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Catholic Saints & Feasts

  • May 31: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

    29 MAG 2024 · May 31: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Feast; Liturgical Color: White Two young mothers and their treasures meet Only in the Catholic Church would a Feast Day first celebrated in the thirteenth century be considered “new.” But that is when the Visitation first appeared in some liturgical calendars. Our oldest liturgical feasts date from the apostolic period. That is, they were likely celebrated by the Apostles themselves in the years immediately following the earthly life of Christ. The original historical events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday transformed into liturgical events so rapidly and so naturally that the earliest Christian writings are of a liturgical nature. Other Feast Days, such as Christmas, Mary the Mother of God, and the Birth of John the Baptist had to wait their turn. They are ancient but cede pride of place to the foundational events of Holy Week, just as America’s Presidents’ Day must cede to the more essential Independence Day. Without a country, there would no presidents, and without a death and resurrection, there would be no Christianity or Christian calendar in the first place. The Visitation falls, liturgically, when it happened historically. Mary conceived Jesus Christ in late March. Saint John the Baptist was born in late June. And it was between these two bookends that pregnant Mary visited her pregnant cousin Elizabeth. Perhaps it was in late May. We may be surprised in heaven to discover that many of our biblically based feast days are commemorated on the exact historical dates they occurred. Would God deceive us otherwise? After all, no good father would tell the family to celebrate his son’s birthday on a date other than when he was born. It is the Gospel of Saint Luke that recounts for us so many details of Mary’s life that otherwise remain untold. Saint John writes at the end of his Gospel that Jesus did and said many other things which are not written down. Perhaps the same could be said of Mary. Many words were spoken, gestures made, and events transpired, yet so much remains a mystery. Yet if we knew all there was to know about God and the things of God, then heaven would be a bore and not be heaven at all. The Visitation is the first time that Mary publicly exercises her role as Mediator of the Son of God. God chose not only to become a man but to become such in the same way that all men do, through gestation and birth, with His virginal conception the sole miracle. Catholicism is a religion that believes in secondary causality. God directly intervenes in creation only rarely, instead inviting His creatures to perfect His raw creation by using their God-given talents. God did not cure the cancer. The skilled surgeon removed the tumor. He used the gifts God gave him. It was not a direct intervention. It was not a miracle. It was the doctor’s mind and hands being put to their highest use. Mary generously mediated the Incarnation, placing her body at God’s disposition. She, the Mother of the Church, carries the entire Church in her womb. She, the Ark of the Covenant, houses a treasure more precious than Moses’ stone tablets of old. And she, the Morning Star, shines in the blackness before the blazing sun rises in the east, dawning a new day. Christ’s presence in Mary’s womb radiates outward with x-ray power and reverberates in the words of faith which arise from Elizabeth and her child, John. Jesus’ cousin leaps for joy inside his mother. And Elizabeth reacts by speaking those graceful words, which countless voices will go on to pray, in countless languages, many billions of times in the centuries since and in the ages to come: “Blessed are you among women, and Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” The Visitation is one of the sources of the Hail Mary. Elizabeth is a prophet. We are her hearers. For a prophecy to be a prophecy, it has to become true. Elizabeth’s words were true and are true. Mary is indeed blessed among women, and her fruit has indeed changed the world. Mary’s humility instinctively deflects. She praises the source of all goodness, God, rather than the goodness of her own generosity. All things, save evil, can be traced back to God. Mary is at the head of the trail in clearing the tangled path overgrown since the sin of Eve. With mankind close behind, Mary leads us back to discover anew the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty. Mary and Elizabeth, your generosity in cooperating with God’s will initiated the events of the New Testament. May we be equally generous in cooperating with God’s plans for our lives, knowing the beginning but not the end, lighting a fire that warms the lives of unknown others.
    6 min. 24 sec.
