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St. Faustina Kowalska

Sometimes that which seems most ordinary is, in fact, the hiding place of something truly extraordinary.  Such was the case with Maria Faustina Kowalska, who is known today as the saint through whom God chose to communicate His Divine Mercy to the world.  Her humility was such that most people didn’t realize what a remarkable soul they had had the privilege of encountering until after her death.
 
St. Maria Faustina was born Helena Kowalska in a small village in western Poland in 1905.  The third of ten children in a poor family, Helena received only three years of formal education before going to work as a housekeeper in the homes of more well-to-do families.  She had had a desire early on to enter religious life, but her parents were reluctant to give her permission to do so.  Consequently, it was not until she was 20 that she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw, Poland, where she took the name Sister Maria Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
 
The Order to which Maria Faustina belonged was devoted in particular to the care and education of troubled young women.  Although her place within the congregation was very unpretentious – Maria was a cook, gardener and porter in various houses during her 13 years as a nun – it was not long before she began to receive visions and revelations.  These she recorded in a diary which her confessors – and God – requested her to keep.
 
The essence of these messages to Sister Maria and the world was the incredible extent of God’s Divine Mercy.  It was a time when many Catholics harbored an image of God as such a strict judge that some were tempted to despair of ever being truly forgiven by Him.  What God revealed to Sister Maria was quite the opposite:  “Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world,” Jesus once said to her.  “I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart” (Diary, 1588).
 
Outwardly, Sister Maria did not seem to be anything special.  She went about her work within the order with kindness and serenity, observing its Rule and treating those around her with mercy and love.  In her heart, she grew in child-like trust in God, offering her own life in imitation of His for the good of others.
 
In the 1930’s, Sister Maria was directed by Jesus to have a picture painted of Him containing the inscription “Jesus, I Trust in You.”  The image, which she commissioned in 1935, also has a red and white light emanating from Christ’s Sacred Heart and is the portrait of Divine Mercy which hangs in many chapels and churches throughout the world today.
 
Sister Maria Faustina died in 1938 of tuberculosis.  Although she had a reputation for holiness, it would be three decades before her beatification process would begin.  Her diary, written as it was by a barely literate woman, was composed phonetically with no punctuation or quotation marks, so when a bad translation of it reached Rome in 1958, it was initially rejected as being heretical.  However, when a later and more accurate translation was undertaken, the Vatican realized that Sister Maria had actually left the world, not a heretical document, but a beautiful work proclaiming God’s love.  Called “Divine Mercy in My Soul," it has been translated into more than 20 languages. 
 
Sister Maria Faustina was canonized in 2000, and her feast day is commemorated on Oct. 5; Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter.
 
 
 

Thomas of Villanova

St. Thomas of Villanova would never have been accused of being a practical man.  Given his habits and proclivities, some might have termed him “eccentric,” and considered that a kind judgment.  But so often what the world considers impractical, God declares to be holy.  So it was with Thomas of Villanova, who lived from 1488 until 1555.

Thomas was an intelligent and well educated man — he graduated from the University of Alcala and stayed on to become a professor of philosophy there — but he also suffered from absentmindedness, which was probably the result of his poor memory.

When he became an Augustinian friar, he continued to teach but became better known for his embrace of personal poverty and love of the poor.  Throughout his life, he wore the same habit he had received in the novitiate, mending it himself year after year.  The poor flocked to his door in droves and he never refused them, even when others said he was being taken advantage of.   He took in orphans and dealt mercifully with sinners.  All of these things resulted in criticism from his contemporaries, including members of his own order, but Thomas never wavered from what he felt God was calling him to do.

He died peacefully at age 77, his last words being, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.”  His feast day is Sept. 10.    


Sources for these articles include:

www.americancatholic.org

Dohan, Edward. “St. Thomas of Villanova.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York:
        Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Nobel Lecture, 11 December, 1979

“Saint Teresa of Calcutta.” CatholicSaints.Info. 12 July 2016. 

