St. Anthony, Abbot

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

We people of God have a certain responsibility. And having been given that responsibility, and the Spirit with which to carry it out, we had better be ready to fulfill our duties, because the consequences are just too great. St. Anthony the Abbot – this is not the St. Anthony who is the finder of lost objects – was a man who knew well the urgency of fulfilling his responsibilities to the Lord. He gave everything and pursued a solitary life of contemplation, and later developed a rule of life for monasteries. He lived a life of voluntary poverty and complete devotion to God.

But then there’s poor Eli, the subject of today’s first reading, and really yesterdays. Because in the first reading yesterday, we heard all about the call of Samuel, and of Eli teaching young Samuel to respond to the voice of the Lord by saying “Here I am.” But in the verses that got left out, we have the reason for the disaster that happens in today’s first reading. God has found Eli and his sons guilty of abdicating their responsibility. The people of Israel have become depraved, have worshipped idols, and Eli and his sons have done nothing to turn their hearts. That was their only responsibility, and they failed to accomplish it. So what happens? Not only does Israel fall to the idolatrous Philistines, but the Ark of the Covenant, the great symbol of their commitment to God is taken from them. That’s almost okay though, because the Israelites had long since abandoned the covenant! And then, in the part of the reading we don’t have today, Eli on hearing the news falls over and breaks his neck. His daughter-in-law practically dies in childbirth and names her son Ichabod, a name which means “the glory is gone from Israel.”

We people of God must take absolute care to fulfill our responsibilities because the cost is just too great. We must proclaim the message far and wide as did the overjoyed leper in today’s Gospel. We must be people of forgiveness and mercy. We must reach out to the poor, needy and oppressed. We must preach the Gospel through every word and action. Because the cost of not doing so is just too great.

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

StJohnBig“He saw and believed.” The “other” disciple, often called the “beloved” disciple or the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” is St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, the one we celebrate today. St. John had a very special relationship with Christ. He wasn’t as zealous and boisterous as Peter could be, but he had a faith as strong as Peter’s in his own way. His was a faith that observed and processed and believed. His was a faith that grew quietly, as he made connections between what Jesus prophesied and what came to pass. It’s no wonder that when he stood at the tomb, “he saw and believed.”

In John’s writings, the theme of love is almost overwhelming. We hear that in today’s first reading, from John’s first letter. That love is bound up in the whole theme of fleshly existence. John proclaims that because God loved the world so much, he could not bear to be apart from us or aloof from our nature. Instead, he took on our fleshly existence, this body that can so often fail us, can so often turn to sin and degradation, can so often lead us in the wrong direction. Taking on that flawed human flesh, God proclaims once and for all that we have been created good, that we have been created in love, and that nothing can ever stand in the way of the love God has for us.

John’s preaching of love and the goodness of our created bodies is a preaching that has a very special place in the celebration of Christmas. It was because of that love that God had for us, a love that encompasses our bodies and our souls, that he came to live among us and take flesh in our world. His most merciful coming was completely part of his loving plan for our salvation. That’s the message St. John brings us on his feast day today, and throughout this celebration of Christmas.

St. John of the Cross

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Mass for the school junior high students.

StJohnCrossDo you know what a prophet is? Not a p-r-o-f-i-t profit, but a prophet who is a person. In the broadest sense, a prophet is someone who foretells what is to come. But in terms of our faith, a prophet is even more than that. A prophet is a person who helps us to see God.

Because lots of times we don’t see God. We’re either too busy to notice God, or too wrapped up in ourselves to care about God, or just completely disinterested in the whole notion of God. Sometimes we just don’t want to see God because we would rather be doing what we want to do and not what’s best for ourselves and others. God can see through all of that, and prophets help us to see through it too.

We hear from three prophets today. The first is the prophet Isaiah, and we heard from him in today’s first reading. The people of Israel had turned away from God a whole lot.
God often made a new covenant with them, and then after a while, they would lose interest and get distracted and turn away from God all over again. And Isaiah is trying to wake them up once again. He tells them if they had stayed on the right path, the path God marked out for them when he made a covenant with them, if they had followed his commands, they would have been blessed by good fortune, many descendants, and a rich land and nation that would never have been destroyed. It’s too late for them to turn back now, but maybe by seeing what caused their misfortune, they can turn back to God and let him heal them. Which is something God is always longing to do.

