Gospel reading of the day:
As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.
Reflection on the gospel reading: The Church celebrates today St. Andrew the Apostle. The gospel gives us a portrait of how Jesus called his disciples. They were people enmeshed in a set of circumstances. They had family members and jobs. But they also must have been people who could feel the stirring of their hearts and people who were able to respond generously to their hearts’ impulses, because when Jesus called them, they left what they were doing and responded to his invitation. Our hearts also experience movements. We need to create space in them so that we can hear the Lord’s voice and do the things the Lord calls us to.
Saint of the day: Andrew was St. Peter’s brother, and was called with him. “As [Jesus] was walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is now called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20).
John the Evangelist presents Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptist. When Jesus walked by one day, John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Andrew and another disciple followed Jesus. “Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’ So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day” (John 1:38-39a).
Little else is said about Andrew in the Gospels. Before the multiplication of the loaves, it was Andrew who spoke up about the boy who had the barley loaves and fishes (see John 6:8-9). When the Gentiles went to see Jesus, they came to Philip, but Philip then had recourse to Andrew (see John 12:20-22).
Legend has it that Andrew preached the Good News in what is now modern Greece and Turkey and was crucified at Patras.
Gospel reading of the day:
Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Turning to the disciples in private he said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: We prepare for Christmas in these days of Advent. The gospel passage the Church recommends to us today for our reflection reminds us, as we approach the celebration of the Lord’s nativity, that we are privileged indeed, for our eyes are blessed to look upon a Lord that many prophets and kings wished to see but did not, and our ears are privileged to hear a Lord who many prophets and kings wished to hear but did not. Our privilege, however, entails a responsibility, for the fact that God has broken into human history calls on us to make a response. Renewal of our response through prayer and reflection is precisely what these days of Advent call us to do.
Saint of the day: Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in San Francisco and Chicago. She was born into a family described by one biographer as “solid, patriotic, and middle class”. Her father was a Southerner of Scotch-Irish background, while her mother, a native of upstate New York, was of English ancestry. Her parents were married in an Episcopal church located in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood where Day would spend much of her young adulthood.
In 1914, Dorothy Day attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on a scholarship, but dropped out after two years and moved to New York City. Day was a reluctant scholar. Her reading was chiefly in a radical social direction. She avoided campus social life and insisted on supporting herself rather than live on money from her father, a characteristic she was to maintain for the rest of her life, to the point of buying all her clothing and shoes from discount stores to save money. Settling on the Lower East Side, she worked on the staffs of Socialist publications (The Liberator, The Masses, The Call) and engaged in anti-war and women’s suffrage protests. She spent several months in Greenwich Village, where she became close to Eugene O’Neill.
Initially Day lived a bohemian life, with two common-law marriages and an abortion, which she later described in her semi-autobiographical novel, The Eleventh Virgin (1924)—a book she later regretted writing. She had been an agnostic, but with the birth of her daughter, Tamar (1926–2008), she began a period of spiritual awakening which led her to embrace Catholicism, joining the Church in December 1927, with baptism at Our Lady Help of Christians parish on Staten Island. In her 1952 biography, The Long Loneliness, Day recalled that immediately after her baptism, she made her first confession, and the following day, she received communion. Subsequently, Day began writing for Catholic publications, such as Commonweal and America.
The Catholic Worker movement started with the Catholic Worker newspaper, created to promote Catholic social teaching and stake out a neutral, pacifist position in the war-torn 1930s. This grew into a “house of hospitality” in the slums of New York City and then a series of farms for people to live together communally. She lived for a time at the now demolished Spanish Camp community in the Annadale section of Staten Island.The movement quickly spread to other cities in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom; more than 30 independent but affiliated CW communities had been founded by 1941. Well over 100 communities exist today, including several in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and Sweden. She was also a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (‘Wobblies’).