“Saint Thomas of Villanova.” CatholicSaints.Info.
        19 May 2016.

Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z.”  Ann Arbor, Michigan:  Servant Press, 2002.

Teresa of Calcutta

When Pope Francis officially pronounces Blessed Teresa of Calcutta a saint this month, he will be confirming what many have believed for decades — that those who lived in the 20th century were privileged to watch and learn what a living saint had to teach.  So sure were most people of her sanctity that her name has entered the lexicon as a synonym for holiness.  All of this Mother Teresa would have eschewed, of course.  She once said of herself that she was merely “a pencil in the hand of God,” but she was a pencil that wrote in large letters what an often indifferent world needed to hear.

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in what is now Macedonia in 1910.  Even as a young child she showed an interest in foreign missions and, at age 18, she left her home and her mother (her father had died when she was nine) to join the Loretto Sisters of Dublin.  From there she was sent to India to teach history and geography in a wealthy girl’s school in Calcutta; but even within its sheltered walls Teresa could not avoid the suffering and destitution that surrounded her.

 In 1946, while on her way to her annual retreat in Darjeeling, she heard what she would later term “the call within the call.”  The message was clear, she said.  “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them…to follow Christ into the slums to serve Him among the poorest of the poor.”

After receiving permission to leave Loretto and found a new congregation, Mother Teresa began to prepare herself for her new vocation.  She took a nursing course and then moved into the slums, where she opened a school for poor children.  She adopted as her “habit” a simple white sari and sandals, because this was the clothing worn by ordinary Indian women.  Visiting her neighbors, she began to learn of their needs and worked to help provide for them.

She was soon joined by other young women, some of them girls she had taught, and the core of the Missionaries of Charity began to take shape.  As more and more people began to learn of what she was doing, they helped as they could with donations of food, clothing and whatever else the sisters needed.  By 1952, the city of Kolkata (Calcutta) gave Mother Teresa a hostel to use as a home for the dying and destitute.

Mother Teresa spent the rest of her life caring for those she called “Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.”  She became known around the globe and traveled extensively, seeking support for the work of the Missionaries of Charity and encouraging others to see the poor as God saw them.  “Find your own Calcutta,” she said.  “Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.”

In 1979, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize.  She died of natural causes on Sept. 5, 1997, and the process for her canonization began soon after. At her beatification in 2003, Pope St. John Paul II called her “one of the most relevant personalities of our age…an icon of the Good Samaritan.”

Mother Teresa’s feast day is Sept. 5.


Sources for these articles include:

www.americancatholic.org

Dohan, Edward. “St. Thomas of Villanova.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York:
        Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Nobel Lecture, 11 December, 1979

“Saint Teresa of Calcutta.” CatholicSaints.Info. 12 July 2016. 

“Saint Thomas of Villanova.” CatholicSaints.Info.
        19 May 2016.

Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z.”  Ann Arbor, Michigan:  Servant Press, 2002.

St. Alphonsus Liguori: Feast Day August 1

An intellectual prodigy – St. Alphonsus Liguori earned a doctorate in both civil and canon law by the age of sixteen – this future Doctor of the Church was not, however, destined to remain in the secular legal profession.  After the humiliating loss of a court case in his mid-twenties, he gave up the law and instead turned his heart and his life toward serving God’s people as a priest and preacher.

Alphonsus Liguori was born in Naples, Italy, in 1696 to a noble and pious family.  Against the wishes of his father, who had encouraged his legal career, Alphonsus was ordained a priest in 1726 and soon became known as a particularly articulate preacher.  His gentleness, especially in the confessional, was a matter of controversy for some, as this was a time when the Church was struggling with the heresy of Jansenism; this teaching, which was actually a form of Calvinism, was condemned by the Pope in 1713, but vestiges of its austerity and scrupulosity were still being felt in the actions of some religious orders and confessors.

