Tag Archives: Passionists

North American Martyrs

The North American Martyrs, eight Jesuits and their associates were killed by warring Indian tribes in the 17th century. They’re the first saints of North America and we celebrate their feast today. I’ve visited Auriesville in New York State and the Midlands in Canada where they were martyred; both places hold memories of heroic faith and bravery.

The missionaries came to the New World expecting a new Pentecost among the native peoples of this land, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, disease and political maneuvering made the native peoples suspicious of the foreigners and the seed of the gospel seemed to fall on hard ground. The martyrdom of the eight Jesuits witnesses that resistance.

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.

Not far from Auriesville, near Fonda, NY, is the Indian village called Caughnawaga.  In the spring of 1675, after the Jesuits were killed in Auriesville in 1646, Father Jacques de Lamberville visited Caughnawaga . The priest entered a lodge where a young Indian girl Kateri Tekakwitha was alone because a foot injury prevented her from working in the fields. She spoke to him of her desire to receive baptism and on Easter, 1676, the young Indian girl was baptized and took the name Kateri, after St. Catherine of Siena, the mystic and a favorite patron of Christian Indian women. She was 20 years old.

Her uncle and relatives in the long house opposed her conversion to Christianity and pressured her to marry and follow their ways. The early Jesuits considered it a miracle that Kateri resisted  family and tribal pressure.  Her early biographer says “She practiced her faith without losing her original fervor and her extraordinary virtue was seen by all. The Christians saw her obeying their rules exactly, going to prayers everyday in the morning and evening and Mass on Sunday. At the same time she avoided the dreams feasts and the dances,” practices endangering her belief.  (The Life of the Good Catherine Tekakwitha, Claude Chauchetiere, SJ , 1695)

Father de Lamberville finally recommended that Kateri escape to the newly-established  Indian Christian village in Kahnawake near Montreal, where she could live her faith freely.  In 1676, aided by other Christian Indians, she made the dangerous journey northward. There she lived a fervent life of prayer and faith;  she died and was buried on April 17th, 1680.

Kateri was canonized  October 21th in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” (Tertullian)

3 Comments

Filed under Religion

The Gospel of Luke

Luke copy

The Feast of St. Luke is October 18th.  If you’re beginning to read the New Testament  Luke’s Gospel is a good place to start;  it’s the longest of the gospels and is followed by the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke. Together they present a magnificent picture of the life of Jesus, which continues in the life of the church.

Luke’s gospel provides many of the readings for the various liturgical feasts we celebrate in the church through the year, for example most of the stories of Jesus’ early life we read during the Christmas season.

Luke takes over into his gospel about 65% of Mark’s Gospel, which he modifies for his own purposes. He shares with Matthew’s Gospel material from another source, and he also offers material not found in the other gospels–the infancy narratives, for example. (Luke 1-2).

Like other evangelists, Luke shapes his gospel to his own plan and interpretation. In his commentary on Luke’s gospel, for example, Luke Timothy Johnson speaks of Luke’s positive outlook on the world.

“Luke-Acts is positive toward the world, not only as God’s creation but also as the arena of history and human activity. It is perhaps the least apocalyptic of the NT writings, and the least sectarian. Not only is Luke relatively unconcerned about the end time, his historical narrative bestows value on time itself. Luke is also generally approving of those outside the Christian movement. Outsiders-not counting the Jewish opponents who are not outsiders at all– are generally regarded as reasonable and open-minded, which is a high compliment paid by apologetic literature.” (The Gospel of Luke, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Md. 1991)

Our readings from Luke for the 1st Sunday of Advent (Year C) offer a good example of Luke shaping apocalyptic material to his own purposes. He presents the last days as others do: “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars and on earth; nations will be in dismay,” but in Luke’s Gospel Jesus says we can stand strong and fearless on that day, if we live each day well in the meantime.

Carry the cross with me each day, Jesus says,  and don’t worry or be anxious. Be vigilant and prayerful each day, the Lord will return on the clouds of heaven. No, we don’t know the day or the hour, but we’ll we ready for the last day if we prepare each day for our redemption.

Isn’t that  good advice for times like ours when enormous problems confront our world and clear solutions and grand designs are nowhere to be found? We can so easily fall into pessimism (a form of spiritual sleep) and lose hope.

