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Don’t Skip Out on Saints

Driver's license of Archbishop Oscar Romero seen in museum in San Salvador

The first time I heard of Archbishop Oscar Romero was during my Grade 12 religion class.
Now, religion was the last class of the day and so there was every reason to just skip it.

Something that Mr. Whitebread (no kidding, that was his surname) was all too aware of, and took measures against.

His strategy was the promise of a movie about a revolutionary.

Hook, line, and sinker; he had me.

We were all present and accounted for, transfixed by the retelling of this ‘revolutionaries’ life.

By the end of it, we were convinced that Archbishop Oscar Romero was a saint, and it sparked meaningful discussion about discipleship and martyrdom.

The big take away for me, was that it gave me a sense of what sainthood might be like.

Man walks next to wall with graffiti bearing image of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador

Up until that point, most of the saints I knew of were so far removed from my own experiences I kind of just wrote them off. But learning about Archbishop Romero was different.  There was something tragically real about his life.

It’s been more than a decade since I was in high school, but I’ve been inspired to reconnect with his story by reading a biography about Oscar Romero published by Novalis. The book I’ve been reading is part of the People of God series, it’s called Love Must Win Out. It serves as a great intro (or refresher) on Oscar Romero and most importantly it tells the story of a modern day person who like us was challenged by the times he lived in to become a hero, a saint. I caught up Author, Kevin Clarke to learn more.

This book begins with a frank conversation between Oscar Romero and John Paul II. Why did you choose to start there?

It seemed to me, and I was writing this months before the announcement that Oscar Romero’s martyrdom was finally officially recognized by the church, that the archbishop’s cause had been part of the collateral damage of inter-church politics. I had to set the stage for that with the problems Blessed Oscar Romero had with the folks at the Curia and their inability to fully comprehend what he was trying to tell them about conditions in El Salvador.

Romero’s homilies were a touch-point of consolation for many, but they were also galvanizing  – tell me why his homilies were so stirring and how they are relevant today?

 They remain painfully relevant today because in the deeper context of these homilies can be found a lot of the messages we are hearing today from Pope Francis, being a church of and for the poor, reaching out to the peripheries, standing up to a throwaway economy that treats human beings as little more than soulless inputs. The church in El Salvador was about the closest real-world exemplar to that frontline hospital Pope Francis promotes, administering to the wounded and oppressed, his vision of what the church should be.

You’ve drawn comparisons between Pope Francis and Blessed Oscar Romero – Where you do see their greatest similarity in approach?

You see elements of that what I’ll call strategic humility in the decisions of both of these leaders. They are gestures that are largely symbolic, it’s true, but they are also practical and wise, a voluntary humility that is an example for all of us, but also that was instructive in real ways for Romero as it no doubt will be for Pope Francis.

In your book, you suggest political categories such as ‘left’ or ‘right’ fall short of understanding Romero… why is that important in the telling of Romero’s story.

Romero was trying to save the nation from civil war and the people from the horror of it and to that end he sided with the poor; but he did not side with the left, he sided with the people who were suffering from a great injustice.

Nor did he stand against the right in a sense. To the end what he called the nation’s elite to was to embrace their better selves, not to a political reform, but to a personal revolution of spiritual conversion. He was trying to save the oppressors from their sins just as much as he as trying to save the oppressed from their suffering. Those political labels can never tell a story like that.


Kevin Clarke is senior editor and chief correspondent at America magazine. You can learn more about Oscar Romero in our latest edition of the S+L Magazine. 

Follow America Magazine @americamag

Get your copy of Love Must Win Out via Novalis here.

CNS photos

CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.



Dorothy Day: Model of Conversion, Courage and Commitment

On the Road to Sainthood – November 13, 2012
By: Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.

On November 13, 2012 during the annual General Assembly in Baltimore the Bishops of the United States engaged in a canonical consultation regarding the cause for canonization of Dorothy Day, a pacifist and convert to Catholicism from New York City. This unprecedented canonical consultation was a procedural step in the process toward canonization. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and head of the Archdiocese of New York, was seeking the consultation of the full body of bishops. Dorothy Day already carries the title “Servant of God,” a designation awarded by the Vatican when it gave her cause a Nihil Obstat, that is, a formal declaration that the Vatican has no objection to the cause moving forward. This afternoon, the American bishops gave unanimous voice through their vote to proceed with the sainthood cause for Dorothy Day. Alleluia. Deo gratias.

Dorothy Day’s story captivated me as a young high school student and I have never forgotten her. I met her once at a rally in Rochester, New York, along with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers. She is a remarkable, prophetic woman of our times. She transmitted the good news by her life and actions, and at times by her words. Born on November 8, 1897 in Brooklyn, New York, Dorothy was neither baptized nor raised in the church. After dropping out of college in 1916, she pursued the radical causes of her day: women’s suffrage, free love, labor unions, and social revolution. But when a decade of protest and social action failed to produce changes in the values and institutions of society, Dorothy converted to the Catholic Church and the radicalism of Christian love. Her life was filled with friendships with famous artists and writers. At the same time she experienced failed love affairs, a marriage and a suicide attempt. The triggering event for Dorothy’s conversion was the birth of her daughter, Tamara in 1926. After an earlier abortion, Dorothy had desperately wanted to get pregnant. She viewed the birth of her daughter as a sign of forgiveness from God. [Read more…]

Pope In US: Homily During Canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra

On Wednesday, September 23, 2015, Pope Francis celebrated the Canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Please see below for the full prepared text of his homily.

Holy Mass and Canonization of Blessed Junípero Serra
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington
Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Rejoice in the Lord always!  I say it again, rejoice!  These are striking words, words which impact our lives.  Paul tells us to rejoice; he practically orders us to rejoice.  This command resonates with the desire we all have for a fulfilling life, a meaningful life, a joyful life.  It is as if Paul could hear what each one of us is thinking in his or her heart and to voice what we are feeling, what we are experiencing.  Something deep within us invites us to rejoice and tells us not to settle for placebos which simply keep us comfortable.

At the same time, though, we all know the struggles of everyday life.  So much seems to stand in the way of this invitation to rejoice.  Our daily routine can often lead us to a kind of glum apathy which gradually becomes a habit, with a fatal consequence: our hearts grow numb.

