The Suffering and Death of a Shepherd

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Good Friday – Friday, April 18, 2014

For our Good Friday Reflection this year, and in preparation for the Canonization of Blessed Pope John Paul II next Sunday, April 27, 2014, I have chosen to share with you the this reflection on what Pope John Paul II taught us at the end of his life. I cannot celebrate Good Friday without remembering Pope John Paul II, especially his final Good Friday on earth in 2005. This reflection is part of a major address I gave at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, for the opening of the special exhibit, “Blessed,” that commemorates the life of this great man. 

On Human Suffering

One of the beautiful and not frequently cited writings of John Paul II was his 1984 apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris, “On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering.” The late Pope, following the Apostle Paul and the entire Catholic Tradition, maintained throughout his life that it is precisely in suffering that Christ displayed his solidarity with humanity, and in which we can grow in solidarity with Christ, who is our life.

In Salvifici Doloris suffering is the consequence of sin, and Christ embraces that consequence, rather than repudiating it. By embracing suffering, he shares fully in it, he takes the consequence of sin into and onto himself. He does this out of love for us, not simply because he wants to redeem us, but because he wants to be with us, to share what we share, to experience what we experience. And it is this shared love, this shared suffering in love, which completes and perfects the relationship broken in sin, and so redeems us.

Pope John Paul II taught us that the meaning of suffering is fundamentally changed by the Incarnation. Apart from the Incarnation, suffering is the consequence of sin. It offers opportunities for insight into oneself, for personal growth, and for demonstrating practical love for others, but these are incidental. Because of the Incarnation, however, we become sharers in the Body of Christ. Our suffering becomes his suffering, and becomes an expression of redeeming love.

Because he was the leader of a billion Roman Catholics; because he was the first pontiff of the satellite and Internet age, reaching out to billions more, and because he was John Paul II, who has ruled the church for more than 26 years—in that public experience of suffering was found enormous power. And that he certainly knew. In 1981, after recovering from the gunshot wound that almost took his life in St. Peter’s Square, John Paul declared that suffering, as such, is one of the most powerful messages in Christianity.

During the final years of his pontificate, John Paul II brought suffering back into the realm of the expected in human life. Everyone could see that his spirituality gave him an inner strength – a spirituality with which one can also overcome fear, even the fear of death. What an incredible lesson for the world! His struggle with the physical effects of aging was also a valuable lesson to a society that finds it hard to accept growing older, and a culture that sees no redemption in suffering. 

In 1994, as age and infirmity began to incapacitate John Paul publicly, he told his followers he had heard God and was about to change the way he led the church. “I must lead her with suffering,” he said. “The pope must suffer so that every family and the world should see that there is, I would say, a higher gospel: the gospel of suffering, with which one must prepare the future.”

A consoling letter to his peers

In 1999, in preparation for the Great Jubilee, Pope John Paul II published his “Letter to the Elderly.” Following his Letters to the young in 1985, to families in 1994, to children in 1994, to women in 1995 and to artists in 1999 year – and not counting those Letters that he wrote each year to priests on Holy Thursday, since the beginning of his pontificate, he wrote deeply moving and encouraging words to his peers in the Letter to the Elderly. He had no fear in placing before the eyes of the world the limits and frailties that the years placed upon him. He did nothing to disguise them. In speaking to young people, he has no difficulty in saying of himself: ‘I am an old priest’.” John Paul II “continued to fulfill his mission as the Successor of Peter, looking far ahead with the enthusiasm of the only youth that does not deteriorate, that of the spirit, which this Pope maintains intact. The letter had a very personal, almost confidential, tone and was not an analysis of old age. Rather, it was a very intimate dialogue between people of the same generation.

“The passage of time,” wrote the Pope in that memorable letter, “helps us to see our experiences in a clearer light and softens their painful side.” Moreover, he says, the daily difficulties can be eased with God’s help. In addition, “we are consoled by the thought that, by virtue of our spiritual souls, we will survive beyond death.”

“Guardians of shared memory” was the title of the one part of the Pope’s Letter. Pointing out that “in the past, great respect was shown to the elderly,” the Pope remarks that this is still true in many cultures today, “while among others, this is much less the case, due to a mentality which gives priority to immediate human usefulness and productivity.” He wrote: “It has come to the point where euthanasia is increasingly put forward as a solution for difficult situations. Unfortunately, in recent years the idea of euthanasia has lost for many people the sense of horror which it naturally awakens in those who have a sense of respect for life.”

