Saint of the Day – 21 December – Feast of St Thomas, Apostle of Christ, Martyr. His Patronages are:• people in doubt; against doubt• architects• blind people and against blindness• builders• construction workers• geometricians• stone masons and stone cutters• surveyors• theologians• Ceylon• East Indies• India• Indonesia• Malaysia • Pakistan• Singapore• Sri Lanka• Diocese of Bathery, India• Castelfranco di Sopra, Italy• Certaldo, Italy• Ortona, Italy.
St Thomas, Apostle From the Liturgical Year, 1870
This is the last Feast the Church keeps before the great one of the Nativity of her Lord and Spouse. She interrupts the Greater Ferias, in order to pay her tribute of honour to Thomas, the Apostle of Christ, whose glorious Martyrdom has consecrated this twenty first day of December and has procured, for the Christian people, a powerful patron that will introduce them to the Divine Babe of Bethlehem.
To none of the Apostles could this day have been so fittingly assigned, as to St Thomas. It was St Thomas whom we needed; St. Thomas, whose festal patronage would aid us to believe and hope, in that God, Whom we see not and Who comes to us in silence and humility, in order to try our Faith.
St Thomas was once guilty of doubting, when he ought to have believed and only learned the necessity of Faith by the sad experience of incredulity. He comes then most appropriately to defend us, by the power of his example and prayers, against the temptations which proud human reason might excite within us.
Let us pray to him with confidence. In that Heaven of Light and Vision, where his repentance and love have placed him, he will intercede for us,and gain for us that docility of mind and heart, which will enable us to see and recognise Him, Who is the Expected of Nations and Who, though the King of the world, will give no other signs of His Majesty, than the swaddling-clothes and tears of a Babe.
Saint of the Day – 25 February – Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio OFM (1502-1600) “The Angel of Mexico,” Franciscan Lay brother, Confessor, Ascetic, apostle of the poor, builder of roads and bridges in Mexico and thus is honoured as the Founder of the transport and road system in Mexico. Born as Sebastiano de Aparicio y del Pardo on 20 January 1502 in La Gudiña, Orense, Spain and died on 25 February 1600 of natural causes, aged 98. Sebastian was a Spanish colonist in Mexico shortly after its conquest by Spain, who after a lifetime as a rancher and road builder, entered the Order of Friars Minor as a lay brother. He spent the next 26 years of his long life, as a beggar for the Order and died with a great reputation for holiness. Patronages – motorists, travellers, road builders and the Transport industry in Mexico. His body is incorrupt.
Sebastian was born in Spain into a peasant family in 1502,. He was a good looking young man with a reserved personality that attracted the interest of quite a few women. He was deeply religious and changed employment several times, before the age of 30, to avoid the temptations opened to him. He worked as a household servant and as a hired field hand.
Despite his illiteracy, he had absorbed the discourse on how to lead a pious and holy life that he could emulate models in hagiographic texts. According to his own account, his life was saved in a miraculous way during an outbreak of the bubonic plague in his town in 1514. Forced to isolate him from the community, his parents built a hidden shelter for him in the woods, where they left him. While lying there helpless, due to his illness, a she-wolf found the hiding spot and, poking her head into his hiding spot, sniffed and then bit and licked an infected site on his body, before running off. He began to heal from that moment.
At the age of 31, Sebastian left Spain for Mexico. He settled in the town of Puebla de los Angeles where he took employment as a field hand. However, he soon noticed a business opportunity for Puebla was an important crossroads and he noted, that the goods transported, were carried on the backs of pack animals or on the backs of the native people.
At first, Sebastian made and sold wheeled carts for the transport of goods. He then expanded into the improvement and building of roads and bridges to improve transport for goods and people. He was responsible for the building of a 460 mile road from Mexico City to Zacatecas, which took 10 years to build and was of enormous benefit to the local economy.
By the age of 50, Sebastian was a wealthy man. He lived very simply and gave his earnings to others, he bought food for the poor, made loans that he never reclaimed to poor farmers too proud to accept charity, he paid the dowries for poor brides and gave free training to Indians in skills that would assist them in earning a living. In addition, people brought him their problems and he had a reputation for his wisdom.
Sebastian became known as “The Angel of Mexico.” He retired at the age of 50 to a hacienda to raise cattle. He married at age 60 at the request of his bride’s parents. His bride was a poor girl and he agreed to the match, on condition that the couple lived as brother and sister, which they did. His wife died and he married again on the same condition. When he was 70, Sebastian’s second wife died and he himself contracted a serious illness.
Upon recovering, he decided to give everything he had to the poor and became a lay Franciscan brother. He undertook many responsibilities, including cook, sacristan, gardener and porter. He was then assigned to the large community of friars in the city of Puebla, at that time consisting of about 100 friars, most of whom, were doing their studies or were retired or recovering from illness. He was appointed to be the quaestor of the community, the one assigned to travel throughout the local community, seeking food and alms for the upkeep of the friars and those who came to them for help. The builder of Mexico’s highway system had become a beggar on it. Despite his advanced age, he felt the vigour needed for the task. This formerly rich man, loved his job and was loved by his fellow Franciscans, the townspeople and the poor that the Brothers helped. He also loved–and was loved–by animals, even the most stubborn mules and oxen would obey the Blessed, much like Saint Francis.
