Thursday, April 21, 2016

Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm was born of noble parents in Piedmont (Italy) around the year 1033. At the age of twenty-seven he entered the English Benedictine abbey of Bec, where he became abbot in 1078. As abbot, he gained renown for his preaching and reforming spirit. In 1093, he succeeded his former teacher, Blessed Lanfranc, as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anselm soon found himself at odds with King William Rufus, whose unjust policies compelled
Anselm to leave England. After traveling to Cluny and Rome, the Anselm returned to England only after he had received word of the king’s death. Conflicts with the new king caused him to flee to Rome where Pope Paschal II defended Anselm’s claim to authority over the English church. In 1106, he returned to Canterbury, where he died on April 21, 1109.

Known as a man of recollection and erudition, Anselm’s writings have had a profound impact on Catholic thought and he has been called the “Father of Scholasticism.” Especially remembered for his Prosologion, the treatise Cur deus homo, and his ontological argument for the existence of God, Anselm of Canterbury was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1720.

The fifty days of the Easter Season are a time for us to not only celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s Resurrection, but also a time to enter more deeply into what this great work of God means in our lives today. Saint Anselm was one of the great lights of the Church who dedicated his life to exploring the truths of God in a way that left an indelible mark on the Church’s beliefs and prayer, up to our own time.

Take time today to read the Gospel for today’s Mass and reflect on who you believe Jesus to be and what that means for your life. Ask Saint Anselm to help you use these holy days to enter more fully into the Easter mysteries, allowing them to bring light and life into your heart and soul.

Prayer +
O God, who led the Bishop Saint Anselm
to seek out and teach the depths of your wisdom,
grant, we pray,
that our faith in your may so aid our understanding,
that what we believe by your command
may give delight to our hearts.
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)

This reflection was originally written for and published on their site on April 21, 2016.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Knowing the Good Shepherd

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
—John 10:27-28
In his message for the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (which is celebrated each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter) Pope Benedict XVI observed, “Hope is the expectation of something positive in the future, yet at the same time it must sustain our present existence, which is often marked by dissatisfaction and failures… To have hope, therefore, is the equivalent of trusting in God who is faithful, who keeps the promises of the covenant.”

This sense of hope is at the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel which places before us one of the greatest biblical images of God’s faithful care and mercy: the Good Shepherd. The Evangelist John uses the image of the Good Shepherd (cf. chapter 10) to illustrate the intimate way Christ knows each of us—the flock entrusted to his care—and how, like a faithful shepherd, he constantly watches over us and lifts us up.

Fresco of the Good Shepherd
from the Catacomb of Priscilla
The most important point of this Sunday’s Gospel is that eternal life is the Good Shepherd’s gift. Jesus is the source of life and because he has given his life for “his flock,” we have an abundance of life. It seems so simple, but this fundamental Christian belief is one that we can often take for granted. And that is unfortunate, because this Gospel also includes an unspoken invitation for us: we have to be attentive and receptive to this gift of life and accepting that gift means that we listen to and follow the direction of our Shepherd. We see this lived out in the ministry of Barnabas and Paul who, through their preaching, came to understand that they were being called to a new mission field, seeking out new disciples who would listen to the voice of the Shepherd speaking through them (cf. the First Reading: Acts 13:45-47).

And so, on this Sunday when we pause to pray that God will gift the Church with an increase in men and women dedicated to the Kingdom as priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters, the Readings remind us that each of us (and not only our pastors) is called follow the example of the Shepherd and listen to his commands by building up the Church as we promote what Henri Nouwen has called the “three spiritual qualities of the resurrected life”: unity, intimacy, and integrity. “We are called to break through the boundaries of nationality, race, sexual orientation, age, and mental capacities and create a unity of love that allows the weakest among us to live well” (from The Road to Daybreak).

While we can (and should) take comfort in the Shepherd’s provident care and protection—and the gift of eternal life that he offers us—we can only say we truly know this Good Shepherd if we are willing to listen to his voice and follow his commands in our daily lives. In this Fourth Week of the Easter Season, we would do well to remember the words of Saint Cyril of Alexandria: “The mark of Christ’s sheep is their willingness to hear and obey… People who hear God’s voice are known by him.”

How is the Good Shepherd calling you to share in his work of caring for the “flock” of the Church?

What do you do to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life?

As we continue to celebrate this Easter Season, how are you living “the resurrected life”?

Words of Wisdom: “Our work and the only work of religion is to create unity wherever you go. If you are not creating unity, you are part of the problem and you are certainly not one of the children of God. You can come to Mass as much as you want and come to communion as often as you can. But you are not in communion. Our job is to live in radical communion and not just to ritualize it on Sunday”—Deacon Jim Knipper in Hungry and You Fed Me

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Saint Martin I: The Last Martyr-Pope

An Italian by birth, Martin became Pope in 649. Immediately after his election he convoked a council in Rome to condemn both the Monothelite Heresy (which denied that Jesus had a human will and freedom), and the involvement of Emperor Constans II in Church affairs. In response, the outraged emperor had Pope Martin kidnapped and imprisoned in Constantinople. Saved from execution only through the intervention of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Martin was exiled to Kherson, in the Crimea, where he eventually died as a result of starvation and abuse in 655. He is the last of the Bishops of Rome to be honored as a martyr.

