Tag Archives: saints

Saints and the spirit of the poor

Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When I tried to think of holy men and women who exemplified poverty of spirit and even actually poverty, I found myself overwhelmed by the vast majority of saints who exemplified this virtue. But today I want to mention two holy women and a man.

DePorres

Today is the feast of Saint Martin de Porres, a Dominican lay-brother who lived in Lima, Perú. Born of a Spanish nobleman and a freed black woman, he was disinherited by his father. Trained as a barber and a surgeon, he entered the Dominicans. There he served in the most humble task but soon his gifts of healing were recognized. But he also cared for the poor and sick outside the Dominican friary. He would bring them to his cell and care for them. But his superior ordered him to stop this practice. When Martin continued caring for the poor in his cell and was reprimanded, he responded: “Forgive my mistake, and please be kind enough to instruct me. I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.”

He was truly, as his contemporaries noted, a “father of the poor.”

The second saint I thought of was Saint Clare of Assisi. Though she was from a rich family, she followed Christ, in the footsteps of Saint Francis, much to the consternation of her family. She was soon followed by other women who lived together by the church of San Damiano outside Assisi. These “Poor Ladies” sought to live in poverty – by the works of their hands and begging. They did not want to take up the practice of benefices and property that many convents of nuns had. She fought for this all her life and only shortly before death did she received confirmation from the pope for the Privilege of Poverty.

She not only advocated poverty but lived it. When the sisters came back from begging, she would wash their feet.

Clare-washing-the-feet-of-the-nuns

The third exemplar of poverty is not yet officially canonized, though Pope Francis spoke highly of her before the US Congress when he visited the US. Dorothy Day started out living a radical and bohemian life, but a life committed to justice. After her conversion, she sought to find a way to live out her faith and her commitment to the poor. After meeting Peter Maurin, they formed the Catholic Worker, first of all starting out with a newspaper. Later, they welcomed the poor. Catholic Worker houses of hospitality still dot the US landscape, serving the poor and marginalized in many ways.

Meditating on the lives of these three holy people of God, we may be able to discover how we ourselves may be called to live out the beatitude of the poor in spirit.

Good Pope John

JohnXXIIIFifty-five years ago today, on June 3, 1963, Pope John XXIII died. This rotund pope seemed more like an Italian peasant than the Pope of Rome. In fact, he saw himself as a shepherd.

Faced by many “prophets of gloom,” he called for a new ecumenical council, to open up the church to respond to the needs of the world. The Second Vatican Council convened in 1962 and continued after his death until 1965, bringing a renewed Church in contact with a world filled with pain and suffering.

Responding to the needs of all the world, Pope John wrote two important encyclicals Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris, facing the challenges of poverty and war. These were not mere social treatises, though some tried to dismiss them as such. They were reflections of his faith. As he wrote in Pacem in Terris, 164-165,

“Every believer in this world of ours must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying leaven amidst [their] fellow human beings; and [they] will be this all the more perfectly [they] live in communion with God and in the intimacy of [their] soul[s].
“In fact, there can be no peace between human beings, unless there is peace within each of them, unless, that is, each one builds up within [themselves] the order wished by God.”

For him the church was called to be the leaven of God’s love in the world, not condemning but showing God’s loving mercy to all. As he said, “the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”

In this the poor were to have a central role. “The church is and desires to be the church of all, but principally the church of the poor.”

In many ways, I see Pope Francis as trying to live out the heritage of Saint John XXIII, opening the doors of mercy to all, especially the poor.

Saint John, pray for us.

Saint Rita and the cycle of violence

saint ritaToday is the feast of Saint Rita of Cascia, a saint of impossible cases, like Saint Jude. I recall that devotion to her was strong in the Italian-American Catholic community of my youth.

But there is something about Saint Rita that I think is much more important for our world than her miracles or even the mark of a thorn on her forehead, recalling Christ’s crown of thorns.

Saint Rita was married to a man who did not share her piety. He was brash, a womanizer, and a brawler. Together they had two sons who shared their father’s character.

