Mary, Mother of God
on Christmas morning how we found our way to the stable? It may
have been the stable on the mantle or under the Christmas tree or
in our parish church. We gazed at the baby in the manger just like
the shepherds had done so long ago. Jesus was there with Mary and
Joseph. Today we begin our new year at the Eucharistic Celebration.
We thank God for Mary, Jesus' mother, who brought the Savior into
the world. Because she is the mother of Jesus, God's Son, she truly
is the Mother of God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary
conceived Jesus. Joseph was Jesus' loving foster-father.
chose Mary to be the mother of his Son. She was a teenager and her
parents were Joachim and Anne. Mary loved God and her Jewish religion.
She was probably considered ordinary by her neighbors. It would
be God's work in her that would make her so special, so blessed.
God sent the Archangel Gabriel to Mary's town of Nazareth. The angel
asked her to accept a wonderful plan-wonderful for her and for all
of us. Mary wanted to please God and she accepted the plan. She
became Jesus' mother. Mary and her husband, Joseph, tried to raise
Jesus the best way they could and with great love. Jesus spent many
happy, quiet years with Mary and Joseph in Nazareth.
Jesus was about thirty years old, he began his preaching and healing
ministry. This is usually called his public life. It seems that
sometime before that Joseph had died. Jesus could not now stay just
in the little home and carpenter shop at Nazareth. Mary frequently
went with her friends to be near her Son. Mary attended a marriage
celebration in Cana. Jesus and his disciples came too. When the
wine was gone, Mary asked Jesus to do something. She wanted him
to save the couple from being embarrassed in front of their guests.
He worked the miracle of turning plain water into delicious wine.
Mary loved Jesus and believed in him. She was there when he was
nailed to the cross. In fact, she stayed right beneath the cross
and received his dead body into her arms. After the resurrection,
Mary waited with Jesus' apostles for the coming of the Holy Spirit
on Pentecost. The apostles loved her. They knew they needed more
courage to be real followers of Jesus. Mary prayed for them and
encouraged them. She taught them how to be disciples of her Son.
Mary's feast days are special events that happen throughout the
year. Today's feast honors her as God's Mother. She wants to be
our mother, too.
ST. BASIL AND ST. GREGORY NAZIANZEN
Basil and Gregory were born in Asia Minor in the year 330. This
area is modern-day Turkey. Basil's grandmother, father, mother,
two brothers and a sister are all saints. Gregory's parents are
St. Nonna and St. Gregory the Elder. Basil and Gregory met and became
great friends at school in Athens, Greece. Basil became a well-known
teacher. One day his sister, St. Macrina, suggested that he become
a monk. He listened to her advice, moved to the wilderness and there
started his first monastery. The rule he gave his monks was very
wise. Monasteries in the East have followed it down to our own times.
Basil and Gregory became priests and then bishops. They preached
bravely against the Arian heresy which denied that Jesus is God.
This heresy was confusing people.
he was bishop of Constantinople, Gregory converted many people with
his wonderful preaching. This nearly cost him his life. A young
man planned to murder him. He repented at the last moment and begged
Gregory's forgiveness. Gregory did forgive him and won him with
his gentle goodness.
of Gregory's speeches, 243 letters and many poems were published.
His writings are still important today. Many writers have based
their works on his.
friend Basil had a very kind and generous heart. He always found
time to help the poor. He even invited people who were poor themselves
to help those worse off. "Give your last loaf to the beggar
at your door," he urged, "and trust in God's goodness."
He gave away his inheritance and opened a soup kitchen where he
could often be seen wearing an apron and feeding the hungry.
Basil died in 379 at the age of forty-nine. Gregory died in 390
at the age of sixty. He is buried in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
We will never be sorry for using our education, time and talents
to help the people around us become closer to God.
Genevieve was born around 422 in Nanterre, a small village four
miles from Paris. While still very young, she desired to devote
her life to Jesus. After her parents died, Genevieve went to live
with her grandmother. She spent time praying every day. She became
very close to Jesus and wanted to bring his goodness to people.
Genevieve was a kind, generous person. She went out of her way to
do good things for others.
people of Paris were going to run away from a terrible army coming
to attack them. Genevieve stepped forward. She encouraged the citizens
to trust in God. She said that if they did penance, they would be
spared. The people did what she said, and the fierce army of Huns
suddenly turned back. They did not attack the city at all. St. Genevieve
practiced charity and obedience to God's will every day of her life,
not just in times of need. She never gave up trying to do as much
good as possible. Faithfulness to Jesus and courage are the special
gifts of witness she leaves for us. One of the best ways for us
to help our country is to pray for our leaders. We should ask God
to guide them for the good of us all.
ST. ELIZABETH ANN SETON
Elizabeth was called "Mother Seton" by everyone knew her
by when she died on January 4, 1821, in Emmitsburg, Maryland. A
life full of surprises had led to that name. Elizabeth was born
in New York City on August 28, 1774. Her father, Richard Bayley,
was a well-known doctor. Her mother, Catherine, died when Elizabeth
was very young. Elizabeth was Episcopalian. As a teenager, she did
many things to help poor people. In 1794, Elizabeth married William
Seton. He was a rich merchant who owned a fleet of ships. Elizabeth,
William and their five children had a happy life together. But suddenly
William lost his fortune and his good health within a short time.
His wife heard that the weather in Italy might help him get better.
Elizabeth, William and their oldest daughter, Anna, journeyed there
by ship. But William died shortly after. Elizabeth and Anna remained
in Italy as guests of the Filicchi family. The Filicchis were very
kind. They tried to make Elizabeth and Anna's sorrow easier by sharing
their own deep love for the Catholic faith. Elizabeth returned home
to New York convinced she would become a Catholic. Her family and
friends did not understand. They were very upset, but she went ahead
with courage. Elizabeth joined the Church on March 4, 1805.