In 1732, Alphonsus Liguori founded a religious order dedicated to working among the rural poor.  The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, popularly known as the Redemptorists, lived in community in imitation of Christ and preached parish missions throughout the countryside of Italy. Liguori himself worked at this calling for over twenty-six years but was, ironically, expelled from his own order for a time due to internal strife and the desertion of some of the original members of the community.

His contributions to the life of the Church did not end with the Redemptorists, however.  As a moral theologian, Liguori stressed, not the condemnation of God, but His mercy and readiness to forgive sins.  (Were he alive today, he would no doubt have rejoiced at Pope Francis’ “Year of Mercy.”)  His two-volume work, “Moral Theology”, has become a classic of Catholic teaching, and has subsequently been translated into more than sixty languages.  In addition to his theological writing, he also authored several devotionals, many of which are still readily available today at www.amazon.com. (Simply search under the name “Alphonsus Liguori”.)

Alphonsus Liguori was particularly devoted to the Blessed Mother.  It was she who gave him comfort and strength in times of his greatest struggles.  Although not in the best of health throughout his life, Liguori was especially debilitated during his last years, suffering from arthritis and rheumatism so painful that it deformed his body.  Confined to a wheelchair and nearly blind, his head was permanently bent forward onto his chest; as a result, for years he had to drink from tubes in order to get any nourishment at all.

 It was during this time that his enemies in the government, in an attempt to revise the Rule of the Redemptorists to better suit themselves, tricked him into signing a document that effectively removed him as head of his own order.  This led Liguori to spiral into a “dark night” of fear, uncertainty and scrupulosity, which took years to overcome and was ultimately relieved by his devotion to Mary. 

St. Alphonsus Liguori died peacefully on August 1, 1787 at the age of ninety-one.  Canonized in 1839, he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1871.  The patron of theologians and vocations, his feast day is celebrated on August 1.


Sources for this article include:

www.americancatholic.org

www.catholiconline.com

www.cssr.news

“Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori“. CatholicSaints.

Info. 19 March 2016.

Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z.”  Ann Arbor, Michigan:  Servant Publications, 2002.

Pope Francis recognizes miracle needed to canonize Mother Teresa of Kolkata

Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, thus paving the way for her canonization.

Pope Francis signed the decree for Blessed Teresa's cause and advanced three other sainthood causes on Dec. 17, the Vatican announced.

Although the date for the canonization ceremony will be officially announced during the next consistory of cardinals in February, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Vatican office organizing the Holy Year of Mercy events, had said it would be Sept. 4. That date celebrates the Jubilee of workers and volunteers of mercy and comes the day before the 19th anniversary of her death, Sept. 5, 1997.

The postulator for her sainthood cause, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk of the Missionaries of Charity, said the second miracle that was approved involved the healing of a now 42-yearold mechanical engineer in Santos, Brazil.

Doctors diagnosed the man with a viral brain infection that resulted in multiple brain abscesses, the priest said in a statement published Dec. 18 by AsiaNews, the Rome-based missionary news agency. Treatments given were ineffective and the man went into a coma, the postulator wrote.

The then-newly married man's wife had spent months praying to Blessed Teresa and her prayers were joined by those of her relatives and friends when her dying husband was taken to the operating room Dec. 9, 2008.

When the surgeon entered the operating room, he reported that he found the patient awake, free of pain and asking, "What am I doing here?" Doctors reported the man showed no more symptoms and a Vatican medical commission voted unanimously in September 2015 that the healing was inexplicable.

St. John Paul II had made an exception to the usual canonization process in Mother Teresa's case by allowing her sainthood cause to be opened without waiting the usual five years after a candidate's death. He beatified her in 2003.

The order she started – the Missionaries of Charity – continues its outreach to the "poorest of the poor."

