Category Archives: July

Jul 26 – Blessed Titus Brandsma, O. Carm. (1881-1942), Priest & Martyr

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Anno Sjoera Brandsma was born in a little hamlet area of Friesland, Holland in the year 1881 on February 23; he was born into a very tight knit and loving family. His mother was of an anxious nature and therefore was very protective of her family, as was his father, Titus, who was also very proud of their Friesland heritage. Catholicism was not well embraced where the Brandsma family lived and so Titus as head of their home became involved in local politics as he tried hard to preserve their culture from modern intrusion.

But also apart from politics, Titus, Anno’s father, made his living as a dairy farmer in that region of Holland, where he focused on producing milk and cheese to be sold. It was hard living with very few modern conveniences, so all the children from early on were raised with a great work ethic as well as a strong Catholic Faith.

Anno attended the Franciscan school or ‘gymnasium’ at Megen, Holland, many of the students from this school like Anno would later enter the priesthood. But Anno told others that he didn’t particularly like this school and preferred a more communal approach in living and studying Catholicism and the school’s other curricular activities.  His nickname was “de Punt”=”Shorty”.

Upon completion of his studies with the Franciscans, Anno Brandsma felt a calling to embrace the Carmelite Order; he entered the Carmelite Monastery in Boxmeer Holland in the year 1898, where he took his father’s name Titus as his religious name. From the beginning of entering the Carmelite Monastery, Titus showed an extraordinary gift for journalism and writing. Titus was ordained a Catholic priest on June 17, 1905, and after further studies at the Roman Gregorian University, graduated on October 25, 1909 with a doctorate in philosophy.  He translated the works of the mystic St Teresa of Avila into Dutch.  He was often seen working with a cigar in his mouth.

Father Titus Brandsma spent his early ministry in education where he joined the faculty of the newly founded Catholic University of Nijmegen in 1923, which he helped found. He began a speaking tour of the United States in 1935, the same year he began writing against anti-Jewish marriage laws.

With Fr. Titus’ journalistic interests and gift of writing, the Archbishop De Jong of Utrecht appointed him as spiritual advisor to the staff members of the more than thirty Catholic newspapers in Holland; this coincided with the more virulent and tyrannical presence of the Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler. It didn’t take long for Fr. Titus to begin criticizing the new German leadership.  “The Nazi movement is a black lie,” he proclaimed. “It is pagan.”

When the Germans invaded Holland in the year 1940 and began persecution of the Jews in that country, the Dutch resistance rose up to counteract the Nazi oppression. Also the Catholic hierarchy announced that the Sacraments would be refused to Catholics who supported the Nazi occupation and the Nazi regime.  Fr. Brandsma was continually followed by the Gestapo.

During this difficult and most dangerous of times, Fr. Titus Brandsma also became more involved in the Dutch resistance, making little effort to conceal his activities from the Nazis. And it was his refusal and the Church’s refusal to print National Socialist (Nazi) propaganda which infuriated the Nazis. Especially as Fr. Titus also felt compelled to personally deliver to each Catholic editor a letter from the bishops ordering them not to comply with a new law requiring them to print official Nazi publications.  It was this pastoral letter, read in all Catholic parishes in Holland, which caused the Nazis to select the first three thousand Jews deported from Holland to be those who had converted to Roman Catholicism, including St Edith Stein, aka St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

This proved to be too much provocation for the Nazis and they arrested Father Titus on January 19, 1942; Titus visited 14 editors before the Gestapo arrested him at 6 p.m. at the Boxmeer monastery. He knelt and received the blessing of his superior.  Police agents took him under guard to a prison at Scheveningen, a seaside port near The Hague. He was locked in cell 577.

“Imagine my going to jail at the age of 60,” he said to his arresting officer.

“You should not have accepted the archbishop’s commission,” was the humorless reply.

Captain Hardegen, the tall, blond, always polite officer in charge of Titus’ case, began his interrogation with the question: “Why have you disobeyed the regulations?”

“As a Catholic, I could have done nothing differently,” Titus replied.

“You are a saboteur. Your church is trying to sabotage the orders of the occupying powers, to prevent the national socialistic philosophy of life from reaching the Dutch population.”

Titus responded: “We must object to anything or any philosophy that is not in line with Catholic doctrine.”

Moved  to Amersfoort in Holland before being sent to Dachau, where he arrived on June 19, 1942.  He was abused and punished for ministering to fellow prisoners.

Father Titus Brandsma’s health was always a little fragile and he suffered periodically with kidney infections throughout the 1930’s. So the brutal conditions at Dachau quickly saw his health decline rapidly. Fr. Titus had many times to visit the camp ‘hospital’ due to his health problems.  When he could no longer work this then enabled the Nazis to use this Holy Priest for biological experiments.  When he could no longer even serve this purpose to his persecutors, he was killed.

Even though Father Titus was imprisoned at Dachau, these were not empty years, as Fr. Titus kept up his prolific abilities to write with deep and mystical meaning upon suffering, and also other holy works.  He asked fellow prisoners to pray for the salvation of their guards.

Unfortunately this Holy Priest’s health could not stand up to the brutal beatings, forced labor and the vile experiments upon his emaciated figure. Father Titus Brandsma a man and a priest of holy and courageous countenance was killed by the Nazis with a lethal injection on July 26th in 1942.  To his executioner, a doctor of the Allgemeine SS, he gave a rosary.  The doctor was assisted by a nurse who was raised Catholic, but who had left the Church.

This was a priest who lived a joy filled life even amidst the greatest evil; he is a testament to the Spirit of Love for God and his fellow man. He is a modern mystic, though many of his writings were lost during the years of the war what remained is mystical theology based on his own sufferings and that of the Church. Though he did not seek martyrdom yet he bowed with humility when it embraced him as one who is called to atone for the many. With a Christ-like love he forgave his enemies and is a shining example of love conquering evil.  Love is more than a feeling.  Love is more powerful than sin and death.