A few years later, Elizabeth
was asked to come and open a girls' school in Baltimore. It was
there that Elizabeth decided to live as a sister. Many women came
to join her, including her sister and sister-in-law. Her own daughters,
Anna and Catherine, also joined the group. They became the American
Sisters of Charity and Elizabeth was given the title "Mother
Seton." Elizabeth became well-known. She started many Catholic
schools and a few orphanages. She made plans for a hospital which
was opened after her death. Elizabeth loved to write, and she also
translated some textbooks from French to English. But she was most
famous for the way she visited the poor and the sick.
was declared a saint by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975. If something
should happen that changes our lives from happy to difficult, let
us turn to God as Mother Seton did and ask for help. God can help
us see how hard things can bring out our hidden talents. Then we
will accomplish what we never dreamed of Elizabeth was declared
a saint by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975.
ST. JOHN NEUMANN
John Neumann was not only quiet, he was short-five feet, two inches
tall. His eyes were very kind and he smiled a lot. He was born on
March 28, 1811, in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. His
parents were Philip and Agnes Neumann. He had four sisters and a
brother. After college, John entered the seminary. When time came
for ordination, the bishop was sick. The date was never set because
Bohemia had enough priests at the time. Since he had been reading
about missionary activities in the United States, John decided to
go to America to ask for ordination. He walked most of the way to
France and then boarded the ship Europa.
John arrived in Manhattan
on June 9, 1836. Bishop John Dubois was very happy to see him. There
were only thirty-six priests for the two hundred thousand Catholics
living in the state of New York and part of New Jersey. Just sixteen
days after his arrival, John was ordained a priest and sent to Buffalo.
There he would help Father Pax care for his parish, which was nine
hundred square miles in size. Father Pax gave him the choice of
the city of Buffalo or of the country area. Now John's heroic character
began to show. He chose the most difficult-the country area. He
decided to stay in a little town with an unfinished church. Once
it was completed, he moved to another town that had a log-church.
There he built himself a small log cabin. He hardly ever lit a fire
and often lived on bread and water. He only slept a few hours each
night. The farms in his area were far apart. John had to walk long
distances to reach his people. They were German, French, Irish and
Scotch. In school, John had learned eight languages. Now he added
English and Gaelic. Before he died, he knew twelve languages.
joined the Redemptorist order and continued his missionary work.
He became bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. Bishop Neumann built fifty
churches and began building a cathedral. He opened almost one hundred
schools, and the number of parochial school students grew from five
hundred to nine thousand. Bishop Neumann's health never improved
much, but people were still very surprised when he died suddenly
on January 5, 1860. He was walking home from an appointment when
he fell to the ground with a stroke. He was carried into the nearest
house and died there at 3:00 P.M. In March Bishop Neumann would
have been forty-nine. He was proclaimed a saint by Pope Paul VI
on June 19, 1977. We might not be as smart, strong, or active as
we would like to be. But that doesn't stop God from loving us and
from using us to do wonderful things. When we have to do something
difficult, we can ask St. John Neumann's help.
BLESSED ANDRE BESSETTE
Alfred Bessette was born on August 9, 1845, not far from Montreal,
Canada. He was the eighth of twelve children. When Alfred was nine,
his father, a wood cutter, died in an accident at work. Three years
later, Alfred's mother died of tuberculosis, leaving the children
orphans. They were split up and placed in different homes. Alfred
went to live with his aunt and uncle. Because his family had been
so poor and he was often sick, Alfred had very little education.
So for the next thirteen years he tried learning different trades
like farming, shoemaking and baking. He even worked in a factory
in Connecticut. But his health always failed him.
When Alfred was twenty-five,
he joined the order of Holy Cross and chose the name Brother Andre.
He spent the next forty years as a general maintenance man and messenger.
The remaining years of his life were spent as the doorkeeper for
the order's college. Here, Brother Andre's healing power became
known. When people came to ask him for a cure, he would tell them
to first thank God for their suffering because it was so valuable.
Then he would pray with them. Most of them were cured. Brother Andre
always refused credit for the healing. He insisted it had been the
person's faith and the power of St. Joseph.
Andre had a great love for the Eucharist and for St. Joseph. When
he was young, he dreamt he saw a big church, but he couldn't tell
where it was. Gradually, he came to realize that God wanted a church
in honor of St. Joseph. That church was to be built on top of Mount
Royale in Montreal, Canada. Prayer and the sacrifices of Brother
Andre and many other people made the dream come true. The magnificent
church honoring St. Joseph was built. It is a testimony to Brother
Andre's tremendous faith. Pilgrims come to Mount Royale all year
and from distant places. They want to honor St. Joseph. They want
to show their trust in his loving care, as Brother Andre did. Brother
Andre died peacefully on January 6, 1937. Nearly a million people
climbed Mount Royale to St. Joseph's Oratory for his funeral. They
came in spite of sleet and snow to say good-bye to their dear friend.
He was proclaimed "blessed" on May 23, 1982, by Pope John
ST. RAYMOND OF PENYAFORT
Raymond was born between 1175 and 1180 in a little town near Barcelona,
Spain. He was educated at the cathedral school in Barcelona and
became a priest. Raymond graduated from law school in Bologna, Italy,
and became a famous teacher. He joined the Dominican order in 1218.
In 1230, Pope Gregory IX asked this dedicated priest to come to
Rome. When Raymond arrived, the pope gave him several assignments.
One duty was to collect all the official letters of the popes since
1150. Raymond gathered and published five volumes. He also took
part in writing Church law.
