Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Saint Peter Chrysologus and Honoring Our Spiritual Ancestors

I will now praise the godly, our ancestors, in their own time,
The abounding glory of the Most High’s portion, his own part, since the days of old.
—Sirach 44:1-2

Knowing our family stories from the past is an important part of understanding who we are today. This is as true of the Church, as it is of your own family.

Although we most often think of the saints as the figures of our “family” history who left the most important mark on the Church, it’s important to realize that the life of every Christian forms an essential part of our family’s story.

Among those we hold most dear are those saints honored as “Doctors of the Church.” This select group of 36 saints includes some of the greatest minds in the Church’s history, such as Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Hildegarde of Bingen, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Francis de Sales, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. But this list also includes saints who are less-known but whose contributions to our understanding of the Trinity, who Jesus was and is, Mary’s role in salvation, the sacraments, and prayer are all fundamental for what we believe and how we pray today. One of these is Saint Peter Chrysologus whose commemoration is celebrated on July 30.

Born in Imola, Italy, around the year 380, Peter was baptized, educated, and ordained a deacon by Imola’s bishop, Cornelius. Peter was serving his home church as a deacon when he was appointed archbishop of Ravenna sometime between 425 and 430. At the time, Ravenna was among the most important cities in the Roman Empire. As archbishop, Peter became an important figure, not only for the Church in Italy but beyond, as he played a significant part in the great theological debates of that age. 

Peter believed that it was essential for Christians to look to Rome for spiritual leadership and guidance. This was especially important at this point in the history of the Church, because of ongoing heresies questions about the Incarnation (the belief that, in Jesus, God became fully human) and the teachings that Jesus was fully human and fully divine—debates that were tearing the Church apart. He became an important teacher and was revered for his simple and direct sermons that helped Christians to understand how to live their faith fully in their daily lives. For this reason, he came to be known as Chrysologus—“Golden Word.” Happily, a large number of his sermons have survived the centuries and they remain an important resource for theologians and Church historians.

Saint Peter died at Imola sometime between 449 and 458. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1729, largely as a result of his simple, practical sermons.

The memorials and commemorations of the saints provide us with wonderful opportunities to explore our Faith’s history, as well as unique occasions to learn more about a particular saint’s teachings or way of praying. As we continue to observe the season of Ordinary Time, use the “feast days” of the saints as an opportunity to explore your own faith and how you are part of a great family story.

A prayer in honor of Saint Peter Chrysologus +
O God, who made the Bishop Saint Peter Chrysologus an outstanding preacher of your Incarnate Word, grant through his intercession, that we may constantly ponder in our hearts the mysteries of your salvation and faithfully express them in what we do. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(From The Roman Missal)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Saint Christopher and Carrying Christ to Others

I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.
—Galatians 2:19b-20

When I was growing up, my grandparents kept a rather large medal of Saint Christopher in the glove compartment of their car. Like countless Christians over the centuries, they had a notion that Christopher was the “saint of travelers” and that it was good to have him around, but that seemed to be as far as their devotion to Saint Christopher extended.

I imagine that, among those honored as part of the “great cloud of witnesses” (cf. Hebrews 12:1), Christopher is probably one of the least understood saints, especially in these decades after the Second Vatican Council.

His story was once well-known…

Once upon a time, a thief and robber—and a giant—Christopher (or Reprobus as he was originally named) was a fierce man who dedicated his life to seeking out the most powerful prince to serve. At first, he believed this was the devil—a being feared by men—but, he eventually came to believe that Christ was the greatest of all princes. After being instructed in the Christian Faith by a hermit, he was baptized and given the name Christophorus.

"St. Christopher" by Albrecht Dürer
The hermit who had instructed Christopher gave him the task of carrying travelers across a local river—a job easily done because of his great size and strength. One day, he began to help a child to cross the river, carrying the boy on his shoulders, when he began to feel a weight so great that he was bowed down by it. Once they reached the other side, the child said to Christopher: “Don’t be surprised, Christopher! You were not only carrying the whole world, you had him who created the world upon your shoulders! I am Christ your King, to whom you render service by doing the work you do here.”
According to the legend, Christopher went on to bring many to Christ. He was eventually martyred during the reign of the Emperor Decius, sometime between 249 and 251.

Today, when many people hear his name, their initial response is: “I thought he wasn’t a saint anymore.” This is an unfortunate mistake and certainly not true. However, in 1969, as part of an effort to simplify and update the Church’s liturgical calendar, Saint Christopher’s commemoration on July 25 was removed from the Missal. There were two reasons for this. First, despite his popularity, we know nothing more about Christopher than his name and that he was a martyr. Second, July 25 is the feast of the Apostle Saint James the Greater and the commemoration of Saint Christopher was added to the Mass for Saint James almost as a sort of after-thought. Because of the priority given to Saint James’ feast and the fact that we know so little of Saint Christopher, it was decided that his celebration would be left up to individual dioceses (or even parishes).

For those who might still doubt Christopher’s saintly status, the Roman Martyrology—the Church’s official listing of saints and beati—still includes the name of Saint Christopher on his traditional date of July 25. But, unlike previous editions (which recounted some of the fantastic details surrounding his life and martyrdom), the most recent edition of the Martyrology (2005) simply says: In Lycia, Saint Christopher, Martyr.

The beloved story of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ-Child across the river is found in the Golden Legend (a collection of lives of the saints written by Blessed James of Voragine around the year 1260).  Although scholars and theologians recognize that the story recounted by Blessed James is almost completely fictitious, we do find there a very beautiful description of Saint Christopher that is an important lesson for us: “Before Christopher was baptized, he was called Reprobus, meaning ‘Outcast,’ but afterwards, he was called Christophorus, the ‘Christ-bearer.’ He bore Christ in four ways, namely, on his shoulders when he carried him across the river, in his body by mortification, in his mind by devotion, and in his mouth by confessing Christ and preaching him.”

"Saint Christopher Cynocephalus":
In an unusual iconographic tradition,
St. Christopher has been depicted with
the head of a dog, possibly to depict his ferocity
before his conversion.

Although the details of his life have been lost, in a sense we know all that we need to about Christopher: he carried Christ into the world. And, in this sense, every Christian is a “Christopher” who carries the Christ in their hearts, making him present through our acts of kindness and love. The presence of Christ within us is the great gift of the Sacrament of Baptism and it is nurtured through the gift of the Eucharist. This truth makes Saint Christopher a wonderful model and patron for every Christian person: “Faith knows that God has drawn close to us, that Christ has been given to us as a great gift which inwardly transforms us, dwells within us, and thus bestows on us the light that illumines the origin and the end of life. We come to see the difference, then, which faith makes for us. Those who believe are transformed by the love to which they have opened their hearts in faith" (Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei).

Just like Saint Christopher, whom we remember as carrying and protecting the Christ-Child, each one of us has the privilege of sharing the presence of Christ that dwells within us with a world that is hungry for the peace, justice, and joy that only Christ can bring. We can also share in Saint Christopher’s final witness—his martyr’s death—when we make the sacrifices of our time and gifts by praying for others, supporting good works, and lifting up those who are weak.

A prayer in honor of Saint Christopher +
Almighty God, grant that we who celebrate the memory of your blessed martyr Christopher, may be made stronger in our love of you, through his intercession. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(adapted from Collect for the Mass of St. Christopher from the Misale Romanum [1962])

This reflection was originally written for Mayslake Ministries and published on their website the week of July 20, 2015.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Live In My Image"

"I clasp the newspaper to my heart like a Bible. I weep over the tragedy of human life. My candle flickers in the darkness of the night. I am trying for an hour of vigil for my dear broken world.

God, my life is here before you like clay, but I don't feel very pliable. I feel angry. This morning with Psalm 102 I prayed, 'The children of those who serve you shall dwell secure.' I smiled a cynical smile. I like to take the Scriptures seriously, but God, we both know this isn't true. In the shadows of this night I try to make some sense of this Psalm message. So many people who serve you do not dwell secure, and neither do their children. I glance again at the paper. I see the poverty, the wars, the enslavements of the human person. I see, in may instances, the injustice people have to suffer simply because they are trying to serve you. I see the immense helplessness that so many people experience in the face of unjust systems. I see people getting rich from other people's miseries. I ache because of all the doors that are closed in people's faces every day. And I say to you, 'What's happening to their prayers, God? Are you using their prayers for a carpet in heaven? Well, they aren't in heaven. These people need for you to lean down from heaven. The people who are crying out to you are still in Egypt. It is time to split the sea again. It is time to save.'

We are the people who claim to be made in God's image. I can hardly look at what we've done to that image. I see the misery human beings suffer, and I say in regard to all this: 'It is enough! It is enough, God! Where do you hang out when your people are starving?'

In the shadows of this dark night, I seem to see God leaning from heaven again. This time God comes not as a tiny, helpless child, but as a sorrowing, desperate parent, and God repeats to the human race my own agonizing cry, 'It is enough! How long must I wait for you to put on the mind of Christ? How long must I wait for you to live in my image? What are you doing with the prayers of your brothers and sisters? Are you making them into plush carpets fro your own feet to rest on?'

I've never been very good at feasting on the daily newspaper. It turns bitter in my mouth. And yet, this is my world. This face of suffering I must embrace as part of my responsibility. Part of the feast is becoming aware of the world that is mine. Part of the feast is owning this broken world as my own brokenness. I clasp the newspaper to my heart and ask once again in the stillness of the night, 'What are we doing to the image of God in one another?'"

-Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr, O.S.B., in A Tree Full of Angels

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Celebrating Our Lady of Einsiedeln and Mary's Contemplative Spirit

My newest article for Aleteia​ celebrates Our Lady of Einsiedeln, whose feast is celebrated on July 16 :

"It is significant that St. Luke tells us of Mary turning to prayer in times of great change, challenge, and possibility. She was sustained by the public, liturgical prayer of her Jewish faith, but beyond that, we are also given glimpses into Mary’s faith through her openness to what God was asking of her and her moments of prayer themselves."

To read the full article, click here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Saint Silas and the "We" of the Church

Paul chose Silas and departed after being commended by the brothers to the Lord. He traveled through Syria and Cilicia bringing strength to the churches.
Acts 15:40-41

I didn’t always have the name “Silas.” In fact, for the first 25 years of my life, I wasn’t even aware that there was a saint by the name of Silas. The only Silases I knew of were George Elliot’s Silas Marner and Dan Brown’s menacing monk in the DaVinci Code.

However, as I was preparing to make my first vows as a Benedictine monk in 2004, I was faced with the challenge of discerning three names to present to the abbot, one of which he would choose to be my religious name. I had settled on my first choice, but was completely undecided about choices two and three. A week or so before I had to present my selections, I came across the website of an Anglican parish in London: Saint Silas the Martyr. I was struck by two things. First, I’d never heard of Saint Silas and, second, I really liked the name.

And so I began to study and quickly realized that this “Saint” Silas was the Silas who traveled with Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. But there was much more to his story.

During the Council of Jerusalem (ca. 48), during which the Apostles and leaders of the Church in Jerusalem made significant decisions about what it would mean to welcome Gentile converts into the Church, Silas was one of two “leaders among the brothers” and “prophets” selected to take the Apostles’ ruling to the Gentile Christians converted by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:22-33/34).

A short time later, Paul and Barnabas parted ways over an unnamed disagreement and Silas became Paul’s missionary companion (Acts 15:40). During a visit to Philippi, Silas and Paul were imprisoned together after being accused of causing a disturbance in the city. Stripped, beaten, and chained together, they were miraculously freed from prison by an earthquake as they sang psalms and hymns (Acts 16:16-40). After baptizing their converted jailor and his entire household, they stayed with Saint Lydia before travelling to Beroea (Acts 17:10-12). A short time later, Paul travelled to Athens and Silas and Timothy eventually reconnected with him in Corinth (Acts 18:5). It was from Corinth that Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonians, and in these he referred to Silas under his Roman name, Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1, and 2 Corinthians 1:19).

While little else is known of the life of Saint Silas, he is mentioned again by Saint Peter (1 Peter 5:12), who calls Silas/Silvanus “a brother I know I can trust.” As one account of the life of Saint Silas recalls, “Overall, Silas was a distinguished early Christian missionary, held in high esteem by both Saint Peter and Saint Paul.” More recently, the great Scripture scholar, Father Raymond Brown, S.S., has proposed that Silas might have been the author of the Letter to the Hebrews.

Later traditions relate that he died in Macedonia and he is remembered as having been an early bishop of the Church in Corinth. There is no record of any relics of Saint Silas having survived the centuries, although the traditional location of his imprisonment in Philippi has been preserved. The commemoration of Saint Silas is celebrated on July 13.

Saint Silas is an example of those many saints who have quietly and humbly lived out their vocations of service and mission. In truth, even the “super-saints” like Paul, Francis of Assisi, Oscar Romero, and Teresa of Calcutta were no different. Those whom history has singled out for special recognition were no holier or heroic than their lesser-known heavenly compatriots and that’s good news for the rest of us. After all, we’re all called to holiness—to become saints—and that isn’t something that requires extraordinary acts. Instead, our sanctification will be achieved when we are able to orient our lives to doing God’s will in large and small ways and through our prayer and service of others.

Saint Silas reminds us, however, that none of us is called to live out our vocation in isolation. While he wasn’t the great missionary Saint Paul was, we don’t that know Saint Paul could’ve been as successful in his mission if he hadn’t had the assistance of Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, Prisca and Aquila, Lydia, and so many others. And this is an important lesson for us as believers: we need others to help us, challenge us, and, sometimes, push us along on our spiritual journey.
Pope Benedict summarized this very well in his General Audience of January 31, 2007: "Paul does not act as a “soloist,” on his own, but together with these collaborators in the “we” of the Church. This “I” of Paul is not an isolated “I” but an “I” in the “we” of the Church, in the “we” of apostolic faith. And later, [Silas] is mentioned in the Frist Letter of Peter… Thus we also see the communion of the Apostles. [Silas] serves Paul and he serves Peter, because the Church is one and the missionary proclamation is one."

When I submitted my choices to the abbot, Silas was my second choice. However, I will be eternally grateful that he selected that to be my name. And so, as I celebrate my holy patron on July 13, consider asking Saint Silas and all those nameless, forgotten saints, to help foster a collaborative missionary spirit as you try to live God’s will for your life and share the Good News with those around you.

A Prayer in Honor of Saint Silas +
Just and merciful God, in every generation you raise up prophets, teachers and witnesses to summon the world to honor and praise your holy Name: We thank you for sending Saint Silas, whose gifts built up your Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Grant that we too may be living stones built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men)

This reflection was originally written for Mayslake Ministries and published on their website on July 12, 2015.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Saint Bernardino Realino: A Model of Gentleness and Patience

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me;
because the Lord has anointed me;
He sent me to bring good news to the afflicted,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
release to prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the Lord
and a day of vindication by our God.
—Isaiah 61:1-2
Bernardino Luigi Realino was born in Carpi, Italy, in 1530. The son of a wealthy and influential family, he attended the academy in Modena, Italy, and went on to study the arts and medicine in Bologna. After finishing his studies, he considered becoming a physician. Instead, he chose to study canon and civil law (apparently, at the request of a lady he had fallen in love with and who thought he would have made a good lawyer). For his part, Bernardino recognized that his legal studies would give him a solid foundation for a career in government or public administration. After completing his doctorate in 1556, he became an auditor and general superintendent for the Marquis of Pescara, serving within the Kingdom of Naples. His letters from this period, however, reveal that Bernardino’s spiritual life was beginning to develop. He wrote to his brother: “I have no desire for the honors of this world but solely for the glory of God and the salvation of my soul.”

While serving in Naples, he first came into contact with the Society of Jesus. Not long after, following a period of intense prayer and discernment, he decided to join them. His early biographers relate that he was supported in his decision by a vision of the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus. He became a Jesuit novice in 1564 and was ordained a priest in 1567. He was soon appointed as novice master, but when the novitiate was moved from Naples, he remained behind to work among the poor and the enslaved Muslims, preaching (badly, it seems), hearing confessions, and directing a lay confraternity. In 1574, he moved to Lecce to establish a new Jesuit house and college. He spent the remainder of his life there, serving in a variety of positions. 

Bernardino is most especially remembered for his gentleness and patience. People from every walk of life came to him for guidance on both secular and religious questions and he earned the nickname “father of the city” because of his care for the sick and poor. In addition to his work in the college, he also served in the local prisons and continued his work with slaves. He would roam the streets of Lecce, collecting food, clothing, and money for his beloved poveretti, distributing the alms with tact and gentleness. He is credited with helping many accept the Christian Faith and he eventually recognized that his gifts were most effective in individual counseling rather than public preaching.

Bernardino Realino died on July 2, 1616. When he heard of Bernardino's passing, Saint Robert Bellarmine recalled, “I have never heard a complaint about Father Realino, though I have been his provincial; even those who were ill-disposed to the Society, who seized every opportunity to speak unforavorably of it… always made exception for Realino… Everyone knows that he is a saint.” He was beatified in 1895 and canonized in 1947. His memory is celebrated on July 2.

In many ways, Bernardino Realino seems to be an unremarkable saint. Like Saint John Berchmans, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, and Saint André Bessette, his life was lived in an unremarkable way, filled with small, ordinary day-to-day tasks and acts of goodness. But, this is actually where his greatness can be discovered: it is a great grace to “do small things with great love” (to borrow a phrase from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta). This is really the key to holiness for most of us.

Few of us are called to serve God and the Church as priests, deacons, or consecrated religious and still fewer will be asked to give our lives for Christ. We are, however, able to live and love as Jesus did. We do this by sharing the Good News with those who most need to know of God’s love for them. Saint Bernardino teaches us, however, that this isn’t necessarily best done with flowery words or parroting harsh or complex doctrines. Instead, we show the love and mercy of God through our own gentleness and patience: because God has been gentle and patient with us, we are to pass that along to others: “It is true that in our dealings with the world, we are told to give reasons for our hope, but not as an enemy who critiques and condemns. We are told quite clearly: ‘do so with gentleness and reverence’ (1 Peter 3:15) and ‘if possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all’ (Romans 12:18). We are also told to overcome ‘evil with good’ (Romans 12:21) and to ‘work for the good of all’ (Galatians 6:10)” (Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium).

As our nation continues to grapple with the realities of poverty, racism, sexism, religious divisions, and political tensions, ask Saint Bernardino to help you understand the ways your gentle and patient witness to God’s loving plans can be a source of unity and grace.

A prayer in honor of Saint Bernardino Realino +
Lord our God, you sent out your holy priest Bernardino Realino to bring the Gospel of peace to towns and villages. In our own day call many others to work in the harvest-fields of your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
(adapted from the Supplement to the Divine Office for the Society of Jesus)