The Pope added: “Here it should be kept in mind that the moral law allows the rejection of ‘aggressive medical treatment’ and makes obligatory only those forms of treatment which fall within the normal requirements of medical care, which in the case of terminal illness seeks primarily to alleviate pain. But euthanasia, understood as directly causing death, is another thing entirely. Regardless of intentions and circumstances, euthanasia is always an intrinsically evil act, a violation of God’s law and an offense against the dignity of the human person.”

Pope John Paul II continued in that letter: “Man has been made for life, whereas death … was not a part of God’s original plan but came about as a consequence of sin.” “However rationally comprehensible death may be from a biological standpoint, it is not possible to experience it as something ‘natural’.” We ask ourselves, he says here, “What is on the other side of the shadowy wall of death?” The answer comes from faith “which illuminates the mystery of death and brings serenity to old age, now no longer lived passively as the expectation of a calamity, but rather as a promise-filled approach to the goal of full maturity.” 

Pope John Paul’s Letter to the Elderly closed with a section entitled “An encouragement to live life to the full.” He writes: “I feel a spontaneous desire to share fully with you my own feelings at this point of my life, after more than twenty years of ministry on the throne of Peter. … Despite the limitations brought on by age I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the Kingdom of God! “At the same time,” he concludes, “I find great peace in thinking about the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life! … ‘Bid me to come to you’: this is the deepest yearning of the human heart, even in those who are not conscious of it.” What a magnificent signature piece of Pope John Paul II! He not only wrote the letter but enacted it in his own life. We were eyewitnesses.

The public suffering

Pope John Paul II taught us that life is sacred, no matter how painful his own life became for him. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, Pope John Paul II let the whole world see what he went through. The suffering and dying of this Pope did not take place in private, but before television cameras and the whole world. In the final act of his life, the athlete was immobilized, the distinctive, booming voice silenced, and the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. John Paul II’s final homily was an icon of his Galilean Master’s final words to Simon Peter: “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” …After this he [Jesus] said to him, “Follow me” [John 21:18-19].

Many Catholics and non-Christians saw the pope’s suffering as something like the agony of Jesus himself, and neither John Paul nor those around him discourage such comparisons. When asked a few years ago if he might consider resigning, John Paul reportedly asked, in reply, “Did Christ come down from the cross?” His close aides say that debate about his ability to administer the church, as if he were the CEO of a secular corporation, essentially misses the point. This pope is not doing a job, he is carrying out a divine mission, and his pain is at its core.

That final Good Friday evening

One of my most vivid memories from the last week of our late Holy Father Pope John Paul II’s life was during the Way of the Cross on Good Friday evening in 2005, in which he participated by watching the service at the Coliseum in his chapel on television. The television camera in his chapel was behind him so that he would not be distracted from taking part in this ceremony in which he always took part personally. Then-Archbishop John Foley was doing the television commentary in English from Rome, reading the very provocative meditations prepared by a certain Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

At one point toward the end of the Way of the Cross, someone put a rather large crucifix on the knee of the Holy Father, and he was gazing lovingly at the figure of Jesus. At the words, “Jesus Dies on the Cross,” Pope John Paul drew the crucifix to himself and embraced it. I will never forget that scene. What an incredibly powerful homily without words! Like Jesus, Pope John Paul II embraced the cross; in fact, he embraced the crucifix of Jesus Christ on Good Friday night.

The death of a patriarch

Several hours before his death, Pope John Paul’s last audible words were: “Let me go to the house of the Father.” In the intimate setting of prayer, as Mass was celebrated at the foot of his bed and the throngs of faithful sang below in St. Peter’s Square, he died at 9:37 p.m. on April 2. Through his public passion, suffering and death, this holy priest, Successor of the Apostles, and Servant of God, showed us the suffering face of Jesus in a remarkable way.

The Pope of Holiness

Karol Wojtyla himself was an extraordinary witness who, through his devotion, heroic efforts, long suffering and death, communicated the powerful message of the Gospel to the men and women of our day. A great part of the success of his message is due to the fact that he has been surrounded by a tremendous cloud of witnesses who stood by him and strengthened him throughout his life. For John Paul II, the call to holiness excludes no one; it is not the privilege of a spiritual elite.

“Lumen Gentium,” the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council notes that the holiness of Christians flows from that of the Church and manifests it. It says that holiness “is expressed in many ways by the individuals who, each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus sanctifying others” (LG 39). In this variety “one and the same holiness is cultivated by all, who are moved by the Spirit of God…and follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in his glory” (LG 41). 