“Those who want to win the world for Christ must have the courage to come into conflict with it.” -Blessed Titus Brandsma

blessed-titus

“O Jesus, when I look on You
My love for You starts up anew,
And tells me that Your heart loves me
And You my special friend would be.

More courage I will need for sure,
But any pain I will endure,
Because it makes me like to You
And leads unto Your kingdom too.

In sorrow do I find my bliss,
For sorrow now no more is this:
Rather the path that must be trod,
That makes me one with You, my God.

Oh, leave me here alone and still,
And all around the cold and chill.
To enter here I will have none;
I weary not when I’m alone.

For, Jesus, you are at my side;
Never so close did we abide.
Stay with me, Jesus, my delight,
Your presence near makes all things right.
-Blessed Titus Brandsma, O. Carm.

God our Father,
source of life and freedom,
through your Holy Spirit you gave the Carmelite Titus Brandsma
the courage to affirm human dignity even in the midst of suffering and degrading persecution.
Grant us that same Spirit,
so that, refusing all compromise with error,
we may always and everywhere give coherent witness
to your abiding presence among us.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 4 – Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, OP, (1901-1925) – The Joy & Gift of Christian Youth

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is a saint for the modern world, and especially for the young people of our time. Born in 1901 in Turin, Italy, to a rich and politically influential family; his mother was the painter Adelaide Ametis; his father was an agnostic, the founder and editor of the liberal newspaper La Stampa, which opposed many Catholic positions, and became the Italian ambassador to Germany.

Pier Giorgio’s time on earth was short-only 24 years-but he filled it passionately with holy living. He was a model of virtue, a “man of the beatitudes,” as Pope John Paul II called him at the saint’s beatification ceremony in Rome on May 20, 1990.  A pious youth, average student, outstanding athlete and mountain climber, he was extremely popular with his peers.  He was described by friends as “an explosion of joy.” His nickname was “Terror”, due to his incessant practical jokes!  As Pier Giorgio’s sister, Luciana, says of her brother in her biography of him, “He represented the finest in Christian youth: pure, happy, enthusiastic about everything that is good and beautiful.”

To our modern world which is often burdened by cynicism and angst, Pier Giorgio’s life offers a brilliant contrast, a life rich in meaning, purpose, and peace derived from faith in God. From the earliest age, and despite two unreligious parents who misunderstood and disapproved of his piety and intense interest in Catholicism, Pier Giorgio placed Christ first in all that he did. These parental misunderstandings, which were very painful to him, persisted until the day of his sudden death of polio. However, he bore this treatment patiently, silently, and with great love.  He was especially devoted to St Catherine of Siena and St Thomas Aquinas.

Pier Giorgio prayed daily, offering, among other prayers, a daily rosary on his knees by his bedside. Often his agnostic father would find him asleep in this position. “He gave his whole self, both in prayer and in action, in service to Christ,” Luciana Frassati writes. After Pier Giorgio began to attend Jesuit school as a boy, he received a rare permission in those days to take communion daily. “Sometimes he passed whole nights in Eucharistic adoration.” For Pier Giorgio, Christ was the answer. Therefore, all of his action was oriented toward Christ and began first in contemplation of Him. With this interest in the balance of contemplation and action, it is no wonder why Pier Giorgio was drawn in 1922 at the age of 21 to the Fraternities of St. Dominic. In becoming a tertiary, Pier Giorgio chose the name “Girolamo” (Jerome) after his personal hero, Girolamo Savonarola, the fiery Dominican preacher and reformer during the Renaissance in Florence. Pier Giorgio once wrote to a friend, “I am a fervent admirer of this friar (Savonarola), who died as a saint at the stake.”

Pier Giorgio was handsome, vibrant, and natural. These attractive characteristics drew people to him. He had many good friends and he shared his faith with them with ease and openness. He engaged himself in many different apostolates. Pier Giorgio also loved sports. He was an avid outdoorsman and loved hiking, riding horses, skiing, and mountain climbing. He was never one to pass on playing a practical joke, either. He relished laughter and good humor.

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As Luciana points out, “Catholic social teaching could never remain simply a theory with [Pier Giorgio].” He set his faith concretely into action through spirited political activism during the Fascist period in World War I Italy. He lived his faith, too, through discipline with his school work, which was a tremendous cross for him as he was a poor student.  He studied mineralogy in an engineering program.  Most notably, however, Pier Giorgio (like the Dominican St. Martin de Porres) lived his faith through his constant, humble, mostly hidden service to the poorest of Turin. Although Pier Giorgio grew up in a privileged environment, he never lorded over anyone the wealth and prestige of his family. Instead, he lived simply and gave away food, money, or anything that anyone asked of him. It is suspected that he contracted from the very people to whom he was ministering in the slums the polio that would kill him.

Even as Pier Giorgio lay dying, his final week of rapid physical deterioration was an exercise in heroic virtue. His attention was turned outward toward the needs of others and he never drew attention to his anguish, especially since his own grandmother was dying at the same time he was. Pier Giorgio’s heart was surrendered completely to God’s will for him. His last concern was for the poor. On the eve of his death, with a paralyzed hand, he scribbled a message to a friend, reminding the friend not to forget the injections for Converso, a poor man Pier Giorgio had been assisting.

When news of Pier Giorgio’s death on July 4, 1925 reached the neighborhood and city, the Frassati parents, who had no idea about the generous self-donation of their young son, were astonished by the sight of thousands of people crowded outside their mansion on the day of their son’s funeral Mass and burial. The poor, the lonely, and those who had been touched by Pier Giorgio’s love and faithful example had come to pay homage to this luminous model of Christian living.

