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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Saint Irenaeus

Heresies of the Second Century

It was a young Church; it was an infant Church. We're sure the early Fathers, after having convened the First Ecumenical Council, thought they had put an end to any and all the problems the Church would ever have. They were most likely sure that what they were handing down to the next generation, was a Church free of strife and in-fighting. However, that's not what they got. Whereas the Saints of the First Century had gone on to their reward with our Lord Jesus in Heaven, Satan was waiting in the wings, training a brand new group of heretics, to destroy the Church.
The second century was to prove no better than the first with man insisting on being as smart as God, trying to outdo Him, and, as usual, falling flat on his human face.
The Basilidian heresy got its name from its founder, Basilides. He is known to have lived in the time of the Emperors Hadrian and Antonius Pius somewhere between 120 to 140 A.D. Basilides came from Alexandria. The sins of the father very often are passed on to the son. Basilides' son would follow in his fallen footsteps, in an attempt to keep alive the deceptions his father was trying to promote throughout the whole Christian world. One of Basilides' teachings was "Know others, but let no one know you."
The views the Basilidians held on the Deity were:
They rejected Divine Revelation as manifested to us by Holy Scripture. They insisted they had received their own revelations direct from God.
They wrote a new book of Psalms. Basilides authored a new gospel under his own name. We quote John in Revelation "If anyone adds to these words, God will visit him with all the plagues described herein!"(Rev 18:19)
The Basilidian heresy claimed that the God of the Jews had been only an angel. What angel were they referring to? Could it be the work of Lucifer who wanted to be God?
They insisted that the world was created by the angels. Is that not like Lucifer who envied God the gift of Creation, to put God's Creation under his name, to receive credit for that which he could never possess?
They denied the humanity of Jesus and repudiated all the miracles attributed to Jesus. Are there not those today who would reduce every miraculous happening into human reasoning? Do we not hear; "There is no such thing as a miracle," "God gives you an intellect and the means to control your own destiny," "It doesn't pay to pray for a miracle, God is going to do what He has already planned to do"?
In our former parish, a wonderful young man got seriously injured in a car accident. The hospital was struggling to save his life. To human eyes, there was little or no hope of him living. But not to his family and friends. All the school children of our Catholic School joined the rest of the church in praying for the complete recovery of this young man. During the Homily, the young associate pastor said: "Don't pray for a miracle. God has already made up His Mind. Maybe God doesn't want this young man to live. Stop bothering God with your prayers."
The young man's daughter ran out of the Church in tears. We ran after her. We told her God loved her, her sister and her Mommy and Daddy; that He heard them. He was there, especially present in the Holy Eucharist in the Holy Mass, waiting for her to turn to Him. She could trust Him. He was listening!
We reminded her of the many times Jesus listened to the pleading of loved ones, sometime in seemingly impossible situations: When Lazarus' sister Mary turned to Jesus and cried "Lord, if You had been here my brother would never have died." (John 11:32) Jesus raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. And then, when Jesus saw the Widow of Naim grieving over the death of her only son, He, moved with pity, told the mother not to cry and commanded her son to rise, and Jesus gave him to his now rejoicing mother. (Luke 7:11-17) When a Jewish official pleaded: "My daughter has just died; but come and place Your Hands on her, and she will live.", Jesus responded to the father's act of faith and lifted his daughter from her death bed. (Matt 9:18-20, 23-26)
We asked this little girl, did she think Jesus loved them more than He loved her? She prayed, believing in a miracle, and her father is now very active in the Church, very much alive. According to the doctors, he did not have a chance. According to God, all things are possible, if only we believe.
The Basilidians denied the Resurrection of the body; they taught that it was Simon of Cyrene who was crucified in Jesus' place and that Jesus returned to His Father without having suffered the Passion. Think about it. If Jesus did not die for our sins then we are not redeemed, and all is lost. We believe that our sins died on that Cross with Jesus.
Basilidians believed in magic. These heretics denied the possibility of miraculous intervention of the Divine, but relied on sorcery and magic. Were they not saying that God has no power, but that evil (or Satan) has?
The Church fights back!
The lambs are about to be led to slaughter again, and the Lord sends forth a mighty warrior to fight another one of the Church's battles: St. Irenaeus was born around 140 A.D., probably in the area of Smyrna. He definitely came from Asia Minor. He was taught by St. Polycarp, another early father of the Church. St. Irenaeus became a bishop around 177 A.D., at the age of 37, after his predecessor, St. Pothinus, died a martyr's death. His outstanding life was marked by untiring defense of the Church and her teachings, as well as his dedicated role as a peacemaker.
St. Irenaeus wrote to a priest who was preaching heresy; and cautioned him that his teachings were not only unsound, but were so deadly that not even heretics outside of the Church would dare to espouse them. He chastised him, stressing the seriousness of leading the innocent into error.
