Saint John Bosco, Priest

Today’s readings

Saint John Bosco was a master catechist and a priest who was concerned with the whole person of the young people he taught: he wanted them to fill both their minds and their souls.  John was encouraged to enter the priesthood for the specific purpose of teaching young boys and forming them in the faith.  This began with a poor orphan, who John prepared for First Holy Communion.  Then he was able to gather a small community and teach them the Catechism.  He worked for a time as a chaplain of a hospice for working girls, and later opened an oratory – a kind of school – for boys which had over 150 students.  The needs of teaching them also encouraged John to open a publishing house to print the catechetical and educational materials used in the classrooms.

He was known for his preaching, and that helped him to extend his ministry by forming a religious community – the Salesians – to concentrate on education and mission work in 1859.  He later formed a group of Salesian Sisters to teach girls. By teaching children self worth through education and job training, John was able to also teach the children of their own worth in the eyes of God.

Saint John Bosco was tireless in his devotion to teaching this truth to young people. In today’s Eucharist, may our thanksgiving be for the teachers in our lives. And especially during this Catholic Schools Week, perhaps we can also commend the teachers and catechists of today’s young people to the patronage of Saint John Bosco.

Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Saint Francis de Sales was born in the Savoy region of France-Italy in 1567.  His priesthood had him work diligently for the restoration of Catholicism in his homeland, reclaiming it from the clutches of the protestant reformation.  He became bishop of Geneva, and was known for his writings, work and example.  Astonishingly, he says that it took him 20 years to conquer his quick temper, a problem no one ever suspected he had, because he was known for his good nature and kindness.  His perennial meekness and sunny disposition won for him the title of “Gentleman Saint.”

This is a quality that I’m sure we all wish more people had, and perhaps we wish we had it as well.  I know I have to work on that every day, or it would be easy to let the frustrations of running a large place like Saint Mary’s cause me to give in to anger.  So for all of us who seek to overcome a quick temper, or overcome the disposition to say something we wish we hadn’t, or the tendency to press “send” on a tersely-written email, Saint Francis de Sales is our patron.  Saint Francis is also known to be the patron of the deaf, since he devised a kind of sign language in order to teach the deaf about God.  His beautiful writings have inspired many in their faith and earned him the title of Doctor of the Church.

Saint Francis was known to work on behalf of the poor, and even to be something of an ascetic himself.  He encouraged devotion in every person, regardless of their walk in life.  He writes: “I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman.  But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.”

In a moment we will offer our gifts, and pray for gifts and grace to lead a holy life.  Following the example of Saint Francis de Sales, maybe we can call on God for meekness, and humility, and patience. As St. Francis de Sales tells us: “The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: he is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.” Who wouldn’t want to look at the world that way?

Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church

Today’s readings

Saint Basil the Great was born in Caesarea in Cappadocia in the year 330.  He was known for his learning and virtue, and his fight against the Arian heresy.  He also wrote many wonderful works, the most revered of which is his monastic rule.  He is known as the father of Eastern monasticism.  Gregory Nazianzen was born in the same year.  He too pursued learning and was eventually elected bishop of Constantinople.  Basil and Gregory were friends, and Gregory reflected on their friendship in a sermon, of which I’d like to share some excerpts this morning.

“Basil and I were both in Athens.  We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.

“Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other.  When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires the same goal.  Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.

“Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it.  With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions.  We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue.  If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.

“Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements.  But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.”

Like John the Baptist in our Gospel today, Basil and Gregory sought to point the way to Jesus, the one among us whom people do not recognize.  It was their goal to help all to come to know him rightly, to make straight the way of the Lord.  Their friendship led them deeper in that pursuit.  Today, let’s reflect on our friendships and relationships, and give thanks for those who have led us deeper in our friendship with our Lord.

Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Today’s readings

Right here in the middle of the joy of the Christmas Octave, we have the feast of what seems to be an incredibly horrible event.  All of the male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem two years old and younger are murdered by the jealous and, quite frankly, rather pathetic Herod.  But not only are his plans to kill the Christ Child (and thus remove any threat to his reign) thwarted by the providence of God, but also the horror of this event is transfigured into something rather glorious in terms of the Kingdom of God.

As I said, in some ways, this is a horrible feast.  And we can relate, I think.  Just think about the millions who have been slaughtered by abortion, and the many children who die in inner-city violence every year, and we see just how precarious childhood can be in every time and place.  But the Church, in recognizing the contribution of the Holy Innocents to the kingdom, turns all of this sadness into hope and asserts that this is just the beginning of the world’s seeing the glory of Jesus Christ.  As disgusting and repugnant as Herod’s actions are to our sensibilities, yet these innocent children bear witness to the Child Jesus.  Saint Quodvoltdeus, an African bishop of the fifth century writes of them:

The children die for Christ, though they do not know it.  The parents mourn for the death of martyrs.  The Christ child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself.  But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious.  While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.

