New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Saturday, May 9, 2009

St. Catharine of Bologna - 9th May 2009

This Catherine was the daughter of John de'Vigri, attorney and aide to Nicholas d'Este, Marquis of Ferrara. When Catherine was 11, the Marquis asked that she be allowed to live in his palace as maid of honor to his daughter Margaret. The two girls, about the same age, became best friends. Their tutor taught them Latin, among other subjects, and Catherine later wrote some small works in that tongue. Their companionship continued until Margaret became engaged to the nobleman Roberto Malatesta. The engaged girl wanted her to stay on as her maid in waiting. But, although Catherine herself had several suitors, she had already decided that the religious life rather than the courtly life was her calling.

At the age of 14, the de'Vigri girl asked to be admitted into a group of Ferrarese women who belonged to the third order of Franciscans, but were living a semi-monastic life. Eventually this group adopted the rule of the second order of Franciscans, and became Poor Clares. From the day of her entrance, Sister Catherine threw herself wholeheartedly into the quest for perfection. Concluding eventually that her Ferrara convent was less strict in its life than she preferred it to be, she accepted (although hesitantly) the appointment as abbess of a more austere convent of Poor Clares in Bologna. She continued to head this community from 1456 until her death.

Early in her religious life, Sister Catherine began to receive many supernatural graces. She passed on to her companions her own spiritual experiences, for their benefit. Most remarkable of the happenings that she recorded was what happened one Christmas Eve.

On this occasion, she had asked permission to spend the night of December 24-25 alone in the convent chapel. It was her intention to recite 1000 Hail Marys in honor of the nativity. At the hour of midnight, Mary herself appeared to Catherine with the swaddled Christchild in her arms. The Mother of God even handed the Infant to Sister Catherine. The nun pressed Him to her breast and kissed His cheek. When she sought to kiss His mouth, too, He disappeared, but her heart continued to experience a unique joy.

Like most true mystics, St. Catherine was also a person of talent and common sense. She was a skilled artist, and devoted much time to copying out in print her breviary, illustrating it with attractive pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. She also painted larger religious pictures, composed hymns, and wrote several devotional works.

Although Catherine of Bologna was very strict with herself, she did not demand that the other sisters match her standards. There were three practical rules that she gave them: 1. Always speak well of people. 2. Practice humility constantly. 3. Never meddle in the business of others.

Though long frail in health, Sister Catherine de'Vigri died on March 9, 1463, after only a short terminal illness. She breathed her last so quietly that her sisters were unaware that she was dead until they smelt a lovely fragrance rising from her body and saw her middle-aged face restored to its teenage bloom. As a matter of fact, her body, later enshrined in the monastery chapel, has never corrupted. The flesh has grown dark, but that may well have been because of the heat and soot of the candles that were burned for years around her exposed remains. In that shrine, her body is not recumbent but seated! This was in response, it is said, to a request she made of one of her sisters to whom she appeared in a vision in 1500.

Soon after the death of Abbess Catherine, miraculous cures began to be granted to many who prayed for her intercession. She was canonized as "St. Catherine of Bologna" in 1712. Now, St. Luke is usually considered the patron saint of painters because of the portrait he is reputed to have made of the Blessed Virgin. But St. Catherine is also particularly venerated by artists. The skill of her paintings that still survive certainly qualify her for the role of a heavenly patroness of the arts.

Friday, May 8, 2009

St. Peter of Tarentaise - 8th May 2009

Peter of Tarentaise, one of the glories of the early Cistercian order of monks (best known to us through the Trappist Cistercians), was born near Vienne in west central France. Of peasant stock, he was nevertheless highly interested in studies, and to fulfill that interest as well as his own religious inclinations, at age 20 he entered the Cistercian Abbey of Bonnevaux. There he quickly won a large following because of his holiness of life. Indeed, his father and other two brothers eventually decided to become monks at the same nearby Cistercian convent; and many other men of high rank took their vows as monks of Bonnevaux. "So shines a good deed in a naughty world!" as Shakespeare would say.

