Category Archives: August

Aug 14 – The Martyrs of Otranto, “It is fitting we should die for Him!”

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-Otranto Cathedral, bones of the martyrs

“Now it is time for us to fight to save our souls for the Lord. And since He died on the cross for us, it is fitting that we should die for Him.” -Antonio Primaldo, tailor, when offered the chance to convert to Islam and save themselves and their families from death and slavery.

May 12, 2013

“VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis on Sunday gave the Catholic Church new saints, including hundreds of 15th-century martyrs who were beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam, as he led his first canonization ceremony Sunday in a packed St. Peter’s Square.

The “Martyrs of Otranto” were 813 Italians who were slain in the southern Italian city in 1480 for defying demands by Turkish invaders who overran the citadel to renounce Christianity.

Their approval for sainthood was decided upon by Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, in a decree read at the ceremony in February where the former pontiff announced his retirement.

Shortly after his election in March, Francis called for more dialogue with Muslims, and it was unclear how the granting of sainthood to the martyrs would be received. Islam is a sensitive subject for the church, and Benedict stumbled significantly in his relations with the Muslim community.

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ANTONIO PEZZULLA AND 812 FELLOW MARTYRS

In 1480, some 20,000 Turkish troops overran the citadel of Otranto in what is now the southeastern Puglia region of Italy, in the “heel” of the boot-shaped peninsula. The invaders demanded that the locals, including many who took refuge in the city’s cathedral, convert to Islam. The Turks took 813 men from among those refusing to convert.

Pezzulla, also known as Primaldo, was the group’s leader, and the first among the martyrs to be beheaded. They are referred to as “The martyrs of Otranto.”

Francis told the crowd that the martyrs are a source of inspiration, especially for “so many Christians, who, right in these times and in so many parts of the world, still suffer violence.” He prayed that they receive “the courage of loyalty and to respond to evil with good.”

“Today the Church proposes for our worship* a host of martyrs, who were called together to the supreme witness to the Gospel in 1480. About eight hundred people, [who], having survived the siege and invasion of Otranto, were beheaded near that city. They refused to renounce their faith and died confessing the risen Christ. Where did they find the strength to remain faithful? Precisely in faith, which allows us to see beyond the limits of our human eyes, beyond the boundaries of earthly life, to contemplate “the heavens opened” – as St. Stephen said – and the living Christ at the right hand of the Father.

Dear friends, let us conserve the faith [that] we have received and that is our true treasure, let us renew our fidelity to the Lord, even in the midst of obstacles and misunderstandings; God will never allow us to want [for] strength and serenity. As we venerate the martyrs of Otranto, let us ask God to sustain those many Christians who, in these times and in many parts of the world, right now, still suffer violence, and give them the courage and fidelity to respond to evil with good.”
-Franciscus
Mass following Canonization – Homily
May 12, 2013

*(The veneration due to the saints is called dulia. It is very different from the adoration due to the Most Holy Trinity alone, which is called latria. Both of these are called “worship”, but they constitute distinct senses of the term.)

“It is fitting that we should die for him”: Remembering the 813 martyred shopkeepers of Otranto

http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/how-the-800-martyrs-of-otranto-saved-rome

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/pulverised-skull-martyr-otranto-was-used-medicinal-bone-drink-1487575

Love,
Matthew

Aug 13 – Bl Jacob Gapp, SM, (1897-1943), Priest & Martyr

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-Bl Jakob Gapp, SM, rosary

Jakob Gapp, the seventh child in the working-class family of Martin Gapp and Antonia Wach, was born July 26, 1897, in Wattens, a small village in the Austrian Tyrol. The following day Jakob was baptized in the Wattens parish church of St. Lawrence.

After completing elementary school in his native village in 1910, he entered the Franciscan-run high school in Hall, a neighboring town in the Tyrol.

Jakob was called to military service during World War I in May 1915, and served on the Italian front, where he was wounded on April 4, 1916. For this he received the Silver Medal of Courage Second Class. November 4, 1918, he was interned as a prisoner of war at Riva del Garda, and released August 18, 1919.

When Jakob returned home, he learned about the Society of Mary (Marianists) from a relative. On August 13, 1930, he entered the Marianist formation program, and on September 26 he began the year of novitiate at Greisinghof, Upper Austria, and pronounced his first vows there on September 27, 1921.

The young religious was assigned to the Marian Institute at Graz, Styria, where he served as a teacher and sacristan for four years. At the same time he was preparing himself through private study for the seminary.

Brother Jakob made perpetual vows at Antony, a suburb of Paris, France, on August 27, 1925.

In September of 1925 he entered the Marianist international seminary at Fribourg, Switzerland, which was then under the direction of the revered Father Emile Neubert, S.M. Bishop Marius Besson of Fribourg-Lausanne-Geneva ordained Jakob to the priesthood in the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Fribourg on April 5, 1930.

Upon returning to Austria, Father Jakob Gapp was involved as teacher, director of religious education, and chaplain in Marianist schools at Freistadt, Lanzenkirchen, and Graz. During a time of severe unemployment during the economic depression, while at Graz, Father Gapp’s deep concern for the poor surfaced in distinct ways. He gathered food and the necessities of life not only from his students, but also refused to heat his own bedroom in the winter, to be able to give aid and fuel to the poor.

At this time, as National Socialism (Nazism) began to grow strong, first in Germany and then in Austria, the young priest Jakob Gapp developed a clear judgment about the incompatibility between National Socialism and Christianity by studying diligently the statements of the German and Austrian bishops and Pope Pius XI’s encyclical letter, Mit brennender Sorge. When teaching and preaching, he continued to emphasize fearlessly this truth.

Consequently, when German troops arrived in Austria in March 1938, he was obliged to leave Graz. After a few months at Freistadt his superiors sent him to this hometown in Tyrol, since they recognized in his anti-Nazi preaching a threat to the very existence of those institutions whose elimination had already been decided by the Nazis. In Tyrol, with his relatives at Wattens, Erl, Terfans, Umlberg, and Vomp, he enjoyed the last period of peace in his earthly life.