We can use Luke’s optimism today.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Ignatius of Antioch

DSC00978

 

Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria, a large early Christian center, was put to death in the third century during the reign of the Emperor Trajan. Soldiers led him to Rome, like Paul the Apostle, where  he was put to death in the Colosseum, devoured by wild animals. His death is vividly portrayed in the picture (above) in the church of San Stefano Rotondo in Rome. We celebrate his feast today.

On the way to Rome, Ignatius wrote seven letters to important Christian churches. The letters show him to be a skillful  teacher and writer; he must have been an eloquent preacher.

In his letter to the Christians at Ephesus,  however, you sense his days for words are coming to an end. He’s being silenced, but words aren’t important, Ignatius writes,  faith and “ being faithful to the end,” are what count. “It is better to remain silent and to be than to talk and not be. Teaching is good if the teacher also acts. One teacher ‘spoke, and it was done,’ yet what he did in silence was worthy of the Father. He who has the word of Jesus can also listen to his silence…”

What does Ignatius mean? The Word of God silent? True, in his early years at Nazareth, Jesus is silent. Before his baptism in the Jordan by John he’s  silent, until the voice of the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

Jesus taught during his public ministry, yet many didn’t hear him at all. Finally, when he’s arrested and taken to the cross to die, the evangelists say  Jesus was silent.

Silence is part of facing the mystery of God. Here and now, some things can’t be known or explained. Like terrorism, natural disasters, the suffering of children. Why? God is silent. Again,  Ignatius:

“He who has the word of Jesus can truly listen also to his silence.”

4 Comments

Filed under Religion

Visiting Gregory the Great

Today, October 9th is the anniversary of the death of Fr. Theodore Foley, who died in Rome on this day in 1974. Father Theodore loved to visit the churches of the city and delighted taking visitors to them.

He’s a candidate for canonization, and as a tribute to him I’m offering this visit to the church of St.Gregory the Great, a holy pope who reached out to the world in hard times, a man of hope and deep faith.

1 Comment

Filed under art, ecumenism, Motivational, Passionists, Religion, spirituality

St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

Tomorrow is the Feast of Francis of Assisi.  A large statue of St. Francis of Assisi with arms outstretched stands facing the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. If you faced the basilica from behind the statue, you might think the saint was holding up the church in his arms. And that’s what he did: Francis raised up a church that was falling down

We need to see saints in the light of their times as they met the needs of their day. Chesterton called saints “God’s antidotes for the poison of their world”.

What was poisoning Francis’ world? Twelfth century Italy’s economy was booming and Francis was born into its new rich merchant class. As a young man he had everything money could buy, but then, as now, money can poison values.

Italy’s cities, often at war, fiercely competed with one another. A thirst for power was everywhere. It was the time of the crusades and belief in settling things through force of arms.

It was a time too when the church had become weak and yearned for reform. Before Francis, saints like Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and popes like Gregory VII (1015-1085) and Innocent III (1160-1216) sought renewal and change.

And so when Francis of Assisi came with twelve disciples to see the pope in Rome about reforming the church in the summer of 1220, he came at the right time. They say that the pope had a dream the night before that St. John Lateran, the mother church of Christendom, was falling down and a young man resembling the 28 year old Francis came to hold its walls up.

The pope asked Francis what would he do and Francis replied with three verses of scripture. The first was from the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus says to the young man ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’(19,21)  The second from Luke’s gospel in which Jesus sends his disciples out saying “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.”( 9,3) The third from Matthew: Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross.” (16,24)

The pope was a good judge of people and, sensing the grace of God in Francis,  told him to live those gospel teachings and  sent him on his way. Francis and his companions started a movement that spread like fire throughout Europe.

Francis made Jesus’ teachings his own. He embraced poverty, not just renouncing the rich lifestyle that he was born into, but  renouncing any way that led to power. For example, he never became a priest or a bishop or a pope, because they were positions of power some fought for and sometimes paid for in his day.

He did not want a monastery or a religious order as a base of power. Saints like St. Bernard and St Norbert before him thought monasticism was the way to bring about church reform, but Francis wanted a life style where you had nothing, “no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.” He distanced himself and his movement from the religious institutions of his day, because he feared them becoming places of power.