By the 1960s, Day was embraced by a significant number of Catholics, while at the same time, she earned the praise of counterculture leaders such as Abbie Hoffman, who characterized her as the first hippie, a description of which Day approved. Yet, although Day had written passionately about women’s rights, free love and birth control in the 1910s, she opposed the sexual revolution of the 1960s, saying she had seen the ill-effects of a similar sexual revolution in the 1920s. Day had a progressive attitude toward social and economic rights, alloyed with a very orthodox and traditional sense of Catholic morality and piety.
Her devotion to her church was neither conventional nor unquestioning, however. She alienated many U.S. Catholics (including some clerical leaders) with her condemnation of Falangist leader Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War; and, possibly in response to her criticism of Cardinal Francis Spellman, she was pressured by the Archdiocese of New York in 1951 to change the name of her newspaper, “ostensibly because the word Catholic implies an official church connection when such was not the case.” Dorothy was able to convince the Church that removing the word Catholic from its banner would be a scandal to the paper’s many readers.
In 1971, Day was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award. It was named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that calls upon all people of good will to secure peace among all nations. Pacem in Terris is Latin for ‘Peace on Earth.’ Day was accorded many other honors in her last decade, including the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, in 1972.
She died in New York City thirty-one years ago today on November 29, 1980.
Day was buried in Cemetery of the Resurrection on Staten Island, just a few blocks from the location of the beachside cottage where she first became interested in Catholicism. The simple marker on her quite ordinary grave has her name, the dates of her birth and death, and the words, Deo Gratias (Thanks be to God), the last words of the Mass. She was proposed for sainthood by the Claretian Missionaries in 1983. The Archdiocese of New York opened Day’s “cause” for sainthood in March 2000, thereby officially making her a “Servant of God.”
Spiritual reading: It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. Yet now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that he speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers, and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives that he gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that he walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that he longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ. (Dorothy Day)
When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” He said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: In the first century, the God Fearers were Gentiles who attached themselves in varying degrees to Judaism without becoming total converts. They were of significant importance to the growth of early Christianity. They represented a group of Gentiles who to one degree or another shared religious ideas with Jews; however, they were not converts but a separate group of Gentiles who engaged in Judaic religious ideas and practices. Many God Fearers were attracted to aspects of Judaism such as its monotheism and ethical practice. Actual conversion would have required full adherence to the Law of Moses, which included various prohibitions and practices like the dietary laws and circumcision, that did not appeal to many would-be Gentile converts.
The Centurion in this story is just such a person, a Gentile who deeply respected the traditions of Judaism but did not make the final step toward conversion. Even so, as we prepare for Christmas, the Church calls on us to reflect on the universality of Jesus’ mission and Jesus’ invitation to all people to enjoy the moral benefits of the faith of his people. The central theme of Advent and Christmas is that Jesus comes for everyone and the kingdom of God is open to all.
Saint of the day: Joseph Pignatelli, S.J. was born in Saragossa, Spain, 1737. Born of a Spanish mother and a princely Italian father, Joseph, a Spanish grandee, was educated in Saragossa. He joined the Jesuits at Tarragona when he was 16, made his vows in 1755, was ordained in 1763, and was assigned to Saragossa. In addition to teaching young boys, Father Joseph had a special ministry to those condemned to execution. After his profession, he taught at Manresa, Bilboa, and Saragossa.
When Charles III banished the Jesuits from Spain in 1767, Father Pignatelli and his fellow Jesuits went to Corsica, where they were forced to leave when the French, who had also banished the Jesuits, occupied the island.
They then settled in Ferrara, Italy, where Joseph was placed in charge of young recruits. When Pope Clement XIV, under pressure from the Bourbons, suppressed the Jesuits in 1773 as an administrative measure without condemning any of the Society’s actions. Joseph and the 23,000 members of the Society of Jesus were secularized.
He lived for the next 20 years at Bologna, Italy, contributing to the temporal support of his less fortunate fellow Jesuit exiles and strengthening their courage with brotherly advice. At the same time he worked hard for the restoration of his beloved institute and studied its history.