Peter was not quite 30 when he was named superior of a new monastery at Tamie, in the rugged Alps of Savoy, southeast France, (not far from Albertville, where the Winter Olympics were held in 1992). Built alongside an Alpine pass, the monastery soon became a way station for travelers, for whom Abbot Peter hastened to provide food, shelter and medical care.

So noted did Peter become, that in 1141 he was named archbishop of Tarentaise. Now, he did not want to become a bishop, but his Cistercian superiors, St. Bernard of Clairvaux among them, insisted. Of course Archbishop Peter, once installed, proved to be an ideal choice. The archdiocese was terribly run-down. Its funds had been mismanaged, the morale of its clergy was low, and for want of proper attention, the faithful had fallen into lax ways. St. Peter toured his archdiocese diligently, improved its personnel, provided schools and care for the poor. The monks who accompanied him on his pastoral visits recorded that he had the gift of miracles, and that it helped him much in his campaign of reform.

All the time, however, Peter, still a monk at heart, grieved at being exiled from his dear, quiet cloister. Therefore, after 13 years as archbishop, he decided he had done enough at Tarentaise. Suddenly he disappeared without warning anybody.

Upset to lose him, his archdiocesans instituted a search of all the religious houses in southeastern France, but did not find him. Actually, Peter had fled to a remote Cistercian monastery in Switzerland. Unknown by its monks, he had applied for admission as a simple lay brother. Eventually, however, the Swiss monks learned who Brother Peter was, and of course they reported him to his archdiocese, so he had to return there. Well, at least, he had had 12 months of monastic peace! No doubt he was pleased to be welcomed back home enthusiastically. That, he now realized, was where God wanted him.

Once returned, the archbishop set about his duties with renewed vigor. The poor received special attention. He also rebuilt the hospice of the Little St. Bernard at the mountain pass, and erected similar hospices along other Alpine-pass routes. He likewise instituted the practice of the "May Bread", which continued to flourish until the French Revolution: a bread-and-soup line in the summer months before the scanty mountain harvest was ready.

Always a peacemaker. Archbishop Peter was able to reconcile several prominent enemies and thus prevent bloodshed. His major peacemaking activity was his preaching In France, Alsace-Lorraine, and even Italy, in defense of the true pope, Alexander III. In this case his adversary was none other than the powerful Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who had named an antipope, "Victor IV", to replace Pope Alexander. To Frederick's credit, he let Peter speak against him, even in his presence. Frederick would eventually be reconciled with Alexander III in 1177.

Pope Alexander next sent St. Peter to western France in 1174 to conciliate King Louis VII of France and King Henry II of England. Both monarchs treated the aged and holy archbishop with due respect, but still agreed to disagree. Peter, disappointed, left for Tarentaise, and died on the way back. But after his death, the two rival rulers came to terms.

Pope Celestine III canonized Archbishop Peter II of Tarentaise in 1191. That was only 17 years after the death of this "runaway archbishop"!

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Blessed Rose Venerini - 7th May 2009

Blessed Rose was born in Viterbo, Italy, in 1656. Her father was a physician. Rose entered the convent but returned home after a few months. Her father had died and she felt the responsibility for taking care of her widowed mother.

Rose, who was to remain single, recognized her own leadership qualities. She gathered the young women in her neighborhood. They prayed the Rosary together in the evenings. As they all got to know each other, Rose became aware of how little the young people knew about their faith. Rose and two helpers opened a free school for girls in 1685. The parents who sent their daughters there were very pleased with the quality of education and the atmosphere.

Rose was a gifted educator. Above all, she was able to teach others to teach. In 1692, Cardinal Barbarigo invited Rose to his diocese. He wanted her to organize his schools and train his teachers. It was in his diocese that she became a friend and teacher of a future saint. That person was St. Lucy Filippini who started a religious order. Sister Lucy was proclaimed a saint in 1930.

Rose organized schools in various places. Some people resented her work and harassed her and her teachers. But the teachers held on to their belief in the value of education. Rose even opened a school in Rome in 1713. Pope Clement XI congratulated Rose for starting such a wonderful school.

