Saint Dominic, Priest

On a journey through France with his bishop, St. Dominic came across people who espoused the Albigensian heresy. The Albigensians believed in just good and evil – there was no middle ground. For them, anything material was evil, which meant that they denied the Incarnation and the sacraments. On the same principle they abstained from procreation and took a minimum of food and drink. It’s important to see that while the ascetic practices they undertook were good, their ultimate conclusions were deeply flawed.

St. Dominic sensed the need for the Church to combat this heresy, and he was commissioned to be part of the preaching crusade against it. He saw immediately why the preaching was not succeeding: the ordinary people admired and followed the asceticism of the Albigensians. Understandably, they were not impressed by the Catholic preachers who traveled in luxury, stayed at the best inns and had servants. Dominic therefore, with three Cistercians, began itinerant preaching – living simply and depending on the goodness of others to support them – according to the gospel ideal. 

One of the ancient histories of the Dominican order says of him, “Two or three times he was chosen bishop, but he always refused, preferring to live with his brothers in poverty. Throughout his life, he preserved the honor of his virginity. He desired to be scourged and cut to pieces, and so die for the faith of Christ. Of him Pope Gregory IX declared: ‘I knew him as a steadfast follower of the apostolic way of life. There is no doubt that he is in heaven, sharing in the glory of the apostles themselves.’” (Office of Readings) 

Dominic continued his preaching work for ten years, being successful with the ordinary people but not with the leaders. Eventually, he founded his own religious order, the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, that was dedicated to preaching the Gospel to ordinary people. 

We too are called to preach to every person. We do that not just in words, but mainly by the way we live. When people see our faith at work in our actions, they may well be moved by our example to draw near to God who longs to draw near to them. As we approach the Eucharist today, may we all turn to God for the words to speak and the actions to do, that all the world may come to know that our God is merciful and the source of all grace. 

Saint Martha

Today’s readings

Along with her sister Mary, and brother Lazarus, Saint Martha was a personal friend of Jesus. We have all heard the story about Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha did all the cooking and serving. Martha quite rightly (in my opinion!) demands that all should lend a hand in the preparation of one’s house for guests. Jesus’ response there is that “Mary has chosen the better part.” This reminds us that everything isn’t always up to us. We are called to do our part and rest in God’s loving care for us.

But today’s Gospel reading is really the great story of Martha’s saintliness. She says three very faith-filled things in and around this passage. The first comes when she runs out to greet Jesus and proclaims a small part of her faith: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Here her faith is not quite perfect. She is confused that Jesus was detained and her brother died. But there is that aspect of trusting faith that knows that Jesus has power to do whatever he wills. The second great thing she says here comes right at the end of the story we hear today. In this, she proclaims a more perfect faith: “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” In this great profession of faith, Martha is just as bold and courageous as Saint Peter who says much the same when Jesus asks him “who do you say that I am?”

The final great thing that Martha says comes in the part of John’s Gospel, right after the story we read today. Having professed her faith in Jesus, Martha now returns to her sister Mary and calls her to come to Jesus. She says, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” Those who profess their faith in Jesus cannot possibly keep it to themselves. And Martha does not. She goes to retrieve her sister, who once sat at the Lord’s feet, but now for some reason chose to remain at home. Perhaps Mary was hurt that Jesus had not come right away. Whatever the case, Martha’s faith does not leave her sister in the dark. Like Martha, we who believe in Jesus must tell everyone who needs to hear it that the Teacher is asking for them.

Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Grandparents of Our Lord

Today’s readings

We don’t know much, well anything really, about Saints Joachim and Anne. Even in the Gospels where the ancestry of Jesus is traced, nothing is really said about Mary’s family, so we don’t have records that tell us anything about who Mary’s parents were. Their names themselves are really sourced by legend written more than a century after Jesus died, but even so, they have been confirmed by revelations to saints throughout the ages.