He had been an assistant pastor in Breitenwang-Reutte for only two months when the Gestapo, at the end of October 1938, forbade him to teach religion. Father Gapp had taught the uncompromising law of love for all men and women without reference to nationality or religion.

In a sermon on December 11, 1938, at his home parish of St. Lawrence in Wattens, he defended Pope Pius XI against the attacks of the Nazis, and directed the faithful to read Catholic literature rather than Nazi propaganda. After this sermon Father Jakob Gapp was advised to leave his hometown.

With the help of his religious superiors Father Gapp was able to escape in January 1939 to Bordeaux, France, where he served at the Chapel of the Madeleine, the cradle of the Society of Mary, as chaplain and librarian. In May 1939 he fled to Spain, where he labored in the Marianist communities at San Sebastian, Cadiz, and Valencia.

For a time he was tutor for a family at Lequeitio while teaching at the school of the Mercedarian Fathers in that city. In Spain he stood alone and was always misunderstood because of his rejection of Nazism, since Hitler had earlier offered aid to Franco.

Gestapo agents followed his journey from the time he left Austria, and took advantage of his inner isolation. Two individuals pretending to be Jews from Berlin told Father Gapp about their fictitious experience of flight from Nazi persecution. In Valencia they asked him to instruct them in the Catholic faith and prepare them for baptism.

After gaining his confidence, they invited him on a trip, and abducted him across the border into France, then occupied by the Germans. Within a few minutes they stopped in Hendaye, France, where the Gestapo was waiting to arrest him and take him to Berlin as a prisoner.

On July 2, 1943, the feast of the Sacred heart of Jesus, a feast of special significance in Austria and in the life of Jakob Gapp, he was condemned to death by the President of the People’s Court, Dr. Roland Freisler.

Any type of pardon or transfer of his remains to his relatives for a simple burial was denied for the reason that Father Jakob Gapp had “defended his conduct on expressly religious grounds. For an explicitly religious people Father Gapp would be considered a martyr for the faith, and his burial could be used by the Catholic population as an opportunity for a silent demonstration in support of an already judged traitor of his people who was pretending to die for his faith.”

At 1:00 p.m. on August 13, 1943, the anniversary of his entrance to the Marianist novitiate, Father Jakob Gapp was informed that his execution would take place that evening at 7:00 p.m. The two farewell letters he was permitted to write after this announcement are truly moving manifestations of his faith. At the appointed time Jakob Gapp was beheaded by guillotine in the Ploetzensee Prison, Berlin.

His remains were sent to the Anatomical-Biological Institute at the University of Berlin for study and research, and then destroyed.

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“God is your God, not Adolf Hitler.”
“Action is more important than theory!”
-Bl Jacob Gapp, SM

Love,
Matthew

Aug 12 – Bl Karl Leisner, (1915-1945), Priest & Martyr, Dachau Prisoner 22356, Camp 26

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Very near to where Kelly and I live is the Schoenstatt Shrine of Madison.
http://schoenstattwisconsin.org/
http://schoenstattmadison.com/

-by Rev. Mark Steffl, April 2006, while studying for his STL in Rome.  He is a priest of the diocese of New Ulm, MN.

“My time as a student in Rome has afforded me many opportunities to experience the great wealth and tradition of the Universal Catholic Church. This past February was one of the highlights of that experience when I was able to celebrate a Mass at the altar that was in the Dachau Concentration Camp during World War II.

Before and during the Second World War, the Nazis in Germany forced many priests into concentration camps and the majority were sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich.  The priests were segregated together in a single area, the “Priesterblock” and through the diplomacy of the Holy See at the time, they were permitted to have a chapel and a single altar in which to celebrate Mass. The altar, made of wood by the prisoners was the site where these priests were allowed a single Mass each day.

Many of these priests, who were called to join in a special way to the sufferings and Passion of Our Lord, died because of illness and as a result of harsh punishment. I have a particular devotion to one of them who is especially connected to the Dachau altar, Blessed Karl Leisner.  He has a fascinating story of being arrested as a deacon because of his efforts with Catholic youth contrary to the Nazi regime.

Blessed Karl Leisner’s vocation is a particular one in several details. He was the only man who was ordained a priest in Dachau. On December 17, 1944, under great secrecy and against the orders of the Nazis, he was ordained a priest by a French Bishop after five years of life in concentration camps as a deacon. He was in such poor health at that time, that he was able to celebrate only a single Mass as a priest before he died. He lived to see liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp, and of Germany from the Nazi regime, but died soon after.

Blessed Karl Leisner’s life stands out in an important way for us today on many levels.The first is that Blessed Karl, a German, was ordained by a French bishop during a war in which the two nationalities were in bloody conflict with each other.  It shows in a beautiful way how “Catholic” (which means “universal”)  faith truly lives up to its etymological roots surpassing borders and boundaries. Jesus’ message of hope and love goes beyond national identities and embraces all of humanity.

Secondly, for a world that measures worth by productivity, Karl Leisner’s life would seem “unproductive.” He celebrated only one single Mass as a priest. But his life shows and challenges us to see life as God would, with its dignity and special plan for each of us, rather than to follow the world in judging worth by ability to produce.  His whole life had been planned by God for that single Mass he offered at the altar in the Dachau Concentration Camp, and his suffering was not in vain, but went on to inspire many with him after him to persevere in their own suffering, seeing it in the “plan of God” and knowing that God does great things with the struggles we bear for Him.

Pope John Paul II beatified Karl Leisner, along with a second German priest who died in custody of the Nazis, on a trip to Germany that he made in 1996. The beatification Mass was held in the same Olympic Stadium that Adolf Hitler had constructed for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games and used often for Nazi parades and spectacles. Here again we see the great paradox of the same stadium, constructed for the worst of reasons, becoming a place of great graces, with the Holy Father celebrating a Mass there for a great crowd and beatifying two priests who stood firmly against the Nazis and gave their lives for their faith in the Lord and His Gospel that comes to us in the Church.

Pope John Paul II, in his homily at this beatification Mass highlighted how Blessed Karl Leisner witnessed to his faith and how he is an example of how we today are to take that witness and apply it to our own lives. John Paul pointed out that often we are called against the “popular world view” illustrating that we are called to bear witness to a culture of life that finds its reward in eternal life. That we are called to “resist the culture of hatred and death, regardless of the guise which it may assume.

