Posts Tagged ‘Saints’

Saints and Public Figures

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

On this day in 1535, John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester in England and newly-created Cardinal, was judicially murdered by the government of England.  His offense?  He defended the validity of marriage, and the authority of the Church to determine what marriage means.

Today we celebrate his feast day, on an ominous day for marriage and the liberty of the Church here in New York.

John Fisher defended the marriage of Queen Catherine to the tyrant King Henry VIII, who wished to have that union dissolved by the Church.  When the Church refused, Henry persecuted and murdered all those who stood for the validity of the marriage, and for the authority of the Church.  John Fisher stood alone among the English episcopacy — every single other bishop sided with the King and against the Holy See.  Other prominent Englishmen also took the side of the marriage and the Church, and paid the price — most notably, of course, the great St. Thomas More.  St. Thomas, and many other English martyrs for the meaning of marriage and the liberty of the Church, share this feast day, and we humbly pray for their intercession.

As we recall the memory of these great witnesses for the truth, powerful men are in Albany redefining marriage, and threatening the liberty of the Church.  They sit behind closed doors, making a mockery of democracy with secret political deals, not disclosing to the public the language of the bill they will soon foist upon us.  That bill will certainly threaten the liberty of the Church to fulfill her apostolic mission, even as it redefines the family and the nature of every marriage.

A few people stand in their way.  A few brave legislators have resisted the inducements, threats and pressures, and are defending the truth.  Ordinary people of all faiths have sacrificed to go to Albany to give witness to their belief in the sanctity of authentic marriage, and to their fears of religious persecution.  They were met with derisory anti-religious chants.

St. John Fisher and the other English martyrs gave their lives to testify to the divine institution of marriage, and to defend the freedom of the Church established by Christ Himself.

Perhaps some people in Albany will receive special graces today, thanks to their intercession.

St. John Fisher, St. Thomas More, all you English Martyrs, please pray for them, and for us.

Glorious Saint Joan

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Yesterday, at his regular Wednesday address, the Holy Father continued his series of talks about great female saints by commenting on St. Joan of Arc.

Jehanne the Maid, as she called herself, is one of my favorite saints, and I love her dearly.  She was a beautiful person, simple, devout and strong.  She rose from utter obscurity to accomplish one of the most remarkable feats in human history.  Just consider it — a seventeen-year-old girl, with no military experience whatsoever, leading the army of a defeated and demoralized nation to impossible victories.  Biographers to this day — even cynics like like Mark Twain — find her to be astonishing.

She did this not to glorify herself, but in humble obedience to the will of God, communicated to her through visions of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret.  She never wanted anything more than to return to her humble home, yet she obeyed God and set aside her own desires.

The price she paid for this devotion was appalling.  After all her triumphs, she was betrayed by her own king whom she raised to the throne, persecuted by hard-hearted enemies and corrupt Churchmen, and eventually put to death in one of the most painful ways imaginable.  Of course, the world could not really recognize her, much as the world never recognized Our Lord.  As the Holy Father noted, her judges “were fundamentally unable to understand her, to see the beauty of her soul: they did not know they were condemning a Saint”.

Joan’s beauty of soul shone through, even in battle and even in the darkest days of her cruelly unfair trial.  Here is what she said at the trial, when asked about who carried her standard (i.e., her flag): “It was I who carried the aforementioned sign when I charged the enemy. I did so to avoid killing any one. I have never killed a man.”  She also wept over the loss of life in battle, strove to minimize it, insisted on sparing prisoners, and comforted dying enemy soldiers.

She is, in my humble opinion, an outstanding example of a brave and Christian warrior, whose love of God inspired all that she did, whose nobility of character inspired deep love and devotion among the hardened soldiers who followed her, and whose courage under persecution is a shining beacon of purity and virtue.  I feel the strength of her patronage, and if I ever make it to heaven, she will be one of the first saints I seek out.

Joan rejected worldly honors, and refused to accept titles for herself.  She never lost sight that serving God was the entire purpose of her mission and her life.  As a sign of this, she wore only one piece of jewelry, a simple gold ring, a gift from her mother, with the plain engraving “+Jhesus+Maria+”.