This dedicated teacher died in Rome on May 7, 1728, at the age of seventy-two. After her death, Blessed Rose's lay teachers became religious sisters. The Venerini sisters continue to perform their teaching ministry the way Blessed Rose would. Rose Venerini was declared "blessed" by Pope Pius XII in 1952.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sts. Marian and James - 6 May 2009

Often, it’s hard to find much detail from the lives of saints of the early Church. What we know about the third-century martyrs we honor today is likewise minimal. But we do know that they lived and died for the faith. Almost 2,000 years later, that is enough reason to honor them.

Born in North Africa, Marian was a lector or reader; James was a deacon. For their devotion to the faith they suffered during the persecution of Valerian.

Prior to their persecution Marian and James were visited by two bishops who encouraged them in the faith not long before they themselves were martyred. A short time later, Marian and James were arrested and interrogated. The two readily confessed their faith and, for that, were tortured. While in prison they are said to have experienced visions, including one of the two bishops who had visited them earlier.

On the last day of their lives, Marian and James joined other Christians facing martyrdom. They were blindfolded and then put to death. Their bodies were thrown into the water. The year was 259.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

St. Hilary of Arles - 5 May 2009

This saint was nobly born about the year 401, and was related to St. Honoratus of Arles, and of the same country in Gaul, which was probably Lorraine, or some other part of Austrasia. He was brought up in a manner suitable to his birth, in the study of the liberal arts, and of every branch of polite learning. especially of eloquence and philosophy. But how little value we ought to set on all things that appear great in the eyes of the world, he himself has taught us. "We are all equal," says he, "in Jesus Christ; and the highest degree of our nobility is to be of the number of the true servants of God. Neither science, nor birth, according to this world, can exalt us, but in proportion to our contempt of them." Before God had put these sentiments into his heart, he seems to have been not altogether insensible to the advantages of this world, in which he was raised to the highest dignities. His kinsman, St. Honoratus, who had forsaken his country to seek Christ in the solitude of the isle of Lerins, where he had founded a great monastery, was the instrument made use of by the Almighty to open his eyes. This holy man had always loved Hilary, and thought he could not give him more solid proof of his friendship than by endeavoring to gain him entirely to God. He therefore left his retirement for a few days to seek him out, and endeavored to move him by the same powerful, weighty reflections, which had made the deepest impression on his own mind, and induced him to break the chains of the world. "What floods of tears," says St. Hilary, "did this true friend shed to soften the hardness of my heart! How often did he embrace me with the most tender and compassionate affection, to obtain of me that I would take into serious consideration the salvation of my soul! Yet, by an unhappy victory, I still remained conqueror." Honoratus, finding his endeavors to wean him from the charms of a deceitful world ineffectual, had recourse to prayer, his ordinary refuge. "Well," said he to Hilary, "I will obtain of God, what you will not now grant me." Upon which they took leave of each other. Hilary, reflecting on what Honoratus had said to him, was not long before he began to feel a violent conflict within himself. "On one side," says he, "me-thought I saw the Lord calling me; on the other the world offering me its seducing charms and pleasures. How often did I embrace and reject, will and not will the same thing! But in the end Jesus Christ triumphed in me. And three days after Honoratus had left me, the mercy of God, solicited by his prayers, subdued my rebellious soul." He then went in person to seek St. Honoratus, and appeared before him as humble and tractable as the saint had left him haughty and indocile.

From this moment there appeared in Hilary that wonderful change which the Holy Ghost produces in a soul which he truly converts. His words, looks, and whole comportment breathed nothing but humility, patience, sweetness, mortification, and charity. Every one saw in him a man who began to labor in earnest to save his soul, and who had put his hand to the plough to look no more behind him, or to send a single thought alter v. hat he had left for Christ's sake. Aspiring to perfection, he sold all his several estates to his brother, and distributed all the money accruing from the sale among the poor, and the most indigent monasteries. Thus disengaged from the world, and naked, no less in the inward disposition of soul than in his exterior, he, like Abraham, took leave of his own country, and made the best of his way to Lerins; where from his first entrance he made it appear that he was worthy to live in the company of saints. He set out in the pursuit of monastic perfection with such zeal and fervor, as to become in a short time the pattern of those on whose instructions and example he came to form his own conduct. His application to prayer and mortification, and his watchfulness and care to avoid the smallest faults and imperfections, prepared him to receive the gift of tears. It is thought that his baptism was posterior to his retirement. St. Honoratus having been chosen archbishop of Arles, in 426, Hilary followed him to that city; but it was not long before his love of solitude occasioned his return to Lerins. All the holy inhabitants of that isle testified as great joy to receive him again, as he felt to see himself among them. But God, who had other designs upon him, did not permit him to enjoy long his beloved retirement. St. Honoratus begged his assistance, and the comfort of his company, and as he did not yield to entreaties, went himself to fetch him from Lerins. Soon after God called St. Honoratus to himself, his death happening in 428 or 429. Hilary, though sensibly afflicted for the loss of such a friend, rejoiced however to see himself at liberty, and set out directly for Lerins. But no sooner were the citizens apprized of his departure, than messengers posted after him with such expedition, that he was overtaken, brought back, and consecrated archbishop, though only twenty-nine years of age.

