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Living by Church's calendar at home

Growing up in St. Louis, Susanna Spencer loved her family's Advent tradition of adorning a Jesse Tree with Old Testament symbols leading up to Christ's birth.
 
She continued the tradition while in college at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where she met her husband, Mark.
 
"After seeing (Advent traditions) in my childhood, I thought, I want to do this the whole year, not just for the short four weeks before Christmas," said Spencer, 31.
 
Even before they were married, Susanna and Mark both felt "drawn to liturgical life" and began incorporating more aspects of the Catholic Church's calendar into their daily lives, from praying the Liturgy of the Hours to observing saints' feast days.
 
Now parents of four, ages 2 to 8, and parishioners of St. Agnes in St. Paul, the Spencers are intentional about shaping their home with the rhythm of the Church seasons.
 
"A lot of the things that we've done are taking the Advent wreath idea and conforming it to the other liturgical seasons," Susanna said.
 
The first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of a new Church year, and for some Catholic families, the liturgical "New Year" is tied to special traditions at home. This year the first Sunday is Dec. 3.
 
While enhancing a family's "domestic church" through aspects of the liturgical calendar is nothing new, Catholics who are interested in liturgical home practices can find an increasing wealth of information online, where Catholics share ideas on blogs dedicated to the practice, such as Carrots for Michaelmas, carrotsformichaelmas.com, and Catholic All Year, catholicallyear.com.

Spencer noted that Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, used a set of 15 books dedicated to the annual cycle of feasts and fasts in their 19th-century French home; Spencer has an edition on a shelf in her own living room.
 
In the Spencer's West St. Paul home, the Church's season is regularly reflected in two spots: the dining room table centerpiece and the family's small prayer table. The latter contains candles and a few icons, statues and artworks of saints and devotions, some of which change to reflect certain feasts or seasons.

The family prays there together daily, often noting that day's saint or memorial. Sometimes, they mark a saint's feast by attending daily Mass, where the saint is commemorated in the liturgy.
 
The Spencers' centerpieces range from an Advent wreath, to a crown of thorns during Lent, to fresh flowers during ordinary time. Susanna anticipates feast days while meal planning, serving spaghetti on an Italian saint's memorial or a blueberry dessert on days honoring Mary, which the Church traditionally symbolizes with blue.
 
"One of the ways that you can learn about holiness is living with the saints," she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "If we never think of them, we … can't benefit from their intercession."
 
She realizes that observing the Catholic Church's calendar can feel like another task on the to-do list, and therefore potentially overwhelming or discouraging. She encourages Catholics who want to try it to keep it simple.
 
In West St. Paul, Heidi Flanagan's family has developed an Advent tradition that has connected its members more intimately to the communion of saints.
 
On the first Sunday of Advent, Heidi; her husband, John; and their six children -- ages 2 to 12 -- select a slip of paper from a shoebox. On that paper is the name of a saint who becomes their patron for the liturgical year.
 
Heidi, 43, received the box -- and the idea -- about eight years ago from a friend who does something similar in her home. The Flanagans say a small litany of the saints daily, asking each member's patron saint for that year to pray for them. They also celebrate their feast days throughout the year.
 
"I feel like it's given them this buddy in heaven -- this sense of security -- that we're not alone, that they have these superheroes rooting for them and praying for them in heaven," Flanagan said of her children. "They develop friendships with these saints."
 
The tradition has provided an opportunity to learn more about the saints' lives, and the saints have helped all of the Flanagans grow in their spiritual lives. Before they select their saints, the Flanagans also pray that the saints selected would also "choose" them.
 
"It' s been so cool how often we look back at the year and say, 'Oh, I can totally see how this saint chose me,'" because different challenges or opportunities seemed suited to that saint's intercession.
 
  • Published in Nation

Example of the saints

Like stained glass windows, the saints allow the light of God to permeate the darkness of sin in the world, Pope Francis said on the feast of All Saints.
 
Just as light enters a church through multi-colored windows, the lives of saints shine forth "according to their own shade," the pope said Nov. 1.
 
All the saints "have been transparent, they fought to remove the stains and darkness of sin so that the gentle light of God can pass through," the pope said. "This is the purpose of life, even for us."
 