The second prophet we hear from today is St. John the Baptist, and we hear about him in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus is telling the people of Israel – again! – that just about nothing could get their attention. When John the Baptist went around fasting and staying away from strong drink, the people thought he was weird and couldn’t relate to the kind of life he was calling them to lead. But when Jesus came along asking them to live that same life, and eating and drinking just as they did, they judged him harshly and wouldn’t follow him either. So they always had an excuse, it was never their fault, they wouldn’t dance for joyful songs on the flute or mourn for funeral songs. Basically, no matter who was calling them to reform their lives and no matter how they proclaimed that message, the people wanted to do what they wanted to do, and nothing was going to persuade them to change.

The third prophet we hear from today is St. John of the Cross, whose feast we celebrate today. St. John of the Cross was a Carmelite friar, a kind of monk who was vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience. He was called by God and by his friend, St. Teresa of Avila, to reform the Carmelite Order. The Carmelites had relaxed some of their rules over time, and had basically turned away from the life that had been envisioned when the Order started. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila founded a reformed Carmelite Order, and St. John suffered for it terribly. In those days, religious affairs were all tied up in the government of the nation, and so there was a lot of politics. People didn’t agree with St. John, so he was taken prisoner for over nine months. Even when he was released, his fellow friars who didn’t agree with him went around to all the monasteries making trouble for him. He was oppressed for his preaching of reform almost until the day he died.

Each of these prophets had been given a message by God. Isaiah and St. John the Baptist called the people of Israel to turn back to God. St. John of the Cross called his fellow Carmelites to turn back to the ideals on which their Order was founded. All of them suffered for their witness to the truth. Prophets don’t usually have an easy life. But if we will get past the politics and get over ourselves, we might hear from them a call that leads us back to God who will make us happier than we’ve ever been.

During Advent, we remember that Christ is always near to us, and we remember that we must always turn back to him and let him be born in our hearts once again, stronger than ever. And so during Advent, we hear from the great prophets like Isaiah, John the Baptist, and John of the Cross who are calling us to turn back to God and to prepare a way for Christ in our lives, in our hearts, and in our world.

Today in our Psalm we hear what God is trying to tell us through all these prophets:

Blessed the one who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.

And we will be happy too, if we hear God’s call through the prophets and follw in his ways.

St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

Today’s readings | Today’s saint [ more]

saintlucyMany of our young people can tell you of the difficulties they face in trying to remain pure, especially before marriage. But we cannot think of that as simply one more of our modern problems, because it has been a problem for a long time now. St. Lucy could tell you that. She was born of noble parents in Sicily around the year 283. Her father died early in her life, and so she was dependent on her mother. She consecrated her virginity to God and sought to renounce worldly possessions in favor of caring for the poor. Her mother, after suffering from a hemorrhage for several years, decided to make a pilgrimage to Catania, to see the relics of St. Agatha. She was indeed cured, and in her joy consented to Lucy’s desire to give greatly to the poor.

But that generosity, probably mixed with frustration over her commitment to virginity before marriage, was viewed with great skepticism by her unworthy suitor, who denounced her as a Christian to the Governor of Sicily. She was condemned to a life of prostitution, but prayer rendered her immovable and she could not be dragged off to the house of ill repute! At that point, logs were piled around her and a fire was set, which had no effect on her at all. She was finally dispatched with a sword and suffered martyrdom for her belief in Christ.

As one of the prominent figures of Advent, St. Lucy, along with John the Baptist in today’s Gospel reading, points the way to the coming Christ. The details of her story have been disputed, but the point of the story is not to provide a historical record, but rather a spiritual record. Her commitment to Christ, and her desire to make the pathway straight, as did John the Baptist, provided a rich and unobstructed pathway for the entrance of Christ into her heart.

We too have challenges along the way to Christ. We might not be called to give our lives rather than forsake our virginity or even our belief in Christ, but we are called to lay down our lives to cover the rough places in the road so that others can come to find Him. Along the way, we are encouraged by great saints like Agatha, Lucy and John the Baptist. Every single one of them points us in the right direction: to Christ the One of whom Isaiah speaks: Christ who will be our redeemer. “But you shall rejoice in the LORD,” Isaiah tells us, “and glory in the Holy One of Israel.”