He took the gospel teachings literally and lived them literally. His renunciation of power became an antidote to the poisonous attraction to power that crippled his world and his church. He imitated the “Son of Man” a poor man who said to his followers the “foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Like the Son of Man, who suffered and died on a cross and rose again, Francis experienced the mystery of the cross and was blessed by it.

Remembering him, we might pray: God send us saints to deal with the poison of our time.

“Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future.”      

T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

2 Comments

Filed under Religion

Guardian Angels

Ángel_de_la_Guarda

 

We usually associate Guardian Angels with children. That’s what Jesus does in the gospel reading for their feast on October 2nd. You can’t get into heaven unless you become like little children whose “angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 18,1-5,10)

 

Artists picture Guardian Angels with children, protecting and guiding them as they go on their way in a world that has its dangers.

 

Yet, St. Bernard reminds us that angels are with us all our lives because, whether we know it or not, we’re always children. “They are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father. We are God’s children although it does not seem so, because we are still but small children under guardians and trustees, and for the present little better than slaves.”

 

However smart or independent or grown-up we are, we’re still little kids, and God, who knows we are always little kids gives us “loyal, prudent, powerful” protectors and guides. “They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray.”

 

I was thinking of the “principle of subsidiarity” on the feastday of the Guardian Angels. God spreads  power around. I was also thinking that sometime ago I nearly hit a truck ahead of me but something suddenly stopped me. “Thanks.”

 

O God, in your infinite providence you deign to send your holy angels to be our guardians. Grant to us who pray to you

that we may be defended by them in this life

and rejoice with them in the next.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Passionists, Religion, spirituality

A Church with a Mission

Saints John and Paul, Coelian Hill, Rome

 


A few days ago we celebrated the feast of St. Jerome, the great 4th century scripture scholar and controversialist. These days I’m staying in a place well known to him in Rome– the Caelian Hill and the church of Saints John and Paul.

In Jerome’s day Rome’s rich and powerful lived on the Caelian Hill, across from the Palatine Hill and the Roman forum. Among them were some prominent friends, Pammachius, the ex- Roman senator who built Saints John and Paul, the noblewoman Paula and her daughter Eutochium, who joined Jerome in his venture in Bethlehem to study the scriptures, her other daughter Blaesilla and others.

Interest in the scriptures was high then among well-off Caelian Christians, but the place was also keen for gossip and religious controversies. Jerome loved the scriptures, but he also loved the fight. His relationship with Paula and her family probably figured prominently among the reasons he left Rome for the Holy Land. Paula and Eutochium followed him there, creating a monastic community in Bethlehem and undoubtedly playing a bigger part in his scriptural achievements than they’re credited for.

Jerome’s a saint, but I appreciate why so many artists picture him doing penance for his sins. He needed God’s mercy.

FullSizeRender

Excavations, Saints John and Paul

Underneath Pammachius’ Church of Saints John and Paul are remains of Roman apartments going back to the 2nd-4th centuries, probably the best preserved of their kind in the city and a favorite for tourists. I went through them yesterday.

Years ago, when I studied here, one of the rooms in the excavations was pointed out as part of a house church with Christian inscriptions , but I see archeologists today consider it not to be so. That doesn’t mean Christians didn’t meet or worship in these buildings, only they didn’t create a special liturgical space for meeting or worship. Early Christian evidence says a “house church” was here early on.

Why then did Pammachius build the imposing basilica of Saints John and Paul here at the end of the 4th century? There were many retired soldiers settled on the Caelian Hill then. Did he wish to win them to Christianity by honoring two soldier saints, John and Paul, with a church built over their remains, which are still found under the church’s main altar today?

I wonder if there’s another reason. According to Richard Krautheimer, an expert on Rome’s early Christian churches, the emperor Constantine built St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Lawrence, the first Christian churches, on the edge of the city at least partially In deference to the sensibilities of the followers of Rome’s traditional religions. He didn’t want any Christian church in the “show areas” of the city, near the Roman forum or the Palatine hill.

Saints John and Paul, Interior

Was Pammachius’ church now a statement to the city that Christianity had arrived and wished to speak its wisdom here at the heart of traditional Roman religion, near the Palatine Hill and the Roman forum? Jerome’s new translations and commentaries, along with the works of St. Augustine and others, gave them something to say.

So this was a church with a mission. A reminder for the church of today?

1 Comment

Filed under art, contemplation, Inspiration, Motivational, Passionists