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.

Saint Scholastica, Virgin

Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Scholastica, who is known as the sister of Saint Benedict.  Some traditions speak of them as twins. Pope Saint Gregory the Great tells us that Benedict ruled over both monks and nuns, and it seems as if Saint Scholastica was the prioress of the nuns.

So what we know about Saint Scholastica is what we have from Saint Gregory, and his account tells us of a spiritual kinship between she and Benedict that was extremely close.  They would often meet together, but could never do so in their respective cloisters, so each would travel with some of their confreres and meet at a house on the property of the monastery.  On one such occasion, the last of these meetings together, they were speaking as they often did of the glories of God and the promise of heaven.  Perhaps knowing that she would not have this opportunity again, Scholastica begged her brother not to leave but to spend the night in this spiritual conversation.  Benedict did not like the idea of being outside his monastery for the night, and initially refused.  With that, Saint Scholastica laid her head on her hands and asked God to intercede.  Just as she finished her prayer, a very violent storm arose, preventing Benedict’s return to the monastery.  He said: “God forgive you, sister; what have you done?”  She replied, “I asked a favor of you and you refused it.  I asked it of God, and He has granted it.”

Three days later, Saint Scholastica died.  Saint Benedict was alone at the time, and had a vision of his sister’s soul ascending to heaven as a dove.  He announced her death to his brethren and then gave praise for her great happiness.  Just like Saint Scholastica, we are called to spend our days and nights in contemplation of our Lord and discussing his greatness with our brothers and sisters.  We don’t often do that, though, do we?  What a pleasant change that would be from some of the conversations we have!

Saint Scholastica had a very close relationship with her brother, but also a very close relationship with her Lord, who granted her prayer because of her faith.  As Lent approaches next week, this would be a good time to re-examine our relationships, both with our brothers and sisters, but also with our Lord.  What is it that we need to do during Lent that would strengthen these relationships and bring us into fuller communion with Christ?

Saint Agatha, Virgin Martyr

Today’s readings

Historically speaking, 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 believe in Christ when it would have been so much easier—and life-saving—to do so, 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 martyrdom is a participation in the “sprinkled Blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” of which the writer of the letters to the Hebrews writes.  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.”

Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops

Today’s readings

The sign of a good leader is her or his ability to perpetuate their activity.  A good corporate leader is future-minded, and lays the groundwork for his successor to carry the company forward.  A good parent raises children that can be set free one day to be successful and prudent in life, extending their integrity and love into the next generation.  Paul’s ministry was no different.  He knew he wouldn’t be around forever; indeed his ministry marked him for martyrdom.  And so in today’s saints, Timothy and Titus, he invests in leaders who will take the fledgling churches into the next generation.

During the fifteen years Saint Timothy worked with Saint Paul, he became one of his most faithful and trusted friends. He was sent on difficult missions by Paul—often in the face of great disturbance in local churches which Paul had founded.  Paul installed him as his representative at the Church of Ephesus.  Titus has the distinction of being a close friend and disciple of Paul as well as a fellow missionary.  Titus is seen as a peacemaker and capable administrator. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians affords an insight into the depth of his friendship with Titus, and the great fellowship they had in preaching the gospel.  When Paul was having trouble with the community at Corinth, Titus was the bearer of Paul’s severe letter and was successful in smoothing things out.  The Letter to Titus addresses him as the administrator of the Christian community on the island of Crete, charged with organizing it, correcting abuses, and appointing presbyter-bishops.

In today’s first reading from his second letter to Saint Timothy, Saint Paul shows his mentoring.  He reminds Timothy to “stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”  He urges his protégés to be strong and stand fast for the faith.  At the end of the reading, he also reminds them that they would indeed have to bear their share of hardship for the faith.

Just as Jesus said in today’s Gospel reading, Saints Timothy and Titus, along with Saint Paul, were the ones who scattered the seed trusting in God’s power to bring the Kingdom of God to its fulfillment.  Through their intercession, and by their testimony in the Scriptures we read, they beckon us to be those who tend and nurture the seeds of faith growing around us.  It is always our turn to “proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

Saint John Neumann, Bishop

Today’s readings

Saint John Neumann is one of the first great American saints, the first American archbishop to be beatified.  He is not to be confused with John Henry Cardinal Newman, of state university “Newman Center” fame.

John Neumann was born in what is now the Czech Republic.  After studying in Prague, he came to New York at 25 and was ordained a priest.  He did missionary work in New York until he was 29, when he joined the Redemptorists and became its first member to profess vows in the United States.  He continued missionary work in Maryland, Virginia and Ohio.  Saint John was well-known for his holiness and learning, spiritual writing and preaching.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Philip to be his apostle, and promises that he will see great things.  Philip is amazed by Jesus’ ability to see the best in him.  Saint John Neumann had that kind of vision too, being able to see the kind of people who would contribute well to the cause of Catholic education in the United States.

As bishop of Philadelphia, he organized the parochial school system into a diocesan one, increasing the number of pupils almost twentyfold within a short time.  Gifted with outstanding organizing ability, he drew into the city many teaching communities of sisters and the Christian Brothers.  During his brief assignment as vice provincial for the Redemptorists, he placed them in the forefront of the parochial movement.

We owe much to Saint John Neumann for his ability to organize Catholic education in this country.  So today we are thankful for our teachers and educators and catechists who over the years have led us all to the faith, and given us a glimpse at the light of Christ.

Saint Thomas Becket: Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Today’s readings

The birth of Christ in our world ought to mean something to us: the birth of Christ ought to mean a change in our attitudes and our behaviors and even in the course of our lives.

Today is a commemoration of St. Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury who ultimately lost his life to the man who gave him that prestigious post. When King Henry began to usurp Church rights, Thomas Becket found himself in a bind. Would he be beholden to the king, or would he protect the Church on behalf of the King of Kings? While it was a struggle for Thomas, he ultimately knew that the he must take a stand, no matter what the cost.

In today’s first reading, St. John makes the point very clear. We cannot say we love God and yet defy his commandments. And we certainly cannot love God who is love itself, while at the same time refusing to love our brothers and sisters. Being Christian looks like something, and the world looks at us to see what it is. If the birth of Christ means something to us, we have to share that meaning with the world by loving, no matter what the cost.

Perhaps the one who knew this best was Mary herself. Simeon the prophet knew that he had seen the promise when he looked at the child Jesus. Then he clearly told his mother that this Savior would cost her some happiness in life. Because Jesus would be a contradictory sign in the world, her heart would be pierced with sorrow. But all of this was to make manifest God’s glory.

The birth of Christ in our world and into our lives this Christmas ought to mean something to us. A watching world should be able to look at us and see Christ. May this Christmas find us changing our hearts and minds so that we can be that Christ for all the world to see, no matter what the cost.