In 1238, Raymond was
elected master general of the Dominicans. With his knowledge of
law, he went over the order's rule and made sure everything was
legally correct. After he had finished, he resigned his position
in 1240. Now he could truly dedicate the rest of his life to parish
work. That is what he really wanted. The pope thought of making
Raymond an archbishop, but Raymond refused. He asked to return to
Spain and he did. He was overjoyed to be in parish work. His compassion
helped many people return to God through the sacrament of Reconciliation.
his years in Rome, Raymond had often heard stories of the difficulties
that missionaries were having. They were trying hard to reach out
to the non-Christians of Northern Africa and Spain. To help the
missionaries, Raymond started a school that taught the language
and culture of the people to be evangelized. Also, Father Raymond
asked the famous Dominican, St. Thomas Aqui-nas, to write a booklet.
This booklet would explain the truths of faith in a way that nonbelievers
lived nearly one hundred years. He died in Barcelona on January
6, 1275. He was proclaimed a saint in 1601 by Pope Clement VIII.
This pope declared him the patron of Church lawyers because of his
great influence on Church law.
Thorfinn's life were discovered in details long after his death.
He died in 1285, in a monastery in Belgium. Fifty years later, his
tomb was accidentally opened during some construction work. Everyone
was surprised by the strong, pleasant smell that came out of his
coffin. The abbot started investigating. He found one elderly monk,
Walter de Muda, who remembered Thorfinn. In fact, Father Walter
had been so impressed with Thorfinn's gentle goodness and firmness,
that he had written a poem about him. Walter had placed the poem
with Thorfinn in the tomb. The monks went to look for the poem.
They found the parchment just as new and fresh as the day it had
been put there.
The monks felt this was
a sign that God wanted Thorfinn to be remembered and honored. People
started praying to him and miracles began to happen. Father Walter
was asked to write whatever he could remember about Thorfinn. He
wrote that Thorfinn had come from Norway. As a priest he probably
had served at the cathedral. It seems that Thorfinn had signed an
important document while at the cathedral. He had been a witness
to the Agreement of Tonsberg in 1277. This agreement between King
Magnus VI and the archbishop freed the Church from state control.
But a few years later, King Eric rejected the agreement. He turned
against the archbishop and those who had supported him. The archbishop
was sent away and so was Thorfinn, who was now bishop of Hamar,
started a hard journey to Flanders. He was even shipwrecked on the
trip. Finally, he arrived and went to live at the monastery where
he later died. He visited Rome, but he returned very ill. Thorfinn
didn't have much, but he divided a few possessions among his family
members and some charitable groups. Then he died on January 8, 1285.
The Catholics in Hamar, Norway, still honor St. Thorfinn and celebrate
his feast day.
St. Julian and St. Basilissa
Julian and St. Basilissa were husband and wife. They lived in the
early part of the fourth century. Their love for their faith led
them to do something heroic: they turned their home into a hospital.
This way, they could take care of the sick and the poor who had
no one to help them.
Julian took care of the men, and St. Basilissa cared for the women.
The couple found Jesus in the people they served. And they did what
they did because of love, not for money or any kind of reward.
We do not have many details about the day-to-day life of this couple.
We do know, however, that St. Basilissa died after suffering great
persecutions for the faith. Julian lived much longer. He continued
his generous service to sick people even after Basilissa had died.
Later, Julian, too, died a martyr.
Basilissa and Julian spent their whole lives helping others and
serving God. They planted the seed of faith by living in a holy
way. They watered that faith and made it grow with their blood shed
for Jesus crucified.
St. William came from a wealthy French family. Even as a boy, he
did not waste time fooling around or being idle. He spent time praying
every day. When he joined the Cistercian order, he tried to be a
good monk. His fellow monks admired him, even though he was not
trying to impress anybody. St. William had a great devotion to Jesus
in the Blessed Sacrament. He practiced penance without showing how
hard it was. He always seemed to be happy. When he was made abbot
of the community, he remained humble. He was just himself. When
the archbishop of Bourges died, William was chosen to take his place.
He was grateful to be consecrated a bishop, but unhappy because
of all the attention he would receive. He kept humble by performing
penances for his own soul and for the conversion of sinners.
Although William loved to be alone with God in the Blessed Sacrament,
he knew it was his duty as archbishop to travel all over his diocese
willingly. He celebrated the Eucharist and preached the faith. He
visited the poor and sick, to console them and bring them to Christ.
William died on January 10, 1209. He was buried in the cathedral
of Bourges. Miracles were reported by people who prayed at his tomb.
William was proclaimed a saint in 1218 by Pope Honorius III.
St. Theodosius was born in Asia Minor in 423. As a young man, he
set out on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. People say he was inspired
by Abraham's journey of faith recorded in the Bible's book of Genesis.
After visiting the holy places, he decided to lead a life of prayer.
He asked the guidance of a holy man named Longinus. Soon people
realized how holy Theodosius himself was. Many men asked to join
him. They, too, wanted to be monks.
Theodosius built a large
monastery at Cathismus, near Bethlehem. Before long, it was filled
with monks from Greece, Armenia, Arabia, Persia and the Slavic countries.
Eventually, it grew into a "little city." One building
was for sick people, one for the elderly and one for the poor and
homeless. Theodosius was always generous. He fed an endless stream
of poor people. Sometimes it seemed like there would not be enough
food for the monks. But Theodosius had great trust in God. He never
turned travelers away, even when food was scarce. The monastery
was a very peaceful place. The monks lived in silence and prayer.
It was going so well that the patriarch of Jerusalem appointed Theodosius
head of all the monks in the east.
died in 529 at the age of 106. The patriarch of Jerusalem and many
people attended his funeral. Theodosius was buried where he had
first lived as a monk. It was called the Cave of the Magi. The cave
received its name from people who believed that the Wise Men had
stayed there when they came in search of Jesus.
St. Marguerite Bourgeoys
Marguerite was born in Troyes, France, on April 17, 1620, but spent
most of her eighty years in Montreal, Canada. Marguerite was the
sixth of twelve children. Her parents were devout people. When Marguerite
was nineteen, her mother died. Marguerite took care of her younger
brothers and sisters. Her father died when she was twenty-seven.