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Pier Giorgio’s mortal remains were found incorrupt in 1981 and were transferred from the family tomb in the cemetery of Pollone to the Cathedral of Turin.

Frassati Societies exist throughout the world for young people interested in the Catholic faith, often centered around high schools and colleges.  The mission of the societies is to help young people live out the Beatitudes through prayer, service, and fun.

Pier-Giorgio-Portrait

“I would like for us to pledge a pact which knows no earthly boundaries nor temporal limits:  union in prayer.” – in a letter to his friend, Isidoro Bonini, Jan 15, 1925.

“To live without a Faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for the Truth, is not living but existing.” – Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati

“Sadness ought to be banished from Catholic souls.” -Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati 

“In God’s marvelous plan, Divine Providence often uses the tiniest twigs to do good works.” -Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

“The faith given to me in baptism suggests to me surely: by yourself you will do nothing, but if you have God as the center of all your action, then you will reach the goal.” -Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

“We were quietly eating when we heard Marischa’s screams. At first I thought it was thieves, but on reaching the hall and seeing one of them about to cut the telephone wires, I immediately realized that they were the Fascists. My blood raced in my veins. I threw myself at that scoundrel shouting “rascals, cowards, assassins,” and delivered a punch.” — Excerpt from PGF’s letter to his friend Antonio Villani on June 23, 1924, describing his defense of the family home a day earlier. The incident was recounted in papers as far away as the United States.

“We went to the mountains together… There were more than twenty of us, and every time we stopped, Pier Giorgio gave us his little speeches very enthusiastically, comparing our climb in the mountains to our spiritual ascent in our faith in Christ. Even Father Bonino was amazed. He said that he, a priest, hadn’t thought of saying such sublime things to us. Pier Giorgio said, ‘Let’s climb higher and we’ll hear the voice of Christ even better!’” – Testimony of Antonio Valetto

“Pier Giorgio didn’t flee from intimacy; on the contrary, he loved, and thus he overcame the typical Biellese resistance to speaking about love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, something that is central to the Christian life. He left me with an unforgettable impression, so much so that I consider Pier Giorgio to be one of the strongest and most solid souls ever to live in Christ Jesus.” – Testimony of Lorenzo Berra, engineer

“We teased him a bit. He had trouble organizing mountain hikes that didn’t involve missing Sunday Mass, which for him was more important than anything else. This seemed a bother to those who were not so faithful to the Sunday Mass precept, but Pier Giorgio could not give in. He wasn’t a fanatic, but he would not compromise on this.” – Testimony of Carlo Enrico Galimberti, engineer

“I must say that when he prayed, it was something extraordinary. I saw him quite a few times during night-time adoration at San Secondo Church. He was enchanted with the liturgy, and it seemed that the ritual lifted him up to another world. In fact, I never saw anyone else like that boy, who was humility personified.” – Testimony of Emilio Zanzi, journalist

“I watched him in the house of God. Frassati seemed like someone else, someone unrecognizable. I would never have suspected that that young rabble-rouser who was quick to crack a joke was capable of such a radical change. He prayed with exemplary composure. He was never distracted, he remained motionless, with his arms folded, with a posture that was devout and manly at the same time. He was prayer personified, in soul and body.” – Testimony of Maria Tasca, Ph.D.

Happy Fourth of July!
Love,
Matthew

Jul 9 – St Augustine Zhao Rong & Companions, (1746-1815), Martyrs

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-please click on the image for greater detail

Christianity came to China in the 600s.  It is estimated there are twelve million Catholics in China today despite persecution, martyrdom, and suppression.  The Chinese government refuses to recognize bishops appointed by Rome, rather enforcing a state run “Church” selecting Chinese appointed bishops.  In Chinese, Catholicism is referred to as Tianzhu jiao (天主教, Lord of Heaven Religion).

Augustine was a respected highly-ranked Chinese soldier who accompanied the prisoner Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse of the Paris Foreign Mission Society to his beheading in Peking in 1815.  Augustine was so impressed by the tremendous patience and courage of Bishop John as the bishop boldly chose death over the denial of his beliefs, Augustine soon realized this man possessed an inner strength that even the greatest Chinese soldier lacked. Acting on this insight, Augustine was baptized, and soon became a diocesan priest—despite the fact he knew such an action was almost a sure sentence to a slow and painful death.

Augustine was not a priest for long, but in the short time he was, he led many youth to the faith. One of those, an 18-year-old boy named Chi Zhuzi, was flayed alive in Zhao Rong’s sight shortly before Augustine himself was tortured and killed.

His captors, many of whom knew Augustine from his Army captain days, no doubt hoped that torturing the youth in front of their former mate would lead the priest to renounce the faith for himself and his followers, so they could call the massacre off. Instead, the steadfast Chi, after having had his right arm lopped off by the Army, cried out, “Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood will tell you I’m a Christian!” Needless to say, Chi, Augustine, and all the 119 Chinese youth brought there that day in 1815 glorified God with a martyr’s death.

Augustine Zhao Rong
-please click on the image for greater detail.

Lord, you gave your martyrs, St Augustine Zhao Rong & his companions: Grace, to witness Your True Strength – Love, with their lives. Death nor torture could distract them. Grant us similar grace so that neither inconvenience nor unpopularity may distract us from witnessing to You as well in our lives.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 6 – St Maria Goretti, (1890-1902)

Realizing that teenagers sending each other nude photos of one another is now part of dating, I submit the following for your contemplation.  On February 12th of this year, the northwest Chicagoland chapter of Voice of the Faithful attended a workshop on the global exploitation of children sponsored by the Des Plaines Park District and Maryville Academy.  The workshop was presented by former Cook County detective and now international consultant on the subject Robert Hugh Farley, http://child-abuse-training-consulting.com/

Mr. Farley’s most poignant comment, I thought, was what he tells young people post facto.  They always ask him, usually in tears or near to regardless of gender, “Can you get the pictures back (from the internet, taken either by themselves or their abusers while abusing them)?”  Out of compassion, Mr. Farley always politely lies to them and says, “I’ll try.”

