Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

Today’s readings

Saint Ignatius was all set to accomplish great things in the military when his leg was badly injured by a canon ball. As he was convalescing, he asked for romantic novels to read. But nothing like that was available, so he had to settle for books on the life of Christ and the lives of the saints. Reading them, he noticed that those books made him feel differently than the romance novels he was used to. He noted that the pleasure those books provided was fleeting, but that the joy he felt in reading the spiritual books stayed with him, and so he pursued the Christian life and began a process of conversion.

During this time of conversion, he began to write things down, and these writings served for a later work, his greatest work, the Spiritual Exercises. These Exercises became the basis for the Society of Jesus, which he formed with six others to live a life of poverty and chastity and apostolic work for the pope. This was accepted by Pope Paul III and Ignatius was elected its first general. Ignatius’s motto was Ad majorem Dei gloria: All for the glory of God. His Spiritual Exercises have become a spiritual classic and have provided the basis rule for other religious orders over time.

Ignatius’s major contribution to the spiritual life is probably his principles of discernment, which help people of faith to know God’s will in their lives. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus helps the disciples discern the meaning of the parable of the weeds growing in the wheat field.  He shows how important it is for our spiritual journeys to know what things are of God and what things are of the evil one. We are called to discern the presence of the Kingdom of God from among the ordinary stuff of our lives. May God grant us, through the intercession of Saint Ignatius, the discernment to do just that.

Saint Thomas the Apostle

Today’s readings

You know, sometimes I think we don’t know what we believe until we’re called upon to explain it.  Especially for those of us who are “cradle Catholics” – the ones who were baptized Catholic and have grown up in the faith all our lives.  We often just accept the things the Church teaches, and never really stop to question them.  And that’s okay, but it’s also okay when we’re called upon to explain our beliefs, if we have to do a little research.  Because there’s always more to learn, and there is always more believing to be done!

“Do not be unbelieving, but believe” is what Jesus tells St. Thomas today.  He might as well say that to all of us.  Because we should never stop exploring our beliefs, never stop learning about our faith.  We’ll never know it all anyway – at least not on this side of heaven.  On that great day when everything is revealed, things will be different, but until then, we have to renew that call to “not be unbelieving, but believe!”

I once had a couple preparing for marriage in my office.  The bride was not Catholic, but they are preparing to have their wedding in the Catholic Church, so they of course were going through our marriage preparation program.  The groom remarked when we met that day that “this might sound bad, but I’ve been learning more about the faith in explaining it to her.”  I told him that didn’t sound bad at all, and that moments like that are an opportunity for us to grow in faith.  So many spouses of people going through RCIA have said the same thing: they learn as much as their non-Catholic spouse when the attend RCIA with them.  Learning about our faith is a life-long, joy-filled process.  Do not be unbelieving, but believe!

And so we are going to give poor Thomas the doubter a break today.  Because we all need to grow in our faith.  And what a wonderful invitation we have from our Lord: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe!”

Saint Irenaeus, bishop and martyr

When a person faces opposition from erroneous ideology, there is a difference between refutation or winning an argument and correction. It might even be fair to say that many people are up to the task of winning an argument, but it takes a saint to be content with correction. This subtle difference is one that Saint Irenaeus knew quite well.

Irenaeus was a student, well trained, no doubt, with great patience in investigating, tremendously protective of apostolic teaching, but prompted more by a desire to win over his opponents than to prove them in error. Irenaeus did major work in responding to the Gnostic heresy. Gnostics claimed access to secret knowledge imparted by Jesus to only a few disciples, and their teaching was attracting and confusing many Christians. After thoroughly investigating the various Gnostic sects and their “secret,” Irenaeus showed to what logical conclusions their tenets led. These he contrasted with the teaching of the apostles and the text of Holy Scripture, giving us, in five books, a system of theology of great importance to subsequent times. Moreover, his work, widely used and translated into Latin and Armenian in his day, gradually ended the influence of the Gnostics.