Among the other decrees approved Dec. 17, the pope recognized the heroic virtues of Comboni Father Giuseppe Ambrosoli, an Italian surgeon, priest and missionary who dedicated his life to caring for people in Uganda, where he also founded a hospital and midwifery school before his death in 1987. His father ran the highly successful Ambrosoli honey company.

The pope also recognized the heroic virtues of De La Salle Brother Leonardo Lanzuela Martinez of Spain (1894-1976) and Heinrich Hahn, a German surgeon.

Born in 1800, the lay Catholic doctor was the father of 10 children and dedicated much of his activity to providing medical care to the poor. He was also involved in public service, even serving in the German parliament. He founded the St. Francis Xavier Mission Society in Germany and the "Giuseppino" Institute for those suffering from incurable illnesses. He died in 1882. (CNS)

 
  • Published in Vatican

Communion of Saints: St. Hyacintha of Mariscotti

Feast day January 30

Often, the stories of the saints inspire by showing us, not so much the holiness they eventually attained, but the very human obstacles they overcame to get there. St. Hyacintha of Mariscotti is one such example; although indulging in a luxurious, spoiled existence – even in the midst of convent life – God found a way to soften her heart and reform her ways, so that it was her humility and penitential heart that eventually inspired those who lived with her.

Hyacintha was born in 1585 near Viterbo, Italy, and entered the Convent of St. Benardine after her hopes for marriage did not come to pass. For 10 years, however, she virtually ignored her vows, using her family's wealth to provide herself with rich foods and luxurious clothes. It was only when a serious illness forced her confessor to bring Communion to her in her cell that he observed her manner of life; he advised her most strongly to cease what she was doing and cultivate a life of humility instead. Inspired by his words, Hyacintha changed completely; by the time she died in 1640, she had become a model of humble service to others and an inspiration to all.

St. Hyacintha's feast day is Jan. 30.

Sources for these articles include: www.americancatholic.org

Butler, Edward Cuthbert. "St. Anthony." The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907.

Mershman, Francis. "St. Hyacintha Marisco_i." The Catholic Encyclopedia, 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.

"Saint Anthony the Abbot". CatholicSaints.Info. 1 July 2015.

"Saint Hyacintha of Mariscotti". CatholicSaints.Info. 29 January 2013.

Shrek, Alan. "Catholic Church History from A to Z." Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.

 

St. Anthony of Egypt: Feast Day Jan. 17

Feast day January 17

It is interesting that someone who once hoped to be a martyr would instead live to be 105 years old – thus it was with St. Anthony (or Antony) of Egypt. Born in the year 251, he would not only live through the last of the persecutions of Christians by the Roman Empire, but he would then go on to fight the heresy of Arianism and eventually become known as "the father of monasticism."

Anthony was born in Coma, Egypt, to affluent parents who died when he was only 20 years old. Left with a substantial material inheritance, it would be the spiritual foundation that his family had impressed upon him which would have the greatest influence on his life. Not long after their death, Anthony heard a Gospel reading at church that he felt was spoken directly to him: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven." (Mt 19:21)

Much like St. Francis of Assisi, Anthony took this Scripture passage quite literally; after providing for a younger sister, he gave up all his material belongings and began to live a life of self-denial and asceticism. Unlike Francis, however, Anthony went on to live the majority of his life in solitude, devoting himself to prayer and contemplation of the bible.

Anthony began his spiritual journey not too far from his home, in an empty tomb where he remained apart from the world for 15 years. During this time, St. Athanasius, whose Life of St. Anthony is the source for much of what we know of the saint, tells us that he did battle with demons, which often came to him in the guise of wild beasts. Not only did they torment him spiritually, but physically as well, occasionally leaving him nearly dead.

At about the age of 35, Anthony felt God calling him to even greater solitude, and so he moved into the desert, occupying an abandoned fortress there for the next 20 years. During that time, which was filled with intense prayer, further battles with demons, and the overwhelming presence of God, it is said that he never saw the face of another human being. When Anthony finally emerged from solitude, it was not as an emaciated, damaged man, but rather as one who was robust, healthy, and on fire with the love of Christ.