The Dachau altar, the altar that was the place of this Blessed Karl Leisner’s ordination Mass and the single Mass after his ordination that he said as a priest, is today in a house for diocesan priests affiliated with the Schoenstatt Movement (of which Karl Leisner was a part as a boy and seminarian) not far from Frankfurt. It was “rescued” after the war and is kept as a witness to great hope and joy in the midst of the worst of conditions, the great dignity to which we are all called in the Mass, where we find a foretaste of the eternal banquet that we hope and strive to attain, eternal life with Jesus in heaven.”

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“But we maintain our Christian, courageous calm. Nobody will take away our will to struggle and fight back as long as He is with us. God is the ruler of the fates of men and peoples. This is our victory, which overcomes the world.” – Bl Karl, remarking after the Nazis closed the Catholic youth center in Dusseldorf, where he ministered.

He wrote a poem that expressed his feelings at this time:

Though the road wind through the blackest night,
Victory will be ours in the dawn’s crimson light.
We are ready to proclaim, in all lands and climes,
That God is the Lord even of these our times.

Karl continued to work with youth, and the Gestapo noted it. They opened a secret file on his activities in 1936. They watched his movements and read his mail.

One day after hearing about an attempt to assassinate Hitler with a bomb, he remarked that it was a pity that Hitler wasn’t there when the attack occurred. This was reported to the authorities, and within hours, then Deacon Karl was arrested.

“Karl Leisner encourages us to remain on the way that is Christ. We must not grow weary, even if sometimes this way seems dark and demands sacrifice. Let us beware of false prophets who want to show us other ways. Christ is the way that leads to life. All other ways are detours or wrong paths.” – Pope John Paul II, during the beatification Mass.

Blessed Karl Leisner, priest & martyr, pray for us when we are called to witness to the Truth of Jesus Christ and His Eternal, Glorious Reign!!!

Love,
Matthew

Aug 11 – St Clare of Assisi, OSC, (1194-1253), Virgin

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“Go forth without fear, Christian soul, for you have a good guide for your journey. Go forth without fear, for He that created you has sanctified you, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother.” – Saint Clare, on her deathbed in 1253

Saint Clare was born in 1193 in Assisi to a noble family. Before her birth, her mother received a sign that her daughter would be a bright light of God in the world. As a child she was already very strongly drawn to the things of God, praying fervently, devoutly visiting the Blessed Sacrament, and manifesting a tender love towards the poor.

When she was 18, she heard St. Francis preaching in the town square during Lent and she knew at once that God wanted her to consecrate herself to Him. The next evening, Clare left her house at night, ran to meet St. Francis and his companions at the church they were staying in, and shared her desire to follow him in his way of life. He received her, gave her his tunic, cut off her golden locks, and sent her to a Benedictine convent, because she could not stay with the brothers. Her younger sister Agnes soon joined her and the two had to resist much pressure from their family to return home.

When Clare was 22, St. Francis placed her in a small house beside the convent and made her superior, a post she should serve for the next 42 years of her life until her death.

The ´Poor Clares’ as they came to be known, lived an unusually austere life for women of the time, walking barefoot around the town begging for alms, wearing sackcloth, and living without any possessions, completely dependent for their food on what was given to them. But the emphasis of their lives was, and still is, contemplation.

Many young noble women left all they had to take on the poor habit of Clare and the order grew rapidly, with houses being founded all over Italy, all of whom took St. Clare as their model and inspiration.

Clare’s reputation for holiness was such that the Pope himself came to her deathbed in 1253 to give her absolution, and wanted to canonize her immediately on her death, but was advised by his cardinals to wait.

Claire died in absolute tranquility, saying to one of the brothers at her side “Dear brother, ever since through His servant Francis I have known the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, I have never in my whole life found any pain or sickness that could trouble me.”

St. Clare

“Rejoice and be glad that so great and good a Lord, on coming into the virgin’s womb, willed to appear despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that men who were in dire poverty and in great need of heavenly nourishment might be made rich in Him.” -St. Clare of Assisi

Prayer of St. Clare

I look up and I behold the Lord,
Clare says to me,

Gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him,
I put this more simply: behold, hold, enfold.

I behold the Lord
I see His outstretched hands
I see the blood from His wounds.
I see the love in the eyes of Jesus.
I see His gracious acceptance of me.

Jesus has come out of the tomb –
He still has the scars,
but now they are glorious, with the glory of heaven.
Still looking at the Lord, I reach out and touch Him.
I hold the Lord – and I am held in His love.

Love enfolds
It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.
I am secure in the Lord.
I can look out, now, through the Lord’s eyes.
I can see the world as He created it, in His mercy,
I can see my sisters and brothers with His love,
and I can worship the Father through the eyes of the Son
in the Love of the Holy Spirit.

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Love,
Matthew

Aug 9 – Bl Florentino Asensio Barroso, (1877-1936), Bishop & Martyr, Patron of Torture Victims & Those Under A Promise Celibacy

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Former Apostolic Administrator of Barbastro, Monsignor Florentino Asensio y Barroso was born to a poor but devout Catholic family in Villasexmir, Valladolid, Spain, on October 16, 1877, he had an elder brother who was an Augustinian Monk.

Ordained to the Priesthood on June 1, 1901, in Valladolid, Barroso earned a Licentiate and Doctorate in Theology from the Pontifical University of Valladolid, where he subsequently served as a Lecturer.

Spiritual Director and Confessor to several Religious Congregations, Barroso was a keen Orator. Luckily, many of his homilies have survived. Receiving his Episcopal Consecration following his appointment as Apostolic Administrator of Barbastro at 58 years of age on January 26, 1936, his brief Episcopate, which lasted only five months, was noted for his charity to the poor and sick. However, this was a period of hostility to the Catholic Church.

Bishop Florentino was placed under house arrest, and then imprisoned. Moved to solitary confinement on August 1, 1936, he was tortured and brutally mutilated.

An autopsy on his remains performed on April 16, 1993, proved that he suffered among others the amputation of his genitals, almost certainly in attempted mockery of his vow of celibacy.

