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St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), who was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975.

Mother Seton is a saint of many “firsts.” She opened the first tuition-free Catholic school in the United States. She formed the Sisters of Charity, the first community of consecrated religious women founded in the United States.

And she also has the privilege of being the first American-born canonized saint.

Lord God, you blessed Elizabeth Seton with gifts of grace as wife and mother, educator and foundress, so that she might spend her life in service to your people. Through her example and prayers may we learn to express our love for you in love for others. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Age of Martyrs

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen. Not only was he one of the first deacons in the Church (cf. Acts 6:1-6), but he’s also the first recorded post-Resurrection martyr for Christ.

Sometimes martyrdom may some far removed from our own comfortable existence. To counter such a mindset, we offer the following reflection from Servant of God John A. Hardon, the founder of the Institute on Religious Life, who tells us why the present age is truly the “age of the martyrs.” This is taken from a conference he gave on the Precious Blood of Christ.

We believe that by His death on the cross, Christ merited all the graces we need to reach heaven. He won all the graces necessary for our salvation. He gained all the graces that the human race needs to reach its eternal destiny.

But we also believe that what Christ did by dying for us on the cross requires that we die on our cross by cooperating with the graces that Jesus won for our redemption. He could not have been more clear. He told us, “If you wish to be my disciples, take up your cross and follow me.” We must cooperate with Christ’s grace if we wish to join Him in eternity. He was crucified by shedding His blood. We must be crucified by shedding our blood in witness to our love.

All of this is elementary Christian teaching. The Precious Blood of Christ does indeed provide us with the light and strength we need to reach heaven. But we have to do our part, otherwise Christ’s passion and death on Calvary would have been in vain.

The focus of our conference is on the Precious Blood of Christ in the age of martyrs. What are we saying? We are saying that the present century is the age of martyrs par excellence. Ours is THE (all three letters capitalized) age of martyrs.

No words of mine can do justice to this statement: We are inclined to think that martyrs are those ancient men and women in the first centuries of the Church whom we commemorate by name in the first Eucharistic Prayer, when we say, “We honor the apostles and martyrs,” and then name after the apostles, “Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Carnelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian.”

Unless we take stock of ourselves, martyrs are not commonly associated with the later history of the Church, and certainly not with our own times. What a miscalculation!

A conservative estimate places the total number of martyrs who died for Christ up to the liberation edict of Constantine in 313 A.D. at around 100,000. We call that period of massive persecution the age of martyrs. Yet, the number of Christians who have died for their faith since 1900 is several million. In the Sudan alone, during the 1950s, over two million Catholics were starved to death by the Muslims because they refused to deny that Mary is the Mother of God since her Son is the Ibn Allah, the Son of God. There have been more Christian martyrs since the turn of the present century than in all of the preceding centuries from Calvary to 1900 put together.

It is no wonder that the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Church went out of its way to identify martyrdom as one of the marks of holiness in our day. The passage deserves to be quoted in full: Read the rest of this entry »

Restoring the Sacred

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. John of Kanty, a 15th-century professor and priest in Krakow. He was known not only as an orthodox teacher of the faith, but also for his piety and kindness.

He is also known as St. John Cantius, perhaps even more so now with the establishment in 1998 of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, a thriving religious community of men under his patronage.

The members of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius seek personal sanctity by imitating Christ in radical opposition to the values of this world. They wish to “Restore the Sacred” in the Church, in the world, and in their own lives in pursuit not only of their own sanctification, but also the salvation and sanctification of all.

The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius’ mission, in the context of parish ministry, is to help Catholics rediscover a profound sense of the sacred through solemn liturgies, devotions, sacred art, sacred music, as well as instruction in Church heritage, catechetics, and Catholic culture. Read the rest of this entry »

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, a 13th-century lay Franciscan known for her charity toward the poor and needy in her midst. May her prayers and holy example inspire us to grow in our loving service of our neighbor.

