Category Archives: Inspiration

Morning Thoughts: Saint Francis for 4-year-olds (and you and me)

 

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“Saint Francis of Assisi”, coloring book page, colored by a “4-year-old”

 

(My wife teaches 4-year-olds in a Catholic elementary school. The school’s patron saint is Saint Francis. They call this week “Saint Francis Week” and hold various events throughout the week to celebrate the feast of this great saint (Oct. 4th). My wife and her co-teacher were looking for a short, simple biography that would be appropriate for their 4-year-old students. They didn’t find anything that seemed to be the right fit. So here’s what I jotted down for their pre-K-4 class. The kids really seemed to enjoy it. Maybe you will too. Let us “become like little children”.)


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Saint Francis, a Knight for God

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There once was a young man. He lived in a land called Italy. He lived a very long time ago. He lived over 800 hundred years ago!

He lived with his family in a small city named Assisi.

The young man was quite silly. He loved to dream and he loved to sing and he loved to dance. He loved to play with his friends all day long.

The young man’s name was Francis.

His father wanted Francis to be more serious. His father wanted Francis to be just like him. He wanted him to sell expensive fabric to people who were very rich. Fabric is what you use to make pretty things like curtains, tablecloths, and clothes.

Francis’ father wanted him to work in the family shop. But Francis was not very interested in that kind of work. Francis wanted to be a great knight!

And one day Francis went off to do just that.

Francis went off to become a knight. He began to travel to another city where he would fight with a sword and a shield. Francis thought that he would become a great hero.

But on his way Francis got very sick. He had to return to his home. His mother took care of him. And while Francis was getting better he began to dream of different adventures.

He began to spend a lot of time walking around the woods and looking at the flowers and at the trees. He began to watch closely all the animals, especially the birds that flew high up into the sky. Francis began to think a lot about God!

Francis began to dream about heaven. He began to wonder about love. He saw that there was another kind of knight!

Francis decided that he would be a knight for God.

Francis wanted Jesus to be his king and for Mary to be his queen.

Francis no longer wanted to use a sword or a shield. No, Francis wanted to teach all the world how to love. Francis wanted to sing and dance and show everyone how be more like Jesus.

He began to live very simply. He had very few things. His only clothing was an old brown robe. He lived almost like a little animal in the forest. Francis was very free. Francis was filled with joy. He was very happy.

And soon many other young men came to join him. They too wanted to be knights for God. They all lived together. They called each other brother. They shared all they had. They were kind to each other. They loved God together.

And one day, even a young lady wanted to join. She brought other ladies and they started a home of their own. They called each other sister. That young lady’s name was Clare.

A new type of family was beginning to grow. A family who lives very much like Jesus. We call them Franciscans.

We now call that young man, Saint Francis. We now call that young lady, Saint Clare.

Saint Francis and Saint Clare are now in heaven with Jesus and Mary and all the holy angels and saints. They live in perfect peace with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. They see us right now. They pray for us too.

Hey, who knows, maybe one day a few of you boys and girls may become knights and ladies of God, like our patron saints, Saint Francis and Saint Clare!


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—Howard Hain

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Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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The proper prayers of the Mass for the feast of a saint often tell us about the saint and point to the graces in them we should seek to imitate. The prayers for the Feast of St. Therese do just that:

“The Lord led her and taught her

and kept her as the apple of his eye.

Like an eagle spreading its wings

he took her up and bore her on his shoulders.

The Lord alone was her guide.” (Entrance antiphon)

Therese saw herself as loved by God, she was the apple of God’s eye. Jesus alone was her guide. No matter how close she was to her family or her religious community, Jesus was her teacher and guide. In her autobiography she speaks of herself as a little bird hardly able to fly, but she has the desires, the heart of an eagle, and she prays that God give her wings. God gave her what she sought. “Like an eagle spreading its wings, he took her up and bore her on his shoulders.”

In the Collect, the opening prayer of the Mass for her feast, we ask God to “lead us to follow trustingly in the little way of Saint Therese, because God invites those who are humble, little ones, into his kingdom:

“O God, who open your Kingdom

to those who are humble and to little ones,

lead us to follow trustingly in the little way of Saint Thérèse,

so that through her intercession

we may see your eternal glory revealed.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.”