At her trial, Joan offered a statement that sums up her character, and could have been her battle cry:  “I came from God. There is nothing more for me to do here! Send me back to God, from Whom I came!”

The Holy Father Reminds Us of Our Mission

Friday, November 19th, 2010

All too frequently, I get wrapped up in the daily whirlwind of all the things that I think are important.  And all too infrequently, I fail to keep in mind the real priorities of life, and what my true mission is.

Thank God for Pope Benedict, who never fails to make things perfectly clear.  In the introduction to his new document on Sacred Scripture, Verbum Domini, there is a section entitled “That our joy may be complete”, the Holy Father says this:

I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become his heralds, so that the gift of divine life – communion – can spread ever more fully throughout the world. Indeed, sharing in the life of God, a Trinity of love, is complete joy (cf. 1 Jn 1:4). And it is the Church’s gift and unescapable duty to communicate that joy, born of an encounter with the person of Christ, the Word of God in our midst. In a world which often feels that God is superfluous or extraneous, we confess with Peter that he alone has “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).  (emphasis added)

In these few simple words, the Holy Father has defined the essence of discipleship, and the path to real happiness.

Thank you, Pope Benedict, for once again making our mission clear.  Now it’s up to me.

Thanks to My Patron Saints

Monday, March 8th, 2010

So, yesterday was my birthday.  And that got me thinking about my patron saints.

If you’re like me, you have lots of favorite saints, and lots of saints who you think are looking out for you and helping you.  That’s one of the best things about being Catholic — a regular, daily awareness of the communion of saints. And also, if you’re like me, you had the good fortune to be born on a day on which the Church honors the memory of particular saints.

I’m old enough to have been born when the old Roman Calendar was still in effect.  As a result, I was born on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.  I have received many graces through his intercession, including a keen interest in theology and my middle name.  Thomas led a fascinating life, and he wrote so beautifully and deeply on all aspects of the faith that he has been a great gift to my faith.  I am particularly mindful of one of his final thoughts, after having some kind of mystical experience.  He ceased work on a project, and upon being asked by his secretary why he didn’t finish the work, replied “all that I have written seems like straw to me.”  That’s a good reminder that nothing that we could do in this life could ever stand comparison to the glory of God.  As St. Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:7-8)

When they reformed the Roman Calendar in the Sixties, they decided to move Thomas’ feast to January 28.  Oddly enough, they chose the day that they “translated his relics” — that is, the day they dug up his body and moved it from one resting place to another.

Although I still have some hard feelings about them taking Thomas from me, I have to say that I lucked out again when the Church restored the ancient feast day of Saints Perpetua and Felicity to their proper day.

If you aren’t familiar with Saints Perpetua and Felicity, you should immediately drop all that you are doing and correct this.  Perpetua, a Roman noblewoman, and her slave Felicity, were martyred in 203 A.D., in Carthage.  Perpetua was nursing her baby when arrested, and Felicity was pregnant. Perpetua’s child was taken from her by her family, but Felicity gave birth while imprisoned and the child was adopted by a Christian family.  Perpetua wrote an account of their ordeals in prison with other Christians — one of the earliest written records by a Christian woman.  The story of their witness to Christ is vivid and moving, and should be required reading for all Christians who want a glimpse into the heroism of our ancestors in faith.

The night before their martyrdom, after having celebrated a “love feast” (the ancient name for the Mass) with her fellow prisoners, Perpetua had a dream about being led to the arena by one of the men who had already been martyred, who beckoned her to come and join them.  In the arena, she was beset by a mighty enemy, but vanquished him and was called to enter the Gate of Life.  Realizing the significance of this dream, she wrote, “I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil; but I knew that mine was the victory”.

The next day, March 7, Perpetua, Felicity and their companions were taken to the arena, whipped, attacked by wild beasts and slain by gladiators.  They have been honored ever since.  As Tertullian said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”.

I certainly do not consider myself to be in the intellectual ballpark of Thomas, or anywhere near as courageous as Perpetua and Felicity.  But I feel very close to them, as if they were my friends, but just separated from me for a short time.  Perhaps one day, if their prayers for me are heard, I will meet them, and I can thank them for their help and friendship.