Saint Irenaeus was concerned with protecting the truth. But more than that, he was zealous about teaching the truth so that people would turn away from harmful errors. All of us are expected to stand up for the truth too, in our own way, among those people God has placed us. The simplest way to do that is to live the truth and to be people of integrity. Our witness goes a long way to teaching the truth and winning people over to the Gospel, which is way more important than simply proving others wrong and making them look foolish. Through the intercession of Saint Irenaeus, may we all gain many souls for the glory of the Kingdom of God.

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate a feast that is a bit unusual for us.  First of all, it’s a saint’s feast day, and saints’ days don’t usually take precedence over a Sunday celebration.  Secondly, whenever we do celebrate a saint’s day, it is usually celebrated on the feast of their death, not their birth.  But today we do gather to celebrate the birth of a saint, Saint John the Baptist, and the fact that we’re celebrating his birth and his day at all at this Sunday celebration points to the fact that St. John the Baptist had a very special role to play in the life of Christ.  In fact, the only other saint for whom we celebrate a birthday is the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that tells us something about how important John the Baptist is.

Just as for Jesus, we don’t know the precise day John the Baptist was born.  So the feast of their Nativities – their births – was a tradition developed by the early Church. The dates the Church selected are significant.  Jesus’ birthday was placed around the time of the winter solstice, mostly to counteract pagan festivals of the coming of winter.  John the Baptist’s birthday was then placed around the time of the summer solstice for similar reasons.  But there’s more to it even than that.  In the Gospel of John, there is a passage where John the Baptist says of himself and Jesus, “I must decrease, he must increase.”  So John’s birthday is placed at the time when the days start to become shorter, and Jesus’ birthday is placed at the time when the days start to become longer.  John the Baptist must decrease, Jesus must increase.

Today’s readings have a lot to do with who the prophet is.  Saint John the Baptist was the last prophet of the old order, and his mission was to herald the coming of Jesus Christ who is himself the new order.  Tradition holds that prophets were created for their mission, that their purpose was laid out while they were yet to be born.  Isaiah, one of the great prophets of the old order, tells us of his commissioning.  He says, “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”

So Isaiah was given his name while in his mother’s womb.  The same was true of St. John the Baptist, whose name was given to Zechariah and Elizabeth by the Angel Gabriel.  Names have meaning, especially the names of the prophets we encounter.  Isaiah means “The Lordis salvation,” which pretty much encompassed the meaning of Isaiah’s mission, proclaiming salvation to the Israelites who were oppressed in exile.  Jeremiah means “May the Lordexalt.”  The name given to the Baptist, John, means “God has shown favor.”  And that was in fact the message of his life.  He came to pave the way for Jesus Christ, who was the favor of God shown to the whole human race.

The point is, these men were created for their prophetic calling.  That’s true for us too.  All of us who have been baptized have a prophetic calling that came before we were ever born.  God created us for something special.  He created us to be with him, he created us to follow him, he created us to draw other people to him.  This means that, according to our abilities, our vocation and station in life, we were meant to serve God in some way that God might be glorified and that others may come to know him.

We live in a society that is all about protecting and promoting ourselves.  Saint John the Baptist would have us promote Jesus instead.  That’s what he was about.  As it was for him, so it is for us: we must decrease, Jesus must increase.

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

Today’s readings

St. Aloysius Gonzaga was a well-connected young man who lived during the Renaissance. His father longed for him to become a military hero, and brought him up in the court society. But Aloysius was affected from an early age by a desire to become one with God, and often practiced great penance and asceticism. By age eleven, he was teaching catechism to poor children, and fasting three times a week. I don’t really remember what I was doing at age eleven, but I know my piety was not nearly as advanced as Aloysius! He eventually decided he would like to join the Jesuits, but had to wage a four-year battle with his father, who eventually relented and let him forsake his right to succession and join the novitiate.