Before reciting the Angelus prayer with people gathered in St. Peter's Square, the pope said the day was a "feast for us not because we are good but because God's holiness has touched our lives."
 
The day's Gospel reading from St. Matthew, in which Jesus proclaims the beatitudes, contains the road map for "a blessed and happy life," which the saints followed through in their own lives and deeds, he said.
 
"Happiness is not in having something or in becoming someone," the pope said. "No. True happiness is being with the Lord and living for love."
 
The beatitudes, he continued, do not require "extravagant gestures" or superhuman strength, but are for those "who live through the trials and hardships of daily life."
"That is how the saints are," Pope Francis said. "Like everyone, they breathe the polluted air of evil that is in the world, yet they never lose sight of Jesus' footsteps along the way."
 
Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope said the feast of All Saints also is "a family feast" that celebrates the lives of people who deserve recognition for helping further God's work in the world.
 
"Today, there are so many," the pope said. "Thanks to these unknown brothers and sisters who help God bring the world forward, who live among us. Let us greet them all with applause."
 
Recalling the first beatitude from St. Matthew's Gospel, Pope Francis said Christians should emulate the lives saints who while "poor in spirit," believed their true treasure was in God and not "in power or money."
 
"At times, we are unhappy because we lack something or we are not recognized as we would like to be," the pope said. "Let us remember: Our beatitude does not lie here but in the Lord and in love. Only with him, only loving others can we live a blessed life."
 
  • Published in World

St. Polycarp

Although not as well known in modern times as some other saints who have come after him, Polycarp was nonetheless a major figure in the Church of the second century A.D. Born just 36 years after the death of Jesus, Polycarp’s leadership as the Bishop of Smyrna and his courage under persecution proved both inspiring and vital to the fledgling faith communities of Asia Minor.
 
What little information we have on his early life seems to indicate that he was a friend of St. John the Apostle, who it is believed converted Polycarp to the Christian faith; thus he was only one step removed from having known Christ Himself. He is also closely connected to at least two other influential saints of the period — St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was an early bishop and martyr, and St. Irenaeus of Lyon, a theologian who successfully refuted the Gnostic heresy, which Polycarp also fought against.
 
Like St. John, Polycarp lived a long and fruitful life. A prolific letter writer, only one of his epistles, written to the Church at Philippi, has survived. In it he emphasized both adherence to the true doctrines of the Church and an exhortation to holiness by “word and example.” The letter is also interesting to scholars in as much as it contains quotes from the New Testament, indicating that many of its passages were already in existence and that Polycarp was familiar with them.
 
As Bishop of Smyrna, he was chosen by the Church in Asia Minor to represent them in discussions with Pope Anicetus concerning the proper date of the Easter celebration; this was a serious ecclesiastical dispute at the time and the date observed in Asia differed from that observed in Rome. Though the two men did not settle definitively on a single date, they did agree to honor each other’s and parted in peace.
 
The account of Polycarp’s martyrdom in 155 is the earliest, fully preserved and reliable account of the death of an early Christian martyr in existence. At the age of 86, during the reign of the Emperor Aurelius Caesar, Polycarp was rounded up by Roman soldiers and brought to the stadium at Smyrna to be burned alive. Due to his advanced age, the official in charge tried to get Polycarp to deny his faith and thus save his life. This the saint refused to do; instead, he declared, “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never did me any wrong. How can I now blaspheme my king and God?”
 
Eyewitnesses then reported that, although a fire was lit at the feet of the saint, it miraculously arced up around him; the flames did him no harm. Ultimately, he was killed with a dagger and his body was ordered to be burned so that there would be nothing left for the Christian faithful to revere.
 
Acknowledged as a saint due to his holiness and his martyrdom, St. Polycarp’s feast day is Feb. 23. He is the patron saint of those suffering from earaches.
 

January Saint: St. Francis de Sales

We often think of saints as being spiritual “superheroes,” set apart from the rest of humanity and endowed with holiness and faith beyond the grasp of ordinary individuals.
 
St. Francis de Sales, however, would be the first to assure us that this is simply not so; having weathered his own spiritual crisis, he went on to become a gentle and reassuring saint who encouraged and celebrated the sanctity of both the ordained and the laity in all walks of life.
 