St. Irenaeus, like other early fathers, faithfully taught as the Apostles before him, never putting himself above the instruction passed down by his teacher St. Polycarp. He stressed that all must be taught according to the tenets of the Church and that we were to proclaim, with one heart and one soul, as the Lord's one Mystical Body, one Truth as passed down by Jesus and by those He had chosen to teach His Church. Although the Church is spread over all the earth, among people of different races and tongues, we are all to speak with one voice, that of the Roman Catholic Church. Although each nation who belonged to the Catholic Church had different cultures, unique to their own country, the tradition of the Catholic Church is universal, one and the same for the entire Catholic world.
Basilides disputed the Divinity of God as well as the humanity of Jesus. St. Irenaeus answered: No one, not even the Angels, had access to the mystery of how our Lord Jesus came to be from the Father, except the Father and the Son. As someone once said, when you understand the Lord, you have lost Him.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Saints Peter and Paul

That's what happened when we went to the Church of St. Paul Outside the Walls, in Rome. Paul was martyred in this area. After the Church was legitimized by Constantine, his bones were brought back to this spot, to be his final resting place. When we walked through the gates of the courtyard, a formidable statue of St. Paul loomed high above us. He wielded a huge sword ; he stared deep into our souls. He was so strong! We asked our guide why he was buried outside the city walls. The guide raised himself to his full five feet, two inches, and proclaimed, "It was his right as a Roman citizen, Signor. The Christians were fed to the lions in the Colosseum during the persecution. But Paul was allowed to die outside the city walls with dignity, as was his birthright." That didn't make any sense. He was a Pharisee from the Holy Land, as best we knew. He was converted in Damascus, knocked down off his high horse, so to speak. How did he get to be a Roman citizen?
Then we went to the Mamertine Prison in Rome. This was Paul's home prior to his death. We walked down, deep into the dark, damp hole of the cave, There was a dim light from a bare 30 watt bulb, dangling from the ceiling. An exhaust fan made a feeble attempt to suck out the foul-smelling, humid air, which permeated the prison. It was damp and gloomy, a very depressing scene. And that was now, in the twentieth century! We could not begin to imagine how it had been when Paul was imprisoned here. Our priest was well-versed in Scripture, and the historical background of the Gospel. He shared with us the ending of Paul's letter to the Philippians. He shared Paul's last testimony to Timothy. They are the most touching, uplifting, beautiful letters Paul wrote. And they were written here, in the stinking bowels of the earth. We had never known much about this pioneer and martyr for our Faith, but here in this cell, we came to love him very much.
That's how they get you, these Saints. You ask a little question; you discover something that doesn't quite fit in, and the next thing you know, you're deeply engrossed in the life of the Saint. This is how we began to learn about Paul. We didn't do it to share with anyone. We were in love with Church. This man was our Church! We had to know more about him. Who was he? What made him turn so completely towards Jesus and the Gospel message, at the height of his persecution of the Church? We know now, why the Lord gave us the gift of being able to search out and study this man. Jesus wants us to know about those who struggled and died for us; He wants us to be proud of our ancestors, and never forget them! He wants us to follow in their footsteps. On that note, we invite you to join us as we share the life of one of the most powerful men our Church has ever known, St. Paul the Apostle.

Paul was born in Tarsus, a port city in the southeastern part of Turkey. He was from a Jewish family, who traced their roots back to the tribe of Benjamin. This Jewish community had been sent to Tarsus during the Diaspora . Pompey had made Tarsus the capital of the province of Cilicia. Mark Anthony gave the people of Tarsus freedom, immunity, and the right to become Roman citizens, which accounts for Paul's reference to, and pride in, his Roman citizenship. He invoked his rights as a Roman citizen many times during his ministry to get out of some serious scrapes with the Jews.
Paul was originally named Saul, after the first king of the Jews. But the Jews in Tarsus had assimilated so greatly with the Romans that he was probably given the Roman equivalent of Saul, which is Paul, at birth. He was called Paul in public, and Saul among Jewish gatherings. It was not unusual for Jews who had integrated into foreign cultures to take on a Hebrew name, and an ethnic name. He grew up under two cultures, that of his Hebrew ancestors, and the Greco-Roman customs of his adopted country. He was greatly influenced by the Greek background; Greek was a second language to him; he studied Greek philosophers.
Nothing is certain as to when he came to Jerusalem. His whole family moved there when he was a young man. The year 30 A.D. is as good a barometer as it gets. Scripture scholars claim there was little possibility that he ever saw Jesus during His lifetime. There are others who believe that, while he may never have spoken to the Lord, he may have seen Him before His death. Remember, they really frequented the same circles. They were at different ends of the spectrum, but they were both religious men.
