Santa’s coming to town for Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade. From the parade he’ll go into the store for Black Friday and be there for the rest of the days till Christmas.
But Santa Claus is more than a saleman, isn’t he? He’s a saint– Saint Nicholas. He reminds us Christmas is for giving rather than getting. His story of quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.
Telling his story is one of the ways we can save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the rest. First, take a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our modest contribution for bigger children– like us:
On November 18th, we honor the great apostles, Peter and Paul, in the ancient churches where they were buried: the Vatican Basilica of St. Peter and the Basilica of St. Paul, both built in the fourth century. The two apostles are founders and protectors of the Roman church.
Rome’s Christians marked where these apostles were martyred with special care. Peter, early sources say, was crucified on the Vatican Hill in 64 near the obelisk not far from the circus of the emperors Caligula and Nero and was buried nearby. The Emperor Constantine erected a basilica over his burial site in 326, while Sylvester was pope. Later in 1626 the present basilica replaced it. Recent excavations have uncovered Peter’s burial place under the papal altar of this church.
Paul, tradition says, was beheaded on the Ostian Way, outside the ancient city walls, in 67. Constantine built a large church over his grave in 386. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1823 according to its original measurements. The apostle’s grave lies before the main altar of the church.
We build churches honoring apostles and saints, often enshrining their relics, because we believe they watch over us even now. “The company of the apostles praises you…From their place in heaven they guide us still.”
Defend your Church, O Lord,
by the protection of the holy Apostles,
that, as she received from them
the beginnings of her knowledge of things divine,
so through them she may receive,
even to the end of the world,
an increase in heavenly grace.
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. Amen (Collect for the feast)
From 1880 to 1920 more than 4 million Italian immigrants came to the United States, mostly from rural southern Italy. Many were poor peasants escaping the chaotic political situation and widespread poverty of a recently united Italian peninsula.
Almost all the new immigrants came through Ellis Island; many settled in the crowded tenements of the New York region, where men found work in the subways, canals and buildings of the growing city. The women often worked in the sweatshops that multiplied in New York at the time. Almost half of the 146 workers killed as fire consumed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911, were Italian women.
Over time, the Italian immigrants moved elsewhere and became a prominent part of American society, but at first large numbers suffered from the over-crowding, harsh conditions, discrimination and cultural shock they met in cities like New York. Many returned to Italy with stories of the contradictions and injustices lurking in “the American dream.”
Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini
Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini (1850-19170), founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an order of women missionaries , came to America in 1889 at the urging of Pope Leo XIII to serve the underserved poor. Her work is succinctly described on the website of the Cabrini Mission Foundation.
“She proceeded to found schools, orphanages, hospitals and social services institutions to serve the needs of immigrants in the United States and other parts of the world. Despite poor health and frailty, Mother Cabrini crossed the ocean 25 times during 29 years of missionary work, and with her sisters founded 67 institutions in nine countries on three continents – one for each year of her life.
Mother Cabrini was a collaborator from the start of her missionary activity. She was a woman of her time, yet beyond her time. Her message – “all things are possible with God” – is as alive today as it was 110 years ago. Mother Cabrini lived and worked among the people, poor and rich alike, using whatever means were provided to support her works. She was a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others. In recognition of her extraordinary service to immigrants, Mother Cabrini was canonized in 1946 as the “first American saint,” and was officially declared the Universal Patroness of Immigrants by the Vatican in 1950.”
Be good to have leaders like her today in the church, as well as in society, wouldn’t it? “… a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others.”
Her feastday is November 13th. “Mother Cabrini, pray for us.”
For the injustices against the native peoples and the land God provided here.“Lord, have mercy.”
For the brave missionaries that ministered to them. “Thanks be to God.”
The native peoples are often forgotten in the story of the “discovery” of America. Our heroes tend to be the settlers who came on ships, built towns and cities, explored the land and gave us what we have today. But it came at a price.
If you ever visit New York harbor by way of the Staten Island Ferry look towards the shores where once the native peoples fished, hunted and traded in large numbers. The water was fresher then, fish and shellfish plentiful, the air cleaner, the earth less damaged by human activity.
The National Museum of the American Indian is located in the old customs house across from Battery Park near the ferry. It’s a good place to remember the native peoples in the story of America. The Europeans traded with them; they were their guides into an unknown land; they provided many of the foods that fed growing populations in Europe and America. Their respect for the land was greater than those who came after them.
A young Indian woman, Kateri Tekakwitha and a Jesuit priest, Isaac Jogues, are figures to remember here. They represent the clash of civilizations that occurred when Europeans and native peoples met.
Europeans brought disease. Smallpox disfigured and partially blinded Kateri Tekakwitha, a young Mohawk woman who lived along the Mohawk River past Albany, NY. The native peoples had no immunity to small pox and other diseases. Three out of ten died from it. By some estimates 5 million native people lived in North America when the first Europeans arrived. Within a hundred years there were only 500,000. Besides disease, the major cause of their diminishment, the native peoples also suffered from wars and greed.
At the museum, besides Kateri Tekakwitha remember Father Isaac Jogues, the Jesuit missionary who, while attempting to advance peace-keeping efforts with the Mohawks at Ossernonon (Auriesville) was killed by a war party on October 18, 1646. Previously, in 1642 Jogues had been captured by this same tribe. He escaped in 1643, fled here to New Amsterdam (New York City) and then was put on a ship for France by a kindly Dutch minister.
The French missionaries came to the New World out of the turmoils of the Old World expecting a new Pentecost among the native peoples here, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, disease and political maneuvering made the native peoples suspicious of foreigners and the seed of the gospel fell on hard ground.
Letters back to France from the early Jesuits–marvelously preserved in “The Jesuit Relations”–often express the missionaries’ disappointment over their scarce harvest, but it didn’t stop them. They were well grounded in the mystery of the Cross.
“My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.” St. John de Brebéuf
The Indian woman and the priest persevered. We forget how difficult it is when civilizations clash– like now. We remember the Christian missionaries: Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests and their compassions on October 19th..
“ 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.”
Today the church celebrates two early saints and martyrs, Cornelius, a pope who died in 253, and Cyprian, a bishop who was martyred in Roman Africa in 258.
At that time, the Roman emperors Decius and Valerian were demanding absolute loyalty from their people, as barbarian tribes in the west and the Persians in the east began invading Roman territory.
To prove their loyalty, Romans were expected to offer sacrifice in honor of the emperor. The Christians refused, so at first church leaders were executed or imprisoned, wealthy, influential Christians lost their property, their positions and possibly their lives– all Christians could expect punishment for not performing the rites of sacrifice.
The persecution was widespread. Cornelius was bishop of Rome, Cyprian was bishop of Carthage, an important Roman province. In the Roman persecution, many turned away from their faith; after it ended they wanted to return to the church they once knew. Hard liners called for them to be banned for life for their lack of loyalty. Let God judge them when they die, they said. Others, like Cornelius and Cyprian, called for welcoming them again, since God is all merciful.
Mercy and justice are always hard to reconcile. The Sunday gospels we just read seem to come down on the side of mercy. So should we
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.