Francis was born in 1567 to an old, aristocratic family in the province of Savoy, France. The eldest of six brothers (there were 12 children in the family), it was assumed that he would follow his father into the law and eventually also take his place as the senator from Savoy. To that end, he was sent to study first in Paris and later at Padua, Italy, where he eventually earned his doctorate.
 
It was while he was studying in Paris that Francis experienced a severe spiritual crisis. He had come to believe in the notion of predestination and was so terrified of being automatically condemned to hell that he became physically ill. It was not until he was at prayer in the Church of St. Stephen that his crisis was suddenly lifted. It was then that he consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin and decided to become a priest.
 
Upon his return to Savoy, things seemed at first to be falling into line with his father’s plans; there had even been an advantageous marriage arranged for Francis, so it came as a great surprise to the elder de Sales when his son announced that he had decided to pursue an ecclesiastical life instead. A sharp dispute arose between the two, but Francis, by dint of his gentle and persuasive nature, eventually convinced his father to allow him to follow his religious calling.
 
For Francis, a large part of that calling would be taken up with both preaching and writing. After his ordination, he was sent to Geneva, Switzerland, which at the time was a center of Calvinism. His great gift for writing and his gentle character won many converts; as he was fond of saying, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.”
 
At the age of 35, Francis was appointed bishop of Geneva and, in addition to his administrative duties he continued to exercise his pastoral care of the people. He also continued to write; his two best-known books were “Introduction to the Devout Life” and “A Treatise on the Love of God.”
 
In his later years, Francis collaborated with another saint, Jane Frances de Chantal, to establish a new religious order, the Sisters of the Visitation.
 
Francis died in 1622 of natural causes. He was canonized in 1665 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1887. Because of the tremendous influence of his writing, he was also declared the patron saint of both the Catholic press and Catholic writers in 1923.
 
His feast day is Jan. 24.
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
Pernin, Raphael. "St. Francis de Sales." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.
“Saint Francis de Sales.” CatholicSaints.Info. Sept. 7, 2017.
Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z.” Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.
 
 

November saint: Albert the Great

Albertus Magnus, or St. Albert the Great, is the patron saint of scientists and philosophers. However, it might also be appropriate to dub him the “patron saint of the curious,” for he was known to pursue truth and wisdom wherever it could be found, even in places that might have appeared unconventional at the time in which he lived.
 
Albert was born in southern Germany about the year 1200, the son of a powerful and wealthy military nobleman. He came of age at a time when the Catholic Church had reached the zenith of its power and influence in the Middle Ages; not only was the papacy firmly in control of things both spiritual and temporal, but literature had produced such master works of Christian allegorical poetry as Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” The renewal of the Church (following the previous century’s controversy surrounding lay investiture) also inspired the founding of mendicant religious orders such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans.
 
Albert was an extremely well educated young man; at the University of Padua, he first encountered the writings of Aristotle, the study of which would greatly influence the intellectual trajectory of the rest of his life. About the year 1223, Albert apparently had an encounter with the Blessed Virgin, which inspired him, much against the wishes of his family, to enter the novitiate of the Dominican Order. From that point on, he took up the study of theology, first in Cologne and later in Paris.
 
As he had at Padua, Albert proved himself an excellent student. He soon became a lecturer for the order, and by 1245 became a master of theology. He taught at the University of Paris and was appointed chair of yheology at the College of St. James.  As famous as Albert was becoming, he would also become known for one of his more brilliant students – Thomas Aquinas, who, like his teacher, would go on to become both a saint and a Doctor of the Church.
 
Albert’s familiarity with the philosophy of Aristotle would pave the way for his protégé’s own studies. In 1248, the two of them returned to the city of Cologne, where they created a Dominican course of study that would include a curriculum for philosophy. So successful and influential was their work that it would survive to the present day as the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also known as the “Angelicum” in Rome.
 
Albert’s intellectual interests did not stop there, however. He would become known for his extensive study of natural science, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, ethics, economics, politics and metaphysics. It took him 20 years and eight volumes of writing to complete his explanation of his learning; so great was his erudition that, in his time, his work was considered to be on a par with that of Aristotle.  
 