We don’t want apathy to guide our lives… or do we?  We don’t want the force of habit to rule our life… or do we?  So we ought to ask ourselves: What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anesthetized?  How do we make the joy of the Gospel increase and take deeper root in our lives?

Jesus gives the answer.  He said to his disciples then and he says it to us now: Go forth!  Proclaim!  The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.

The spirit of the world tells us to be like everyone else, to settle for what comes easy.  Faced with this human way of thinking, “we must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world” (Laudato Si’, 229).  It is the responsibility to proclaim the message of Jesus.  For the source of our joy is “an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of our own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24).  Go out to all, proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming.  This is what the Lord tells us today.  He tells us:

A Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation!

A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news!

A Christian finds ever new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint!

Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations.  To every people.  We too were part of all those people of two thousand years ago.  Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message, his presence.  Instead, he always embraced life as he saw it.  In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin.  In faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity.  Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it.  It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken.  Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone.  Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be.  Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living.  Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father.  Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation.  Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life.  Go out with the ointment which soothes wounds and heals hearts.

Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual.  Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven.  Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.

The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters.  The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security.  They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ (Evangelii Gaudium, 49).  The People of God can embrace everyone because we are the disciples of the One who knelt before his own to wash their feet (ibid., 24).

The reason we are here today is that many other people wanted to respond to that call.  They believed that “life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort” (Aparecida Document, 360).  We are heirs to the bold missionary spirit of so many men and women who preferred not to be “shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security… within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49).  We are indebted to a tradition, a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the good news of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both “good” and “news”.

Today we remember one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel in these lands, Father Junípero Serra.  He was the embodiment of “a Church which goes forth”, a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God.  Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life.  He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life.  He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters.  Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.  Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.

Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, a saying he lived his life by: siempre adelante!  Keep moving forward!  For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized.  He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting.  He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting.  He kept going forward to the end of his life.  Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward!  Let’s keep moving forward!

Canonization of Junípero Serra


Say the name Junípero Serra in American church circles and you are likely to get a mixed set of reactions. Some will tell you he is the saintly Franciscan who evangelized what is today the U.S. Others will tell you this is the man who forced the natives to convert by confining them to the Mission and through threats of physical punishment. With two such opposite viewpoints, surely neither one is entirely true. At the same time, neither one is entirely false.


Junípero Serra was born Miguel José Serra on the Spanish island of Majorca. He entered the Franciscan order at age 15 and began what seems to have been a life dedicated to studying. By the age of 24 Serra was a professor at the Lullian University (today the University of the Balearic Islands in Palma de Majorca). He was quite happy with this academic life, yet at a certain point realized he yearned to do something “more” than studying and teaching in a university.  He wanted to follow in the footsteps of Francis Solano, the Franciscan missionary to Peru who was canonized in the period when Serra joined the Franciscan order.

In 1749 Serra and a group of other Spanish Franciscans travelling across the Atlantic, across the continent, to Mexico City. Serra left behind his promising academic career and his ageing parents to bring the Gospel to the “new world”. Serra, along with his companions,set sail for Mexico City. He soon moved to the Sierra Gorda missions where he discovered the locals where both spiritually and economically poor. He learned their language and made a point of showing that he was there to serve them. During the worst of the droughts they experienced, he led his confreres in ensuring the locals were fed. He helped build a church that is still used today, and encouraged the natives to produce crops and wares that they could sell to support themselves. All this to keep Spanish land interests at bay. Going against what was normal at the time, Serra referred to the natives as “gentiles”, refusing to use the terms “barbarians” or “pagans.”

Why the negative reaction to Serra? Converted natives were moved into the Mission and were under the authority of the Franciscans. As was normal at the time, they could be hunted down if they left and either whipped or shackled if they were disobedient. While all of this was considered normal practice at the time, today it is viewed as a tragic part of North American history.

The realities of life in the missions coupled with the fact that Serra was, reportedly, not a cheerful person, helps take attention away from his heroic christian virtues. One biographer wrote that he was not prone to laughter…ever. Thankfully the Church does not recognize saints because of their cheery dispositions.  

This piece was originally published in the new 2015 Salt + Light Magazine. Order your copy of the magazine by phone 1.888.302.7181 x238 or by email info@saltandlighttv.org today!

Tune in for LIVE coverage of Blessed Junípero Serra’s Canonization Mass from the Basiclica of the National Shrine on the Immaculate Conception online on Wednesday, September 23, 2015 at 3:45 pm ET.

An Accessible Woman: Remembering Blessed Mother Teresa on her Feast Day


It’s been eighteen years since Mother Teresa suffered a heart attack and died at 87 years old on Sept. 5, 1997 in Calcutta.  She would have turned 105 years old this year. The day after she died, she was set to lead an interfaith memorial prayer service in Calcutta for her friend, Diana, Princess of Wales, who had been tragically killed in a car accident one week earlier.

How well I remember those days…  my own father died on August 27 that year.  On the night I returned to Toronto from his funeral, the Princess was killed in the horrible car crash in Paris.  One week later, Mother Teresa was called home to God.  I commentated her funeral for several national television networks in Canada, which marked my first time ever doing commentary on television!  The pomp, precision and somber majesty of Princess Diana’s London farewell one week earlier were hardly visible in the chaotic scenes of Mother Teresa’s simple wooden casket riding on a gun carriage through the mobbed and chaotic streets of Calcutta for her State funeral.

Mother Teresa’s life was not a sound byte, but rather a metaphor for selfless devotion and holiness.  Her most famous work began in 1950 with the opening of the first Nirmal Hriday (Tender Heart) home for the dying and destitute in Calcutta.  Mother’s words remain inscribed on the walls of that home: “Nowadays the most horrible disease is not leprosy or tuberculosis. It is the feeling to be undesirable, rejected, abandoned by all.”

There are critics in the Church who say that Mother Teresa personified a “pre-Vatican-Council” view of faith and did not address systemic evils.  She is politely and sometimes unpolitely dismissed because her life is hardly “prophetic” in the eyes of some people.  In fact, many saints and blessed are dismissed by such folks who have no understanding of the meaning of biblical prophecy.  They criticize Mother and her followers for their relentless condemnation of abortion.  Some have said that in Mother Teresa, there was no element of prophetic criticism in her teachings and her lifestyle.  Instead of acting sensibly by applying for government grants to create programs to eliminate poverty, Mother Teresa and her sisters moved into neighborhoods and befriended people.  Their houses often become oases of hope and peace, like the ones in Canada. When Mother Teresa speaks of ‘sharing poverty,’ she defies the logic of institutions that prefer agendas for the poor, not communion with individual poor people.  Agents and instruments of communion are often called irrelevant and unprophetic by the world.

Though she left this world scene eighteen years ago, this tiny nun made the news big time several years ago with the publication of her letters. Many journalists, magazine editors, television newscasters and bloggers completely distorted the story with their sensational headlines: “Mother Teresa’s secret life: crisis and darkness,” or  “Calcutta’s Saint was an atheist,” or even “Mother and the Absent One.”  Some commentators wrote: “She lost her faith and the Church rewards her for it.” These people seem unaware that those who prepared Mother’s Beatification in 2003 cited the letters as proof of her exceptional faith and not the absence of it.

Mother Teresa tells us in those deeply personal messages that she once felt God’s powerful presence and heard Jesus speak to her. Then God withdrew and Jesus was silent. What Mother Teresa experienced thereafter was faith devoid of any emotional consolation. In the end Mother Teresa had to rely on raw faith, hope and charity. These are the virtues of all Christians, not just the spiritual elite. She was one of us after all.

Years ago, during my graduate studies in Rome, I met Mother Teresa of Calcutta several times while I was teaching her sisters in a slum neighborhood on the outskirts of the Eternal City. At the end of our first visit, she blessed my forehead before placing into my hands one of her famous business cards unlike any I had ever seen.

On one side of the card were these words: “The fruit of silence is PRAYER. The fruit of prayer is FAITH. The fruit of faith is LOVE. The fruit of love is SERVICE. The fruit of service is PEACE. God bless you. –Mother Teresa.”

There was no e-mail address, Twitter handle, phone number or website on the card. Mother didn’t need an address back then. And Blessed Teresa of Calcutta certainly doesn’t need contact information today. Everyone now knows where she is and how to reach her.  She still has her hands full with our requests.

Saints of the Church in Philadelphia: St. Katharine Drexel (1858 – 1955)


Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 26, 1858, Katharine Drexel was the second of three daughters of Francis Anthony Drexel. Francis was a nationally and internationally well-known banker and philanthropist. Francis’ first wife Hannah gave birth to a daughter Elizabeth and three years later to Katharine in 1858. Never fully recovered from childbirth, Hannah died five weeks after Katharine’s birth. In 1860 Francis married Emma Bouvier. In 1863 Louise was born. Family prayer was integrated into their daily life. Emma opened the doors of the Drexel home three afternoons a week to the poor. When they were old enough, the three girls helped her distribute clothing, food, medicine, rent money, etc. They learned that wealth was a gift to be shared with those in need.

The three Drexel girls were educated at home by tutors. They had the added advantage of touring parts of the United States and Europe with their parents. By word and example Emma and Francis taught their daughters that wealth was meant to be shared with those in need. Three afternoons a week Emma opened the doors of their home to serve the needs of the poor. When the girls were old enough, they assisted their mother. When Francis purchased a summer home in Torresdale, Pa., Katharine and Elizabeth taught Sunday school classes for the children of employees and neighbors. Their local pastor, Rev. James O’Connor (who later became bishop of Omaha), became a family friend and Katharine’s spiritual director.

When the family took a trip to the Western part of the United States, Katharine, as a young woman, saw the plight and destitution of the native Indian-Americans. This experience aroused her desire to do something specific to help alleviate their condition. At Francis’ death in 1885, besides providing for his daughters, he left $14,000,000 to charity. This was the beginning of Katharine’s lifelong personal and financial support of numerous missions and missionaries in the United States. The first school she established was St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1887).

Katharine DrexelLater, when visiting Pope Leo XIII in Rome, and asking him for missionaries to staff some of the Indian missions that she as a lay person was financing, she was surprised to hear the Pope suggest that she become a missionary herself. After consultation with her spiritual director, Bishop James O’Connor, she made the decision to give herself totally to God, along with her inheritance, through service to American Indians and Afro-Americans.

Her wealth was now transformed into a poverty of spirit that became a daily constant in a life supported only by the bare necessities. On February 12, 1891, she professed her first vows as a religious, founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament whose dedication would be to share the message of the Gospel and the life of the Eucharist among American Indians and Afro-Americans.

Always a woman of intense prayer, Katharine found in the Eucharist the source of her love for the poor and oppressed and of her concern to reach out to combat the effects of racism. Knowing that many Afro-Americans were far from free, still living in substandard conditions as sharecroppers or underpaid menials, denied education and constitutional rights enjoyed by others, she felt a compassionate urgency to help change racial attitudes in the United States.

The plantation at that time was an entrenched social institution in which black people continued to be victims of oppression. This was a deep affront to Katharine’s sense of justice. The need for quality education loomed before her, and she discussed this need with some who shared her concern about the inequality of education for Afro-Americans in the cities. Restrictions of the law also prevented them in the rural South from obtaining a basic education.

Founding and staffing schools for both Native Americans and Afro-Americans throughout the country became a priority for Katharine and her congregation. During her lifetime, she opened, staffed and directly supported nearly 60 schools and missions, especially in the West and Southwest United States. Her crowning educational focus was the establishment in 1925 of Xavier University of Louisiana, the only predominantly Afro-American Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States. Religious education, social service, visiting in homes, in hospitals and in prisons were also included in the ministries of Katharine and the Sisters.

In her quiet way, Katharine combined prayerful and total dependence on Divine Providence with determined activism. Her joyous incisiveness, attuned to the Holy Spirit, penetrated obstacles and facilitated her advances for social justice. Through the prophetic witness of Katharine Drexel’s initiative, the Church in the United States was enabled to become aware of the grave domestic need for an apostolate among Native Americans and Afro-Americans. She did not hesitate to speak out against injustice, taking a public stance when racial discrimination was in evidence.

St. Katharine DrexelFor the last 18 years of her life she was rendered almost completely immobile because of a serious illness. During these years she gave herself to a life of adoration and contemplation as she had desired from early childhood. She died on March 3, 1955.

Katharine left a four-fold dynamic legacy to her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who continue her apostolate today, and indeed to all peoples:

  • her love for the Eucharist, her spirit of prayer, and her Eucharistic perspective on the unity of all peoples;
  • her undaunted spirit of courageous initiative in addressing social iniquities among minorities — one hundred years before such concern aroused public interest in the United States;
  • her belief in the importance of quality education for all, and her efforts to achieve it;
  • her total giving of self, of her inheritance and all material goods in selfless service of the victims of injustice.

Mother Katharine Drexel’s cause for beatification was introduced in 1966. Pope John Paul II formally declared Drexel “Venerable” on January 26, 1987, and beatified her on November 20, 1988 after concluding that Robert Gutherman was miraculously cured of deafness in 1974 after his family prayed for Mother Drexel’s intercession. Mother Drexel was canonized on October 1, 2000, the second American-born saint (Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first native-born US citizen canonized, in 1975). Canonization occurred after the Vatican determined that two-year-old Amy Wall had been miraculously healed of nerve deafness in both ears through Katharine Drexel’s intercession in 1994.

Here is an excerpt of Pope John Paul II’s homily during the mass of canonization in 2000:

“In the second reading of today’s liturgy, the Apostle James rebukes the rich who trust in their wealth and treat the poor unjustly. Mother Katharine Drexel was born into wealth in Philadelphia in the United States. But from her parents she learned that her family’s possessions were not for them alone but were meant to be shared with the less fortunate. As a young woman, she was deeply distressed by the poverty and hopeless conditions endured by many Native Americans and Afro-Americans. She began to devote her fortune to missionary and educational work among the poorest members of society. Later, she understood that more was needed. With great courage and confidence in God’s grace, she chose to give not just her fortune but her whole life totally to the Lord.

To her religious community, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, she taught a spirituality based on prayerful union with the Eucharistic Lord and zealous service of the poor and the victims of racial discrimination. Her apostolate helped to bring about a growing awareness of the need to combat all forms of racism through education and social services. Katharine Drexel is an excellent example of that practical charity and generous solidarity with the less fortunate which has long been the distinguishing mark of American Catholics.

May her example help young people in particular to appreciate that no greater treasure can be found in this world than in following Christ with an undivided heart and in using generously the gifts we have received for the service of others and for the building of a more just and fraternal world.”

Link to full text of Canonization Homily:

Link to Shrine
Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
1663 Bristol Pike, Bensalem, Pennsylvania 19020

Saints of the Church in Philadelphia – John Nepomucene, C.Ss.R. (1811-1860)


John Nepomucene Neumann was born on March 28, 1811 in Bohemia, the Czech portion of the present Czechoslovakia. He graduated from a nearby college in Bohemia and then applied to the seminary. John distinguished himself not only in his theological studies, but also in the natural sciences. Besides mastering Latin, Greek and Hebrew, he learned to speak fluently at least eight modern languages, including various Slavic dialects.

During his seminary studies, John had read with great interest the quarterly reports of the Missionary Society of St. Leopold containing accounts of the pioneering work being done in the United States. On the morning of February 8, 1836, he left his native home and made the trip across Europe on foot. Several months later, he set sail for New York aboard a 210-foot, three-masted ship loaded to capacity with emigrants. Six weeks later, the ship entered the harbor of New York.

A few days after arriving in New York, John Neumann sought out and met the bishop, John Dubois. Bishop Dubois had only 36 priests to care for 200,000 Catholics living in all of New York State and half of lower New Jersey. In June of 1836, the bishop ordained John Neumann as a sub-deacon, a deacon, and as a priest, all within on week’s time. Young Fr. John Neumann devoted himself to the pastoral care of all the outlying places in the parish of Buffalo for four years. From his headquarters near Buffalo, he made frequent journeys on foot in all kinds of weather to points ten or twenty miles distant, visiting the settlers on their scattered farms.

Fr. Neumann could not long keep up the strenuous work he was doing. He began to suffer from fevers that lasted as long as three months. At Easter time, 1840, he had a complete breakdown; and after recovering to some extent, he made up his mind to join the Redemptorists. After being accepted into the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, John was directed to go to Pittsburgh. He was the first novice of the Redemptorists in the United States and, in 1847, he became the head of the American Redemptorists. He also wrote several German Language Catechisms and a German Bible history. Files of the US State Department show that Bishop Neumann became a naturalized citizen of the United States at Baltimore on February 10, 1848, renouncing allegiance to the Emperor of Austria in whose realm he was born on March 28, 1811.

St. John Nepomucene NeumannIn 1852, he was appointed Bishop of Philadelphia and he accepted the appointment only because Pope Pius IX commanded him to do so. Neumann the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, and held that position from 1852 to 1860. On his 41st birthday, Neumann was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia by Archbishop Francis Kenrick at St. Alphonsus Church in Baltimore, in 1852. The Diocese of Philadelphia was at this time the largest in the country, comprising eastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, and all of Delaware.

Bishop Neumann was the first in the United States to introduce the Forty Hours Devotion in his diocese. Italian immigrants remember Bishop Neumann as the founder of the first national parish for Italians in the United States. At a time when there was no priest to speak their language, no one to care for them, Bishop Neumann, who had studied Italian as a seminarian in Bohemia, gathered them together in his private chapel and preached to them in their mother tongue. In 1855 he purchased a Methodist Church in South Philadelphia, dedicated it to St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, and gave them one of his seminary professors, Vincentian Father John Tornatore, to be their pastor.

From the beginning, Bishop Neumann promoted the establishment of parochial schools. There were only two such schools in 1852, but by 1860 they numbered nearly 100. He is responsible for establishing the first unified system of Catholic schools under a diocesan board. This took place a fortnight before the Plenary Council at Baltimore would seconded his proposals.

Bishop Neumann was the founder of a religious order for women, the Third Order of St. Francis of Glen Riddle, whose Rule he drafted in 1855 after returning from Rome for the solemn promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The School Sisters of Notre Dame likewise regard Bishop Neumann as their secondary founder, their “father in America.” In 1847, Father John Neumann, superior of the Redemptorist Order at the time, welcomed the first band of these teaching sisters from Munich. He found them a home in Baltimore and then provided them with teaching assignments in his Order’s parish schools at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York, Buffalo and Philadelphia.

Though Bishop Neumann had suffered from frequent illnesses, his sudden death, at the age of 48, was wholly unexpected. On January 8, 1860, he went out in the afternoon to attend to some business matters and was walking back when he suffered a stroke and died. At his own request Bishop Neumann was buried in a basement crypt in Saint Peter’s Church where he would be with his Redemptorist confreres.

The cause of his beatification was begun in 1886. Ten years later, he received the title of “Venerable.” In February 1963, Pope John XXIII issued the proclamation for his beatification, but the ceremony was delayed by the death of Pope John and Pope Paul VI beatified him on October 13, 1963. In a personal letter to each bishop of the world, before the opening of the Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII asked each bishop to aim at achieving the heights of personal sanctity in order to assure its success. He reminded them of their first and highest mission of carrying on a constant policy of instruction and of pastoral visitation so that they can say: “I know my sheep, each and every one,” and that one of the great blessings that can come to a diocese is a bishop who sanctifies, who keeps watch and who sacrifices himself. All these qualities are pre-eminent in the life and holiness of Bishop Neumann, the shepherd declared Blessed during the Second Vatican Council.

Philadelphia skyline

Neumann’s canonization followed in June of 1977. Known for a lifetime of pastoral work, especially among poor German immigrants, Bishop John Neumann was the first American man to be named saint. His feast day was established on January 5th.

Pilgrims came from all over the world to his tomb in St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia. From his native Bohemia, from Germany and Holland they came to claim allegiance to one of their own. In 1976 during the International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) visited the shrine and prayed at Neumann’s tomb.

Excerpt of Homily of Pope Paul VI
Sunday June 19, 1977

“Greetings to you, Brethren, and sons and daughters of the United States of America! We welcome you in the name of the Lord! The entire Catholic Church, here, at the tomb of the Apostle Peter, welcomes you with festive joy. And together with you, the entire Catholic Church sings a hymn of heavenly victory to Saint John Nepomucene Neumann, who receives the honor of one who lives in the glory of Christ.

In a few brief words we shall describe for the other pilgrims some details of his life, which are already known to you.

…We ask ourselves today: what is the meaning of this extraordinary event, the meaning of this canonization? It is the celebration of holiness. And what is holiness? It is human perfection, human love raised up to its highest level in Christ, in God.

At the time of John Neumann, America represented new values and new hopes. Bishop Neumann saw these in their relationship to the ultimate, supreme possession to which humanity is destined. With Saint Paul he could testify that “all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3, 22). And with Augustine he knew that our hearts are restless, until they rest in the Lord.

His love for people was authentic brotherly love. It was real charity: missionary and pastoral charity. It meant that he gave himself to others. Like Jesus the Good Shepherd, he lay down his life for the sheep, for Christ’s flock: to provide for their needs, to lead them to salvation. And today, with the Evangelist, we solemnly proclaim : “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15, 13).

John Neumann’s pastoral zeal was manifested in many ways. Through faithful John Neumann CSsRand persevering service, he brought to completion the generosity of his initial act of missionary dedication. He helped children to satisfy their need for truth, their need for Christian doctrine, for the teaching of Jesus in their lives. He did this both by catechetical instruction and by promoting, with relentless energy, the Catholic school system in the United States. And we still remember the words of our late Apostolic Delegate in Washington, the beloved Cardinal Amleto Cicognani: “You Americans”, he said, “possess two great treasures: the Catholic school and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Guard them like the apple of your eye” (Cfr. Epistola 2 iunii 1963).

And who can fail to admire all the loving concern that John Neumann showed for God’s people, through his priestly ministry and his pastoral visitations as a Bishop? He deeply loved the Sacramental of Reconciliation: and like a worthy son of Saint Alphonsus he transmitted the pardon and the healing power of the Redeemer into the lives of innumerable sons and daughters of the Church. He was close to the sick; he was at home with the poor; he was a friend to sinners. And today he is the honor of all immigrants, and from the viewpoint of the Beatitudes the symbol of Christian success.

John Neumann bore the image of Christ. He experienced, in his innermost being, the need to proclaim by word and example the wisdom and power of God, and to preach the crucified Christ. And in the Passion of the Lord he found strength and the inspiration of his ministry: Passio Christi conforta me!

…There are many who have lived and are still living the divine command of generous love. For love still means giving oneself for others, because Love has come down to humanity; and from humanity love goes back to its divine source! How many men and women make this plan of God the program of their lives! Our praise goes to the clergy, religious and Catholic laity of America who, in following the Gospel, live according to this plan of sacrifice and service. Saint John Neumann is a true example for all of us in this regard. It is not enough to acquire the good things of the earth, for these can even be dangerous, if they stop or impede our love from rising to its source and reaching its goal. Let us always remember that the greatest and the first commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God” (Matth. 22, 36).

True humanism in Christianity. True Christianity-we repeat is the sacrifice of self for others, because of Christ, because of God. It is shown by signs; it is manifested in deeds. Christianity is sensitive to the suffering and oppression and sorrow of others, to poverty, to all human needs, the first of which is truth.

Our ceremony today is indeed the celebration of holiness. At the same time, it is a prophetic anticipation-for the Church, for the United States, for the world-of a renewal in love: love for God, love for neighbor. And in this vital charity, beloved sons and daughters, let us go forward together, to build up a real civilization of love. Saint John Neumann, by the living power of your example and by the intercession of your prayers, help us today and for ever.”

Find the full text here.

National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia

Who was Junípero Serra and why is he becoming a Saint?

Junipero Serra in US Capitol Statuary Hall

During his Apostolic Visit to the United States of America next month, Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass of Canonization of Blessed Junípero Miguel José Serra Ferrer  (Fray Junipero Serra) at 4:15 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Wednesday afternoon,September 23, 2015. Earlier that same day, he will be formally welcomed at the White House by US President Barack Obama and also meet with the Bishops of the United States at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

Blessed Junipero Serra (1713 – 1784), a Franciscan Missionary, died at the aged of 70 at the St Charles Borromeo Mission in Carmel, Monterey (California) in 1784, where he is now buried under the sanctuary floor. Pope Francis has recently said that Serra’s work of evangelization “reminds us of the first “12 Franciscan apostles” who were pioneers of the Christian faith in Mexico… . He ushered in a new springtime of evangelization in those immense territories, extending from Florida to California, which, in the previous two hundred years, had been reached by missionaries from Spain.”

Some experts are writing these days about Serra’s negative effects and impact on indigenous persons, Serra defended the indigenous peoples against abuses by the colonizers. The canonization of Blessed Serra, like those of other American saints, speaks to the deep spiritual roots and holiness of America. Among the many questions I have received about Blessed Junipero Serra’s life, ministry in California in the 18th century, and appropriateness and timing of his canonization, are those regarding the very meaning of canonization and holiness as well as the potentially negative impact that this canonization could have upon Native (indigineous) peoples throughout the world.

When social justice struggles become the ideological test for the veneration of martyrs, blessed and saints, we must ask some deeper questions. That persons are declared “Blessed” or “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 pastoral agenda of the Petrine Ministry of the current Pope or of the Vatican.

Martyrdom, beatification and canonization mean that persons lived their lives 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. Though they may have experienced moral solitude, they manifested incredible hope and peace and brought many people to God. The proclamation of new saints and blesseds invites us to look beyond the labels and stereotypes that we often place on the martyrs, blessed, saints and all holy men and women, and consider the ultimate witness and gifts of their lives to God. We must learn from their examples of how they transformed hatred and violence into love, and only love. Having willed the one thing in their lives, the martyrs, saints and blesseds allowed themselves to be touched by God at the core of their beings that was beyond words, conceptualization, imagination and feeling. Such persons let those around them know that there is a force or spirit animating their lives that is not of this world, but the next.  They let us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and show us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth.

It is hoped that this background information would address the matters of the meaning of canonization and holiness as well as provide for you numerous texts of both St. John Paul II and Pope Francis that provide important elements of Blessed Junipero Serra’s life and ministry. The frequent references to Blessed Serra by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis answer some of the questions people are asking on the eve of Serra’s canonization in Washington.

Who Was Junipero Serra?

Junípero Serra was born in 1713 in Majorca, Spain, a son of Antonio Nadal Serra and Margarita Rosa Ferrer who spent their lives as farmers. In Petra, Spain, Serra attended the primary school of the Franciscans conducted at the friary of San Bernardino. At the age of fifteen he was taken by his parents to Palma to be placed in the charge of a cathedral canon, and he began to assist at classes in philosophy held in the Franciscan monastery of San Francisco.

He took the name Junípero when he joined the Franciscan order in 1730. He taught for more than a decade before going to Mexico in 1749. After working as a missionary in Sierra Gorda and Mexico City, Serra was sent to California. He made the trip by foot despite having terrible sores on his legs. Once he reached California, Serra established his first mission, San Diego de Alcalá, in 1769. He built eight more missions over the next thirteen years: San Antonio de Padua; San Gabriel, Arcángel; San Luis, Obispo de Tolosa; San Juan Capistrano; San Francisco de Asis; and San Buenaventura. Serra worked tirelessly tirelessly to maintain the missions and is credited with helping the Spanish establish a presence in California.

Serra died in 1784 at Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo located in present-day Carmel, California. The site is now home to the National Shrine to Blessed Junípero Serra, and many visitors go there each year to honor the famous missionary.

Full Text of Biography of Serra from Franciscan Website.

Serra Stamp



Janiculum Hill, Rome
Saturday May 2, 2015

“What made Friar Junípero leave his home and country, his family, university chair and Franciscan community in Mallorca to go to the ends of the earth? Certainly, it was the desire to proclaim the Gospel ad gentes, that heartfelt impulse which seeks to share with those farthest away the gift of encountering Christ: a gift that he had first received and experienced in all its truth and beauty. Like Paul and Barnabas, like the disciples in Antioch and in all of Judea, he was filled with joy and the Holy Spirit in spreading the word of the Lord. Such zeal excites us, it challenges us! These missionary disciples who have encountered Jesus, the Son of God, who have come to know him through his merciful Father, moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit, went out to all the geographical, social and existential peripheries, to bear witness to charity. They challenge us! Sometimes we stop and thoughtfully examine their strengths and, above all, their weaknesses and their shortcomings. But I wonder if today we are able to respond with the same generosity and courage to the call of God, who invites us to leave everything in order to worship him, to follow him, to rediscover him in the face of the poor, to proclaim him to those who have not known Christ and, therefore, have not experienced the embrace of his mercy. Friar Junípero’s witness calls upon us to get involved, personally, in the mission to the whole continent, which finds its roots in Evangelii Gaudium.

Full text found here.


Wednesday June 8, 1988

“One event of those days has a very special relevance now. It is the visit that I made to the Basilica of Carmel and to the tomb of Fray Junipero Serra. In less than three months from now, some of us will gather again here as the Church beatifies him, officially proclaiming him worthy of honour and imitation by all. In venerating “the Apostle of California” at his tomb I spoke of his contribution, which was “to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the dawn of a new age.” I also endeavoured to present his essential message, which is the constant need to evangelize. In that context I stated: “Like Father Serra and his Franciscan brethren, we too are called to be evangelizers, to share actively in the Church’s mission of making disciples of all people”.

Full text found at here.


Basilica of the Mission of San Carlos in Carmel
Thursday, September 17, 1987

Junipero SerraI come today as a pilgrim to this Mission of San Carlos, which so powerfully evokes the heroic spirit and heroic deeds of Fray Junípero Serra and which enshrines his mortal remains. This serene and beautiful place is truly the historical and spiritual heart of California. All the missions of El Camino Real bear witness to the challenges and heroism of an earlier time, but not a time forgotten or without significance for the California of today and the Church of today.

These buildings and the men who gave them life, especially their spiritual father, Junípero Serra, are reminders of an age of discovery and exploration. The missions are the result of a conscious moral decision made by people of faith in a situation that presented many human possibilities, both good and bad, with respect to the future of this land and its native peoples. It was a decision rooted in a love of God and neighbour. It was a decision to proclaim the Gospelof Jesus Christ at the dawn of a new age, which was extremely important for both the European settlers and the Native Americans.

Very often, at crucial moments in human affairs, God raises up men and women whom he thrusts into roles of decisive importance for the future development of both society and the Church. Although their story unfolds within the ordinary circumstances of daily life, they become larger than life within the perspective of history. We rejoice all the more when their achievement is coupled with a holiness of life that can truly be called heroic. So it is withJunípero Serra, who in the providence of God was destined to be the Apostle of California, and to have a permanent influence over the spiritual patrimony of this land and its people, whatever their religion might be. This apostolic awareness is captured in the words ascribed to him: “In California is my life and there, God willing, I hope to die”. Through Christ’s Paschal Mystery, that death has become a seed in the soil of this state that continues to bear fruit “thirty – or sixty – or a hundred-fold” (Matth. 13, 9).

Father Serra was a man convinced of the Church’s mission, conferred upon her by Christ himself, to evangelize the world, to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Ibid. 28, 19). The way in which he fulfilled that mission corresponds faithfully to the Church’s vision today of what evangelization means: “… the Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieux which are theirs” Pauli VI Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18).

He not only brought the Gospel to the Native Americans, but as one who lived the Gospel he also became their defender and champion. At the age of sixty he journeyed from Carmel to Mexico City to intervene with the Viceroy on their behalf – a journey which twice brought him close to death – and presented his now famous Representación with its “bill of rights”, which had as their aim the betterment of every phase of missionary activity in California, particularly the spiritual and physical well-being of its Native Americans.

Father Serra and his fellow missionaries shared the conviction found everywhere in the New Testament that the Gospel is a matter of life and salvation. They believed that in offering to people Jesus Christ, they were doingsomething of immense value, importance and dignity. What other explanation can there be for the hardships that they freely and gladly endured, like Saint Paul and all the other great missionaries before them: difficult and dangerous travel, illness and isolation, an ascetical life-style, arduous labour, and also, like Saint Paul, that “concern for all the churches” (2Cor. 11, 28) which Junípero Serra, in particular, experienced as Presidente of the California missions in the face of every vicissitude, disappointment and opposition.

Dear brothers and sisters: like Father Serra and his Franciscan brethren, we too are called to be evangelizers, to share actively in the Church’s mission of making disciples of all people. The way in which we fulfil that mission will be different from theirs. But their lives speak to us still because of their sure faith that the Gospel is true, and because of their passionate belief in the value of bringing that saving truth to others at great personal cost. Much to be envied are those who can give their lives for something greater than themselves in loving service to others. This, more than words or deeds alone, is what draws people to Christ.

This single-mindedness is not reserved for great missionaries in exotic places. It must be at the heart of each priest’s ministry and the evangelical witness of every religious. It is the key to their personal sense of well-being, happiness and fulfilment in what they are and what they do. This single-mindedness is also essential to the Christian witness of the Catholic laity. The covenant of love between two people in marriage and the successful sharing of faith with children require the effort of a lifetime. If couples cease believing in their marriage as a sacrament before God, or treat religion as anything less than a matter of salvation, then the Christian witness they might have given to the world is lost. Those who are unmarried must also be steadfast in fulfilling their duties in life if they are to bring Christ to the world in which they live.

“In him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything” (Phil. 4, 13). These words of the great missionary, Saint Paul, remind us that our strength is not our own. Even in the martyrs and saints, as the liturgy reminds us, it is “(God’s) power shining through our human weakness” (Praefatio Martyrum). It is the strength that inspired Father Serra’s motto: “always forward, never back”. It is the strength that one senses in this place of prayer so filled with his presence. It is the strength that can make each one of us, dear brothers and sisters, missionaries of Jesus Christ, witnesses of his message, doers of his word.

Full text found at here.



Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix
Monday September 14, 1987

Serra in US Capitol Statuary Hall 2“One priest who deserves special mention among the missionaries is the beloved Fray Junipero Serra, who travelled throughout Lower and Upper California. He had frequent clashes with the civil authorities over the treatment of Indians. In 1773 he presented to the Viceroy in Mexico City aRepresentación, which is sometimes termed a “Bill of Rights” for Indians. The Church had long been convinced of the need to protect them from exploitation. Already in 1537, my predecessor Pope Paul III proclaimed the dignity and rights of the native peoples of the Americas by insisting that they not be deprived of their freedom or the possession of their property. In Spain the Dominican priest, Francisco de Vitoria, became the staunch advocate of the rights of the Indians and formulated the basis for international law regarding the rights of peoples.

Unfortunately not all the members of the Church lived up to their Christian responsibilities. But let us not dwell excessively on mistakes and wrongs, even as we commit ourselves to overcoming their present effects. Let us also be grateful to those who came to this land, faithful to the teachings of Jesus, witnesses of his new commandment of love. These men and women, with good hearts and good minds, shared knowledge and skills from their own cultures and shared their most precious heritage, the faith, as well. Now, we are called to learn from the mistakes of the past and we must work together for reconciliation and healing, as brothers and sisters in Christ. “

Full text found at here.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Mellifluous Monasticism

St Bernard cropped

Memorial: August 20

Considered the last of the Fathers of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux has been celebrated for centuries as a man of great intellect and greater holiness. As is evident in his prolific writings, Bernard was one for whom the Word of God impregnated every aspect of the human experience. He knew the Bible by heart and was said to speak and write scripturally.

Relying solely on the pages of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Early Church Fathers in the development of his theology, Bernard rejected philosophical traditions that detracted from the integrity of the faith, and dismissed those who sought knowledge for the sake of curiosity, personal profit, or their own renown. In his seminal collection of sermons on the Song of Songs, he wrote: “There are also those who seek knowledge in order to edify, and this is charity. And there are those who seek knowledge in order to be edified, and this is prudence.”

Bernard’s theology was mirrored in his spirituality, which was grounded in his love of Sacred Scripture and his special devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He was a champion of Lectio Divina — the prayerful reading of Bible passages, and a leading figure in the explosion of Marian devotion that dominated Catholic piety in the twelfth century. For Bernard, life was a radical experience with the love of God; his was a life of fraternity, asceticism, and a daily encounter with the humanity of Christ. Love for Christ, he said, is the first step to genuine prayer.

Born in 1090 to a Burgundian family of great wealth and prestige, in 1113, he entered the premier Cistercian monastery at Cîteaux accompanied by thirty noblemen he had convinced to join him. His life’s work would be the renewal of the Cistercian order and monastic life in general, in addition to the refinement of Marian devotion and theology. Within three years of his arrival at Cîteaux, he was sent to establish a Cistercian house at Vallée d’Absinthe, which as abbot he renamed Claire Vallée, or Clairvaux. From Clairvaux, the “Valley of Lights,” he would reignite the vigour and vibrancy of Western monasticism, and return it to its roots through strict adherence to the austere Rule of St. Benedict. After overcoming its initial growing pains, under Bernard’s guidance the abbey would attract a flurry of postulants, including the saint’s widower father and five brothers.

Before long three more Cistercian monasteries would spring up to accommodate the overflow of vocations flocking to Clairvaux. All in all, Bernard’s work resulted in the foundation of 163 Cistercian monasteries across Europe. At the time of his death on this day in 1153, Clarivaux boasted 700 religious and 363 monasteries attributed their establishment to his influence. The adept abbot was known for his affection for his brother monks, and his reintegration of manual labour into the daily life of the monk, following the model and motto of St. Benedict: Ora et labora, “work and prayer.”

In addition to his pastoral duties as abbot, Bernard played an key role in the suppression of numerous heresies that arose in his day, and was charged with preaching the Second Crusade, which under his spiritual direction was wildly successful in attracting recruits: common-folk and nobility alike. In his day, he was among the most influential figures in all of Christendom, admired as the “conscience of all Europe.” He secured the election of Pope Innocent II over the antipope Analectus III, and in 1145 his disciple and confrere, Bernardo of Pisa, became Eugenius III. The example and influence of St. Bernard’s austerity revolutionized the practice of Western monasticism, and prompted Pope Alexander III’s formulation of the Code of Canon Law. His canonization in 1174 made him the first Cistercian monk to be raised to the glory of the altar, and his eloquence as a preacher gained him the title Doctor Mellifluus, which means “Honey-Sweet” or “Honey-tongued” Doctor. For ages untold, the great abbot of Clairvaux will be extolled for what Pius XII termed the “brilliance of [his] doctrine and splendor of [his] holiness” (Doctor Mellifluus 2).

May we look to his life as an example of the beauty of our faith and the simplicity with which we are to live it out. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, today and always, pray for us!

An excerpt from Sermon 83 of St. Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs

“Love is sufficient of itself; it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love; I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.
The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return.”

Memorare of St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, and sought thy intercession was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence,
I fly unto thee O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother, to thee I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! Despise not my petitions, but, in thy mercy, hear and answer me.

Curé of Ars, Curer of Hearts


Today is the bicentenary of the priestly ordination of the Curé of Ars. God always supplies the Church with saints in each century, but a few of these shine so brightly that everyone can recognize them even during their lifetime. St. John Vianney is such a saint, who easily became my favourite after I had read much about him. When I had the chance to visit Ars ten years ago, I was brought to tears on entering the Basilica of St. Sixtus and praying before his incorrupt body.

Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney was ordained in the Major Seminary of Grenoble on Sunday, 13 August 1815, a feat that was nearly miraculous. Without proper education (only a year of school at the age of nine), he failed seminary examinations so badly that earned him the title of “the most unlearned and the most devout seminarian in Lyon”. None of this mattered as the vicar general allowed his ordination at the age of 29 in light of his reputation of goodness and holiness.


After three years of apprenticeship at Ecully, he was appointed as pastor of the tiny village of Ars-sur-Formans, 30 km north of Lyon, with a population of merely 230. He arrived in Ars when the people were in a constant state of drunkeness, profanity and immorality after the Napoleanic era. At the doorstep of the church, he prayed, “My God, make the sheep entrusted to me come back to a good way of life. For all my life I am prepared to endure anything that pleases you.” His wish was indeed granted, for he would have to endure great sufferings and mortifications for the next 41 years in this village, serving his flock until his death.

Through home visits, genuine care for his flock and powerful witness of purity and holiness, he brought back all the people in the village into the church. His fame spread when people realized he could multiply food in an orphanage. He became known for his ability to read souls, discern spirits and even prophesize. Soon people from near and far flocked to this tiny church to confess to this living saint; he had to spend 12 to 16 hours every day just to hear confessions. His ability to cure people of physical illnesses did not lessen his workload. More importantly, countless people who came to see him were converted from their former lives. By 1855, 20,000 people came annually, to the extent that Lyons railway had to establish a special booking office to handle the waves of travellers.


Mozzetta of an honorary canon

Much can be read about this saint and many of his homilies are well preserved. Here is an episode of a really sad day in his life that I will share. At one time when his bishop came to visit him, the pastor rejoiced and welcomed him. This attitude totally changed when the bishop announced to the crowd that he was to name their pastor as an titular canon of the cathedral chapter, and invested him with a mozzetta, the vestment proper to the honorary office. He tried to shrug off the cape during the Mass, and never again wore it but sold it immediately for charitable purpose. He avoided all honour and preferred saving souls and self-mortification as reparation of sins.

Vianney’s understanding of liturgy totally influenced me. While he lived and dressed very poorly, he spared nothing for the Sacrament of the Altar. He would make use of the most beautiful decorations inside the church, vested solemnly and employed the beautiful vessels whenever he celebrated liturgy. He understood the liturgy as an action and worship of Christ, unlike the anthropocentric emphasis of liturgy in the present days where people wrongly place the focus on the celebrant or themselves.


When he met his eternal reward on on 4 August 1859, he left the Church with an example of zeal for souls, piety, sanctity, simplicity, obedience, and other virtues too numerous to enumerate. Pope Pius X beatified him in 1905; Pope Pius XI canonized him in 1925 and made him the patron saint of pastors in 1929. Pope John XXIII devoted his whole second encyclical Sacerdotii nostri promordia just to this saint. Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year for Priests during 2009-2010 in the memory of St. John Vianney and extended his patronage over all priests.

The Basilica of Ars, which was built as an extension of the Curé’s original church, has been celebrating a Jubilee Year for the bicentenary since 2 February 2015 and having its Holy Door open, one of eight churches in the world with this distinctive privilege. Let us make a pilgrimage on foot or in our heart to the shrine, and pray that our Church has more priests like the Pastor of Ars, as his vicar general once said, “The Church wants not only learned priests but, even more, holy ones.”


Photo credit: Gabriel Chow