bossilkov suffered and died under an oppressive Communist government in Bulgaria in the 20th century.

Gabriel Possenti resisted the lure of the Enlightenment in the 19th century. As a young man, he chose religious life rather than the inflated promises of success that tempted so many of his contemporaries.

Saints like Gemma, Isidore de Loor, Charles Houben seem to be people who fit St. Paul’s description of those called by God. They were not wise by human standards, they don’t have a lot of human power, they’re not of noble birth. They’re “the weak of the world God chooses to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1, 23-28)

Our Passionist saints tend to be ordinary people, of no special note, easily unnoticed and misunderstood, subject to the sufferings, disappointments and failures that come in life. God chooses them to be signs that he does not abandon his people and, in fact, can do great things through them. Charles Houben was a healer. Gemma bore the signs of Jesus’ passion in her body.

It takes awhile to know saints like these. That may be because we often don’t understand our own times and the poison afflicting it.

Morning Thoughts: Who is Paul of the Cross?

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Who is Paul of the Cross?

He’s a saint, canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867.

He’s the founder of the Passionists , a religious community of priests, brothers, sisters, and laypeople.

He lived in northern and central Italy during most of the 18th century and was originally called Paul Francesco Danei.

There are books written about him. His letters have been collected and printed in large, thick volumes. And time on the internet will easily identify many short biographical sketches, prayers, and sayings. There is also much available about the Passionists, and their life after the death of Saint Paul of the Cross—their growth, history, struggles, saints, and their current configuration, focus, and works.

There are also the many individual members of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, living today and based all around the world, and they each have their own story to tell.

But there is also the man named Paul.

And somehow this kind, gentle, humble, and beautifully-flawed human being seems to get lost in all this.

His weaknesses greatly interest me.

Christ’s courage and strength in and through him inspire me.

If we prayerfully put aside the constitutions, the history, the legacy, and even his incredibly personal and guidance-filled letters (that he never intended anyone other than the recipients to read) we just may find a stripped-down saint whose essence and example we badly need in times such as these.

We just may find what we find in each and every great man and woman of God throughout Christian history—that same occurrence that appears again and again through the lives of our brothers and sisters who have truly renounced all their possessions in order to become true disciples of Christ.

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In Saint Paul of the Cross we just may find…

…a cold, naked infant in a cradle, desperate for his mother’s breast…

…a frightened and insecure child running to keep pace with the visions of his father…

…a tired, distraught, beaten-down young man offering his life for the benefit of his brothers…

We just may find ourselves.

Or we may find someone that we used to know.

Or we may find someone that we should get to know.

But what really matters is that we find the Word made flesh.

And that is the heart of the matter. The fleshy heart that matters.

For while hearts of stone are hard to wound, they are not really hearts at all. They are the hearts of the walking dead, of those whom Jesus Himself says, “let the dead bury their dead.”

Jesus wants our hearts, our entire hearts. He wants undivided, tenderized hearts. Soft and fleshy hearts.

Yes, that type of heart is easily pierced, but in being wounded they are transformed, in being merciful they begin to bleed, and in forgiving they become His. They become sacred. Our hearts become His Most Sacred Heart.

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The saints show us Jesus. They show us ourselves. They show us where we come from, where we currently need to stand, and where it is that we should go.

And the answer is always the same: With God.

Born of a virgin. Dying on a cross. Raised from the dead. Ascending into Heaven.

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I am no expert on Saint Paul of the Cross. But I am his friend, and he has been very good to me. And I hope that you get to know him too.

As far as me telling you more about Paul Danei, you probably fall into one of three categories: you already know the details, you have never even heard of him, or you are about to meet a man with a striking resemblance.

For you see, the best thing I can say about Paul is that he is a lot like Jesus—a man in history but not met through it, a man who wore a robe but not defined by it, a man who submitted himself to the law but didn’t let that stop him from transcending it.

A man who at the end of the day, knows that it is all about love.


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—Howard Hain

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Father Theodore Foley, CP

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Fr. Theodore Foley, whom I knew and lived with in community, may take his place among the saints someday. He died October 9, 1974. Here’s a summary of his life.

He was born in 1913 in Springfield, Massachusetts into a devout Catholic family.  He went to Catholic schools and experienced a vibrant Catholic life in Sacred Heart parish in the north end of Springfield.

As a young boy of 14 he was attracted to the missionary spirit and spirituality of the Passionist community. Entering the Passionists, he was ordained a priest in 1940 and became one of its best spiritual guides and teachers of theology.

