Monday, April 30, 2012

May 1, St. Joseph

Saint. Joseph
By Fr. Roger J. Landry

Today is the feast of St. Joseph, the Worker. Because St. Joseph is such an important saint, I figured it would be worthwhile to have a longer reflection! You would expect no less.

It’s customary that when we think of the Holy Family, our attention goes first to the mysteries of Jesus’ birth about which we hear in today’s Gospel. Most of our attention goes as it should to the baby Jesus, the eternal Son of God, lying in the manger, adored by angels and animals, wise men and shepherds. Many of us also naturally turn out of devotion to his mother, holding him in swaddling clothes, nursing him, loving him, treasuring all of these miraculous events in her contemplative heart. She was chosen by God with great specificity. When the fullness of time had come, God would not send the Archangel Gabriel to find any young virgin, but rather he would go to a specific village in a precise nation to greet a particular girl espoused to a given man. God had intervened preveniently in that girl’s life many years before, preserving her free from all stain of original sin from the first moment of her conception in her mother’s womb. And through the covenantal prepartion God had given to his chosen people, through the saving miracles, the law and prophetic utterances, this young girl would grow up with a heart as prepared, pure, fertile as her womb.

But we can be tempted, like most Christians throughout most of the first 1400 years of the Church, to treat the man to whom the Blessed Virgin was espoused almost as a divine afterthought or some kind of ancient “player-to-be-named-later” in a package deal for his young wife. As Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies show us, however, he was the penultimate piece in a divine cascade stretching all the way back to King David, to Abraham and even to Adam. It was through him that Jesus, under Jewish law and mentality, would be a descendent of David.

St. Joseph’s relative obscurity probably pleases him very much, since he more than anyone would want our focus on Jesus and Mary, just as his always was. But I believe that Jesus and Mary would want us to give more attention to him, as has been given over the course of the last five hundred years and especially the last century. Jesus and Mary deeply loved Joseph, as he deeply loved them, and they would want us to enter into their love for him so that Joseph might strengthen us in our vocations just as he supported them. So today on this great solemnity of the chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin, the guardian and foster-father of the eternal Word, it would be good for us to spend some time meditating on the third person of the “earthly trinity” that constituted the Holy Family, because he, more than anyone, can teach us how best to relate to Jesus and Mary in Bethlehem, Nazareth and beyond.

Why was St. Joseph chosen to be the foster father of the Son of God? One reason was clearly because he was a descendent of King David and therefore any foster child would, according to the law, be a son of David, too. But there would have been many eligible descendents of Israel’s greatest king alive at the time. Doubtless some of them would have been scholars of the law and capable of training Jesus according to his humanity to be a rabbi rather than a carpenter. Some others would likely have had much more clout and been able to avoid being treated as nobodies by the innkeepers when Jesus was about to be born. Others would probably have been wealthy and much more capable than Joseph of providing for Mary and Jesus, so that at Jesus’ presentation, for example, they would have been able to offer a lamb instead of two pigeons.

But it’s obvious that to God the qualities that Joseph lacked were insignificant compared to those he had. God the Father, in whom all fatherhood finds its roots, saw in him the qualities he wanted to raise his Son, to teach him how to be a man — and a man of God — according to his humanity. God the Father entrusted to him his most precious treasures and he and those treasures would want us to trust in him as well. What are those qualities? What can we learn from him to become more like him in relating to God the Father, in relating to the Lord Jesus, in relating to the Blessed Mother? 

First, Joseph was a good man. St. Matthew writes that he was a “just” or “righteous” man. He was “holy,” a man in a right relationship with God. He may not have been flashy on the outside but he shone on the inside. As Pope Benedict once said in a rare play on words, St. Joseph “ad-justed” his life to the word of God.
Second, Obedient
Second, he was “righteous” precisely because he was docile and obedient to God.  .

We see his prompt obedience in his response to the angel of God interventions in his dreams. When God sent his angel in a dream to tell him not to be afraid to receive Mary into his home because the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Joseph awoke and “did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.”  After Jesus’ birth, when the angel appeared to him again and instructed him to “rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you,” he rose, awakened them, and began their journey that night. A few years later, when the angel appeared to him in Egypt and told him to return with them to Israel, he did.

It would have been easy for Joseph, even in a pre-Freudian age, to deconstruct these dreams according to the standard of his conscious desires. Each dream was asking him to do something totally life-changing: to alter completely his notion of what his marriage would entail, so as to be the chaste spouse of the Virgin and the foster father of the Son of God and savior of the world; to leave his job and his relatives completely behind and journey through the desert to an unknown land; to return once life was settled. But in each of these circumstances, Joseph acted immediately.

He was so prone to hear God’s word and put it into practice, however, that at the  merest indication of the Lord, he didn’t debate or negotiate, but obeyed. St. Joseph never saw obeying God as incompatible with his own good, but rather as the foundation for his own good. God’s omnipotence was not seen as a threat to his manliness because St. Joseph didn’t equate manliness with being in control, but rather in being responsible and responsive to God and others. His obedience made him capable of sharing mysteriously in the fatherhood of God the Father.
Joseph was humble enough to sacrifice whatever his own plans might have been to fulfill God’s plans, embracing his vocation to help Jesus and Mary accomplish theirs.