When the throngs of people began chanting “Santo Subito” at the end of the Pope’s funeral mass on April 8, 2005, what were they really chanting? They were crying out that in Karol Wojtyla, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us. He was a sinner who experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness. He was the prophetic teacher who preached the word in season and out of season. He looked at us, loved us, touched us, healed us and gave us hope. He taught us not to be afraid. He showed us how to live, how to love, how to forgive and how to die. He taught us how to embrace the cross in the most excruciating moments of life, knowing that the cross was not God’s final answer.

That a person is declared a “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of the Pontificate or of the Vatican. Canonization means that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. That person lets those around him know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but the next. Such a person lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth.

In the life of Karol Wojtyla, the boy from Wadowice who would grow up to be a priest and Bishop of Krakow, the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages, holiness was contagious. We have all been touched and changed by it. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but “a Father who was and is Holy.” At his funeral mass on April 8, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching us and blessing us “from the window of the Father’s House.”

As we prepare for the Canonization of this great shepherd and holy priest and bishop on Sunday April 27, 2014, may we learn from “Papa Wojtyla” how to cross thresholds, open doors, build bridges, embrace the Cross of suffering and proclaim the Gospel of Life to the people of our time. May we learn how to live, to suffer and die unto the Lord. Let us pray to have a small portion of the fidelity of Peter’s witness and the boldness of Paul’s proclamation that were so mightily present in Karol Wojtyla – Saint John Paul II. May he intercede for us and for all those who suffer in body and spirit, and give us the desire to help carry one another’s crosses, to grow in holiness and to become saints. 

[The readings for Good Friday are: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; and John 18:1-19:42.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Saint Marie of the Incarnation

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Born Marie Guyart in Tours, France, on October 28, 1599, she was the first superior of the Ursulines of Quebec.  The road to her vocation was not straightforward.

Marie’s father was by birth a bourgeois; her mother was connected with the illustrious house of Barbon de la Bourdaisière. Despite this, Marie gave evidence of great piety and detachment from the world at a very early on.

At the age of seventeen, in obedience to her parents, she was married to a silk manufacturer  named Claude Martin, and devoted herself completely to the duties of a Christian wife. The union was a source of trials: the only consolation it brought her was the birth of a son. Six months after her son was born, she was left a widow.

Finding herself once again unmarried, Marie entertained the idea of joining the Ursulines. However, being the mother of a young child forced her to delay this project until her son was twelve years old

By the time she was finally able to follow her vocation, the Ursuline Order had recently been introduced into France.  Madame Martin (as Marie would have been known at that time) took the veil at the Ursuline house in Tours.  Two years after her entry into the convent she was made novice mistress.

She always felt intense zeal for saving souls, and at the age of about thirty-four she experienced new impulses of “the apostolic spirit”  These impulses “transported her soul even to the ends of the earth”; and filled her with  the longing for her own sanctification, and the salvation of so many souls still under the shadows of paganism. It also inspired her with the resolution to go and live in America.

Sister Marie communicated this desire to her confessor, who, after much hesitation, approved it. A pious woman, Mme de la Peltrie, provided the means for the fulfillment of Sister Marie’s newfound mission.

On April 3, 1639, Sister Marie of the Incarnacion sailed from Dieppe with a few sisters who had begged to be allowed to accompany her.  After a perilous three month voyage they arrived at Quebec and were  joyfully welcomed by the settlers.

Sister Marie and her companions, who by now acknowledged her as the superior of their small community, occupied a little house in the lower town (Basse-Ville). In the spring of 1641 the foundation-stone was laid for the Ursuline monastery, on the same spot where it stands today.

To be the more useful to the aboriginal community, she had set herself to learn their languages immediately on her arrival. Her piety, her zeal for the conversion and instruction of the young aboriginals, and the wisdom with which she oversaw her community were alike remarkable.

She suffered great tribulations from the Iroquois who were threatening the colony, but she stood firm and was able to comfort the downcast. On  December 29, 1650, a terrible fire left the Ursuline monastery in ashes. At first she took shelter with the Hospitalières and then with Mme de la Peltrie. By May 29 of the following year she inaugurated the new monastery. She spent the rest of her life teaching and catechizing the young natives and died April 30, 1672 after forty years of labours, thirty-three of them spent in Canada.

Marie of the Incarnation has left a few works which reveal her piety, and resignation to Divine Providence. “Des Lettres” (Paris, 1677-1681) contains an account of the events which took place in Canada during her time, and constitute one of the sources for the history of the French colony from 1639 to 1671. There are also a “Retraite”, with a short exposition of the Canticle of Canticles, and a familiar “Explication” of the mysteries of the Faith — a catechism which she compiled for young religious women.

On April 3, 2014 Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing Marie de L’incarnacion as a saint and inserting her name into the list of saints. The process is known as an “equivalent canonization”. 