St. Nicholas, Bishop

Today’s readings

nicholasWell, did you all put your shoes outside your door for St. Nicholas to fill? I was going to do that, but I have such big feet, I didn’t want Fr. Ted to trip over them and fall down the stairs! St. Nicholas day was never a big feast in my family, but I had a friend in seminary who used to dress up as St. Nicholas and give candy canes to everyone in the refectory at lunch. Now that took guts! Especially when he brought one to the Rector of the seminary who informed him that impersonating a bishop could disqualify one from receiving Holy Orders!

But I have to admit that the legend of St. Nicholas – and that’s pretty much all we have is a legend, by the way – is compelling in a romantic sort of way. And just because it’s a legend doesn’t mean there isn’t truth to be found in it. One of the great stories about St. Nicholas is that he once helped a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters. St. Nicholas helped him by tossing a bag of gold through the man’s window on three different occasions, enabling the man not to give his daughters up to prostitution to provide the dowry. St. Nicholas’s generosity was thus legendary, and evolved into the belief about Santa Claus, which itself is a turn of the Dutch name for St. Nicholas.

Today’s Gospel encourages us to build our spiritual houses on the rock foundation of Jesus Christ. Those who hear the word and act on it, Jesus tells us, will enter the kingdom of heaven. The obligation of generosity and compassion to others was one that Jesus proclaimed with his very life, and one that he expects his followers to embrace. On this St. Nicholas day, it might be beautiful to reach out in hope and generosity to someone who least expects it. Because that’s just the way our Lord reaches out to us.

St. Francis Xavier, Priest

Today’s readings: 1 Corinthians 9: 16-19, 22-23; Mark 16:15-20
Today’s saint

We celebrate the memorial of St. 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, St. 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. He lived in the East Indies for a time, before going on to minister to the Hindus, Malaysians, and Japanese. Francis 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 St. Paul who said he made himself all things to all people in order to save at least some. Francis 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.”

Now 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.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

cabrini1“We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.”

Those words could well have been said by Mother Cabrini. She was a humble woman of great faith and fortitude, who stayed with her mission. She was refused entrance to the religious order that had educated her. So she began working at an orphanage, eventually becoming a sister in the religious order that ran it. She later became their prioress. She went to New York intending to found an orphanage there. The house they were to use turned out not to be available, and the bishop advised her to return to Italy. But she stayed, and eventually founded not only that one orphanage, but 67 institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated and the sick. She died at Columbus hospital in Chicago, which she also founded. She was the first American citizen to be canonized a saint.

Frances Xavier Cabrini knew well that servanthood was not for one’s own glory, but instead for the glory of God. We disciples are called to do all sorts of things, and we would be well-advised not to look for glory for them in this lifetime. After all, we have done only what we were obliged to do, as the Gospel reminds us today. I think the words of encouragement that we must live and die for should be “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your Master’s joy.” That’s what we all hope to hear on that great day when we stand before our Creator in judgment. What a glorious day that will be for those servants who considered themselves unprofitable, working with fortitude as did Mother Cabrini, and who did what they were obliged to do.

Our first reading echoes that very sentiment. The just may indeed be mocked and chastised by people in the world. But those who persevere though those trials will be blessed by God, and their hope will be full of immortality. The souls of the just are always in the hands of God, and no torment can ever reach us there.

St. Martin de Porres

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

St-Martin-DePorresSo much of our progress in living the Christian life is hampered by our own ego, self-centeredness and pride. Many people think sexual sins are the worst sins there are. While they are certainly bad, when it comes to being able to get past them, they pale in comparison to pride. Pride is a stubborn sin that refuses to go away, and puts up huge barriers between us and the God who made us. Whenever I am finding it difficult to progress in my spiritual life, I find that I need to do a deep examination of conscience to root out whatever traces of pride may have been rearing their ugly heads. I need to take that lower place at the table, realizing that it’s not about me, it’s about Christ. It’s an examination of conscience we should all make regularly.