The family was now raised and Marguerite prayed to know what to
do with her life. The governor of Montreal, Canada, was visiting
France. He tried to find teachers for the New World. He invited
Marguerite to come to Montreal to teach school and religion classes.
She said yes.
Marguerite gave away
her share of her parents' inheritance to other members of the family.
They couldn't believe that she would really leave their civilized
country to go to the wilderness an ocean away. But she did. She
sailed on June 20, 1653, and arrived in Canada in mid-November.
Marguerite began the construction of a chapel in 1657. It was to
honor Our Lady of Good Help. In 1658, she opened her first school.
Marguerite realized the need to recruit more teachers. She returned
to France in 1659 and returned with four companions. In 1670, she
went to France again and brought back six companions. These brave
women became the first sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame.
St. Marguerite and her sisters helped people in the colony survive
when food was scarce. They opened a vocational school and taught
young people how to run a home and farm. St. Marguerite's congregation
was growing. By 1681 there were eighteen sisters. Seven were Canadian.
They opened more missions and two sisters taught at the Indian mission.
St. Marguerite herself received the first two Indian women into
1693, Mother Marguerite handed over her congregation to her successor.
The new superior was Marie Barbier, the first Canadian to join the
order. St. Marguerite's religious rule was approved by the Church
in 1698. Marguerite spent her last few years praying and writing
an autobiography. On the last day of 1699, a young sister lay dying.
Mother Marguerite asked the Lord to take her life in exchange. By
the morning of January 1, 1700, the sister was completely well.
Mother Marguerite had a raging fever. She suffered for twelve days
and died on January 12, 1700. She was declared a saint by Pope John
Paul II on April 2, 1982.
St. Hillary of Poitiers
St. Hilary was born into
a pagan family on 315 in Poitiers, a town in France. His family
was rich and well-known. Hilary received a good education. He married
and raised a family. Through his studies, Hilary learned that a
person should practice patience, kindness, justice and as many good
habits as possible. These good acts would be rewarded in the life
after death. Hilary's studies also convinced him that there could
only be one God who is eternal, all-powerful and good. He read the
Bible for the first time. When he came to the story of Moses and
the burning bush, Hilary was very impressed by the name God gave
himself: I AM WHO AM. Hilary read the writings of the prophets,
too. Then he read the whole New Testament. By the time he finished,
he was completely converted to Christianity and was baptized.
lived the faith so well that he was appointed a bishop. This did
not make his life easy because the emperor was interfering in Church
matters. When Hilary opposed him, the emperor exiled him. And here
is where Hilary's great virtues of patience and courage shone. He
accepted exile calmly and used the time to write books explaining
the faith. Since he was becoming famous, Hilary's enemies asked
the emperor to send him back to his hometown. There he would be
less noticeable. So Hilary returned to Poitiers in 360. He continued
writing and teaching the people about the faith. Hilary died eight
years later, at the age of fifty-two. His books have influenced
the Church right to our own day. That is why he is called a Doctor
of the Church.
Macrina and her husband learned the high price of being true to
their Christian beliefs. During one of the Roman persecutions of
Galerius and Maximinus, Basil's grandparents were forced into hiding.
They found refuge in the forest near their home. Somehow they managed
to escape their persecutors. They were always hungry and afraid,
but they would not give up their faith. Instead, they patiently
waited and prayed for the persecution to end. They hunted for food
and ate the wild vegetation and somehow survived. This persecution
lasted seven years. St. Gregory Nazianzen, who shares Basil's feast
day on January 2, recorded these few details.
another persecution, Macrina and her husband had all their property
and belongings taken from them. They were left with nothing but
their faith and trust in God's care for them. St. Macrina survived
her husband but the exact year of each of their deaths is not recorded.
It is believed that Macrina died around 340.
St. Paul the Hermit
Paul was born into a Christian family in the year 229. They lived
in Thebes, Egypt. Paul's parents showed him by their own lives how
to love God and worship him with one's whole heart. Paul was certainly
very sad to lose both his parents when he was just fifteen years
old. A few years later, in 250, Emperor Decius started a cruel persecution
of the Church. Paul hid in his friend's home, but he still was not
safe. His brother-in-law was after his money and property. The man
could easily betray him to the authorities. So Paul fled to the
desert. He found a cave near a palm tree and a spring of fresh water.
There he settled. He sewed palm branches together for clothes, and
he lived on fruit and water.
Paul had intended to
stay there only while the persecution lasted. But by the time it
was over, he had fallen in love with the life of prayer. He felt
so close to God. How could he give that up? He decided to stay in
the desert and never return to his wealthy city life. Instead, he
would spend his life praying daily for the needs of all people and
performing penance for sin.
was another holy hermit at the same time named Anthony. Anthony
thought he was the only hermit. God showed Paul to him in a dream
and told Anthony to go visit him. Paul was so happy to see Anthony
because he knew he was going to die in a few days. Anthony was sad
because he did not want to lose his new friend so soon. But, as
Paul predicted, he died on January 15, 342. Anthony buried him in
a cloak that had belonged to St. Athanasius. Then Anthony took home
and treasured the garment of palm leaves that Paul had been wearing.
He never forgot his wonderful friend.
St. Berard and Companions
Franciscan friars accepted from St. Francis of Assisi an assignment
to go to Morocco. They were to announce Christianity to the Muslims.
Friars Berard, Peter, Adjutus, Accursio and Odo traveled by ship
in 1219. Morocco is in the northwest corner of Africa and the journey
was long and dangerous. The group arrived at Seville, Spain. They
started preaching immediately, on streets and in public squares.
People treated them as if they were crazy and had them arrested.
To save themselves from being sent back home, the friars declared
they wanted to see the sultan. So the governor of Seville sent them
The sultan received the
friars and gave them freedom to preach in the city. But some of
the people did not like this. They complained to the authorities.