Meanwhile, Empress Catherine had refused to allow the bull of suppression to be published in Russia, and the Society of Jesus continued in existence there. In 1792, the duke of Parma invited three Italian Jesuits in Russia to establish themselves in his realm, and after receiving permission from Pius VI, Father Pignatelli made his profession again in 1797 and became superior, thus bringing the Jesuits back to Italy.
He began a quasi-novitiate at Colorno in 1799 and saw Pope Pius VII give formal approval to the Jesuit province in Russia in 1801. Father Pignatelli worked to revive the Jesuits, and in 1804 the Society was re-established in the Kingdom of Naples, with him as provincial–“the link between the old and the new Society.” The province was dispersed when the French invaded Naples later that same year, whereupon he went to Rome and was named provincial for Italy. Many Jesuits came back to Rome, where Pius VII offered them their former college and S. Pantaleon’s near the Colosseum. Thus, he restored the Society in Sardinia and helped conserve it when the French occupied Rome.
The Society of Jesus was not fully restored until 1814, three years after the death in 1811 of Joseph in Rome on November 11.
Spiritual reading: Our task now is to learn that if we can voyage to the ends of the earth and find ourselves in the aborigine who most differs from ourselves, we will have made a fruitful pilgrimage. That is why pilgrimage is necessary, in some shape or other. Mere sitting at home and meditating on the divine presence is not enough for our time. We have to come to the end of a long journey and see that the stranger we meet there is no other than ourselves – which is the same as saying we find Christ in him. (Mystics and Zen Masters by Fr. Thomas Merton)
Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
Reflection on the gospel of the day: As we start Advent and the new liturgical year, we remember that we live in the in between time: the already but not yet. Jesus has come to fulfill the expectations of his people, but we are still an expectant people that waits and watches for the coming of the Lord.
Indeed, the word Advent means coming. The narrative the Church offers us today reminds us that we need to be ready, to be watchful, alert, wakeful. Every moment of our lives is a precious gift in which to sense the presence of Jesus, and no one knows when these gifts of these many moments will stop coming. We read constantly of accidents that caught people unaware and cost them their lives. Sudden and violent illnesses are common events. We all grieve that too much violence is in our streets, and many people every day leave their homes not knowing that this day is the end of their days. The gift of Christ is always available to us in our prayer and meditation, our spiritual reading, our service to our least sisters and brothers. Every moment of our lives is an opportunity to see Christ, love Christ, follow Christ. If this is the habit of our moments, we will never be caught sleeping or distracted.
Jesus is like the master of the house who has traveled a long way off. You and I are his servants, and he has left us to tend to his affairs. Mother Teresa once observed that she could not do what I can do, and I cannot do what she could do, but together, we can do something beautiful for God. This is the thing: each of us has been given a small plot to cultivate for Christ. We need simply discover it and then love tilling it for the Lord.
“Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.” How are we to accomplish this admonition? The answer is really simple.
We attend to the present moment. This minute you have here, right now, holds worth beyond your most unfettered aspirations, but you only enjoy it to the extent your faith and love permit. The more you love, the more you long, the more you hope, the more you find. The will of God is manifest in each moment, an immense ocean which the heart only plumbs to the extent of its faith, trust, and love. If we cultivate our plot with faith, love, longing, hope, and trust through prayer and service focused on Christ, we shall be ready for him when he comes for us.
Spiritual reading: Every year we celebrate the holy season of Advent, O God. Every year we pray those beautiful prayers of longing and waiting, and sing those lovely songs of hope and promise. Every year we roll up all our needs and yearnings and faithful expectation into one word: “Come!” (The Divine Dawning, Karl Rahner, S.J.)
Jesus said to his disciples: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Today’s reading is the very last of the liturgical year. Jesus understood the apathy that attends the human condition and called on us to be fully aware and fully alive. The passage cautions us not to give ourselves over to lives of the ordinariness of the day to day, self-indulgence, or anxieties. Instead, Jesus invites us to remain vigilant in prayer that we may withstand the things we face as we make our ways.