Read more about St. Marie of the Incarnation in Clothed in the Word of God: Canadian Saints, Blesseds and Venerables, from Novalis.

Saint Marianne Cope, Beloved Mother of Outcasts

Sister Marianne Cope (formerly Barbara Koob) was born January 23, 1838 and baptized the following day in what is now Hessen, West Germany. The young Sister Marianne worked as a teacher and hospital administrator in New York. In 1870, she was elected superior of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. Seven years later she became second Mother Provincial of her order. Just when it seemed that her religious life was planned out, in 1883 she received an unexpected invitation from Fr. Leonor Fouesnel, emissary of the Hawaiian government, to come and help the “afflicted members” of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

She left for Hawaii with six sisters in 1883, planning to get them settled and then return to Syracuse. She ended up spending the rest of her life in Hawaii. After five years managing a hospital in Honolulu, she volunteered to go to Molokai, an isolated peninsula at the base of enormous cliffs to which lepers were condemned for the rest of their days. According to witnesses, Molokai at the time was something like a combination of a graveyard and a prison. The stench was so vile that even Fr. Damien had to smoke a pipe to keep from vomiting.

By frequent hand-washing, keeping the convent off-limits to lepers and refusing food prepared by lepers, Mother Marianne and her sisters managed to spend decades ministering to the physical and emotional needs of lepers in close quarters without ever becoming infected.

The life of Mother Marianne complements the life of St. Damien (1840-1889), beloved for his self-sacrifice for the lepers of Hawaii to the point of contracting the disease himself. Mother Marianne, for her part, decided from the outset to observe certain basic rules to protect herself and her Franciscan sisters from leprosy. She spent the last 30 years of her life ministering on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, working closely with Father Damien and with the outcasts of society as they were abandoned on the shores of the island, never to return to their families. After Fr. Damien had died, Mother Marianne took charge of the refuge had had built for boys. She was about 50 years old when her mission at Molokai began. She died at 80 years old on August 9, 1918 from kidney and heart disease. At her death, a Honolulu newspaper wrote: “Seldom has the opportunity come to a woman to devote every hour of 30 years to the mothering of people isolated by law from the rest of the world. She risked her own life all that time, faced everything with unflinching courage, and was known for her gentle smile.

People of all religions of the islands still honor and revere Father Damien, now St. Damien, and Mother Marianne who brought healing to body and soul. She was beatified at the Vatican on May 14, 2005, one month after the death of Pope John Paul II. With her canonization by Pope Benedict on October 21, 2012 her life is held up before the world as true model of holiness and friend of God.

TWO DAUGHTERS, SIX SAINTS, AND THREE POPES

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By Mary Rose Bacani Valenti

We were riding on the subway with a friend of ours a few years ago.  He started to tell the story of Chiara Luce, an Italian teenager who was then recently beatified.  When he mentioned her name, Richard and I immediately looked at each other.  I knew we were both thinking the same thing; we had found the beautiful name we would give our first child – Chiara.

We were five months pregnant with a baby girl.  We didn’t know what to name her but we weren’t worried.  God would reveal her name in time.  There was no doubt in our minds after that subway ride that her name would be Chiara.  Well, her first name at least. 

Chiara “Luce” Badano is a contemporary saint.  She would have been only a few years older than me if she were still alive!  She was born in Italy in 1971 and died at the age of 19 from bone cancer.  In just 19 years after her death, she was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.  Chiara Luce was a normal teenager, sociable and full of life.  She found out about her illness at 17, but she kept her love of life and inspired everyone.  She loved Jesus so much and considered him her spouse.  Chiara suffered bravely, even refusing morphine when her sufferings became more intense.  When asked why, she said, “I have only pain to offer Jesus.”  As she neared death, she asked her mother to dress her in a wedding dress for her funeral and make her up like a young bride, for she belonged completely to Jesus.  She is the first member of the Focolare movement to be beatified and is a true role model for young people today.  We hope that our own daughter Chiara will always know her story and understand the love she had for God. 

Chiara d’Assisi (or St. Clare of Assisi) is another saint that we thought of in naming our daughter Chiara.  Richard has a Franciscan spirituality; to have St. Clare prominent in our daughter’s name and upbringing was important to him. 

Our daughter Chiara’s second name is Andrea, after St. Andre of Montreal.  It was to St. Andre that I prayed at St. Joseph’s Oratory, while filming the Salt + Light documentary on his life, God’s Doorkeeper.  Richard and I had some difficulty conceiving and we prayed to St. Andre (and St. Joseph, of course) for the miracle of life.  It was shortly after my little pilgrimage there that we conceived. 

