Saturday, May 30, 2015

Trinity Sunday: Hope Beyond Words

Through the centuries, Christian Tradition has discerned four attributes that seem to capture what is essential to Who God is. Drawing on earlier Greek writers, Saint Thomas Aquinas identified three of these “Divine Attributes”: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness; his contemporary, Saint Bonaventure, added unity to the list. More recently, Pope Benedict XVI reflected that: “There is no question of attempting to understand the meaning of it all, but simply the overflowing happiness of seeing the pure splendor of God’s truth and love. We want to let this joy reach out and touch us: truth exists, pure goodness exists, pure light exists. God is good” (Homily for Midnight Mass, 2012).
 

The Holy Trinity
by Nicoletto Semitecolo 


On the one hand, the doctrine of the Trinity is rich and complex, a mystery that has all-too-often been distorted into a sort of metaphysical brainteaser that theologians and philosophers have tried to puzzle-out since the first generations after Christ. On the other, there is a simplicity to the Trinity that allows us to connect and commune with God in a way that is ultimately accessible, especially when we engage the Trinity beyond the language of “Divine Persons” and “Natures,” entering into the relationship and possibility that is the God we worship. 

It took centuries for the Church to fully embrace the truth of the Trinity and to understand how to engage the mystery in prayer and worship. Although there have been churches dedicated to the Holy Trinity in the eighth century, there was no set feast celebrating the Trinity. When attempts were made to introduce such a celebration, medieval popes opposed the effort, citing that the mystery was already celebrated every Sunday and every day (cf. Adolf Adam, The Liturgical Year). Nevertheless, the idea of the feast spread and was embraced in the theologically and philosophically fertile decades of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries  (the age of Aquinas and Bonaventure), and it was added to the Universal Calendar in 1334. By placing the Feast of the Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost (the climax of the Easter Season), the Church is summarizing in a single celebration the creative, saving, and sanctifying work of the God we worship as “one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity” (cf. Athanasian Creed and Catechism of the Catholic Church, 266).  

The reason that a celebration such as this remains important is that it places squarely in front of us the truth that God exists both in an internal relationship as Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and in relationship with humanity. Reflecting on these relationships, Henri Nouwen wrote:
[All] relationships are reflections of the relationship within God. God is the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love that binds us in unity. God invites us to be part of that inner movement of love… all our human relationships can be lived in God, and as witness to God’s divine presence in our lives.
I am deeply convinced that most human suffering comes from broken relationships. Anger, jealousy, resentment, and feelings of rejection all find their source in conflict between people who yearn for unity, community, and a deep sense of belonging. By claiming the Holy Trinity as home for our relational lives, we claim the truth that God gives us what we most desire and offers us the grace to forgive each other for not being perfect in love. (From Behold the Beauty of the Lord)
It is this “claiming the Holy Trinity” that Saint Paul spoke of when he said: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand… because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:1b-2, 5). In this brief passage, Paul is highlighting the relationships among God the Father/Creator, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit and reminding us that through them we are given peace, love, and hope.  

All of this having been said, it remains impossible for us to rationally describe the nature of the Trinity or how we share in that Divine relationship. It is the dynamic of the Trinity itself, and our experience of that dynamic, that makes it real for us. Our efforts to put words to this mystery will always fall short.

Although we are brought into the life of the Trinity in our baptism, our experiences of fear, anxiety, apprehension, and preoccupations cause us to pull back, to turn in on ourselves for protection, comfort, or security, responding to what the novelist Edwin O’Connor called “this spreading, endless despair, hanging low like a blanket, never lifting, the fatal slow smog of the spirit.”   
 
It is because we have faith and the assurance that we are united to God that we can find meaning in the darkness of the world around us and within us. Saint Paul teaches us that, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). Ultimately, we have a choice about whether we will live in the relationship and possibility of the God who is Three-in-One. This hope doesn’t rely on our ability to explain or adequately name the Trinity—it is a hope that is beyond words. 

