St. Isaac Jogues, St. John de Brébeuf & Companions, Martyrs

St. Isaac and St. John were among eight missionaries who worked among the Huron and Iroquois Indians in the New World in the seventeenth century. They were devoted to their work and were accomplishing many conversions. The conversions, though, were not welcomed by the tribes, and eventually St. Isaac was captured and imprisoned by the Iroquois for months. He was moved from village to village and was tortured and beaten all along the way. Eventually he was able to escape and return to France. But zeal for his mission compelled him to return, and to resume his work among the Indians when a peace treaty was signed in 1646. His belief that the peace treaty would be observed turned out to be false hope, and he was captured by a Mohawk war party and beheaded.

St. John worked among the Iroquois and ministered to them amid a smallpox epidemic. As a scholastic Jesuit, he was able to compose a catechism and write a dictionary in the Huron language, which made possible many conversions. He was eventually captured, tortured and killed by the Iroquois.

St. Isaac, St. John and their companions inspire us to take up the mission: to make Christ known, relying on the treasure of grace he brings us and promises us, and accepting that this world’s glory is not worth our aspirations. This will not be easy, of course, in a culture that largely rejects the promises of heaven in its pursuit of instant gratification. But perhaps the witness of these French Jesuits would help us to bravely witness to the Truth with the same zeal for the mission that they did. Our mission may not be to a culture so different to us as the Indian cultures were to these men, but that mission is none the less vital to the salvation of the world.

Saint Luke, evangelist

Today’s readings

Saint Luke, of course, is best known for contributing two major works to the New Testament: the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  In these works, we can see the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, along with his proclamation of the kingdom and the many graces he came to pour out on humankind, and also the life of the early Church, the first community as they strove to make the person and teachings of Jesus present to every creature on earth.  Luke traveled with Saint Paul, and along the way interviewed many eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and recorded them all meticulously.

Luke introduces his Gospel with these words: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”  The Acts of the Apostles is introduced similarly, and addressed to Theophilus as well.  We don’t know who Theophilus was, but he appears to have been a convert to the Way, and may even have been a powerful person or a rich benefactor.  But what’s interesting is his name: Theophilus, which translates roughly as a “lover of God.”

That makes these wonderful works accessible to all of us, who presumably are also lovers of God. We will be reading from Luke’s Gospel on most of the Sundays of the upcoming Liturgical Year, and I always love this cycle of readings. The third Gospel speaks to me in different ways than the others do, and it includes details, glimpses of Jesus that are particular to Luke alone.

“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom,” the Psalmist says today.  And that is very true of Saint Luke; we have much for which to be grateful to his faith, his preaching, and his meticulous investigation and recording.

Saint Thérèse of Liseaux, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Today, we celebrate the memorial of Saint Thérèse of Liseaux, the Little Flower, who was one who sought to proclaim the Lord in every simple act of her life.  Saint Thérèse had a child-like faith: child-like, that is, in her trusting obedience to God’s will, even in the smallest of matters.  She truly believed that small acts of faith and love would work wondrous miracles for the Kingdom of God.

Thérèse was a very sickly young lady.  A childhood illness left her weak for the rest of her life, and during her last year on earth, she was dying of tuberculosis.  She entered the convent at the age of fifteen, and when she died she was just twenty-four years old.  Yet in that short span of time she wrote much about her faith and encouraged others to embrace a simplicity of life and a dedicated obedience to God’s will.  In 1997, Pope John Paul II named her a Doctor of the Church, one of just three women to have that special title.

Saint Thérèse was not one who sought the limelight.  She did not seek to make a name for herself or become anything other than what God wanted her to be.  In her view, even the most menial tasks in the convent could be transformed into great acts of love.  And her preference for hidden sacrifice did indeed convert souls.  Saint Thérèse is one of the most beloved saints in the Church.  Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, is read and loved throughout the world.

Saint Thérèse’s rule of life, doing little things with great love, is one that can be such a freeing experience for all of us.  Today, we pray that we too can find joy in the routine and menial parts of our day, doing them with great love for the glory of the Kingdom of God.

Saint Matthew, Apostle

Today’s readings

How wonderful for us to celebrate the feast of St. Matthew. Because Matthew was qualified to be a disciple of Jesus in much the same way that we are qualified to be disciples of Jesus-which is to say, not at all. Matthew was a tax collector, working for the Roman occupation government. His task was to exact the tax from each citizen. Whatever he collected over and above the tax was his to keep. Now the Romans wouldn’t condone outright extortion, but let’s just say that they weren’t overly scrupulous about what their tax collectors were collecting, as long as they got paid the proper tax.

So Matthew’s reception among the Jews was quite like they might accept the plague. The Pharisees were quick to lump men like Matthew with sinners, and despised them as completely unworthy of God’s salvation. But Jesus had different ideas.

“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.