Albert’s health began to fail in 1278, and he died on Nov. 15, 1280.  Beatified in 1622, he was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius IX.  His feast day is Nov. 15.
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
catholiconline.com
“Saint Albert the Great“. CatholicSaints.Info. 13 January 2017.
Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z”.  Michigan:  Servant Publications, 2002.
Schreck, Alan.  “The Compact History of the Catholic Church”.  Ohio:  Servant Books, 1995.
 
 

Fourth pathway to possible sainthood

Pope Francis has approved a fourth pathway to possible sainthood -- giving one's life in a heroic act of loving service to others.
 
In a new apostolic letter, the pope approved new norms allowing for candidates to be considered for sainthood because of the heroic way they freely risked their lives and died prematurely because of "an extreme act of charity."
 
The document, given "motu proprio" (on his own initiative) went into effect the same day of its publication July 11, with the title "Maiorem hac dilectionem," which comes from the Gospel according to St. John (15:13): "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."
 
Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes, said the addition is meant "to promote heroic Christian testimony, (that has been) up to now without a specific process, precisely because it did not completely fit within the case of martyrdom or heroic virtues."
 
For centuries, consideration for the sainthood process required that a Servant of God heroically lived a life of Christian virtues or had been martyred for the faith. The third, less common way, is called an equivalent or equipollent canonization: when there is evidence of strong devotion among the faithful to a holy man or woman, the pope can waive a lengthy formal canonical investigation and can authorize their veneration as saints.
 
While these three roads to sainthood remain unchanged, they were not adequate "for interpreting all possible cases" of holiness, the archbishop wrote in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, July 11.
 
According to the apostolic letter, any causes for beatification according to the new pathway of "offering of life" would have to meet the following criteria:
 
-- Free and willing offer of one's life and a heroic acceptance, out of love, of a certain and early death; the heroic act of charity and the premature death are connected.
-- Evidence of having lived out the Christian virtues -- at least in an ordinary, and not necessarily heroic, way -- before having offered one's life to others and until one's death.
-- Evidence of a reputation for holiness, at least after death.
-- A miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession is needed for beatification.
 
Archbishop Bartolucci wrote that the new norms arise from the sainthood congregation wanting to look into the question of whether men and women who, "inspired by Christ's example, freely and willingly offered and sacrificed their life" for others "in a supreme act of charity, which was the direct cause of death," were worthy of beatification. For example, throughout history there have been Christians who willingly put themselves at risk and died of infection or disease because of aiding and serving others, he wrote.
 
Pope Francis approved the congregation carrying out an in-depth study of the new proposal in early 2014, the archbishop wrote. After extensive input, discussion and the work of experts, the cardinal and bishop members of the Congregation for Saints' Causes approved in 2016 "a new pathway for beatification of those who offered their lives with explicit and recognized Christian" reasons.
 
Archbishop Bartolucci wrote that the new provisions do nothing to alter Church doctrine concerning Christian holiness leading to sainthood and the traditional procedure for beatification. Rather, the addition offers an enrichment, he wrote, with "new horizons and opportunities for the edification of the people of God, who, in their saints, see the face of Christ, the presence of God in history and the exemplary implementation of the Gospel."
 
  • Published in World

Fatima children canonized

Standing before the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, Pope Francis canonized two shepherd children who saw Mary at Fatima, but more importantly, he said, they heeded the call to pray for sinners and trust in the Lord.
 
"We declare and define Blessed Francisco Marto and Blessed Jacinta Marto as saints," the pope said May 13 as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims broke out in applause before he finished speaking.
 
The relics of the young shepherd children, encased in two thin golden crosses, were placed in front of the famed statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the "lady dressed in white" as the siblings and their cousin described her.
 
The Marian apparitions began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their 10-year-old cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.
 
After contracting influenza, Francisco died April 4, 1919, at the age of 10, while Jacinta succumbed to her illness Feb. 20, 1920, at the age of 9.
 
The children, beatified by St. John Paul II in 2000, are now the youngest non-martyrs to be declared saints by the Catholic Church.
 
Before his arrival at the shrine, the pope met privately with Portuguese Prime Minster Antonio Costa and then made his way into the sanctuary that houses the tombs of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta and their cousin Lucia, who died in 2005 at the age of 97. The diocesan phase of her sainthood cause concluded in February and now is under study at the Vatican.
 