Despite his desire for solitude, Anthony's reputation for holiness and joy had a_racted others to him, and he soon found himself providing them with spiritual guidance and even physical healing. Many of them wanted to follow the same kind of vocation as Anthony, and so the solitary saint organized a "monastery" of sorts, composed of individual cells scattered around his retreat, where monks could live their lives in prayer and contemplation. For about six years, this "desert father" ministered to them, and it was for this reason that he became known as the father of the "eremitical" life – that is, the life of a hermit.

Although the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire ended in 313 with the Edict of Milan, the Church would go on to endure an even greater threat – the Arian heresy. At the age of 88, Anthony became a vigorous opponent of this teaching, which maintained that, although Jesus is Lord and Savior, he is not equal to the Father, but instead is merely the highest creation of God.

Anthony spent the last years of his life as a hermit but, unlike his earlier withdrawal from the world, he did meet periodically with the pilgrims who came to seek his advice. He died in solitude in the year 356, at the age of 105. His feast day is Jan. 17.

Articles written by Kay Winchester Vermont Catholic staff writer

 

St. Scholastica: Feast Day Feb. 10

It is certainly not unusual for siblings to develop similar interests or to spend time, either together or apart, pursuing the same activities. This is particularly true when the siblings are twins; such was the case with St. Scholastica and her twin brother, St. Benedict. Between the two of them, they found the tradition of Western monasticism – he for men and she for women – that persists in the Church to this day.

Scholastica and Benedict were born into a wealthy Italian family in the town of Nursia in 480, and while twins are often close, the fact that their mother died in childbirth may have strengthened the bond between them even further. Little is known of the details of Scholastica's early life, but she and her brother were raised together in their father's house until Benedict left for Rome to pursue his studies.

In Scholastica's social class, young women often lived in their father's home until they either married or entered religious life. We do know, thanks to the writings of Pope St. Gregory the Great, that she was dedicated to God from an early age, and may even have gathered some like-minded young women around her while still living in Nursia. Whatever the circumstances, she remained in that house until her father's death.

When Benedict subsequently left the "worldliness" of Rome to live a more ascetic life at Monte Cassino (which is located between Rome and Naples), Scholastica relocated as well. Adhering to her brother's monastic Rule, she established what has become known as the first Benedictine convent either at Plumbariola, which is about five miles from Monte Cassio, or in a group of buildings at the foot of Monte Cassino itself.

Though brother and sister lived physically very close to one another, they only met in person once a year at a farmhouse near the monastery (the Benedictine Rule prevented Scholastica from entering the monastery building itself). During these rare meetings, they would spend the day praising God and discussing spiritual matters.

Very near the very end of her life, in 543, Scholastica and her brother were meeting as they usually did; when night drew on, however, she begged Benedict to stay with her until the next day, as she sensed that her own death was imminent. Because the Benedictine Rule stipulated that a monk must not spend a night away from his monastery, her brother at first refused. It is said that, at that point, Scholastica folded her hands on the table, lowered her head, and began to pray. Suddenly, a thunderstorm broke out that was so severe that neither Benedict nor the monks accompanying him could safely leave the convent.

Benedict then cried out, "God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?" Scholastica replied, "I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and He granted it." Realizing that this was God's will, Benedict remained talking to his sister until the next morning, at which time they parted. It was the last time in this world that they saw each other; three days later, as he was praying, Benedict saw a dove rising to heaven and knew that it was his sister's soul returning to God. He announced her death to the other monks and instructed them to bring her body back to the monastery. There he laid her in a tomb that he had prepared for himself. He, in turn, died seven years later, in 550.

Scholastica, whose feast day is Feb. 10, is the patron saint of nuns; she is also invoked against severe storms and heavy rain.
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