In this high station the virtues which he had acquired in solitude shone with lustre to mankind. The higher he was exalted by his dignity, the more did he humble himself beneath all others in his heart. He reduced himself in every thing to the strictest bounds of necessity: and he had only one coat for winter and summer. He applied himself diligently to meditation on the holy scriptures, and preaching the word of God, was assiduous in prayer, watching, and fasting. He had his hours also for manual labor, with a view of gaming something for the poor; choosing such work as he could join with reading or prayer. He travelled always on foot, and had attained to so perfect an evenness of temper, that his mind seemed never ruffled with the least emotion of anger. He had an admirable talent in preaching. When he spoke before the learned of the world, his elocution, his accent, his discourse, his action, were such as the greatest orators justly admired, but despaired ever to come up to. Yet when he instructed the illiterate, he changed his manner of address, and proportioned his instructions to the capacities of the most simple and ignorant, though always supporting the dignity of the divine word by a maimer and expression suitable to its majesty. He preached the truth in its purity, without flattering the great. He had often in private admonished a certain judge in the province of a criminal partiality in the administration of justice, but without effect. One day the magistrate came into the church, attended by his officers, while the saint was preaching. The holy bishop broke off his sermon on the spot, and gave his surprised audience for reason, that he who had so often neglected the advice he had given him for his salvation, was not worthy to partake of the nourishment of the divine word. the judge no sooner heard his reflection, but withdrew in confusion, and the saint resumed his discourse Observing one day that many went out of the church immediately after the reading of the gospel, just as he was going to preach, he prevailed with them to return, by saying: "You will not so easily get out of hell, if you are once unhappily fallen into its dungeons." He had such a love for the poor, that to have the more to bestow on them, he lived himself in the greatest poverty: he never kept a horse, and labored hard in digging and manuring the ground, though educated according to the dignity of his family. To redeem captives, he caused the church plate to be sold, not excepting the sacred vessels; making use of patens and chalices of glass ill the celebration of the divine mysteries. If his compassion for the corporal miseries of the faithful was so tender, we may judge how much more he was moved to pity at their spiritual necessities. He bore the weak with tenderness, but never indulged the passions or sloth of any. When he put any one in a course of penance he was himself bathed in tears; whereby he troth excited the penitent to the like, and with ardent sighs and prayer obtained for him of God the grace of compunction and pardon. He visited the bishops of his province, and endeavored to make them walk in the perfect spirit of Christ, the prince of pastors. He established many monasteries and took particular care to enforce a strict observance of monastic discipline among them. He had a close friendship with St. Germanus, whom he called his father, and respected as an apostle. He presided in the council of Ries in 439, in the first council of Orange in 441, in the council of Vaison in 442, and probably in 443, in the second council of Arles, in all which several canons of discipline were framed.