Paul was a Pharisee. He studied under Gamaliel for three or four years. This would have been during the time of Jesus' ministry, 30 to 33 AD. Jesus became very prominent after the arrest and murder of John the Baptist, probably about a year or so into His ministry. The temple area of Jerusalem was always abuzz with rumors about this new Prophet. The personality of Paul was that of a zealot, a nosy body, who had to know everything that was going on, all the time. Also, he was a defender of the Jewish law, which he believed Jesus was breaking. Paul would have agreed with those who considered Jesus a blasphemer and lawbreaker, who should be dealt with accordingly.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan

The Hebrews had waited five thousand years for the fulfillment of the promise made by God in the Garden of Eden, to come about. The history of these chosen ones of God had been one of great joy and great suffering, mostly suffering, and they couldn’t wait for another David to come along and free them from their most recent enemies and captors, the Romans. They ran to every claimed messiah who preached to them, hoping against hope that each one would finally be the one. John the Baptist came upon the scene, out in the desert. They were hoping that he was the one who would deliver them from their enemies. But he was not the one. As we read in John’s gospel, “There was a man, one sent from God, whose name was John. This man came as a witness, to bear witness concerning the light, that all might believe through him. He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light. (Jn 1: 6-8)”The Fulfillment of the PromiseThis is why Our Holy Father wanted to begin these Mysteries of Light with this, the great light from Heaven. God had made a promise to the children of Israel in the garden of Eden. He prophesied the coming of a Redeemer when he spoke to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel (Gn 3:15).” The Israelites waited. God became angry with man, and destroyed mankind, all but Noah and his family. Then God renewed His covenant with man through Noah. The Israelites continued to wait for the promised Messiah.And then came John the Baptist. The Israelites were sure he was the Christ. “The people were full of anticipation, wondering in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all by saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but there is one to come who is mightier than I. I am not fit to loosen His sandal strap. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire. (Lk 3:15)”In John’s Gospel, he added a phrase. They sent their emissaries out to the desert to ask him. Was he the Christ? No. Was he Elijah, coming back to save them? He told them he was not, but he prophesied about the One who would come. Then he said, “I baptize with water. There is one among you whom you do not recognize - the one who is to come after me - the strap of whose sandal I am, not worthy to unfasten. (Jn 1: 26-28) “ John reveals that the one to come was already among them.And then Jesus came onto the scene. God the Father had set the stage. Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized. John saw Him and proclaimed, “‘I should be baptized by You, yet You come to me!”’“But Jesus answered and said to him ‘Give in for now. We must do this, if we would fulfill all of God’s demands’ (Mt 3:13).” Now all three synoptic Gospel writers, as well as St. John, mention the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. But St. Matthew is the only one who uses the above phrase as justification for Jesus to be baptized by John. Jesus was not subject to John’s baptism, as his baptism was for repentance of sins, and the Church teaches us that Jesus was without sin. But He followed the law. He was always obedient to the law. And God rewarded Him.Scripture tells us, “After Jesus was baptized, He came directly out of the water . Suddenly the sky opened and He saw the Spirit of God descend like a dove and hover over Him. With that, a voice from the Heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son. My favor rests on Him.’” (Mt 3: 16-17)The skies opened; light poured down from Heaven. The public ministry of Jesus, the light of the world had begun. St. John tells us that it was at this time that John the Baptist realized that Jesus was the Messiah. He knew He was special; perhaps He was Elijah or one of the prophets. This would have made the following statement more understandable, “The next day, when John caught sight of Jesus coming toward him, he exclaimed: ‘Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! It is He of whom I said: ‘After me is to come a man who ranks ahead of me, because He was before me.’”(Jn 1: 29-30 )John the Baptist’s final statement at the Jordan River affirmed that which he had been instructed. “But I did not recognize Him. The one who sent me to baptize with water, told me, ‘When you see the Spirit descend and rest on someone, it is He who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen for myself and have testified ‘This is God’s chosen One.’”(Jn 1:33)Family, John the Baptist was fulfilling prophecies that were given to us down through the ages from Moses, who told his people “A prophet like me will the Lord your God raise up for you from among your kinsmen; to him you shall listen (Dt 18:15) and “And the Lord said to me, ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsman, and will put My words into his mouth, and they will listen to him. (Dt 18:18). This passage refers to John the Baptist, who would herald the coming of the great Light. Also, the Catholic Catechism (Page 190 # 719) teaches us about “the voice of the Consoler, who is coming. “John the Baptist is “more than a prophet (Lk 7:26)” In him the Holy Spirit concludes His speaking through the prophets. John completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah (cf Mt 11:13-14). He proclaims the imminence of the consolation of Israel; he is the “voice” of the Consoler, who is coming (Isaiah 40:13).After all those years of waiting for the fulfillment of the promise, first given in the garden of Eden, then reiterated to Noah after the Flood, again given to us by Moses, Isaiah and all the prophets, it was about to become a reality.A great light shone down from Heaven. God looked down on His people and had mercy on them. He had made a promise; He was about to deliver on that promise. Jesus began His Ministry at the Jordan River with the Baptism of John the Baptist. Prophecy had been fulfilled. Through the life and sacrifice of Jesus, Redemption would be accomplished; the gates of Heaven would be opened. It is fitting that the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, would begin the Mysteries of the Public Ministry of Jesus with this, the beginning of His Public Life. Praise God.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Saints Thomas More and John Fisher

Saint Thomas More - Martyr (1478-1535)
God was to raise up two Thomases in England, one who would give his life to stave off royal aggression against the Church for three hundred and fifty years, only to see that aggression rise again and require another Thomas' Martyr's blood to try to save the faithful children of God from separation from their and His Church. It would seem, for the foolish, it was in vain, the second time. But, as we see whole congregations, with their pastors, coming back home
to the Roman Catholic Church, we cry out:
Martyrs of God, rest in Peace, the Cross is coming together. Division is at an end! Alleluia!
Both Thomases: Thomas Becket and Thomas More were Chancellors; each loved God more than his earthly king. There are many parallels. They just take place at a different time in Church and World History. Thomas Becket was born between the twelfth century and the turbulent tide of the Renaissance! Thomas More was born during a time of deceptive, devastating Revolution (erroneously called the Reformation), with protest, politics and disobedience. Thomas Becket was a churchman; Thomas More a layman. God would use these two loyal sons of the Church.
Thomas More was born February 6, 1478. His father was a lawyer and judge. He fared so well in school, at age thirteen, he was sent to Oxford where he entered Canterbury College. Thomas' father was strict with him, giving him money only for the merest necessities. Although, I am sure, the young Thomas was not too happy with this discipline and austerity, it served him well, as he matured. Thomas did very well at the university, but after two years, his father called him home. He studied for the next five years and in 1501 was admitted to the bar. He, three short years later, entered Parliament. He was brilliant, successful and popular.
This did not seem to satisfy him, though. He felt drawn to the life of the Carthusian Monks. He even thought of becoming a Friar Minor of the order of St. Francis. But he could not hear the Lord calling him to either the monastic life or to the secular Priesthood. He ardently loved the Priesthood. But he wanted to be sure, he would not be anything but faithful to God in whatever vocation He called him to. He said, to be an unworthy Priest was the last thing he would ever desire. In 1505, he married.
He was highly regarded as a man of the world, but he had none of that contempt for ascetism that was so prevalent in the Renaissance. From the time he was eighteen years old, he wore a hairshirt, used the discipline on fridays, assisted at Daily Mass and recited the Little Office every day. His controversial friend Erasmus said of him that he never knew anyone so indifferent to food.
Thomas married Jane Colt, the eldest daughter, although he was attracted to her younger sister. But because he knew, it would bring grief and shame to Jane, if her younger sister married first, he married her. He was never sorry for his choice and loved his wife dearly. They had four children. Their home was a place filled with people of learning and accomplishment. It would appear it was only for the elite or the Highbrow. But that was not the case. He, his family and all their servants prayed together each night, before retiring. They all ate together at mealtime and heard Holy Scripture read and explained. They all shared on the Word, and what it meant in their lives. Thomas had a profound sense of humor. His home was a place of joy and fun, but he did not allow card-playing or rolling dice.
He bequeathed a Chapel to his Parish Church and even after he became Chancellor, he sang in the choir, wearing a surplice, like the other members of the choir. Whenever there was a woman in labor, whether in his home or in the village, More would begin praying and would not stop, until someone arrived telling him that she had successfully given birth. He would visit the poorest of the poor, taking the alleys, less he be detected. He was truly a living example of the Gospel which tells us to not let our deeds be known in the light of day.
He often invited his poorer neighbors to dine with him and his family. He rarely invited the rich and most never the nobility. Now this did not preclude him from inviting great minds, or Martyrs-to-be like John Fisher or controversial figures like Erasmus. St. Thomas More defended his friendship with Erasmus: He did not find the "shrewd intent and purpose" he found in Tyndale. He said that rather, he found that "Erasmus detested and abhorred the errors and heresies that Tyndale plainly taught and abided by". And because of this, he said, Erasmus was his friend, still. But, as we will see later on, if he had not truly believed this, if he thought that Erasmus had gone against the Church, More would have defended the Church against him, as he would against King Henry VIII.
More's idyllic life soon came to a crashing end. His wife Jane died, leaving him with four small children. He remarried within a few weeks, a lady seven years his elder, a good housewife, with lots of good common sense, someone he could trust with his children. Although she could not take the place of his love - his Jane, their life was a good one.
Having heard of him, King Henry VIII and his Cardinal Wolsey, one of the most important men in the realm, were determined to have More's services at court. Thomas More was not too enthusiastic about it. Although he was not diametrically opposed to the position, he was not looking forward to being in Court with the King and his entourage, stating that the "good life" was definitely not there. But he obeyed his sovereign and was so well accepted and trusted, he, after many advancements, became Lord Chancellor, replacing the now disgraced Wolsey.
More's advice was held in high regard; he proved himself an able and prudent judge in deep and important matters that would arise at court. He was able to see both sides of a question and tried to satisfy both sides, but never by compromising his values. He was considered by all "a gentleman of great learning in law, art and divinity, as good a courtier as a Christian man and saint can be, and that does not mean that he was not a very good one."
King Henry was very fond of St. Thomas More and this affection was shared by Thomas for his King. But he had no illusions about his King. Now, when Thomas More was appointed Chancellor, he had been busy writing against Protestantism, particularly in rebuttal to Tyndale and his writings. Thomas More's attitude toward heretics was moderate, hating the heresy but not the heretics. He was very cautious about the laity reading the Bible in the vernacular, as he judged, it could lead to misinterpretation. He strongly advised no such books be read without the Ordinary's approval.

St. John Fisher - Cardinal and Martyr (1469-1535)
We are in the year 1469. The Church would be attacked brutally, once again, and God would raise up Saints who would defend the Church and shed their blood, if need be. John Fisher was to be one of those Saints. He was born into a poor family. He lost his father when he was very young; yet he entered Cambridge University at the age of fourteen.
He was a fine scholar, excelling in school. So outstanding were his accomplishments, he was ordained a Priest, by special permission, when he was merely twenty-two years old.
King Henry VII was king. His mother met John Fisher and when she soon became aware of his piety and wisdom, she chose him to be her spiritual director. Through John Fisher's influence, the King's mother spent her remaining years dedicating her life to God. She encouraged students eager to learn. She used her wealth to help them financially, as well. Through him, she also became patroness of Cambridge University.
In 1504, John Fisher was elected Chancellor of Cambridge. His great works and pastoring skills came to the attention of King Henry VII who recommended he be ordained a Bishop. He was only 35 years old. Now, John Fisher did not want to take on this added responsibility, fearing it would take away from his commitment to Cambridge. But we have an expression "Doers do". If you want a job done, call on someone who is busy. John Fisher never neglected his duties at Cambridge and yet spiritually ministered to his diocese tirelessly and wisely. Neither of his appointed tasks suffered because of the other. When Luther and his schismatic doctrines were infiltrating London and the universities, John Fisher wrote many volumes successfully refuting Luther's heresies. His books were the first published defending the Church against Luther's attack on the Faith.
When King Henry VII and his mother died, St. John Fisher sadly preached at their funeral Masses. With King Henry VII's death, King Henry the VIII became the new monarch. He recognized the outstanding qualities his mother and brother had experienced and he proclaimed John Fisher the finest prelate to be found in any kingdom in the world!
Upon his brother's death, King Henry the VIII married his brother's widow - Catherine of Aragon, taking her as his first wife. Everything went well, until she made the fatal mistake of giving birth to a daughter (who would later become Queen Mary I). This became a giant problem! She had not given the King a son! Out she goes! He decided to divorce her and take a new wife, Anne Boleyn. The Pope refused the King's request to have the marriage nullified, and King Henry VIII left the Church and began his own church, The Church of England. Now, he would be free to marry Anne Boleyn, and he would have the male heir he desired.
John Fisher was chosen to defend Catherine. He stood before the court and ably presented the argument that the marriage was valid and could not be nullified by any power, human or divine. He gave St. John the Baptist as an example, who had been beheaded because he had come against King Herod who had defiled the sanctity of marriage. When this reached the King, he became furious! The case went to Rome. John Fisher no longer had any connection with it.
You would think that would be the end of it, wouldn't you? After all, John Fisher had done all he could to stop the King from sinning against God and His Church! He had defended the Sacrament of Matrimony! But now, the next step, Our Lord would call him to, was to defend the rights of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Pope. In order for his subjects to accept him and his new Church, the King knew he had to have the clergy behind him. After all, to the people, they were their teachers and were respected as the faithful passers down of the Lord's Word and Church. King Henry issued a decree forcing his Priests to pledge loyalty to the Church of England and to King Henry as the rightful head of the Church. John Fisher denounced the courts that were passing down these dictates from the King. He could not stand silent while the King and his courts denied the Roman Catholic Church as the true Church and the Pope as the rightful head of the Church. As a member of the House of Lords, he denounced the measures that were being instituted against the clergy down through the Commons, loudly crying out: "It is nothing but `Down with the Church!'"
He persistently denied the King's claim as head of the Church in England. His friends tried to warn him to back off, a little. He couldn't! Twice he was imprisoned; they tried to poison him; he was shot at through his window in his study. They even tried to smear his name.
Things never stand still. Bishop Fisher was summoned to appear at a meeting concerning a bill which would declare that children resulting from the King's marriage to Anne Boleyn would be rightful successors to the throne of England after his death. Although so ill he fainted on the way to the meeting, Bishop Fisher attended. It would have been a valid excuse to not go, and probably save his life. Because, with every motion against the wishes of the King, he was driving another nail into his coffin. Now, like Saint Thomas More, John Fisher did not object to the succession in itself. But unlike the other Bishops of England, he refused to take the oath, as it declared recognition of King Henry as supreme head of the Church. He did not condemn his fellow Bishops for taking the oath, saying: "Their conscience will save them, and mine must save me."
The King removed him as Bishop and had John Fisher imprisoned in the Tower of London, on April 26th, 1534. On May 21st of the following year, Pope Paul III raised him to Cardinal. This infuriated King Henry and hastened the end of John Fisher. Furiously, he barked: "Let the Pope send him a hat. I will make sure that when it comes, they will have to place it on his shoulders, as he will no longer have a head to set it on." On June the 17th, he was brought before thirteen commissioners and a jury of freeholders. The physical abuse showed tragically on his entire body. He looked closer to eighty-six than his sixty-six years. His health, already weakened by his austere life, had seriously deteriorated during his stay in the Tower of London. But that did not stop him from being his cheerful self, as his indictment was read. There was a peace that emanated from him, his eyes glowed as he appeared to be looking beyond them to his Source of true Peace, his Lord.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga - Feast Day June 21

The journey begins; Aloysius is on his way
Each day was filled with hope, only to end with disappointment. One day, his father would give his consent; the next day he would take it back. This went on and on, until the emperor sent a delegation with his edict that the rite of succession to the seat of the Marquis of Castiglione had been transferred to Aloysius' brother Ridolfo. Finally realizing all opposition was futile, his father gave his consent. At last, his parents having blessed him, Aloysius departed for Rome and his dream.
On November 25, 1585, Aloysius now eighteen years old, at last entered the Jesuit Novitiate House of Sant' Andrea. Settled in his tiny cell, he could be heard ecstatically exclaiming, "This is my rest forever and ever; here I dwell, for I have chosen it." Six weeks passed when his joy was turned to grief mixed with bliss. His father died, but not before having completely turned his life around; he called for a priest and was given the Last Rites of the Church. His eldest son had relinquished all rights to fame and position, acclaim in this world, for service to His Heavenly King and life eternal in His Heavenly Kingdom. Aloysius had refused a golden crown on earth and God gave him the most precious crown adorned with priceless stones and diamonds, the souls (including his father's) saved through his sacrifice and example.
[In the ministry, we have found that every time we are called to sacrifice, the Lord blesses us equal to, if not more than the magnitude of the sacrifice.]
The sign of a Saint is not the gifts bestowed upon him: gifts like bilocation, ecstasy, the stigmata, reading men's souls, heavenly fragrance and others; they are simply gifts from the Lord. It is the living out of a virtuous life, in keeping with one's vocation. One of the greatest signs of sainthood is obedience! You will find it in the lives of all the Saints.
Aloysius' biographers say that there is not much known about how he spent the two years following his entrance into the Novitiate, except, and that's a big except, he obeyed, even when he found it a hardship. His superiors were keenly aware of his frail health. In an attempt to strengthen him, and restore him to good health, they required that he have some sort of recreation. He was to curb his fasting and eat more than he had at home. And most trying of all, he was to try to think of things which would divert his attention from the deeply spiritual. They hoped, in this way to prevent him from going into ecstasy. He was forbidden to pray or meditate, except at designated times. This act of obedience, training his mind to refrain from dwelling on the Treasures of Heaven, was the most difficult for Aloysius; his heart was already there, his eyes focused on what lay ahead for him with the Father.
Now, think about it; he joined the Novitiate to live a life centered on the Lord and future life with Him, and he has to limit his thinking of Him? It doesn't sound logical. It is super logical or Divine. By this sacrifice, was God asking him to be there to do His Will, and to die to Aloysius' will? How would Aloysius know his Father's Will? Obey his superiors, even when he was not in agreement, especially when he was not in agreement. In studying the lives of the Saints, we find God telling them that by obeying their superiors they were doing His Will.
[When someone applies for entrance into the ministry, we ask why they want to enter. If they say they have come because they want to do God's Will, we can be pretty sure they will stay. If instead, they have a pre-existing notion or agenda, the Lord will blow them out of the ministry.]
Aloysius made every action a prayer! Coming from the aristocracy, he was fully aware he was not proficient in physical labor of any kind. He had been trained to be a knight, not a peasant. But this is what he chose to do! The more humble the assignment, the more subservient the job, the more physically and demeaning the work, the happier he was. As with Saints Anthony of Padua and Teresa of Avila, he found God among the pots and pans; he loved to work in the kitchen washing dishes and cleaning up after others around the novitiate. He genuinely performed all the servile duties allowed him, with excitement. What the world judged menial, he found meaningful.
He was at a Novitiate in Milan, when one day, as he was praying, he had a vision revealing he would not be on earth much longer. This filled his Heart with unfathomable joy, and from that time he had only one vision, to prepare for things Above, not below. He more and more separated himself from the distractions of the world. His superiors saw his health getting progressively worse, his strength ebbing out of him, draining him. The weather in Milan tended to be harsh in the winter. In Rome, the climate was temperate, and consequently more agreeable to his health.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Saint Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua
Finder of the Lost

There has always been an Anthony in my life. Even before I knew who Saint Anthony was, and what part he would play in my life, there was an Anthony in my life. You see, my middle brother's name is Anthony, and although six years older than I, his job was to take care of baby sister. He grumbled a lot at having to drag the pest along with him and his friends, but he did. When I could not keep up with his long legs, he carried me on his shoulders. We fought, as brothers and sisters do, but do not let anyone else try to hurt me; I could always rely on my older brother to defend me. As I grew into a teen-ager he became my advisor to the lovelorn. I didn't always welcome his counsel, but darn him, he was always right!
We each married and moved miles apart. But the Anthony of my intimate family was to be replaced, as an instrument, by another Anthony. Our precious son died, and we died along with him. We turned off God and His Church, and although we didn't know it, Bob and I were on the way to turning each other off as well, when St. Anthony came into our life.
The St. Anthony who appeared in our life, after almost four years of us not asking anything of St. Anthony, or Jesus or any other member of our Heavenly family, was a curly-haired Sicilian-American. This Anthony persisted and persisted until he led us to Marriage Encounter and new life in Jesus and the Church. Even the Seminary at the old Mission in Santa Barbara, California, where we went for our Marriage Encounter week-end, was called, right again, St. Anthony's.
Of course, I was completely unaware, at the time that St. Anthony was interceding in my life. But that doesn't stop Jesus, His Mother or any of His Saints from consistently helping us. The pieces finally started to come together, when the fool (that's me) began to grow up. As we learned more about this wonderful, exciting Faith of ours, I began to realize St. Anthony was not merely a statue my grandmother had on her altar, in our bedroom. He was not solely someone you prayed to find lost items or a husband. I wanted to know more about this special man, this St. Anthony, and so, the search began.
Who is St. Anthony?
In the United States, he has been given the obscure title of "Finder of Lost Articles." Whenever we lose something, we ask St. Anthony to find it for us and, more times than not, he answers our prayers.
The St. Anthony, I had known over the years, is probably the one you know, as well. There was nothing I misplaced, I couldn't ask him to find for me that he didn't. One time, in Padua when I shame-facedly admitted turning to St. Anthony to find lost objects, a Franciscan reassured me, saying,
"Oh, St. Anthony doesn't mind. As a matter of fact, he likes to be part of your everyday life. You see, as you are calling him to ask him to find something, he really is taking you by the hand and leading you to Jesus."
This is not unlike the way St. Anthony lived his life. He was a brilliant man, but for most of his life, he chose to live an obscure life, a humble life. And because of this, no one knew who he was.
He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. There are 33 Doctors of the Church. In the 2,000 years since the Church was instituted, out of its millions of holy people, and thousands of canonized Saints, only 33 have been given the honor of this title. We have written about 15 of them thus far. The Saint, we pray to for lost objects, is one of these honored people. But until the Lord decided to put St. Anthony into active ministry, he was a dishwasher and confessor to Franciscan hermits. No one had any idea what the Lord had locked up in the mind and heart of this great Saint.
Son of Italy, his beginnings in Portugal
Sts. Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena are the co-patron Saints of Italy. This is in no way, to belittle them or the place they hold in the hearts of Italians and Catholics, as a whole; but the Saint's statue, seen in every store, car or apartment, is that of St. Anthony of Padua, or as he is affectionately called, "Il Santo."
Of course, the Portuguese would give them an argument; they call him St. Anthony of Lisbon, just because he was born there and lived there most of his life. Oh well!
This towering yet humble Saint is loved throughout the world by Catholics and non-catholics, including many Jewish people, as well. But, he is not really known for the fullness of who he was and is to us, the Church. Although, we believe this is really how he would like it, with all due respect to him and his wishes, we must nevertheless endeavor to share some of the discoveries we have made. This is not to further honor him, as he needs no added acclaim, but to encourage others to follow in his footsteps on their journey to Jesus.
Whenever our Church is in danger, and it looks like all the principalities of hell are about to level her, the Lord calls forth a Saint or two.
St. Anthony was born into a time of oppression: Portugal and much of Europe had been under Muslim domination for centuries. For over one hundred years, Portugal had been trying to liberate itself from its invaders. Piece by piece, pain upon pain, inch by inch their land was being reclaimed for Christ and His Church. Brave knights, many of them Crusaders, settled in Lisbon, after having fought courageously to oust the Saracens (or Muslims). St. Anthony was born of one of these knights, Martino. We are told in the most authentic biographies of the Saint, he came from a powerful family of the nobility.
St. Anthony was born on the Feast of The Assumption of Mary into Heaven, August the 15th, 1195. All his life, he was strongly devoted to our Lady and Her Assumption into Heaven. As he staunchly defended the Son, he championed the Son's Mother, as well. Show me a Saint and I'll show you Mary in his life.
His baptismal name was Fernando, which means bold in peace, and that he was, to the end of his life here on earth.
His religious education began where the most meaningful learning begins, from his parents. He not only inherited worldly wealth from his family, but a treasure that would hold him in holy stead the rest of his life, a heritage of the Faith that no one could ever take from him.
Although, there is little information about St. Anthony's youth, there are legends that have followed him, filling in the blank pages, for almost 800 years. One of these legends takes place when Fernando was quite young.
His father Martino and Fernando loved to go to their farm on the outskirts of town. One day, Martino took his son with him to see if their crop was ready to harvest. Summer was here; God was good and the crop was ready! There was only one problem; the greedy sparrows had their eyes and bills on the crop, as well. Martino would have to get help from the neighbors, if he was to prevent the winged enemy from pecking away his entire harvest before he could gather it. He delegated the task of keeping the thieving birds away, to Fernando, until he returned.
Fernando began running up and down the hills, shooing away the birds, before his father disappeared from sight. But soon, his little legs tired. Not far off, a small country church was calling to him, inviting him inside to pray. The little boy, torn between his duty to his father and his desire to pray, kept running toward the church and back toward the hills. Finally, he had an idea! He called to the sparrows to come with him. He led them into a large room, in the house, and locked the door and windows behind them. The little boy, Fernando, went peacefully and joyfully to spend time with the Lord, he could feel present in the church, even at this young age.
His father, upon returning and not being able to find his son, became frantic. Combing every inch of the hillside, as a last resort, he thought to look in the church. There was Fernando deep in prayer! Before his father could scold him, Fernando took his father's hand and led him into the house. As they opened the door, the singing prisoners flew out to freedom and the crop.
As a priest, the older Fernando, later said, "The waves of the sea, when they hit a rock, break, and the tempest of temptation which hurts you will break if it finds you united to Christ." Was this in memory of something that happened when he was still a boy? One day after Mass, Fernando, having stayed behind to pray, felt something stirring inside the church. He looked up toward the choir-loft; he saw a face so hideous, it made him tremble uncontrollably. It was the face of Satan; he was going to stop the boy from praying, if he had to scare him to death.
Fernando could no longer pray; he was frozen, paralyzed with fear. With all the strength he could muster, he traced a cross on the floor. As quickly as he had appeared, the vision disappeared. Tears of joy welled up in the little boy's eyes; the Lord, his Shepherd had frightened Satan away. The only sign of the encounter was the cross which remained on the floor.
Fernando and the Call to Arms
Although their land was reclaimed from the Saracens, real peace had not returned to Portugal Fernando's father, advised his son to pursue the call to arms. With other young men of his station, Fernando developed an agile and strong body, a courageous spirit, and a boldness to do right, no matter the cost. Even though he and his father thought this was for the defense of country, we will see how God will use this training for defense of His Church.
Although very handsome and well accepted by his friends, at fifteen years old, Fernando began to feel an emptiness in his life. He had been in readiness for the eventuality of battle. At first, he found that exciting, but even that did not fill the void. All around him, his friends and companions were busying themselves with an idle life. Allures of the world were dominating and contaminating their minds, absorbing them with a need for more and more wealth. Self-love was consuming them. Pride, the "I" did this and the "I" did that, was blinding them. As a man, he later wrote,"...the heart before engaging in luxury, emerges in pride which is the beginning of all sins."
The world was also tempting him with good: attachments and concerns tugging at him, pulling him apart. His country and family needed him (chivalry). Why couldn't he marry and have a family (pure love)? There was nothing wrong with all the world was offering; then why did he see it as flawed and lifeless?
The young cavalier felt more and more stifled by the life around him. Fernando later describes his struggle between the world and the Kingdom,
"If you do not resist the evil of luxury, at the end even the things which appear good will perish."
We often see a statue or painting of St. Anthony holding a lily, a sign of purity. This purity, like with St. Francis, was an ongoing war that could only be won with strict discipline and hard struggle, over many years. As he found himself being called more and more to the priesthood, he had to fight, not only his parents' dreams for him to take over the family estates and give them grandchildren, but the lure of ambition, his desire to amount to something. Only the whisper in his heart, that gentle tugging at his spirit, kept him on the road to the Lord and the priesthood.
The above article is an excerpt from the Chapter on St. Anthony of Padua in our book, "Saints and Other Powerful Men in the Church. For more information click here.