Go and learn the meaning of the words,

I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Which brings us back to us. How wonderful for us to celebrate the call of a man who was anything but worthy. Because he was called, we know that our own calls are authentic, unworthy as we may be. Just as the Matthew spread the Good News by the writing and preaching of the Gospel, so we are called to spread the Good News to everyone by the witness of our lives. Matthew’s call is a day of celebration for all of us sinners, who are nonetheless called to do great things for the Kingdom of God.

Saint John Chrysostom

Saint John Chrysostom was known to be a prolific, well-spoken and challenging preacher. The name “Chrysostom” means “golden-mouthed.” He spoke eloquently of the Scriptures, of which he had an extensive understanding, and applied their words to the times of his day. He was known, actually, to often preach for two hours or more! So, in his honor, I thought it appropriate to preach … just kidding!

The emperor schemed to make John the bishop of Constantinople, the capital city, because the he thought he could manipulate John. But he couldn’t. John would often preach against the opulence of the wealthy and the mistreatment of the poor. He deposed bishops who had bribed their way into office. He would only offer a modest meal to those who came to kiss up to the bishop, rather than an opulent table that they had been expecting. He would not accept the pomp and ceremony that afforded him a place above most ranking members of the court.

So, as you can well imagine, not everyone liked John. Many of his sermons called for concrete steps to share wealth with the poor. The rich did not appreciate hearing the challenging words that John was known to preach. When it came to justice and charity, Saint John acknowledged no double standards. I think his preaching would be intriguing, and certainly challenging, even in our own day.

What we should get from Saint John Chrysostom, is that discipleship has to be imbued with fidelity and integrity. We have to practice what we preach. As we go forth from this place, we too have the opportunity to live our faith by giving generously to the poor, and reaching out to those who are marginalized. We have to be those disciples who give lavishly of our personal resources, who forgive from the heart, who avoid judging and love all people deeply. If our living had this kind of integrity, then we could be “golden-mouthed” too, not so much by our words as by our actions.

Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

You’ve probably heard the saying that youth is wasted on the young.  I think Saint Augustine might painfully agree with that sentiment.  He was a man who thought he had everything figured out at a young age. He was prideful, caught up in the world’s pleasures and focused solely on what could be learned from his own reasoning.  He had no room for the religion of his mother, Saint Monica, whose memorial we observed yesterday. But through her tireless prayers, Augustine began to come to know the God she worshipped, and began to respond to grace.  He was finally baptized at 33 years of age, became a priest at 36, and a bishop at 41.  Grace can work fast in a person’s life.

Saint Augustine’s Confessions are among the best works on the spiritual life.  In that work, he reflects, among other things, on his conversion, and how he felt called to repentance, but did not want to give up the world’s pleasures just yet.  But throughout the work, he praises God for God’s work in his life.  One of the best-known sections speaks of how the beauty of God was near, yet seemed beyond him:

Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.

Saint Augustine was always grateful for the grace he saw at work in the world, and especially in his own life.  If anyone was a witness to how God’s embrace can take hold of a person and change their lives, it was Saint Augustine.  So today, may we all be mindful and grateful for those gifts in our lives.  May we take a moment today and look back on how things are different in our lives and give thanks for the beauty that is so ancient, and so new.

Saint Bartholomew, Apostle [Feast]

Today’s readings

What tradition tells us about St. Bartholomew is that he is often identified with Nathanael in the Gospel.  That explains why Nathanael is prominent in the Gospel reading for today.  Nathanael – or Bartholomew, take your pick – is singled out of the crowd by Jesus.  Nathanael is surprised at what Jesus says about him: “Here is a true child of Israel.  There is no duplicity in him.”  We should recall that Jesus considered it his primary mission to seek out the lost children of Israel, so seeing Nathanael as a “true child of Israel” with “no duplicity in him” means that Jesus considered Nathanael a role model for his people.  He was one whose faith reached beyond mere observance of the Law or the Torah, and extended into the realm of living the Gospel.

That’s where we are all led, of course.  When it comes down to it, there is nothing more important than living the Gospel, and every one of us is called to do it.  If our spiritual life is not our primary concern, then we have no eternity; nothing to look forward to.  But the good news is that our Lord has given us hope of eternal life, and we hear of that by the intercession and example and preaching of the Apostles and especially Saint Bartholomew today.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

Learning to follow the path of perfection is the most important goal of the spiritual life. How do we get our relationship with God right so that we can live with him forever in heaven? That was certainly the goal of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, whose feast we celebrate today.

In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and around 30 of his friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a that monastic community, which had been dying, had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, particularly on himself. A minor health problem, though, taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light.

Bernard’s strong support of the Roman See was well known; in fact it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope. The Holy See then prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not as pure as those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster. Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came on August 20, 1153.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus answer’s the rich young man’s question about what is necessary to attain eternal life.  The answer, basically, is that if eternal life is our goal, we have to let go of everything that holds us back from that.  Saint Bernard preached that spiritual principle and gave his life to it.  One day, we hope that our striving for perfection will lead us to eternal life, the goal of all our lives.

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!”