Following these horrible tortures, Bishop Florentino was shot three times through the temple in a Cemetery outside Barbastro, Huesca, on August 2, 1936, becoming thus one of the Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War.

Buried in a common grave with other victims, his remains were later exhumed and immediately identified as his body was found incorrupt. Re – interred in the Cathedral Crypt of Barbastro, beneath the Presbytery, his body was later moved to the Capilla de San Carlos Borromeo inside the same Cathedral, were they lie to this day in a specially constructed sarcophagus.

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View Of The Sarcophagus Which Houses The Venerated Incorrupt Remains Of Bishop Florentino At The Chapel Of St. Charles Borromeo, Inside The Cathedral Of Barbastro, Huesca, Spain.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 8 – St Mary Helen MacKillop, RSJ, (1842-1909), Foundress of the Josephites

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/19/saint-mary-mackillop-aust_n_468595.html

Feb 19 2010

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI approved sainthood for Mother Mary MacKillop on Friday, making the woman known for her work among the needy Australia’s first saint.

The pope made the announcement during a ceremony at the Vatican and set the formal canonization for Oct. 17 in Rome. Five others – from Italy, Spain, Poland and Canada – will be canonized at the same time.

MacKillop founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph (of the Sacred Heart!), an order that built dozens of schools for impoverished children across the Australian Outback in the 1800s, as well as orphanages and clinics for the needy.

With vows of abstinence from owning personal belongings and dedication to helping the poor, MacKillop is credited with spreading Roman Catholicism in Australia and New Zealand.

But she was a strong-willed advocate who sometimes got into trouble for challenging orthodox thinking within the male-dominated church. In 1869 she was excommunicated for inciting her followers to disobedience, though the bishop who punished her recanted three years (some accounts say five months) later (nine days before his death – timing is everything) and she was exonerated by a church commission.

“This is a great, great tribute to the Catholic church and a great, great tribute to her hard work in education,” Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Friday. “This is a great honor for Australia. I offer a heartfelt expression of appreciation to the wider Catholic community.”

MacKillop died in 1909 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

Australians have been awaiting Friday’s announcement since Benedict in December cleared the way by declaring MacKillop was responsible for the required second miracle, one of the final steps in the complex process before sainthood can be bestowed.

“It’s more than just Catholics, the whole country has a new hero – someone that will give them hope for the future,” said Garry McLean, CEO of the Mary MacKillop Heritage Center in Melbourne.

“Today it has been recognized that a woman can become a saint in the Australian environment with all its complexities and challenges,” Postulator for the Cause of Mary MacKillop, Sister Maria Casey, said in a statement. “Mary MacKillop is to be listed among the saints of the Catholic Church. I look forward to the celebration of her goodness when many pilgrims from all over the world come to Rome for the ceremony.”

“By their fruits you will know them.” (Mt 7:16)

Because of my personality, I realize, when I was considering making a solemn promise of vows similar to Mother MacKillop, the one I struggled with most then and still would now is obedience without reservation or foreknowledge. I wanted a contract with rights and duties, limits of liability, and perfect clairvoyance of the future – or something like that. With the benefit of twenty-two additional years of experience and maturity, I might have some incremental hope of inching closer to such a promise now, not knowing what that would mean or entail for the rest of my life; yet, my experience with authority in human organizations since then  could also be a bulwark and an impediment against the embrace of such a promise.

That may seem odd, and others might find poverty, or celibacy or life in religious community more challenging, but for me, it was obedience. And, I couldn’t just let the clock run out and potentially make a promise in my heart of hearts I really knew I couldn’t fully embrace or potentially fulfill. That would have been dishonest. It’s not that simple, but that’s probably one of the bigger reasons I left.

Marriage has its own implicit promises of obedience, without reservation, regardless of gender or role in family – the obedience of love, to the best of our ability. And this obedience is joyful, as I am sure those who embrace the vow of obedience in religious life, like Mother MacKillop, must find it to have any hope of living it.

What the article fails to mention is Mother MacKillop took that vow of obedience I could not. Obedience to authority has become very unfashionable in the last few centuries. Granted, those in authority are replete with all the human weakness we all suffer. Yet, Christian love, in my understanding and my attempted and faltering and failing practice, requires mission and obedience are inextricable, by the Lord’s own example.

Mother MacKillop’s life and example was replete with rich fruits of her profound faith and practice of it. Her works, as are all good works of Christian charity, are the fruits of profound faith. There is no dichotomy between “faith & works” in my understanding or experience. One blossoms into the other, it has to, in the Catholic understanding, and the Lord should be praised therefore.

When I grow angry with the failings of those in authority, and feel the need to express my displeasure openly, I ask myself “What are the irrefutable fruits of my own faith in my life all could recognize, such that I possess evidence for myself and for others that it is not merely anger which I am celebrating or indulging in, but my anger is a just a continuum of my attempt to live out of Christian love?” As Mother MacKillop did? That is not to let the culpable off the hook, but rather to assure myself of my proper orientation in what I am doing and trying to live my faith.

The Lord commands us to love one another, especially when we are most unhappy with or treated most unjustly by each other, even to the point of evil – even the evil of crucifixion and a tortured death. Could I forgive in the moment of my agony? I doubt it in the extreme. God give me the grace to hope to do so and, please Lord, do not test my faith.

In this Lent, let us give up righteous anger, no matter how good or right it feels in the moment, let us abstain from it, and put on righteous love, as Mother MacKillop did through grace.

Besides, would you mess with an Australian nun who lived in the outback without air conditioning wearing a habit like the one in the picture, accomplished what she accomplished, and who had so big a crucifix stuck in her belt? Not me.

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Love,
Matthew

Aug 4 – St Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney, TOSF, (1786-1859), “Curé d’Ars”, Patron of Priests

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“…so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Cor 9:27

Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney was a religious personality of unusual force. To the incomparable exclusion of everything else he addressed himself to the greater honor and glory of God and the salvation of souls. He accepted his obligation to holiness at an early age, and it took complete possession of him. Every word he uttered was spoken out of the world of religiousness. He brought to a conclusion an achievement which it would be hard for anyone to imitate. From this man there emanated an influence which cannot be overlooked, and the results of which cannot be contested.