The, St. Joseph was faithful. He was obedient because he believed.
When the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home,” he did as the angel had commanded him precisely because he believed.  To trust God does not mean to see everything clearly according to our criteria, it does not mean to carry out what we have planned; to trust God means to empty ourselves of ourselves and to deny ourselves, because only one who accepts losing himself for God can be "just" and faithful as St. Joseph, that is, can conform his own will to God's and thus be fulfilled. Like Abraham, he is a father in faith to us, responding to one of the greatest mysteries. His example invites us to imitate his loving trust, his total abandonment to divine Providence, to take God "at his word", that is, without clearly seeing his design..

Pope Benedict said in Cameroon three years ago, “Throughout all of history, Joseph is the man who gives God the greatest display of trust, even in the face of such astonishing news.”

He gave himself totally to Mary and to Jesus. His faith is truly heroic! We need that heroic faith!

Fourth, St. Joseph is humble. He was humble enough to allow Jesus to obey him. He must certainly have taught Jesus to pray, together with Mary. In particular Joseph himself must have taken Jesus to the Synagogue for the rites of the Sabbath, as well as to Jerusalem for the great feasts of the people of Israel. Joseph, in accordance with the Jewish tradition, would have led the prayers at home both every day — in the morning, in the evening, at meals — and on the principal religious feasts.

Origen writes that “Joseph understood that Jesus was superior to him even as he submitted to him, and, knowing the superiority of his charge, he commanded him with respect and moderation. Everyone should reflect on this: frequently a lesser man is placed over people who are greater, and it happens at times that an inferior is more worthy than the one who appears to be set above him. If a person of greater dignity understands this, then he will not be puffed up with pride because of his higher rank; he will know that his inferior may well be superior to him, even as Jesus was subject to Joseph” Man of action

Jesus was already at 12 capable of dazzling the greatest masters of the law, and yet he went up to Nazareth and was obedient to Joseph and Mary. What an incredible mystery! 

Like every child, Jesus learned about life and how to act from his parents. How could we not think, with deep wonder, that he must have developed the human aspect of his perfect obedience to the Father's will particularly by following the example of his father Joseph, "a just man" (cf. Mt 1:19)?

Fifth, St. Joseph shows us what it means to be a good father.

There is but one fatherhood, that of God the Father, the one Creator of the world, “of all that is seen and unseen”. Yet man, created in the image of God, has been granted a share in this one paternity of God (cf. Eph 3:15). Saint Joseph is a striking case of this, since he is a father, without fatherhood according to the flesh. He is not the biological father of Jesus, whose Father is God alone, and yet he lives his fatherhood fully and completely. To be a father means above all to be at the service of life and growth.

There are four things to being a good father:

First, one must be a protector. St. Joseph guarded Mary’s life and reputation against the possibility of death by stoning as a result of her having become pregnant outside of marital intimacy. Even before Joseph received the word of the angel that Mary had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, Joseph, a just man who must have been filled with questions and suffering, protected Mary. But that was just the beginning. He protected Jesus and Mary from Herod ‘s envy and murderous soldiers, even at the cost of his job in Nazareth, guiding them on the difficult escape route into Egypt. Leo XIII entrusted the Church to his protection. The Pro-life movement, and the unborn, should in a special way be entrusted to his care.

Second, one must be a provider. which is the other main attribute of fatherhood. Until his death, in many quiet ways known only to God the Father, St. Joseph worked hard to provide for Mary and Jesus, passing on to Jesus his own trade. But St. Joseph provided more than just food, clothing and shelter for the Holy Family.  He also enabled, according to his means, for their spiritual nourishment, taking them to the Temple for the Jewish rites and feasts. We see a glimpse of this at Jesus’ presentation as well as when Jesus was found in the temple at the age of 12 (Lk 2:27; 46-50).

Third, one must be of loving service. St Joseph lived at the service of his Wife and Divine Son; for believers, he thus became an eloquent example of how "to reign" is "to serve". He can be seen as a helpful lesson in life especially by those who have the task of being "fathers" and "guides" in the family, at school and in the Church.

Fourth, he is a model of chaste love. His life shows us that the full gift of self toward another does not necessarily have to involve genital relations. He loved Mary and that meant that he was willing to dedicate himself to what was best for her and for the divine son she was carrying. He put all his love and his life at the service of their vocations, and in doing he fulfilled his own vocation. Chastity is a virtue that helps a person to have self-mastery — to control one’s sexual impulses rather than be controlled by them — so that one can give oneself to others in the way that is best for them. Chastity is what allows man to be a protector of women rather than a predator. In his chaste love of Mary, he learned how to grow as a man, and in her chaste reciprocal love, he was blessed beyond measure.
He welcomed the mystery that was in Mary and the mystery that was Mary herself. He loved her with great respect, which is the mark of all authentic love. Joseph teaches us that it is possible to love without possessing.

There is a great need for fathers today. In a March 15, 2000 speech at the Cathedral of Palermo, Sicily, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said, “The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity.” He went on to say that that crisis, a true “dissolution of fatherhood,” comes from reducing fatherhood to a merely biological phenomenon — as an act of generation, sometimes even carried out in a laboratory — without its human and spiritual dimensions.  That reduction not only leads to the “dissolution of what it means to be a son or a daughter,” but, on a spiritual plane, impedes our relationship to relate to God as he is and revealed himself. God, Cardinal Ratzinger said, “willed to manifest and describe himself as Father.” Human fatherhood provides us an analogy to understand the fatherhood of God, but “when human fatherhood has dissolved, all statements about God the Father are empty.” The crisis of fatherhood, therefore, leaves the human person lost, confused about who God is, confused about who he is, confused about where he has come from and where he is going. That’s why Cardinal Ratzinger says the crisis of paternity is perhaps the most important element threatening man. A father needs to be more than just “there,” protecting and providing for their kids materially, not just giving them the love every child needs from a father, but also protecting, providing and loving spiritually. All children belong to God and all Fathers can learn from St. Joseph, all children are made in God’s image, and all fathers can learn from St. Joseph how to model the fatherhood of God the father in raising such precious gifts and lead them to God. St. Joseph is able to teach us the deepest meaning of fatherhood (B16)