In my work with young people, one of the most difficult concepts to communicate to them is that in 2009, and every other time for that matter, but they are focused on the now, the concept of sin is not one of just trying to poop the party.  Rather, those behaviors we term as “sinful” are not just the truly tempting things in life, they are, but that the avoidance of sin is more than just theology and killjoy.  I guess like so much in adult life, it takes negative experience to appreciate this fact.  It certainly does and did for me.

Sin has a practical side, completely distinguishable and viewable and appreciable outside of theology.  You could, almost, disengage the two, but the logic which makes sense would be broken.  You would lose the meaning of why these behaviors with predictability have the tragic consequences they do, here and now, on this earth, in the “real” world, and then also in the next.

Sin is insidious, at least in my experience.  Always starting very small.  So small, the sinner, like me, can easily justify and dismiss it, like an annoying fly.  I’m not aware of big sinners who started big.  Everybody starts small, and if unchecked by the graces, the church would say, of the spiritual disciplines and sacraments it offers for our benefit, sin can grow very big.  The lie gets bigger.  The lie we tell ourselves and others.  Sin, in my experience, always grows by degrees until it consumes us and we forget how we got there.  We remember how small and easily we started and we realize how profoundly we have been deceived by the Prince of Lies and by ourselves.  I am always so ashamed of myself when I come to that point of realization, not how I was duped again, but how I let myself be duped again.  I wanted to be duped, and I knew better.  And I knew even as I began exactly what I was doing.  That was the temptation and the lie.  I wanted to be duped and embrace my sin = giving in to temptation.

Engaging in those behaviors us old fogey squares like me call sinful, and I am, deeply regrettably, a regular partaker, does lead to undesired and even tragic consequences.  Theology does not just go out and name every appearing pleasure in life sinful.  Those acts deemed sinful have to really earn their title, even deadly.  Sin is out of fashion from almost all homilies I have heard in my life.  We don’t want to become Jansenists, but neither should we deny the reality.

The daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer from Corinado, Ancona, Italy, Maria Goretti had no chance to go to school, never learned to read or write.  Her father died while she was still very young and her mother struggled to feed her children. When she made her First Communion not long before her death at age 12, she was one of the larger and somewhat backward members of the class.

On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it,” she cried out. “It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Maria told Alessandro she would rather die than submit.  Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger.

Maria was taken to a hospital.  Her last hours were marked with care for others:  her mother and her attacker.  She forgave Alessandro while she lay dying.

Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria, gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother.  “If my daughter can forgive him, who am I to withhold forgiveness,” she said.  Alessandro spent the remaining years of his life in a Capuchin monastery at age 88.

Devotion to Maria grew, particularly in regard to advocacy for the young and the many truly dangerous alternatives and choices they must navigate, now more than ever, and with the speed of light.  She is the patroness of youth and of rape victims.  At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.

The Church admires and honors Maria Goretti not primarily because of her strong desire not to commit sin, but primarily for her solicitude of her offender while on earth and afterwards.

I know I’m crazy, but I am already starting to form the words in my mind for “talks” with Mara, trying to discern the right age, years from now and how I might say the words she will remember in her moments of truth.  I remembered when I was offered drugs in the locker room at Middle Township High School how much my parents loved me, and the firm knowledge of that love gave me the strength to say “no” then.  I hope and trust and pray I can give Mara similar assurance of her parents’ love for her and that will give her strength in her moments of truth.


Prayer

O Saint Maria Goretti!  Who, strengthened by God’s grace, did not hesitate even at the age of twelve to shed your blood and sacrifice life itself to defend your virginal purity, look graciously on the unhappy human race which has strayed far from the path of eternal salvation. Teach us all, and especially youth, with what courage and promptitude we should flee for the love of Jesus anything that could offend Him or stain our souls with sin. Obtain for us from our Lord victory in temptation, comfort in the sorrows of life, and the grace which we earnestly beg of thee (here insert intention), and may we one day enjoy with thee the imperishable glory of Heaven. Amen.


Prayer to St Maria Goretti before a dance or party

Dear Saint Maria Goretti! The world teaches that we must please others in order to be popular. Conscience demands that I please God more than one who asks an evil thing in the name of false love. Teach me by your example to instill into others a real respect for modesty and purity. Through your powerful intercession, help me to make of this evening an occasion for helping others to become spiritually stronger. Grant that others may see in me reason to change their ways, if that be necessary, and that I may have the courage to resist any temptation to sinful conduct. Let others be led closer to Jesus and Mary by my example.

Oh Little Saint who wanted to be popular only with your Divine Master and His Blessed Mother, help me to imitate you. Amen.


Prayer Before a Date

Saint Maria Goretti! Teach me that God must be my first love and that all other love is based on Him and Him alone. Obtain for me the grace to cease toying with the occasions of sin and to remember that my body and the bodies of all in grace are temples of the Holy Spirit, destined someday for a glorious resurrection.

Through your beautiful example, teach me the value and dignity of Christian modesty. Grant that I may never be the occasion of dragging others into sin, by suggestive words or evil deeds of any kind. Through the merits of your martyrdom, obtain for me the grace to turn aside from sin, no matter what the cost, so that one day I may enjoy Heaven with you and all the other saints. Amen.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us and for all young people!  Deliver us from evil!