“I owe a debt to my mother,” he said, and added, “virtues go easily from mothers into the hearts of their children, who willingly do what they see being done.”

In his assignment as parish priest of Ars, St. John achieved something which many priests would like to have done, but which is scarcely granted to any. Not over night, but little by little, the tiny hamlet underwent a change.

The people of Ars were unable to remain aloof for long from the grace which radiated from the remarkable personality of their priest. When a man attacks inveterate disorders and popular vices, he challenges opposition. St. John was not unprepared – he knew the enemy would raise his head. “If a priest is determined not to lose his soul,” he exclaimed, “so soon as any disorder arises in the parish, he must trample underfoot all human considerations as well as the fear of the contempt and hatred of his people. He must not allow anything to bar his way in the discharge of duty, even were he certain of being murdered on coming down from the pulpit. A pastor who wants to do his duty must keep his sword in hand at all times. Did not St. Paul himself write to the faithful of Corinth: ‘I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls, although loving you more, I be loved less.’”

Saint John Marie would never consider Ars converted until all of the 200 villagers were living up to the ten commandments of God and the fulfillment of their duties in life.

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It took St. John Vianney ten whole years to renew Ars, but the community changed so noticeably and to such an extent that it was observed even by outsiders.  There was no more working on Sundays, the church was filled more and more every year, and drunkenness fell off.  In the end the taverns had to close their doors since they had no more customers; and even domestic squabbles abated.  Honesty became the principal characteristic.  “Ars is no longer Ars,” as St. John Vianney himself wrote; for it had undergone a fundamental change.  Under his guidance the little village became a community of pious people, to whom all his labors were directed.

He delighted in teaching the children their catechism and he did this daily.  After a while the grown-ups came too and he found that those who were children during the French Revolution were in complete ignorance of their religious duties.  He taught the people love for the rosary and wanted everyone to carry one around at all times.  It is truly astounding to reflect upon what St. John Vianney, with a staff of trained assistants, was able to achieve in the village in the space of a few years.  What an immense amount of endeavor underlay his work will best be appreciated by anyone who has had to convert only a few drunkards to sanity.

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Jean-Marie sanctified himself while at work in the field or in the house. The supernatural world was ever present to him, but for all that he was neither a slacker nor a dreamer, his being a healthy and active temperament. “O what a beautiful thing it is to do all things in union with the good God!” he would say. “Courage, my soul, if you work with God, you shall, indeed, do the work, but He will bless it. You shall walk and He will bless your steps. Everything shall be taken account of – the forgoing of a look, of some gratification – all shall be recorded. There are people who make capital out of everything, even the winter. If it is cold they offer their little sufferings to God. Oh! What a beautiful thing it is to offer oneself, each morning, as a victim to God!”

In letters of consolation to a cousin, Frère Chalovet, whom obedience had sent to the Hotel-Dieu of Lyons and who was greatly tempted, he wrote: “My good friend, I write these lines in haste to tell you not to leave, in spite of all the trials that the good God wishes you to endure. Take courage! Heaven is rich enough to reward you. Remember that the evils of this world are the lot of good Christians. You are going through a kind of martyrdom. But what a happiness for you to be a martyr of charity! Do not lose so beautiful a crown. ‘Blessed are they that suffer persecution for my sake,’ says Jesus Christ, our model. Farewell, my most dear friend. Persevere along the way on which you have so happily entered and we shall see each other again in heaven…” “Courage my good cousin! Soon we shall see it, our beautiful heaven. Soon there will be no more cross for us! What divine bliss! To see that good Jesus Who has loved us so much and Who will make us so happy!”

Often when the Curé was returning to Ars from missionary expeditions, Mayor Mandy, who was anxious about the safety of his holy pastor, would send his son Antoine to accompany him on his journey home. “Even amid the snows and cold of winter,” Antoine afterwards related, “we rarely took the shortest and best road. M. le Curé had invariably to visit some sick person. Yet the tramp never seemed really long, for the servant of God well knew how to shorten it by relating most interesting episodes from the lives of the saints.

If I happened to make some remark about the sharpness of the cold or the ruggedness of the roads, he was always ready with an answer: ‘My friend, the saints have suffered far more; let us offer it all to the good God.’ When he ceased from speaking of holy things we began the Rosary. Even today I still cherish the memory of those holy conversations.”

St. John Vianney had loved Mary from the cradle. As a priest he had exerted all his energy in spreading her glory. To convince themselves of it, the pilgrims had but to look at the small statues of her that adorned the front of every house in the village. In each home there was also a colored picture of the Mother of God, presented and signed by M. le Curé. In 1814 he had erected a large statue of Mary Immaculate on the pediment of his church. Eight years earlier, on May 1, 1836, he had dedicated his parish to Mary Conceived Without Sin.

The picture which perpetuates this consecration, says Catherine Lassagne, is placed at the entrance to our Lady’s Chapel. Shortly afterwards he ordered a heart to be made, in vermeil (color), which is, even to this day, suspended from the neck of the miraculous Virgin. This heart contains the names of all the parishioners of Ars, written on a white silk ribbon. On the feasts of Our Lady, Communions were numerous, and the church was never empty. On the evenings of those festivals the nave and the side chapels could barely contain the congregation, for no one wished to miss M. Vianney’s homily in honor of Our Blessed Lady. The hearers were enthralled by the enthusiasm with which he spoke of the holiness, the power, and the love of the Mother of God.

The explanation of this mysterious transformation of the village of Ars can only be grasped in the remarkable manner that this simple priest realized that a man must always begin with himself, and that even the rebirth of a community can only be achieved by its renewing itself.  We must expect nothing of men which is not already embodied within them.

On the basis of this perception St. John Vianney set to work, in the first place, upon himself, so that he could attain the ideal which he demanded of his parishioners in his own person.  He took his own religious obligations with the greatest seriousness, and did not care whether the people noticed this or not.  And finally the inhabitants of Ars said to each other:  “Our priest always does what he says himself; he practices what he preaches.  Never have we seen him allow himself any form of relaxation.”