In the prayer over the offerings we say:

“As we proclaim your wonders in Saint Thérèse, O Lord,

we humbly implore your majesty,

that, as her merits were pleasing to you,

so, too, our dutiful service may find favor in your sight.

Through Christ our Lord.”

Therese insisted as she began writing her autobiography that she proclaimed the wonders of God by her life, not her own accomplishments. As we bring ourselves to God in the bread and the wine, we proclaim God’s goodness to us in Jesus Christ. We give thanks to the Lord, our God.

After communion we remember what Jesus taught, so that he accomplish his teaching in us:

“Thus says the Lord:

Unless you turn and become like children,

you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In the prayer after Communion we pray:

“May the Sacrament we have received, O Lord,

kindle in us the force of that love

with which Saint Thérèse dedicated herself to you

and longed to obtain your mercy for all.”

We know how much this saint loved God. She also reached out in love to the whole world as God’s merciful love does. We ask the Lord to “kindle in us the force of that love”, to love him and love others with his merciful love.

A biography of St. Therese here.

On her missio today.

Where are the Leaders?


“ Our Sister Earth cries out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.

The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.

It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. Any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”

Pope Francis, Laudato SI 54-55

St. Maximilian Kolbe

Maximilian Kolbe
Teresa Benedicta

A number of martyrs have been remembered in our liturgy recently. Last week, August 10th, we remembered Lawrence the Deacon, one of the most important martyrs of the early church. The day before, August 9, we remembered Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, who died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz on that day in 1942.

Today we remember Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan priest, who also died in Auschwitz about a year before her, August 14, 1941.

Peter Brown, an historian of early Christianity, says it wasn’t the bravery of Christian martyrs that impressed the Romans. The Romans were a macho people; war was in their blood. They prided themselves on dying bravely.

What the Romans marveled at was how Christian martyrs approached death. They had other values. They saw themselves as citizens of another world, who followed Jesus Christ in how they lived. They believed in his promise of everlasting life.

Lawrence the deacon, for example, could have escaped Roman persecution, but he wouldn’t abandon the poor in his care. Jesus said take care of the poor.

Centuries later, Maximillian Kolbe was a priest who wouldn’t abandon the vocation God gave him.

Before World War II, Kolbe was active as a Franciscan priest, promoting devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. He ran a large, successful Franciscan printing enterprise in Warsaw.

In 1939, after invading Poland, the Nazi arrested him and a number of other Franciscans and imprisoned them for some months. They ransacked their printing place, probably hoping to intimidate them. Then, they left them go.

Instead of being intimidated, Kolbe began to house refugees from the Nazis, some of them Jews. That got him into trouble, so he was arrested again, on February 14th, 1941, and sent to Auschwitz to do hard labor.

Concentration camps like Auschwitz where Maximillian Kolbe and Sr.Teresa Benedicta died are the nearest thing to Calvary in modern times. More than 1500 of them were spread mostly through German occupied territories in Europe. Twenty million people died in the camps in the Second World War, 6 million were Jews. 1.3 million people went to Auschwitz; 1,1 million died there.

Five months after Kolbe entered Auschwitz, in July 1941, a prisoner from his barracks escaped. In reprisal, the Nazis took 10 men from the barracks to put them to death by starvation. One of them cried out that he had a wife and children who would never see him again. Father Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the man’s place.

He was the last of the ten men to die of starvation and an injection of carbolic acid two weeks later, on August 14, 1941.

Many stories of Kolbe’s ministry among the prisoners in Auschwitz were told after his death when Auschwitz was liberated. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1983, who called him “Patron Saint of Our Difficult Age.”

He was a sign of God’s love in a place where God seemed absent.

Maximillian Kolbe’s death on the vigil of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven has been seen as a further sign. God’s hand reached into the dark horror of Calvary to save his Son. God reached out to Mary to bring her, body and soul, to heaven. God reached into Auschwitz and other camps of horror to bring suffering human beings to glory and peace.