Though he had long suffered from a hernia, Aparicio marked his 98th birthday on the road, apparently in good health. On the following 20 February, he developed what was to be his final illness, as the hernia became entangled. He began to feel pain and nausea and, upon arrival at the friary, was immediately sent to the infirmary. It was the first time he had slept in a bed in 25 years. As his condition worsened, he became unable to swallow. His only regret was that, due to this, he was unable to receive Holy Communion. As he lay dying, he was consoled by the friars’ fulfilling his request that they bring the Blessed Sacrament to his cell.
On the evening of 25 February, Aparicio asked to be laid on the ground to meet his death, in imitation of St. Francis. He soon died in the arms of a fellow Galician, Friar Juan de San Buenaventura, with his last word being “Jesus.” When his body lay in state, the crowds that gathered were large and the miracles wrought were so numerous, that he could not be buried for several days. His habit had to be replaced repeatedly, as mourners would snip a piece of it off to keep as the relic of a saint.
The Blessed’s remains were never buried but at the request of the local people, exposed in a prominent place for veneration. His body, although darkened, has remained incorrupt and can be viewed in the Church of Saint Francis in Puebla.
Nearly 1,000 miracles were reported at his intercession, even before his death and such claims continue to this day. Pope Pius VI Beatified him on 17 May 1789.
Saint of the Day – 14 April – St Benezet the Bridge Builder (c 1163-1184) Shepherd, Mystic, miracle-worker, Founder of the Fratres Pontifices – the Bridge-Building Brotherhood. St Benezet is also known as Benezet of Hermillon, Benedict, Bennet, Benet, Benoit, Little Benedict the Bridge Builder. Born in c 1163 at Hermillon, Savoy, France and died in 1184. Patronages – Avignon, bachelors, bridge-builders and construction workers. His body is incorrupt.
St Benezet, also known as Little Benedict the Bridge Builder, was born somewhere in the countryside of eastern or northeastern France. As he grew up he tended his mother’s sheep. Though uneducated and unskilled, gentle Benedict was a quiet, devout youth, thoughtful of others.
One day in 1177, while the sun was in eclipse, Benezet heard a voice, he believed was Jesus, commanding him three times to go to Avignon, where the Rhone current was especially swift and to build a bridge there. He was also told that angels would watch over his flocks in his absence.
He obeyed the Divine order, without delay and reported immediately to the Bishop of Avignon. Naturally, the Bishop was hesitant about accepting the word of the frail teenager. But little Benezet lifted a massive stone to begin the work and announced that it would be the start of the foundation. This would become the Pont Saint-Bénézet. Thus he succeeded in convincing the Bishop that the construction of the bridge would be an act of true Christian charity. Permission was granted and the youth set about his task. According to the legend, there were shouts of “Miracle! Miracle!” when Bénézet had lifted and laid that first huge stone. Eighteen miracles occurred in total during the project – the blind had their vision restored, the deaf could hear again, cripples could walk and hunchbacks had their backs straightened.
For the next seven years Benedict worked hard on the project and around 1181 he won support for his project from wealthy sponsors who formed themselves into a Bridge Brotherhood to fund its construction. This was a religious association active during the 12th and 13th centuries and begun in Avignon but by it’s inspiration, it spread across Europe and whose purpose was building bridges, especially to assist pilgrims. It was customary for a bishop to grant indulgences to those who, by money or labour, contributed to the construction of a bridge. They also maintained and/or built hospices at the chief fords of the principal rivers, besides building bridges and looking after ferries. The Brotherhood consisted of three branches– knights, clergy and artisans, where the knights usually had contributed most of the funds and were sometimes called donati, the clergy were usually monks who represented the church and the artisans were the workers who actually built the bridges. Sisters are sometimes mentioned as belonging to the same association. In addition to the construction of bridges, the brotherhood often attended to the lodging and care of pilgrims and travellers and the collection of alms, in this area, the sisters were most active.
In 1184, sadly, young Benezet died, some four years before the great stone bridge at Avignon was completed. The wonders that occurred during the bridge’s erection and the miracles wrought at the Bridge Builder’s tomb convinced the people of Avignon that the young man was a Saint and he was referred to as such as early at 1237. They, therefore, built a Chapel on the “Bridge of St Benezet” to enshrine his relics . There the body was venerated until 1669, when floodwaters carried away a large segment of the bridge. His remains were rescued from the flood and on examination, were found to be incorrupt. Now they repose in the local church of St Didier.
Understandably, bridge builders adopted little Benedict as their Patron Saint. The remains of the bridge still remain a pilgrimage site. Below are artworks and images showing the bride through the ages. The last shows it as it is today, only about half is left and that half if filled with pilgrims.
St Benezet’s bridge has another claim to fame – it achieved worldwide fame through its commemoration by the song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” (“On the Bridge of Avignon”).
One can build in a figurative as well as a literal sense. Bishops, the pope in particular, are often called “pontiffs”, a title derived from the Latin word for “builder of bridges”. Building bridges between God and mankind is their special calling. Our Lord Himself was a “pontiff” in the sense that He made his Cross a bridge, on which souls could enter heaven. The beatitude “Blessed are the peacemakers” promises heaven to those who work for reconciliation, that is, “build bridges”.
Some persons labour to raise walls, or “iron curtains” to divide mankind. Others labour to tear down the walls that divide, straighten the paths that connect, bridge the crevices that separate people. Surely they come close to fulfilling the great commandment to love our neighbour as oneself. St Benezet was one such. He promoted the unity of God’s children. Little St Benezet, Pray for us!