Life has been wonderful with our daughter Chiara.  She is a source of great blessings for us.  But God has graciously showered us with more.  To our great pleasure and surprise, we found out in April that we are pregnant with our second.  Another girl.  It was harder this time to figure out a name, but again, we were not worried.  Richard rolled off some names, I rolled off some names, but nothing clicked.  One day at the park, while pushing our two-year-old daughter Chiara on the swings, her name came to me – Gianna.  St. Gianna Molla was the first saint that Salt + Light produced a documentary on, Love is a Choice.  When I told Richard about this inspiration, he immediately agreed that that was the name.  I remembered how Richard and I were both drawn to Gianna Molla’s story and to how beautiful she was.  We were also privileged to have met members of her family and experience her holiness through them. 

Gianna Beretta Molla, like Chiara Badano, is a contemporary saint.  She died at 39 years old in 1962, which is only a little more than a decade before I was born.  She was born in Italy in 1922 and like, Chiara Badano, was full of life.  She loved the outdoors, enjoying skiing and mountain climbing in particular.  She became a medical doctor and paid special attention to mothers, babies, the elderly and the poor.  Having discerned her vocation to marriage, she married an engineer named Pietro Molla.  Gianna wanted to form a truly Christian family, and she gave herself completely to this with Pietro.  Work sometimes had to separate the two of them, and Richard and I have read the compilation of their love letters with such admiration.  They were the letters of saints in love!

Pietro and Gianna had four children, although one of them died at an early age.  It was with the fourth child that the complication happened that took Gianna’s life.  She had developed a fibroma in her uterus which made her pregnancy risky.  However, she gave her life in order to save the life of her child.  “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child.”  On April 28, 1962, despite the unbearable pain she was experiencing, she exclaimed repeatedly, “Jesus, I love you.”  And then she died.  Gianna was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1994, during the International Year of the Family, and was canonized by him ten years later.  As a woman who loved life completely and gave herself with a passion to forming a Christian family, St. Gianna Molla is a great patron for our second daughter. 

And of course, to preserve our love of the Franciscan spirituality, our daughter Gianna’s second name is Francesca, after St. Francis of Assisi.  We hope that his love of simplicity and all things will inspire our daughter’s life.  We were also thinking of our present pope, Pope Francis, in giving the name Francesca.  Pope Francis in his simplicity and humility has made our love of the simple life even stronger.  “Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” 

These saints who inspired our daughters’ names, they all lived a simple life.  A life free of attachments that are not God.  A life lived completely for him.  Christmas this year will be very special, because our baby Gianna Francesca is due around that time.  We cannot wait to tell her her name and the stories of the saints behind it.

But even before Christmas, there is All Saints’ Day on November 1st.  Richard, Chiara and I will celebrate this day with all our saintly friends.  And we will continue to ask them to help our little family and all families to walk firmly and faithfully on the road to sainthood.

Photo courtesy of the Valentis

Do you have to be dead to be a saint?

It’s true that in order to be declared a saint you have to be dead; you also have to have two confirmed miracles! But is that what sainthood is about? Do you really have to be dead in order to be a saint? Is there anyone you know whom you’d call a saint? Does being a Saint mean more than just someone who is in Heaven? These are some of the questions that we’ll be looking at in this all-new Perspectives: The Weekly Edition.

Join Deacon Pedro as he sits with Sr. Marie Paul Curley, FSP, co-author of two new books, Saints Alive! The Faith Proclaimed and Saints Alive! The Gospel Witnessed to speak about holiness and sainthood tonight, Friday, October 11, 2013 or Sunday, October 13, 2013, 7 and 11pm ET (8pm PT), and join our discussion on Facebook

Dr. Thérèse, Heal us and pray for us!

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Thérèse Martin was born on January 2, 1873, in France. After their mother died, her two older sisters, Pauline and Marie, entered the Carmelite convent of Lisieux. These losses plunged young Thérèse into an emotional illness from which she was miraculously cured by the “Smiling Virgin” Mary. Early on, Thérèse dreamed of becoming a Carmelite nun like her sisters. Her determination led to her being admitted at age 15. She took the name “Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.” The early days were difficult ones; she discovered the challenges of contemplative prayer and the austerity of the convent Rule. Beginning in 1894, she began to write her spiritual autobiography. In doing so she became aware of the Lord’s mercy but also of her “littleness” before him. Thus was born her “little way,” a path of trust and giving over of oneself to the mercy and love of Jesus.