Sixth, St. Joseph is hard-working, but always centered his work on the Lord. John Paul II said about him: “In this human growth Joseph guided and supported the boy Jesus, introducing him to the knowledge of the religious and social customs of the Jewish people and getting him started in the carpenter's trade, whose every secret he had learned in so many years of practicing it. This is an aspect that I feel compelled to stress today: Saint Joseph taught Jesus human work, in which he was an expert. The Divine Child worked beside him, and by listening to him and observing him, he too learned to manage the carpenter's tools with the diligence and the dedication that the example of his foster father transmitted to him. 

This too is a great lesson, beloved brothers and sisters: if the Son of God was willing to learn a human work from a man, this indicates that there is in work a specific moral value with a precise meaning for man and for his self-fulfillment.”

John Paul II called him, the “very epitome of the Gospel of work,” making not only things, but forming himself and his family in virtue in the process. He is an icon of the synthesis of faith, life and work.

In the rhythm of the days he spent at Nazareth, in the simple home and in Joseph’s workshop, Jesus learned to alternate prayer and work, as well as to offer God his labour in earning the bread the family needed

For every worker, Joseph has shared their experience, can understand their problems; take up their anxieties, direct your efforts toward the building of a better future. 

Saint Joseph stands before you as a man of faith and prayer.
Seventh, a silent man of action

Lastly, St. Joseph is a man of action. He never says a word in Sacred Scripture and yet his actions are remembered to this day. He knew that the body language of his deeds was far more eloquent than his words. He was a “doer of the Word” and not just an “idle listener” of it (Jn 1:22). Like his foster son according to the law, he put his stock in “truth and action” more than in “word or speech.” But his silence is also important, because it shows us he was steeped in contemplation of the mystery of God, a silent listening to the Word he was raising, a silence woven of prayer and adoration of God’s holy will. Pope Benedict said back in 2005 that we should all allow ourselves to be “infected” with St. Joseph’s silence in a world that is often too noisy, that encourages neither recollection nor listening to God's voice.

“Ite ad Ioseph.”  This Latin expression, taken from the story of the patriarch Joseph in the book of Genesis, has been applied by Church tradition to St. Joseph. We’re all called to go to Joseph. He is, par excellence, the “wise and faithful servant whom the Lord put in charge of his household (Lk 12:42). We ask him to help us adore the same Jesus he adored in the manger in Bethlehem, throughout his earthly life and now at his right side. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

April 30: St. Luke, Evangelist

Saint Luke, Evangelist
By the Pollard Family

Saint Luke was born in Antioch, Syria. He was a Greek doctor and the writer of the third gospel and also of The Acts of the Apostles. He was the only non-Jewish writer in the bible. He was the earliest convert to Christianity following Jesus death and resurrection, having never met Jesus or hearing him preach. Saint Luke worked closely with Saint Peter, going on many journeys with him. His writings contain observations of sufferings, showing that he was gentle and sensitive. He was very respectful of the Virgin Mary. Saint Luke emphasizes gentle aspects of faith. He repeats the most moving parables that Jesus told to show examples of goodness and kindness. Forgiveness and God's mercy to sinners are also of the utmost importance to him. Reading his gospels gives us a good idea of who he was. He loved the poor. He wanted the door to God's kingdom opened to all and saw hope in God's mercy for everyone.

It is not known when and how he died. According to tradition he died in Boeotia at the age of 84. His feast day is October 18. He is the patron saint of doctors, surgeons and painters. His symbol is the ox, which represents the nativity and sacrifice of Jesus.

Saint Luke wants us to show compassion to others, help the poor, sinners, and people who are suffering. He encourages us to follow Jesus's teaching to be kind and good to each other, showing forgiveness. He demonstrates not judging anyone and respecting everyone. He would want us to have an open heart and to love and respect all of God's children.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 29, St. Catherine of Siena

Saint Catherine of Siena
By Margaret Martin

Catherine was born on March 25, 1347, (the Feast of the Annunciation) in Siena, Italy.  She was the twenty-fourth child of a wealthy textile merchant.  Catherine was treated poorly by her family, but she persevered in accomplishing her chores lovingly.  She thought of her father as St. Joseph, her mother as Mary, and her brothers and sisters as Our Lord’s disciples. St. Catherine wanted to become a hermit because God loved them and made them saints.  Our Lord spoke to her and said her vocation was to live at home and go out into the world and save souls.  St. Catherine obediently followed Our Lord’s request and became God’s servant in the middle of the busy life of her family.  She became a Third Order Dominican.  Our Lord gave her a golden ring (invisible to others) symbolizing His love for her for the rest of her life.  She would visit the prisoners and the poor on the streets.  She spent her days attending Mass, receiving the sacraments, and helping the poor.  

St. Catherine’s life was one of prayer and penance for the conversion of sinners.  At a very young age, she would love to pray, and would even say a Hail Mary on each step as she climbed a staircase.  When she was seven, she made a vow of virginity.  At the age of twenty-eight, she bore the wounds (invisibly) of Jesus crucified.  She prayed for the unity of the Church and convinced Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome.  St. Catherine wrote more than three hundred letters and a book that is a conversation between a soul that rises up to God and Our Lord called The Dialogue of Divine Providence.  She died at the age of thirty-three in Rome.  St. Catherine is a Doctor of the Church and we celebrate her feast day on April 29.

Through her writings and actions, St. Catherine teaches us that we can be God’s servants in the midst of the world.  She shows us that God has need of saints in families.  We need to be Catholics of great faith.  We must love God above all things and recognize our loving relationship with God is vital to our happiness.  This relationship must include frequent reception of the sacraments.  The Sacrament of Penance reminds us that God can forgive anything if we only ask Him sincerely and with deep conviction.  The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which St. Catherine lived only on for years, reinforces God’s love for us and can strengthen our love for Him. “O You who are mad about your creature! True God and true Man, You have left yourself wholly to us, as food, so that we will not fall through weariness during our pilgrimage in this life, but will be fortified by you, celestial nourishment.” (Letters of St. Catherine of Siena)

One of the great lessons she would impart to us today is the importance of prayer and sacrifice for sinners.  “I have no other desire in this life save to see the honor of God, your peace, and the reformation of Holy Church, and to see the life of grace in every creature that hath reason in itself.” (Letters of St. Catherine of Siena) St. Catherine teaches us that no matter where God may call us, if we center our lives on prayer and the Eucharist, we can accomplish great things for God. St. Catherine accepted her vocation and because her heart was prepared she was able to hear God’s call.  We will never know what Our Lord is calling us to if we do not first prepare our hearts.  The conversion of sinners and sanctification of souls is the mission of the Church and greatly pleases God.  The accomplishment of God’s Will through faithful obedience is a key virtue for us to gain.  St. Catherine always obeyed God’s requests to her and it helped form her into a remarkable saint.  Faithfully obeying the will of God will lead us to sanctity.  “Clothe me, O eternal Trinity, clothe me with yourself, so that I may pass this mortal life in true obedience and in the light of the most holy faith with which you have inebriated my soul.” (Letters of St. Catherine of Siena)  May St. Catherine’s life of obedience, prayer, and penance be an example for us to follow in our daily lives. 

St. Catherine, beloved daughter of the Father, intercede for us to gain the graces necessary to live a life pleasing to God and help us to attain the eternal crown of victory!

Friday, April 27, 2012

April 28, St. Gianna Beretta Molla

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla
By Monique Marshall

Many of us would do anything for our loved ones – even risk death. Would you choose death to save your unborn child?  That is exactly the choice St. Gianna Beretta Molla made when she became pregnant with her fourth child.

Giovanna Francesca, lovingly known as Gianna, was born on October 4, 1922, the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, in Magenta Italy. She was one of 13 children born to Alberto and Maria Beretta. Hers was a very devout Catholic family, following the third-order Franciscan way of life.  Gianna attended daily Mass with her mother and siblings; her father would attend an early mass before heading off to work.  Gianna was raised in faith from an early age.  At the age of three, Gianna and her family moved to Bergamo, seeking the fresher air of the mountains to help her older sister’s health. It was here in Bergamo on April 4, 1928 that Gianna would receive her First Holy Communion.  The Eucharist became her daily food, sustaining and inspiring her throughout her life. This strong faith would help Gianna face her many trials and sufferings. 

One of these trials occurred when, at 14 years of age, Gianna lost her older sister to tuberculosis. 
After her sister's passing, the Beretta family moved once again, this time to Genoa, Italy.  This move allowed the family to remain close while the children attended university.  Gianna's faith continued to grow and mature and during a school retreat, she was introduced to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  She began to keep a spiritual journal of prayer and memories; writing things like “Jesus, I promise you to submit myself to all that you permit to happen to me; make me only know your will.”  This deep spirituality helped Gianna while she participated in Catholic Action, a group that helps members follow Christ by emphasizing prayer, service and sacrifice.  

When World War II broke out, the stress of the bombings and raging war was too much for Gianna's mother, so Gianna's family moved back to Bergamo. It was here that Gianna would face yet another trial – the loss of her parents within 5 months of each other.  After the death of her parents, Gianna and her siblings moved back to her birth home in Magenta.

Gianna's desire to care for people, body and soul, led her to enroll in medical school.  Upon graduation, she specialized in pediatric medicine and opened an outpatient health center.  She also helped her brother Ferdinando in his medical practice, as well as continue to volunteer at her parish, work in Catholic Action and pursue her hobbies.  In 1952, Gianna completed her pediatric training.  She enjoyed caring for mothers and babies, the elderly and the poor.  This led her to consider a medical missionary in Brazil with one of her brothers, Fr. Giuseppe.  Her frail health was a concern to her spiritual director so she took it as a sign from God that He had other plans for her.

On December 8, 1954 Gianna attended the first Mass of a newly ordained friend and met a man named Pietro Molla. They spent time together and grew to love each other. They became engaged on Easter Monday, April 11, 1955 and were married on September 24, 1955.  They happily lived their faith filled lives and by 1959 had been blessed with 3 children.  Gianna continued practicing medicine while juggling motherhood.  She felt fulfilled and joyful in her callings of marriage, motherhood and medicine and her faith enabled her to balance all three with ease. 

In September of 1961 Gianna was once again expecting a child, and it was also at this time that doctors discovered a benign tumor in her uterus.  The doctors explained that in order to save her life, Gianna required surgery.  Ultimately, the doctors suggested they remove the uterus, the unborn child and the tumor leaving Gianna unable to bear children. This was not an acceptable option for Gianna.  The doctors offered two more options – remove the tumor and unborn child and leave the uterus allowing Gianna to bear more children or remove only the tumor and spare the unborn child.  Gianna took the third and riskiest option and placed her trust and the life of her unborn child in God's hands. The surgery was a success and after a brief recovery, Gianna was back practicing medicine and caring for her family.  She continued to pray for the well being of her unborn child. Gianna knew the risks of this pregnancy and delivery, especially with the complications of the surgery.  She spoke to Pietro about the issues and made him promise that if anything should happen and he was required to choose between the child and herself, to choose the life of the child. Ultimately Gianna wanted her baby saved.

On April 20, 1962, the afternoon of Good Friday, Gianna went into labor.  She tried to deliver the child naturally but to no avail.  So on Holy Saturday, Gianna delivered her fourth child and third daughter by Cesarean Section. Shortly after surgery, Gianna developed complications.  She suffered quietly and without the aid of medicine so she could remain lucid and able to pray and join her suffering the Christ.  She received Jesus in the Eucharist one last time and passed away one week after delivering, on Saturday April 28, 1962.  She was 39 years old. Her exemplary life of faith, maternal love and the choice of saving her daughter led to her beatification by Pope John Paul II on April 24, 1994. Ten years later, on May 16, 2004 Pope John Paul II declared Gianna Beretta Molla a saint.  She was the first saint to have her widow and her children present for the ceremony.  Her feast day is celebrated on April 28. 

Many of us can see ourselves in St. Gianna.  She was an ordinary woman living an ordinary life.  She was a faithful spouse, a loving parent and a career woman but most importantly she was a devout Catholic who devoted her life to helping her children and others embrace their faith. She was an example to all of us of what true love is – giving your life for that of another.  How many of us can say definitively that we would, or could do this?  The words from the liturgy of Gianna's feast say it best - “She was a serene woman full of joy.  She loved everything that is true, noble, right, pure, amiable, honorable, virtuous and praiseworthy.” 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 27: St. Bartholomew, Apostle

Saint Bartholomew, Apostle
By Paula Emmett

St. Bartholomew was born in the first century; he was one of the twelve Apostles.
His feast day is celebrated on August 24th. Bartholomew in Hebrew means “son of Tolomai.” Scholars believe that Bartholomew is the same Nathanael that is mentioned in the Gospel of Saint John. In the Gospel of John, (Chapter 1: 45-51) Nathanael (Bartholomew) is introduced as a friend of Philip. He is described as initially being skeptical about the Messiah coming from Nazareth, saying “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” but nonetheless he follows Philip’s invitation. Jesus immediately characterizes him; “Here is a man in whom there is no deception.” Some scholars hold that Jesus’ quote, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” is based on a Jewish figure of speech referring to studying the Torah. Nathanael recognizes Jesus as “the son of God” and “The king of Israel”. Nathanael reappears at the end of John’s Gospel (Chapter 21:2) as one of the disciples to whom Jesus appears at the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection.

Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History states that after the Ascension, Bartholomew went on a missionary trip to India, where he left behind a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. Other traditions record him as serving as a missionary in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia and Lycaonia. Along with his fellow apostle Jude, Bartholomew is reported to have brought Christianity to Armenia in the first century. Both Saint Bartholomew and Saint Jude are considered the patron saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Christian tradition has three accounts about Saint Bartholomew’s death. One speaks of him being kidnapped, beaten unconscious, and thrown into the sea to drown. Another account states that he was crucified upside down, and yet another says that he was skinned alive and beheaded in Albac or Albanopolis, near Bashkale, Turkey. The account of Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive is the most represented in works of art, and consequently Saint Bartholomew is often shown with a large knife in one hand, holding his own skin in the other.

Of the many miracles Saint Bartholomew performed before and after his death, two very popular ones are known to townsfolk in the small island if Lipari. Annually, the people of Lipari celebrate Saint Bartholomew’s feast day. The tradition of the people of Lipari was to take the solid silver and gold statue of Saint Bartholomew from inside of the cathedral and carry it through the town. On one occasion, when taking the statue down the hill towards the town, it suddenly became very heavy and the men had to put the statue down. When the men carrying the statue regained their strength they lifted the statue a second time. After another few seconds it got even heavier. They set the statue down and attempted to start up again but had to place the statue back down. Within a few seconds the walls further down the hill collapsed. If the statue had been lifted and the men continued with the parade down hill towards the town they would have all been killed. During World War II, the Fascist regime in Germany and Italy looked for ways to finance their activities. The order was given to take the silver statue of Saint Bartholomew and melt it down. The statue was weighed, and it was found to be only a few grams. It was returned to its place in the Cathedral of Lipari. In reality, the statue is made from many kilograms of silver and it is considered a miracle that it was not melted down.

If Saint Bartholomew was alive today I think he would continue to bring Christianity to the world. He would continue to teach us the way to Christ and how to live a Christian life as we should everyday. For myself, I know that I am weak in my faith and I don’t think I would be able to defend our faith as I should. In our world today we continue to be persecuted in so many ways similar to the way they killed Saint Bartholomew. It is happening to our children in their mother’s wombs; we as a Christian society don’t do enough to end the slaughtering of babies through abortion. I also believe that if Saint Bartholomew were alive today he would bring to us a great knowledge and experience none of us will ever know: that of having lived with Jesus Christ.   

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 26: St. Simon the Zealot, Apostle

Saint Simon the Zealot, Apostle
By Luke and Jonathan Gomes

Zeal: Fervor for a person, cause, or object; eager desire or endeavor; enthusiastic diligence; ardor.

St. Simon was called the Cananean, Kananaios or Kananites (Matthew 10; Mark 3) and the Zealot or Zealotes (Luke 6; Acts 1) because he had zeal for the Jewish law and also to distinguish him from Saint Peter. He was not from Cana as has been stated by some authors, nor a member of the Zealot party. His name occurs in all lists of the Apostles in the Gospels and Acts. After his conversion and call to the apostleship, Simon directed his zeal and fidelity to the service of Christ. Details concerning Simon's later life are uncertain and often confused. The Greeks, Copts, and Ethiopians identify him with Nathanael of Cana; the Abyssinians relate that he suffered crucifixion as Bishop of Jerusalem, after he had preached the gospel in Samaria, confusing him with Simeon, Bishop of Jerusalem. According to the Greeks he preached on the Black Sea, and in Egypt, Northern Africa, and even in Britain; the Latin and Armenian traditions hold that he labored in Persia. The manner and place of his death are likewise obscure: he may have died in peace at Edessa. The Latins claim that he was martyred at Suanir in Colchis; the Armenians believed that he was martyred at Weriosphora in Iberia.

Simon the Zealot was the last apostle, less deserving of praise than Simon Peter – the first apostle, the leader of all the Twelve – because we know so little about him. Simon himself was certainly not annoyed that he stood in the last place, nor did he work the less for it. He also made sacrifices and journeyed without "'gold, or silver, or money in your girdles, no wallet for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staff; for the laborer deserves his living.'" He would "'cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils.'" He was neither crippled by self-pity nor paralyzed by an inferiority complex in his apostolic labors. It was this unknown Simon who carried a title with him into the lists of the apostles in the Gospels, a title that is more surprising in him than it is for any other apostle: the Zealot.

We know nothing certain, absolutely nothing certain about St. Simon's apostolic works. None of these were recorded in the Gospels, or in the Acts of the Apostles. Nor did he leave behind even a few verses of a short Epistle, such as his brother Jude wrote. Not a word was spoken to Simon, nor did he ask a single question which the evangelists recorded. Brief remarks of Thomas and Philip and Jude Thaddeus at the Last Supper were noted and remembered and written down with care for all posterity. But the Zealous Apostle’s words were not recorded in Scripture.

Simon, the unknown apostle, is the patron of the countless Christians who go through life without fame, without a name. He is the patron of the army of unknown workers in the vineyard of the Lord, who toil in the last places for the kingdom of God. He is the patron of the unknown soldiers of Christ, who struggle on the disregarded and thankless fronts. No one notices, no one praises, no one rewards this obscure and often misunderstood apostles no one except the Father, who sees through all obscurity, who understands all misjudgments.

A cross with a saw is usually his attribute, with reference to his manner of martyrdom. No record of his tomb remains. Relics are in Saint Peter's, Rome, and at Toulouse, France. He is regarded as the patron of tanners. In the West he is venerated with Saint Jude (Thaddeus) on 28 October; in the East separately on 10 May.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April 25: St. Mark, Evangelist

Saint Mark, Evangelist
By Fr. Nick

Very little is known about our hero for the day. It is generally agreed that he was probably a Levite and perhaps a scribe in the synagogue in Jerusalem, which would have given him occasion to know about the person and the actions of Jesus of Nazareth. Though it is unverifiable, there is ancient belief that he was of good wealth, perhaps the son of a Roman father.

There is a particular periscope that we find in the gospels of Matt.19, Mark 10 and Luke 18. The essence of the text tells us that a rich young man of considerable wealth approached, and throwing himself on his knees before Jesus asked: What must I do to inherit eternal life.
Jesus responded with an initial challenge: “Why do you call me good?” Was this man of the sect of Pharisees constantly challenging Jesus or perhaps alt least a scribe and member of the Sanhedrin? Was this young man laying a trap or a mockery for Jesus? We cannot know, but Jesus knew his heart! And this is true of all as well. We may assume to know the intentions of someone; but only Jesus knows the condition of the heart for real.

We will soon see that this young man is of extraordinary character, though not perfect, but who is? When Jesus reminds him of the obligation of keeping the commandments, the young man answers with bold courage: “Ever since I was a youth I obeyed them all.” Wow! How many of us would dare or will dare to answer like that when we come eye to eye with Jesus. Jesus then adds still another condition: Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor. All three of the evangelists tell us that the young man went away sad for he had many possessions with which he was apparently not ready part.

Now I want to highlight the important point of this text. Only in the gospel of Mark do we find this phrase: “Jesus looked at him with love.” Such a reaction would have been the testimony of an eyewitness but Mark was not one of the disciples. Was it the reflection of a young man who later became a disciple and evangelist? Was this young man himself, Mark?

St. Mark’s gospel is short but many of his periscopes offer the occasion for reflecting on our own life experiences. I do not usually remember my dreams; they evaporate as quickly as I wake up; but one night I was standing before Jesus. I saw his eyes. I saw his wounds emanating light. I saw the judgment book. And I heard Him say: “Nick you are not ready.”
I asked about all the good deeds that I had done and all the Masses since I was a little kid. He answered: “They are in the book, everything is in the book. How many times have you walked by or driven by me and saw me hungry, homeless, freezing. I wanted to hide my head in shame.” As He looked at me it was not with judgment but mercy and love. And then he added: There is one thing that you must do for me; something only you can do. Do not waste time speculating. When it is time to happen you will be ready, and then we will meet again. That is a dream that was so vivid I will never forget it.
I would like to cite a second periscope from the gospel of Mark, which is not found in any of the other gospels. Mark describes a young man who is is hiding in the bushes, wrapped in a linen sheet, expensive material in those days, the material of which roman togas were made. This young man seems to be searching to know more about this Jesus. But when he is discovered and afraid of being apprehended he runs away naked because a bush or the foot of a soldier snagged his robe. Could this be the same young man in our previous example, who is now running afraid, yet at the same time magnetized to Jesus but just not yet ready? Was this eyewitness testimony of Mark’s reflection on the symbolic significance of “bearing all” abandoning everything for the sake of the poor? It is not an easy thing is it? Nor was it in the life of St. Mark or St. Francis or you or I. It seldom, if ever comes instantly!

But at sometime after the resurrection Mark was baptized perhaps by St. Peter. At his conversion, the Spirit prompted him to turn over all his possessions and become a disciple. Certainly this was not the end of anguish for Mark whom we know from the writings of St. Luke that he became a traveling companion of St. Paul on his first mission journey.

Though we know nothing of the details Paul chose to take Luke rather than Mark on his second mission. Mark in turn became the companion of St. Barnabas who may have been his cousin. Eventually Paul and Mark were reconciled and the young disciple accompanied Paul to Rome for his execution, since like Mark, he too had been raised in Judaism by his mother but had the benefit or a Roman father. Perhaps it was in Rome where Mark reunited with Peter where sharing their similar journeys from cowardice to courage. Mark’s mentoring from Peter, whether early in life or later, is without question the clay from which Mark formed his gospel.

Let me follow with this quote from Pope Benedict XVI in his inaugural Mass, “Are we perhaps not all afraid in some way to enter fully into our lives; if we open ourselves totally to Him?” If we are not afraid that He might take something away from us, then we lose absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free and beautiful. Only when we open wide the doors to life is the great potential of human existence revealed. Only in this relationship do we experience beauty and liberation and so, today with great strength and conviction on the basis of long experience of life, I am able say to you. Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundred fold in return. Yes! Open wide the doors to Christ and you will find true life.”

After the beautiful words of the Holy Father, perhaps I should end but I want to add this last note. Mark was ordained a priest and bishop. He was martyred in Alexandria before the end of the first century. His life was like that of a candle flame, he came to realize the more we share, the more we grow, but, if we do not share, then without air we suffocate. Like the candle flame we can only live by sharing at least if not abandoning all.

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 24: St. Andrew, Apostle

Saint Andrew, Apostle
By Ann Borges

Who would have thought that Jesus would find his most loyal followers among fishermen?  Jesus’ first disciple and apostle was St. Andrew.  Born in Bethsaida, a principal fishing port in Palestine, Andrew worked with his family.  It was Andrew who introduced Simon Peter, his older brother, to Jesus.  Fishermen by trade, Andrew and Simon Peter are an integral part of Jesus’ mission and after Jesus’ death and resurrection they both became fishers of men instead.

It is in the Gospel of John that St. Andrew is mentioned the most.  It appears that Andrew had a strong sense of curiosity.  He and St. John became disciples of the great St. John the Baptist.  When St. John the Baptist, however, pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Andrew understood Jesus’ importance.  At once he left John the Baptist, and together with St. John followed Jesus and even visited him at home.

Andrew was chosen by Jesus to be one of the Twelve Apostles and is always listed as one of the top four.  When asked to leave his home, family, and livelihood to follow Jesus, he did it without hesitation.  He understood immediately that Jesus was the Messiah.  Not much is known of Andrew except that he was in fact a devout follower of Jesus.  In the Gospel of John, we learn that it was Andrew who brought the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus before the feeding of the five thousand.  Among the apostles, he was considered to have authority.   Undoubtedly, he was one of the closest to Jesus and was present to share in the graces bestowed by Our Lord.

After Christ’s death and resurrection, it is believed that St. Andrew preached the Gospel in Asia Minor and in Greece.  He then went to Byzantium where he appointed St. Stachys as its first bishop. It is believed that he suffered great hardship in a time of many threats and persecution.   

It is said that St. Andrew was martyred by crucifixion in Patras, Greece by the Roman governor.  He chose to face his crucifixion on an X shaped cross (decussate or saltire), which is now commonly referred to as the St. Andrew’s cross.  He chose this type of crucifixion because like his brother Simon Peter; he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the upright cross of Christ.  In order to prolong his suffering, he was bound to the cross by rope around his hands and feet, instead of nailed.  It is believed that he was bound to this cross for 3 days.  While on the cross, even in his last agony, St. Andrew preached to the crowd in an attempt to convert them.  At one point, the Roman governor ordered his men to take St. Andrew down from his cross but they were struck down miraculously by paralysis.  This was a result of St. Peter’s prayer that he be left to undergo martydom. His martyrdom took place during the reign of Nero on November 30, 60 A.D. and it is on November 30 that we celebrate the feast of Saint Andrew.    

Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Russia, Greece, Malta, Romania and Sicily, but he has special significance to Scotland.  There are several versions as to how this became, all of which surround certain leaders of Scotland in their time of war, and for this reason, Scotland has adopted the X shaped cross as their symbol.  St. Andrew is also known as the patron saint of fishermen, unmarried women, against gout, and against sore throats.

Although little is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles regarding the life of St. Andrew, much can be learned from what we do know.  He and Saint Peter gave up the only life they knew to follow Christ.  I imagine that Andrew had a special gift.  Upon hearing Jesus speak he immediately recognized Him as the Messiah, but he did not keep this to himself.  He shared this good news with his brother by saying, “We have found the Messiah”.  It didn’t take him long to learn this truth and he was eager to share it. It is as if St. Andrew had a real longing and when he found it shared the wealth. 

As I am learning about St. Andrew, I have asked myself if I have this same yearning to share as Andrew did.  Have I shared what I have learned with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Would I be ready to leave everything behind if Jesus were to appear in front of me today?  I know these are difficult questions for all of us to answer, however, the way we live our lives is a great indication as to what we would do.  What we should do is only possible through constant devotion to scripture as a constant reminder that we need Jesus.    

St. Andrew’s undying faith in a difficult world is an inspiration to all Christians.  I end with St. Andrew’s prayer.  Let us pray to St. Andrew so that he may grace us with the same love, devotion and unfailing trust that he had in Jesus Christ. 

O glorious St. Andrew,
you were the first to recognize and follow the Lamb of God.
With your friend, St. John, you remained with Jesus for that first day,
for your entire life, and now throughout eternity. 
As you led your brother, St. Peter, to Christ and many others after him,
Draw us also to Him.
Teach us to lead others to Christ solely out of love for Him and dedication in His service.
Help us to learn the lesson of the Cross and to carry our daily crosses without complaint so that they may carry us to Jesus.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 23: St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
By Darius Haghighat

Born in Galilee during the first century, St. Matthew was one of the twelve apostles and four evangelists. His father was Alphaeus and his brother was the apostle James the Lesser. Also known as Levi, Matthew worked as a tax collector in Capernaum, a job that would cause many Jews and Pharisees alike to despise him. When Jesus went to Capernaum, he called Matthew to be one of His disciples. Matthew then invited Jesus to dine in his home with tax collectors and sinners. After this, Matthew became one of the twelve apostles and followed Jesus. He witnessed the Resurrection and the Ascension of Our Lord. Then, in the upper room, the Holy Spirit came upon him, the other eleven, and Mary during Pentecost.  Following Jesus’ great commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), Matthew continued to spread Christ’s teachings. He went on to write the first of the four Gospels and was martyred in Ethiopia.

As a disciple of Jesus, Matthew was a man of great faith. He was called to holiness despite his occupation as a tax collector. In those days, tax collectors were seen as traitors and thieves: traitors because they worked for the oppressive Roman Empire, thieves because they would often overcharge people to make extra money for themselves. Matthew himself may not have been as dishonest as others who shared his profession, but he would’ve still had what was seen as an evil job.

God however, has a purpose for every aspect of our lives, as He demonstrates with St. Matthew.  When Christ was criticized for dining with sinners and tax collectors, he responded, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Thus, Matthew’s conversion demonstrated that all can attain holiness, regardless of how unholy they once were. St. Matthew’s position as a tax collector also had a more practical purpose in salvation history:  tax collectors had to be literate in both Greek and Aramaic. In other words, they were some of the few people who were able to read and write during that time. This literacy allowed St. Matthew to record Christ’s life and teachings into the first Gospel.

The Gospel according to Matthew begins differently than the other Gospels do. St. Matthew opens with the genealogy of Jesus. He begins with Abraham and traces a line down through David to Jesus Christ. Since he begins with the human ancestry of Jesus, St. Matthew’s symbol (coming from the four living creatures in the Book of Revelation) is a winged man. This symbol is fitting because St. Matthew stresses Jesus’ identity as the Son of David, the Son of Man, and the Son of God. Thus, St. Matthew uses a human approach to better understand Christ’s divinity.

St. Matthew’s Gospel also stresses Jesus’ wisdom. He establishes the Lord as a teacher. As a tax collector, St. Matthew would’ve felt comfortable with laws and regulations; that would explain how closely he records teachings such as the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ introduced the Beatitudes. The Gospel according to Matthew provided the Church with a strong foundation for her own teachings.

St. Matthew’s identity, however, goes beyond that of a journalist, merely recording events for future reference. No, St. Matthew played a key role in the New Testament. He was willing to leave behind his no doubt profitable career as a tax collector to follow the Son of God, which earned him his place among the twelve apostles. His dedication to spreading the Word of God is what secured his place in Heaven. And so, by participating in and preserving the memory of the events of the New Testament, St. Matthew fulfilled his role in God’s plan.

There are a number of St. Matthew’s qualities that we are called to emulate. One is the simple recognition that Jesus Christ is our Lord. St. Matthew used the phrase “Son of God” countless times in his Gospel, emphasizing Jesus’ divine nature. We too are meant to be pure of heart and see that in Him.

 St. Matthew is a model of conversion, as he turned his whole life around to follow Jesus, an opportunity he knew was worth more than the Roman Empire could ever compensate for. The example he set for us is one of repentance and obedience.

Finally, St. Matthew understood the importance of establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ. He got to know our Lord as both God and Man, the very reason Jesus was incarnated. The final line of St. Matthew’s Gospel, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20) shares with us his own reassurance that, by following in Christ’s steps, we will constantly have our all-powerful, ever-loving God beside us.