Rite persisted in prayer and her husband experienced a conversion, but shortly after he was killed by members of a rival family.

She forgave those who killed her husband, but her sons wanted to avenge his death. Saint Rita prayed that they would die rather than murder their adversaries. They finally ended up giving up their desire for revenge. But they died.

Rita was then free to pursue her earlier dream of being a nun and applied to the local Augustinian convent.

They rejected her, supposedly because she was not a virgin. But the real reason might have been that there were sisters in the convent who were members of the family that killed her husband. They were afraid of the consequences and the potential conflict.

Not one to be easily dissuaded, Rita started talking with members of her husband’s family as well as with the family of the man who had killed him. Her efforts resulted in an agreement between them to not pursue any violence or retribution.

That done, she was accepted into the convent.

I discovered this story when I went one Sunday to preside at a village church dedicated to Santa Rita a few days before her feast day. They were going to have a Mass and a celebration for that whole sector of the parish, in which there had been a death a few months ago as an act of retribution, not uncommon here in Honduras, where the “justice” system does not function and so people take the “law” in their own hands.

Saint Rita is one of those who broke the cycle of violence, seeking reconciliation. I pray that she may intercede here in Honduras, as well as in other prats of the world where revenge causes deaths.

I especially pray for two men killed a few days ago here in our parish – probably as acts of retribution.

 


Photo taken from this site.

Visionary of a community of deacons

8045070f79739d7323d3e25632fb966b1723479598-1302025774-4d9b562e-620x348May 9 is the feast of Saint George Preca – Dun Gorg – a Maltese priest who died on July 26, 1962.

Devoted to the life of all the faithful, he is the founder of the Society of Christian Doctrine which was to include lay celibate members devoted to teaching the faith to the young, beginning with a small group of young people in 1907.

But, even before he was ordained, he also had the idea of establishing in every parish groups of seven permanent deacons who, with lay helpers, would be responsible for the formation of the parish. Even though he wrote a rule for them, the idea never came to fruition. He died before the Second Vatican Council opened the opportunity of the permanent diaconate.

In “The Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church,” paragraph 16, , the bishops at the Second Vatican Council wrote:

Where Episcopal Conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life, according to the norms of the Constitution on the Church. For there are men who are actually carrying out the functions of the deacon’s office, either by preaching the Word of God as catechists, or by presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or by practicing charity in social or relief work. It will be helpful to strengthen them by that imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar. Thus they can carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate.

Saint George Preca was truly a visionary priest who can help us recover the role of deacons and all the people in faith formation. I do not know of any community of deacons as he envisioned, but it might be a new direction for the permanent diaconate, especially for those of us who are celibate permanent deacons.


Image from The Times of Malta.

Holy porters

Saturday, November 18, Capuchin Father Solanus Casey will be beatified in Detroit, Michigan. A Wisconsin native he became a Capuchin and was ordained a priest. But, for various reasons, he was not allowed to preach or hear confessions.

sc

Reading about his life, I found out that he had been at St. Felix Friary in Huntington, Indiana, from 1946 until 1956. I taught high school part-time for two years in Huntington and often worshipped at the Friary. I did not know I was praying where a saint had lived.

After several assignments, he ended up in Detroit, where he served as porter, door-keeper for Saint Bonaventure Monastery. There he opened the door, counseled many, and saw that the poor were fed. He showed holiness in simple acts of love of God and of all who came his way. As he once said, “We must be faithful to the present moment or we will frustrate the plan of God for our lives.”

A friend of mine, David Nantais, wrote an article on Father Solanus for America magazine nine years ago. It’s worth reading as well as a more recent article on the Francican Media website.

There are other holy porters. One of the most notable is Saint André Bessette, a Holy Cross brother, who served in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The poor and sick flocked to him, seeking healing and love. He was very devoted to Saint Joseph and now you can visit a shrine to the foster father of Jesus on the hill where St. André lived and prayed.

You can read more about these two holy door keepers in an article by Fr. Thomas Rosica.