When she was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1896, Thérèse began “a dark night of the soul” – a time of great spiritual darkness and discouragement. And yet, her willingness to give continued: she always offered to do the least enjoyable tasks, which for her was a way to be “salt and light” in her community. As she faced death, she wrote, “I’m not really going to die. I’m just entering into another life.” She died on September 30, 1897, after suffering much agony. During this time of suffering she said, “I feel as if my mission is about to begin… I want to spend Eternity in Heaven doing good here on earth.”

One year after her death, her spiritual autobiography was published and was a great international success. Although she was almost unknown when she was buried, her grave became a pilgrimage site and reports of miracles soon appeared. Beatified in 1923 and canonized in 1925, Thérèse was also named “Patron of the Missions.”

At World Youth Day 1997 in Paris, Pope John Paul II announced that he would name Thérèse “Doctor of the Universal Church” because of the depth of her spiritual writings.

Later that year on October 19, 1997, Mission Sunday, Pope John Paul II proclaimed St. Thérèse of Lisieux the third female Doctor of the Church, joining Sts. Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena who were proclaimed in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. Until 1970, there were 32 doctors of the Church, all of them men. As the youngest theologian of the church, her writings and life emphasized the love of Jesus and the mercy of God. In his moving homily, Pope John Paul II said:

She was not able to attend a university, nor frequent organized studies. She died young, and yet today, she will be hounoured as doctor, an eminent recognition which raises her in the consideration of the entire Christian community, well beyond what ‘an academic title’ could have done. Among the Doctors of the Church, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, is the youngest, but her spiritual path is so mature and ardent… The intuitions of faith present in her writings are so vast and profound, as to have earned her a place among the great masters of the spirit.

In a rationalistic culture, one too often permeated by practical materialism, she suggested, with disarming simplicity ‘the little path’ which, retracing the basics of things, leads to the secret of every existence: the Divine Charity which surrounds and permeates every human affair. In a time like ours, marked in so many of its aspects by the culture of the ephemeral and by hedonism, this new doctor of the church appears gifted with a singular efficacy in enlightening the mind and heart of those who are thirsting for truth and love.

It is not for the honor of Thérèse that we celebrate her doctorate, for she needs no honors. We need this distinction for our ourselves. As a doctor she heals us with her simple spirituality. By placing her in the doctor’s chair and putting on her shoulders the doctor’s gown, the church invites us all to sit at the feet of this astonishing young woman, to restudy the Gospel and be filled anew with its light.  Dr. Thérèse, Little Flower, heal us of all of our ills.  Pray for us.  Teach us to spend our time on earth doing good for others.

St. Jean de Brébeuf: Canadian Martyr

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This post was submitted by Catherine Mulroney, the editor of  Living with Christ which is published by Novalis.

St. Jean de Brébeuf is a giant of Canadian history. His writings in the Jesuit Relations, for example, offer an invaluable window into life in 17th-century Canada, while his gift for languages, which prompted him to create the first Huron dictionary, earn him the label of Canada’s first ethnographer. Brébeuf’s impact on the Canadian experience looms large; he is credited with everything from coining the term lacrosse to penning the lyrics of The Huron Carol, a Canadian Christmas classic.

One of the most telling details of his life, however, is found in the name the Huron people gave him — Echon. One translation means “healing tree,” a reference to Brébeuf’s height and gentle nature. The alternative translation, however, “one who carries a heavy burden,” speaks to the spiritual life of the most famous of the men known collectively as the Canadian Martyrs.

Born in France in 1593, Brébeuf was ordained a Jesuit in 1622. He arrived in Quebec as a missionary in 1625, and in 1626 traveled to a Huron community near present-day Midland, Ont. Sent home during political upheaval, he returned to Quebec in 1633, making a 1,300-km canoe trek back to Huronia the following year, where he remained for most of the rest of his life. Brébeuf’s willingness to paddle long distances, portaging through rough terrain and enduring challenging conditions without complaint– even sleeping on rock, for example – so impressed the Huron he traveled with, that they called him Echon to reflect his abilities.

Brébeuf’s embrace of his mission comes through clearly in his writings. His recollection of his journey, as described in the Relations, was that “I was at times so weary that my body could do no more. But at the same time my soul was filled with great happiness as I realized that I was suffering this for God.”

The physical challenges and practical privations were only some of Brébeuf burdens during his mission. He was confronted with skepticism – if not downright mistrust – by many. The initial embrace of Christianity was slow, undoubtedly complicated by the fact that illnesses Europeans brought with them proved deadly to the aboriginal communities, killing thousands.

