Monday, March 23, 2015

Saint Turibius of Mongrovejo

Over the past several days I've been preparing for a webinar that I'll be giving for Paulist Evangelization Ministries on March 25 on the theme of discipleship. (As a side note, it's a free event and all are welcome to take part, so please consider "attending.") As part of my preparation, I've been re-reading sections of The Joy of the Gospel and some of Pope Francis' other writings and speeches. But, I've also been thinking about holy women and men whom I can use as examples of committed discipleship within the presentation. Although he didn't "make the cut," I couldn't help but give some thought to the saint the Church honors on March 23: Turibius of Mongrovejo.

Saint Turibius was born in Spain in 1538. After teaching law at the University of Salamanca, he was appointed bishop of Lima, Peru, in 1580. A zealous pastor, he ministered to the people of Peru for the next twenty-five years. He traveled through the 18,000 square miles of his diocese at least three times and he worked for reform within the local church, often at odds with the political representatives who claimed a great deal of authority in church matters. He established the first seminary in the Americas and baptized and confirmed nearly a million people, including Saint Martin de Porres and Saint Rose of Lima.   

Devoting special time and energy to the needs of the indigenous peoples of Peru, he learned the local languages and opposed all attempts to justify their mistreatment by Spanish colonials. In 1598, after his third pastoral trip, he wrote to Pope Clement VIII that he had personally visited the country,
getting to know and minister to my flock, correcting and remedying abuses where necessary, preaching on Sundays and feast-days to both natives and Spaniards in their own tongues and confirming a vast number of people, travelling more than five thousand two hundred leagues, often on foot, on unsafe roads and over rivers, overcoming every difficulty, sometimes going without food or sleep; going to the remote parts where there are Christian Indians (often at war with other Indians) to whom no prelate or Visitor had ever come.
Saint Turibius died on March 23, 1606, and was proclaimed a saint in 1726. Today he is honored as the patron of Peru and as a special patron of those who work for the rights of immigrants and native peoples.
The commitment to follow and imitate Christ took Saint Turibius from his native Spain to the poorest areas of the Andes. For no other purpose than the spread of the Gospel, he dedicated his life to serving and protecting the millions who had been entrusted to his care.

In a sense, the greatest tribute we can give to Saint Turibius is to say that he was a good and holy bishop who did the most he could within the limits and conditions of his time and place. However we might look back on the colonial period in the history of the Americas or on the experiences of the indigenous peoples, we can take some comfort in knowing that there were those who were committed to protecting these peoples, their languages, and even their customs from civil authorities who were bent on increasing their own wealth and power. As a faithful pastor, Saint Turibius recognized these abuses for what they were and, when he was criticized for attempting to change a broken system in which established abusive customs (of both religious and secular authorities) had taken on the weight of law, he strongly replied, "Christ called himself the Truth, not the custom."

As we continue our Lenten good works, take some time to pray for the Church's pastors, asking that God will inspire all of them and each of us with the same commitment to the truth, justice, and the dignity of all people that inspired Saint Turibius.

A prayer in honor of Saint Turibius of Mongrovejo +
Lord, through the apostolic work of Saint Turibius and his unwavering love of truth, you helped your Church to grow. May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Witness of "Sister Cider"

Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting;
The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Acclaim her for the work of her hands,
And let her deeds praise her at the city gates.
—Proverbs 31:30-31

We often fall into the trap of thinking that living the Gospel means doing extraordinary things. Certainly the experiences of so many of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Africa—who are witnessing to their faith in heroic ways—remind us that any one of us could be called upon at any moment to give our life for Christ, but, for most of us, our life of discipleship will be lived out in small, daily sacrifices and times of prayer.

I think that one of the great tragedies of our faith tradition is that much of the beauty of the lives of the Saints has been lost within a haze of miracles and martyrdoms. But, like each of us, these women, men, and children lived ordinary lives. What set them apart wasn’t that the majority of their actions or prayers were extraordinary—what was extra-ordinary was the integrity of their lives and the faithfulness with which they performed even the simplest tasks.

One wonderful example of this is Blessed Martha Le Bouteiller.