There are other porters, at least two I know of.

St. Juan Macias was a Dominican lay brother, porter of the Dominican convent of Santa María Magdalena in Lima, Perú. His generosity brought him the epithet “Father of the Poor.”

St. Alfonso Rodriguez was a Jesuit brother who entered the Jesuits later in life. He was the porter of the Jesuit college on the island of Majorca. He influenced the missionary vocation of St. Peter Claver to go to Colombia and work with slaves. When he was canonized, the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a beautiful poem in his honor. The second stanza reads:

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

What moves me in the lives of these door keepers is their attention to those whom they welcomed at their door. Their hospitality moved minds and hearts; their attention to the needs of others brought healing. They recognized Christ in everyone who knocked at the door.

They truly practiced the virtue of hospitality.

I pray that I can learn that virtue from them an I ask their intercession for this grace. I am all too prone to consider people who knock at the door as interruptions, rather than as calls to live out my vocation as a Christian and, now, as a deacon.

They serve to remind me of the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews 13, 2:

Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have entertained angels unaware.

Native peoples and the church

In the US and Canada, today is the feast of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), In Perú and other parts of South America, and among the Franciscans, today is the feast of Saint Francisco Solano ((1549–1610).

Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks, was the daughter of a Mohawk pagan chief and an Algonquin Christian, who after becoming a Catholic left her village in what is now Auriesville, NY, and went to live in a Catholic village near Montreal, Canada. There she lived out her short life. She had hoped to found a convent, but was not permitted. Having made a public vow of chastity, she died young. She is a sign of the openness of the native peoples to Christ and the Church – but she also suffered from the misunderstanding of her native peoples who could not comprehend her refusal to marry and from the Church that was not open to her desire to further religious life among the native peoples.

Fray Francisco, after several years of positions of authority in his Franciscan order in his native Spain, went to South America and spent about twenty years among the peoples of Perú and Tucuman (in parts of Argentina and Paraguay). There he approached the native peoples with respect, often announcing his arrival playing his violin. He was transferred to Lima where he found disfavor among his superiors for his strong words against corruption and injustice.

These two very different saints remind me of the importance of a Church that is missionary but which respects the peoples and their cultures and recognizes the dignity of all people.

In the history of the Church there are many examples of a colonialism at the heart of some missionary activity which resulted in massacres of native peoples and destruction of native cultures. There is also the witness of people like the Dominican bishop Fray Bartolomé de las Casas who spoke out strongly against colonialism and slavery and other efforts to undermine the dignity of the native peoples.

And so today it is beneficial to meditate on the words of Pope Francis in 2015, speaking in Bolivia at the World Meeting of Popular Movements:

I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church “kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters”. I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so- called conquest of America.
I also ask everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike, to think of those many bishops, priests and laity who preached and continue to preach the Good News of Jesus with courage and meekness, respectfully and pacifically; who left behind them impressive works of human promotion and of love, often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements even to the point of martyrdom. The Church, her sons and daughters, are part of the identity of the peoples of Latin America. An identity which here, as in other countries, some powers are committed to erasing, at times because our faith is revolutionary, because our faith challenges the tyranny of mammon.

Saint Alban and World Refugee Day

June 20 is the feast of Saint Alban, an early English martyr. He is also the patron saint of refugees.

He was living in Briton when a Christian priest appeared on his doorstep, fleeing from persecution. He was very impressed by the prayer and holiness of the priest and received instruction from him. The local authorities began to suspect that Alban was harboring a Christian and searched his house. Alban had helped the priest to escape and had put on the priest’s clothes.

Alban was arrested and when his real identity was known he refused to renounce the Christian faith and was subsequently tortured and martyred.

But it all started with welcoming a stranger.

May we follow the example of Saint Alban – even risking imprisonment and death to save the refugees.

Today let us pray especially for the Chaldean Catholics arrested in Detroit who face deportation to a situation of intense violence and persecution.

Saint Albam, pray for them and for us.