In 1958 Father Theodore went to Rome to be a general consultor for the worldwide Passionist community. In 1964 he became its superior general. He led his community through the turbulent decades of the 1960s and 70s when social unrest, political confrontations, assassinations, anti-establishment and anti-war demonstrations began shaking the western world and the Catholic Church.

As traditional values came into question and church membership (including membership in his own community) began to decline, he was a rock of hope to those shaken by the times.

A participant in the Second Vatican Council, Father Theodore took up its challenge and worked tirelessly to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the world. Seeking new opportunities to do God’s will, he traveled to Asia and Africa to extend the missionary outreach of his community. He also promoted the study of the Passion of Jesus as a remedy for a world in danger of forgetting God.

For him a perilous time like ours was not a reason to do nothing. It’s a time for “God’s purification in our lives and we have to accept it and do our best for the future of the congregation and our church.”

While furthering new ventures in Africa, he contracted a deadly virus which on his return to Rome caused his death on October 9, 1974.

A gentle man, faithful to prayer and unfailingly kind to others, Father Theodore believed that God is always at work in our world, even in bad times. The mystery of the passion of Jesus, which he kept constantly before his eyes, nourished in him a steady hope that God leads us on, no matter how dark life seems to be.
https://vimeo.com/19438932

A hope like his is a hope to pray for today. Father Theodore is a candidate for canonization, and here’s a prayer that his cause succeeds:

Prayer for the Beatification of Fr. Theodore Foley, CP

 

Lord Jesus Christ,

You called Theodore Foley to follow you to Calvary’s heights as a Passionist priest and through your Immaculate and Sorrowful Mother taught him to fulfill your Father’s will by loving God and neighbor.

Let his life inspire us to a life of deeper virtue.

We humbly ask you to glorify your servant Father Theodore according to the designs of your holy will and through his intercession, grant the request I now present to you. (here mention  your request). Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

Be Holy!

What does it mean to be holy today, Pope Francis asks in his recent Letter “Gaudete et Exultate.” We’re called to holiness, God calls us. Jesus Christ is with us and saints encourage us to achieve that call. There’s a ”great cloud of witnesses” the Letter to the Hebrews says, and we’re called to be in that number.

Don’t miss “the saints next door,” the pope says. “These witnesses may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5). Their lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.”

Canonized saints are not the only ones who are holy, Francis says. “I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it’s a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness”. (7]

The pope’s interested in ordinary holiness, and he has a gift for speaking about it. .

We are all called to be holy. “Each in his or her own way,” the Vatican Council says. Each of us has to discern God’s call; we must find our own path, discover the gifts God gives us. We don’t have to follow someone else’s path or have someone else’s gifts. To be holy means to grow with the gifts God gives us.

Some may think only those who have a church calling can be holy. We may think only those who belong to our religious tradition can be holy. Not so, Francis says, It’s a universal call.

You can read Gaudete and Exultate online at the Vatican website. Worth reading. It’s Francis at his best.

Friday Thoughts: Heaven Touching Earth

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The sound of heaven touching earth is silence.

For silence is the absence of interruption.

And in heaven there is continual praise. A constant, perpetual, ceaseless, indescribable continuation of everything good. There is no interruption of absolute goodness. No interruption of peace or prayer, no interruption of joy or love.

In heaven, then, the eternal roar may perhaps be so inadequately described as an incomprehensible silence—a silence that blissfully deafens.

Deafens us to any pain or fear.

Deafens us to even the thought, the idea, or the conception that there could be any pain or fear.

So then when heaven touches earth, does not that same awesome eternal silence also reign here too, as it does in heaven?

Silence reigns.


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—Howard Hain

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(image: Louis Cretey, “The Vision of Saint Bruno”, late 17th century)

Mother Teresa

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Duk Soon Fwhang, a Korean born artist with a deep respect for Mother Teresa who will be soon be canonized by the Catholic Church, has painted the Albanian born woman a number of times. The one above I find particularly moving.

“She is a world hero as well as a Catholic saint,” Duk Soon told me recently, “We need more world heroes like her today when there are too many poor.” She showed me a prayer for the recognition of Mother Teresa as a saint. I think it says it all:

“Jesus, you made Mother Teresa an example of lively faith and burning charity, and an extraordinary witness to the way of spiritual childhood, and a great and esteemed teacher of the value and dignity of every human life. Grant that she may be venerated and imitated as one of the Church’s canonized saints…

May we follow her example by heeding your cry of thirst from the Cross and joyfully love you in the distressing guise of the poorest of the poor, especially those most unloved and unwanted.”