One of the things that I really love about the Catholic Church is that virtually every day is a celebration- a feast day! On these days, we look at the lives of men and women who have been exemplary models of the Christian challenge to walk in the footsteps of, to imitate, to be one with Jesus of Nazareth.
Today is a very special feast day for me. Today is the Feast Day of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. the day is important to me personally because I think her story is extraordinary and her life an awesome reflection of the power of God’s grace. Additionally, St. Theresa has a special importance to me, personally. I was the pastor of St. Theresa’s in Houston in the 1970′s, and it was at that church that I was ordained a bishop. For the past thirty years I’ve also been an occasional “fill in” priest at St. Theresa’s in Austin. Both are wonderful parishes!
I’ve always been fascinated by the popularity of this young lady. As a very young girl, Theresa wanted to enter a cloistered convent, and she did! But behind those cloistered walls, she had an extraordinary love for the church across the world. Her life was short (1873-1897) but what an impact! The story of her holiness- the awe that she had for her Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, was so powerful that it quickly spread out of France and around the world. The heroic missionaries of that period, especially in Africa and Asia, turned to her and begged for her heavenly support for their missionary activities- and their prayers were answered to an outstanding way. The decades after her death included an explosive period of missionary activity in Africa and Asia, and to a great extent the missionaries credited their beloved St. Theresa.
The parish church I attended as a child was built in 1927. St. Theresa was canonized only in 1926, which tells you something about her worldwide popularity!
What captivates the imagination of so many of the faithful is that this young girl never went to the foreign missions, never taught in any school, never got out beyond the closed doors of the cloister and yet the Church across the world was transformed by her. Not by education, and not by power, but by holiness and humility. St. Theresa was and still IS a magnificent gift to the Church!
Posts tagged: saint
I have great love and respect for all communities of religious women. They come into existence in order to serve Jesus of Nazareth, strengthen his community of faith and bring learning and laughter into the lives of those they serve. Today, I am calling attention to my good friend, Sister Mary Lou Barba, who is the former Superior General of the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence (MCDP).
This community began in Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Houston in 1930. Its area of specialization was catechetical programs for the Hispanic communities which it reached out. The founder, Sister Benita Vermeersch, is on her way to being canonized and she was followed in the community by many other wonderful sisters who concentrated on religious education in poor communities. Sister Mary Lou, a native of Lockhart, was Director of the Office of Religious Education for the Diocese of Austin for several years before being elected Superior General of the community. Now she is back as the director of the parish program in Emmaus Parish in Lakeway.
While Sister Mary Lou is an extraordinary person, at the same time, she is typical of the hundreds of thousands of religious women who have done the all important work of teaching generation after generation the good news of Jesus.
May God bless the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence and may God bless all those who bring the good news of salvation to the human family.
It has been many years since I heard his name or thought about his life but in the Easter edition of America magazine an article reignited my interest and admiration of this extraordinary man.
I am talking about Father Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., an American Jesuit, born in Pennsylvania in 1904 and died in 1984. I share the Jesuits enthusiasm and happiness that the Vatican has now given formal permission for the canonization process to begin for this wonderful American priest.
Father Ciszek as a young man volunteered to go to serve as a missionary in Poland. When the German army rolled over Poland in 1939 Ciszek became a refugee moving into Russia. Following the war, the Russians falsely accused him of being a spy. After five years of brutal interrogation in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Amazingly, he survived both of these experiences. In 1963, President Kennedy secured his release from Russia and he returned to the United States where he would later write two extraordinarily powerful and popular books, With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me.
This man’s life was truly amazing. His heroism, patience and, yes, let me mention here, forgiveness, for he carried no bitterness against those who caused his terrible experience, is really an example of a follower of Jesus. May God bless the Jesuits and may God bless Father Ciszek.
I think that canonization of men and women of this caliber will do much to bring the various factions of the Church in the United States closer together, and maybe once again we can be Catholics and not liberal Catholics or conservative Catholics.
Coming – A New American Saint!