Saint of the Day – 26 December – St Stephen, the ProtoMartyr (c 05-c 34) – 26 December the Second Day in the Octave of Christmas
“As the number of disciples continued to grow, the Greek-speaking Christians complained about the Hebrew-speaking Christians, saying that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 6:1-5).
Acts of the Apostles says that Stephen was a man filled with grace and power, who worked great wonders among the people. Certain Jews, members of the Synagogue of Roman Freedmen, debated with Stephen but proved no match for the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke. They persuaded others to make the charge of blasphemy against him. He was seized and carried before the Sanhedrin.
In his speech, Stephen recalled God’s guidance through Israel’s history, as well as Israel’s idolatry and disobedience. He then claimed that his persecutors were showing this same spirit. “…you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors” (Acts 7:51b).
Stephen’s speech brought anger from the crowd. “But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ …They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. …As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ …’Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:55-56, 58a, 59, 60b).
Saint of the Day – 5 April – St Vincent Ferrer O.P. (1350-1419), called the “Angel of the Apocalypse/The Last Judgement” and the “The Mouthpiece of God.”- Dominican Priest, Missionary, Master of Sacred Theology, Philosopher, Teacher, Preacher, Logician, Apostle of Charity – born on 23 January 1350 in Valencia (part of modern Spain) and died on 5 April 1419 at Vannes, Brittany, France of natural causes. His remains are interred in the Cathedral of Vannes. Patronages – Archdiocese of Valencia, Builders, Prisoners, Construction workers, Plumbers, Fishermen, Spanish orphanages, Calamonaci, Italy, Casteltermini, Agrigento, Italy, Leganes, Philippines, Orihuela-Alicante, Spain, diocese of.
St Vincent was born in Valencia, Spain. However, even in utero he was performing miracles. His mother visited a blind woman she often helped. The lady placed her head on the mother’s womb to hear the baby’s heart beat and was instantly healed of her blindness. The entire city was quite animated at his birth and their town square argument over his name had to be settled by the local bishop who recommended he share the name of the city’s patron saint (St Vincent of Zaragosa, a third century martyr, died 304). Before St Vincent was three months old, Valencia was struck by a terrible famine. The infant spoke in a perfectly intelligible manner to his mother, informing her that all the townspeople needed to carry a venerated statue in procession about the city to end the famine. No sooner had the procession begun than rain began to fall and the famine was broken.
From his tenderest years, it was clear that God was calling St Vincent to serve Him at His Altar. The boy was gifted with great intelligence and even more profound piety. When Vincent joined the Dominicans, he zealously practiced penance, study and prayer. He was a teacher of philosophy and a naturally gifted preacher called the “Mouthpiece of God.” His saintly life was what made his preaching so effective. Vincent’s subjects were judgement, heaven, hell and the need for repentance. Soon he was teaching and preaching all over Spain.
But at this time, three men claimed to be pope in the 1300s and 1400s. Kings, princes, priests and laypeople fought one another to support the different claimants for the Chair of Peter. This chaos led to the Western Schism and then God raised up Vincent Ferrer.
Even the holiest people can be misled. Pope Urban VI was the real pope and lived in Rome but Vincent and many others thought that Clement VII and his successor Benedict XIII, who lived in Avignon, France, were the true popes. Vincent convinced kings, princes, clergy and almost all of Spain to give loyalty to them. After Clement VII died, Vincent tried to get both Benedict and the pope in Rome to abdicate so that a new election could be held. Vincent returned to Benedict in Avignon and asked him to resign. Benedict refused.
Vincent came to see the error in Benedict’s claim to the papacy. Discouraged and ill, Vincent begged Christ to show him the truth. In a vision, he saw Jesus with Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, commanding him to “go through the world preaching Christ.” For the next twenty years he travelled to England, Scotland, Ireland, Aragon, Castile, France, Switzerland and Italy, preaching the Gospel and converting many. Many biographers believe that he could speak only Valencian but was endowed with the gift of tongues. St Vincent also had great success in preaching to the Moors and Jews. Countless converts came into the Church and on one single day he converted more than five thousand Jews. His spiritual success was even more fruitful among Catholics. Hatreds, envies, wars and other divisions were all brought to an abrupt end under his guidance. Once he raised a woman from the dead so that she could testify to all present that he was indeed the Angel of the Apocalypse (cf. Apco 14:6), sent by God to call a world seeped in sin to repentance. He preached to St Colette of Corbie and to her nuns and it was she who told him that he would die in France. Too ill to return home to Spain, he did, indeed, die in Brittany in 1419, at the age of sixty-nine. Breton fishermen still invoke his aid in storms. Vincent spread the Good News throughout Europe. He fasted, preached, worked miracles and drew many people to become faithful Christians.
One day while Benedict was presiding over an enormous assembly, Vincent, though close to death, mounted the pulpit and denounced him as the false pope. He encouraged everyone to be faithful to the one, true Catholic Church in Rome. Benedict fled, knowing his supporters had deserted him. The Great Western Schism was finally ended in 1417 when all the world universally acknowledged Martin V as rightful pope.
St Vincent was canonised by Pope Calixtus III on 3 June 1455.
Saint of the Day – 3 February – St Blaise (Died c 316) – Martyr, Bishop of Sebaste, Armenia, Physician, Miracle-worker. Died in c 316 by his flesh being torn off his body by iron wool-combs, then beheaded. Patronages – against angina • against bladder diseases • against blisters • against coughs • against dermatitis • against dropsy • against eczema • against edema • against fever • against goitres • against headaches • against impetigo • against respiratory diseases • against skin diseases • against snake bites • against sore throats • against stomach pain • against storms • against teething pain • against throat diseases • against toothaches • against ulcers • against whooping cough • against wild beasts • angina sufferers of ; of children, animals, builders, drapers, against choking, veterinarians, infants, of 21 Cities, of stonecutters, carvers, wool workers. St Blaise is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers – https://anastpaul.com/2018/07/25/thought-for-the-day-25-july-the-memorial-of-st-christopher-died-c-251-one-of-the-fourteen-holy-helpers/
Today the Church remembers the life and witness of Saint Blaise, a 3rd century Armenian bishop who endured terrifying torments and surrendered his life rather than repudiate his profession of Faith.
Much of the life of Saint Blaise is history that has passed into legend but even these legendary accounts offer spiritual insight.
Blaise was renowned as a wonderworker, effecting miraculous cures. T his would have been enough to attract attention but he was also not averse to calling out the Roman officials who ruled the region in which he lived, Cappadocia, for their tyranny and intolerance of Christian faith and practice. The combination of a reputation for supernatural power and the courage of his convictions was not welcomed by Rome and the governor ordered Bishop Blaise to be arrested. Blaise was able to elude capture and took refuge in the wilderness. It was there in the caves of Cappadocia that his ministry and his mission continued.
There is an account of Saint Blaise that identifies not only his pastoral care for the Christian faithful but also for the animals of the wilderness.
A woman had witnessed her piglet carried off by a wolf and spoke of her plight to the bishop. Saint Blaise called for the wolf, demanded her return the piglet to its rightful owner and reminded the wolf of the grave penalty that awaited a thief. The wolf complied and returned the piglet to its owner- a credit to the bishop’s power of persuasion. The woman would later return the favour to Saint Blaise when he was finally captured and imprisoned. She brought to him candles to illuminate his dank and dreary cell.
This legend hints at how the saints represent, in their holiness, the restoration of a paradise lost and regained in Christ. The ease and familiarity with which the Biblical character of Adam is believed to have communed with nature before the fall is recapitulated in Saint Blaise- he is a sign that anticipates the restoration of all things in Christ where the lion will rest with the lamb and in this case, the wolf will return stolen property to its rightful owner.
Saint Blaise has been invoked for centuries as a specialist in diseases of the throat. The origin of this practice might be in the story of a child brought to the saint who was either choking or suffering from some other malady of the throat. Saint Blaise blessed the boy and he was restored to health.
The practice of blessing throats on the Feast of Saint Blaise is a commemoration of this miracle, that crossed candles are often used to impart this blessing might also be a recollection of the kindness of the woman who gave candles to the saint as he languished in prison.
Saint Blaise was an extraordinarily popular saint during the Middle Ages in Europe. Presentations of his miraculous and mighty deeds were commonly represented in art and sculpture, and he was included in a listing of saints called the Fourteen Holy Helpers (or Auxiliary Saints), holy men and women who could be counted on as intercessors for all manner of maladies from madness to travelers in distress. During times in which a sore throat could be a signal of an impending epidemic or an early death, the faithful were all too happy to accept the help of a heavenly specialist in such matters like Saint Blaise.
The legends regarding Saint Blaise report that his sojourn in the wilderness did not protect him for very long. He was eventually arrested and brought to trial. The judge advised him that only a pinch of incense offered to the image of Caesar and the gods of Rome could win him his freedom. Blaise refused. He was cruelly tortured and beheaded.
The Church does not mourn Saint Blaise, for we know that in Christ this world is not all that there is. While tyrants like Caesar and his successors can threaten us with death, Christ promises us a life that like his own, is transformed through suffering and death, into resurrection.
The scriptures proclaim, “though they slay me I will trust in you.”
Saint Blaise did precisely this. He trusted that Christ would not abandon him to the power of death nor allow his suffering to be meaningless. Our lives might never be raised to the legendary status of Saint Blaise but we can trust in Christ as he did and live in hope that one day we will join him in communion with all the saints who have gone before us in faith and who, from their place in heaven, guide and protect us still. (Fr Steve Grunow)
Saint of the Day – 20 January – St Sebastian Martyr, Roman Soldier. He was born in Milan and was Martyred in c 288. Patronages – against cattle disease, against plague/epidemics and the victims, dying people, against enemies of religion, archers, armourers,arrowsmiths, athletes, bookbinders, fletchers, gardeners, gunsmiths, hardware stores,ironmongers, lace makers, lace workers, lead workers, masons, police officers, racquet makers, soldiers, stone masons, stonecutters, Pontifical Swiss Guards, Bacolod, Philippines, Diocese of, Tarlac, Philippines, Diocese of, 22 Cities. St Sebastian was Martyred during the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. He is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to a post or tree and shot through with arrows. Despite this being the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian, he was rescued and healed by St Irene of Rome. Shortly afterwards he went to Diocletian to warn him about his sins and as a result, was clubbed to death. The details of Saint Sebastian’s Martyrdom were first spoken of by the 4th Century Bishop, the beloved and revered Doctor of the Church St Ambrose in his sermon (number 22) on Psalm 118. St Ambrose stated that Sebastian came from Milan and that he was already venerated there at that time.
Although there is no doubt that there was a Roman martyr named Sebastian and that devotion to him dates back to the fourth century, the earliest surviving life of the saint was written a century or more after his death. According to this story Sebastian was a Praetorian, a member of an elite troop of soldiers who served as the emperor’s bodyguard. When Emperor Diocletian began his persecution of the Church, Sebastian used his status to visit Christians in prison. This was dangerous business and it was not long before he was denounced to the emperor.
Enraged that one of his own bodyguards was a Christian, Diocletian ordered the Praetorians to take Sebastian back to their camp and shoot him to death with arrows. After performing this deadly evil on their former comrade, the Praetorians assumed that Sebastian was dead. So did everyone else who heard of his martyrdom.
After sunset a Christian woman named Irene crept into the Praetorians’ camp to retrieve the body and give it a Christian burial. As Irene and her serving woman cut Sebastian down, they heard him groan. Incredibly, he was still alive.
Instead of carrying him to the catacombs for burial, Irene brought Sebastian back to her house where she and her servant nursed him. As soon as his strength returned, Sebastian went off to confront Diocletian. He found the emperor on the steps of the imperial palace. Furious that his former bodyguard was still alive, Diocletian demanded of his entourage, “Did I not sentence this man to be shot to death with arrows?” But Sebastian answered for the emperor’s courtiers. He had been made a target for archers, “But the Lord kept me alive so I could return and rebuke you for treating the servants of Christ so cruelly.”
This time the emperor took no chances, he ordered his guard to beat Sebastian to death there on the palace steps, while he watched.
Once he was certain that Sebastian truly was dead, Diocletian had the martyr’s body dumped into the Cloaca Maxima, Rome’s main sewer. Nonetheless, Christians recovered it and buried Sebastian in a catacomb known ever since as San Sebastiano.
Saint of the Day – St Stephen, The First Martyr (c 05-c 34) – 26 December – Deacon, Preacher. the name “Stephen” – Stéphanos, meaning “wreath, crown” and by extension “reward, honour,” often given as a title rather than as a name. Patronages – against headaches, of brick layers, casket makers, coffin makers, deacons, altar servers, horses, masons, stone masons, Metz, France, Diocese of• Owensboro, Kentucky, Archdiocese of Toulouse, France, 92 cities. Attributes – stones, dalmatic, censer, miniature church, Gospel Book, martyr’s palm frond.
St Stephen was according to the Acts of the Apostles a deacon in the early church at Jerusalem who aroused the enmity of members of various synagogues by his teachings. Accused of blasphemy, at his trial he made a long speech denouncing the Jewish authorities who were sitting in judgement against him and was then stoned to death. His martyrdom was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee who would later himself become a follower of Jesus and known as Paul the Apostle.
The only primary source for information about Stephen is the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles. Stephen is mentioned in Acts 6 as one of the Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jews selected to participate as a deacon in the early Church by the eleven – before the twelfth was elected.
“Good King Wenceslaus went out, on the Feast of Stephen”. This is the Feast of St Stephen, the day after Christmas, when we commemorate the first disciple to die for Jesus.
In the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke praises St Stephen as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” who “did great wonders and signs among the people” during the earliest days of the Church. Luke’s history of the period also includes the moving scene of Stephen’s death – witnessed by St Paul before his conversion – at the hands of those who refused to accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Stephen himself was a Jew who most likely came to believe in Jesus during the Lord’s ministry on earth. He may have been among the 70 disciples whom Christ sent out as missionaries, who preached the coming of God’s kingdom while travelling with almost no possessions. This spirit of detachment from material things continued in the early Church, in which St Luke says believers “had all things in common” and “would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” But such radical charity ran up against the cultural conflict between Jews and Gentiles, when a group of Greek widows felt neglected in their needs as compared to those of a Jewish background.
Stephen’s reputation for holiness led the Apostles to choose him, along with six other men, to assist them in an official and unique way as this dispute arose. Through the sacramental power given to them by Christ, the Apostles ordained the seven men as deacons and set them to work helping the widows.
As a deacon, Stephen also preached about Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament law and prophets. Unable to refute his message, some members of local synagogues brought him before their religious authorities, charging him with seeking to destroy their traditions. Stephen responded with a discourse recorded in the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. He described Israel’s resistance to God’s grace in the past and accused the present religious authorities of “opposing the Holy Spirit” and rejecting the Messiah.
Before he was put to death, Stephen had a vision of Christ in glory. “Look,” he told the court, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
The council, however, dragged the deacon away and stoned him to death. “While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,’ records St. Luke in Acts 7. “Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
The Feast of the Our Lady of Loreto and the Holy House – 10 December – Patronages – Aeroplane Pilots and workers, Aviators, Construction workers, Builders.
Eighteen miles south of Ancona, and about three miles from the Adriatic coast of Italy, stands the city of Loreto (also spelled Loretto) on the summit of a hill. A vast basilica with a great dome forms the most treasured of all the Pope’s “extraterritorial” Vatican State properties, enshrining, as it does, one of the most sacred and important of all Our Lady’s Shrines — the Home of the Holy Family, “the Holy House of Loreto.” Written at the door of the Basilica are these words: “The whole world has no place more sacred… For here was the Word made Flesh and here was born the Virgin Mother…” On entering the basilica, one finds beneath the central dome and just behind the high altar, a rectangular edifice of white marble, richly adorned with statues. The white marble, however, forms only a protective crust. The contrast between the exterior richness and the poverty of the interior is startling. Inside are the plain, rough walls of a cottage of great antiquity, thirty feet long by fifteen feet wide and about fifteen feet high. In the centre of the House of Our Lady, there is a replica of a wooden statue of the Madonna. The original one, made of cedar of Lebanon, arrived at Loreto together with the house but has since been destroyed.
How this Shrine came to be is a fascinating story. This is the House of Nazareth, the home of the Holy Family, which had been brought by angels from Nazareth to the Dalmatian coast and later, by the same angels, transported to Loreto where it stands today enclosed in the huge Basilica just described. The history of Loreto is based upon a wealth of sound tradition and reliably recorded historical facts. We know from the visits of reliable witnesses to the Holy Land, whose journeys were carefully recorded in documents, that the Holy House of Nazareth was intact in Palestine at a relatively late date. St Louis, King of France, heard Mass in Nazareth in 1253 in the same chamber where the Angel announced the coming of Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Holy Land had seen its last and unsuccessful Crusade in 1291. The last of the Christian soldiers withdrew from Nazareth the same year, leaving behind the holiest of houses unprotected. It was to be dealt with according to the Muslim tradition of pillaging and destruction. It may seem far-fetched to think that a tiny clay house venerated by a handful of Christians could merit such vindictive rage. But this was a unique house — visibly an edifice of mud and straw, but preserving within its framework living memories of its Royal Household — Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
The first assault was that of the Seljukian Turks in 1090. They rampaged through the Holy Land, looting the treasures left in the churches of the Holy Places by devout Christian pilgrims. They turned basilicas and churches into mosques and destroyed what was deemed useless for their unholy purposes. Among the last class fell the fate of Santa Casa, home of the Holy Family. Fortunately, when Constantine had the first Basilica built over the holy spot in 312, the house, along with the grotto that was attached, was interred within a subterranean crypt. And so it survived the initial desecrations of Islam.
In the years that followed, a trickle of Christian pilgrims kept alive the devotion and veneration of the Holy House where the Word was made Flesh. Then, when the first Crusaders arrived victorious in 1100 under Tancred, they built a new Basilica.
During the relative peace that ensued, pilgrims once again freely visited the sanctified ground. But because of the mixed motives that drew some of the Crusaders to the Holy Land, God did not bless all of their attempts to secure a lasting peace for the new Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. In all there were eight crusades, marked by some glorious victories but punctuated also with terrible defeats. In 1219, Saint Francis of Assisi, whose spiritual sons were later to be given charge of the Holy House, visited this “holiest spot on earth” in Nazareth. It was during the last crusade that St. Louis IX knelt on the ground that had once been frequented by Our Lord and received Him into his heart in Holy Communion. The saintly king deemed this to be a far greater privilege than his earthly royalty.
The year 1263 saw the second destruction of the Basilica, but again the Holy House miraculously survived the assaults of the Infidels. But the defeated Christians eventually withdrew in 1291. Total destruction finally loomed over the former home of the Holy Family, as free reign was given in the Holy Land to its unholy inhabitants. Eternal Wisdom, however, had other plans!
Our Lady of Loretto On the night of May 10th, 1291 the shepherds of Tersatto, now Croatia, parted company to tend to their flocks. The lonely fields in Dalmatia and the shepherds who treaded them daily were well acquainted with each other. So the sudden appearance of a house that wasn’t there the night before caused quite a stir; the evening before, there had been no building, nor any building materials. Little did they realise it once had housed the Morning Star.
The poor, baffled, little shepherds, not suspecting the workings of Divine grace in that little hut, inspected it curiously. The walls did not all evenly touch the ground; half of them hovered over the road and the rest rested in the field. The tiny structure resembled a church more than a domestic abode. The house had an ancient altar, a Greek cross and a strange statue of a lady. As they entered it, the air seemed filled with a heavenly incense. Indeed it was. For in this very house, from the root of Jesse, blossomed the Mystical Rose.
Realising it was no ordinary incident, the shepherds ran off to the local church of St George to awaken Father Alexander Georgevich. The puzzled priest, after investigating the clay “church” himself, could offer little explanation to the humble crowd that gathered. That night the weary old priest, although severely crippled with arthritis, spent hours in prayer beseeching enlightenment from the Virgin Most Powerful. In his sleep the Mother of Good Counsel rewarded his humility by answering his request in a dream. “Know that this house,” She said, “is the same in which I was born and brought up. Here, at the Annunciation, I
conceived the Creator of all things. Here, the Word of the Eternal Father became Man. The altar which was brought with the house was consecrated by Peter, the Prince of the Apostles. This house has now come to your shores by the power of God. And now, in order that you may bear testimony of all these things, be healed. Your unexpected and sudden recovery shall confirm the truth of what I have declared to you.”
The sudden disappearance of Father Georgevich’s familiar malady the next day quite convinced him. He then announced that it was She, who is called Health of the Sick, who had cured him and related the vision of the night before. The peasants of Tersatto now knew for sure that this was the sacred little home of their Saviour. They venerated it accordingly.
Hearing of the miraculous appearance, the Governor of Dalmatia immediately dispatched his emissaries to Nazareth, and they reported that the Holy House had indeed disappeared from there. The length and breadth of the walls of the dwelling found at Tersatto corresponded exactly with the foundations beneath the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. This basilica had been built over the original Holy Home in Nazareth. Tradition says that the investigation disclosed another bit of valuable evidence: the house found at Tersatto was built of limestone, mortar and cedar wood. These materials were commonplace in Nazareth but almost unobtainable in Dalmatia.
Then suddenly on 10 December 1294, three years later, the little house disappeared as mysteriously as it had come. This time, however, the angels were not so successful in bearing it away without notice! The alert shepherds of Tersatto reported the departure. And across the Adriatic Sea, the happy victims of insomnia, who happened to be out that night, rushed home with reports of a mysterious passage overhead of a little house, borne aloft by angels. The awesomeness of the spectacle gave hint that it was the work of the Son of the Queen of Angels.
To this very day the people of Tersatto in Dalmatia (Croatia), as well as people in the Italian Marche region, on the night of December ninth and tenth, rise at 3:00 a.m. to the sound of a joyful pealing of their bells and light their customary bonfires, as they sing litanies of praise to the Cause of Our Joy.
Across the sea in Italy, on the shores of the Adriatic, a little plain called Banderuolo, four miles from the city of Recanati welcomed the Holy House when the angels lowered its uneven walls onto the wooded area. It took almost no time for people to hear of the arrival of this mysterious, airborne house. Thousands of people began to make pilgrimages to it and it rapidly gained a reputation as a place of cures. But unfortunately, as the pilgrims increased, so did the bandits that lurked in the surrounding forest. Slowly the house of prayer became surrounded by a den of thieves. Feeling the same justified anger that once compelled Him to cast the buyers and sellers from His Father’s House, Our Lord withdrew the House itself!
Once again the soft flutter of angels’ wings stirred the night air as they relocated the home of the House of Gold. This time its foundation-less walls settled down in an open meadow on the Antici property in Recanati. Tradition tells us that, not long after this, the brothers who owned the property, two hot-tempered Italian rustics, took to fighting. The cause of the discord was allegedly over the Holy House itself, each claiming to own the plot it occupied, or perhaps taking credit for its having chosen the land because of their personal holiness! Tradition calls it a mere quarrel but it was sufficient to cause the Refuge of Sinners to abandon the site. Happily, as soon as the Santa Casa moved, the brothers repented and were reconciled.
The Holy House now reached its final destination; final, that is, at least to this present date, on Loreto hill, a few miles away from its previous location, close to the village of Recanati. Although they weren’t quite sure just what was the story behind it, people began to come in droves to venerate it. In 1295 a strong wall was built around it, either for protection, or to keep it from escaping their humble grasp and making another nightly excursion! Identification of Her sweet little home was clearly unfolded by the Virgin of Virgins Herself in 1296 to a saintly hermit who lived nearby. Immediately the government of Recanati sent sixteen of its most reputable citizens to the Holy Land to investigate the situation. After an absence of months, the retinue of homespun scientists returned with the obvious facts. All they found in Nazareth was the spot, still venerated, where the house once stood. The foundation measured up exactly to that of the House of Loreto: thirteen feet by thirty-one. The bricks of the local Nazareth habitation were of the same substance as the Holy House, whereas the other Recanati abodes were completely dissimilar. The Recanati representatives were convinced; this was the House of the Holy Family, miraculously brought to the shores of Italy through the Will of God and for His Glory.
Most of the evidence about the translation of the Holy House came to light through a commission of inquiry set up by Pope Boniface VIII, who sent his investigators to Tersatto and Nazareth, as well as to Loreto. He himself, as well as other popes, declared that the history and traditions of Loreto are “most worthy of belief.” Later the Sacred Congregation of Rites appointed 10 December as the Feast of the “Translation of the Holy House.”
Since 1294, it has become one of the greatest shrines to Our Lady, with pilgrims from all over the world crowding the roads to Loreto. Over 2,000 canonided, beatified and venerable children of the Church have paid homage to the Singular Vessel of Devotion by visiting the home in which she was born and in which she raised the only-begotten Son of God. These include: St Ignatius Loyola, St Francis Xavier, St John Berchmans, St Philip Neri, St Francis de Sales, St John Capistrano, St Clement Mary Hofbauer, St Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, St Louis Marie de Montfort, St Benedict Joseph Labre, St Therese and St Frances Xavier Cabrini, Blessed John Henry Newman, just to mention a few. Forty-seven popes have knelt there during their pontificates and many others came to pray before they were elevated to the Holy See. More than fifty Popes have issued Bulls and Papal Briefs testifying to its authenticity. Hundreds of Papal documents have granted it privileges, exemptions, and authorisations to receive benefits. In 1669, it was given a Mass of its own in the Missal. The Litany of Our Lady, that most beautiful and poetic expression of her virtues and her sublime role for both Heaven and Earth, is named after this Shrine, the Litany of Loreto.
It is a place of many miracles. Those who have come throughout the ages, beseeching aid from the Comforter of the Afflicted, usually return home spiritually aided or physically cured. Three successors to the chair of Peter have physically experienced the benevolence of the Virgin Most Merciful and were restored to health. They were Pope Pius II, Pope Paul II and Pope Pius IX. Even today Her graces continue to flow, for Our Lady still exercises Her Queenship by interceding for Her subjects who implore Her aid under the title of Our Lady of Loreto.
Italy has, perhaps more than any other European country, been the scene of civil strife, wars and revolutions from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The country was divided with city fighting city, faction pitted against faction, and man against man. Those six centuries of Italian history are the most dramatic in the formation of Europe. But as numerous armies marched from North to South and South to North, no harm was ever done to the House of Loreto and to its mystical image.
It was again one of the many sacrileges of the Freemasonic French Revolution to desecrate this most sacred image of Our Lady. The French Revolutionary Directory seized all the treasures of Loreto, including the image, took them to Paris and exposed them to profane curiosity. Napoleon III finally gave the statue back to Pope Pius VII, who enthroned it first in the Papal Palace at the Quirinal and then, with great solemnity restored it to Loreto in 1802. Tragically, however, an accident in 1921 destroyed the original statue and a new figure, about three feet high, was then carved from the wood of a cedar grown in the Vatican gardens.
Pope Pius XI enthroned this new statue in September of 1924 in the Sistine Chapel. Then, with his own hands, he crowned the Holy Child and His Mother, whereupon the figure was exposed for a day in the Basi1ica of St Mary Major in Rome. Finally, with great solemnity, it was carried to Loreto. On feast days, the figure of Our Lady and the Holy Child were accustomed to be dressed in robes of gold and silk. The jewels on the robe are the marriage jewels of the Catholic Empress, Maria Theresa of Austria and are of inestimable value.
There are, of course, the inevitable skeptics who obstinately reject the fact of the “translation” of the Holy House from Nazareth to Tersatto and thence to its present location. But their objections are refuted by the very fact that no house could stand for as long a time as this one has — certainly not for centuries — resting on the surface of the ground only, without even having a foundation. Yet the fact remains that the house is not artificially sustained in any way and it has no foundation at all. This can be verified by anyone who visits the shrine. During World War II, the shock of airwaves destroyed many more solidly built houses, ancient and modern, as well as fortified castles. The vicinity of Loreto and the city itself were bombed by the Allies (Americans) several times during the conflict but the House of Nazareth, where the Angel announced that the Word would be made Flesh, still stands erect and unshattered, as if proclaiming to mankind that it need only depend upon the unshakable Rock of Peter, the foundation-stone of Christ’s One, True Church.
Sweet were the days the Blessed Virgin Mary spent with Saint Joseph and the Holy Child in their modest little home. Their life within the clay walls was affluent with poverty, resonant with silence and illustrious in humility. “Her actual life, both at Nazareth and later, must have been a very ordinary one…” said Saint Thèrése, the Little Flower of Jesus, who once visited the Holy House.“She should be shown to us as someone who can be imitated, someone who lived a life of hidden virtue and who lived by faith as we must.” This beautiful and much needed lesson of extraordinary sanctity in very ordinary circumstances, is precisely what the humble and Holy House of Loreto bespeaks to us.
Saint of the Day – 3 July – St Thomas the Apostle of Christ – Apostle, Martyr, Preacher, Evangelist (called Didymus which means “the twin” was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. He is informally called ‘Doubting Thomas’ because he doubted Jesus’ Resurrection when first told (in the Gospel of John account only), followed later by his confession of faith, “My Lord and my God,”, on seeing Jesus’ wounded Body. He was ready to die with Jesus when Christ went to Jerusalem but is best remembered for doubting the Resurrection until allowed to touch Christ’s wounds. An old tradition says that Thomas Baptised the three Magi. He was Martyred by being stabbed with a spear in c 72 while in prayer on a hill in Mylapur, India and is buried near the site of his death. His relics later moved to Edessa, Mesopotamia and finally to Tortona, Italy in the 13th Century. His Patronages are:• people in doubt; against doubt• architects•blind people and against blindness• builders• construction workers• geometricians• stone masons and stone cutters• surveyors• theologians• Ceylon• East Indies• India• Indonesia• Malaysia • Pakistan• Singapore• Sri Lanka• Diocese of Bathery, India• Castelfranco di Sopra, Italy• Certaldo, Italy• Ortona, Italy.
We feel great kinship for the Apostle Thomas because, like him, most of us curiously combine faith and doubt. We sometimes share the enthusiasm St Thomas expressed when upon Lazarus’s death Jesus decided to go to Bethany. “Let’s go too,” Thomas said to the other disciples,“that we may die with him” (see John 11:16). But also like him we sometimes wonder where Jesus is headed and where He is taking us (see John 14:5).
However, we are most like Thomas because doubts occasionally rattle our brains and cloud our souls. So we all relate to the story of doubting Thomas (see John 20:25–29). Thomas was absent the first time Jesus appeared after his resurrection. The apostle swore he would not believe, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails and place my hand in his side”. Eight days later Jesus appeared again and told Thomas to touch his wounds. “My Lord, and my God,” Thomas exclaimed, recovering his faith.
Some early Christian writers criticised Thomas’s faithless behaviour. But others praised him for helping us cure our doubts, as Gregory the Great does in this homily:
“. . . For the faithlessness of Thomas aids us in our belief more than does the faith of the disciples who believed. . . . When he is brought to believe by feeling with his own hand, every doubt having been removed, our own mind is confirmed in faith. . . .The divinity cannot be seen by any mortal man. So Thomas saw man and confessed him to be God, saying, “My Lord, and my God.”
On seeing, then, he believed, and proclaimed him to be God whom he could not see.
Then Jesus spoke these words that give us much joy: “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed” (see John 20:29). This sentence undoubtedly signifies to us who hold in our minds Him whom we have not seen in the flesh. But we are signified only if we follow up our faith by works. For he really believes, who carries out in deed what he believes.
We do not know for sure where Thomas conducted his missionary activity after Pentecost. Some claim that he evangelised among the Parthians. But a stronger tradition says he carried the gospel to India. He is supposed to have recruited the Christians of Malabar and died a martyr by the spear at Mylapore, near Madras. An ancient stone cross there marks the place where his remains lay buried until they were removed to Edessa in 394 and then later to Italy.
St Thomas, Apostle of Christ pray for our unbelief!
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