St. Martin de Porres

Today is the feast of St. Martin de Porres, one of the most beloved saints in the history of the Church. I thought I would share with readers the following excerpt from the homily of Blessed John XXIII on the occasion of St. Martin’s canonization in 1962, taken from the Office of Readings for today:

The example of Martin’s life is ample evidence that we can strive for holiness and salvation as Christ Jesus has shown us: first, by loving God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and second, by loving your neighbor as yourself.”

When Martin had come to realize that Christ Jesus suffered for us and that he carried our sins on his body to the cross, he would meditate with remarkable ardor and affection about Christ on the cross.  Whenever he would contemplate Christ’s terrible torture he would be reduced to tears.  He had an exceptional love for the great sacrament of the Eucharist and often spent long hours in prayer before the blessed sacrament.  His desire was to receive the sacrament in communion as often as he could.

Saint Martin, always obedient and inspired by his divine teacher, dealt with his brothers with that profound love which comes from pure faith and humility of spirit.  He loved men because he honestly looked on them as God’s children and as his own brothers and sisters.  Such was his humility that he loved them even more than himself and considered them to be better and more righteous than he was.

He excused the faults of others. He forgave the bitterest injuries, convinced that he deserved much severer punishments on account of his own sins. He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly he comforted the sick; he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; he helped, as best he could, farm laborers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves: thus he deserved to be called by the name the people gave him: ‘Martin of Charity.'”

The virtuous example and even the conversation of this saintly man exerted a powerful influence in drawing men to religion.  It is remarkable how even today his influence can still come us toward the things of heaven.  Sad to say, not all of us understand these spiritual values as well as we should, nor do we give them a proper place in our lives.  Many of us, in fact, strongly attracted by sin, may look upon these values as of little moment, even something of a nuisance, or we ignore them altogether.  It is deeply rewarding for men striving for salvation to follow in Christ’s footsteps and to obey God’s commandments.  If only everyone could learn this lesson from the example that Martin gave us.

St. Martin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru in 1579 as the illegitimate son of a Panamanian mother and a Spanish father.  Having inherited the dark color of his mother, he was rejected by his father and was therefore raised in poverty.  He entered the Dominicans and became renowned for his countless works of charity. St. Martin was the friend of another great Dominican Saint from Peru, St. Rose of Lima, and his bishop for a time was St. Turibius of Mogrovejo.

Congress on St. Catherine of Siena

The Holy See Press Office reports that an international congress dedicated to St. Catherine, Doctor of the Church and co-patron of Europe will take place in Rome and Siena this week.

The congress has as its title “‘Virgo digna Coelo” (“Virgin worthy of Heaven).

Fr. Bernard Ardura, president of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, explained in a Vatican press conference that “the figure of St. Catherine extends far beyond her own earthly existence and takes on a powerful symbolic value” for the Church today.

In his Oct. 21 announcement, Fr. Ardura said the study of St. Catherine “serves to remind us of the unshakable faith which she possessed and which made her spiritual mother to so many Christians.”

Her example is especially important, he said, as the Church prepares for the 2012-2013 “Year of Faith” announced Oct. 16.

Fr. Ardura went on to explain that the forthcoming congress will be divided into four sessions “to facilitate a more profound examination of the life and influence of the saint” who, he said, “also enjoyed great recognition among theologians, to the point that on October 4, 1970, Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church, for her exalted theology and her influence in the renewal of that discipline.”

The first session of the congress will see a contribution from Cardinal Angelo Amato S.D.B, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The second session will be dedicated to the cause of canonization of St. Catherine, including an examination of its documents and a review of models of female sanctity between 1300 and 1400. The third session will focus on the relationship between St. Catherine and the religious orders of her day. “In the fourth session,” Fr. Ardura continued, “we will see how it is possible to study and celebrate St. Catherine today, because her memory has remained alive among Christians and her influence has never ceased to enrich the Church, mainly though hagiographies and literary culture, and in particular thanks to her magnificent Letters.”

On its last day the congress will move to Siena for the inauguration of an exhibition entitled “Catherine of Siena and the process of canonization.” It will also hold its last session there, dedicated to “St. Catherine in art.” Professor Utro explained that the session will take place in the chapter house of the convent of St. Dominic in Siena, and will be presided by Paolo Nardi, prior general of the International St. Catherine Association and curator of the exhibition. Other art historians will also participate, including Diega Giunta, the leading specialist on artistic representations of St. Catherine.