-the wax effigy containing the relics of St Maria Goretti at her shrine in Nettuno, Italy.
-a repentant Alessandro praying before an image of St Maria Goretti
 
Love,
Matthew

Jul 20 – St Apollinaris of Ravenna, (d. 79 AD), Bishop & Martyr

In Galatians 2:11-14, we read “And when Kephas (Peter) came to Antioch…”, where Paul rebuked him for treating Gentile converts as inferior to Jewish Christians.  

The Liber Pontificalis (9th century) mentions Peter as having served as bishop of Antioch (near modern day Antakya, Turkey, bordering northwestern Syria) for seven years and having potentially left his family in the Greek (culturally, due to the conquests of Alexander the Great) city before his journey to Rome. [Claims of direct blood lineage from Simon Peter among the old population of Antioch existed in the 1st century and continue to exist today, notably by certain Semaan families of modern-day Syria and Lebanon.]

Historians have furnished other evidence of Peter’s sojourn in Antioch.  Subsequent tradition held that Peter had been the first Patriarch (bishop) of Antioch, before departing for Rome to become Patriarch of Rome, and the first Pope, where he, like nearly all of the Apostles, except John, would suffer martyrdom.  Electii to the papacy have always had the words spoken to them after their election, “Tu es Petrus…”, as in “…you are Peter…” Mt 16:18.

In the first century AD, Apollinaris, tradition holds, accompanied Peter from Antioch to Rome.  Peter consecrated him a bishop and appointed him to proclaim the Gospel in the city of Ravenna, Italy.  Apollinaris, like the Apostles, dedicated his time to public preaching and soon won many converts to Christ.

The story goes Apollinaris’ first miracle was on behalf of the blind son of a soldier who gave him hospitality when he first arrived in the city of Ravenna. When the apostle told him of the God he had come to preach and invited him to abandon the cult of idols, the soldier replied: “Stranger, if the God you preach is as powerful as you say, beg Him to give sight to my son, and I will believe in Him.” The Saint had the child brought and made the sign of the cross on his eyes as he prayed. The miracle was instantaneous, to the great amazement of all, and news of it spread rapidly. A day or so later, a military tribune sent for him to cure his wife from a long illness, which again he did. The house of the tribune became a center of apostolic action, and several persons sent their children to the Saint to instruct them there. Little by little a flourishing Christian assembly was formed, and priests and deacons were ordained. The Saint lived in community with the two priests and two deacons.

Nobody likes competition.  The pagan priests grew angry.  They attacked Apollinaris, beat him senseless, and left him for dead on the beach. He was cared for by members of the small Christian community he had founded and recovered.

Apparently, Apollinaris was not one to take a hint, or be easily dissuaded.  A young girl whom he cured after having her father promise to allow her full liberty to follow Christ, consecrated her virginity to God.  It was after this he was arrested, interrogated, again flogged, stretched on the rack and plunged into boiling oil. Alive still, he was exiled to Illyria, east of the Adriatic Sea.

He remained three years in that country, having survived a shipwreck with only a few persons whom he converted. Then he evangelized the various districts, with the aid of his converts. When a pagan oracle ceased to speak during his sojourn in one of these regions, the pagans again beat him and threw him and his companions on a ship which took them back to Italy.  Soon imprisoned, he escaped but was seized again and subjected to another flogging.

A third time he returned to Ravenna. Again he was captured, hacked with knives, had scalding water poured over his wounds, was beaten in the mouth with stones because he persisted in preaching, and was flung into a horrible dungeon, loaded with chains, to starve to death.

He and his flock were again exiled from Ravenna during the persecutions of Emperor Vespasian.   A fourth time, he returned to Ravenna.  On his way out of the city he was identified, arrested, and martyred by being run through with a sword.

He died on July 23rd of the year 79. His body lay first at Classis, four miles from Ravenna, and a church was built over his tomb; later the relics were returned to Ravenna. Pope Honorius had a church built to honor the name of Apollinaris in Rome, about the year 630 AD.  Centuries after his death, he appeared in a vision to Saint Romuald.


Saint Apollinaris was Bishop of Ravenna for twenty-six years.

 
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-From the apse of the frescoed basilica of St Apollinaris in Ravenna, Italy
 
-remains of St Apollinaris, Ravenna, Italy
 

Meditation:
Following Jesus involves risks—sometimes the supreme risk of life itself. Martyrs are people who would rather accept the risk of death than deny the cornerstone of their whole life: faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone will die eventually—the persecutors and those persecuted. The question is what kind of a conscience people will bring before the Lord for judgment. Remembering the witness of past and present martyrs can help us make the often-small sacrifices that following Jesus today may require.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 8 – St Gregory Mary Grassi, OFM, (1833-1900) & Companions, The Martyrs of Taiyuanfu

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While China’s growing economic prowess and assumption of American manufacturing jobs may weigh heavily on our minds today, China at the turn of 19th century into the 20th was writhing under foreign occupation.

Christian missionaries have often gotten caught in the crossfire of wars against their own countries. When the governments of Britain, Germany, Russia and France forced substantial territorial concessions from the Chinese in 1898, anti-foreign sentiment grew very strong among many Chinese people. Throughout China during the Boxer Uprising, five bishops, 50 priests, two brothers, 15 sisters and 40,000 Chinese Christians were killed.

Gregory Grassi was born in Italy in 1833, ordained in 1856 and sent to China five years later. Grassi was later ordained Bishop of North Shanxi. One of the principal promoters of the Boxer movement was the governor Yu Hsien who resided at Taiyuanfu, Shansi. In this city was also the residence of the Franciscan Bishop Gregory Grassi, vicar apostolic of northern Shansi, and his coadjutor, Bishop Francis Fogolla. Here were also a seminary and an orphanage. The latter was conducted by Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary who had arrived only the previous year.