On this last day of the Church year, let us recall that we are called to a gathering greatness. Let us pray that we may be open to the mysterious ways that God calls us to stand before the Son of Man.
Saint of the day: John Berchmans was born in Diest, Flanders, in Belgium in 1599, the son of a shoemaker and the eldest of five children, three of whom entered religious life. He spent much of his time at home caring for his mother, who was in poor health. His family was very religious and he thought early in life of becoming a priest. He lived in the rectory of Notre Dame parish while he studied but after three years his father told him he would have to leave school and learn a practical trade to supplement his family’s poverty. The pastor of the Diest Béguinage offered to pay for Berchmans’ education in return for his service as a servant. In 1612 the John made the same arrangement in Mechlin in the house of Canon Froymont. In 1615, the Jesuits opened a college at Malines (Mechlin) and John Berchmans was one of the first to enroll. He proved an energetic student and a leader among his peers. He decided to join them rather than become a diocesan priest. His father was disappointed because, as a diocesan priest, John could have supported his family but not as a Jesuit. Nevertheless, he gave his son his blessing.
In 1616, John he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Malines, after reading the life of Aloysius Gonzaga, and came under the influence of Fr Antoine Sucquet. A few months after entering the Jesuits, John’s mother died. His father gave up his shoemaking and entered the diocesan seminary. He was ordained a priest in April 1618.
Meanwhile, the young Berchmans developed a strong and deep spirituality based on faithful observance of the rules of religious life. Apart from Aloysius Gonzaga and he was also inspired by the example of the English Jesuit martyrs (who had spent some of their exile in Flanders).
It was his down-to-earth appreciation for the ordinary things of life, a characteristic of the Flemish mystical tradition, which formed the basis of his spirituality. He had an approachable, kind and outgoing personality which made him attractive to all.
On September 25, 1618 John made his first vows as a Jesuit and went to Antwerp to study philosophy, the next step in his formation. After only three weeks he was told go to Rome to continue his studies. This could indicate he was destined for higher studies in the future. Before he could return to Mechlin to say goodbye to his family, his father died suddenly.
He did very well in his studies and, at the end of his third year, was chosen to defend the whole philosophy course in a public disputation. Due to overwork in preparing for his final exams, his health was affected. He became gradually weaker as he prepared for the disputation on 8 July. When it was over, he was then called on to represent the Roman College at another disputation to be held in the following month of August at the Greek College. The two demanding events so close together were too much for his weakening condition.
On August 7 he suffered an attack of dysentery, followed by a fever. Pale and weak, he was sent to the infirmary. He grew weaker day by day as his lungs became inflamed. When fellow Jesuit students came to his bedside, he spoke of Paradise as if he would soon be there. The brother infirmarian suggested he should receive Communion the next day, even though it was not a Sunday. (Communion was taken only once a week in those days.) The Jesuit community came in procession bringing Viaticum to their dying brother. He asked for his crucifix, rosary and the rule book he so closely followed. There was a steady stream of visitors, including the Superior General. He spent his final night in prayer and died on the morning of August 13. He was just 22 years of age. It was said that numerous miracles were attributed to him even at the time of his funeral. He was beatified in 1865 and canonized in 1888. His body lies in the church of St. Ignatius in Rome, where Aloysius Gonzaga is also buried.
John was beloved by all who knew him and is remembered today for his unfailing cheerfulness and his strong desire to do God’s will, even in the most ordinary of things.
Jesus told his disciples a parable. “Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ discourse on the future continues in today’s gospel passage. Jesus tells us to be attentive: his ministry, passion, death, and resurrection inaugurates the inbreaking of the kingdom of God into human history. When Jesus tells us that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place,” it is his assurance to his people, the Jews, that they are an integral part of God’s plan, and the Jewish faith will remain to the world’s end. The whole passage is a testament that God is not fickle: God keeps God’s promises. We can count on God to remain faithful no matter what happens.