The sultan tried to save the friars by sending them to live in Marrakech,
on the west coast of Morocco. A Christian prince and friend of the
sultan, Dom Pedro Fernandez, took them into his home. But the friars
knew that their mission was to preach the faith. They returned to
the city as often as they could. This angered some people who did
not want to hear the friars' message. These complaints angered the
sultan so much that one day when he saw the friars preaching, he
ordered them to stop or leave the country. Since they did not feel
justified about doing either one, they were beheaded right then
and there. It was January 16, 1220.
Pedro went to claim the bodies of the martyrs. Eventually he brought
their relics to Holy Cross Church in Coimbra, Portugal. The friars'
mission to Morocco had been brief and an apparent failure. But the
results were surprising. The story of these heroes fired the first
Franciscans with the desire to be missionaries and martyrs too.
It was their particular witness that inspired a young man to dedicate
his life to God as a Franciscan priest. We know him as St. Anthony
of Padua. His feast day is June 13.
St. Anthony of Egypt
Anthony was born in 251 in a small village in Egypt. When he was
twenty years old, his parents died. They left him a large estate
and placed him in charge of the care of his young sister. Anthony
felt overwhelmed and turned to God in prayer. Gradually he became
more and more aware of the power of God in his life. About six months
later, he heard this quotation of Jesus from the Gospel: "Go,
sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have
treasure in heaven" (Mark 10:21). He took the words as a personal
message in answer to his prayer for guidance. He sold most of his
possessions keeping only enough to support his sister and himself.
Then he gave the rest of the money to people who needed it.
Anthony's sister joined
a group of women living a life of prayer and contemplation. Anthony
decided to become a hermit. He begged an elderly hermit to teach
him the spiritual life. Anthony also visited other hermits so he
could learn each one's most outstanding virtue. Then he began his
own life of prayer and penance alone with God.
he was fifty-five, Anthony built a monastery to help others. Many
people heard of him and sought his advice. He would give them practical
advice such as: "The devil is afraid of us when we pray and
make sacrifices. He is also afraid when we are humble and good.
He is especially afraid when we love Jesus very much. He runs away
when we make the Sign of the Cross." St. Anthony visited Paul
the hermit whose feast is celebrated on January 15. He felt enriched
by the example of Paul's holy life. Anthony died after a long, prayerful
life. He was 105. St. Athanasius wrote a well known biography of
St. Anthony of Egypt. St. Athanasius' feast day is May 2.
Christina lived in the sixteenth century. She was born in Abruzzi,
Italy. Her baptismal name was Matthia. As she grew up, Matthia felt
the call to a life of prayer and penance. She chose to become a
cloistered nun. Matthia entered the convent of St. Augustine in
Aquila. She was called Sister Christina.
Sister Christina's life
as a nun was hidden and silent. But the people of Aquila began to
find out about the beauty of her vocation. She and the other nuns
were bringing many blessings to them through their prayerful dedication.
Sister Christina was cloistered but she was very aware of the needs
of the poor people of her area. She and the nuns provided for them
whatever they could. Sister Christina also kept herself aware of
the crosses and sufferings people experienced. She prayed and offered
penances to the Lord for their intentions.
blessed Sister Christina with ecstasies and the ability on occasion
to know the future. The Lord even used her to work miracles for
the good of others. When she died, the little children of Aquila
went through the streets shouting that the holy nun was dead. It
was January 18, 1543. A large crowd of people came to honor and
thank her for the gift she had been for their city.
Canute was a strong, wise king of Denmark. He lived in the eleventh
century. Canute was a great athlete, an expert horseman, and a marvelous
general. At the beginning of his reign, he led a war against the
barbarians who were threatening to take over the civilized world.
King Canute and his army defeated them. He loved the Christian faith
so much that he introduced it to people who had never heard of Christianity.
St. Canute knelt in church
at the foot of the altar and offered his crown to the King of kings,
Jesus. King Canute was very charitable and gentle with his people.
He tried to help them with their problems. Most of all, he wanted
to help them be true followers of Jesus.
a rebellion broke out in his kingdom because of the laws he had
made about supporting the Church. One day some angry people went
to the church where Canute was praying. He knew they had come to
harm him. While his enemies were still outside, King Canute received
the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. He felt compassion
for those who were upset enough to kill him. With all his heart
he forgave his enemies. Then, as he prayed, a spear was thrown through
a window and he was killed. It was July 10, 1086. St. Canute tried
to be a good king so he could thank Jesus for all the blessings
he had received. We, too, should thank God every day and offer him
a crown made up of good deeds.
St. Fabian and St. Sebastian
Fabian was a pope who died a martyr in 250. It was during the persecution
by Emperor Decius. Early writers say that he was an extraordinary
person, known to be very holy. In a letter written shortly after
Fabian's death, St. Cyprian explained how Fabian had been elected
pope. The group who had gathered to elect the next pope received
a real sign that the choice should be Fabian. He was the first layman
to be pope. Bishop and martyr, Fabian's remains are now in the basilica
of St. Sebastian. And the two martyrs share the same feast day.
Sebastian became widely known from the early centuries of the Church.
As a Roman captain, he became known for his goodness and bravery.
During the persecution by Diocletian, Sebastian would not renounce
his Christian faith. Archers shot arrows into his body and left
him for dead. When a holy widow came to bury him, she was shocked
to find him still alive. She took him to her home and nursed his
wounds. When Sebastian was well enough, the widow tried to persuade
him to escape the dangers of Rome. But Sebastian was a brave soldier.
He would not run away. He even approached Diocletian and urged him
to stop persecuting the Christians. The emperor was shocked to see
Sebastian alive. He refused to listen to what the soldier had to
say. Diocletian ordered that Sebastian be immediately clubbed to
death. He died in 288.