Sometimes our plans, for ourselves or for others, are far different than the plans God has.  I always tell people that if you really want to be happy with your life, you have to do what God wants you to do, whatever that is.  That takes a lot of discernment, and that can take time.  But if we’re ever going to mean what we pray in the Lord’s prayer: “thy will be done,” then we have to be serious about discernment. You don’t know the answer until you ask the question.  And when we all have that happiness that comes from aligning our will with God’s then, I truly believe, his kingdom will come.

Saint Barnabas, Apostle

Today’s readings

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”

Saint Barnabas, a Jew of Cyprus, was not one of the original Twelve, but is honored as an apostle because of his work of evangelization in the early Church.  He was closely associated with Saint Paul (he introduced Paul to Peter and the other apostles) and served as a kind of mediator between Paul, formerly a persecutor of Christians, and the still suspicious Jewish Christians.

When a Christian community developed at Antioch, Barnabas was sent as the official representative of the Church of Jerusalem to incorporate them into the fold.  He and Paul taught in Antioch for a year, after which they took relief contributions to Jerusalem.

We see in today’s first reading that Saints Paul and Barnabas had become accepted in the community as charismatic leaders who led many to convert to Christianity.  The Holy Spirit set them apart for Apostolic work and blessed their efforts with great success.

Above all, these men hungered and thirsted for righteousness, a righteousness not based on the law or any merely human precept, but instead on a right relationship with God.  Just as they led many people then to that kind of relationship with God through their words and actions, so their witness calls us to follow that same kind of right relationship today.

As we celebrate the Eucharist today, we might follow their call to righteousness by examining our lives in light of the Beatitudes.  How willing are we to enter into poverty of spirit, work for peace and justice and pursue righteousness?  Blessed are we who follow the example of Saint Barnabas and blessed are we who benefit from his intercession.

Saint Philip Neri

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Philip Neri, founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, a community of Catholic priests and lay brothers.  At the age of 18, he travelled to live with a wealthy relative to learn, and possibly inherit, the family business.  But soon after arriving, he experienced a mystical vision that he called his Christian conversion, which dramatically changed his life.

Having lost interest in the family business, he travelled to Rome to live for and serve the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.  He studied for three years at Saint Augustine’s monastery, but then decided not to be ordained.  Instead, he worked for the conversion of souls by stirring up conversations with people, which eventually led them to further studies, prayer, and the enjoyment of music.  He would then encourage them to move beyond these endeavors to serve those in need, especially the sick.In 1548, with the help of his confessor, Philip founded a confraternity for poor laymen to meet for spiritual exercises and service of the poor, the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity.

Finally, at the age of 34, Philip’s confessor succeeded in returning to priestly formation and he was ordained a deacon, and finally a priest, in 1551.  Philip went to live with his confessor and other priests at San Girolamo and carried on his mission, mostly through the confessional.  Philip spent hours sitting and listening to people of all ages. Sometimes Philip arranged informal discussions for those who desired to live a better life. He spoke to them about Jesus, the saints and the martyrs.  He had many pilgrims come to visit him; so much so that other priests gathered to help him, and a room was built above the church in San Girolamo for their ministry.  Philip and the priests were soon called the “Oratorians,” because they would ring a bell to call the faithful in their “oratory.”

Today’s first reading from the Apostle Saint James encourages us to pray in suffering, sing praise in times of joy, and call on the priests in our illness, praying for healing and forgiveness of sins.  That certainly rang true in the heart of Saint Philip Neri: prayer and an encounter with our Lord was a primary concern for him.  Today our Liturgy and the saint we are memorializing encourages us to step up our prayer life, and in the words of our Psalmist, may our prayer “rise like incense” before our God: the One who regards our prayers to be as pleasing as the most beautiful music.