Past the externals of sound bites, politicizing, and party-lines, is grace—the gift of possibility that is God-alive in each of us. It was possibility that allowed people of faith like Blessed Julian of Norwich to envision the world contained in a hazelnut and to declare that “all will be well” and Martin Luther King to dream his dream. It is by choosing to live a spiritual life, to pray, to breathe God’s breath, that we begin to open up to the possibilities and beauty in the world around us, without the definitions, causes, and explanations we all too often think we need. 

In Acedia & Me, Kathleen Norris wrote:
Mystery penetrates the Bible stories that intrigued me as a child and still offer sustenance: I pass through turbulent waters dry-shod and am led by a pillar of cloud or fire. I am refreshed by water that flows unexpectedly from rock. If I now see through a glass, darkly, I can hope to one day see face-to-face. Relying on reason yet pointing to truths beyond my imagining, religion always offers me something more than I can fully articulate or comprehend. And it makes me sense that I am not alone.
Trinity Sunday is an invitation to live beyond our selves. This celebration reminds us of the powerful ways that God is at work in the world: in the ongoing act of creation, in the perduring gifts  of healing and redemption, and the ever-vital Spirit that inspires and sustains faith, hope, and love.

A Prayer for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity +
God our Father, who by sending into the world
the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification
made known to the human race your wondrous mystery,
grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith,
we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory
and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty.
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.
(from The Roman Missal)

 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Saint Joan of Arc: A Lesson in Vocations

Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.
—1 Corinthians 1:26-27

In 1896, Mark Twain published his last completed novel. This unexpected work was also his favorite. It was entitled Personal Reflections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte. Twain later recalled, “I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best.” Years before, in the 1850s, he had found a leaf from a biography of Joan of Arc, an event which began a lifelong fascination with her story. The book is a huge departure from Twain’s comedic writings, but it’s certainly worth reading.

Mark Twain’s book is just one example of how a nineteen year old French girl, who lived an extraordinary (and extraordinarily unusual) life, and who died a horrific death, has held the imagination of so many for nearly six hundred years.

Jeanne d’Arc was born in the village of Domrémy in 1412 to a peasant family. As a child, she learned to spin and sew, but received no formal education. Her childhood was lived within the broader turmoil of the Hundred Years War, in which the French and English waged a seemingly endless conflict in which, when Joan was a teenager, the French were losing.

In 1425, when she was 13, Joan experienced the first of a series of visions, in which Saint Michael the Archangel and others (whom Joan identified as Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Margaret of Antioch) instructed her to present herself to the military authorities and to “save France.” In reflecting on Joan’s unique vocation, Pope Benedict XVI reflected: “The young French peasant girl’s compassion and dedication in the face of her people’s suffering were intensified by her mystical relationship with God. One of the most original aspects of this young woman’s holiness was precisely this link between mystical experience and political mission. The years of her hidden life and her interior development were followed by the brief but intense two years of her public life: a year of action and a year of passion” (General Audience, January 26, 2011).  

In 1429, Joan began a work of liberation, giving herself totally to the cause of France and looking forward to that day when Charles VII was crowned as king of France on July 17, 1429. During the coronation, Joan was standing next to the king, carrying her standard—a white banner marked with lilies, a figure of Christ, flanked by angels, and embroidered with the names of Jesus and Mary. The new king’s coronation was only able to take place because of Joan’s successful campaigns to free the city of Rheims (the traditional site of the coronation of the kings of France) from control of the English.

For another year, Joan lived with the soldiers, engaged in the service of her king and country, winning the respect of many, who recalled her goodness, purity, and courage. All seemed to be going well for the French until when, on May 23, 1430, Joan was captured by the Burgundian forces, allies of the English, who purchased her on November 21, 1430. A process of trials and humiliations immediately began for Joan. The English wished to have her tried as a heretic and a tribunal was created to discredit her and ensure her condemnation. Over the next several months, her visions, her use of male dress (a means of self-protection for her while in the company of the male soldiers), her willingness to submit to the Church, and her loyalty to her king and cause were all questioned. The transcripts of her trials (which have survived) tell us a great deal about her spirituality, her understanding of her vocation, and her commitment to king and country. Ultimately, these things led the kangaroo court to condemn Joan to death. The king that Joan had struggled so desperately to see on France’s throne made no effort to save her.

Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a heretic on May 30, 1431, in the city of Rouen; she was only nineteen years old. Joan died calling on the name of Jesus as she gazed upon a cross being held up for her by a sympathetic priest. More than twenty years later, a formal appeal was presented to Pope Callistus III by members of Joan’s family, asking that her case be re-tried. In 1456, a final summary ruled that Joan was innocent of the charge of heresy and that her ecclesiastical judges had condemned her in support of a secular agenda. Finally, in 1909, Joan was declared "Blessed" and canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920—an important recognition of the faith and sufferings of France during the First World War.

As I mentioned before, Joan of Arc has captured the imagination of people of all walks of life for centuries. Theologians, politicians, writers, story-tellers, and movie makers have expanded on Mark Twain’s novel and made this complicated young woman the object of their work since the time of her execution. Today, she is honored as a patron of France and of soldiers. Her memory is celebrated on May 30.
 
The death of Saint Joan of Arc
by  Hermann Stike

In his book, The Spirituality of St. Jeanne d’Arc, George Tavard reflected, “It was not what happened to her, good or bad, that mattered. It was that the will of God be done, that she remain faithful to God’s call, that she humbly listen to the heavenly voices that guided her, that God dwell in her virgin soul, that she honor the king who holds the kingdom in the kingdom of heaven.” This, in the end, was Joan’s glory and the reason for her canonization. The historical details her life and mission are complex and hard to reconcile with our contemporary understandings of the peace process. Her life also challenges our concept of vocation. But, through all the twists and turns of her tragic and glorious story, she is an icon of Paul’s observation that God chooses the week and small of the world to overturn the plans of the powerful (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27).

In all these things—in her prayer, her military campaigns, and in her trials—Joan acted out of love and a overwhelming sense that she was doing God’s will. Pope Benedict XVI also commented on this, when he observed that, “this saint had understood that Love embraces the whole of the reality of God and of the human being, of Heaven and of earth [sic], of the Church and of the world. Jesus always had pride of place in her life, in accordance to her beautiful affirmation: ‘We must serve God first.’ Loving him means always doing his will. She declared with total surrender and trust: ‘I entrust  myself to God my Creator, I love him with my whole heart.’”

The life and witness of Saint Joan challenge us to understand “vocation” as a calling that is not only to a particular work or way of life, but also as calling us out of ourselves and our comfortable lives. Although her visions, soldier’s life, and execution do not easily coalesce with most of the details of our lives today, her lesson to us is clear: God’s call and vision for our lives is something greater than we can ever imagine for ourselves and we can only find true greatness when we surrender to God’s will: “One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying” (Saint Joan of Arc).

 
A prayer in honor of Saint Joan of Arc +
Holy God, whose power is made perfect in weakness: we honor you for the calling of Jeanne d’Arc, who, though young, rose up in valor to bear your standard for her country, and endured with grace and fortitude both victory and defeat; and we pray that we, like Jeanne, may bear witness to the truth that is in us to friends and enemies alike, and, encouraged by the companionship of your saints, give ourselves bravely to the struggle for justice in our time; through Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(from Holy Women and Men)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost: A Feast of All the Saints

There has been lots of “saint making” going on during the Easter Season. Beyond the highly anticipated beatification of El Salvador’s Oscar Romero and the canonization of four new saints on May 17, the Church celebrated the beatification of Blessed Luigi Bordino, an Italian member of the Brothers of St. Joseph Cottolengo, on May 2, Blessed Luigi Caburlotto, the Italian priest who founded the Daughters of St. Joseph, on May 16, and, on May 23—the same day as the beatification of Oscar Romero—Blessed Irene Stefani, a Consolata Missionary Sister who served in Tanzania and Kenya.