To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory?  They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ.  They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.

I think the key to making sense of all this is in the first reading.  The line that really catches me, because it seems almost erroneous in light of the horrible event we remember today, is “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.”  We can see all kinds of darkness in an event like the murder of innocent children.  Yet only God could turn something that horrible around to his glory.  They may have lived extremely short lives on earth, yet their lives in eternity were secured forever.  They become some of the first to participate in the kingdom that Christ would bring about through his Paschal Mystery.

Saint Francis Xavier, Patron of the Diocese of Joliet

Today’s readings

We celebrate the memorial of Saint Francis Xavier as a feast today, because he is the patron saint of the Diocese of Joliet.  Francis Xavier was a sixteenth century man who had a promising career in academics.  He was encouraged in the faith by his good friend, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and went to join the new community founded by Ignatius, the Society of Jesus, better known today as the Jesuits.

Francis had a passion for preaching the Gospel and living a life of Gospel simplicity.  He would live with and among the poorest of the poor, sharing their living conditions, ministering to the sick, and preaching and teaching the faith.  In fact, we might say that he reminds us of a current Jesuit, Pope Francis!  Saint Francis Xavier lived in the East Indies for a time, before going on to minister to the Hindus, Malaysians, and Japanese.  He even learned a bit of Japanese in order to communicate well with his people and to preach to them.  He dreamed of going on to minister in China, but died before he could get there.

Francis Xavier truly took to heart the words of Saint Paul who said he made himself all things to all people in order to save at least some.  He made it his life’s work to live as his people lived, preaching to simple folk, and calling them to Jesus.  He was also able to live freely Jesus’ Gospel call today: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

That same Gospel call is the inspiration of our diocese’s current focus on missionary discipleship.  This year, Bishop Conlon wrote to us in his pastoral letter, “’Go,’ He Said” that missionary discipleship needs to be the priority for the Church and her members in order to bring the Gospel to “every creature.”

In that letter, Bishop tells us what this means for us: “Discipleship begins when you sense that Jesus Christ loves you and is calling you to follow Him. You are a disciple if you, in turn, acknowledge that He really is the Son of God and the true source of your life here and for eternity, that you love Him more than anyone else, that you want to form your daily life and its decisions around Him, and that you want to talk about Him with others.”

So we might not have the opportunity to live as Francis Xavier did and to actually go out to distant shores to preach the Gospel.  But we certainly are still called to preach it with our lives.  We are called to witness to Christ to everyone we meet: family, friends, coworkers, neighbors-anyone the Lord puts in our path.  Our diocese chose Francis Xavier for our patron because our founders took seriously the call to proclaim the Gospel to every person in this diocese.  We are called upon to do the same, according to our own life’s vocation and state of life.  May all who hear our words and see our actions come to believe and be saved.

Saint Cecilia, Virgin Martyr

Today’s readings

I’m sure we have some musicians here in church today: whether you play an instrument or sing, this is your feast day, because today we celebrate Saint Cecilia, a virgin and martyr who is the patron saint of musicians.  Because she is a martyr, we also remember those people of faith throughout history who have been persecuted for their faith, have given their lives for the faith, and have triumphed for the faith.

In today’s first reading, Judas Maccabeus and his brothers are celebrating that triumph.  Their people had been sorely oppressed and the temple was destroyed.  But Judas and his brothers led an opposition that overtook their enemies, and when they sent their enemies packing, they fixed up the temple.  In today’s reading, they rededicated the sanctuary and celebrated that God helped them to triumph over their Gentile enemies.

Saint Cecilia was a force for good among those who knew her.  She worked hard to convert her husband and his brother to the faith.  She was successful, and they were so strong in the faith that they also were martyred, just before she was.  All of them refused to give up the faith and all of them triumphed in heaven.  

And of course, it is Jesus who makes the triumph possible.  As he refused to stop preaching the truth, his enemies, as our Gospel reading today shows us, will stop at nothing to silence him.  Obviously, we know they were not ultimately successful: indeed Christ’s paschal mystery is the ultimate triumph: as he gave his life for us on the Cross, he triumphed over sin and death to give us the possibility of life forever in heaven.

It is said that as Saint Cecilia was being tortured and put to death, she sang a song of joy in her heart.  She was joyful because she knew that death would not be the end; her Lord made that very clear to her and she believed in it with all her heart.  We, too are called to sing a song of joy in our hearts, in every moment of our lives.  In good times and bad, we know that we will triumph if we trust in Jesus, and that is certainly enough reason for us to sing for joy!

Saint Martin of Tours / Veterans Day

Today we have the opportunity to celebrate some heroes.  One hero is today’s saint, Saint Martin of Tours, who was actually a veteran and a fierce defender of our faith.  The other heroes are our nation’s veterans, who have fought in wars to protect us and to protect our freedoms.