Saint Lawrence, the Deacon

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Church of St. Lawrence, 17th century map

Today’s the Feast of St. Lawrence, the deacon. In the 4th century the Emperor Constantine built a splendid church honoring him on the Via Tiburtina, near one of the major gateways to the city. Why did he build the church? To honor a martyr who died for his faith? The emperor saw plenty of people dying bravely for one cause or another. It had to be something more.

Lawrence was a deacon of the Roman church in the middle of the 3rd century, when Rome began to experience wars and political instability. Gothic tribes were breaching the Roman lines along the Rhine River and the Persians were invading in the east.

The only thing to do was expand the army, and that’s what the Emperor Valerian did. It was time to build walls and expand armies. That cost money, of course, and in Rome the burden fell heavily on the poor. Famine and plague only worsened their situation.

That’s when the Christian church stepped in to help. Christians were still relatively few in numbers then, not wealthy, but they gave generously to the poor, and the Roman people admired what they saw.

Lawrence, the deacon, was behind this extraordinary Christian effort. After all, Jesus said: “I was hunger, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, you gave me to drink; I was sick and you visited me.”

Rome’s leaders became upset by the church’s growing popularity. They also wondered if the church’s money couldn’t be channeled towards their war effort. And so, in 257 an edict was published to imprison church leaders and confiscate church money. A second edict in 258 caused blood to flow. Pope Xystus II and four deacons were seized in the catacombs of St. Callistus and executed on August 6th. Lawrence, the deacon, was seized and executed on August 10th. That’s why his feast day is today.

Popular stories later offered a colorful account of Lawrence’s martyrdom shaping his story and the way artists pictured him :

The Roman prefect, anxious for the church’s money, promised Lawrence freedom if he would transfer it over to him. Lawrence asked for three days to get the church’s treasures together for delivery to the prefect’s house. Then, going through the city he gathered all the poor and unfortunate supported by the church and brought them to the prefect’s door. “Here are the church’s treasures,” he told the official, “ – the blind, the lame, the orphans and the old.”

The prefect ordered Lawrence burned alive on a gridiron. Those witnessing his execution said the saint went to his death cheerfully, even joking with his executioners. “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.”

After these events the Roman church gained a flood of converts. Respect for Christianity grew, not just because of its brave martyrs, but because of its outreach to the poor.

I think that’s the reason Constantine built a church honoring Lawrence, not just because he died for his faith, but because of his care of the poor. Besides the church’s political support, the emperor appreciated what it could do for the empire he ruled. It would take care of the poor.

Wherever you go in Rome, you are going to find Lawrence. There are other churches honoring him; he’s often pictured with Peter and Paul, the founders of the Roman church; Michelangelo has him among the blessed at the last judgment in the Sistine Chapel. Lawrence represents something important in the church.

A large fresco of the saint stands at the entrance to the Vatican Museum’s Chapel of Nicholas V with its priceless works of art. Lawrence seems blind to the riches all around him as he boldly proclaims the message inscribed beneath his feet: The Poor are the Treasures of the Church.

They should always be the treasures of the church.

St. Bridget of Sweden ( 1303-1373)

St. Bridget of Sweden, whose feast is July 23rd, was a 14th century mystic who strongly influenced Christian art and spirituality, She challenged the powerful of her day, first the court of Sweden and later the papal court in Rome.

Born into an influential Swedish family with ties to the royal court. Bridget married Ulf Gudmarrson when she was 14. They had 8 children, one of whom is also honored as a saint, Catherine of Sweden

As a child of 10 Bridget was attracted to the mystery of the Passion of Jesus and that mystery inspired her prayer and spirituality ever afterwards. She protested the wanton living and uncaring policies of the Swedish royalty towards the poor. After her husband’s death in 1334 Bridget founded a religious community, continuing to speak out fearlessly against the lifestyle and privileges of the powerful.

In 1350 Bridget went to Rome to gain approval for her Order of the Most Holy Savior, the Brigittines. There she urged the Pope, then in Avignon in France, fleeing the turmoil in the papal states, to return to Rome. The pope was a shepherd, she said, who should be with his sheep, especially in times of turmoil.