-please click on the image for greater detail

During the night of July 5, Yu Hsien’s soldiers appeared at the Franciscan mission and arrested the two bishops, two fathers and a brother, and seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. Five Chinese seminarians, and eight Chinese Christians who were employed at the mission were also apprehended. In prison they were joined by one more Chinese Christian who went there voluntarily.

Four days later, on July 9, 1900, all of them were taken before the tribunal of Yu Hsien, some of them being slashed with swords on the way. Yu Hsien ordered them to be killed on the spot, and an indescribable scene followed. The soldiers closed in on the prisoners, struck them at random with their swords, wounded them right and left, cut off their arms and legs and heads. Thus died the 26 martyrs of Taiyuanfu, of whom all except three belonged to the First Order and Third Order Regular and Secular of St. Francis. They were beatified on January 3, 1943 and elevated to sainthood by JPII on 1 Oct 2000.

A list of the Martyrs of Taiyuanfu follows:

  • Saint Gregory Grassi, bishop, who was 68 years old,
  • Saint Francis Fogolla, bishop,
  • Saint Elias Facchini, a priest from Italy,
  • Saint Theodoric Balat, a priest from France,
  • Saint Andrew Bauer, a lay brother from Alsace.

Seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, the protomartyrs (first martyrs) of their congregation and its first members to be beatified.  All were between the ages of 25 and 35:

  • Saint Mother Mary Hermine Givot from France, the superior,
  • Saint Mother Mary of Peace Giuliani from Italy,
  • Saint Mother Mary Clare Nanetti from Italy,
  • Saint Sister Mary of Ste. Natalie Kerguin from France,
  • Saint Sister Mary of St. Just Moreau from France,
  • Saint Sister Mary Amandine Jeuris from Belgium,
  • Saint Sister Mary Adolphine Dierkx from Holland.
  • Five Chinese seminarians, ages 16 through 22.
  • Nine laymen who had been employed at the episcopal residence and mission, ages 29 to 62.
  • Fourteen of the martyrs were natives of China and 12 were Europeans.

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  – Tertullian (160 – 220 AD)

Despite the evidence of this persecution and continued persecution, the 146,575 Catholics served by the Franciscans in China in 1906 would grow to 303,760 by 1924 and were served by 282 Franciscans and 174 local priests.

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-site of martyrdom

Gregory Grassi
-St Gregory Grassi

“O God, Who desires that all men be saved and come to the acknowledgement of Truth, grant, we beseech You, through the intercession of Your blessed martyrs Bishops Gregory, Francis, and Antonine (Fantosati, who was stoned to death separately), and their companions, that all nations may know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent, our Lord. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Jul 18 – St Camillus de Lellis, M.I. (1550-1614)