St. John Vianney read much and often the lives of the saints, and became so impressed by their holy lives that he wanted for himself and others to follow their wonderful examples. The ideal of holiness enchanted him.

He placed himself in that great tradition which leads the way to holiness through personal sacrifice. “If we are not now saints, it is a great misfortune for us: therefore we must be so. As long as we have no love in our hearts, we shall never be Saints.”

The Saint, to him, was not an exceptional man before whom we should marvel, but a possibility which was open to all Catholics. Unmistakably did he declare in his sermons that “to be a Christian and to live in sin is a monstrous contradiction. A Christian must be holy.” With his Christian simplicity he had clearly thought much on these things and understood them by divine inspiration, while they are usually denied to the understanding of educated men.

The conversion of the whole parish was too unusual an occurrence for it to remain unknown.  From the year 1827, there began the famous stream of pilgrims to Ars.  People went to Ars from all parts of France, from Belgium, from England and even from America.  The principal motive which led all these crowds of pilgrims to the priest of Ars was purely the desire for him to hear their confession and to receive spiritual counsel from him.  They were driven to his thronged confessional by the longing to meet once and for all the priest who knew all about the reality of the soul.

The priest of Ars possessed the ability to see the human soul in its nakedness, freed of its body.  Like St. Francis de Sales, he had the gift of “seeing everything and not looking at anyone.”

In confessing people this holy man, who had a fundamental knowledge of sin, strove after one thing only – to save souls.  This great saint heard confessions from 13 to 17 hours a day, and could tell a penitent’s sins even when they were withheld.

In order to save souls one must be possessed of that holy love of men which consumed the priest of Ars.  He would often weep in the confessional and when he was asked why he wept, he would reply:  “My friend, I weep because you do not weep.”

“The great miracle of the Curé d’Ars,” someone has said, “was his confessional, besieged day and night.” It might be said with equal truth that his greatest miracle was the conversion of sinners: “I have seen numerous and remarkable ones,” the Abbé Raymond assures us, “and they form the most beautiful chapter of the life of the Curé d’Ars. ‘Oh, my friend,’ he often told me, ‘only at the last judgment will it become known how many souls have here found their salvation.’”

“In reality,” Jeanne-Marie Chanay writes, “he made but small account of miraculous cures. ‘The body is so very little,’ he used to repeat. That which truly filled him with joy was the return of souls to God.” How many occasions he had for such joy! M. Prosper des Garets relates: “I asked him one day how many big sinners he had converted in the course of the year. ‘Over seven hundred,’ was his reply.” Hence it is easy to understand the wish expressed by a Curé who made the pilgrimage to Ars: “Those of my parishioners who go to M. Vianney become models. I wish I could take my whole parish to him.”

One day, under the pretext of sending him on an errand, the Baronne de Belvey dispatched to M. Vianney a hardened sinner, who only set foot in the church at Christmas and Easter. It would seem that he had not been to confession since his first Communion. “How long is it since you were last at Confession?”, M. le Curé asked. “Oh, forty years.” “Forty-four,” the saint replied. The man took a pencil and made a hasty calculation on the plastering of the wall. “Yes, it is quite true,” he admitted, overcome with amazement. The sinner was converted and died a good death.

St. John Vianney possessed the gift of being able to understand the soul of a man in an instant, and, without any lengthy explanations, to feel at once what spiritual trouble was afflicting it.

He had a clear sighted vision which often enabled him to foretell to a man what would happen to him in the future.  This gift of God overpowered the people who visited his confessional, and to whom he granted a word of pardon.  The words and advice of the Curé were like darts; they penetrated deeply.  He said little, but his little was enough.

On Aug. 4, 1859, Fr. John Vianney gave up his soul to God. He had been parish priest of Ars for 41 years. In 1925, he received the highest honor of the Church by being canonized and placed in the index of the Saints. Today over 500,000 people visit every year this simple farming town where they come to see the incorrupt body of one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church. The life of St. John Vianney is the story of a humble and holy man who barely succeeded in becoming a priest, but who converted thousands of sinners.

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“My children, we are in reality only what we are in the eyes of God, and nothing more.” -St. John Vianney

“God has created my heart only for Himself. He asks me to give it to Him that He may make it happy.” –St. John Vianney 

“Let us go often to the foot of the cross…we shall learn there what God has done for us, and what we ought to do for Him.” -St. John Vianney

“I throw myself at the foot of the Tabernacle like a dog at the foot of his Master.” -St. John Vianney

“Let us open the door of the Sacred Heart, and shut ourselves in for a moment amidst its divine flames; we shall then realize what God’s love means.” -St. John Vianney

“God looks neither at long nor beautiful prayers, but at those that come from the heart.” -St. John Vianney

“The happiness of man on earth, my children, is to be very good… We are in this world for no other end than to serve and love the good God.” -St. John Vianney

“We have only to turn to the Blessed Virgin to be heard. Her heart is all love.” -St. John Vianney

“The Saints were so completely dead to themselves that they cared very little whether others agreed with them or not.” -St John Vianney, Patron of the Year of Priests

“Man has a beautiful office, that of praying and loving. You pray, you love – that is the happiness of man upon the earth. Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When our heart is pure and united to God, we feel within ourselves a joy, a sweetness that inebriates, a light that dazzles us.”  –St. John Vianney

“He who, when tempted, makes the Sign of the Cross with devotion, makes hell tremble and heaven rejoice.” -St. John Vianney

“Happy is he that lives to love, receive, and serve God!” -St. John Vianney

“You don’t need to wallow in guilt. Wallow in the mercy of God.” -St. John Vianney

“When we are walking on the street, let us fix our eyes on our Lord bearing his cross; on the Blessed Virgin who is looking at us; on our guardian angel who is by our side.” -St. John Vianney

“In the soul which is united to God, it is always spring.” –St. John Vianney

“My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates (the Mass) as if he were engaged in something ordinary.” -St John Mary Vianney

“The first thing about the angels we ought to imitate is their consciousness of the presence of God.” -St. John Vianney

Prayer of St John Vianney

I love You, O my God, and my only desire is to love You until the last breath of my life.
I love You, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving You, than live without loving You.
I love You, Lord and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally…
My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You, I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 9 – Bl Franz Jagerstatter, (1906-1943) – Husband, Father, Martyr

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Called to serve his country as a Nazi solider, Franz eventually refused, and this husband and father of three daughters (Rosalie, Marie and Aloisia) was executed because of it.