The Second Reading for the Pentecost Mass “During the Day” reminds us that, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). We see this truth at work in the lives of the named and unnamed saints who have lived out their commitment to Christ through the ages. This certainly holds true for those women and men honored by the Church in the past few weeks.

Pentecost is that great celebration that reminds us that holiness isn’t the prerogative of only a few chosen souls. Each and every Christian is chosen by God, sanctified, and sent out to achieve some purpose especially entrusted to them for God’s glory and the good of others. We celebrate the saints of history because these are individuals who, basically, got it right. They recognized that God—working in and through them—was calling them to become more and to do more. And their love and faith manifested itself in tangible ways. No saint, no holy person, has ever horded the graces they have received. This is true from that moment in the upper room nearly two thousand years ago when Mary and the Apostles became enflamed with the power of the Spirit down to our own time. We need saints to remind us that we are a Pentecost people who have been entrusted with the same task of proclaiming Jesus Christ to the world that was entrusted to the first followers of Jesus.
 
"Pentecost" by Mark Wiggin
 

In his homily for Pentecost, Pope Francis reflected on this, when he said:
The world needs men and women who are not closed in on themselves, but filled with the Holy Spirit. Closing oneself off from the Holy Spirit means not only a lack of freedom; it is a sin. There are many ways one can close one’s self off to the Holy Spirit: by selfishness for one’s own gain; by rigid legalism—seen in the attitude of the doctors of the law to whom Jesus referred as “hypocrites”; by neglect of what Jesus taught; by living the Christian life not as service to others but in pursuit of personal interests; and in so many other ways. The world needs the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22). The gift of the Holy Spirit has been bestowed upon the Church and upon each one of us, so that we may live lives of genuine faith and active charity, that we may sow the seeds of reconciliation and peace.

To be fruitful demands something of us. Or, to say it another way, Christians have responsibilities. And the call to holiness isn’t something unrelated to the demands of daily life. We have to “bloom where we’re planted.” And part of this responsibility is a willingness to actively listen to the whispers of the Spirit calling us out of ourselves and calling us to change and renewal each and every day.

As we celebrate the end of the Easter Season and transition back into the verdancy of Ordinary Time, think about what it would mean for you to pick a saint to be your companion over the next few months. Perhaps it might be one of the eight women and men honored by the Church this Easter Season, or another saint who has been a long-time friend. Let them guide you by their teachings and their way of life. How did they bear the fruit of the Spirit in their own lives, living out their unique vocation? How did they live the Resurrection of Jesus in the ordinary moments of their extraordinary life?
 

Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!
Holy Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us.
Saint Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas, pray for us.
Saint Mariam of Jesus Crucified, pray for us.
Saint Emilie de Villeneuve, pray for us.
Saint Maria Christina Brando, pray for us.
Blessed Luigi Bordino, pray for us.
Blessed Luigi Caburlotto, pray for us.
Blessed Irene Stefani, pray for us.
Blessed Oscar Romero, pray for us.
All you saints of God, pray for us!

 

 

 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Blessed Oscar Romero: Eyes That Have Cried

Tomorrow, May 23, Cardinal Angelo Amato, the prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, will beatify the martyr Oscar Romero.

This highly anticipated event comes after decades of debate and discernment over the cause and meaning of Romero’s murder, which took place on March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in the chapel of the La Divina Providenza hospital. The day before, he had called upon Salvadoran soldiers—as Christians—to stop carrying out the government’s oppressive and repressive violations and to obey God’s commands.

Personally, I’m gratified by beatification and believe that Romero is an important model for the Church’s pastors. He embodies the vision of pastoral care, outreach, and solidarity with the poor that so many celebrate in Pope Francis. After all, Romero is the man who taught us that “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”
 
 

I think the greatest tribute that we can offer to Blessed Oscar Romero (and to all the saints) is to reflect on their lives and discern how we can best imitate their faith and virtues. This holy bishop brought together a profound sense of God’s presence, a love for the poor and marginalized, a desire for justice, and a commitment to the Church that make him an especially powerful  example of how our individual faith should intersect with the work of the Church and the needs of society.  