Tomorrow is the great feast of St. Patrick, and oh, how the Irish will celebrate! Especially Irish Americans, who tend to be louder than their brothers in sisters still on the Emerald Isle. As you drive through downtown areas across the country, you will hear a lot of noise coming out of local bars, but I must say, in defense of my heritage, not all of that volume is coming from Irish mouths. Look inside, and you will see Slavs, Germans, Italians, and a dozen other ethnic groups holding firmly to tall glasses of green beer. We ALL celebrate St. Patrick’s day!
Why do we do that in this country? We don’t have a comparable national celebration for those other ethnic traditions. I have a view but can’t prove it, that when the Irish came to this country in the mid 19th century, not only were they desperately poor, but they were holding on to agonizing memories of 700 bad years. Things were tough. Things were difficult, and so many times, things seemed hopeless. But, then they would remember their patron saint, this man who transformed Ireland and brought confidence, hope, and faith to the people. That hope has survived, but frequently that confidence has been sorely challenged, and that is the situation in Ireland today. More on that next week.
Hail, glorious St. Patrick!
Here it is again! The happy, joyous celebration of Valentine’s Day. Most of us don’t really stop much to think about it, except that we tend to think about it as a great promotional scheme developed by the candy and card makers. Actually, like so many aspects of the early church, it flows out of a really delightful story. St. Valentine was a very committed member of the church in the fourth century, but his timing was bad. He was caught for practicing his faith in one of the very last of the persecutions.
His crime? St. Valentine was arrested for fostering Christian couples to build solid communities of faith. He witnessed many of their marriages. We don’t know a great many details of his life, but supposedly while he was incarcerated, he healed his jailer’s daughter from her blindness, and before St. Valentine was executed, he sent that girl a note and signed it “from your Valentine”. Gradually his name became associated with romantic love, and he is the patron saint of young couples contemplating marriage (and bee keepers- why? I don’t know-maybe it’s the honey?)
Happy St. Valentine’s Day!
TODAY is the feast of St. John Vianney, better known by his title, the Cure of Ars. He was born in a small village near Lyon, France in 1786, just a few years before the beginning of the French Revolution. He would die in the village of Ars in 1859. The vast majority of his life was spent in those two villages and yet his influence reaches out quietly 150 years later across the world, especially to parish priests.
The parish priest is the lynchpin of the Roman Catholic Church. He is there where life is lived and where work is done. Many people, when they think about or discuss the Church, tend to talk about who is pope or who is bishop or who might be bishop. The heart of the matter is that the quality of leadership in the local church outranks everything else in the day-to-day life of parishioners.
Vianney was not a great leader. He wasn’t asked to come over to the Versailles Palace with the kings after their restoration. However, he was an awesome source of holiness in a small village that caused people across France and across Europe to find the opportunity to come and be close to him. While it is good for the Church to have priests who achieve great things in the larger world, the real need for the Church is priests who are holy, priests who live their lives in such a way that the people see in a very dramatic way the mysterious presence of Jesus of Nazareth.
Most of the information that we have about the life of Jesus of Nazareth is contained in the Gospels and, to a lesser extent, in the Epistles. But other stories exist that are firmly locked in ancient tradition. We don’t have the same confidence in them that we do with the New Testament texts but still they are worth looking at and one is the story of an elderly couple, that we call Saints Joachim and Anne, who are considered by an ancient tradition to be the parents of the Virgin Mary. Today (June 26th) is their feast day.
I am sure that Mary had parents and therefore it could very easily have been this elderly couple. I just like the idea of thinking of Mary in a very down to earth context. So often when we think of our Blessed Mother, she is a statue attached to the wall of a church with her feet four feet off the ground. I would also like to think of her peeling potatoes and chopping onions in order to make stew in the kitchen. When I think of this young girl in this manner, she becomes far more realistic to me than the statue with its eyes lifted towards heaven.
Mary was real. She lived in difficult times. She knew what it was to be a refugee, an immigrant. She saw her perfect son arrested and subjected to unbelievable torture. She stood at the foot of the cross and beside the grave. She was real and she is our adopted mother. Because of Mary, I thank God for Joachim and Anne. I am sure that they appreciated the privilege that God had given them.
Several times I have referred to the fact that religious life inside the enormous Roman Catholic family of faith is warm and cozy. We feel close to our parents and other relatives who have gone before us. We talk to them while we are driving the car. We call their attention to our problems as though we didn’t think they were aware of them, but of course, they are! If that is true of our relatives, it’s even more true about heroically holy men and women who the Church has given the title “Saints.”
