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.
Jesus said to his disciples: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is at hand. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. Let those within the city escape from it, and let those in the countryside not enter the city, for these days are the time of punishment when all the Scriptures are fulfilled. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for a terrible calamity will come upon the earth and a wrathful judgment upon this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken as captives to all the Gentiles; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: A central theme in the Christian message is that life changes, and these changes are often painful, but no matter how bad things get, we can be sure that ultimately, everything is going to be alright. Jesus predicted the victory of God, the redemption which is at hand. He did not promise it would be easy; in fact, at points in the gospel such as the passage we read today, he promises that we will see very bad times over the course of human history and at its fulfillment. But the joy of Christian life is to know that no matter how bad it gets, we will get through it, and it is God’s intent to wipe away every tear at the end of the ages.
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 32 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)
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. 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: 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)
As we begin the new church year,our readings switch from Mark’s gospel and his quick paced approach to Luke’s gospel, which has a slow-paced orderly account of things the Christians of his time already knew. He was aware of Matthew and Mark. His ordering was his own and was a preparation and intertwining with his later work the Acts of the Apostles His intention seems to want to lead the reader into a spirit of prayer and deeper discipleship.
However, the liturgical year doesn’t open with the beginning of Luke’s gospel. It is Advent time and preparation and vigilance is the theme. So we return to the cataclysmic reminders of the last few weeks taken this time from Luke’s later chapters. The thought is familiar from Old Testament times also that redemption comes to those who are faithful and vigilant. Vigilance means be patient, settle down and let God come into our lives. catastrophes happen in all ages as we all know from recent times. They do remind us of our mortality and Christ’s coming. But in Advent we are preparing to celebrate Christ’s first coming.
World events around us are distracting, but our own activity can also be even more distracting, keeping us from seeing and absorbing what is the whole point of Christmas. Running around, buying gifts, doing all the urgent things the season seems to call for, does it really hit the mark of what we are about? The second reading urges us to put God’s plan into action, even if we don’t fully understand what it is to love and be loved. Carlo Carretto, the spiritual writer, suggests God is saying:”Be patient! Learn to wait—for each other, for love, for happiness, for God!” Are we rushing the season forgetting the spiritual?
Waiting doesn’t come easy. In fact, who likes to wait? We always seek out the shortest line or the fastest way out in a store. But I ask you should we seek the fastest way in our personal life? Are we patient enough to sit and just wait for God to come to us. Are we so busy we shut him out.
In the commercial world, Christmas is here and in fact started weeks ago and on Christmas, the stores will suddenly become Valentine’s day. We can’t let the waiting become the reality like that. Now is the time to prepare and to look into ourselves and move forward to a new beginning and find ways to expand our love. It doesn’t mean we should just stop and do nothing. But may I suggest you begin to set aside at least 10 minutes each day at which time you just silently put your self in God’s presence and ask for His love. But patience is essential for God has his own timetable for each one of us. Prayer and spirituality is a relationship, at times easy and sometimes not. God is always there, however we are not always ready for Him. Now is the time. Prepare for He is near.
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: The kingdom of God is not coming softly into the world. The realization of God’s kingdom entails many bumps and lurches like a car that travels down a rough unpaved weather-beaten road. Jesus tells us to pay attention. Every pothole in the road is not an announcement of our imminent arrival at our final destination. We have to take in the whole context of where we are and what lies in our path as we creep forward. But because each part of the way is hard and uneven does not make the ultimate victory of the Kingdom any less certain. It is as St. Paul says that all of creation is groaning (and will continue to groan) as it awaits the day of its final redemption. Christian life is cheerfulness in the knowledge that all these travails in the end will be transformed just as Jesus died in agony only to rise on the third day.
Saint of the day: Born in Lucera in southeast Italy, Francesco Antonio Fasani entered the Conventual Franciscans in 1695. After his ordination 10 years later, he taught philosophy to younger friars, served as guardian of his friary and later became provincial. When his term of office ended, Francesco became master of novices and finally pastor in his hometown.
In his various ministries, he was loving, devout and penitential. He was a sought-after confessor and preacher. One witness at the canonical hearings regarding Francesco’s holiness testified, “In his preaching he spoke in a familiar way, filled as he was with the love of God and neighbor; fired by the Spirit, he made use of the words and deed of Holy Scripture, stirring his listeners and moving them to do penance.” Francesco showed himself a loyal friend of the poor, never hesitating to seek from benefactors what was needed.
At his death in Lucera, children ran through the streets and cried out, “The saint is dead! The saint is dead!” Francesco was canonized in 1986.