As a way of preparing for the beatification, I’m happy to share this transcription of his final homily, given in the minutes before he was shot by a government-sanctioned assassin:

You have just heard in Christ’s gospel that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and that those who try to fend off the danger will lose their lives, while those who out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others, will live, live like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. The harvest comes about only because it dies, allowing itself to be sacrificed in the earth and destroyed. Only by undoing itself does it produce the harvest...

This is the hope that inspires us as Christians. We know that every effort to better society, especially when justice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.... Of course, we must try to purify these ideals, Christianize them, clothe them with the hope of what lies beyond. That makes them stronger, because it gives us the assurance that all that we cultivate on earth, if we nourish it with Christian hope, will never be a failure. We will find it in a purer form in that kingdom where our merit will be found in the labor that we have done here on earth...

Dear brothers and sisters, let us all view these matters at this historic moment with that hope, that spirit of giving and of sacrifice. Let us all do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding and sympathy...

[I]t is worthwhile to labor, because all those longings for justice, peace, and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope. We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love of God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendors of a crown that is the sure reward of those who labor thus, cultivating truth, justice, love, and goodness on earth. Such labor does not remain here below but, purified by God’s Spirit, is harvested for our reward.

The holy Mass, now, this Eucharist, is just such an act of faith. To Christian faith at this moment the voice of diatribe appears changed for the body of the Lord, who offered himself for the redemption of the world, and in this chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain --- like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.

Let us join together, then, intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer...

[At that, a postscript reads thus: "A shot rang out in the chapel and Archbishop Romero fell mortally wounded. He died within minutes, on arriving at a nearby hospital emergency room."]

 
Blessed Oscar Romero, pray for us!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Martyrs of the Mexican Revolution: ¡Viva Cristo Rey!

The 21st day of May is the commemoration of a group of saints honored as the "Martyrs of the Mexican Revolution," including 22 Mexican priests and 3 laymen who were murdered between 1915 and 1928. As the Mexican government came to adopt anti-clerical attitudes, which were to become law in the Constitution of 1917, the Church was denied legal status and the clergy lost all political and civil rights. In response to the outbreak of widespread persecutions, the Mexican bishops suspended all public worship.

As tensions mounted, the bishops ordered all rural priests to go into hiding, officially denouncing any armed uprisings or resistance. Many priests in rural areas, however, remained dedicated to providing the Sacraments for their people, and were involved in the movement for religious freedom to some degree. It was because of the resistance soldiers' battle cry of  ¡Viva Cristo Rey! that this uprising has come to be known as the Cristero Wars.


St. Cristobal Magallanes Jara

The martyrs honored on May 21 represent a cross-section of the many Mexican priests and religious who gave their lives during the persecution. Among them is the pastor of the parish of Totalice, Cristóbal Magallanes Jara, who was killed by Revolutionary soldiers on May 25, 1921, as he traveled to say Mass at a local ranch. Before his execution he declared, “I am innocent and I die innocent. I forgive with all my heart those responsible for my death, and I ask God that the shedding of my blood may bring peace to divided Mexicans.”

The other martyrs celebrated on May 21 are:
Román Adame Rosales (1859-1928)
Rodrigo Aguilar Aleman (1875-1927)
Julio Álvarez Mendoza (1866-1927)
Luis Batis Sáinz (1870-1926)
Agustín Caloca Cortés (1898-1927)
Mateo Correa Magallanes (1866-1927)
Atilano Cruz Alvarado (1901-1928)
Miguel De La Mora (1874-1927)
Pedro Esqueda Ramirez (1897-1927)
Margarito Flores Garcia (1899-1927)
José Isabel Flores Varela (1866-1927)
David Galván Bermudes (1882-1915)
Salvador Lara Puente (1905-1926)
Pedro de Jesús Maldonado (1892–1937)
Jesús Méndez Montoya (1880-1928)
Manuel Morales (1898-1926)
Justino Orona Madrigal (1877-1928)
Sabas Reyes Salazar (1879-1927)
José María Robles Hurtado (1888-1927)
David Roldán Lara (1907-1926)
Toribio Romo González (1900-1928)
Jenaro Sánchez Delgadillo (1886-1927)
Tranquilino Ubiarco Robles (1889-1928)
David Uribe Velasco (1888-1927)