Saint Matthias, Apostle

Today’s readings

We don’t really know much about St. Matthias. We have no idea the qualifications that led to his being nominated as one of two possibilities to take Judas’s position among the Twelve Apostles. But clearly, they would have nominated a holy and faithful man, and then they left the deciding up to the Holy Spirit. Praying, they cast lots, and the lots selected Matthias, who then became one of the Twelve. He is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament, so we don’t know much about his ministry.

What is striking about the selection of St. Matthias though is that this is the first of the disciples or Apostles that was not selected directly by Jesus. Jesus selected all of the original Twelve, but Matthias is the first to be selected by the fledgling Church on the authority passed on by Jesus himself. They act not on their own, but on the authority of Jesus, being led by the Holy Spirit for the glory of God the Father.

A similar process has been repeated through the ages, over and over again, to select men to be popes, bishops, priests and deacons, and men and women for religious communities. The process begins with prayer and ends with thanksgiving and glory to God. People propose the candidates as being noted for holiness and ability, but it is God who makes the final choice.

Today we praise God for the Twelve Apostles, of which Matthias was one. We praise God for the authority of the Apostles which has echoed through the ages giving guidance to the Church. We praise God for the gift of the Holy Spirit who is active in all our decision making.

Saints Philip and James, Apostles

Today’s readings

Today is the feast of St. Philip and the man we call “St. James the Lesser” because he is probably not the St. James that we know as a relative of Jesus and the traditional author of the book of James.  Unfortunately, all that we know about this St. James is that Jesus chose him as an apostle, and that Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection, as we hear in today’s first reading.  St. Philip we know a bit more about.  We hear of him in the Gospel story of the feeding of the multitudes because he is the one who tells Jesus “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”  In today’s Gospel we see him again as an apostle who is slow to believe.  “Show us the Father,” he says, “and that will be enough for us.”

So this, I think, is the feast for all of us disciples who don’t put ourselves in the limelight.  Maybe we too have been slow to believe, or were never really sure how to accomplish the mighty deeds God requires of us.  Maybe we’re pretty unknown in discipleship circles.  And maybe that’s good enough for us.  Today’s feast says that’s okay.  It says that our efforts of faith, small though they may be, make us great believers in God’s time and in God’s eyes, led to the Father, as we always are, by our Savior.  It says that we might need a little convincing that we can do the work God asks us to do, but that filled with the Holy Spirit, all things can be accomplished.  It says that we don’t have to be on the front page of the book to live our faith with conviction.

Today is the feast of apostles who are called to make God’s love known despite their imperfections or apparent lack of ability.  It is a feast for all of us who know that we are called by God and led by the Spirit to do great things in Christ.  To Philip and James and all the rest of the Apostles, Jesus said then, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”  Jesus says that to us today, too, all of us disciples who are slow to believe and understand.  “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do.”

Saint Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Foster Father of Our Lord

Today’s readings

On today’s feast, we celebrate the faithfulness of Saint Joseph. When he became betrothed to Mary, he got more than he could ever have bargained for. It certainly would have been easy to divorce her quietly when the news of her pregnancy became known, and it certainly would have been difficult to continue the relationship under those circumstances. Yet, he heeded the word of the angel in his dream, and was faithful to God’s will for him. His faithfulness preserved the heritage of Jesus, so that he would be born of David’s line.

And so we owe much to Joseph and his willingness to act on his faith in God’s word.  We know that he was part of the ancestral line that extended from the beginning to the birth of Jesus, but Joseph probably didn’t.  We know that he was the strong family leader who made possible the growth of his foster son and the protection of his holy family, but Joseph probably didn’t.  There was a lot of the big picture that Joseph didn’t get to see; he acted in faith on the little messages he received in dreams.  I wonder if any of us would be so willing to make that leap of faith.

Joseph was the faithful father who protected Mary and Joseph, taught him the faith as a good father would, and taught him his craft.  He is the patron of fathers, of workers, and of the universal Church, among others.

When we find faithfulness difficult, we can look to Joseph for help. Through his intercession, may our work and our lives be blessed, and may we too be found faithful to the word of the Lord.