So where do we go from here?
This morning I woke up completely unaided by my alarm. To those who know me, this is highly unusual. 5AM and I sat upright, overcome by a sense that I needed to get out of bed. I thought of lying back down and returning to my slumber. I had, after all, another thirty minutes before I had to be up and moving about in order to make it to the 6:30 mass at the local Cistercian Abbey. But something, a gut feeling, maybe the Spirit, kept calling to me. “Get out of bed and turn on the TV.” To ask my wife, any voice beckoning me to turn on a television could not come from God. But I got up nonetheless and went to the living room. I sat down to check the weather on the local news and was greeted by the stunning news of our holy father’s renunciation of his office.
And like that I started thinking of what I had blogged on this page just six short hours earlier. I wrote that this blog was transforming from one wherein I posted daily vignettes about the lives of the saints to more of a clearinghouse for all things Catholic. I still haven’t figured out exactly where I’m going with this page. I trust that with the help of my sister and, hopefully, other great Catholic (and even non-Catholic posters) we can make this the thing I have in my mind though I cannot articulate it clearly just yet.
As I learned more of the shocking news of Benedict’s resignation I thought of so many things. First I thought it was a joke. Then I realized that it wasn’t and I started thinking about how I named my only son, my firstborn after the pontiff. What would I tell him? How would he respond when I delivered the news that Pope Benedict would not be pope anymore? I got to work and it became clear that, as a Catholic theology teacher, my lesson had already been re-written for me! A young woman who will be shadowing me as part of her student-teaching arrived a few hours into the day and I told her “You chose the most interesting day in 600 years to jump into to teaching theology!”
Where am I going? Where are we going? These are interesting times for all of us in the Catholic world. I’d like your help in shaping the face of this new endeavor. Send me your thoughts and comments and keep praying for His Holiness. And if you know any Catholic bloggers who might like to contribute, let me know.
St. Athanasius of Alexandria
What if there were one saint, revered by just about everyone? That one guy, who everyone loves, looks up to, and says, “Hey guy, you’re awesome!”? Well, there is one, and his name is St. Athanasius.
Born in the late 290s in Egypt, Athanasius was the son of parents who were wealthy enough to afford a good education for their boy. Sometime before the year 319 he had already written his first work, Against the Heathen. By the age of just 27, Athanasius was playing a pivotal role in one of the most important councils in Church history, the Council of Nicea. That’s right, at an age when many today are still struggling to figure out what it is they want from life, here was a man who was ardently working to defend the faith and the church from the heinous heresy of Arianism. What’s that you say? You don’t quite remember which heresy that is? Well, quite basically, it’s the one where people believe that Jesus, God the Son, was created by God the Father, and is hence separate and less than the First Person of the Trinity. It’s the reason we have that little line in the Nicene Creed:
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial
with the Father
just so everyone is absolutely clear on this point. Athanasius was just a deacon at the time, but was made bishop of Alexandria not long afterwards (after the death of the previous bishop).
His issues with the Arians did not end with being made a bishop. Far from it, in fact. During the course of his time as bishop, he was exiled five separate times, by more than one emperor who sympathized with Bishop Arius and his beliefs. At a time when it would have made his life far easier to just go with the flow, Athanasius instead chose to go with God, and to fight the heresy that was threatening the faithful. Clearly, he believed the words of God spoken to Jeremiah: he never said he was too young to do the will and work of God.
So why does everyone love him so much? The Eastern churches consider him the Father of Orthodoxy. The Western church lists him as one of the four great Doctors of the Eastern church. He is celebrated in the Oriental Christian churches for defeating the heresy. Even the Anglicans and the Lutherans still hold a soft spot for him, and that’s saying a lot. (Of course, any time the Catholics and the Protestants agree on something, one should probably give it a closer look because it’s probably a big deal.) St. Athanasius, in his stalwart denial of the Arian heresy, helped to preserve the Catholic faith and church in a time of serious strife, and in doing so, he earned himself a place in the hearts of all the faithful, regardless of their church.
Feast of St. Joseph the Worker
Patron of workers
Now before you go all “Oh now you’re going to resume posting” on me, keep in mind that I have a life. No excuse, I know. Whatever…
You might also be thinking “Hey, didn’t we already celebrate St. Joseph?” or “Perhaps it’s a different St. Joseph. There are quite a few, you know.” Let me tell you that this saint is, in fact, the very same Joseph celebrated on March 19th, the husband of Mary and foster-father of Our Lord. So why does he get a second feast?