Brébeuf remained unbowed, however, and as the number of those baptized gradually increased, he wrote instructions to future missionaries, telling them to love the Hurons as brothers and to be ready to offer such practical assistance as carrying magnifying glasses to start fires and to be respectful, eating food that is offered and helping with tasks.

As the 1640s drew to a close, the Huron became increasingly threatened by the Iroquois, and on March 16, 1649, Brébeuf and fellow Jesuit Gabriel Lalemant were taken prisoner, tortured and martyred. Brébeuf’s stoicism impressed all who witnessed his suffering on behalf of his call.

A missionary to his death, he addressed the Huron captured with him, telling them, ”God is the witness of our sufferings, and will soon be our exceeding great reward. Let us die in this faith…Sustain with courage the few remaining torments. They will end our lives. The glory which follows them will never have an end.”

St. Jean de Brébeuf and seven companions were canonized in 1930. Secondary patron saints of Canada, their feast day is September 26.

(CNS Photo)

On the feast of St. Gregory the Great

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Pope Gregory the Great

Few popes in the Church’s history have had as great of an influence on the shaping of the Church as Pope Gregory. Born into a wealthy patrician family in Rome around 540, Gregory rose to prominence within the Roman government. Highly regarded by many as a distinguished speaker and writer, he established himself as a person well versed in imperial law and the subjects of the day.

However, after a period of deep prayer, Gregory discerned the call to the monastic life. Shaped by the faith of his family and the witness of his father who converted his many properties into monasteries, Gregory had a profound love for the Scriptures and a desire to live the Gospel virtues. By entering into the contemplative life, he sought to live a life of simplicity and strict penance.

Despite his desire to live the monastic life, Pope Pelagius II ordained Gregory as one of the seven deacons of Rome. The city of Rome at the time, and much of the Italian peninsula, was threatened by the invasion of the Lombards and the people suffered from the constant threat of disease. GregoryNo longer the seat of a great empire, Rome now stood in the shadow of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Hoping to win the aid of the Emperor of Constantinople, Pelagius sent Gregory there as an ambassador. The Byzantine Empire, however, had other matters to attend to, with threats of invasion in their own lands. Realizing the emperor’s lack of interest in safeguarding the Italian peninsula, Gregory devoted the remainder of his time in Constantinople to nurturing the faith of many women and men and engaging in dialogue with the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Gregory returned to Rome in 585 and returned to his monastery. However, his time in the monastery would not last long. Immediately following the death of Pope Pelagius II, Gregory was elected to the Chair of Peter in 590. After much protestation and avoidance, Gregory was consecrated Bishop of Rome in St. Peter’s Basilica on 3 September, 590.

As pope, Gregory would leave his mark upon the Church and become known by many as one of the last of the Fathers of the Church. Gregory was an outstanding pastor, dedicating his ministry to the good of the people and ensuring the nourishment of both their bodies and souls. Under Gregory’s papacy, the Bishop of Rome would become a prominent figure both spiritually and politically.

Perhaps the greatest of Gregory’s achievements as pope, and one in which we find inspiration today, was his missionary zeal. He sent St. Augustine of Canterbury, an abbot of his former monastery, to preach the faith in England. Augustine’s mission to England was so successful that it led to the later conversion of Northern Europe to Christianity.

Gregory’s passion for evangelization is reflected in the immense record of his writings. Author of hundreds of letters, commentaries and sermons, Gregory is most well known for his Rule for Pastors. In it, Gregory challenges bishops and priests to live the Gospel virtues faithfully and humbly and to passionately care for the spiritual well-being of the faithful. Gregory lived what he preached. He tirelessly served the women and men entrusted to his care and loved them deeply. His life and preaching exemplified the Gospel. Thousands came to hear him preach and he invigorated a renewal within the Church. Upon his death, people called for his immediate canonization.

For those of us entrusted with the New Evangelization, Gregory serves as an example for living and proclaiming the Gospel. Aside from his simplicity of life and extraordinary teaching, Gregory not only preached the Gospel in word but also in deed. He devoted his life and the work of the Church to heal the wounded, serve the poor and feed the hungry. It is for these things that generations of women and men acclaim him Pope Gregory the Great.

This reflection comes to us from Don Beyers, Marketing Manager for English Books & Resources at Novalis Publishing.

The Passion of John the Baptist

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On August 29, the Church remembers the death of St. John the Baptist, a prophet who was put to death through beheading because he spoke the truth.

There is no Gospel that begins the story of Jesus’ public ministry without first telling the reader about the life and mission of John the Baptist.  John’s preceding Jesus was clearly fixed in the Christian tradition, so much, that in two of the three Gospels that begin their story before the public ministry with Jesus’ first appearance on earth, John the Baptist is brought forth to precede the appearance as well.