Agnes was a Roman girl who died in 304. She was just twelve years
old when she suffered martyrdom for her faith. Although few historical
details remain, St. Agnes has always been popular. This is especially
because St. Ambrose and other well-known early Church saints have
written about her. Agnes loved Jesus so much that she chose only
him for her husband. Since she was beautiful, many young men wished
to marry her. However, Agnes wanted to give her heart only to Jesus.
She would always say, "Jesus is my only husband." She
even turned down the governor's son, who became very angry. He tried
to win her for his wife with gifts and promises. Agnes just kept
telling him, "I am already promised to the Lord."
was accused of being a Christian and brought to the governor. The
governor promised Agnes wonderful gifts if she would only deny God,
but the girl refused. The governor tried to scare her by putting
her in chains, but even then she did not back down. Agnes suffered
other tortures. Finally, she was condemned and killed. Agnes is
buried in a cemetery named after her. In 354, Emperor Constantine's
daughter built a large church there and had Agnes' body placed under
St. Vincent of Saragossa
Vincent was martyred in Spain in 304. This was the same year that
Agnes was martyred in Rome. They both were victims of the cruel
persecution of Emperor Dacian. Vincent had grown up in Saragossa,
Spain. He was educated by the bishop, St. Valerius. The bishop had
made Vincent a deacon. Even though Vincent was quite young, Valerius
recognized his talents and goodness. Bishop Valerius asked him to
preach and teach about Jesus and the Church.
Dacian arrested both Valerius and Vincent. He kept them in jail
for a long time. They would not let themselves become downhearted.
Both remained faithful to Jesus. Then the emperor sent Bishop Valerius
into exile, but he sent Deacon Vincent to be cruelly tortured. Vincent
asked the Holy Spirit for strength. He wanted to be true to Jesus
no matter how terrible things would be for him. The Lord granted
him that strength. Deacon Vincent remained peaceful through all
his sufferings. When the torture sessions were over, he was returned
to prison where he converted the jailer. Finally, the emperor gave
in and permitted people to visit Vincent. The Christians came and
cared for his wounds. They tried their best to make him comfortable.
It was not long before he died.
St. John the Almsgiver
John was a dedicated Christian nobleman. He used his wealth and
position to help poor people. After his wife passed away, John became
a priest and bishop. In 608, he was consecrated the patriarch of
Alexandria, Egypt. What could people expect of this man who now
had such an important position? St. John went to his new ministry
focused on healing the divisions among his people. He pledged himself
to practice a "charity without limits." The first thing
he did was ask for a complete list of his "masters." He
was asked to explain. He meant the poor. When they were counted,
the poor of Alexandria numbered 7,500. St. John pledged to be their
As patriarch, St. John
proclaimed laws and issued reforms. He was respectful and kind,
but firm. He devoted two days each week, Wednesday and Friday, to
making himself available for anyone who wished to see him. People
lined up and waited patiently for their turn. Some were rich. Some
were homeless and destitute. All received the same respect and attention.
When he found out that the church treasury had eighty thousand pieces
of gold, he divided it all among the hospitals and monasteries.
He set up a system so that poor people received adequate money and
means to support themselves. Refugees from neighboring areas were
welcomed warmly. After the Persians had plundered Jerusalem, St.
John sent money and supplies to the suffering people. He even sent
Egyptian workmen to assist in rebuilding the churches there.
people wanted to know how St. John could be so charitable and unselfish,
he had an amazing answer. Once when he was very young he had a dream
or vision. He saw a beautiful girl and he realized that she represented
"charity." She told him: "I am the oldest daughter
of the King. If you are devoted to me, I will lead you to Jesus.
No one is as powerful with him as I am. Remember, it was for me
that he became a baby to redeem humankind." St. John never
tired of telling about that vision. He gently led the rich to be
generous. He helped the poor trust that God would always be there
St. John died peacefully on November 11, 619. Because of his great
charity, he is called "the almsgiver."
St. Francis de Sales
Francis was born at the de Sales castle in Savoy, France, on August
21, 1567. His wealthy family provided him with an excellent education.
By the age of twenty-four, Francis was a Doctor of Law. He returned
to Savoy and led a hard-working life. He did not seem interested
in important positions or a social life. In his heart, Francis was
listening to a call that kept coming back like an echo. It seemed
to be an invitation from the Lord to become a priest. Francis finally
tried to explain his struggle to his family. His father was very
disappointed. He wanted Francis to be a great man of the world.
Family influence could have accomplished that goal. Instead, Francis
became a priest on December 18, 1593.
de Sales lived in times when Christians were bitterly divided. He
volunteered to go to a dangerous area of France to win back Catholics
who had become Protestants. His father protested. He said it was
bad enough that he had permitted Francis to become a priest. He
was not going to let him be a martyr as well. But Francis believed
that the Lord would protect him. He and his cousin, Father Louis
de Sales, set out on foot for the Duchy of Chablais. The two priests
soon learned how to live with insults and physical discomforts.
Their lives were frequently in danger. Little by little, however,
people returned to the Church.
eventually became the bishop of Geneva, Switzerland. With the help
of St. Jane de Chantal, he started a religious order of sisters
in 1610. These women are called the order of the Visitation. Francis
wrote wonderful books about the spiritual life and the way to become
holy. The books, Treatise on the Love of God and Introduction to
the Devout Life, are still in print today. They are considered spiritual
"classics." Bishop de Sales died on December 28, 1622,
at the age of fifty-six. He was declared a saint by Pope Innocent
X in 1665. Because of his heroic dedication to the Church, he was
given the special title "Doctor of the Church." He is
also the patron saint of journalists.