Born in Percy, France, on December 2, 1816, Aimee Le Bouteiller entered the newly formed Sisters of the Christian Schools. Although, as one biographer states, “she was not particularly gifted in any way,” she was healthy, willing to work, and desired to serve God with her whole heart. She received the religious habit in 1842, at which time she was given the religious name “Martha,” which would suit her very well as she began a life of service to her community and its students.

After professing her religious vows in 1844, she worked in the community’s kitchen and then began to tend the garden, especially overseeing the production and preservation of homemade cider and stored foods, earning herself the nickname “Sister Cider.” During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), the sisters sent their boarding students home and accepted wounded soldiers, who would have otherwise had little shelter or care. Sister Martha’s resourcefulness enabled the sisters to feed all those who sought their care for more than six months.

Although she entered her community during the life of its founder, Saint Marie Madeleine Postel, Sister Martha developed a close relationship with the second superior, Saint Placide Viel, whom she supported throughout years of unrest and tension within the community. Finally, after nearly forty years of quiet, humble service, Sister Martha collapsed as she was working and died a short time later on March 18, 1843. She was beatified by Saint John Paul II in 1990.
While she seemed to accomplish very little in an external sense, she is a powerful witness to the transforming and life-giving power of faith at work in daily life. Her simple, holy life reminds us that each of us, no matter how unremarkable our life might seem to be, is able to become a saint.

A prayer in honor of Blessed Martha Le Bouteiller +
O God, by whose gift Blessed Martha persevered in imitating Christ, poor and lowly, grant us through her intercession that, faithfully walking in our own vocation, we may reach the perfection you have set before us in your Son. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

This reflection was originally written for Mayslake Ministries and posted on their website the week of March 15, 2015.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Oh, Patrick...

March 17 is one of the days on the calendar that has always been lost on me. Whether we're thinking of Saint Patrick or "St. Paddy's Day," this great celebration of Ireland and Irish heritage has never really resonated with me...

I suppose, the starting point would be a consideration of who the real Patrick was:

Patrick was born about the year 389 in Britain. At age sixteen he was kidnapped and taken as a captive into Ireland where he served as a herdsman. Despite the harshness of this life, Patrick retained his Christian faith and used his solitude as an opportunity for prayer and meditation. After six years Patrick escaped captivity and returned to England. In a dream, however, he was urged to return and evangelize the people of Ireland. In preparation for his work, Patrick studied at the monastery at LĂ©rins. He was ordained by Saint Amator in 417.   

In 431, Patrick was sent to assist Saint Palladius in Ireland, and he was eventually consecrated bishop by Saint Germain in 432. Traveling throughout Ireland, he worked to spread the Christian Faith and succeeded in converting several members of the royal family. On a visit to Rome in 442, he was commissioned by Pope Saint Leo the Great to organize the Church in Ireland, and on his return he made Armagh the Primatial See and established other dioceses through the country. After living a life dedicated to the evangelization of his adopted nation, Saint Patrick died on March 17, 461, in the Ulster Monastery of Saul.

Despite my misgivings and regardless of whether we might be Irish by heritage or Irish-in-spirit, Saint Patrick remains a timeless role model for every Christian. His story reminds us that our individual vocation is unique and can lead us to places and ministries we might never have chosen for ourselves. If March 17th is to truly make sense for us as people of faith (especially within the context of Lent), we have to take a cue from St. John Paul II: "Remember Saint Patrick. Remember what the fidelity of just one man has meant for Ireland and the world. Yes... fidelity to Jesus Christ and to his word makes all the difference in the world. Let us therefore look up to Jesus, who is for all time the Faithful Witness of the Father" (Message to Seminarians at St. Patirck's College in Maynooth, Ireland, October 1, 1979). May the life and witness of Saint Patrick continue to inspire each of us in our missionary vocation.

A prayer in honor of Saint Patrick +
O God, who chose the Bishop Saint Patrick to preach your glory to the peoples of Ireland, grant, through his merits and intercession, that those who glory in the name of Christian may never cease to proclaim your wondrous deeds to all. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Listening to the Son

This past week I began teaching a Lenten series at a local parish. While the 6-week program is ostensibly a study of the Ten Commandments, the series is really about how we—as believers—engage difficult moral issues. So, I suppose, it could be called “Moral Theology 101.” But, when all is said and done, the classes really come back to the basic theme of discipleship: how are we living out the faith we profess in our daily lives?