The Church has always inferred that Joachim and Anne were heroic people, having given birth to a woman of great faith. Mary probably had learned her great reverence for God from them, perhaps had learned to trust in God’s plan from them. She knew the law and was a woman of prayer, and we can only surmise that had to come from her parents who had brought her up to love God and his commandments. The Psalmist today recalls God’s promise to David: “Your own offspring I will set upon your throne.”  Through the Blessed Virgin, God brought that promise to fruition.  Blessed are the eyes that saw that: through Mary, Joachim and Anne were certainly overjoyed at the nearness of salvation.

This feast helps me remember my own grandparents, whose faith and love are a part of me today. Their humor, their reverence for God, their love for people, all of that has become a part of who I am today. Maybe you too can remember some of the graces that have come from your own ancestors in faith. And for all these great people, along with Saints Joachim and Anne, we give thanks today.

Saint Maria Goretti

Today’s readings

Today’s readings are, well, interesting. It’s hard to know in today’s first reading if the Lord is blessing dishonest conduct, or if it’s the providence of God that is working its way out. All of us must surely bristle a bit when we see Esau cheated out of his father’s blessing, and Jacob and Rebekah’s dishonest conduct blessed. Secretly we all must have been waiting for the wrath of God to come down upon the two of them and turn them into a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife. But that’s not what happens here. And we know that Jacob is blessed as the father of a nation. What the message seems to be here is that God does not let an accident of birth order stand in the way of blessing one he has chosen.

If our Gospel reading today could shed any light on this conundrum, perhaps it is that we cannot put new wine into old wineskins. The new wine of God’s justice and omnipotence just won’t be contained in the old wineskins of our understanding. Instead, that new wine bursts forth from those wineskins and saturates the earth with mercy and justice.

That new wine is well represented in the blood of the martyrs.  Like the blood of their Savior, martyrs like Saint Maria Goretti have saturated and refreshed the earth, calling the world to new holiness and bringing the world to Christ.  Maria was stabbed to death in 1902, preferring to die rather than be raped. In the hours before her death, she forgave her murderer, a neighbor named Alessandro.  He was unrepentant for years, until one night he had a vision of Maria gathering flowers and offering them to him.  Forgiveness is a powerful instrument to bring people to Christ.

Today, may we rejoice with our bridegroom that God’s mercy and compassion never end and that our limited understandings cannot be the containers of God’s ways, and that forgiveness is always the doorway to Christ.

Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, Peter and the others are asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Now, both Peter and Paul were committed to the truth about who Christ was.  They had too much at stake to let that go.  They had both messed up their estimation of who Jesus was: Peter was expecting a Messiah with earthly exaltation who would never undergo something like crucifixion, and Paul (then called Saul) had early on estimated Jesus to be a rabble-rouser and charlatan.  They both, of course, underwent conversion through the mercy of Jesus, but they forever remembered the trap of underestimating Jesus.  So for them Jesus could never be just a brother, friend or role model – that was inadequate.  And both of them proclaimed with all of their life straight through to their death that Jesus Christ is Lord.  We too on this day must repent of the mediocrity we sometimes settle for in our relationship with Christ.  He has to be Lord of our lives and we must proclaim him to be that Lord to our dying breath.  We must never break faith with Saints Peter and Paul, who preserved that faith at considerable personal cost.

Perhaps Saints Peter and Paul can inspire our own apostolic zeal.  Then, as we bear witness to the fact that Jesus is Lord of our lives and of all the earth, we can bring a world that has accepted mediocrity and convenience to real relevance.  Perhaps in our renewed apostolic zeal we can bring justice to the oppressed, right judgment to the wayward, love to the forgotten and the lonely, truth to a society that settles for relativism, and faith to a world that has lost sight of anything worth believing in.  One might say that all of that is the Church’s mission, but that assumes the Church is primary, when actually the mission is what is of primary importance.  And so we believe that the apostolic mission has a Church, and it’s time for the Church to be released from its chains and burst forth to give witness in the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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.

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