Born in St. Radegund in Upper Austria, Franz lost his father during World War I and was adopted after Heinrich Jaegerstaetter married Rosalia Huber.

As a young man, he loved to ride his motorcycle and was the natural leader of a gang whose members were arrested in 1934 for brawling.

For three years he worked in the mines in another city and then returned to St. Radegund, where he became a farmer, married Franziska and lived his faith with quiet but intense conviction.

In 1938 he publicly opposed the German Anschluss (annexation) of Austria. The next year he was drafted into the Austrian army, trained for seven months and then received a deferment. In 1940 he was called up again but allowed to return home at the request of the town’s mayor.

He was in active service between October 1940 and April 1941 but was again deferred. His pastor, other priests and the bishop of Linz urged him not to refuse to serve if drafted. In February 1943 he was called up again and reported to army officials in Enns, Austria.

When he refused to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler, he was imprisoned in Linz. Later he volunteered to serve in the medical corps but was not assigned there.

During Holy Week he wrote to his wife: “Easter is coming and, if it should be God’s will that we can never again in this world celebrate Easter together in our intimate family circle, we can still look ahead in the happy confidence that, when the eternal Easter morning dawns, no one in our family circle shall be missing–so we can then be permitted to rejoice together forever.”

In May he was transferred to a prison in Berlin. Challenged by his attorney that other Catholics were serving in the army, Franz responded, “I can only act on my own conscience. I do not judge anyone. I can only judge myself.” He continued, “I have considered my family. I have prayed and put myself and my family in God’s hands. I know that, if I do what I think God wants me to do, he will take care of my family.”

On August 8, 1943, he wrote to Fransizka: “Dear wife and mother, I thank you once more from my heart for everything that you have done for me in my lifetime, for all the sacrifices that you have borne for me. I beg you to forgive me if I have hurt or offended you, just as I have forgiven everything…My heartfelt greetings for my dear children. I will surely beg the dear God, if I am permitted to enter Heaven soon, that he will set aside a little place in Heaven for all of you.”

The prison chaplain was struck by the man’s tranquil character.  On being offered a New Testament he replied, “I am completely bound in inner union  with the Lord, and any reading would only interrupt my communication with my God.”

Franz was beheaded and cremated the following day. In 1946 his ashes were reburied in St. Radegund near a memorial inscribed with his name and the names of almost 60 village men who died during their military service. He was beatified in Linz on Occtober 26, 2007.  His “spiritual testament” is now in Rome’s St. Bartholomew Church as part of a shrine to 20th-century martyrs for their faith.

Franz Jaegerstaetter followed his conscience and paid the highest price possible. In December 2008 his widow and three daughters were introduced to Pope Benedict XVI in connection with the presentation of a new biography, Christ or Hitler? The Life of Blessed Franz Jaegerstaetter. Many people first learned about him from Gordon Zahn’s book In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jaegerstaetter.

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“I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a halfway Christian; it is more like vegetating than living.” – Blessed Franz in a letter to a god-child

“Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives – often in horrible ways – for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal some day, then we, too, must became heroes of the faith.” – Blessed Franz in a letter to a god-child

“Everyone tells me, of course, that I should not do what I am doing because of the danger of death. I believe it is better to sacrifice one’s life right away than to place oneself in the grave danger of committing sin and then dying.” – Blessed Franz in a letter describing his moral dilemma over being drafted

“Just as the man who thinks only of this world does everything possible to make life here easier and better, so must we, too, who believe in the eternal Kingdom, risk everything in order to receive a great reward there. Just as those who believe in National Socialism tell themselves that their struggle is for survival, so must we, too, convince ourselves that our struggle is for the eternal Kingdom. But with this difference: we need no rifles or pistols for our battle, but instead, spiritual weapons – and the foremost among these is prayer. Through prayer, we continually implore new grace from God, since without God’s help and grace it would be impossible for us to preserve the Faith and be true to His commandments. Let us love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for Those who persecute us. For love will conquer and will endure for all eternity. And happy are they who live and die in God’s love.” – Blessed Franz, writing from prison

“I can say with certainty that this simple man is the only saint I have ever met in my lifetime.” –Father Jochmann, who ministered to Venerable Franz in prison

 Love,
Matthew

Aug 8 – The Most Difficult Saint to Love

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“How good and how pleasant it is,
when brothers dwell in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.

It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.”

-Psalm 133

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-by Br Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP

“For non-Catholics, Francis is the easiest saint to understand and love, while Dominic is the most difficult, once remarked Chesterton.  If the abundance of Francis-emblazoned garden decorations and the world’s new-found devotion to Pope Francis—whose namesake is the beggar friar of Assisi—are a reliable indication, the statement is undoubtedly true.  The endearing vagabond stigmatist of Alverna, known for his love of creation and his sympathy for the poor, easily captures the hearts of multitudes, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In contrast, many written or artistic depictions portray Dominic as the black-and-white clad, crusade-preaching, stern-faced Spaniard of the un-holy Inquisition.  Even today it seems this unfortunate caricature of Dominic abides, as many find Saint Dominic difficult to love and to others he is completely unknown.

Perhaps some would feel drawn to Saint Dominic if his great sympathy for the poor was spoken of more frequently.  As the records of his canonization recall, when he was a student of theology he sold his books to feed the poor of Palencia.  But the great saint lived this solidarity with the poor his entire life, even dying in the bed of another friar—since he had no cell of his own.  To witness to the authenticity of his preaching, Dominic crossed the countryside walking barefoot (in great contrast to the official papal preachers of his day, travelling as they did in luxurious caravans).  A further glimpse of his absolute dedication to poverty is offered by contemporaries of Saint Dominic who attest they only ever saw him wearing the same one habit, covered in patches.