Spiritual reading: The Will of God: that is my Paradise. (Francesco Antonio Fasani)
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: A constant theme in the gospels is Jesus’ ability to look into people’s hearts and understand what motivates them. When he sees the wealthy contributing their surplus, he recognizes how much these people hold back from God inside of themselves. When he sees what the widow does, he understands she gives not just her entire material substance but her whole being as well. Life, even the most routine actions, is full of meaning. We betray our deepest concerns in even the most trivial of matters. The God who fashions the arcs of galaxies also tends to the bending of a blade of grass as the breeze goes by. Nothing escapes God’s notice, and no act of love is too trivial for God to ignore.
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.
Spiritual reading: Life must be understood backwards; but . . . it must be lived forward. (Soren Kiergegaard)
Gospel reading of the day:
Pilate said to Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: On the last day of the liturgical year, we remember that calling Jesus king requires commitments. When Pilate asks Jesus whether he is the king of the Jews, Jesus’ reply indicates that to say the words requires witness; in this case, the proclamation of Christ the King is the witness of either Pilate or other who have spoken to Pilate. When Pilate asks Jesus what he had done, Jesus replies that someone who an attendant in his kingdom fight for Jesus. Finally, when Pilate taunts Jesus with, “Then you are a king?” Jesus responds that everyone who follows him listens to his voice. When Jesus calls us to accept him as king, then, he asks us to witness to him, fight for what he values, and listen to his voice, murmuring in our hearts.
Spiritual reading: This blessed friend is Jesus; it is his will and plan that we hang on to him, and hold tight always, in whatever circumstances; for whether we are filthy or clean is all the same to his love. (Juliana of Norwich)
Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, if someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?
For all seven had been married to her.” Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Some of the scribes said in reply, “Teacher, you have answered well.” And they no longer dared to ask him anything.
Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus argues for the resurrection because the Bible proclaims a truth about God as the God of the living. At the core of today’s gospel is the proclamation that our God is the God of the living. So as it is written in Deuteronomy, Choose life, so you may live, that God may be your God indeed.
Saint of the day: Persecution strengthened Catholicism in Vietnam. French missionaries in particular introduced Catholicism among the Vietnamese from the early 17th century onward. Conversions were abundant in the 18th century and up till 1819. But when the profligate Emperor Minh-mang ruled (1820-1841), he initiated a brutal persecution of Catholics. In an edict of January 6, 1833, he ordered all Christians to renounce their faith, and as a sign of that renunciation, to tread on a crucifix. This command was followed by the destruction of Catholic churches and religious houses, and the death penalty for all priests. Thousands died in the prolonged massacre, among them not only numerous missionary clergy and religious, but myriads of native Christians, priests, religious and laity, cruelly tortured and executed.
The death of Minh-mang marked a slackening of the murders, but under his successors, new legislation eventually renewed the attack against Christianity. Only in 1862 did the anti-Christian movement begin to give way but only because of French influence; the French justified their occupation of Vietnam in 1883 because of the incomplete implementation of religious liberty. Vietnam remained a French protectorate until it threw off French control in 1954. In the 1960s the country had a population of 31 million and a well-organized Catholic population of 2.25 million, a population that native bishops governed.
Few nations have had to pay so dearly for their Catholicism. As many as 100,000 had died for the faith by 1800. In the 19th century, the number of victims increased, with from 100,000 to 300,000 executed. It would have been impossible to name all these martyrs. The 117 saints that the Church has identified include eight missionary bishops, several missionary priests, and a large number of native victims: priests, religious, and lay people.
Spiritual reading: A slight sabre-cut will separate my head from my body, like the spring flower which the Master of the garden gathers for His pleasure. We are all flowers planted on this earth, which God plucks in God’s own good time: some a little sooner, some a little later . . . Father and Son may we meet in Paradise. I, poor little moth, go first. Adieu. (Theophane Venard)
Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” And every day he was teaching in the temple area. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile, were seeking to put him to death, but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose because all the people were hanging on his words.
Reflection on the gospel reading: Charles de Foucauld once wrote, “The one thing we owe absolutely to God is never to be afraid of anything.” In today’s gospel passage, Jesus speaks truth to power. He invites us through his example to engage our lives at the deepest level and never to be afraid of the consequences of living our lives for God. The road may not be easy. There are many snares and pits along the way. We will fail often. But to live our lives for Jesus, to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off as often as we fail to live as Jesus lived, is to commit to authenticity at all costs, even at the price of death, death on a cross, as the event which Luke relates to us in today’s gospel ultimately required of Jesus.
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.)
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: 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: If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “Thank you,” that would suffice. (Meister Eckhart)