We began our time together by reflecting on the importance of the season of Lent and how Lent is really a model for the Christian life because (when it is celebrated properly) Lent is always leading us somewhere—to the Cross and Empty Tomb. This is the season when we reflect on the quality of our discipleship and work on developing those virtues and habits that will enrich our faith and commitment so that, on Easter Sunday, we will be truer, holier disciples than we were on Ash Wednesday. Ideally, that forward momentum will continue through the Easter Season and beyond.

For some in the class, this wasn’t anything new. For others, this idea of Lent being something bigger than the “40 days” was a real revelation. And, as we discussed how prayer, fasting/self-denial, and almsgiving were about freedom and the hallmarks of every day discipleship, I think a lot of things fell into place for these folks… I can gratefully say that those “Aha!” moments are why I do what I do. Those conversations are very much on my mind as we celebrate this Second Sunday of Lent.

The three Readings proclaimed at Mass on this Sunday all focus on the Mystery of Jesus’ Divine Sonship: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7) and “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” (Romans 8:31b-32). In these texts (along with the highly symbolic account of the sacrifice of Abraham), we are given an important reminder of Whom it is that we have committed our lives to.  

In his Message for Lent, Pope Francis wrote:
God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation. In the Incarnation, in the earthly life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the gate between God and man, between heaven and earth, opens once for all.  The Church is like the hand holding open this gate, thanks to her proclamation of God’s word, her celebration of the sacraments, and her witness of the faith which works through love (cf. Galatians 5:6). But the world tends to withdraw into itself and shut the door through which God comes into the world and the world comes to him… God’s people, then, need [interior renewal], lest we become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves.

The Transfiguration from the Church of Our Lady
in Bruges, Belgium by Gerard David (d. 1523)
The Transfiguration of Jesus (retold in today’s Gospel) has often been understood as the great revelation to Peter, James, and John of Jesus’ divine glory, hidden beneath the veil of his humanity. By allowing this glimpse of the fullness of Christ’s glory, God was empowering them to face the coming days of passion and death with faith and trust in God’s ultimate power. And this is a good and worthy interpretation. However, I recently came upon another perspective on the Transfiguration that I think is especially worth considering in these Lenten days: the Transfiguration wasn’t so much about giving the three Apostles a glimpse of heavenly glory as it was an invitation to see what heaven on earth can be like for those who choose to believe in the transformation power of Christ. 

For many of us, Lent can be reduced to a sort of spiritual “self-help” program. We aren’t really focused on conversion and often shy away from those resources that will foster a true spirit of repentance and that celebrate our freedom as God’s children (an open engagement of Scripture, frequent celebrations of the sacraments [including the Anointing of the Sick, the forgotten sacrament] and the support and challenge of other faithful Christians). Lent can see us doing lots of “work” but showing little benefit from our efforts.  In his wonderful book The Prodigal Father, Angelo Scarano writes:
We “mature Christians” know exactly what is and is not sin, and are quite willing to “better ourselves,” and know all about the mistakes we make and certainly want to correct them. “Spinning the wheels” without getting anywhere despite our best efforts provide us, however, with an important lesson in humility, teaching us that we cannot manage on our own and that we need a push from someone else. We need the courage to say, “Lord, show me my mistakes and what their roots are, but let it be you who helps me change.”
Recognizing our motivations and needs are important steps in conversion. And our willingness to ask ourselves—and God—difficult questions is essential for becoming the kind of disciples we are called to be. The Season of Lent also challenges us to really ask ourselves if we are listening to what it is we are being called to and called for. These are privileged days, but as John W. Martens observes, "the God who showed [the Apostles] a vision of heavenly glory and spoke to them out of the glory was the same God who spoke to them when Jesus said that he would suffer and die. When you listen to God, you do not get to pick the 'good stuff,' the words that appeal to you: God asks that you listen always." But, Martens continues, "Trials, tests, and suffering are not the end of the story... The end of the story is God's glory, but it requires hearing God's voice in the midst of trials, suffering, pain, and loss, even when it seems to be God's voice commanding the suffering.  Be patient and listen again, for the voice of God desires only our blessing."

A prayer for the Second Sunday of Lent +
O God, who have commanded us
to listen to your beloved Son,
be pleased, we pray,
to nourish us inwardly by your word,
that, with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)