Saint of the day: Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini were married in Rome on November 25, 1884. Typically, we celebrate a memorial on the day of a saint’s death, but because this couple, who were beatified together, died on two different days, the church celebrates their memorial on the anniversary of the day of their marriage. Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi was born in Catania, Italy in January1880, and Maria Corsini was born in Florence, Italy in June 1884. Together, they lived a life of holiness and devotion which they instilled in their marriage. As their children were born, Maria and Luigi shared with their family attendance each day at Mass, Holy Communion, the rosary, and consecration to Jesus’ Heart. They raised four children. Between 1924 and 1927, their firstborn son Phillipo began to pursue the priesthood, their son Cesare left home to become a trappist monk, and their daughter Stephania entered the Benedictine Cloister to become a nun. They lived the social gospel: during World War II, for example, they opened their homes to shelter refugees. Luigi suffered a heart attack and died on November 9, 1951. Maria died in her daughter Enirchetta’s arms at their house in the mountains in August 1965. They were beatified jointly in October 2001.
Spiritual reading: The Church is a prayer; the Church is a song; the Church is the tears of all mankind; the Church is the smile of a child; the Church picks up the last look of the dying man or woman. All these things are in the bosom of the Church, because all these things are in God, and God brought forth the Church. To leave the Church is to become lonely, so lonely. (The Servant of God Catherine Doherty)
Gospel reading of the day:
As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: The response of the one leper who returned to glorify God and thank Jesus reminds us about the true nature of gratitude. True gratitude focuses on the greatness of the giver rather than the gift. When a woman, for instance, receives a proposal of marriage, a little box typically accompanies the proposal as a gift. When she opens the box she sees that it is a diamond ring and she knows that the diamond signifies proposal of marriage. Generally she will make some glad noise and perhaps demonstrate happiness at the gift with some physical act. But then the next thing she does is find the giver of the gift to embrace him and kiss him and express gratitude to him. How distressingly unintelligible it would be if that woman opened the box, saw the ring, and then celebrated the ring with no acknowledgment of the giver. Yet when we are grateful for the gifts of God without being grateful for the God who gave the gifts, we do act in a way that makes no sense. True gratitude leads us to love God more for who God is than for what God has done. False gratitude expresses love to God out of a belief that this is the key to more blessing. It is like the person who expresses gratitude for a Christmas gift not because she or he appreciates the love and affection which prompted the gift, but because they know if they don’t express their thanks, they might not receive another gift.
Saint of the day: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951 and now have been canonized in recent decades. Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan.
The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful.
Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries.
Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons.
The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution.
By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes, and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees.
During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.
Spiritual reading: I am gently going to my grave. It is the will of God, and I thank Him very much for letting me die of the same disease and in the same way as my lepers. I am very satisfied and very happy. (Damien of Molokai)
Jesus said to the crowd: “They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: We know at this dawn of the third millennium that Jesus’ words about the cost of faith in Jesus have proven true. Real fidelity to the gospel can be very costly indeed. One recent estimate has suggested that 45 million Christians died for their faith in the twentieth century alone and that since the Lord’s death and resurrection, more than 70 million Christians died for the faith. The Church today celebrates the life and death of one such martyr, a Jesuit priest Miguel Pro, who died in a persecution of the Church in Mexico. No matter the price that we pay for our faith in Jesus, however, Jesus promises to remain with us until the end, giving us wisdom to refute lies and promising that no one will be able to injure our most essential self.
Saint of the day: Miguel Augustin Pro was born in Guadalupe de Zacatecas, Mexico on January 13, 1891 in a large family of seven brothers and sisters. Inspired by two of his sisters entering religious life, Miguel, at the age of 20, entered the Society of Jesus at Hacienda El Llano.
It was a time of political and religious persecution in Mexico under the rule of Presidents Alvaro Obregon and then Plutarco Elias Calles, described by writer Graham Greene as the “fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of [Queen] Elizabeth.” The Pro family suffered both financial and personal hardship. Miguel and his fellow Jesuit novices were also under threat, as Catholic priests and religious were particular objects of persecution in the reign of terror.
Following a raid of their religious house, the Jesuit superiors ordered Miguel and the other novices to flee Mexico. They went first to Los Gatos, California and from there to Granada, Spain (1915-19) and then Miguel did some teaching in Nicaragua from 1919 to 1922. Because of his background with miners in Mexico and his natural ability to relate well with them, he was sent to Enghein in Belgium to study the Catholic labor movement. He was also ordained priest there on August 31, 1925. His first assignment as a priest was to work with miners in Charleroi, Belgium and he was able to win them over.
A few months after his ordination he had several operations arising from stomach ulcers. He was also distressed by the situation back home. Yet, his companions noted that when he felt the most pain, he would seem at his most cheerful.
With the hope of helping him regain his health, in 1926 he was granted his wish to return to Mexico to be closer to his family, even though the Church in Mexico was facing major challenges from an anti-Catholic government under the presidency of President Calles. Constitutional amendments and legislation had recently been passed which severely restricted public worship. Any Catholic priest daring to celebrate the Eucharist or administer any of the sacraments risked harassment, arrest, torture and even execution.
Under such circumstances Miguel played a cat and mouse game with the police as he secretly ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of the people – rich, poor, business people or laborers, even some Socialists and Communists. Getting around by bicycle and variously disguised as a mechanic, a servant, or an educated person of culture, he was able to give spiritual sustenance to many people. In the spirit of St. Paul, he was all things to all people for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel. He won people over through prayer and his great sense of humor. While the army and police had their guns, Miguel used to say, pointing to his crucifix: “Here is my weapon. With this I do not fear anyone.”
He had also said: “I am ready to give my life for souls but I want nothing for myself. All that I want is to lead them to God. If I kept anything for myself, I should be a thief, infamous; I should no longer be a priest.”
Many of the details of his ministry come from his letters, which he signed ‘Cocol’. In October 1926, a warrant for his arrest was issued. He was arrested, released from prison the next day, but kept under surveillance.
An assassination attempt against former president, Álvaro Obregón, in November 1927 provided the state with an excuse to arrest Miguel and his brother Roberto. A young engineer who was involved and confessed his part in the assassination testified the Pro brothers were not involved but he was ignored. The authorities claimed to link the Pro brothers to the crime through an old car which had formerly belonged to one of the brothers. Even though they knew that the brothers were innocent, it was enough that they were both Catholic priests and so enemies of the regime. Simply on that basis, without due process or a trial, the two brothers were condemned to die. On the morning of November 23, 1927, Miguel Pro was led from his cell to his place of execution. The police and military ignored the shouts of a man outside the execution area who said he had a stay of execution for the two brothers. As Miguel was led to his death, a policeman responsible for his capture asked his forgiveness which was immediately given. Minutes before his execution and declining the usual blindfold, Miguel asked to be allowed to pray. He knelt down on the ground, in front of a wall already riddled with bullets from previous executions. Like his Master, he accepted God’s will, then stood up, stretched out his arms as if on a cross. Like his Master, he forgave his executioners and, as they raised their guns, he shouted in a clear and loud voice: “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King). When the initial shots of the firing squad failed to kill him, a soldier shot him dead at close range.
Strangely, there is a detailed photographic record of the execution. This was done on the express orders of the president and they appeared on the front page of newspapers all over the country. The idea was to intimidate other rebels against the government but, not surprisingly, they had the opposite effect and are now a precious record of a martyr’s death. Miguel Pro was beatified in September 1988.
Miguel is remembered for his happy disposition, his extraordinary dedication to the priestly ministry under the most harsh conditions, and his devotion to Christ the King. One of his companions, Fr. Pulido, said that he “had never seen such an exquisite wit, never coarse, always sparkling.”