His zeal exasperated several tepid persons; and some of these, by misconstruing his actions, gave the holy pope St. Leo a disadvantageous character of him. His zeal, indeed, had been on some occasions too hasty and precipitate: but this was owing in him to mistake, not to passion; for the circumstances of his actions, and of his eminent piety, oblige us to interpret his intention by the same spirit by which he governed himself in his whole conduct. This disagreement between St. Leo and St. Hilary proved a trial for the exercise of zeal in the former, and of patience in the latter, for his greater sanctification by humility, submission, and silence. Chelidonius, bishop of Besancon, had been deposed by St. Hilary Upon an allegation, that, before he was consecrated bishop, he had married a widow, and had condemned persons to death as magistrate; both which were looked upon as irregularities or disqualifications for holy orders. Chelidonius hereupon set out for Rome, to justify himself to the pope, St. Leo, who received his appeal from his metropolitan, and acquitted him of the irregularity with which he stood charged. St. Hilary, upon hearing that his suffragan was gone for Rome, followed him thither on foot, and in the midst of winter. The pope having assembled a council to judge this affair, St. Hilary took his seat among the other bishops that composed it: but from his not attempting to prove the irregularity which had been alleged against Chelidonius, the saint seemed to own that he had been imposed on as to the matter of fact. But he pretended, that the cause ought not to be judged otherwise than by commissaries deputed by the pope to take cognizance of it in the country that gave it birth, a point for which some Africans had contended. This plea was overruled, the contrary having been frequently practiced, when both parties could appear at Rome: though the manner of judging appeals is only a point of discipline, which may vary in different places. Another affair brought St. Hilary into a greater difficulty. Projectus, a bishop of his province, being sick, St. Hilary, upon information, hastened to his see, and ordained a new bishop: after which Projectus recovering, there were two bishops contending for the same see, and Hilary supported the last ordained; perhaps because the first might remain disabled for his functions. The author of St. Hilary's life does not clear up his conduct in this particular: but we cannot doubt of the sincerity of his intention. Moreover the discipline of the church in such matters was not at that time so clearly settled by the canons as it has been since. St. Hilary therefore imagined a metropolitan might have a discretionary power in such matters. However St. Leo rightly judged such an ordination irregular, liable to great inconveniences, and productive of schisms. Wherefore he forbade St. Hilary to ordain any bishops for the future. Our holy prelate cancelled his mistakes by his patience, and St. Leo, writing immediately after the saint's death, to his successor Ravennus, calls him, .1 Exhausted by austerities and labors, St. Hilary passed to a better life on the 5th of May, 449, being only forty-eight years old. St. Honoratus, the eloquent bishop of Marseilles, who has given us an abstract of his life, relates several miraculous cures wrought by the saint while he was living. His body lies in a subterraneous chapel, under the high altar, in the church of St. Honoratus at Arles, with an elegant ancient epitaph. The name of St. Hilary stands in the Roman Martyrology.

That this saint never gave in to the Semi-Pelagian doctrine, though it hard not been then condemned by any decree of the pastors of the church, is clearly shown by Tillemont2 and Dom. Rivet.3 This is proved from several passages in his life by St. Honoratus; and in the Martyrologies of Rabanus and Notker it is mentioned that he vigorously exerted his zeal in bringing a light and in correcting the Pelagian heresy, which is taught in the conferences of Cassian. His exposition of the creed, commended by the ancients, is now lost: his homilies on all the feasts of the year were much esteemed, but are not known at present. The best edition of his works is given by John Salinas, regular canon of St. John Lateran, in Italy, in 1731.

St. Hilary of Arles - 5 May 2009

Archbishop, b. about 401; d. 5 May, 449. The exact place of his birth is not known. All that may be said is that he belonged to a notable family of Northern Gaul, of which in all probability also came St. Honoratus , his predecessor in the See of Arles. Learned and rich, Hilary had everything calculated to ensure success in the world, but he abandoned honours and riches at the urgent solicitations of Honoratus, accompanied him to the hermitage of Lérins, which the latter had founded, and gave himself up under the saint's direction to the practice of austerities and the study of Holy Scripture . When Honoratus, who had meanwhile become Archbishop of Arles, was at the point of death, Hilary went to his side and assisted at his latest moments. But as he was about to set out on his return to Lérins he was retained by force and proclaimed archbishop in the place of Honoratus. Obliged to yield to this constraint, he resolutely undertook the duties of his heavy charge, and assisted at the various councils held at Riez, Orange, Vaison, and Arles.