When we head out to Dallas on I35, we ask St. Christopher to stay close to us. When a new pet is brought in to the house, we know he is a special friend of St. Francis of Assisi. On that great saint’s feast day, we frequently have a communal blessing of animals, because he saw every living being as a brother or a sister. In other words, he is a good friend of the pets!
The one that I turn to most frequently is St. Anthony of Padua, the patron of lost items. Do you ever misplace your car keys? Have you wondered around your house for 15 minutes looking for your eye glasses only to have your daughter tell you they are on your head? Well, those are light hearted items, but we really do believe that St. Anthony has a special interest in people who are in serious trouble because of something important having been lost. We don’t ask him to perform miracles, but we do ask him to help us use our brains, our memories and our eye sight more effectively. I have had this devotion my entire adult life, and I can tell you something- it WORKS! Maybe I should say, he works.
PS. A more serious prayer is:
St. Anthony, perfect imitator of Jesus, who received from God the special power of restoring lost things, grant that I may find (name your lost item) which has been lost. At least restore to me peace and tranquility of mind, the loss of which has afflicted me even more than my material loss. To this favor, I ask another of you: that I may always remain in possession of the true good that is God. Let me rather lose all things than lose God, my supreme good. Let me never suffer the loss of my greatest treasure, eternal life with God. Amen.
A few months back when Pope Benedict XVI visited England, one of the most important things that he did was to beatify the great theologian, John Henry Newman. That moves this important 19th century religious figure into the limelight and moves him one step closer towards canonization.
The canonization of John Henry Newman will be a tremendous asset to the Church in the 21st century. Despite his importance in both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Newman in many ways had a very difficult life and was frequently misunderstood. I have always had a sense of awe for him, and am glad to see that there will be an explosion of reviewing and restudying this holy man with a brilliant mind.
One of the things that I found very encouraging in Cardinal Newman’s work is that he stresses the importance of the Church consulting the faithful in matters of doctrine. Writing in the 1860’s, just before the first Vatican Council, Newman argued that the faithful had “a respected place that was justified by their proven witness to Christian orthodoxy.”
Newman backed his position with 22 thumbnail sketches of defection on the part of the hierarchy and 20 instances of faithful witness by the laity. In 1871, Newman concluded, “Taking a wide view of history, we are obliged to say that the governing body of the Church came up short and the governed were preeminent in faith, zeal, courage and constancy. What a wonderful compliment to the faithfulness of the people.”
On to canonization!
The Church is nearly a 2,000-year-old story. During those centuries, several billion people have been baptized into the life of the Church and, needless to say, together they have generated an extraordinary range of mysterious, wonderful and sometimes terrible events. I would just like to remind you of one event that was very small at the time but has tremendous impact on the Western Hemisphere. I am thinking about a young Indian peasant by the name of Juan Diego.
In the year 1531, Juan Diego, coming into Mexico City from his distant village, beheld the apparition that would so dramatically change the religious life of the people of what we call today the Republic of Mexico. Before him, he saw a beautiful woman. Being in awe, he knelt before the apparition and then in the ongoing dialogue was told that he was to take a message to the bishop of Mexico City and that a church was to be built there in her honor. Juan Diego endeavored to carry out the Lady’s directions but was rebuffed by the staff in the bishop’s palace. (Have you ever tried to drop in unexpectedly at the bishop’s house?)
At any rate, in a later visit, the mysterious Lady told Juan Diego to gather roses, which, despite being in mid-winter, were inexplicably growing in the area and to take them to the bishop as a sign that she was serious. In the presence of the bishop, Juan Diego opened up his cloak to let roses drop to the floor and instead there was a mysterious representation of the Lady that we now refer to as Our Lady of Guadalupe. The bishop yielded and a shrine was built on that spot, and became the center of popular devotion for Mexicans all over Mexico itself and the southwestern part of the United States.
The relationship between the Catholic Church and Mexico has been rocky and difficult but the commitment of the people of Mexico to their faith and their Lady has been unbroken and is as strong today as ever.
Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego on July 31, 2002. Viva la Virgen and Viva San Juan Diego!