Conversion of St. Paul
Paul lived at the time of Jesus but as far as we know they never
met. Paul was first called Saul. As a young man, he was a very bright
student of the Hebrew religion. When he grew older, he persecuted
the followers of Jesus. In the Bible's Acts of the Apostles, we
read about Saul's amazing conversion (chapters 9, 22, 26). What
happened? One day, Paul was on his way to the city of Damascus to
hunt down more Christians. Suddenly, a great light shone all around
him. As he fell to the ground blind, he heard a voice say, "Saul,
Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Saul answered, "Who
are you, Sir?" And the voice said, "I am Jesus, the one
you are persecuting." Saul was shocked and confused. After
a few seconds, he asked, "What do you want me to do?"
Jesus told him to continue on to Damascus and there he would be
told what to do.
At that moment, through
the power of God, Saul received the gift to believe in Jesus. Weak
and trembling, he reached out for help. His companions led him into
Damascus. The light had blinded him temporarily. Now that he was
blind he could really "see" the truth. And Jesus had come
personally to meet him, to invite him to conversion. Saul became
a great lover of Jesus. After his baptism, he thought only of helping
everyone know and love Jesus, the Savior.
know Saul by his Roman name of Paul. He is called "the apostle."
He traveled all over the world, preaching the Good News. He led
countless people to Jesus. He worked and suffered. His enemies tried
to kill him several times. Yet nothing could stop him. When he was
old and tired, he was once again put in prison and sentenced to
die. Still St. Paul was happy to suffer and even die for Christ.
This great apostle wrote marvelous letters to the Christians. They
are in the Bible. These letters, called epistles, are read frequently
during the Liturgy of the Word at Mass.
St. Timothy and St. Titus
Timothy was born in Lycaonia in Asia Minor. His mother was a Jew
and his father was a Gentile. When Paul came to preach in Lycaonia,
Timothy, his mother and his grandmother all became Christians. Several
years later, Paul went back and found Timothy grown up. He felt
that Timothy had a call from God to be a missionary. Paul invited
him to join him in preaching the Gospel. So it was that Timothy
left his home and parents to follow Paul. He was soon to share in
Paul's sufferings as well. They would have the joy of bringing the
Word of God to many people. Timothy was the great apostle's beloved
disciple, like a son to him. He went everywhere with Paul until
he became bishop of Ephesus. Then Timothy stayed there to shepherd
his people. As St. Paul, Timothy, too, died a martyr.
was a Gentile nonbeliever. He, too, became Paul's disciple. Titus
was generous and hard-working. He joyfully preached the Good News
with Paul on their missionary travels. Because Titus was so trustworthy,
Paul freely sent him on many "missions" to the Christian
communities. Titus helped people strengthen their faith in Jesus.
He was able to restore peace when there were arguments among the
Christians. Titus had a special gift for being a peacemaker. Paul
appreciated this gift in Titus and recognized it as the Holy Spirit's
work. Paul would send Titus to iron out difficulties. When Titus
would arrive among a group of Christians, the guilty ones would
feel sorry. They would ask forgiveness and would make up for what
they had done. When peace was restored, Titus would go back and
tell Paul about the good results. This brought Paul and the first
Christians much happiness.
Paul made Titus bishop of the island of Crete, where he stayed until
St. Angela Merici
Angela was born in the small Italian town of Desenzano, Italy, around
1474. Her parents died when she was ten. She and her only sister,
who was three years older, loved each other very much. A wealthy
uncle took the girls into his home. Still suffering from the loss
of her parents, Angela was struck again when her sister also passed
away. The older girl had died even before a priest could arrive
to administer the last sacraments. Angela worried about her sister's
soul. Jesus revealed to her that the girl had been saved. Angela
felt peace return to her own soul. She thanked the Lord in prayer.
She wanted to do something to show her gratitude. This desire led
her to promise to spend the rest of her life serving Jesus totally.
she was about twenty-two, Angela began to notice that the children
of her town knew little about their religion. Angela invited some
of her girlfriends to join her in teaching religion classes. Angela's
friends were anxious to help her with the children. At that time
there were no religious orders of teaching sisters. No one had ever
thought of such a thing. St. Angela Merici was the first to gather
together a group of women to open schools for children. On November
25, 1535, twenty-eight young women offered their lives to God. It
was the beginning of the Ursuline order. Angela placed the congregation
under the protection of St. Ursula. This is how they got their name.
The women remained in their own homes at first. Because of many
difficulties, it was a long time before they could live together
in a convent. Angela died on January 27, 1540, when her congregation
was still in its beginning stages. Her trust in God had gotten her
through many hard tests in her lifetime. There was no doubt in her
mind that the Lord would take care of the mission she had begun.
And so he did.
The Ursuline Sisters have spread to many countries. The order continues
its works for Jesus and his Church, especially in the education
of children and young adults. Angela was proclaimed a saint by Pope
Pius VI in 1807.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Thomas lived in the thirteenth century. He was the son of a noble
family of Italy. He was very intelligent, but he never boasted about
it. He knew that his mind was a gift from God. Thomas was one of
nine children. His parents hoped that he would become a Benedictine
abbot some day. The family castle was in Rocca Secca, just north
of Monte Cassino where the monks lived.
was sent to the abbey for schooling when he was five. When he was
eighteen, he went to Naples to finish his studies. There he met
a new group of religious men called the Order of Preachers. Their
founder, St. Dominic, was still living. Thomas knew he wanted to
become a priest. He felt that he was called to join these men who
would become known in popular language as "Dominicans."
His parents were angry with him. When he was on his way to Paris
to study, his brothers kidnapped him. They kept him a prisoner in
one of their castles for over a year. During that time, they did
all they could to make him change his mind. One of his sisters,
too, came to persuade him to give up his vocation. But Thomas spoke
so beautifully about the joy of serving God that she changed her
mind. She decided to give her life to God as a nun. After fifteen
months, Thomas was finally freed to follow his call.