Other martyrs from the Mexican Revolution are also honored by the Church: in 1988, Saint John Paul II beatified the Jesuit Miguel Agustin Pro (celebrated on November 23) and, in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI beatified Anacleto González Flores and 12 others (celebrated on November 20).  


St. Toribio Roma González,
the martyred priest of Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico,
has become a popular patron of
Mexican immigrants
seeking to enter the United States
During the homily at the canonization of Saint Cristobal and his companions on May 21, 2000, Saint John Paul II reflected: “Most belonged to the secular clergy and the three laymen were seriously committed to helping priests. No abandonaron el valiente ejercicio de su ministerio cuando la persecución religiosa arreció en la amada tierra mexicana, desatando un odio a la religión católica. They did not abandon their brave work of ministry when religious persecution raged, unleashing a hatred of Catholicism, in their beloved land of Mexico. Todos aceptaron libre y serenamente el martirio como testimonio de su fe, perdonando explícitamente a sus perseguidores. All freely and calmly accepted martyrdom as a witness to their faith, explicitly forgiving their persecutors. Faithful to God and the Catholic faith deeply rooted in the ecclesial communities which they served, they are today an example for the whole Church and the Mexican society in particular... May the shining example of Cristóbal Magallanes and his companion martyrs help you to a renewed commitment of fidelity to God, a commitment able to continue to transform Mexican society in the reign of justice, fraternity and harmony among all.”
 
A Prayer in Honor of Saint Cristobal Magallanes and the Martyrs of the Mexican Revolution +
Almighty and eternal God who made the Priest Saint Cristobal Magallanes and his companions faithful to Christ the King even to the point of martyrdom, grant us, through their intercession, that preserving in confession of the true faith, we may always hold fast to the commandments of your love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)
 
 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Saint Matthias: Authority and Service

We should not seek from others the truth that we can easily receive from the Church. There, the Apostles, like one making a deposit, fully bestowed on her all that belongs to the truth.
 
In the days between the Lord's Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter urged the followers of Jesus to select from among their number someone to take the place of Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve. Inspired by the Psalmist, "Let another take his office" (Psalm 109:8), those present nominated two men: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthias was chosen (Acts 1:15-17, 20-26). According to tradition, Matthias preached the Gospel in Cappadocia and the area around the Caspian Sea. Honored as a martyr, his relics were brought from Jerusalem to Rome by Saint Helena.

A vintage missal illustration
for the Feast of Saint Matthias
 
In reflecting on the importance of the Apostles, Saint Augustine notes that Jesus himself declared that the Apostles would sit on twelve thrones, "judging the Twelve Tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:30). Augustine goes on to say that these twelve seats are a "sign of a certain universality, for the Church was to be spread through the whole world, from whence, then, this edifice is called to union with Christ" (Commentary on Psalm 86).
 
The Feast of Saint Matthias (May 14; coincidentally, this year it is the same day when many in the Church observe the traditional celebration of the Ascension of the Lord) invites us to reflect both on the unique call that each of us has received, but also on the call to apostolic unity and authority that has been entrusted to the Church's bishops, the successors of the Apostles. However, this authority finds its origin in the universal call to holiness that has been extended to each of us by Jesus himself: "As the Father has loved me, so I also love you. Remain in my love... It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give you" (John 15:10, 16, the Gospel for the Feast of Saint Matthias).

