Saint Anthony, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

Saint Anthony is probably one of the best-known Catholic saints. As the patron for finding lost objects, I’m sure so many of us have prayed, “Tony, Tony, look around, something’s lost and can’t be found.” We all lose track of things from time to time, and it’s nice to have someone to help us find them. But the real story of Saint Anthony centers around finding the way to Christ.

The gospel call to leave everything and follow Christ was the rule of Anthony’s life. Over and over again God called him to something new in his plan. Every time Anthony responded with renewed zeal and self-sacrifice to serve his Lord Jesus more completely. His journey as the servant of God began as a very young man when he decided to join the Augustinians, giving up a future of wealth and power to follow God’s plan for his life. But later, when the bodies of the first Franciscan martyrs went through the Portuguese city where he was stationed, he was again filled with an intense longing to be one of those closest to Jesus himself: those who die for the Good News.

So Anthony entered the Franciscan Order and set out to preach to the Moors – a pretty dangerous thing to do. But an illness prevented him from achieving that goal. He went to Italy and was stationed in a small hermitage where he spent most of his time praying, reading the Scriptures and doing menial tasks.

But that was not the end for Anthony’s dream of following God’s call. Recognized as a great man of prayer and a great Scripture scholar and theologian, Anthony became the first friar to teach theology to the other friars. Soon he was called from that post to preach to heretics, to use his profound knowledge of Scripture and theology to convert and reassure those who had been misled.

So yes, Saint Anthony is the patron of finding lost objects, but what I really think he wants to help us find, is our way to ChriSaint As a teacher, a scholar and a man of faith, he was devoted to his relationship with God. And so his intercession for us might go a little deeper than where we left our keys. Maybe we find ourselves today having lost track of our relationship with God in some way. Maybe our prayer isn’t as fervent as it once was. Or maybe we have found ourselves wrapped up in our own problems and unable to see God at work in us. Maybe our life is in disarray and we’re not sure how God is leading us. If we find ourselves in those kinds of situations today, we might do well to call on the intercession of Saint Anthony. Finder of lost objects, maybe. But finder of the way to Christ for sure.

Saint Barnabas, Apostle

Today’s readings

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, in fact he introduced Paul to Peter and the other apostles. He also served as a kind of mediator between Paul, formerly a persecutor of Christians, and the still understandably 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 theme of salt and light that we hear in today’s gospel reading. Saint Barnabas was a man who took risks to shine the light of faith in his corner of the world. How willing are we to take a risk and witness to our faith to people who might judge us? Blessed are we who follow the example of Saint Barnabas and blessed are we who benefit from his intercession.

Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs

Today’s readings

Today, Father John and I celebrate our anniversaries of ordination to the priesthood. He for 30 years, me for thirteen. Those anniversaries always fall on this memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions, a feast I always find inspirational.

One of 22 Ugandan martyrs, Charles Lwanga is the patron of youth and Catholic action in most of tropical Africa. He and his companions were pages in the court of Mwanga, the Bagandan ruler. He protected his fellow pages, aged 13 to 30, from the immoral demands of Mwanga, and encouraged and instructed them in the Catholic faith during their imprisonment for refusing the ruler’s demands. For his own unwillingness to submit to Mwanga’s demands, and his efforts to safeguard the faith of his friends, Charles was burned to death on June 3, 1886, by Mwanga’s order.

It’s hard enough to live the faith when you can do so without challenge, or even with support. But Jesus prophesied the kind of challenge Charles and his companions faced. In our Gospel today, Jesus foretells that the disciples will flee and leave him alone, which, of course, they did. They later turned back, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and gave their lives as did Charles Lwanga and his companions.

How are we called upon to stand up for others and protect each other from the immoral onslaughts of our own time and place? Witnessing to what is right and good is often inconvenient, and for those like Saint Charles and Jesus’ disciples, sometimes dangerous. But that is what disciples do. That is our ministry, the work to which we have all been called.

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, the Apostles 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 Saint Philip and the man we call “St. James the Lesser” because he is probably not the Saint 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 Saint James is that Jesus chose him as an apostle, and that Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection, as we hear at the end of today’s first reading.  Saint 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 disciples who don’t put themselves 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 cover 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 Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

You surely recognize these beautiful words:

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;

through him all things were made.

These words emphasize the divinity of Christ, an essential truth of our faith. The Liturgy also says: “Through the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” The Gospels show us time and time again that Jesus came to proclaim his divinity, his oneness with the Father, so as to be the means of salvation. Almost all of his hearers rejected this message.

The Arians, led by the priest Arius in the third century, also rejected that message – they did not believe in Jesus’ divinity. They believed there was a time before Jesus existed, that he was not consubstantial with the Father, but rather was created by the Father. This position denies the divinity of Christ, which is an unacceptable position for our faith. If Christ is not divine, he has no power to save us, and we are still dead in our sins. God forbid! – And he does forbid it!

St. Athanasius was a great champion of the faith against the harmful teachings of Arius. But it was a hard battle. He was exiled not once but actually five times during the fight against Arius’s teachings. His writings are almost all a great defense of the faith and are so sound that Athanasius was named a Doctor of the Church.

We have St. Athanasius to thank for the wonderful words of our Creed. We often say them, I think, without a whole lot of thought. But we need to remember when we pray the Creed that each of those words was the result of dedicated work, intensive prayer, and hard fought defense against heresy. Because of people like St. Athanasius, we may indeed come to share in the divinity of Christ.