It would seem Camillus was going in the wrong direction from the very beginning.  Born to lose?  God writes straight with crooked lines.
At age 65, Camillus’ mother had a dream her unborn son would wear a red cross on his chest and lead others who also wore that same symbol.  Saint Camillus de Lellis was born on May 25, 1550 in Bucchianico, Italy. His mother, Camilla, was almost sixty at the time. She and her husband, Giovanni, who was of noble ancestry, had waited in vain for an heir—their only other son had died in childbirth—so when the midwife delivered a healthy baby boy, Giovanni positively leapt for joy, capering about the room. Camilla, always the sensible one, simply smiled and told her excitable spouse to act his age. A good Italian, he only gamboled the more, asking her how she could be so calm “seeing that we have such a big son we could send him to school this very day!”  Camilla would die while Camillus was still a child, when he was twelve.
Camillus’ father was an officer in both the Neapolitan and French royal armies, and so by necessity was away from home quite a bit.  Passed from extended family member to extended family member, Camillus was allowed to do pretty much as he chose.  He became a rebellious teenager and fell in with the street gangs of his time.   It is reported that, as a young man, Camillus was quite the physical specimen (6’6”) and powerfully built, towering above all others – a trait that served him well in his not so gentile surroundings.   He developed a very quarrelsome disposition.
In what seems to have been a unique departure from family tradition, Camillus was named after his mother, but in every other way he took after his father, the hot-blooded career soldier. Camilla could do nothing to keep him in line, and Giovanni was too often away from home, on campaign, to do so.
The boy repeatedly ran away from school. A tutor was hired, but could not manage him. Card playing and gambling became his passion and, eventually, an addiction. He was intelligent—known for his exceptional ability to recite poems from memory—but undisciplined and reckless. Finally, at seventeen, he went off to fight against the Turks with two of his cousins. His father, even in his old age, could not resist coming along.
As it happened, both father and son got sick on the way. Giovanni became gravely ill, received the last sacraments, and died. Camillus was left destitute, and, possibly as a result of his illness, a sore broke out on his right foot. Festering, it never healed, and became a painful, lifelong affliction.
And so he began his unhappy journey home. On the way, he chanced to meet two Franciscan friars, and, wondering at their apparent serenity and good cheer, he secretly, and perhaps rashly, vowed to become a friar himself. Going to see his uncle, who was superior of a Franciscan house in Aquila, he sought admittance to the community. The wise old man encouraged him, but said he was not yet ready to enter religious life.
After a period of convalescence at the hospital of San Giacomo in Rome, where he was eventually hired as a servant and then fired for constant quarrelling and gambling, Camillus went back to war and fought in the bitter assault on the Turkish fortress of Barbagno (on the coast of modern-day Montenegro). Returning with his pay, he immediately gambled it away, along with his cloak. So he went back to war. On a sea voyage to Naples, a storm almost took his life. This inspired him to renew his vow to become a Franciscan, but, having arrived at Naples, he once again gambled everything away, including the very shirt on his back. Reduced to utter poverty, he wandered about with a fellow soldier, Tiberio, and begged for food.
It was in this sorry state that he caught the attention of a certain Antonio di Nicastro, who offered him a job working for the Capuchins. At first, Camillus declined, perhaps because the prospect of doing manual labor was too much for his pride. Eventually, however, he reconsidered the offer, thinking this might be God’s way of allowing him to make good on his vow. But after several weeks on the job, he was so desperate to get back to his old life that he refused to wear some of the friars’ serge, offered as protection against the cold, because it was too much like donning the habit.
Maybe this was protesting too much, because very soon afterward the decisive moment came.
The Capuchins sent Camillus to fetch wine from a nearby friary. The superior there took him aside and, beneath a grape arbor, spoke to him about God and sin. He exhorted him, when tempted by evil thoughts, to “spit in the face of the devil.” Perhaps this roused the soldier’s combative spirit; certainly, the conversation roused his conscience. The next day, riding back on a mule with his cargo of wine, he could stand it no longer. He flung himself to the road and wept freely for all his sins.  Camillus later joined that same monastery; however, due to the recurring problems with his ulcerated leg, Camillus was forced to take leaves of absence and was finally dismissed.
Camillus returned home. He was never cured.  He moved into San Giacomo Hospital for the incurable, and eventually became its administrator. Repulsed by the slack, uncaring character of the attendants he encountered at San Giacomo, he sought to reform the hospital’s staff by finding people of character wishing to serve in charity. This was met with much resistance, but he also resolved with the help of his confessor, St. Phillip Neri, to receive Holy Orders, in order to more completely help the sick. Lacking education, Camillus began to study for the priesthood with children when he was 32 years old.
At thirty-two, he was as old as some of his teachers, and, at six-and-a-half feet tall, he towered over nearly all his contemporaries, especially the thirteen-year-old boys with whom he attended Latin class. They would laugh at their gigantic, bearded classmate and say, Venisti tarde! “You’ve come late!” Of course, if they had known their friend had once been a battle-hardened soldier with a violent temper, they might have spoken more respectfully. As it was, they just got an affectionate smile. Camillus devoted the rest of his life to helping the sick and was ordained in 1584.
The origin of the Red Cross symbol we are so familiar with today is the symbol in his mother’s dreams. It became the symbol for the Order of Ministers of the Sick (Fathers of a Good Death) which was founded by Saint Camillus in 1586.
The next twenty years would see great expansion of the Congregation, with 15 houses of priests and brothers, and also 8 hospitals being erected. Two major houses were established, and he oversaw the Congregation’s involvement in helping the sick on quarantined galleys in the harbor of Naples, from which several of his religious brothers died, becoming the first martyrs of charity.  Also accomplished was involvement in the wars in Croatia and Hungary, giving rise to the first military field ambulance. In 1591 Gregory XIV at last promoted the Congregation to an Order.
Camillus saw in the sick and the infirm the living image of Christ, and hoped the service he rendered them later in his life would be penance for his youthful waywardness.  During his final years, Camillus suffered from many other painful ailments, including a rupture, renal colic and stomach cramps.
St Camillus de Lellis is the patron of the sick, of hospitals, and of nurses.
“Let me begin with holy charity. It is the root of all the virtues and Camillus’ most characteristic trai
t. I can attest that he was on fire with this holy virtue – not only toward God, but also toward his fellow men, and especially toward the sick. The mere sight of the sick was enough to soften and melt his heart and make him utterly forget all the pleasures, enticements, and interests of this world.
When he was taking care of the sick, he seemed to spend and exhaust himself completely, so great was his devotion and compassion. He would have loved to take upon himself all their illness, their every affliction, could he but ease their pain and relieve their weakness. In the sick he saw the person of Christ. His reverence in their presence was as a great as if he were really and truly in the presence of his Lord.
To enkindle the enthusiasm of his religious brothers for this all-important virtue, he used to impress upon them the consoling words of Jesus Christ: “I was sick and you visited me.” He seemed to have these words truly graven on his heart, so often did he say them over and over again.
Great and all-embracing was Camillus’ charity. Not only the sick and dying, but every other needy or suffering human being found shelter in his deep and kind concern.” – from a biography of Saint Camillus by a contemporary
 

-St. Camillus de Lellis, St. Peter’s Basilica. (The book in St. Camillus’s right hand displays John 15:13: “No man has greater love than this, that he lay down his life of his friends.” It’s a fitting verse since, from the time of their founding, the Camillians have taken a fourth vow: to minister to the sick even at risk to their own lives. Indeed, during St. Camillus’s own lifetime, several of his followers died as a direct result of caring for victims of the Plague. The distinctive red cross on their habit, along with their history of caring for those afflicted by war and natural disasters, has led some to call the Camillians “the original Red Cross.”)
 

-the heart of St Camillus de Lellis
 
Love, 
Matthew

Jul 10 – St Veronica Giuliani, OSC Cap, (1660-1727) – Religious, Mystic, Stigmatist

Veronica’s desire to be like Christ crucified was answered with the stigmata.  Baptized Ursula, she was born in Mercatello in the Duchy of Urbino, Italy, in 1660.

We would think it sentimental today, but Veronica’s mother, as she lay dying while Veronica was still a child, would have understood it more practically, wanted divine protection for her five children after she was gone.  When dying Benedetta (nee Mancini) Guiliani, Veronica’s mother, she called her five daughters to her bedside and entrusted each of them to one of the five wounds of Jesus. Ursula (Veronica) was entrusted through prayer to the wound below Christ’s heart, created by the Roman soldier testing to see whether the Lord was actually dead yet, from which blood and water flowed.

It is said Ursula showed marvelous signs of sanctity from an early age.  It is recorded when eighteen months old, Ursula chastised a shopkeeper who was serving a false measure of oil, and said, saying distinctly, “Do justice, God sees you!”