In his reflection on Saint Matthias given at the General Audience of October 18, 2006, Pope Benedict summed up what can be said of this Apostle: "We know nothing about him, if not that he had been a witness to all Jesus' earthly events (cf. Acts 1:21-22), remaining faithful to the end. To the greatness of his fidelity was later added the divine call to take the place of Judas, almost compensating for his betrayal." He concluded, "We draw from this a final lesson: while there is no lack of unworthy and traitorous Christians in the Church, it is up to each of us to counterbalance, the evil done by them with our clear witness to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior."
 
 
A prayer for the Feast of Saint Matthias +
O God, who assigned Saint Matthias
a place in the college of Apostles,
grant us, through his intercession,
that, rejoicing at how your love has been allotted to us,
we may merit to be numbered among the elect.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

This reflection is adapted from my book, From Season to Season: A Book of Saintly Wisdom.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Blessed Maria Teresa of Jesus: "Let Us Give God Our Whole Heart"

Whoever obeys and teaches the commandments of the Lord will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
—Matthew 5:19

Caroline Gerhardinger was born in Stadtamhof (a suburb of Regensburg), Germany, in 1797. As a girl, Caroline was educated by the Canonesses of Notre Dame, a religious community founded by Saint Peter Fourier and Blessed Alix Le Clerc. In 1809, the school was suppressed and the sisters dispersed as part of Napoleon’s anti-clerical campaign. And so, at only 15 years of age, Caroline began teaching other girls. She demonstrated great gifts and came to the attention of Father Georg Whitman, who took Caroline under his wing. Under Father Whitman’s direction, she completed her education and, again, served in the school from 1816 to 1833. This priest, who would eventually become bishop of Regensburg, shared with Caroline his dream of sending out teaching sisters, two by two, into the rural schools of Bavaria. While his untimely death in 1833 left Caroline with no money or support, the group women who had already gathered around her courageously continued on.

In 1834, Caroline was granted an audience with King Ludwig I during which she was granted permission to establish a convent. The following year, she took religious vows and the religious name Maria Teresa of Jesus. Her new community, the Poor School Sisters of Notre Dame, began to grow quickly, and within ten years there were 52 communities of sisters serving throughout Bavaria, offering an education to girls who might otherwise have received none.

In 1847, Mother Maria Teresa accepted the invitation of Saint John Neumann, the bishop of Philadelphia, to establish communities of School Sisters of Notre Dame in Pittsburg and Philadelphia, as well as an orphanage in Baltimore. These new communities were originally intended to serve the needs of Czech immigrants, but their work and influence quickly spread throughout the United States. The following years also saw the creation of new communities in Germany, Hungary, and England. Finally, in 1854, after overcoming countless difficulties, the Holy See approved the new religious community and confirmed Mother Maria Teresa as superior for life.

One recent account of her life observes that, “Her character was said to be rigid, and this may well have been an advantage in surmounting the varied obstacles which faced a Congregation with an insecure future.” Despite her strictness, she was esteemed by the parents of her students, as well as by civic and Church leaders. Beyond her considerable administrative and teaching abilities, she was also a woman of prayer who was nourished by her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and her dedication to Mary. Her sisters were to live and act like Mary, offering their lives in complete dedication to God, carrying Christ into the world. In a letter to her sisters, she wrote: “Our perfection consists, in my estimation, in the love of God… Let us give to God our whole heart; after all, it belongs to him! Let us love him above all else!”

Maria Teresa of Jesus Gerhardinger died on May 9, 1879. Her final words were, “My death will be a consolation for my whole life.” She was beatified by Saint John Paul II in 1985. At the time of her death, there were more than three thousand sisters serving in more than three hundred communities around the world. The Church celebrates the commemoration of Blessed Maria Teresa on May 9.  

In his homily for the beatification, Saint John Paul II observed that, “the secret of the great fruitfulness of Mother [Maria] Teresa’s deeds and work in education was, in addition to her professional excellence, most of all the strength of her spiritual life: an unshakeable trust in God and a glowing love for Christ and the poor.” The life and witness of this blessed woman are a powerful reminder that regardless of our avocation or profession, each of us also has a unique vocation—a call to live out our faith in a particular way, for the glory of God and the good of those around us. As an educator, Blessed Maria Teresa touched the lives of children and families. But, for her, the work of forming young minds was inseparable from that of forming hearts and souls in the love of Christ. So, the challenge for each of us is to reflect on our own professional and family commitments and to recognize how God is inviting each of us to proclaim God’s love in each facet of our lives.

 
A prayer in honor of Blessed Maria Teresa of Jesus +
O God, who raised up blessed Maria Teresa of Jesus in your Church to show others the way of salvation, grant us, by her example so to follow Christ the master, that we may come with our neighbor into your presence. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Saint Peregrine: Being Made Whole in Hope

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.
—Romans 8:24-25

Peregrine Laziosi was born into a wealthy family in Forli, Italy, around the year 1260. The era into which Peregrine was born was characterized by political unrest, especially concerning the powers of the papacy in secular-political affairs; Peregrine’s family supported the anti-papal faction. In 1283, Saint Philip Benizi, the Superior General of the Servite Order, was sent to Forli as a papal representative, hoping to reconcile the divided community. As he was trying to preach, Peregrine became so enraged that he physically assaulted Philip, who responded by literally turning the other cheek. Peregrine soon repented of his acts and sought out Philip’s forgiveness. This experience had a profound impact on Peregrine’s life and marked the beginning of a process of conversion that led him to join the Servite Order in Siena. 

After several years, Peregrine was sent back to his home city to establish a new house of his order there and he soon won great respect for his effective preaching and generosity to the poor. People began calling him the “Angel of Good Counsel” because of the wise advice he freely offered. In his ministry and prayer, he chose to never settle or choose comfort—he always strove to move forward, toward higher spiritual things. 
 
Shrine of Saint Peregrine in
California's Mission San Juan Capistrano
 
When he was sixty years old, he developed a severe infection from acute varicose veins. The pain and infection were so severe that physicians decided that the leg needed to be amputated. The night before the operation, Peregrine spent time in prayer before a fresco of the Crucifixion. He fell asleep as he prayed and seemed to see Jesus descend from the cross to touch his leg. The following day, when the doctors came to perform the operation, there was no sign of the infection or wound. Because of this miracle, Peregrine has come to be honored as the patron saint of those with cancer and other kinds of wounds and infections.  

Peregrine died on May 1, 1345, at the age of eighty. He was canonized in 1726 and his commemoration is celebrated on May 1. (The Servite Order celebrates his memory on May 4.)

The life of Saint Peregrine is a wonderful testimony to the power of hope. But we should remember that hope isn’t really the sense that any problem or challenge (including illness) will “be OK.” That kind of hope only has to do with the future. In its truest form, hope is the understanding that whatever is happening in our life, both good and bad, God is there with us, right here and right now. So living in hope, as Saint Peregrine did, means that we live in the present moment, confident of God’s presence now and in the future.

In his encyclical, Spes Salvi ("Saved in Hope"), Pope Benedict XVI reminded us:
Humanity’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God—God who has loved us and who continues to love us “to the end,” until all “is accomplished” (cf. John 13:1 and 19:30). Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what “life” really is. He begins to perceive the meaning of the word of hope that we encountered in the Baptismal Rite: from faith I await “eternal life”—the true life which, whole and unthreatened, in all its fullness, is simply life. Jesus, who said that he had come so that we might have life and have it in its fullness, in abundance (cf. John 10:10), has also explained to us what “life” means: “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we “live.”
Whether we are living with illness, financial trouble, spiritual doubts, or family issues—whatever the source of pain and frustration—we can still live as people of hope because we know that God never abandons us or leaves us to face suffering alone. We might not experience the physical restoration that Saint Peregrine enjoyed, but we can always trust that God is continually making us whole through the power of love and grace.

 

A prayer in honor of Saint Peregrine +
O God, who called blessed Saint Peregrine to seek your Kingdom in this world through the pursuit of charity, grant, we pray, through his intercession that we may advance with joyful spirit along the way of love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)