Could it not also be hard to admire Saint Dominic because of the hidden nature of his life of prayer and study?  With a reputation for sincerity and dedication to his work of learning, the young saint was known to spend many long nights poring over his books.  Later in life these sleepless vigils became nights given over to the work of prayer for the conversion of souls.  The fruits of these kinds of efforts though are all-so-often veiled from our prying eyes.

Maybe affection for Dominic is foreign to some hearts because of how little is said of the intensity of his labors.  Saint Dominic’s idea to found the Order was original and highly innovative.  To establish the unprecedented group the Order of Preachers required him to be a master of efficiency and organization. Consider the fact that Dominic only worked for five years after papal approval of the Order before his death and in that time managed to bequeath to it a lasting legacy of governance, traditions and ideals.  Accordingly, these earliest days of the Order leave behind a vivid image of the extraordinary abilities and intuition of its founder.

Is it not also possible that some struggle to be devoted to Saint Dominic because they find the idea of the work of “preaching” aloof or disconnected?  We have said Dominic was a man of study, a true intellectual, but Saint Dominic himself ordered these efforts towards his preaching.  He was a man of learning so that he could reach people with the truth, not be distanced from them! We have only to think of the night Dominic, the preacher of grace, spent speaking until dawn with an innkeeper to convert him in order to see the saint’s acquired knowledge at work, a powerful tool put to use for the salvation of souls.

The extraordinary devotion and charity marked by provision and preparation of Dominic laud not only this man, but his master, Our Lord. Orestes Brownson says of Saint Dominic, “The fact, however, is, that there never was a man more emphatically a man of peace, and a herald of the Gospel of peace, than the blessed St. Dominic. His name is never mentioned […] except as a teacher of the ignorant, a consoler of the afflicted, and a model of sanctity for all.” When a person sees the life of Saint Dominic in its grandeur and glory, humility and simplicity, Dominic can be known as he truly is: an icon of Christ. So let us draw back the curtain then and allow the image of Saint Dominic to emerge from behind the shadows of our time, that by his example and intercession multitudes of men and women may be drawn to the Light of Christ!”

Love,
Matthew

Aug 12 – St Euplius of Catania, Sicily, (d. 305) – Deacon & Martyr

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On August 12, 304 A.D., during the persecution of Diocletian at Catania, in Sicily, a deacon named Euplius was arrested for owning and reading a copy of the Gospels.  He had been reading and explaining the Gospels to a gathered crowd.  He was brought to the governor’s hall.  He staunchly professed his faith. Standing on the outside of the curtain of the governor’s audience chamber,  Euplius cried out: “I am a Christian, and shall rejoice to die for the name of Jesus Christ.” The governor, Calvisian/Calvinianus/Calvinian, heard him and ordered that he who had made that outcry should be brought in, and presented before him.  With the Book of the Gospels, Euplius was led before the governor.  Maximus, a friend of the governor’s who was present,  said to Euplius, “You ought not to keep such writings, contrary to the edicts of the emperors.”

The governor queried Euplius whether he brought the text from his house, or carried them about with him.  Euplius replied he had no house and carried the Scripture with him at all times.  “But why,” said the judge, “did you not give up those writings as the emperors have commanded?”  “Because I am a Christian. I will sooner die than deliver them. In them is eternal life, which is lost by him who would betray what God has entrusted to his keeping.”

Euplius was commanded to read from the Scriptures. The saint read the passage: “Blest are they who suffer persecution for justice’s sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt 5:10)  Euplius then read the passage: “If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mt 16:24/Lk 9:23)

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Questioned by the governor as to what this meant, the youth replied: “It is the law of my Lord, which has been delivered to me.” Calvisian asked: “By whom?” Euplius replied: “By Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This infuriated the governor, and he ordered that Euplius be led away to be tortured. At the height of his torment Euplius was asked if he still persisted in Christianity. The saintly youth answered: “What I said before, I say again: I am a Christian and I read the Sacred Scriptures.”  The martyr said, while he was tormented: “I thank You, O Lord Jesus Christ, that I suffer for Your sake: save me, I beseech You.”

Calvisianus said: “Lay aside your folly; adore our gods, and you shall be set free.” Euplius answered: “I adore Jesus Christ; I detest the devils. Do what you please; add new torments; for I am a Christian. I have long desired to be in the condition in which I now am.” After the executioners had tormented him a long time, Calvisianus bade them desist, and said: “Wretch, adore the gods; worship Mars, Apollo, and Æsculapius.” Euplius replied: “I adore the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I worship the Holy Trinity, besides whom there is no God.” Calvisianus said: “Sacrifice, if you would be delivered.” Euplius answered: “I sacrifice myself now to Jesus Christ, my God. All your efforts to move me are to no purpose. I am a Christian.” Then Calvisianus gave orders for increasing his torments.

While the executioners were exerting their utmost in tormenting him, Euplius prayed: “I thank You, my God; Jesus Christ, succor me. It is for your name’s sake that I endure these torments.” This he repeated several times. When his strength failed him, his lips were seen still to move, the martyr continuing the same or the like prayer with his lips when he could no longer do it with his voice. The governor realized that he would never give up his faith, and ordered him to be beheaded.

The executioners hung the book of the Gospels, which the martyr had with him when he was seized, about his neck, and the public crier proclaimed before him: “This is Euplius the Christian, an enemy to the gods and the emperors.” Euplius continued very cheerful, and repeated as he went: “I give thanks to Jesus Christ, my God. Confirm, O Lord, what You have begun in me.” When he had come to the place of execution, he prayed a long time on his knees, and once more returning thanks, presented his neck to the executioner, who cut off his head. The Christians carried off his body, embalmed and buried it.

St. Euplius died April 29, 305 A.D., praising God all the while.

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-Church of St Euplius, Moscow, 1881.

“The Pope!??? How many divisions does he have?”
-Josef Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union, said sarcastically to Pierre Laval in 1935, in response to being asked whether he could do anything with Russian Catholics to help Laval win favor with the Pope, to counter the increasing threat of Nazism; as quoted in The Second World War (1948) by Winston Churchill vol. 1, ch. 8, p. 105.

“The one with the most saints, wins!”
-Dr. Peter Kreeft, Boston College

Love,
Matthew