Spiritual reading We ought to speak, shout out against injustices, with confidence and without fear. We proclaim the principles of the Church, the reign of love, without forgetting that it is also a reign of justice. (Miguel Agustin Pro, S.J.)
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Then they asked him, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus calls us in this passage to be careful and prudent when we read the signs of the times. It is easy to be deceived and to err in our estimations of events. Many Christians read cataclysmic portents into the events of our day, but it is for God to know when time concludes: our task is to be available to the present moment and address what need God sets before us as we make our way.
Saint of the day: In the fourth century appeared a Greek religious romance on the Loves of Cecilia and Valerian, written, like those of Chrysanthus and Daria, and Julian and Basilissa, in glorification of the virginal life, and with the purpose of taking the place of such sensual romances of Daphnis and Chloe, and Chereas and Callirhoe, which were then popular. There may have been a foundation of fact on which the story was built up, but the Roman Calendar of the fourth century and the Carthaginian Calendar of the fifth make no mention of Cecilia.
According to the tradition that exists, Cecilia was a cultivated young patrician woman whose ancestors loomed large in Rome’s history. She vowed her virginity to God, but her parents married her to Valerian of Trastevere. Cecilia told her new husband that she was accompanied by an angel, but in order to see it, he must be purified. He agreed to the purification and was baptized; returning from the ceremony, he found her in prayer accompanied by a praying angel. The angel placed a crown on each of their heads, and offered Valerian a favor; the new convert asked that his brother be baptized.
The two brothers developed a ministry of giving proper burial to martyred Christians. In their turn, they were arrested and martyred for their faith. Cecilia buried them at her villa on the Apprian Way and was arrested for the action. She was ordered to sacrifice to false gods; when she refused, she was martyred in her turn.
The Acta of Cecilia includes the following: “While the profane music of her wedding was heard, Cecilia was singing in her heart a hymn of love for Jesus, her true spouse.” It was this phrase that led to her association with music. Her martyrdom was about 117. First suffocated for a while, she did not die. She was then beheaded.
Spiritual reading: Jesus is our true Mother in nature by our first creation, and he is our true Mother in grace by his taking our created nature. All the lovely works and all the sweet loving offices of beloved motherhood are appropriated to the second person, for in him we have this godly will, whole and safe forever, both in nature and in grace, from his own goodness proper to him. (The Book of Showings by Dame Juliana of Norwich)
Gospel reading of the day:
When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus has entered Jerusalem to begin the final period of his life. He observes a widow who gives freely of the entirety of her substance and thus shows her perfect trust that God will take care of her. The proximity of this account of the widow’s mite to the Lord’s own passion suggests the widow might be a symbol of Jesus himself who soon, in Luke’s account, also gives of the entirety of his substance to demonstrate his perfect trust in God’s providence.
Saint of the day: Gelasius O’Cullenan was a Cistercian and the Abbot of Boyle, Ireland. He was probably born near Assaroe Abbey in County Donegal. Three of his brothers were Cistercian abbots, and a fourth, Bishop of Raphoe. Gelasius, the eldest of these brothers, studied at Salamanca University, and went from there to Paris where he took his doctorate at the Sorbonne, made his monastic profession, and was created Abbot of Boyle, County Roscommon. This abbey had been confiscated and granted to Cusack, Sheriff of Meath; but the Irish regulars continued to appoint superiors to the suppressed houses. The young abbot went immediately to Ireland and is said to have obtained restoration of his abbey. He was, however, seized at Dublin by the Government and imprisoned with Eugene O’Mulkeeran, Abbot of Holy Trinity at Lough Key. Refusing to conform, they were tortured and finally hanged outside Dublin, November 21, 1580. O’Cullenan’s body was spared mutilation through his friends’ intercession. His clothes were divided as a martyr’s relics among the Catholics. Gelasius O’Cullenan and Eugene O’Mulkeeran were beatified in 1992.
Spiritual reading: MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (“Thoughts in Solitude” by Thomas Merton)