Pope Francis stood for several minutes in front of the tombs with his eyes closed and head bowed.
 
In his homily at the canonization Mass, the pope reflected on the brief lives of the young sibling saints, who are often remembered more for the apparitions rather than for their holy lives.
 
But it is Mary's message and example, rather than an apparition, is important, he told the crowd, which Portuguese authorities estimated at about 500,000 people.
 
"The Virgin Mother did not come here so that we could see her. We will have all eternity for that, provided, of course, that we go to heaven," the pope said.
Instead, he continued, Mary's messages to the young children were a warning to all people about leading "a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures."
 
"Such a life -- frequently proposed and imposed -- risks leading to hell. Mary came to remind us that God's light dwells within us and protects us," the pope said.
The hopeful message of Fatima, he said, is that men and women have a mother and like children clinging to her, "we live in the hope that rests on Jesus."
 
Pope Francis called on the pilgrims to follow the example of heroic virtue lived by St. Francisco and St. Jacinta, particularly their insistent prayer for sinners and their adoration of "the hidden Jesus" in the tabernacle.
 
This continual presence of God taught to them by Mary, he said, "was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering."
 
By following their example, the pope said, Christians can become "a source of hope for others" and counter "the indifference that chills the heart" and "worsens our myopia."
 
"We do not want to be a stillborn hope! Life can survive only because of the generosity of other lives," he said.
 
It is with the light of hope, the pope added, that the Church can radiate "the true face of Jesus" and reach out to those in need.
 
 
  • Published in World

Saint Lawrence

Most people know St. Lawrence’s name, if for no other reason than so many things around us are named for him. This saint, however, made a profound impression in the early Church, and his courage inspires us to this day.
 
We know very little of Lawrence’s early life; by the time he was mentioned in Church history, he was already one of the seven deacons of Rome under Pope Sixtus II. To be so publicly identified with the Church took great courage because this was the period of great persecution ordered by Emperor Valerian. In August of 258, it was decreed that all Christian clergy, from highest to lowest, were to be hunted down and put to death. Consequently, the pontificate of Sixtus was extremely brief, lasting only from 257 until 258, for not only the pope, but all seven deacons would suffer martyrdom.
 
Of all of them, Lawrence was killed last. According to tradition, when Pope Sixtus and six other deacons were arrested and put in prison to await execution, the pontiff assured Lawrence that he would not be left behind, but would join the others “in four days’ time.” It was a mark of his holiness and bravery that Lawrence saw this as an opportunity, not to flee, but to take care of his final responsibilities.
 
As a deacon, one of his primary duties was the distribution of alms to the poor and needy. As such, he was also in charge of much of the material wealth of the Church. Knowing that his time was short, and having been ordered by the emperor to turn over all the treasure the Church possessed, Lawrence took immediate action. What little money he had he gave to Rome’s most destitute; he also went a step further and sold the sacred vessels of the Church, giving that money to the poor as well.
 
At the time appointed by the prefect of Rome, St. Lawrence appeared before him and, as ordered, brought with him the “treasures” of the Church. Surrounding him were a great number of the blind, lame and maimed from the poorest parts of city; in the group were also orphans, widows and lepers, all of whom had been aided by the deacon and the Church. To the prefect’s horror, St. Lawrence presented all of them to him, declaring quite simply, “These are the treasures of the Church.”
 
The prefect was so enraged at Lawrence’s audacity that he ordered him killed at once, but in a manner most painful and gruesome. He prepared a gridiron with hot coals beneath; on this, Lawrence was placed in order that he might slowly roast to death. Even to the end, Lawrence maintained not only his courage but, miraculously, his humor. It is said that after suffering for some time he quipped to his executioners, “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.”
 
It is because of this that St. Lawrence is patron, not only of the poor, but of cooks as well. His feast day is August 10.
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
catholiconline.com
Kirsch, Johann Peter. "St. Lawrence." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 
Schreck, Alan. “Catholic Church History from A to Z”. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.
“Saint Lawrence of Rome.” CatholicSaints.Info. 24 November 2016.
 
 
 
 
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