Thomas wrote so well about God that people all over the world have
used his books for hundreds of years. His explanations about God
and the faith came from Thomas' great love for God. He was effective
because he wasn't trying to make an impression on anyone. He just
wanted with all his heart to offer the gift of his life to Jesus
and the Church. St. Thomas is one of the greatest Doctors of the
the end of 1273, Pope Gregory X asked Thomas to be part of an important
Church meeting called the Council of Lyons. While traveling to the
meeting, Thomas became ill. He had to stop at a monastery at Fossanova,
Italy, where he died. It was March 7, 1274. He was only forty-nine.
St. Thomas was declared a saint in 1323 by Pope Paul II; Pius V
declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1567; Leo XIII declared him
master of all scholastic doctors in 1879 and the universal patron
of universities, colleges, and schools in 1880.
Gildas was born around the year 500 in Britain. He set out as a
young man to practice a self-sacrificing lifestyle. He did this
to help himself become closer to God. Gildas was serious about his
Christian commitment. He felt the responsibility to pray and sacrifice
for the sins committed by the people of his times. He wrote sermons
trying to convince people to give up wickedness. He encouraged them
to stop their lives of scandal. Because Gildas cared so much, his
writings sometimes seemed overly critical. Actually, he didn't mean
to condemn anyone. He was begging people to turn to God.
Gildas was a spiritual
man who lived a hermit's life. He didn't choose a quiet, prayerful
life because he wanted to keep away from the world around him. He
chose his life to help him grow closer to God. He was more aware
than the average person of some things that were very wrong in society.
Sadly, many people were not aware enough of God and his law. They
did not even realize the evils that were destroying them. That is
why some people in the Church-priests, bishops and laymen and women-went
to Gildas for advice about deeply spiritual matters.
the end of his life, Gildas lived his hermit's life on a tiny island
in Brittany. Even though he wanted to be alone to prepare his soul
for death, disciples followed him there. He welcomed them as a sign
that the Lord wanted him to share his spiritual gifts with others.
Gildas was like the "conscience" of society. Sometimes
we don't like to hear about sin, but sin is real. Sometimes we,
too, are tempted to do wrong or are neglectful. Then we can say
a little prayer to St. Gildas. We can ask him to obtain for us the
will power to do the right thing.
Bathildis was a frightened, Christian English girl could have never
imagined what her future would be like. What she did know was that
she had been kidnapped and was on a pirate ship arounds the year
630. Where was she going? Who could she ask? Finally, the ship docked
and she heard people saying they were in France. Bathildis was quickly
sold as a slave to the manager of King Clovis' palace.
The quiet girl paid careful
attention as her chores were explained or demonstrated to her. Day
after day, she went from one task to another doing the very best
she could. She was shy and gentle, but even King Clovis began to
notice her. The more he observed, the more he was impressed. This
was the kind of girl who would make a wonderful wife-even a king's
wife. In 649, Clovis married Bathildis. The little slave girl had
become the queen. They had three sons. Clovis died when the oldest
son was only five, so Bathildis would be ruler of France until her
sons grew up.
must have been surprising to just about everybody that Bathildis
could rule so wisely. She remembered too well what it was like to
be poor. She remembered also her years as a slave. She had been
sold as if she were a "thing of little value." Bathildis
wanted everyone to know how precious they were to God. She was filled
with love for Jesus and his Church. She used her position to help
the Church in every way she could. She did not be-come proud or
arrogant. Rather, she cared for the poor. She also protected people
from being captured and treated as slaves. She filled France with
hospitals. She started a seminary to train priests and a convent
for nuns. Later, Queen Bathildis entered the convent herself. As
a nun, she set aside her royal dignity. She became one of the nuns,
humble and obedient. She never demanded or even expected that other
people should wait on her. She was also very kind and gentle with
the sick. When she became ill, she suffered a long, painful illness
until her death on January 30, 680.
St. John Bosco
John Bosco was born in Turin, Italy, on August 16, 1815. His parents
were poor farmers. When John was two, his father died. John's mother
struggled to keep the family together. As soon as he was old enough,
John, too, worked as hard as he could to help his mother. He was
intelligent and full of life. John started to think about becoming
a priest. He didn't say anything to his mother because he knew they
couldn't afford the seminary education. Besides, his mother needed
help at home. So John waited and prayed and hoped. Finally, a holy
priest, St. Joseph Cafasso, became aware of John's desire to be
Cafasso helped him enter the seminary. John had to work his way
through school. He learned to do all kinds of trades. He was a carpenter,
a shoemaker, a cook, a pastry maker and a farmer. He did many other
jobs as well. He could never have guessed how much this practical
experience would help others later. John became a priest in 1841.
As a priest, Don Bosco, which means Father Bosco, began his great
ministry. He gathered together homeless boys and taught them trades.
This way they would not have to steal or get into trouble. By 1850,
there were 150 boys living at his home for boys. Don Bosco's mother
was the housekeeper. At first, people did not understand what Don
Bosco was trying to do. They were afraid that the boys would never
really turn out well. But Don Bosco proved that they would.
"Do you want to
be Don Bosco's friend?" he would ask each new boy who came
to him. "You do?" he would ask happily. "Then, you
must help me save your soul," he would conclude. Every night
he wanted his boys to say three Hail Mary's, so that the Blessed
Mother would help them keep away from sin. He also recommended that
they receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion
often and with love. One of Don Bosco's boys became a saint, St.
Don Bosco started his
own religious order of priests and brothers. They were called the
Salesians, after St. Francis de Sales. An order of Salesian sisters
was started, too, with the help of St. Mary Mazzarello. Don Bosco
died on January 31, 1888. The entire city of Turin lined the streets
to pay him tribute. His funeral became a joyous proclamation of
thanksgiving to God for the life of this wonderful man. A young
parish priest who had once met Don Bosco later became Pope Pius
XI. He had the joy of declaring Don Bosco a saint in 1934.