  • May 29: Saint Paul VI, Pope

    27 MAG 2024 · May 29: Saint Paul VI, Pope 1897–1978 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White An erudite introvert helms the Church in stormy waters Over the two millennia of its storied existence, the papacy has piled prestige upon power upon privilege like so many bricks in a high, impregnable, theological fortress. The Bishop of Rome is without doubt the world’s greatest institutional defender of tradition. There is simply no other office which telescopes into one man all that is meant by the compressed phrase “Western Civilization.” Giovanni Baptista Montini, today’s saint’s baptismal name, was as perfectly prepared by education and experience as any man before him to carry the torch of tradition handed to him by his predecessor Pope John XXIII. Yet for all of his erudition and decades of practice walking along the high ridges of church life, the mid-1960s suddenly demanded of the Pope a mix of lace-like delicacy and raw political power alien to his sensitive character. The unity of the Church after the Council was quickly unwinding under potent centrifugal forces. In order to keep the core intact, it was no longer enough for the Pope to be just the bearer of the great tradition. Paul VI had to be Peter, a man of office and authority, yes, but also a tireless missionary like Saint Paul, and a silently courageous disciple and sign of contradiction like Saint Mary. The future Pope Paul VI was born in the last years of the nineteenth century in Northern Italy to an educated and dignified family that was deeply committed to the Church. Giovanni was ordained a priest at the tender age of twenty-two and entered the service of the Vatican a few years later. He spent approximately thirty years serving in the central administration of the Holy See in roles placing him in close contact with three popes. He was appointed Archbishop of Milan in 1954 and a Cardinal in 1958. “Habemus Papam” could have been announced before the Cardinals ever mustered in the Sistine Chapel for the papal conclave of 1963, as few doubted whose experience best prepared him to be pope or who Pope Saint John XXIII wanted to succeed him. Cardinal Baptista took the name Paul, the first Pope of that name in over three hundred years. The new Pope very consciously united the stability and authority represented by Saint Peter with the zealous evangelical outreach represented by Saint Paul.  Paul VI became the first pope ever to travel to other continents, going on apostolic pilgrimages to the Holy Land, India, Colombia, the United States, Portugal, and Uganda. Paul also continued the Second Vatican Council and shepherded it to its conclusion in 1965. After the Council, Paul VI promulgated a new liturgical calendar, missal, breviary, and simplified rites for all the sacraments, thus impacting the lives of Catholics the world over in a personal way that few popes had ever done before. Paul VI was also deeply immersed in the theological and moral deliberations over the Church’s response to new technologies making artificial means of contraception accessible and affordable to the masses. Paul’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, heroically restated the Church’s perennial teaching on the immorality of using artificial means of contraception. Although Humana Vitae was not as compelling and humanistic a presentation of the Church’s rich teachings on married love as would later be advanced by Pope Saint John Paul II, it was replete with prophecies. Paul VI’s predictions about the far-reaching and negative repercussions of the widespread use of contraceptives have all come true! No other individual or institution at the time foresaw, or anticipated in any way, even one of the ticking time bombs whose cultural shrapnel Paul inventoried with such accuracy. The intense storms that blew over Humanae Vitae in Northern Europe and North America lashed the aging Pope, and he never issued another encyclical. At times in the late 1960s and 1970s, it seemed as if chunks of Catholicism, Christianity’s mighty rock of Gibraltar, might fall away and drop into the sea. But Paul VI’s steady, if undynamic, hand avoided fissures in the Church’s facade. Though no schisms surfaced during his pontificate, the Pope did publicly warn about the smoke of satan entering the temple of God.  Our saint was in many ways a tragic figure, tasked with leading a huge, complex Church in a confusing time. Paul’s confessor, a holy and faithful Jesuit, said, after the Pope’s death, that "if Paul VI was not a saint when he was elected Pope, he became one during his pontificate." The Church was Paul VI’s perennial love and undying concern. He died on the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, and was buried, per his request, in a simple casket placed directly in the earth in the grottoes under St. Peter’s Basilica, near so many of his predecessors who sat on the same Chair of Peter.  Pope Saint Paul VI, you resisted a swell of voices to uphold the Church’s teachings on authentic human love. May all bishops and popes be as courageous as you in their fidelity to the Church’s undying tradition.
    6 min. 56 sec.
  • May 27: Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop

    27 MAG 2024 · May 27: Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop Early Sixth Century–604 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of England The Church’s Augustus conquered by example Gaius Octavius Thurinus was a noble Roman. Julius Caesar became his stepfather when he adopted Octavius, posthumously, in his will. Octavius then added his dead stepfather’s name to his own, becoming Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. He defeated his political enemies in 31 B.C. and thus became the first Emperor of Rome. To recognize his status, the Roman Senate added another link to his long chain of names—Augustus. And it is as Augustus that he is known to history. This very Augustus called for the census forcing Mary and Joseph to transfer to Bethlehem: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Lk 2:1). Augustus reigned well and lived long, until 14 A.D. He is considered the iconic Emperor of the “Pax Romana,” a tranquil, vast, expanding, organized, rich, united, and unconquerable realm, an enormous map of which Augustus pondered from his throne in Rome. The eighth month was renamed to honor Augustus during his own lifetime. But greatness is not limited to the Roman Emperor or his Empire. The best of Rome was absorbed, filtered, purified, and reborn in the Catholic Church. As Rome declined, popes and bishops did not pickpocket the corpse of Rome or rifle through the drawers of its abandoned dressers. The transformation from Empire to Church was organic, slow, and unrelenting, like all true cultural change. It happened imperceptibly, year by year, person by person, family by family, town by town, until one day everything was different. The arc of cultural change doesn’t have a right angle. It is fitting and poetic, then, that the Church has her own great Augustus, indirectly evoking the laurel-crowned Emperor. In fact, the Church has two Augustines: Saint Augustine of Hippo, in North Africa, a Doctor of the Church; and Saint Augustine of Canterbury, today’s saint. But their marble statues are not in museums. They are in churches. Saint Augustine of Canterbury was born in an unknown year about a century after his Christian namesake’s death in 430 A.D. in North Africa. He also conquered a king, like his secular namesake, but not for his own glory. Saint Augustine of Canterbury is called the Apostle to the English (not to the British.) The history is complex. Christianity was deeply rooted in Roman Britain. British bishops attended Church Councils in France in the fourth century, and two famous Roman British Catholics well known to history lived centuries before Saint Augustine—Pelagius and Saint Patrick. But after the Romans abandoned Britain around 410 A.D., invasions of the pagan Saxons from Northern Europe mixed with native tribes to alter the cultural and religious landscape. Old Roman Britain faded as Anglo-Saxon England dawned. Christianity was relegated to the margins of the British Isles, surviving in remote regions and in an extensive network of monasteries, not parishes or dioceses, under the wise tutelage of Irish monks. This two-hundred-year British-Irish hibernation of Catholicism was aroused from its sleep when, in 595 A.D., Pope Saint Gregory the Great had a plan. The goal? Convert King Ethelbert. Why? Because he was an Anglo-Saxon pagan. The hope? His wife was Catholic. The means? A large missionary train. The man for the job? Saint Augustine. Our saint, an educated Benedictine monk from Rome, headed a large team that struggled through France on horseback, crossed the English Channel in simple boats, and finally walked to Ethelbert’s seat of power in Canterbury. The King of all Kent heard the missionaries and…converted to Catholicism! And then all his subjects converted as well. The plan worked. Mission accomplished! More missionaries followed. Schools were established. Monasteries were founded. Bishops were appointed. Priests were ordained. Parishes were opened. Rough Anglo-Saxon England put on the yoke of Christ and the lovely, rolling, deep green countryside of England became Mary’s dowry. Nothing is known of the life of Saint Augustine before 595 A.D. He is famous because he was a missionary monk and later bishop. His life and his mission are indistinguishable. He accepted a dare from the Pope and did the impossible. He was himself the foundation stone upon which a Catholic nation built its house of faith for almost a millennium. Saint Augustine, your long years of prayer, asceticism, and reading as a monk prepared you for greater things. May all who seek your intercession prepare themselves in times of quiet for future challenges. May all missionaries be as daring as you in fulfilling what is asked of them.
    6 min. 28 sec.
  • May 26: Saint Philip Neri, Priest

    26 MAG 2024 · May 26: Saint Philip Neri, Priest 1515–1595 Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of Rome, humor and joy Everyone saw the halo Saint Philip Neri often begged alms from his wealthy friends and acquaintances to redistribute to needy children. On one occasion, he approached a friend, held out his hand, and asked him, once again, for a few coins: “How about some help for the children.” The man slapped him hard across the face. Saint Philip quickly recovered from the shock, extended his cupped hand again, and said, “That was for me, now how about something for the children?” Saint Philip was born into a well-educated, Catholic, middle-class home. He carried himself all his life with the bearing of an amiable, well-read, finely dressed, shrewd individual who knew no enemies. After growing up in Florence, he moved to Rome and spent many years as a layman studying theology and helping the poor in practical ways. While still a layman, Philip founded a group to care for the many impoverished pilgrims who came to Rome. He befriended the great reformer Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who wanted Philip to become a Jesuit. But after encouragement from his confessor, Philip was ordained a secular priest in 1551. Soon afterward, he had to formalize the large following he generated that wanted to live more fully the life he preached and modeled. Saint Philip was so well loved and so well known in Rome that he is sometimes called its “Third Apostle” after Saints Peter and Paul. His personality radiated a natural warmth and cordiality. His priestly ministry could be fairly characterized as “evangelization by walking around.” He walked the streets of Rome from end to end continually throughout his long life. His life was a long conversation with a thousand characters on street corners, in shops, factories, churches, parks—wherever. He reached out to the destitute, prostitutes, poor children, and the uneducated. Saint Philip would often gather a group to visit seven churches in a row. As they went from one church to another, the group would picnic and listen to the musicians whom Saint Philip brought along for entertainment. These outings, understandably, became hugely popular. Leaders, intellectuals, musicians, and scholars were also drawn to him, in addition to common folk, and formed the impressive circle of committed Catholics who first joined his apostolic efforts. Saint Philip and his companions were given charge of a parish where they held evening sessions filled with song, readings from the lives of the martyrs, the praying of the psalms, and rich conversation. Saint Philip called these gatherings the “oratory,” in part because the participants also listened to musical pieces called “oratorios.” So when it came time to formalize his newly founded community in Church law, the name “Oratory” was chosen. The Congregation of the Oratory, which is still thriving today, was recognized by the Holy Father in 1575 and given the magnificent, new parish of Santa Maria in Varicella, known as Chiesa Nuova (The New Church), in the heart of Rome. Oratorians are mostly diocesan priests and some laymen who live together in a loose brotherhood, taking no vows, while pursuing various individual ministries. The many dozens of oratories around the world are joined in an informal confederation, whereas canonical bonds tie the many houses of a religious order together in a far tighter union. Saint Philip is one of the bright lights of the Counter-Reformation. He blazed a new path, like other reformers. But the new path he blazed was really just the old path, walked differently. Saint Philip was the silent observer, the cheerful listener, the priest always there, who spoke hard truths but always bent on the non-essentials. He mortified himself but never talked about it. He was poor but wore nice clothes. He looked like everyone else, yet…there was that intangible something: the sparkle in his eye, his polish, his lively concern, his clever wit, his courtesy, his wide education, his humor, and his constant turning of the conversation back to God. He was like everyone else, but he wasn’t, really. He radiated what twentieth-century psychologists would call the “halo effect.” Everyone saw the invisible halo casting a glow over Saint Philip, and people crowded around to stand in his mellow light. Saint Philip did not start a university, reform an institution, write a classic, or formulate a new rule. He changed the world the only way it can truly be changed—one soul at a time. This army of one was canonized in 1622. His body rests in a glass coffin in Chiesa Nuova, the sumptuous Mother Church of the Oratory, where pilgrims come in faith, kneel before him, and seek his powerful intercession. Saint Philip Neri, your good nature and charm, united with your theological orthodoxy and life of deep prayer, made you a powerful apostle for the people of Rome. May all evangelists, especially priests, see in your openness to others a pathway of changing the world.
    6 min. 46 sec.
  • The Most Holy Trinity 

    26 MAG 2024 · First Sunday after Pentecost: The Most Holy Trinity Solemnity; Liturgical Color: White God is more like a family than a monk We pray in the “name” of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, not in their “names.” God must logically be only one. To hold that there is a vast government of gods is to hold that two mountains are the tallest in the world, that three oceans are the deepest, and that on four days the sun shone the brightest. Another way to say “God” is to say “the best.” God is the best. And there can only be one “best,” “tallest,” “deepest,” and “brightest.” God is the ultimate superlative adjective whose nature admits of no competing god. Christian monotheism stops us from approaching different gods for different things. We believe in one God with one will, one mind, and one plan for mankind. The Holy Trinity, the God of Christianity, is complex. Clear language must be used and clear thinking deployed to grasp the Christian God. There are no backyard garden statues of the Holy Trinity like there are of Saint Francis of Assisi, because the Trinity is cerebral in a way that Saint Francis is not. On this solemnity, we celebrate the dogma of all dogmas because dogma matters. We sing songs to dogma, put flowers on the altar to dogma, and wear our best clothes for dogma. The Church’s thinking about God is not child’s play. Once we accept thoughts, they own us. At some point we no longer choose our thoughts, they choose us. So we must get God right so that we get everything else right—marriage, family, work, love, war, money, philosophy, humor, religion, fun, sports, etc. Bad people can be forgiven, but bad ideas less so. And bad ideas about God are dangerous. They caused skyscrapers to crumble to the ground. The Church believes that God is one in His nature and three in His persons. This means that if you were in a pitch-black room and sensed a presence nearby, your first question would be “What is that?” “Is it the dog or the cat, my spouse, or the wind?” If it were God in the darkness, He would answer the question of “what” by saying “I am God.” Satisfied that the presence was a person and not an animal or the wind, the next question would be “Who are you?” And to that question, God would reply in three successive voices: “I am the Father. I am the Son. I am the Holy Spirit.” A nature is the source of operations, but a person does them. A statue has eyes but it is not its nature to see. It is not man’s nature to lay eggs or to breathe under water, but it is the nature of a bird or of a fish to do so. Our nature sets the parameters for what actions are possible for us. The daughter of a lion is a lioness and does what lions do. The son of a man is a man and does what men do. And the Son of God is God and knows, loves, and acts as God does, perfectly. Our Trinitarian supernova is both a unity and a plurality, both one and many at the same time. This means that God does not exist alone but in a community of love. God is not narcissistic, admiring his own beauty and perfection. Instead, the love of the Father is directed toward the Son for all eternity. And the love of the Holy Spirit animates, and passes between, the Father and the Son. The Trinity’s three persons do not share portions of the divine nature, they each possess it totally. This theology means, by extension, that because man is made in the image and likeness of God, every person is created in order to model the Trinity by living with, and for, another, just as God does in His inner life. Because God is a Trinity of persons, His perfection is more fully embodied by an earthly community, such as a family, rather than by a lone monk. The Trinity is not just scaffolding which obscures the true face of God. Nor are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit three masks which conceal the one face of God. The one God exists as a Trinity. The Church’s belief in God and the Church’s belief in the Trinity stand and fall together. The Trinity is not just the summit of our faith, something we work toward understanding, but also our faith’s foundation. The truth of the Holy Trinity is learned early and often. Our God, distinct in His persons, one in His essence, and equal in His majesty, is solemnly invoked as the water spills on our heads at Baptism and as the oil is traced on our palms at our anointing. God, in all of His complexity and in all of His simplicity, is with us always in this world and, hopefully, in the world to come. Most Holy Trinity, we look to Your three persons as a model of true love, knowledge, and community life. Help all marriages and families strive for the high ideal of perfection You set before the world, no matter the discouragement resulting from our sins and imperfections.
    6 min. 46 sec.
  • May 25: Saint Gregory VII, Pope, Religious

    25 MAG 2024 · May 25: Saint Gregory VII, Pope, Religious c. 1015–1085 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White A pope dies on the run The last words spoken by Pope Saint Gregory VII were “I have loved justice and hated iniquity, that is why I die in exile.” His enemies would have claimed that they loved justice equally as much but understood it differently, which is why the pope had to die on the run. No one really wins epic battles for power, though one side may prevail in the short run. Everyone loses something in a fight: some their dignity, others their property, their position, or maybe their teeth. There is no such thing as a win-win outcome. Pope Gregory VII was a scrappy fighter who boxed his powerful opponents for years. Yet he didn’t fight for his own honor, wealth, or position, but because he believed that “the blessed Peter is father of all Christians, their chief shepherd under Christ, (and) that the holy Roman Church is the mother and mistress of all the churches.” He battled for the right of the Bishop of Rome to govern the Church’s internal life free of interference from worldly powers. Pope Gregory’s victories and losses colored all of medieval history and established key precedents for the perennial tensions between Church and State which continue until today. Gregory VII was baptized as Hildebrand in the Tuscany region of Italy. He received an excellent education from Roman tutors, including one who later became Pope Gregory VI.  Most of his adult life was dedicated to serving various popes in important diplomatic and administrative roles. He was one of the most essential papal advisers of his era, even helping to craft the Church law limiting papal conclaves to cardinals alone. While still a deacon, Cardinal Hildebrand was chosen Pope in 1073 by popular acclamation. He refused to be seated on the papal throne as the result of such an outlaw election and went into hiding. Not until a proper vote of the cardinals took place did Hildebrand accept his election as canonically legitimate. He was shortly thereafter ordained a priest and bishop and then crowned Pope Gregory VII on the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, June 29, 1073. When Pope Gregory VII first sat on the throne of Saint Peter and gazed out at the universal church, he did not peer through rose-colored glasses. Long firsthand experience of the world made him no novice, so he set about with great determination to implement needed reforms. His twelve-year papacy would be one of the most consequential in history. Gregory first sought to carve out a space for the papacy to operate free from German meddling in its internal affairs. It was common at the time for princes, kings, and other powerful laymen to appoint clerics to their positions and to “invest,” or clothe, new bishops at their Ordination Masses with the symbols of office, such as their pastoral staff, miter, and ring. Gregory decreed an end to this practice, not least because of the confusion it engendered about who was the source of the bishop’s authority. But the “lay investiture” battle would continue for centuries, leading to recriminations on all sides, including Gregory’s dramatic excommunication of Emperor Henry IV and Henry’s deposition—and driving into exile—of the pope. Incredibly, as late as 1903, the Holy Roman Emperor still directly intervened in a papal conclave, exercising his ancient right of veto to block a cardinal from being elected pope. Pope Gregory VII pulled every lever at his disposal to make priestly celibacy compulsory, sought to heal the Schism of 1054 with the Orthodox, railed against simony (the purchasing of church offices), and encouraged the recovery of the holy sites in Jerusalem, a harbinger of the Crusades which commenced soon after his death. Gregory also memorialized in the clearest of terms the Church’s theology of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, a statement of faith that presaged the deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament so characteristic of the High Middle Ages. Long before the popes were known as “Vicar of Christ,” they were called “Vicar of Peter.” Pope Gregory VII was a model medieval pope above personal reproach, ambitious only for the health and freedom of the Church. He represented both Christ and Saint Peter well. Pope Saint Gregory VII, may your earthly example and heavenly intercession sustain and inspire the leaders of the Church to act impetuously, to fight ceaselessly, and to forgive generously when confronted by forces inimical to the well-being of the Church.
    6 min. 11 sec.
  • May 25: Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, Virgin

    24 MAG 2024 · May 25: Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, Virgin 1566-1607 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of the sick Life’s true drama is on the inside Today’s Carmelite saint was the Italian counterpart to Spain’s famous Carmelite, Teresa of Ávila, although Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi is less well known than her Spanish contemporary. Teresa was a well-traveled and extroverted reformer and founder of a large and vital branch of the Carmelite Order. Mary Magdalene, on the other other hand, was not even a Mother Superior, much less a founder, and followed the ancient observance of Carmel, not its “Teresian,” or discalced, offshoot. Named Caterina at her baptism, today’s saint was from a wealthy, pious, and respected Florentine family who expected their only daughter to marry young and marry well. But young Caterina was well trained in the things of God from the start and destined for a higher calling. While Caterina was still a girl, her spiritual director taught her the benefit and discipline of meditating half an hour a day. At the tender age of twelve, she experienced her first ecstasy. She gazed transfixed at the gorgeous sun setting over the rolling countryside and shook at the awesome beauty of God’s creation. Her mother was there, but little Caterina was speechless, unable to describe what hidden forces caused her body to tremble so. When she was sixteen, she entered a Carmelite convent, over her family’s initial objections. Taking the religious name of Mary Magdalene, she experienced a number of shocking spiritual events, which were documented and witnessed by her fellow Carmelites and by priest confessors. The young nun was rapt in God for weeks and months on end. She shook violently and showed signs of the stigmata. In her ecstasies, she received a crown of thorns from Jesus to share in His sufferings and a ring to symbolize her mystical marriage to Him. She lived on only bread and water for years, in reparation for the sins of mankind. When a priest ordered her to eat the simple fare of the convent, she became ill and had to return to her more meager nourishment. After one ecstatic vision, a near-death experience, Mary Magdalene described how she had given her heart to Jesus and how He had returned it to her with the purity of the Virgin Mary’s own heart. Jesus Christ had even hidden Saint Mary Magdalene in His side, subjugating her will and desires to His own. These many years of intense fireworks in her soul were followed by dark years of dryness and isolation. She felt a painful separation from Jesus her Spouse. During this time, Saint Mary Magdalene struggled with prideful self-love, distaste for God, and the all too common temptations of the flesh and the devil. But she persevered and became novice mistress of the Carmel, recommending poverty, obedience, and abandonment to the will of God as the surest forms of holiness. Mary Magdalene died young, exhausted from her spiritual contests, fasts, and demanding life of prayer. Behind her spectacular displays of spirituality was the day in and day out austerity of Carmelite convent life: the longing for a nice piece of meat, going to bed on an empty stomach, knees and hips aching from scrubbing the floor for endless hours, no dessert to satisfy the sweet tooth, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament and almost falling forward due to eyes burning with lack of sleep. Only by long practice do actions mature into habits and habits into the highest virtues. The proving ground of a strict convent proves a soul, and only then might spiritual flowers bloom. Only then might bright ecstasies sparkle against the dark curtain of night, to the wonder and awe of all around. For Mary Magdalene, Christ was not all rod and lash. She was a happy nun who played her part in keeping her convent running. She kept her personality, like all stigmatists and elite spiritual warriors, yet became one with Christ in a mysterious manner best described in poetic rather than theological terms. Her renown was widespread and her cult immediate. She was canonized in 1669. Her body lies in peace in her native Florence and is still incorrupt. Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, we ask your divine intercession before your Mystical Spouse to give all Religious the gift of perseverance, obedience, and poverty. Your spiritual ecstasies were unique—and destined for few. Grant those gifts that are common—and destined for many.
    5 min. 58 sec.
  • May 25: Saint Bede the Venerable, Priest and Doctor

    23 MAG 2024 · May 25: Saint Bede the Venerable, Priest and Doctor c. 672–735 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of scholars Life’s drama is found in going deeper, not wider There is no world bigger than a monk’s cell. Those four, high walls shape thought like hard, steep banks contain the flow of a river. Rock curtains hanging on both sides force the raging river to carve a path through the landscape, always forward, always deeper. Here the tall banks stop the pounding river from pouring over into the plains. There the low banks allow the gentle current to run low and straight. A river without banks is a lake. And a mind without borders is a puddle—no forward movement and too shallow to sustain life. Borders, limits, and guardrails have expansive effects, paradoxically. A frame makes a painting burst to life; orderly lanes push traffic forward; and the edge of a canvas focuses the artist’s skill. Big thoughts start with boundaries. That’s why big thoughts happen in small spaces. Many thousands of monks’ minds were molded by the limits of the four, cold walls of their cells. And these scholar monks and saint monks gave birth to what we now call Europe. Today’s saint was a model monk who lived his whole life in an English monastery, although he occasionally traveled to neighboring communities to teach young scholars. Venerable Bede’s cell and monastery were nothing like those impressive stone structures with soaring arches and large courtyards, which still stand as icons of medieval Europe. Bede lived long, long before that golden age of monasticism. He died less than two hundred years after Saint Benedict, the founder of monasticism. The monasteries of Bede’s era were more like farms, where the monks lived in a dormitory above a large chapter room or perhaps even in crude huts huddled around a squat stone church. These first simple efforts to plant religious life into English soil matured, over centuries, into a network of enormous English monasteries. And these monasteries, in their fullest flower, grew into the universities, towns, schools, hospitals, lodges, cathedrals, and trade centers of England itself, a rich garden of Catholicism known in medieval times as Mary’s Dowry. Venerable Bede and his monastic brothers planted. Later generations harvested. And King Henry VIII then confiscated the garden and handed it over to his friends, who uprooted its most beautiful plants. Ironically and sadly, the tombs of many English saints, including Venerable Bede, lie today in Protestant churches. From his cell in remote England, Bede was enmeshed in the Church matters of his day. He was involved in the long simmering dispute over the date of Easter, promoted the practice of using Christ’s birth as the starting date for calendars, translated Christian works from Latin or Greek into Anglo-Saxon (to the immense good of the growth of the Church in England), and authored numerous works, the most famous of which is a history of the Church in England until his days. He was, in short, a prolific and wide-ranging scholar. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII honored that reputation by naming him a Doctor of the Church, the only native of England to be so honored. Thomas à Kempis, in his classic The Imitation of Christ, writes that every time a monk leaves his cell he comes back less a man. In his cell the monk learns everything he needs to know about himself, the world, and God. It is inside of our vocations that we find God’s will and our own fulfillment. A deep and abiding commitment to a specific person, religion, home, job, school, parish, spouse, and family is the stuff of life. Wandering is fun for a while. Commitment, though, is more exciting in the long run. The banks of the river must be built up. The edges and borders stacked high. The rails set in place. Then, and only then, life starts to be lived. To go deeper, not wider. To run those roots down deep into the moist soil. When we leave the four corners of our commitments and vocation, it may be liberating for a while, but time rectifies the deception. Our vocation is our home, and in that home we find happiness, make others happy, and satisfy the divine plan of the God who made us. Bede the Venerable, we see in your life a model of commitment to one place, one idea, one love, and one Church. We ask your intercession to aid all scholars, all monks, and all who waver, to stay at their desk, their kneeler, or their work bench to fulfill the task at hand.
    6 min. 14 sec.
  • May 22: Saint Rita of Cascia, Religious

    22 MAG 2024 · May 22: Saint Rita of Cascia, Religious c. 1386–1457 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White Patron Saint of abuse victims, sterility, and difficult marriages She suffered for two spouses Rita Lotti gave birth to her first son at the age of twelve. Fortunately the child was not born out of wedlock. Rita’s husband had been chosen for her by her parents, and they married when she was twelve. Throughout eighteen years of marriage, Rita endured her husband’s insults, physical abuse, and infidelity until the loathful man was stabbed to death by one of his many enemies. Rita pardoned her husband’s killers and impeded her two sons from avenging their father’s death. Marriage ends with death, so Rita was free after her husband’s passing to satisfy a holy desire of her youth and entered an Augustinian convent. The leadership of the local Augustinians was reluctant to admit Rita, however, because she was not a virgin. Despite wide precedence for widows entering religious life, Rita was compelled to wait a number of years before receiving the habit. Rita was a model nun who lived to the fullest the spiritual requirements of her age. She was obedient, generously served the sick of the convent, and shared her wisdom of human nature, especially regarding marital distress, with the lay women who sought her out. Sister Rita was also devoted to prayer and meditated so deeply on the Passion of our Lord that she experienced a mini-stigmata. Instead of open wounds in her hands oozing blood, as Saint Francis and Saint Padre Pio displayed, a small wound appeared on Rita’s forehead. It was as if a thorn from Christ’s crown had penetrated the tightly wrapped flesh on her skull. There was no thorn visible, of course, just as no nails or spears pierced the bodies of other stigmatists. Rita’s wound refused to heal for a number of years. The unique statue, or image, showing a nun with a thorn stuck in her forehead is Saint Rita, making her one of the most easily identifiable people on the calendar of Catholic saints. After Saint Rita died of natural causes, her body did not deteriorate. She was placed in an ornate tomb, her extraordinary holiness was attested to in writing, and healing miracles were petitioned for and soon granted through her intercession. These many cures led to Rita’s beatification in 1626 and her canonization in 1900. Leathery black skin still covers Saint Rita‘s habited body as she peacefully reposes in a glass coffin in her shrine in Cascia, Italy. She is invoked as a kind of female Saint Jude, a patroness of impossible causes, particularly those related to the difficult vocation of marriage. Saint Rita was both a physical and a spiritual mother. She was a spouse of Christ—a perfect man, and of her husband—a flawed man. She knew intimately the vocation both to religious and to married life, giving her a certain status, or credibility, with both consecrated and married women, which few others saints enjoy. Rita’s dual vocation has given her a dual attraction, which is likely the cause of her fame and the continued devotion to her so many centuries after her death. In many ways, her life in the convent was not remarkable, except for the stigmata. There were surely many other nuns in Rita’s era and region whose virtue and prayerfulness stood out. Yet for reasons known to God alone and which are therefore sufficient, this nun, among so many others who brimmed with holiness, is still visited in her shrine, still invoked, and still thanked for the favors that she continues to rain down from her place in heaven. Saint Rita, through your intercession, aid all women in difficult marriages and abusive situations. Help women in distress to think rationally, to be faithful to their husbands if possible, to be devoted to their vows if they are able, and yet to flee if they are in danger.
    5 min. 11 sec.
  • May 21: Saint Christopher Magallanes, Priest & Martyr, & Companions, Martyrs

    21 MAG 2024 · May 21: Saint Christopher Magallanes, Priest and Martyr, and Companions, Martyrs Fr. Magallanes: 1869–1927; 22 priests and 3 laymen: 1915-1937, the majority killed between 1926-1929 Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: Red A Mexican bloodletting The governor of Mexico’s Tabasco state in the 1920s, Garrido Canabal, was so insanely anti-Catholic that he named his three sons Lenin, Satan, and Lucifer. He was also a farmer and named one of his bulls “God,” a hog “Pope,” a cow “Mary,” and a donkey “Christ.” He ordered the removal and destruction of all crucifixes from public buildings and graveyards in Tabasco. Painful photographs of the destruction prove that it happened. For his vicious persecution of the Church, he was elevated to a national cabinet position in the 1930s. Canabal was a political protégé of the Mexican president, and later strongman, Plutarco Calles. Calles was an illegitimate child, born to unmarried parents. Calles hated being called an illegitimate child and especially resented the Roman Catholic Church for this title of illegitimacy. In time, Calles became a devout believer in the religion of atheism, eagerly shared his beliefs with others, and put great energy into evangelizing others to his side. As governor of the state of Sonora, he expelled all Catholic priests. As president of Mexico, he carried out an overtly violent, ferocious, scorched-earth attack on Catholicism without par in the twentieth century. Priests were killed for no other reason than for being priests. This led to a popular counterreaction known as the Cristero War, a slow burn of assassinations, pitched battles, skirmishes, and reprisals. Central Mexico was in a full-blown meltdown in the 1920s. For a visitor to Mexico today, or to anyone familiar with its culture, such events are difficult to imagine or comprehend. Mexico harbors one of the most vibrant Catholic cultures in the entire world, thick with devotions, processions, Masses, feast day celebrations, and religious song and dress. Yet the Cristero War did happen, and not a thousand years ago. The militant, anti-religious mentality of Anglo-Saxon secular humanism is familiar to many believers today. It is the air we breath. This educated secularism opposes the very idea of God, exalts a narrow understanding of freedom, denigrates the concept of belief, and transposes science as an object of faith rather than a formal creed. The militant anti-religious mentality of 1920s Mexico, and of other culturally Catholic nations, was and is different from Anglo-Saxon secularism. Anti-Catholicism in Catholic nations expresses itself in anticlericalism. Hatred is unleashed against bishops and priests and their instruments of ministry—altars, crucifixes, vestments, rosaries, statues, etc.—not so much against creeds or ideas. You don’t need to read Nietzsche or to master the Enlightenment canon to hate the Church. Whereas Anglo Saxon secularism wages its battles in the higher echelons of university classrooms and the courts, Latino anticlericalism is not too complex. Just kidnap a priest, blindfold him, tie his hands tightly behind his back, and shoot him in the head. Anticlericalism liquidates its enemies against the dirty brick wall behind the local police station. No courtrooms are needed. Today’s saint, and the others canonized with him, were caught in the storm that was Plutarco Calles. Father Magallanes was a priest of humble origins similar to those of Calles, but Magallanes walked a different path than the strongman. After working the land as a youth for his poor family, he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1899. He then served faithfully as a chaplain and as a pastor to the Huichole Indians for many years. By middle age, he was a priest of some stature. But the otherwise ordinary arc of his life took an extraordinary turn when, on May 21, 1927, he was on his way to celebrate the Feast of St. Rita of Cascia (May 22) in a small village. A shootout between Cristeros and Federal forces near the village led to Father Magallanes’ arrest, along with a brother priest, Father Caloca. There were no accusations and no trial. There was neither the presentation of evidence nor the right of defense, since priests had no civil rights in Mexico at the time. On May 25, 1927, the two priests were led to the courtyard of a municipal building for what always happened next. Father Magallanes stated: “I am innocent and die innocent. I absolve with all my heart those who seek my death and ask God that my blood bring peace to a divided Mexico.” The priests absolved each other, spoke some few words of comfort, and then were shot to death by a firing squad of fellow Mexicans in soldiers’ uniforms. Father Caloca’s last words were: “For God we lived and for Him we die.” Twenty-five martyrs are commemorated today. All were diocesan priests, except for three laymen who died with their parish priest. They died in eight different Mexican states under circumstances similar to those of Frs. Magallanes and Caloca. One was hung from a mango tree in a town square, another from an oak in the country; one was shot for not revealing the confessions of his co-prisoners, one was bayoneted and beaten to death; one was shot and his body placed on railroad tracks to be mutilated by a train. The executioner of one priest refused to fire his rifle. He was shot right after the priest. Pope Saint John Paul II beatified the group in 1992 and canonized them in 2000. In addition to Frs. Magallanes (Cristóbal Magallanes Jara) and Caloca (Agustín Caloca Cortés), these martyrs were: Román Adame Rosales, Rodrigo Aguilar Alemán, Julio Álvarez Mendoza, Luis Batis Sáinz, Mateo Correa Magallanes, Atilano Cruz Alvarado, Miguel De La Mora, Pedro Esqueda Ramírez, Margarito Flores Garcia, José Isabel Flores Varela, David Galván Bermúdez, Salvador Lara Puente (layman), Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero, Jesús Méndez Montoya, Manuel Morales (layman), Justino Orona Madrigal, Sabás Reyes Salazar, José María Robles Hurtado, David Roldán Lara (layman),Toribio Romo González, Jenaro Sánchez Delgadillo, David Uribe Velasco, and Tranquilino Ubiarco Robles. Father Magallanes, your quiet witness and noble death are an inspiration to all who suffer physical violence for the faith in unknown ways and in unknown places. May your intercession and courage be an inspiration for all priests, laymen, and religious who are tempted to bend in the winds of persecution.
    7 min. 40 sec.

"Catholic Saints & Feasts" offers a dramatic reflection on each saint and feast day of the General Calendar of the Catholic Church. The reflections are taken from the four volume...

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"Catholic Saints & Feasts" offers a dramatic reflection on each saint and feast day of the General Calendar of the Catholic Church. The reflections are taken from the four volume book series: "Saints & Feasts of the Catholic Calendar," written by Fr. Michael Black.

These reflections profile the theological bone breakers, the verbal flame throwers, the ocean crossers, the heart-melters, and the sweet-chanting virgin-martyrs who populate the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church.
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Autore Fr. Michael Black
Categorie Cristianesimo
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