Ursula took the religious name Veronica.  (A religious name is a new name those who enter consecrated/religious life often take to signify and symbolize their death, poetically and spiritually, to their former life and now the beginning of their new life dedicated to serving God.)  Ursula took the name Veronica, in honor of the Passion and the woman whom tradition (although not Scripture) holds wiped the face of Jesus as he carried His cross, and an image of the Lord’s face was left on her cloth.  Ursula entered the Poor Clares directed by the Capuchins at Citttidi Castello, Umbria, in 1677. She remained there for the rest of her life and served as novice mistress for thirty-four years.

Her father, Francesco, an official in the local government, had wanted her to marry, but she convinced him to allow her to become a nun. In her first years in the monastery, Veronica worked in the kitchen, infirmary, sacristy and served as portress. At the age of 34, she was made novice mistress, a position she held for 22 years. When she was 37, Veronica received the stigmata, literally, mystically – the wounds of Christ Himself – considered by Catholics a great honor and a sign of personal sanctity given by the Lord Himself to only a very few with whom He has a special relationship. Life was not the same after that.

In our modern times, Padre Pio (1887-1968) and Theresa Neumann (1898-1962) are two examples regularly inspected by modern doctors and theologians.  St Francis of Assisi is another historical example.   Dr. Imbert Gourbeyre, a Paris doctor, researched and compiled a two volume work which says that (up to that date of 1894) there were 321 historically recorded stigmatists. (Stigmata is no fluke or aberration of history.) The Catholic church had at that point only canonized (officially declared as saints) 62 of them.

As a mystic, recipient of a stigmata in 1697, and visions, the accounts of which are quite detailed, Church authorities in Rome wanted to test Veronica’s authenticity and so conducted an investigation.  We get the expression “devil’s advocate” from such investigations of the Church and the proceedings of canonizations.  A skilled and knowledgeable Church official is appointed to be the “prosecutor” in opposition to the claimant or representative (postulator of the cause) of the deceased holy person reputed to have direct Divine experience or heroic Christian virtue. Veronica lost the office of novice mistress temporarily and was not allowed to attend Mass except on Sundays or holy days. She submitted to many medical examinations and treatments of the day and the scorn of her peers.  She never tried to prove the reality of the wounds, merely suffering through their pain.

Through all of this Veronica did not become bitter, and the investigation eventually restored her as novice mistress. She impressed her fellow nuns by remaining remarkably practical despite her numerous ecstatic experiences. Veronica was named abbess of the convent in 1716, remaining in that role until her death.

She is called one of the most extraordinary mystics of her era. Veronica was very devoted to the Eucharist and to the Sacred Heart.   Her ten volume “Diary of the Passion” catalogues her mystical experiences.

St Veronica Giuliani is one of the “Incorruptibles”, those saints who have died but whose bodies have not decayed.

God,
You made St Veronica glorious
by the wounds
of your Passion.
Grant that we may become
more like Christ
humbly embracing our crosses,
so that we may rejoice
in His coming glory.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 13 – St Clelia Barbieri (1847-1870), Patroness of those ridiculed for their piety

Clelia Barbieri was born to Giacinta Nannetti and Giuseppe Barbieri, on February 13th, 1847 in a village called “Budrie” of San Giovanni in Persiceto, in the outskirts of Bologna, Italy.

Her parents were of very different origins: Giuseppe Barbieri came from perhaps the poorest family of “Budrie”, while Giacinta from the most important family in town. Giuseppe worked as servant for Giacinta’s uncle, the district’s medical doctor, while she was the daughter of the well-to-do Pietro Nannetti.

After their much-contested wedding, the wealthy Giacinta accepted the poverty of a laborer’s life and moved from a comfortable home to the humble cottage of her father-in-law. Giacinta taught Clelia to love God early in her life placing in her heart the desire for sanctity. One day Clelia asked her, “Mother, how can I become a saint?”

In 1855, during a cholera epidemic, the then eight-year-old Clelia lost her father and through the generosity of her uncle, the doctor, she, her mother and younger sister Ernestina moved into a more comfortable house near the parish church.

At an early age, Clelia began to spend her time in contemplative prayer.  There existed in the Church at that time a group called “The Christian Catechism Workers” who were mainly men whose aim it was to combat the prevalent religious negligence of the times.

Clelia joined the The Workers of Christian Catechism as an assistant teacher at the age of 14. She became such an inspirational leader in the community that the parish priest, Don Gaetano Guido, entrusted her with teaching and guiding young girls in Christian doctrine. By the time she was 17, she rejected marriage offers, opting instead to lead a pious life.

Clelia eventually founded a separate group, the Suore Minime dell’Addolorata (Congregation of Minims of the Sorrowful Mother) May 1st, 1868 when she was only 21. The Congregation concentrates on ministering in hospitals and elementary schools, to the sick, the aged, the lonely, and a prayer ministry for the poor.

Two years after founding the order, Clelia Barieiri died of tuberculosis on July 13th, 1870.

The religious order of Suore Minime dell’Addolorata continues to operate 35 community houses in Italy, India and Tanzania.

Being only twenty-three at the time of her death, Clelia Barbieri is the youngest founder of a religious community in the history of the Church.

After Clelia’s death, an unusual and unexplained occurrence has often been reported in the various parishes she visited and houses in which her order is located. Her voice is often heard in readings and hymns. The voice never speaks alone but is always heard as part of a group. Throughout the years, people from various backgrounds have reported hearing the voice which is described as “unlike any of this earth”. The first reported occurrence happened one year after her death when sisters of her order were in evening prayer.

Prayer for the intercession of St Clelia Barbieri:

Father, in Clelia Barbieri, You give the world an example of Gospel living, love of You, and the perfection of charity. She celebrated and manifested her love of You in the service of others.  You call us to imitate her and to follow her example.

We ask You for the grace to do so, through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew