Category Archives: Saints

Praying to saints

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, by Fra Angelico, 1423-4, The National Gallery, London, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Karlo Broussard

“We as Catholics often take great pride in what we believe—rightly so, since it is the truth. But that pride sometimes can be challenged when we dabble a bit in theology, reflecting further upon those beliefs only to discover that some of them seemingly conflict with each other.

Here is an example: Catholics believe that the saints in heaven have wills that are perfectly conformed to God’s will. We also believe that the saints intercede for us, praying to God for help on our behalf. But if the saints’ wills are perfectly conformed to God’s will, then what difference does it make whether they intercede for us? Isn’t there a contradiction here?

St. Thomas Aquinas addresses this apparent incompatibility in the Supplement to his Summa Theologiae (72:3, ad 5). Here’s one way of showing the tension:

P1: The saints conform their wills perfectly to the will of God.

C1: Therefore, the saints will only what they know God to will.

P2: Prayer necessarily involves what someone wills.

C2: Therefore, the saints pray for only what they know God to will.

P3: What God wills can be done without the saints praying for it.

C3: Therefore, the saints’ prayers are not efficacious for obtaining anything.

Aquinas accepts every step of the argument except at the end, where it jumps from premise three to conclusion three. Just because God can bring about some effect without the saints praying for it, that doesn’t automatically mean that the saints’ prayers aren’t efficacious to obtain anything.

His reason is that God could will that the prayers of the saints be the means by which he brings about an effect. In other words, God could will the saints’ prayers to be secondary causes of goodness and of help in our lives.

Aquinas appeals to Augustine as his authority on this point. Referring to the saints, he writes:

Nor is their prayer fruitless, since as Augustine says (De Praed. Sanct. [De Dono Persever. xxii]): “The prayers of the saints profit the predestinate, because it is perhaps pre-ordained that they shall be saved through the prayers of those who intercede for them”: and consequently God also wills that what the saints see him to will shall be fulfilled through their prayers.

To put it simply, God may will that some blessing not be given except through a saint’s intercessory prayer.

Perhaps we can shed further light on this by understanding that God’s providence involves willing not only certain effects to take place, but also the causes from which those effects will be brought about. That is to say, God wills a pattern of cause-effect relationships.

Now, the eternal decree that determines which causes will bring about which effects includes human acts. These actions are an essential part of God’s plan. In the words of Aquinas, they “achieve certain effects according to the order of the divine disposition” (Summa Theologiae, II-II:83:2).

Consider an example. God decreed from all eternity that I would have a fried egg for breakfast this morning. This eternal decree included the egg being produced in a way that involved my wife’s act of love to cook it for me (she’s so sweet), along with all the other ways in which a fried egg comes about: the egg is cracked, put into the frying pan, and cooked by the frying pan through the gas stove. My wife’s help, along with all the other natural processes of cooking an egg, was willed by God to be a part of the cause-effect pattern.

The same is true with intercessory prayer, whether we’re talking about the prayers of Christians on earth or in heaven. Intercessory prayer is simply one human action among many (e.g., my wife cooking the egg) that God wills to be a cause of certain effects in his divine plan.

Intercessory prayer requests from God what he has willed from eternity, to be bestowed by that intercession. As philosopher Brian Davies explains, “God may will from eternity that things should come about as things prayed for by us”—or, for our purposes, the saints.

In other words, it’s possible that God wills some events to occur only as a result of the saints’ intercession. For example, God may have eternally decreed to heal the cancer of a loved one, but only on the condition that persistent requests for a miracle be made through the intercession of a particular saint.

It doesn’t matter whether we know that the effect is conditioned by the request. The point is, it’s possible, so we make the request, hoping God wills the saints’ intercession to be a cause of the effect. If it turns out that he did not will it so, then we trust that God has good reasons for his choice. This is why Christians pray, “Thy will be done.”

But if God wills the saint’s intercession to be the cause of the desired effect, then it would be true to say the saint’s prayer made a real difference. It would have made a difference by being an essential part of the cause-effect pattern God has eternally decreed.

The real causal power that the saints’ prayers have in God’s eternal plan is not at all different from the real causal power my wife’s actions had in producing a fried egg this morning. Her help was essential for the fried egg because that is how God arranged it to be from all eternity. God has created a world in which fried eggs come to be in a specific way.

Similarly, with regard to the saints’ intercession, some events will occur only as a result of their help through intercessory prayer, because that is the specific way God has arranged things. God has created a world in such a way that our actions, including prayer, serve as real game-changers in the history of the world.

The bottom line is this: there is nothing in the saints’ conformity to the divine will that makes it incompatible with the saints’ intercessory prayer being an effective help in our lives. Their petitions are arranged by God to be part and parcel of his divine plan—a great honor God bestows upon them as real causes of good for others. And that’s a belief that we can rejoice in!”

Love,
Matthew

Jun 23 – 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia (d. 302 AD)


-from the Menologion of Basil II, 985 AD, among the martyrs were Glycerius, Zeno, Theophilus, Dorotheus, Mardonius, Migdonius, Indes, Gorgonius, Peter, Euthymius, and the virgins Agape, Domna, and Theophila, please click on the image for greater detail

This event took place when the emperor Maximian (284-305) returned with victory over Ethiopians in 304 AD. The Christians of Nicomedia refused to sacrifice to Roman pagan idols during Christmas Mass in order to thank false pagan gods for the victory the Emperor had acquired. Later Maximian and his soldiers entered the church and told the Christians they could escape punishment if they renounced Christ. The Christian priest Glycerius answered that the Christians would never “renounce their faith, even under the threat of torture”. Maximian ordered him to be burned to death. Those who had not been burned in the church were captured and tortured to death. The bishop Anthimos who had escaped burning in the church was captured and beheaded.

In the Roman Martyrology of the Roman Catholic Church, there are separate entries for groups of martyrs of Nicomedia. The martyrdom of Anthimus of Nicomedia and companions is commemorated on 24 April and “the commemoration of many holy martyrs of Nicomedia” on June 23.

At the beginning of the fourth century the emperor Maximian (284-305 AD) gave orders to destroy Christian churches, to burn service books, and to deprive all Christians of rights and privileges of citizenship. At this time the bishop of the city of Nicomedia was Saint Cyril, who by his preaching and life contributed to the spread of Christianity, so that many members of the emperor’s court were also secret Christians.

The pagan priestess Domna was living in the palace at that time. Providentially, she obtained a copy of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Saint Paul. Her heart burned with the desire to learn more about the Christian teaching. With the help of a young Christian girl, Domna went secretly to Bishop Anthimus (Cyril’s successor) with her faithful servant, the eunuch Indes. Saint Anthimus catechized them, and both received holy Baptism.

Domna began to help the poor: she gave away her valuables with the assistance of Indes, and she also distributed food from the imperial kitchen. The chief eunuch, who was in charge of provisions for the imperial household, found out that Domna and Indes were not eating the food sent them from the emperor’s table. He had them beaten in order to find out why they did not partake of the food, but they remained silent. Another eunuch informed him that the saints were distributing all the emperor’s gifts to the poor. He locked them up in prison to exhaust them with hunger, but they received support from an angel and did not suffer. Saint Domna feigned insanity so she wouldn’t have to live among the pagans. Then she and Indes managed to leave the court, and she went to a women’s monastery. Abbess Agatha quickly dressed her in men’s clothing, cut her hair and sent her off from the monastery.

During this time the emperor returned from battle and ordered that a search be made for the former pagan priestess Domna. The soldiers sent for this purpose found the monastery and destroyed it. The sisters were thrown into prison, subjected to torture and abuse, but not one of them suffered defilement. Sent to a house of iniquity, Saint Theophila was able to preserve her virginity with the help of an angel of the Lord. The angel led her from the brothel and brought her to the cathedral.

At this time the emperor cleared the city square to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. When they began sprinkling the crowd with the blood of the sacrificial animals, Christians started to leave the square. Seeing this, the emperor became enraged, but in the middle of his rantings a great thunderstorm sprang up. People fled in panic, and the emperor had to retreat to the palace for his own safety.

Later Maximian went to the church with soldiers and told them they could escape punishment if they renounced Christ. Otherwise, he promised to burn the church and those in it. The Christian presbyter Glycerius told him that Christians would never renounce their faith, even under the threat of torture. Hiding his anger, the emperor exited the church, and a short time later commanded the presbyter Glycerius be arrested for trial. The executioners tortured the martyr, who did not cease to pray and to call on the Name of the Lord. Unable to force Saint Glycerius stop confessing Christ, Maximian ordered him to be burned to death.

On the Feast of the Nativity of Christ in the year 302, when about 20,000 Christians had assembled at the cathedral in Nicomedia, the emperor sent a herald into the church. He told the Christians that soldiers were surrounding the building, and that anyone who wished to leave had to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Anyone who defied the emperor would perish when the soldiers set fire to the church. All those present refused to worship the idols.

As the pagans prepared to set fire to the church, Bishop Anthimus, baptized all the catechumens and communed everyone with the Holy Mysteries. All 20,000 of those praying died in the fire. Among them were the abbess Agatha and Saint Theophila who had been saved from the den of iniquity by a miracle. Bishop Anthimus, however, managed to escape the fire.

Maximian thought that he had exterminated all the Christians of Nicomedia. He soon learned that there were many more, and that they would confess their faith and were prepared to die for Christ. The emperor wondered how to deal with them. At his command they arrested the regimental commander Zeno, who was openly criticizing the emperor for his impiety and cruelty. Zeno was fiercely beaten and finally beheaded. They jailed the eunuch Indes, formerly a priest of the idols, for refusing to participate in a pagan festival.

The persecution against Christians continued. Dorotheus, Mardonius, Migdonius the deacon and others were thrown into prison. Bishop Anthimus encouraged them by sending letters to them. One of the messengers, the Deacon Theophilus, was captured. They subjected him to torture, trying to learn where the bishop was hiding. The holy martyr endured everything, while revealing nothing. Then they executed him and also those whom the bishop had addressed in his letter. Though they were executed in different ways, they all showed the same courage and received their crowns from God.

For weeks, Saint Domna concealed herself within a cave and sustained herself by eating plants. When she returned to the city, she wept for a long time at the ruins of the church, regretting that she was not found worthy to die with the others. That night she went the sea shore. At that moment fishermen pulled the bodies of the martyrs Indes, Gorgonius and Peter from the water in their nets.

Saint Domna was still dressed in men’s clothing, and she helped the fishermen to draw in their nets. They left her the bodies of the martyrs. With reverence she looked after the holy relics and wept over them, especially over the body of her spiritual friend, the Martyr Indes.

After giving them an honorable burial, she did not depart from these graves so dear to her heart. Each day she burned incense before them, sprinkling them with fragrant oils. When the emperor was told of an unknown youth who offered incense at the graves of executed Christians, he gave orders to behead the youth. The Martyr Euthymius was also executed along with Domna.

Apolytikion of 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia
Second Tone
Blessed is the earth that drank your blood, O prizewinners of the Lord, and holy are the tabernacles that received your spirit; for in the stadium ye triumphed over the enemy, and ye proclaimed Christ with boldness. Beseech Him, we pray, since He is good, to save our souls.

Kontakion of 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia
First Tone
A twenty-thousand numbered battalion of Martyrs ariseth like an unwaning star great with brightness, enlight’ning by faith the hearts and the minds of all godly folk. For, enkindled with divine love unto the Master, this courageous host received a sanctified ending when eagerly burned with fire.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 25 – St Anastasia of Smirmium, Serbia (281-304 AD) – Martyr, Deliverer of Potions, the Healer, “Nobis quoque peccatoribus”


-please click on the image for greater detail

“To us sinners, also, your servants, who hope in Your many mercies, deign to grant some share and fellowship with Your holy Apostles and Martyrs: John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and all Your Saints.”
-from the Roman Canon of the Mass

Prior to Vatican II, the commemoration Mass for the feast of Saint Anastasia takes place at the second Mass of Christmas, the Mass at Dawn (Introit Lux fulgebit). One might think: This is Christmas, one of the principal feasts of the liturgical year — no time for thinking about saints! And yet, we have here a gentle, persistent reminder that if our Lord Jesus Christ is “the light [that] shall shine upon us this day,” the saints are the garment of light He wears about Him, the radiant beams that shine from His holy face. We are reminded, too, that we are members of a family in which our Lord is the firstborn of many brethren, and that we need our older brothers and sisters to pray for us as we approach so bright and burning a light.


-please click on the image for greater detail


-scale model of Smirmium, Pannonia Secunda (Serbia), late 3rd century AD, please click on the image for greater detail


-Great Martyr Anastasia, the Deliverer from Potions (Byzantine icon, 14th-15th century, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia), please click on the image for greater detail

The basilica of Sant’Anastasia al Palatino in Rome was built in the late 3rd century – early 4th century, possibly by a Roman woman named Anastasia. Later the church was entitled to the martyr with the same name, Anastasia of Sirmium. Anastasia is called the deliverer of potions and healer due to her intercessions are credited with the protection of the faithful from poison and other harmful substances.

In the 5th century, the relics of St Anastasia were transferred to Constantinople, where a church was built and dedicated to her. Later, the relics, including her skull, were transferred to the Monastery of St. Anastasia the Pharmokolitria, Chalkidiki of Greece, near Mount Athos. In 2012, the relics were stolen and have not been recovered.

St. Anastasia, also known as Anastasia of Sirmium and Anastasia the Pharmakolytria or “Deliverer from Potions,” is a Christian saint and martyr who suffered for Christ during the time of Diocletian’s Christian persecutions. She is one of the seven women commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.  She is called deliverer of potions since she traveled from city to city caring for Christian prisoners which is how she came to Smirmium.

Anastasia was from Rome and belonged to a wealthy family. Her father Praepextatus was a Pagan but her mother Fausta, was Christian. Anastasia was born around 280 AD. She was known to be beautiful and virtuous in every way. Without the knowledge of her father, her mother baptized her, when she was an infant. Fausta secretly educated Anastasia to follow the path of Christianity and was raised with Christian values.

When her mother passed away, Anastasia’s father got her married to Publius Patricius, who was also a pagan. Publius was a loving husband to Anastasia until he discovered that she believed in Christ. During the persecutions of Diocletian, the husband tortured her and confined her to the house as a slave. Even though she was tormented, she was delighted that she could suffer in the name of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, she had to tolerate these abuses for only a short period of time, as Publius soon drowned to his death.

Anastasia became a young widow after Publius’s death and she never remarried. She distributed her property to those less fortunate and suffering. Anastasia spent her time traveling from city to city helping the poor, treating the sick and provided the prisoners with whatever they needed every day. She would clean the wounds of injured people and would provide solace to those who were in agony. She was so gifted that she could heal and save many from the ill-effects of potions, evil spells, poisons and other dangerous elements through her interventions and prayers. She was given the title “Deliverer from Potions,” because she would often heal many from the effects of poisons and potions.

Anastasia was arrested in Illyricum and taken to the prefect of the district for being Christian. He tried to persuade her to deny her faith and threatened her with torture. Anastasia could not be swayed, so she was given to the pagan priest Ulpian in Rome. He presented her with the choice between riches or suffering, luxuries or torture devices. She chose torture.

He gave her three days to reconsider. Enamored by her beauty, Ulpian decided he would defile her purity. However, once he went to touch her he was struck blind and his head burst into extreme pain. On his way to his pagan temple, he fell and died.


-please click on the image for greater detail

St. Anastasia, now free, set out to care for imprisoned Christians, along with Theodota, a pious young widow and faithful helper. The news of her good deeds and the miracles that she performed spread far and wide. She became so reputed in such short time that she was arrested under the persecutions of Diocletian, the Roman Emperor. After her companion, Theodota was martyred, Anastasia was ordered death by starvation and was starved for 60 days. But she was not harmed. It is said the martyred Theodota visited her and fed her during this time.

The judge then decided the prisoners, including Anastasia and Eutychianus, would be killed by drowning. They all entered a boat with holes in the base, but St. Theodota appeared to them and steered the boat to shore. Once they landed, Anastasia and Eutychianus baptized 120 men.

Following yet another escape, Anastasia was taken to the island of Palmaria. She was staked to the ground with her arms and legs stretched out and burned alive. She died in 304 AD.  “Anastasis” is Greek for Resurrection.

O holy saint Anastasia, healer and minister to captives, who did suffer greatly as a martyr while relieving the suffering of the poor and the sick, pray for us who are ill in soul and in body. Relieve us by your intercessions from the illnesses of our minds, from all evil temptation that seeks to disturb us, and from the suffering of our many afflictions. We ask these things boldly of you as you boldly approach the throne of our Lord Jesus Christ Who alone is the Healer and Lover of Mankind. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 24 – Christmas Midnight Mass Sermon by St Francis de Sales


-Adoration of the Shepherds by Dutch painter Matthias Stomer, 1632, please click on the image for greater detail

“Among the solemnities of Holy Church there are three which have been celebrated at all times and which have their original source in that great feast of Passover which was observed in the Old Law.

These three feasts are all called Pasch, or Passage, or Passover (Ex. 12:11). Today’s feast was instituted to commemorate Our Lord’s passage from His Divinity to our humanity.

The second passage is that from His Passion and death to His Resurrection, His passage from mortality to immortality, which we celebrate all during Holy Week and at Easter.

The third passage is celebrated at Pentecost, the day on which Our Lord adopted the Gentiles (Cf. Acts 2:17, 39) and permitted them to pass from infidelity to the happiness of becoming His well-beloved children, the greatest happiness possible for the Church. All these feasts find their source in today’s mystery.

But you may say at this point that it is not usual to preach at night. And I reply that it was indeed the custom in the primitive church, while it was in its first flower and vigor.

St. Gregory bears witness to this in his homily for this day. The early Christians even said the three nocturns of Matins separately, rising three times during the night for this purpose.

Moreover, they went to choir seven times a day to recite the Office, thereby fulfilling verse 164 of Psalm 118 (119). St. Augustine says that they even preached three times on this feast: first at Midnight Mass, then at the Mass, and finally at the Mass during the day.

So great was the fervor of those early Christians that nothing wearied them. The least among them was of grater value than the best of religious of today.

We have become so cold since those early days that we must now shorten the Mass, the Office, and sermons.

But this is not to the point. Rather, I intend to speak to you first of which the Church sets before us this day, and then of what we should hope for and do in light of this faith.

If I do not finish all that I want to say I shall do so later in the day, if God gives us the time.

Before beginning my discourse I wish to remind you that I like to use analogies when I preach. I will do so here, too.

Now in all that we do or plan, if we are wise we keep its purpose or goal in mind (Ecclus. [Sir.] 7:40 [36]), for we should have one.

For example, if someone intends to build a house or a palace he must first consider whether it is to be a lodging for a vine-dresser or peasant or if it is for a lord, since obviously he would use entirely different plans depending on the rank of the person who is to live there.

Now the Eternal Father did just that when He build this world. He intended to create it for the Incarnation of His Son, the Eternal Word.

The end or goal of His work was thus its beginning, for Divine Wisdom had foreseen from all eternity that His Word would assume our nature in coming to earth.

This was His intent even before Lucifer and the world were created and our first parents sinned.

Our true and certain tradition holds that sixteen hundred twenty-two years ago Our Lord came to this world and, in assuming our nature, became man.

Thus we are celebrating the Savior’s birth on earth. But before speaking of that birth let us say something of the Word’s divine and eternal birth.

The Father eternally begets His Son, who is like Him and co-eternal with Him. He had no beginning, being in all things equal to His Father.

Yet we speak of the son being born for us from the Father’s bosom, from His substance, as we speak of the rays coming forth from the bosom of the sun, even though the sun and its rays are but one and the same substance.

We are forced to speak thus, recognizing the inadequacy of our words. Were we angels we would be able to speak of God in a far more adequate and excellent way.

Alas, we are only a little dust, children who really do not know what we are talking about. The Son then, begotten of the Father, proceeds from the Father without occupying any other place.

He is born in Heaven of His Father, without a mother. As sole origin of the Most Blessed Trinity the Father remains the Virgin of virgins.

On earth the Son is born of His Mother, Our Lady, without a father. Let us say a word about these two births, for which we have true and certain proofs, as I said a while ago.

The Evangelist (Lk. 1:35) assures us that the Divine Word became flesh in the most holy Virgin’s womb when the angel announced to her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her.

This is not, of course, to say that in Jesus Christ there are two persons.

In the hypostatic union, the Word became flesh is true God and true man, and this without any separation, from the moment of His Conception.

Some examples may help. Naturalists tell us that honey is made of a certain gum called “manna,” which falls from the sky, and unites or mixes with flowers which in turn draw their substance from the earth.

In joining together, these two substances result in the one honey. In our Lord and Master, Divinity has similarly united our nature with His own, and God has made us sharers of the Divine nature in some fashion (2 Peter 1:4), for He was made man like us (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 4:15).

Note that there is a difference between honey collected from thyme and all other kinds. It is much more excellent than that called heraclean, which is made from the aconite and other flowers.

As soon as we taste it we recognize that it is form thyme, because it is both bitter and sweet. Heraclean honey, on the other hand, causes death.

It is similar with Our Lord’s sacred humanity. Springing from Mary’s virginal soil, His humanity is very different from ours, which is wholly tainted by corruption and sin.

Indeed, because the Eternal Father willed His only-begotten Son to be the Head and absolute Lord of all creatures (Col. 1:15–18), He willed that the most holy Virgin should be the most excellent of all creatures, since He had chosen her from all eternity to be the Mother of His Divine Son.

In truth, Mary’s sacred womb was a mystical hive in which the Holy Spirit formed this honeycomb wither most pure blood.

Further, the Word created Mary and was born of her, just as the bee makes honey and honey the bee, for one never sees a bee without honey nor honey without a bee.

At His birth we have very clear proofs of Our Lord’s Divinity. Angels descend from Heaven and announce to the shepherds that a Savior is born (Luke 2:8–14) to them. Magi come to adore Him (Matt. 2:1–11).

This clearly shows us that He was more than man, just as, on the contrary, His moaning as He lies in His manger shivering from the cold shows us that He was truly man.

Let us consider the Eternal Father’s goodness. Had He so desired He could have created His Son’s humanity as He did that of our first parents, or even given Him an angelic nature, for it was in His power to do so.

Had he willed to do so Our Lord would not have been of our nature. We would not then have had any alliance with Him.

But His goodness was such that He made Himself our brother in order that He might both give us an example (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11–17) and render us sharers in His glory.

It was for this reason that He willed to be of Abraham’s seed, for the most holy Virgin was indeed of Abraham’s race, for it is said of her: Abraham and his seed (Lk. 1:55; Rom. 1:3; Gal. 3:16).

I leave you at the feet of this blessed Mother and Child so that, like little bees, you may gather the milk and honey that flow from these holy mysteries and her chaste breasts, while waiting for me to continue, if God grants us the grace and gives us the time. I beg Him to bless us with His benediction. Amen.”

The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Advent and Christmas, pp. 82–86.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 23 – Sts Victoria, Anatolia & Audax (d. 250 AD) – Virgins, Roman Soldier & Martyrs


-Victoria and Anatolia are portrayed amongst the mosaic Procession of Virgins in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, 22 martyrs shown offering their crowns of martyrdom to the Christ, between Saints Paulina and Christina.. Originally a heretical Arian church, erected by the Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great as his palace chapel during the first quarter of the 6th century (as attested to in the Liber Pontificalis). This Arian church was originally dedicated in 504 AD to “Christ the Redeemer”. It was reconsecrated in 561 AD, under the rule of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, under the new name “Sanctus Martinus in Coelo Aureo” (“Saint Martin in Golden Heaven”). Suppressing the Arian church, the church was dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, a foe of Arianism.The basilica was renamed again in 856 AD when relics of Saint Apollinaris were transferred from the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, please click on the image for greater detail.

A Christian noblewoman from Rome during the reign of Emperor Trajanus Decius, Anatolia together with her sister, Victoria, were forced into arranged marriages with two pagan noblemen. Wishing to devote herself entirely to Christ, Anatolia refused to marry her suitor, Titus Aurelius. Aurelius asked her sister, Victoria, to plead his case. Saint Victoria was initially content with marrying the pagan as she hope that she would be able to convert him. But Victoria was converted to her sister’s Christian views on virginity and broke off her engagement to her fiancé, Eugenius.

The two suitors then seized the girls and attempted to starve them into submission in order to break their faith and convince them to marry. Instead of weakening, their faith in Christ became more resolute. While under house arrest they sold all of their belongings, gave their money to the poor, and converted the servants and guards who attended them to Christianity. Finally, they were denounced as Christians.

Anatolia was killed at “Thora” (identified with present-day Sant’Anatolia di Borgorose). Her legend states that she was at first locked up with a poisonous snake. The snake refused to bite her, and a soldier named Audax was sent into her cell to kill her. The snake attacked him instead, but Anatolia saved him from the snake. Impressed by her example, he converted to Christianity and was martyred by the sword with her.

Saint Victoria’s suitor get’s word of what happened and therefore continues to try his best to convince Saint Victoria to change her mind. He goes through periods of great kindness towards her followed with periods of extreme ill-treatment for years. Finally frustrated, St. Victoria was stabbed through the heart at the request of her rejected suitor, Eugenius, at Trebula Mutuesca (today Monteleone Sabino).  It is recorded elsewhere, it was Egenius himself who was her executioner.  Her executioner was immediately struck with leprosy and died six days later and was eaten by worms.  Iconography in medallions honoring St Victoria often show a knife recalling the method of her martyrdom.

Due to the translation of their relics, their cult spread across Italy. Some relics of Saint Victoria were transferred in 827 AD by Abbot Peter of Farfa from the Abbey to Mount Matenano in the Picene area (roughly the south of Le Marche) because the Abbey was besieged by Saracens. The town of Santa Vittoria in Matenano is named after her. Ratfredus, a later Abbot of Farfa, brought the body from Farfa to Santa Vittoria in Matenano on 20 June 931 AD.


-the Abbey at Farfa, please click on the image for greater detail

The bodies of Anatolia and Audax were transferred by Abbot Leo to Subiaco around 950. At an unknown date, a scapula of Anatolia was translated to the present-day Sant’Anatolia di Borgorose and an arm of the saint was translated to the present-day Esanatoglia. The bodies of Anatolia and Audax still rest at Subiaco in the basilica of Santa Scholastica, under the altar of the sacrament. A simulacrum and other relics of Saint Victoria are currently on display at the Santa Maria della Vittoria church in Rome.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Ireland also claims to hold St Victoria’s body, preserved in wax, along with a chalice containing some of her blood. These were sent to Kilkenny in 1845 by Pope Gregory XVI.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 22 – St Zeno (Zenon/Zinon) of Nicomedia (d. 302 AD) – Martyr


-please click on the image for greater detail

Zeno of Nicomedia, Bithynia (modern day Izmit, Turkey) was a Roman soldier and commander living during the reign of Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. During their fierce persecution of the Church they were condemning many Christians to death, including any soldiers who professed faith in Jesus Christ. In Nicomedia alone, as many as 20,000 Christians were burned alive as they gathered inside a cathedral on Christmas Day. Standing nearby when the Emperor was offering a sacrifice to a the goddess Ceres, St. Zeno, a Christian, mocked his devotion to a soulless god. St. Zeno was immediately seized and his jaw shattered for speaking out. He was beheaded, giving him the martyr’s crown along with his sons, Concordius and Theodore.


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Love,
Matthew

Jul 31 – St John Colombino (1300-1367) – Spiritual Reading


-St John of Colombino, please click on the image for greater detail

Great saints were made through the reading of spiritual books! In the 1300s, an Italian merchant named John Colombino was rich, short-tempered, unhappily married, led a worldly, covetuous, and an irreligious life.  He went home one day from the warehouse more hungry than usual; and because his dinner was a little delayed, he lost his temper and abused both his wife and servant, saying he was in a hurry to go back to his counting-house. He began to rage at her, but she responded by saying,  “You have too much money and spend too little, John, why are you putting yourself out in this way? While I get things ready, take this book and read a little;” so saying, she gave him a volume containing the Lives of the Saints.

John, somewhat nettled, threw the book on the floor, saying, “All this is just fairy tales!” and went to sulk in the corner. But as dinner was delayed even longer, out of boredom he picked up the book and began to read the life of a saint. He was immediately drawn in, and in a couple minutes when dinner was ready, his wife called him but he responded, “No, no, let me finish reading.”


-Russian icon of St. Mary of Egypt, 18th century, Kuopio Orthodox Church Museum, please click on the image for greater detail

St Mary of Egypt

Saint Mary of Egypt (344-421 AD) was born in the Province of Egypt, and at the age of twelve she ran away from her parents to the city of Alexandria. Here she lived an extremely dissolute life. She often refused the money offered for her sexual favors, as she was driven “by an insatiable and an irrepressible passion”, and that she mainly lived by begging, supplemented by spinning flax.

After seventeen years of this lifestyle, she traveled to Jerusalem for the Great Feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. She undertook the journey as a sort of “anti-pilgrimage”, stating that she hoped to find in the pilgrim crowds at Jerusalem even more partners in her lust. She paid for her passage by offering sexual favors to other pilgrims, and she continued her habitual lifestyle for a short time in Jerusalem. When she tried to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the celebration, she was barred from doing so by an unseen force. Realizing that this was because of her impurity, she was struck with remorse, and upon seeing an icon of the Virgin Mary outside the church, she prayed for forgiveness and promised to give up the world. Then she attempted again to enter the church, and this time was permitted in. After venerating the relic of the true cross, she returned to the icon to give thanks, and heard a voice telling her, “If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest.” She immediately went to the monastery of Saint John the Baptist on the bank of the River Jordan, where she received absolution and afterwards Holy Communion. The next morning, she crossed the Jordan and retired to the desert to live the rest of her life as a hermit in penitence. She took with her only three loaves of bread, and once they were gone, lived only on what she could find in the wilderness.


-The Temple of Portunus, Rome, was preserved by being rededicated to Santa Maria Egiziaca in 872.

There are a number of churches or chapels dedicated to Saint Mary of Egypt, among them:

”You think of nothing but legends; I have the warehouse to go to.” Presently however his conscience began to prick him; he took the book from the ground, and opening it, lighted upon the life of St. Mary of Egypt. Shortly afterwards his wife called him to dinner: “wait awhile,” replied John, forgetting his hunger; and on he went. The legend was long, but, as his biographer observes, there was a celestial melody in it: time sped, his wife looked at him; John was still reading, and what was more, grace was working. There was conversion in the legend of the penitent of Egypt; the story softened his heart; it was his thought by day, and his dream by night; the churlish Giovanni began to give alms, and always just double of what was asked of him; and to that reading was owing the outburst of the love of God which the Blessed Giovanni spread with his “Poor Sheep of Jesus,” the Gesuati, from one end of Italy to the other, from the Pope at Viterbo down to the swine-herd of Sienna. He visited hospitals, tended the sick, and made large donations to the poor. After illness, he made his house the refuge of the needy and the suffering, washing their feet with his own hands. The name Jesuati was given to Colombini and his disciples from the habit of calling loudly on the name of Jesus at the beginning and end of their ecstatic sermons. The senate banished Colombini from Siena for “imparting foolish ideas to the young men of the city”, and he continued his mission in Arezzo and other places, only to be honourably recalled home on the outbreak of the bubonic plague. He was then dedicated to nursing and burying the victims of the rampant bubonic plague.

St John of Colombino, pray for us, that we may be changed in the way you were!!

I know my Redeemer Lives!!! (Job 19:25-27)

Love,
Matthew

Nov 22- St Cecilia (~200-230 AD) – Virgin & Martyr, Incorruptible, Heavenly Music


-“Saint Cecilia and an Angel”, c. 1617/1618 and c. 1621/1627, oil on canvas, overall: 87.5 x 108 cm (34 7/16 x 42 1/2 in.), framed: 109.9 x 130.2 x 6.4 cm (43 1/4 x 51 1/4 x 2 1/2 in.), Orazio Gentileschi (painter) Florentine, 1563 – 1639, National Gallery, Washington, DC, for greater detail, please click on the image.


-by Mariella Hunt

“The Psalms are songs that praise God or ask Him for protection. Historically, His people have faced great trials for not following the world and its corrupt ways. Many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 23, are so beloved that they are still used as prayers.

Music is the cry of the heart. It expresses sorrow, love, or anger. To this day, ancient hymns are used in traditional churches to express the soul’s longing for union with God.

Ritual and tradition are often criticized, but even secular listeners cannot deny the beauty of these hymns.


-Saints Cecilia, Valerian, and Tiburtius by Botticini, for greater detail, please click on the image.

Heavenly Song

Saint Cecilia is the Patron Saint of music in the Roman Catholic Church. She is patroness of music because it is said that she heard heavenly song in her heart. She might not have played the piano, though works of art often depict her doing so. Nonetheless, musicians ask for her intercession.

Cecilia came from a wealthy Roman family. Despite her fortune, she devoted her life to prayer. She was in love with Christ, and the privileges of wealth and status could not distract her from the ultimate goal of Heaven.

When she was given in marriage to a young man named Valerian, this did not change her mind. It was during the wedding ceremony that she heard the heavenly music. I imagine this music gave her the strength to be faithful to the promise she had made to God.


-“The Martyrdom of St Cecilia” by Carlo Saraceni (c. 1610), for greater detail, please click on the image for greater detail.

The Virgin Bride

Cecilia had made a vow of virginity earlier in life, and marriage would not change her mind. She hadn’t forgotten the promise that she had made to the Lord; instead, she decided to tell the man she had married that she was already taken — mind, soul, and body.

Marvel at this woman’s bravery! Forced to marry a mortal man, she could not be made to renounce her vow. Presumably on the night of her wedding, she told her husband that she was promised to Jesus.

Another man might have laughed at her or beaten her; Cecilia was blessed, for Valerian instead listened with interest. When Cecilia warned him that an angel was guarding her, he asked if he could also see this angel. Cecilia told him to go and be baptized. After his baptism, his eyes would be opened.

Instead of turning her in to the Prefect who was persecuting Christians, or even laughing at her words, Valerian went to be baptized.


-“The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia” by Raphael, please click on the image for greater detail.

A Holy Partnership

Valerian returned from his baptism and found Cecilia deep in prayer. By her side stood an angel guarding her. The angel crowned her with a wreath of roses and lilies, a sign of her favor with God.

After this, Valerian underwent a great conversion. He understood that the God of the Christians was real. He also accepted that the woman he had been given in marriage was holy. He did not touch her, allowing her to maintain her vow of virginity. Instead, he went out to serve the Lord; so many believers were being martyred that he felt the need to do something.

Valerian took the bodies of these holy martyrs and gave them proper burials. His brother, Tibertius, saw his brother’s joy in the Lord; he wanted to know the source, so we must assume that Valerian preached to him. Tibertius, too, was baptized. He joined his brother, burying martyrs in the dead of night.


-“Saint Cecilia” by Simon Vouet (1590–1649), circa 1626, oil on canvas, Height: 134.1 cm (52.7 in); Width: 98.2 cm (38.6 in), Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin, please click on the image for greater detail

Death Has Lost His Sting

Meanwhile, Cecilia preached the Gospel, converting thousands of people to Christianity.

When the Romans found out about this, she was arrested and put to trial. When she refused to renounce Jesus, she was condemned to be suffocated in the baths — but despite the heat, she did not sweat. Perhaps it was her angel protecting her.

When the prefect was told of this woman’s survival, he was enraged. Instead of recognizing Cecilia’s holiness, he ordered for her a quicker death: decapitation. This did not go as planned, either; the executioner struck her once, twice, three times, but was not successful.

Baffled, he left her bleeding. Cecilia lay dying in a pool of her own blood for three days. When she died on the third day, she was buried by Pope Urban and his deacons.

We Hear Heavenly Music

St. Cecilia’s unwavering love for Jesus, as well as her bravery in the face of persecution, make her one of the most beloved Saints. Her story teaches us to be faithful to the Truth when the world challenges our Faith.

She teaches us that Jesus was our first love, and He must remain so, no matter what it might cost us.

In 1599, officials exhumed her body and found her to be incorrupt. God had preserved her beauty as she had been on the day of her burial. It is said that her body exuded the fragrance of flowers; this is a sign of holiness.

Sing Like St. Cecilia

No love is greater than the love that Jesus feels for His people. When we choose to love Him back, choosing Him over popularity and comfort, we will receive great graces in return.

St. Cecilia’s story is proof that His love is worth it. It will preserve you from eternal death. As for Valerian’s task, a heart set on Jesus will make us restless to serve Him with love. When others see us serving Him, they might ask what we are doing — and be called by the Holy Spirit to join us.

Do not be ashamed to speak His name, under any circumstance; there is no other like it.”

Love,
Matthew

Nov 15 – St Albert the Great, OP (1206-1280) – Light of Science, Light of Religion

In a 1988 letter to the Rev. George V. Coyne, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory, His Holiness Pope St John Paul II wrote, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.” 

The Gold Mass, which follows in the tradition of special Masses for members of different professions, was selected because gold is the color of the hoods worn by individuals graduating with a Ph.D. in science. It is also the color associated with the patron saint of scientists St. Albert the Great.

The first Gold Mass for scientists and engineers was held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Nov. 15, 2016.


-by Kevin Vost, Psy. D.

The proper roles and relative importance of faith and reason have been pondered and argued across the centuries. In our day, the debate is often cast in the form of religion (faith) and science (reason), with an underlying assumption that the issue boils down to religion versus science, and we really need to take sides, either clinging to outdated “religious superstition” or progressing with the times to “follow the science.”

Pope St. John Paul summed up the extremes of this false dichotomy in his encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) in 1998 using the terms fideism (from the Latin fides for faith) and scientism. Fideism, embodied by some of our Protestant brethren, “fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God” (50). We see this most commonly in Biblicism, which makes the Bible “the sole criterion of truth.” Scientism, embodied by many modern atheists and agnostics, is “the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical, and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy” (88).

John Paul knew well that St. Thomas Aquinas made clear in the thirteenth century, as he put it in the Summa Contra Gentiles, that “there exists a twofold truth concerning the divine being.” One kind of truth is accessible through reason, and the other is obtained through God’s direct revelation. Indeed, one nice metaphor casts such truths as written in two books—the book of nature and the book of Scripture. John Paul provided a particularly beautiful and relevant metaphor: “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

Today, we celebrate the feast of one of the people who flew the highest upon both wings—all the way to heaven. Albert of Cologne (c.1200-1280) is perhaps best known today as the teacher and mentor of Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, as Thomas has become the patron saint of scholars, Albert is the patron saint of scientists. (Seems they both did a fair job of choosing faith and reason.)

Though he is overshadowed by the towering figure of his mighty student, Albert was known as Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great), even while he was alive on earth. So why was he so great? Because he read so well the books of Scripture, like many great Church Doctors before him, and because he read the book of nature like none before him and few since! He also wrote many books of his own, and both different kinds of books.

Albert was called the Great due to his incredible breadth of knowledge and mastery of virtually every scientific discipline known to man at the time—from A to Z, with contributions to fields as diverse as anatomy, anthropology, astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, dentistry, geography, geology, medicine, physiology, physics, psychology, and zoology. Some people in his day said you could completely repopulate the forests and rivers of Bavaria with all the plants and animals he had written about. Some said Albert knew all there was to know!

Working without any modern instruments, two hundred years before the printing press, and in the midst of a variety of roles throughout his lifetime, including professor at the University of Paris, bishop of Cologne, and Dominican provincial of Germany, here are some of Albert’s scientific accomplishments:

  • He isolated arsenic.
  • He provided the first description in Western writing of the spinach plant (surely becoming the favorite Church Doctor of Popeye the Sailor Man.)
  • He did early work in the theory of protective coloration of animals—including predicting that animals in the extreme north would have white coloring.
  • He determined that the Milky Way is a huge assemblage of stars.
  • He determined that the figures visible on the moon were not reflections of the earth’s mountains and seas, but features of the moon’s own surface.
  • He predicted land masses at the earth’s poles.
  • He predicted a large land mass to the west of Europe (and a copy of his prediction has been found in the personal library of Christopher Columbus).
  • He determined, with the use of mathematical formulae, that the earth was spherical.
  • He integrated the theories of Aristotle on the nature of human memory with the literature on practical improvement of memory that came down through Cicero.

So Albert clearly was no slouch on the science side of the ledger. As for religion, Albert also wrote many treatises of biblical commentary and was said to be perhaps the most prolific Mariologist of the thirteenth century. Indeed, when Pope Pius XII declared the dogma of the Assumption of Mary on November 1, 1950, he cited Albert as a key champion of the Assumption, having gathered the arguments from Scripture and the Church Fathers to conclude that the Mother of God had indeed been assumed body and soul into heaven.

Though Albert’s greatest student, the Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas, was as calm and placid as they come, our great Albert could get testy at times, but only because he so cherished the truth. Later in his life, he would speak out with strong words against those opposed to acquiring human knowledge, the fideists of his day: “There are those ignorant people who wish to combat by every means possible the use of philosophy, and especially among the preachers, where no one opposes them; senseless animals who blaspheme that of which they know nothing.”

Albert loved science and philosophy because he loved God. He knew well that the book of Scripture guides us to the book of nature, and vice versa: “For the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their creator” (Wis. 13:5). Albert never looked at or wrote about a plant, an animal, or even a star without glorying in the fact that each is a creature, reflecting in its own way the beauty and perfection of its creator. That is why the whole world was theology to him.

St. Albert the Great, pray for us, that we may grow in faith and reason, in religion and in science.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

It’s biblical to ask the saints to pray for us


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-by Matthew Olson(right)

“There is nothing wrong with asking the heavenly saints to pray for us.

Many Protestants argue that asking the saints to pray for us is “unbiblical,” while throwing around verses like 1 Timothy 2:5. But they are incorrect.

1 Timothy 2:5 — the infamous “one mediator between God and men” verse — refers to salvation, not prayer. The verse reminds us that it is only because of the graces found through Christ (God Himself) that we are able to have any real relationship with God and reach Heaven. It does not, however, absolutely negate relations with angels or heavenly saints. After all, it was an angel (Gabriel) that spoke to Mary before Christ was conceived in her body, not God Himself.

I was raised in several Protestant denominations. They all placed a major emphasis on Christians praying for each other — which is encouraged in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 and other passages. I would contend that a heavenly saint, one who is holy and in Heaven with God, would have a lot more sway with God than a rebellious sinner on earth would.

To put that another way, if someone asked you to do something for them, would you not be more likely to help them if they were your best friend, as opposed to a complete stranger? Of course, you may very well be willing to do something for a complete stranger, but you would probably be more willing to do something for your best friend.

And there is evidence in the Bible of the saints praying to God.

“Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.” – Revelation 8:3-4

The word for “saints” in that passage comes from the Greek word hagios. Thayer’s New Testament Greek-English Lexicon says that the best definition of hagios is “most holy thing, a saint”. This would seem to undermine the Protestant assertion that “saints” in this context can only refer to people on earth.

Now, what would the saints be praying for? Themselves? Doubtful. They are in Heaven, so they do not need anything, as eternal life with God is perfect. That really only leaves one option: they are praying for us. And because they are praying for us anyway, how could it be wrong to ask them to pray for us about something specific? It is like interacting with a DJ at an event. He’s playing music anyway, so what is the harm in asking him to play your favorite song?

Here’s my Scripture-based defense of the practice that should answer most Protestant objections:

Matthew 17:3-4 & Luke 9:28-31.
Moses and Elijah (who are clearly heavenly saints, not “saints” in the way Paul would sometimes use the word) are with Christ during the Transfiguration.

Revelation 6:9-11.
The martyrs can talk to God.

From those three passages, we can gather that the saints in Heaven interact with God.

Luke 15:10.
The angels and saints (who, in Luke 20:35-36, Christ says are equal to the angels) are aware of earthly events.

1 Timothy 2:1 & James 5:16.
It is good for Christians to pray for one another.

Now, if the saints interact with God and are aware of earthly events (and can therefore hear us), why wouldn’t they pray for us, considering that it is good for Christians (which the angels and saints definitely are) to pray for one another?

Revelation 21:27.
Nothing imperfect will enter into Heaven.

Psalm 66:18 & James 5:16.
God ignores the prayers of the wicked, and the prayers of the righteous are effective.

Because the saints have reached perfection (they are in Heaven), their prayers are more effective than the prayers of those that are less righteous, so that’s why one might ask them to pray instead of asking another Christian on earth or simply doing it themselves.”

Love,
Matthew