St. Martin of Tours is a fitting saint to pray for veterans today. His father was a veteran and he himself became a soldier and served his country faithfully, even though that was not what he most wanted to do.  But, at fifteen he entered the army and served under the Emperors Constantius and Julian. While in the service he met a poor, naked beggar at the gates of the city who asked for alms in Christ’s Name. Martin had nothing with him except his weapons and soldier’s mantle; but he took his sword, cut the mantle in two, and gave half to the poor man. During the following night Christ appeared to him clothed with half a mantle and said, “Martin, the catechumen, has clothed me with this mantle!”

During this time, Martin indeed became a catechumen, someone preparing to become a Catholic, and he wanted to focus on doing that. He asked his superiors in the army, “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” After a time, he asked for and received release from military service. Having received his release, he became a monk and served God faithfully. As a soldier of Christianity now, he fought valiantly against paganism and appealed for mercy to those accused of heresy. He was made a bishop, also not his first choice of things to become, and served faithfully in that post.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month of the year 1918, an armistice was signed, ending the “war to end all wars” – World War I.  November 11 was set aside as Armistice Day in the United States to remember the sacrifices that men and women made during the war in order to ensure a lasting peace. In 1938 Congress voted Armistice Day as a legal holiday, but World War II began the following year. Armistice Day was still observed after the end of the Second World War. In 1953 townspeople in Emporia, Kansas called the holiday Veterans Day in gratitude to the veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill renaming the national holiday to Veterans Day. Today, we remember those who have served for our country in the armed forces in our prayers.

On this Veterans Day, we honor and pray for veterans of our armed forces who have given of themselves in order to protect our country and its freedoms. We pray especially for those who have died in battle, as well as for those who have been injured physically or mentally during their military service. We pray in thanksgiving for all of our freedoms, gained at a price, and pray that those freedoms will always be part of our way of life.  St. Martin of Tours, pray for our veterans!

The Solemnity of All Saints

Today’s readings

Today, the Church militant – which is all of us – rejoice with the Church triumphant – which is all the Saints in heaven – because of the great glory of God. This glory they can already see; we hope to see it one day. And we will see it if, please God, we perfect ourselves and grow in holiness to the point that we too become saints for the Kingdom of God.

But I think many of us bristle at the very idea of becoming a saint. We might even throw up our hands in some conversations and say something like, “hey, I’m no saint…” Saints are those people in elaborate paintings or statues, who lived lives that we find very remote. Saints just seem out of touch and sainthood seems way past our grasp.

But that’s messed up. We were all made by God to come back to him one day: we were, in fact, made for heaven. Becoming a saint is the vocation of all of us. Because the most important thing we know about saints is that they are definitely in heaven, which is our true home, which is where we were meant to return some day. To get there, we ourselves have to become more like them. We have to grow in our faith and make our reliance on God’s mercy the central focus of our lives.

It may help to know that many of the saints struggled with holiness too. Think about Saint Paul himself: he began his career by persecuting Christians and we know that he had a hand in the stoning of Saint Stephen. He wrote of a “thorn in the flesh” that bothered him throughout his life.  Or think about Saint Augustine who was an intellectual man who disdained Christianity, until his mother’s prayers caught up with him. He even once said to God, “Make me holy, but not yet…”  Or we might think even more recently of Saint Teresa of Calcutta who experienced a very dark time in her life when she could not even communicate with Jesus. But Jesus was still there and led her to heaven.

And so this feast in honor of all the saints is an important one. We celebrate those saints we know of like Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul, Patrick and Dominic, Francis and Pio, and so many others. But we also celebrate the ones we don’t know of; people whose faith and goodness only God knows. And most importantly, in celebrating them, we strive to become like them: close to Jesus who leads those who believe in him past the gates of death to the glory of heaven, where our reward will be great, as Jesus says in the Gospel today. On that day, we will indeed rejoice and be glad!

The Solemnity of All Saints (Vigil Mass)

Today’s readings

Since we’re gathered here on Halloween, All Hallows Eve, I thought I might get your attention by doing a little homily I like to call “Would Jesus Go Trick-or-Treating?” It’s an important topic, because I think a lot of parents wrestle with the message of Halloween and whether or not they should support their children joining in the festivity.

And I think it’s an important thing to wrestle with. On one hand, we don’t want to make a joke out of evil, because evil is real and it’s no joke. But on the other hand, we don’t want to call attention to evil by making a big thing out of it. Exorcists tell us that those are the two common mistakes that we can make about evil: First, we might say think there is no such thing as the devil. Satan would be happy for us to do that, because then we’re not on guard against him. He is real, he’s out there, and we do have to be on our guard. The second mistake we might make is that we look for evil everywhere, and that just shuts us down and keeps us from living the Gospel. Neither of these is a good thing, and both of them play into Satan’s plans for us.

So let’s talk about Halloween. Its origins are a bit murky, and many people think that what happened is that we sort of baptized a pagan festival. Yes and no: there is a traditional pagan festival on October 31st, but apparently there is a traditional pagan festival on the last day of every month, so really that’s nothing particularly special. More likely, Halloween was a celebration of the Eve of All Saints – hence the name, Halloween, All Hallows Eve. All Saints Day originated in the year 609, when it was celebrated in May. But in the ninth century, it was moved to the first of November, which is when the Germanic church celebrated it, and it’s been celebrated then ever since.

The origins of trick-or-treating may have been in Ireland where an ancient Gaelic festival celebrated the harvest and marked the beginning of winter – the time of year when a significant portion of the population would often die. Because of the fear of death that came with winter, these celebrations seemed to have included going door to door asking for treats dressed in costumes, which were thought to disguise the living from life-taking spirits.

So the origins and intent of Halloween are more or less benign, and mostly intended to honor the saints. But in our country, over time, a more sinister tone was added to the celebration. Think of some of the more horrific costumes, extremely elaborate and grotesque “haunted houses,” and parties where more evil customs were brought to the celebration. Add that to some of the more elaborate horror movies that get released this time of year, and you can see how it would be easy to brand Halloween as an evil holiday.

Fundamentalist Christians especially see the evil, and thus throw out the entire celebration. But we are not fundamentalist Christians. So we remember that God is good, and that he is always in control, and we do not give the demonic or the evil any power it doesn’t already have. In fact, a lot of people think that there is more demonic activity at this time of year than normal, but exorcists tell us that is not true. It’s just that people tend to open more doors by their worrying and by doing some things they shouldn’t do to celebrate the holiday.

So now let’s remember what this holiday is really about. Today we celebrate the feast of all the Saints – those who have been officially canonized over the ages, and those that perhaps we don’t know of, but who God certainly knows. This is the Church Triumphant, those who have conquered evil and have mastered holiness. They have accomplished what they were created for, to take up their rightful place in the Kingdom of Heaven, that place that God has prepared for each one of us. Today we celebrate their triumph, and hope for our own triumph, for we too wish to live forever with our God. We celebrate the example the saints have given us and we depend on their intercession, which helps to guide our lives and lead us on the path of life eternal. So it is right to celebrate this as we celebrate other holidays, with great festivity.

I think it’s important that we celebrate Halloween and All Saints Day as one, which is the intent. If we do that, we keep our minds on what is positive and turn away from all that bids us evil. So yes, I think it’s okay to trick-or-treat, to celebrate with parties, and to dress up. But I’d skip the more evil costumes, perhaps in favor of costumes honoring the saints, and any party games that summon evil, like Ouija boards.  In fact, if you have an Ouija board in your house right now, I want you to go home and destroy it and throw it away – don’t even give it to someone else – it’s not a party game.  All these are things that open the door to evil, and we always want to avoid that.

Avoiding evil was the glory of the saints. That was part of the path to holiness for them. As we celebrate all the saints today, we might think of some who famously battled evil and won. Saint Michael the Archangel, my middle-name patron, fights the battle of evil that we don’t usually see, every single moment. He is a wonderful patron, and we should memorize the prayer to him and pray it often. Saint Benedict battled evil temptation in his own life by rolling around in briars rather than give in to a lustful memory.  The Saint Benedict medal is particularly powerful in warding off evil.  Saint Patrick, my principal patron, famously converted the pagan king of Ireland to Catholicism and exorcised the forces of evil in that country. His famous Breastplate prayer is considered a deliverance prayer and a help to those who feel oppressed by evil. Of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, is a powerful protector of all of us, her children. And let’s not forget our Guardian Angels, who do battle for us on a daily basis. That’s just a few of the saints who battle for our good.

And in the spirit of their glorious battle, we should dedicate ourselves to joining them one day. We are all supposed to be saints, and as tall an order as that may sound, it needs to be our number one priority. Because there is no one in heaven who is not a saint. So then, we need to take all the help God and His Church gives us: we must dedicate ourselves to the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist, which together are more powerful than a solemn exorcism. We must put prayer at the beginning, in the middle and the end of our to-do lists, dedicating ourselves to the Blessed Sacrament, to the reading of scripture, and devotions, particularly the rosary. We have to make every effort to live the Gospel, and to give witness to the power of God’s love in our lives and in our world. Because if we honor and witness to Christ in this life, he will surely be our advocate in the life to come.

So yes, I think Jesus might trick-or-treat. But we come to him today for the best of all treats, the saving grace that he offers us that we might join the saints in heaven one day. We come to Jesus rejoicing and full of gladness, because we know that those who belong to him will have great reward in heaven.

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