And for our example, we can certainly look to today’s saint, St. Martin de Porres. He was the son of a Spanish nobleman of Peru, and a slave woman, probably black or perhaps Native American. His father refused to acknowledge him for eight years, and eventually gave up on the family after the birth of his sister. His mother apprenticed him to a local barber/surgeon when he was twelve. After a few years in this position, he applied to the Dominicans as a “lay helper” because he felt like he was not good enough to be a full brother. After some time with them, the community begged him to become a full brother and he did so, serving the poor and serving in the community’s priory and kitchen. But he never got past being “a poor slave,” even noting that the community should sell him when the priory was in debt.

St. Paul tells us today that “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” No matter how often we try to turn away, or more poignantly today, no matter how often we try to forget that God is God and we are not, God never turns away from us, and continues to give us the gifts and call us to service. What we are is God’s gift to us and what we become is our gift back to God. Putting our gifts at his service, ever aware of the source of those gifts, we are called to grow in holiness. St. Martin was called “Martin of Charity” because of his loving service to all those in need, and because of his great humility. May we see in him our model, never exalting ourselves, but always humbling ourselves for the sake of Christ.

The Solemnity of All the Saints

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Mass for the School Children

Albrecht Durer All Saints smDid you hear that? Jesus says, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (And) blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Now I want to see a show of hands here: how many of you would like to be insulted, persecuted, and had mean things said about them? Nobody? Well…

These days, not too many of us have to suffer like that for our faith. In the country in which we live, faith is more or less accepted. If you’re a Christian, not too many people are going to give you a hard time or even kill you. But it wasn’t always that way. Especially back in the very early days of the Church, right after Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven, things were hard for Christians. They were though of as some kind of evil people or troublemakers. People were always trying to get them to give up their belief in Jesus. And when they wouldn’t give it up, they were often put to death.

We call people who are put to death for their faith martyrs. The Church always believed that these people went right to heaven, because of what Jesus tells us today: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Right away, these people were remembered with great fondness and eventually there were enough of them that the church celebrated a day in remembrance of all the martyrs.

Eventually, the Church believed that you didn’t necessarily need to die for the faith to be holy. And so the idea of saints began to include people who were popes, bishops, priests, nuns, and lay people who had done wonderful things or who had been known to be very holy people and dedicated to the faith. These are people who were poor in spirit, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful to others, peacemakers, and all the rest. We started to look at all these people as role models, and remembered them after their death.

Each of us has a patron saint. Usually it’s a saint with the same name as you, or maybe you’ve picked some other saint whose story appeals to you for some reason. Our fourth graders recently did a project about their patron saints, and I’d like them all to come up here now to show us their banners, and some of them are going to share their stories with us…

All of these wonderful patron saints help us to know Jesus better. That’s why they are with us. These saints pray for us and with us every day of our lives. When we celebrate the Eucharist together here at Mass, they are praying with us up in heaven. Whenever we think about them, we can learn a little more about what it means to be close to Jesus and to be holy.

But even these patron saints aren’t the only ones we celebrate today. Lots of saints have their own feast days, like the ones our fourth graders showed us on their banners. This is the feast day for all of those unofficial saints: people who lived holy lives but never really attracted any attention. They might even be people you know, or knew. Maybe these saints are your grandparents or great grandparents whose prayer life and witness has taught you about the faith. Maybe they were those who served in our armed forces heroically and with integrity. Maybe they are your neighbors who work and live with honesty and grace. Maybe she is the lady you knew from Church who was probably in pain just before she died, but never complained and was always cheerful. These holy men and women have made their families and their homes holy, and have painted our communities with holiness. They may never find their names on the list of the official saints, but they too are part of what we call the Communion of Saints.

Because the real news of this celebration today of All Saints is that we are all called to be saints! Every one of us! It’s not enough to just think about the saints and admire them for being holy, poor in spirit, peacemakers, and all the rest. We have to become those things ourselves. Each of us is called to live a holy life. We do that by reading the Bible, by praying, by going to Mass, by becoming responsible people, by loving all the people in our lives, by reaching out to those less fortunate than ourselves, by staying away from anything that makes us love people less. Most of us aren’t saints yet, but we are on our way. Every day of our lives is a chance to become holier, to become that saint that God created us to be.

And who knows, maybe in a couple hundred years, some other fourth grade class will be doing a saint report about one of you…

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