Courtesy of the Vatican Press Office and Catholic News Agency.

Super Bowl of the Saints

Looking for ideas on how to celebrate Halloween/All Saints Day? Check out the School Sisters of Christ the King, based in the Diocese of Lincoln.

On Sunday afternoon, October 30th, the sisters are hosting at their motherhouse a “Super Bowl of the Saints” in honor of All Saints Day. (Locals are instructed to follow the red balloons to get there!)

Entire families are invited, as the festivities include activities for all ages. Children are encouraged (but not required) to wear their favorite saint costume, as everyone in attendance will be encouraged to learn from the saints how to respond to the Heart of Jesus.

This dynamic, relatively new (founded in 1976) community of sisters has a beautiful “apostolic mission”:

“Responding to the call of Christ and His Church, we, the School Sisters of Christ the King, strive to bring about the reign of Christ through the apostolate of Catholic education. As Brides of Christ, daughters of the Church and Mothers of Souls, we devote ourselves to reflect His love, teach His truth and form His image in souls in the schools of the Diocese of Lincoln.”

The Sisters belong “totally to the King,” as they reverence Christ as King in the Crib, on the Cross, in the Blessed Sacrament, and reigning in Heaven, and this wonderful charism has attracted many young women to this community. If you know someone who might be interested, the Sisters regularly offer “Come and See” retreats.

The Institute on Religious Life is proud to number the School Sisters of Christ the King among its affiliate communities.

St. Paul of the Cross

Today the Church in the United States celebrates the memorial of St. Paul of the Cross (194-1775), the founder of the Congregation of the Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, more commonly known as the “Passionists.” (For a concise explanation as to why it’s celebrated today, click here.) There are three Passionist communites for women in the United States that are affiliates of the Institute on Religious Life.

St. Paul was one of the greatest preachers of his age, and also was a renowned miracle worker and spiritual director.

In looking into St. Paul of the Cross’ remarkable life, I came across a documentary about him by actor Martin Sheen. It’s quite informative. Here is the first 13-min. installment, and here is the second 13-min. installment.

Speaking of Martin Sheen, check out this interview concerning The Way, an inspiring new movie written and directed by his son (Emilio, not Charlie!).


North American Martyrs

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. Today we remember and celebrate the planting of the Church in North America through the martyrdom of the Jesuit martyrs Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf, and companions. In honor of these true heroes of the faith, enjoy this short video with Fr. James Kobicki, S.J. of the Apostleship of Prayer.

May the courage of these martyrs, rooted in the love of God, inspire us to live wholeheartedly for Christ today, and to offer our own sufferings in union with Christ for the life of the world.

The Family that Overtook Christ

Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the great Cistercian monk. For many people, unfortunately, St. Bernard is merely a big, lovable breed of working dog. Even those of us with Catholic sensibilities might not know too much about him. Maybe we remember that he was devoted to Our Lady (which saint wasn’t?), and that he is believed to be the author of the prayer commonly known as the Memorare (”Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary . . .”). But even that’s probably pushing it.

It’s a shame we don’t know more about him, because Bernard was no ordinary monk. His singular holiness, his amazing zeal, his prolific spiritual writing, his founding of dozens of monasteries, his decisive, godly impact on ecclesial and world affairs during his incredible life are all a matter of historical record.

We have twice read as a family The Family That Overtook Christ (Daughters of St. Paul, 1986). It’s the story of St. Bernard’s remarkable family. His father Tescalin has been declared “Venerable” by the Church, and his mother, Alice, his sister Humbeline, and his brothers Guy, Gerard, Andrew, Bartholomew, and Nivard have all been declared “Blessed.” It’s one of the most edifying things I’ve read in a long time. One of the most challenging, too. The holy siblings frequently attributed their exceptional religious formation to their parents, who truly raised a generation of saints. Isn’t that the goal of all of us Catholic parents? May we single-mindedly lead our families in pursuit of Christ.

Bernard was no ordinary monk. In fact, he is no ordinary saint. Read the rest of this entry »