I am reminded of the 1980 comedy and perhaps second greatest film of all time, Airplane! Or was it Airplane 2: The Sequel? Either way, Stephen Stucker, who’s comedic genius is second to none, portraying control tower aide Johnny, is asked by Lloyd Bridges (upon hearing the distress call “Mayday, Mayday!”): “Mayday!? What the hell is that?” Stucker responds: “Why it’s the Russian New Year! We’ll have a cake, and balloons, and…”
He was half-right. It was a Russian celebration, well really a Soviet one. But it wasn’t the New Year. It was a celebration glorifying the communist ideal of the worker as a pawn of the state. Iconic images abound of tanks and missiles rolling through Red Square in a show of totalitarianist might.
In 1955, Pope Pius XII (that’s 12) created the feast of St. Joseph the Worker out of an older Eastertim Octave of the man and placed it squarely on the first of May in order to counteract the Soviet “feast”. For Christians, Joseph’s work, blessed and ordained by God, is a model of worker and Joseph, a model of workers. His labor serves the purpose of glorifying God in that he was not enslaved by it. His labor as a carpenter enabled him the grace of providing for others — namely the Virgin Mary and Christ Child, but also all those who ever benefitted from his skill with the lathe and plane. Can you imagine owning an original Joseph? Me neither. I’m sure the termites have gotten to it by now.
In short, when your day drags on and even the five hour energy drinks aren’t shaking you from that 2:00 feeling, stop and say a prayer to St. Joseph. Ask him to pray on your behalf that, like him, you might be blessed with a true appreciation of the work at hand. I especially like to think of Joseph’s hard labor during these tough economic times. I am blessed to have a job while many are not. May our work, our labor come from God alone and its fruits return to Him as an expression of His Providence in our lives.
Can I get an AMEN?!
That’s what I thought.
St. John Climacus
You know that old joke? The one that ends with, “I don’t know who he is, but the Pope is driving him around!”? I have a feeling it was in reference to today’s saint, John Climacus. I’ll explain.
We don’t really know that much about St. John, other than that he wrote was was at the time and continues to be to this day one of the greatest works of Eastern Catholic spirituality ever written. Knowing this, you’d think someone would have asked him when and where he was born, but, alas, no one did, so all we have is conjecture. What we think is that he was born in either the late sixth or early seventh century somewhere in either Syria or Palestine and, at the age of just 16, went to the Abbey of Sinai (now St. Catherine’s Abbey) and joined the monks there for several years, learning about God and the saints. After the death of his spiritual mentor, Martyrius, he moved out to an hermitage at the foot of Mt. Sinai to further practice his asceticism (monk speak for extreme physical deprivation used to attain spiritual perfection) and there he stayed for the next 20 odd years. While alone, he prayed and read the Scriptures and the lives of the saints, making himself one of the most learned men in Christendom.
When the abbot at the monastery died, John was pressed into service, much as he protested, and it was at this time that he was ordained. He spent the next four years leading his fellow monks as they moved closer to God, executing his duties with great faith and great wisdom. He was so well known for his holiness in fact that Pope St. Gregory the Great himself wrote to him, asking for his prayers. Seriously?! The pope. Asked him. For prayers. Awesome factor of 15 (out of 10). Finally, he resigned his post, and died not long after.
During his life, St. John wrote the Ladder of Perfection, also known as The Climax, hence his name, Climacus. A work on spiritual growth and struggle, it is broken into 30 chapters or steps (following the ladder theme), each of which covers one very specific aspect of growing closer to God and climbing the ladder to heaven. The highest rung on the ladder, interestingly, above all the others, is love. The work, originally written as a favor for a fellow abbot of a nearby abbey, was greatly received and has remained a staple of Eastern Christianity to this day. They frequently read it in the days of the Great Lent, leading up to Easter. It is read in their daily Lenten office and often during meal times in Byzantine monasteries. It’s importance is on a level with the Summa Theologica or the Interior Castle for Roman Catholics. Suffice it to say, his book’s important.
So, what can we learn from this man? Despite our best efforts to follow the plan we have decided upon for how best to follow what we believe is God’s will, we need to be open to understanding that sometimes, we aren’t quite right when it comes to interpreting it. While John would have been quite content to live out his days in solitude, God had other plans for him, and John was humble enough to see that his own desires were not the most important and his own ideas were not necessarily the best for him. He followed God’s call, even when it called him away from the quiet solitude of his hermitage where he spent his time in quiet prayer and out into the place where his voice could be shared with many. We need to be open to God’s will, even if it calls us away from what we think is best.