Subsequently began between him and Pope St. Leo the famous quarrel which constitutes one of the most curious phases of the history of the Gallican Church. A reunion of bishops, over which he presided in 444 and at which were present St. Eucherius of Lyons and St. Germain of Auxerre, deposed for incapacity provided against by the canons a certain Cheldonius. The latter hastened to Rome, was successful in pleading his cause before the pope, and consequently was reinstated in his see. Hilary then sought St. Leo in order to justify his course of action in the matter, but he was not well received by the sovereign pontiff and was obliged to return precipitately to Gaul. Several priests afterwards sent by him to Rome to explain his conduct met with no better success. Moreover, several persons who were hostile towards him profited by this juncture to bring various accusations against him at the Court of Rome, whereupon the pope excommunicated Hilary, transferred the prerogatives of his see to that of Fréjus, and caused the proclamation by the Emperor Valentinian III of that famous decree which freed the Church of Vienne from all dependence on that of Arles. Nevertheless there is every reason to believe that, the storm once passed, peace was rapidly restored between Hilary and Leo. We are too far removed from the epoch in which this memorable quarrel occurred, and the documents which might throw any light on it are too few to allow us to form a definitive judgment on its causes and consequences. It evidently arose from the fact that the respective rights of the Court of Rome and of the metropolitan were not sufficiently clearly established at that time, and that the right of appeal to the pope, among others, was not explicitly enough recognized. There exist a number of writings which are ascribed to St. Hilary, but they are far from being all authentic. Père Quesnel collected them all in an appendix to the work in which he has published the writings of St. Leo.

Swine Flu

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blessed Michael Giedroyc - 4 May 2009

A life of physical pain and mental torment didn’t prevent Michael Giedroyc from achieving holiness.

Born near Vilnius, Lithuania, Michael suffered from physical and permanent handicaps from birth. He was a dwarf who had the use of only one foot. Because of his delicate physical condition, his formal education was frequently interrupted. But over time, Michael showed special skills at metalwork. Working with bronze and silver, he created sacred vessels, including chalices.

He traveled to Cracow Poland, where he joined the Augustinians. He received permission to live the life of a hermit in a cell adjoining the monastery. There Michael spent his days in prayer, fasted and abstained from all meat and lived to an old age. Though he knew the meaning of suffering throughout his years, his rich spiritual life brought him consolation. Michael’s long life ended in 1485 in Cracow.

Five hundred years later, Pope John Paul II visited the city and spoke to the faculty of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. The 15th century in Cracow, the pope said, was “the century of saints.” Among those he cited was Blessed Michael Giedroyc.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sts. Philip and James - 3 May 2009

James, Son of Alphaeus: We know nothing of this man but his name, and of course the fact that Jesus chose him to be one of the 12 pillars of the New Israel, his Church. He is not the James of Acts, son of Clopas, “brother” of Jesus and later bishop of Jerusalem and the traditional author of the Letter of James. James, son of Alphaeus, is also known as James the Lesser to avoid confusing him with James the son of Zebedee, also an apostle and known as James the Greater.

Philip: Philip came from the same town as Peter and Andrew, Bethsaida in Galilee. Jesus called him directly, whereupon he sought out Nathanael and told him of the “one about whom Moses wrote” (John 1:45).

Like the other apostles, Philip took a long time coming to realize who Jesus was. On one occasion, when Jesus saw the great multitude following him and wanted to give them food, he asked Philip where they should buy bread for the people to eat. St. John comments, “[Jesus] said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do” (John 6:6). Philip answered, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little [bit]” (John 6:7).

John’s story is not a put-down of Philip. It was simply necessary for these men who were to be the foundation stones of the Church to see the clear distinction between humanity’s total helplessness apart from God and the human ability to be a bearer of divine power by God’s gift.

On another occasion, we can almost hear the exasperation in Jesus’ voice. After Thomas had complained that they did not know where Jesus was going, Jesus said, “I am the way...If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6a, 7). Then Philip said, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Enough! Jesus answered, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9a).

Possibly because Philip bore a Greek name or because he was thought to be close to Jesus, some Gentile proselytes came to him and asked him to introduce them to Jesus. Philip went to Andrew, and Andrew went to Jesus. Jesus’ reply in John’s Gospel is indirect; Jesus says that now his “hour” has come, that in a short time he will give his life for Jew and Gentile alike