Saint Catherine of Siena

Today’s readings

Saint Catherine was born at Siena, in the region of Tuscany in Italy. When she was six years old Jesus appeared to Catherine and blessed her. As many parents do for their children, her mother and father wanted her to be happily married, preferably to a rich man. But Catherine wanted to be a nun. So, to make herself as unattractive as possible to the men her parents wanted her to meet, she cut off her long, beautiful hair. Her parents were very upset and became very critical of her. But Catherine did not change her mind: her goal was to become a nun and give herself entirely to Jesus. Finally, her parents allowed it, and her father even set aside a room in the house where she could stay and pray.

When Catherine was eighteen years old, she entered the Dominican Third Order and spent the next three years in seclusion, prayer and works of penance. Gradually a group of followers gathered around her—men and women, priests and religious. They all saw that Catherine was a holy woman and they flocked to her for spiritual advice. During this time she wrote many letters, most of which gave spiritual instruction and encouragement to her followers. But more and more, she would speak out on many topics and would stand up for the truth. Because of this, many people began to oppose her and they brought false charges against her, but she was cleared of all of wrongdoing.

Because of her great influence, she was able to help the Church navigate a tumultuous period of two and eventually three anti-popes. She even went to beg rulers to make peace with the pope and to avoid wars. At one point, Saint Catherine convinced the real pope to leave Avignon, France, where he had been staying in exile, and return to Rome to rule the Church, because she knew that this was God’s will. He took her advice, and this eventually led to peace in the Church.

Catherine had a mystical love of God, whose goodness and beauty was revealed to her more and more each day. She wrote of God, “You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.”

Saint Catherine is one of just three female Doctors of the Church, being named so by Pope Paul VI in 1970. She is the co-patron saint, with Saint Francis, of Italy. Through her intercession may we all have a deep appreciation and love for the depths of the mysteries of God.

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent / Saint Patrick

Today’s readings

I used to be upset that Saint Patrick’s Day always happened during Lent.  I’d have to postpone the celebration of my favorite saint until Sunday, especially if it fell on a Friday, because we just didn’t have corned beef on Friday, you know.  But as I’ve grown older, I appreciate that Saint Patrick’s Day is in Lent, because I think Saint Patrick has a lot to say to us about Lent.

Lent, is a time of conversion and renewal of faith.  Saint Patrick’s life was one of conversion.  He wrote about that in his famous Confession, which was a work that talked all about his life of faith.  Listen to what he said at the beginning of it:  “And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance.  And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.”

And so we have here a great story of conversion.  Because we are sinners too, right?  I think that it’s so important for us to see that the great saints didn’t start out that way.  They were sinners, but they just kept on trying to be better, to be holier, to come to know and love God more.  Saint Patrick writes of an unmentioned sin, dating from before he was ordained, even before he was living a Christian life.  The sin was apparently known to a friend of his – a friend who lobbied for him to become a bishop, and then later betrayed him to his superiors.  Patrick had long since moved on from where he was at the time this sin was committed, he is an older man now, looking back on the mistakes he made as a youth, and not bearing any ill-will toward those who would rub his nose in it, he thanks God for the strength he has since gained: “So I give thanks to the one who cared for me in all my difficulties, because he allowed me to continue in my chosen mission and the work that Christ my master taught me.  More and more I have felt inside myself a great strength because my faith was proven right before God and the whole world.”  It’s just like what we heard from Ezekiel in today’s first reading: If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. God wants us to turn back to him, always.

Saint Patrick had to weather so many storms in his life. He was kidnapped and enslaved, he worked in mission territory among people who at times were hostile to the Christian way of life, he was betrayed by a friend and besieged by fellow clergymen who were jealous of the success of his ministry and critical of the way he did it.  But through it all, he was grateful for the power of God at work in him.  The faith that led him to be that way was nourished on a strong friendship with God.

One of my favorite things that we have from Saint Patrick is known as the “Lorica” or “Breastplate” prayer.  Some say he didn’t actually write it, but I think he did, because it was the kind of thing that he would have written, given the faith that he had. It’s a great prayer of deliverance from evil and reliance on the power of God:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through the confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the Judgment Day.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of demons,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

What a wonderful prayer, a prayer that we would recognize Christ in every part of our day, no matter how little or big a thing we are doing. That we would recognize Christ in every person in our lives, and that we would recognize Christ wherever we are.

Saint Agatha, Virgin Martyr

Today’s readings

As is true for many, or perhaps most, of the virgin martyrs, we know almost nothing about Saint Agatha, other than the fact that she was martyred in Sicily during the persecution of Decius in the third century. Legend has it that Agatha was arrested as a Christian, tortured and sent to a house of prostitution to be mistreated. She was preserved from being violated, and was later put to death. When Agatha was arrested, the legend says, she prayed: “Jesus Christ, Lord of all things! You see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am—you alone. I am your sheep; make me worthy to overcome the devil.” And in prison, she said: “Lord, my creator, you have protected me since I was in the cradle. You have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Now receive my spirit.”

The stories of the early virgin martyrs like Saint Agatha do two things. First, they remind us of the unsurpassed greatness of a relationship with Christ. If they could witness to Christ when it would have been so much easier—and life-saving—to turn away, then how can we turn away from God in the trying moments of our own lives, those trials which pale in comparison to the martyrdom they suffered? But even those relatively minor sufferings which we may bear can be the source of our salvation. We should look to the saints like Agatha to intercede for us that we may patiently bear our sufferings and so give honor and glory to God. Second, these stories always point to Christ. Even though we could get caught up in honoring a saint who stood fast for the faith to death, still that same saint would have us instead be caught up in honoring Christ, the one who was their hope and salvation.

Saint Agatha’s life is a participation in our Lord’s call to take up our cross. She was joined inseparably to Christ in both her virginity and her martyrdom. Her example calls us to join ourselves to Christ inseparably as well, in whatever way we may be called upon to do it. May our prayer in good times and bad always be the same as that of Saint Agatha: “Possess all that I am—you alone.”

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