St. Joseph of Arimathea
Patron of Funeral Directors
For a man mentioned in the Holy Gospels we know scarcely anything of his life. Once again, though, what we DO know is what counts. Joseph was a man who sought the Kingdom of God. In the itinerant preaching of Jesus of Nazareth, he came to believe. However, like many others (both of his day and of ours) he was fearful. Something held him back. He is depicted as a man of wealth (Mt. 27:57) and this may have been the thing he was afraid of losing if he were to publicly have supported Our Lord.
But when the moment came, he was filled with the spirit. At the hour of Jesus’ death on the cross, Joseph, aided by Nicodemus (another secret follower of the Christ) took action that would proclaim before Jew and Roman their allegiance.
After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds.
Where he lacked boldness before, he now possesed it in full. When it counted, he provided an earthly resting place for the body of Our Lord — a tomb wherein the Savior would repose while the work of salvation was worked out for us. For this, Joseph is regarded as patron of funeral directors — that noble profession who’s practitioners provide comfort to those who mourn in a very real way.
If you’ve ever seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you are familiar with the line that forms the title of this piece. And if you have never seen the film, do yourself a favor. It’s worth the laugh.
(Scripture quoted from Jn. 19:38-39, NABRE)
So, in case you haven’t read about my poor Infant of Prague Statue, now would be a good time to do so BEFORE reading the rest of this post. Go ahead. Click here FIRST and then click here SECOND. I’ll wait.
Oh good. You’re back. Well, Prague as we call our little friend here (I’ve always been on very intimate terms with my friends the saints and of course the Holy Infant), has finally been fixed (more or less). My husband glued him back into one piece, as opposed to the three he’s been in for a while now. Yesterday, we even had him all dressed up in his white vestments for the Feast of the Annunciation. Doesn’t he look adorable? And isn’t his Prague hat (or crown as some of you might call it) way more awesome than any other Prague hat you’ve ever seen? I know, right? Can you tell I’m more than a little happy to have him back in one piece? Yeah. I’m that big of a saint dork.
The Feast of the Annunciation (normally March 25th)
Sometimes, looking at the placement of certain feasts during the Church year, I have to wonder. Obviously, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25th because it is exactly nine months before Christmas on December 25th. It’s nice and it’s neat and it’s all tied up with a pretty little bow. But, it struck me this year, as it’s in Lent, towards the end of Lent at that, if perhaps we aren’t meant to take more from it than the whole “nine months” thing.
When the Archangel Gabriel told Mary what God was asking of her, it must have been terrifying for her. She was young, not yet married, and a virgin. She could lose everything: her family, her fiance, her place, her life quite frankly. Mary knew all of this. And yet, what she said was simple: Fiat. Let it be done. She willingly accepted God in a quite literal and very real manner. She said to His messenger essentially, “I’ll do it. Yes! Whatever God wants, I’ll do it!” Her only question? How? How will this be done?
Perhaps, by placing the celebration of Mary’s Fiat right now, right when many of us are struggling to maintain our Lenten sacrifices in the “home stretch” as it were, the Church is reminding us of how we should be striving to respond to God in our own lives. Fiat, let it be done. Whatever is the Father’s will, let it be done in our lives. After all, without Mary’s Fiat, without her cooperation in God’s plan of salvation, would we be celebrating the same Easter we are preparing for right now, and in every Lent?
So, for these next two weeks, perhaps we should all try to remember that one simple word, Fiat, and let that be our answer to anything we feel God is asking of us as we prepare our souls to celebrate the Risen Christ on Easter Sunday. It may be scary, but obviously, as with Mary, the results will definitely be worth the effort.
St. Catherine of Sweden, Virgin
Invoked against abortion and miscarriage
It’s not often we hear about saints who were both virgins and married at the same time, but it’s also not often that we hear about saints like Catherine of Sweden. She was one special lady.
Born around 1330 to her parents, Prince Ulfo and his wife, Bridget (Birgitta), who would become St. Bridget, patroness of Sweden, St. Catherine was well educated and quite holy from a young age. When she was around 13, her father gave her in marriage to Lord Egard, a young nobelman who was half Swedish and half Westphalian (German). Although both had wished for a life of solitude and celibacy, they agreed to the marriage in order to be obedient to their parents and help maintain strong royal ties. Once married though, they mutually chose to live chastely and never consummated their marriage, hence her life as both a virgin and a married woman. Together, they spent time in prayer and in service to the poor of their land.