Bridget’s prayers and revelations, widely circulated in her time, were reminders of what Jesus said and did, especially the example he gave in his Passion.

She inspired artists in their portrayals of the mysteries of Christ. An example is her vision of Mary and Joseph adoring the Child lying on the ground; by his Incarnation he made this world his home. Previously, Mary was portrayed at the crib, lying down after giving birth. Now she joins Joseph and the shepherds (humanity) adoring the Word made flesh.

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Adoration of the Child, Giorgione, 1507, National Gallery, Washington

Bridget also inspired the devotion and portrayal of Mary holding the body of Jesus after his crucifixion, the Pieta. As he holds him, she recalls holding him at his birth in Bethlehem, Bridget says in her reflections.

Rhine Valley, 14th century

In 1371, Bridget and some of her family went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land; her vivid accounts from there further stimulated the religious imagination of her contemporaries. On July 23, 1373 she died in Rome. Bridget Is the patroness of Sweden and of Europe.

The church always needs strong women like Bridget, firm in faith and unafraid to speak out. Society too needs women like her in politics and business to steer its course into the future.

Prayer of St. Bridget

Jesus, true and fruitful Vine! Remember the abundant outpouring of blood shed from your sacred body as juice from grapes in a wine press.    From your side, pierced with a lance by a soldier, blood and water poured out until there was not left in your body a single drop.

Through your bitter Passion and your precious blood poured out, receive my soul when I come to die. Amen.

O good Jesus! Pierce my heart so that my tears of penance and love will be my bread day and night; may I be converted entirely to you, may my heart be your home, may my conversation please you, may I merit heaven at the end of my life and be with you and your saints, to praise you forever. Amen

Sharing in the Sufferings of Christ

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The weekdays at Mass we’re reading St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, a Christian community in the city of Corinth around the year 50, shortly after the time of Jesus. Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians are favorite sources for historians studying the early Christian church; they also help us reflect on our own church today.

During the easter season we read the Acts of the Apostles– St. Luke’s overview of the early Christian church as it spreads from Jerusalem to Rome after the resurrection of Jesus, mainly through the activity of Peter and Paul. Now, in ordinary time we look more closely at one of the churches Paul founded–the church at Corinth. What was it like?

Drawn from different peoples flocking to the great Mediterranean port, the Christian community at Corinth was diverse; it attracted a variety of preachers and teachers, causing some division, noticeably as they came together to “break bread.” There’s some sexual immorality in this church, close to the open sea. Some were wondering about the resurrection of Jesus.

Its members were not mostly Jewish Christians, though there are some who may have missed the stability found in a Jewish synagogue. There’s no bishop administering this church as yet. Paul’s ministry is to the world; there is no one person in charge here for him to work with.

It’s a church  “in the works,” not complete, with glaring weaknesses, struggling to grow in faith, with plenty of loose ends, looking for answers. It’s a church experiencing great change. It’s a church suffering, not from outward persecution, but from turmoil within.

Maybe a church like ours?

Addressing the Corinthians, Paul sees first their suffering, which he describes as “Christ’s suffering”. He feels that mystery in himself, as he says in the opening chapters of the Second Letter to the Corinthians. He returns to that theme over and over.

Yes, problems must be faced, corrections made, restructuring to take place, but Paul keeps reminding the Corinthians they’re experiencing the sufferings of Christ–with Christ’s suffering comes his encouragement.

Paul knew both–the sufferings of Christ and his encouragement. “We were utterly weighed down beyond our strength, so that we despaired of life,” he writes from the province of Asia, but with suffering came an overflowing encouragement, which always accompanies the sufferings of Christ. “We do not trust in ourselves but in God who raises from the dead.” ( 2 Corinthians 1, 5-11)

Paul’s way is the right way, the first way to look at our experience. We’re tempted to judge, to analyze, to condemn, to throw up our hands and lose hope in the world around us. We need to remember the sufferings of Christ, a mystery affecting us all, and the “encouragement” that always accompanies this mystery.

Listen to Paul speaking to the struggling Corinthians:

“Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement,”

Good letter for us to read these days.