John the Baptist was a man of the desert and began his preaching in the desert:  “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path”  (Mk. 1:3; Mt. 3:3).  His long years in the desert before his appearance as a preacher and teacher of repentance (Lk. 1:80) were the source and time for many possibilities.  When the time had come, John led his own disciples to Jesus and indicated to them the Messiah, the True Light, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Jesus’ own testimony to John makes the Baptizer the greatest of all Israelite heroes (Mt. 11:7-19; Lk. 7:24-35).  Jesus also testifies to John’s greatness in calling him a “witness to the truth, a burning and shining lamp” (Jn. 5:33-56). 

John considered himself to be less than a slave to Jesus, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize- the one coming after me- the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to unfasten” (John 1:26-27).  When John’s own disciples came to him and were troubled about the meaning of Jesus’ baptizing in the Jordan, he answered them confidently:  “No one can receive anything except what is given them from heaven…” John says that he is only the friend of the bridegroom, the one who must decrease while his master increases (Jn. 3:25-30).  The Baptizer defined his humanity in terms of its limitations.

John experienced the loneliness of an authentic prophet of Israel when he was the only one willing to say a truth that everyone knew, that King Herod was living with the divorced wife of his brother.  John is finally imprisoned by Herod Antipas because of his public rebuke of the tetrarch for his adulterous and incestuous marriage with Herodias (Mt. 4:12; Mk. 1:14; Lk. 3:19).  John was executed as a result of the foolish pledge made by Herod during a drunken orgy (Mt. 14:1-2;  Mk. 6:14-28;  Lk. 9:7-9).  Just as the Baptist and the Messiah are closely linked in their births so too are their fates so closely intertwined.

O God, who willed that Saint John the Baptist
should go ahead of your Son
both in his birth and in his death,
grant that, as he died a Martyr for truth and justice,
we, too, may fight hard
for the confession of what you teach.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Image: The Beheading of John the Baptist, by Caravaggio 

Archbishop Fulton Sheen: Loyal Son of the Church on the Road to Sainthood

The diocesan phase of the cause of canonization for Fulton Sheen – the phase in which officials his home diocese meet with people who knew him or were touched by his work and gather evidence to show he lived a life of heroic virtues – was closed in 2008 and the related documents were sent to the Vatican.

December 11, 2011 marked the official closing of the tribunal into an alleged miracle through the intercession of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  On June 28, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI declared Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen ‘VENERABLE.”  The recognition of his heroic virtues means Fulton Sheen is just “Venerable” for now, but this is the first step towards sainthood. Church officials are now examining a case of extraordinary healing which took place thanks to his intercession. This could soon lead to his beatification.

Born in El Paso, Illinois, in the Diocese of Peoria, John Fulton Sheen was ordained a priest of that diocese in 1919.  He eventually left his central Illinois roots and became known nationwide as the host of pioneering radio and television programs, including “The Catholic Hour” and “Life Is Worth Living.” The latter was a television series that aired from 1951 to 1957 and attracted an estimated 30 million weekly viewers.

Archbishop Sheen taught philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, 1926-50, and was national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, 1950-66.  In 1966 Sheen was appointed Bishop of Rochester, New York.

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He died in 1979 just a few months after Pope John Paul II praised him during his historic visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City for Sheen’s commitment to the announcement of the Gospel.

A relatively unknown fact is that during the Second Vatican Council, Bishop Sheen, who attended the Council, worked closely with then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, a theological expert, on the commission for mission.

The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen is a not only a regular fixture on the S+L broadcast schedule, but an inspiration to our entire team as well. Archbishop Sheen was ahead of his time when he took to the airways to teach the faith in a way that viewers of his day could connect to.

Archbishop Sheen “wanted to get to heaven … wanted to bring all of us with him … wanted to be a saint. … wanted us to be saints, too,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a homily during an anniversary mass marking Sheen’s death.

“With his voice Fulton J. Sheen gave us the story of Jesus, the ‘greatest story ever told,’ the way the stained-glass windows of the medieval cathedrals, or the brush strokes of a Raphael, a Fra Angelico, a Giotto once did,” Dolan said.

“For him, this Jesus was alive, still active, still powerful, still teaching, still healing, still leading us to heaven, because, you see, the incarnation was still going on: The word was still taking flesh; God was still becoming man.”

Join us at Salt and Light Television in praying for the cause of canonization of Fulton Sheen, a loyal son of the Church and an apostle of the New Evangelization through media.

For more information about the cause for canonization of Archbishop Sheen, visit archbishopsheencause.org

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(CNS file photo)