The feast of Pope Martin I is celebrated in both the Eastern and Western Churches.

Today’s First Reading tells us of a dark time in the life of the Early Church, as the first Christians faced severe persecution and exile following the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the Church’s first martyr. The experience of this early Christians—and other saints, including Pope Martin—remind us of the suffering of so many Christians today. However, today’s Reading also teaches us that “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Rather than give in to external pressure, those Christians used their experience of suffering as an opportunity for evangelization, helping us recognize how light of the Risen Christ can shine out even in the midst of darkness and death.

Pray today for those Christians who are refugees and for those organizations and faith communities who are providing care for them. As you ask Pope Saint Martin I to intercede for them, consider how you can show your care and concern for them through concrete acts of mercy.

Prayer +
Grant, almighty God,
that we may withstand the trials of this world
with the invincible firmness of purpose,
just as you did not allow your Martyr Pope Saint Martin the First
to be daunted by threats or broken by suffering.
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.
(from The Roman Missal)

Originally published by and posted on their site on April 13, 2016.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Saint Julie Billiart: Finding Inspiration to Serve

Marie Rose Julie Billiart was born in Picardy in 1751. An intelligent and devout child, she was forced to perform heavy manual labor to support her impoverished family. After making a private vow of chastity when she was fourteen, she worked among the poor children within her parish, teaching catechism and visiting the sick.

In 1773, she witnessed the attempted murder of her father, and as a result she developed a nervous paralysis that gradually prevented her from walking and caused her severe pain. She was an invalid by the age of thirty, but from her bed she carried on an apostolate of prayer and spiritual counsel to the many men and women who sought her advice and direction.

During the French Revolution she was accused of harboring priests, but she was saved from the authorities by friends who helped her escape to Compi├Ęgne. Her illness continued to worsen, and for several months she was unable to speak. Following the end of the Revolution, Julie resumed her teaching and, gathering together a small group of women, she established the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, dedicated to teaching the children of the poor.

In 1804, Julie was cured of her illness after one of her religious sisters made a novena in honor of the Sacred Heart. As she regained her strength she was able to more effectively govern her congregation and assist the work of the “Fathers of the Faith,” a group standing in for the suppressed Society of Jesus. From 1804 until her death on April 8, 1816, Julie was constantly traveling, supervising the construction of nineteen schools in France and Belgium. Remembered as being kind and warm-hearted, and for her complete reliance on Providence, Saint Julie Billiart was canonized in 1960.

Saint Julie Billiart both experienced great psychological and physical anguish herself and she also saw firsthand the suffering that war and civil unrest can cause. Rather than turn in on herself, however, she allowed these experiences to inspire her to help alleviate the suffering of others, especially by providing quality educations and opportunities for the poor. In this way, she continued the saving mission of Jesus.

Pray today for all those women and men religious who have dedicated their lives to teaching and forming young people and to serving the poor. Ask that God will bless the Church with many new religious to continue this mission.

How are you supporting those religious communities and civic organizations that help the poor?

Prayer +
O God,
You willed that through blessed Julia's invincible love of Your Cross
she should enrich Your Church
by the establishment of a new congregation
dedicated to the teaching of poor children.
May her intercession help us to endure suffering courageously,
so that we may attain to the happiness of eternal life.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal [1962])

This reflection was originally written for and published on their site on April 8, 2016.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

April 2: Saint Francis of Paola

Francis was born around the year 1416, at Paola, a small city in Calabria. Educated by the Franciscans, he lived as a solitary about a half mile from Paola. He was eventually joined by two companions, and he built three cells and a chapel, in which the local priest would say Mass for them. This is regarded as the foundation for the Order of Friars Minims. In 1454, Francis constructed the new community’s first monastery, and their Rule of Life was approved by Pope SixtusIV in 1474. Francis soon established monasteries in Germany, France, and Spain. 

Following the example of his patron, Saint Francis of Assisi, Francis was never ordained a priest and he was credited with a number of miracles, even during his life. Although none of his own words have survived, we know that he was completely devoted to solitude and self-denial, and that he had a special devotion to the Passion of Christ and the Mother of God.  In 1506, he wrote a Rule for nuns and accepted lay people as Third Order members. 

Saint Francis of Paola died on Good Friday, April 2, 1507. Regarded as one of the greatest miracle-workers of his day, he was canonized in 1519. 

The mission that Jesus entrusted to the Apostles in today’s Gospel is the same mission that has been entrusted to every member of the Church: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Those whom we honor as saints—including Saint Francis of Paola—allowed this mission to be the focus of their lives and labors.

Pray today for the grace to be an “apostle” in your family and community. Ask Saint Francis of Paola to help you discern how to best fulfill this mission in your life.

Prayer +
O God, exaltation of the lowly,
who raised Saint Francis of Paola to the glory of your Saints,
grant, we pray, that by his merits and example
we may happily attain the rewards promised to the humble.
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)

This post was originally written for and published on their site on April 2, 2016.