In 1348, Catherine went to Rome to visit her mother who had lived there since shortly after the death of Catherine’s father, awaiting the return of the pope from France. For the next 25 years, Catherine and Birgitta traveled greatly, going on arduous pilgrimages to holy places as far away as Jerusalem. When Birgitta eventually passed away, Catherine brought her mother’s body back to Sweden, to be buried at the monastery Birgitta had founded but never actually been a part of. Perhaps this was really what God had used both of these women for, because upon returning, Catherine was made the Superior of the Order of the Most Holy Savior, or the Brigittines. It seems as if He used the mother to lay the groundwork for the daughter’s work.
What Bridget never saw accomplished in her lifetime, though she received many visions telling her what was to be done, Catherine was able to oversee. To speak of one of these two holy women without the other is to think of peanut butter without the jelly. It doesn’t make sense. It was through her mother’s holy example that Catherine was able to be the pious woman she was, even encouraging her husband on to great holiness through their chaste life together. Had it not been for her mother’s founding of a unique order of religious women, Catherine had never become an abbess, living out her widowed life with great purpose.
As people living in our modern world, it may seem hard to take much from her life that has a real relevance to our own. But think for a minute: she chose to be both obedient to her legitimate superiors in this world while never wavering from her true vocation that she had received from God. She managed to be both virgin and wife, princess and abbess, simply by remaining true to her own conscience. This is what makes St. Catherine relevant today: she followed her conscience no matter what else she was called upon to do.
On a side note, while she is invoked against abortion and miscarriage, I am hard pressed to find any reason as to why. Obviously, having lived and died a virgin, she was never pregnant and therefore never had a miscarriage. Regardless of the why, it’s still nice to know that she’s there, praying for all of us who have gone through a miscarriage and praying for others to never go through either a miscarriage or an abortion.
St. Turibius de Mogrovejo
Let’s start this one off Jeopardy style.
The category: Obscure Spanish American Saints.
The Clue: He founded the first seminary in the Western Hemisphere in the 1591 and Confirmed St. Rose of Lima.
do do do do do do do. do do do do DO do do do do do. do do do do do do do. DO do do do do do do. bom bom. (Shh.)
If you answered, “Who is St. Turibius de Mogrovejo?”, then I hope you bet it all, because you’re right.
So how is it that most of us have never heard of him? Seriously. The lack of teaching on the saints these days (and for the past 50 years) is most vexing. This man was awesome.
Born in 1538 in Majorca, Spain, he was well educated and became a lawyer. He was appointed to president of the Inquisition at Grenada, and did an excellent job there. Such an excellent job, in fact, that, although he was not even a priest, let alone a bishop, when the need arose for a new head for the See at Lima, he was chosen. He begged not to be sent, citing every canon he could think of barring laymen from being given ecclesiastical duties and privileges, but to not avail. I mean, don’t get me wrong. They didn’t break any of the canons. Not at all. They just decided that Turibius needed to become a bishop, but quick, so they ordained him a priest and then made him a bishop, and sent him on his merry way — to South America. Okay, okay, so it took him like two years to go from priest to bishop, but that’s still fast, like, Flash Gordon on speed fast.
At the time, Lima, Peru was in serious need of direction. Because it was so far removed from the rest of the Church, it needed a particularly strong head to keep the body moving right. In Turibius, they found just the man. He believed that, as he used to say, “Time is not our own, and we must give a strict account of it.” Every day, Turibius used to the absolute utmost to fulfill God’s plan for him, and to serve God in his vocation as spiritual leader to so many faithful. He traversed the entire 170,000 square miles of his diocese three times before his death. Usually, he did this on foot, often times alone and barefoot, travelling through dangerous jungles and among strangers. He learned the native languages so that he could, yes, convert others to Christ, but also so that they would have a voice with their Spanish masters and therefore be treated more fairly. He personally Baptized and Confirmed close to a million people, including St. Rose of Lima, and he even founded the first seminary over here. From the moment he arrived in Peru in 1581, to the day of his death in 1606, he used every breath he took to bring Christ to the people he served.
Looking at all he was able to accomplish in a relatively short time (less than thirty years in Peru), one can easily see that it is true: Nothing will be impossible with God. Luke 1:37