Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Doctor of the Church: St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena is one of only three female Doctors of the Catholic Church. She is also an uncommon example of a saint and Doctor who served the Church as a layperson. She lived for thirty-three years, and in the course of her short life she composed many prayers and nearly 400 letters that still exist today. Her most notable contribution to the Church, a treatise called The Dialogue of Divine Providence, was dictated by Catherine while in a state of ecstasy over the course of a year. She reveals in detail the relationship between God and a soul, as represented by Catherine herself, with Jesus as the bridge. 

Catherine was an energetic, upbeat, intelligent child, and she was only six years old when she had her first mystical experience. On a walk home, she saw a vision of Christ seated in glory, along with Apostles Peter, Paul, and John. Following this experience, she resolved to dedicate her life to God. 

Catherine’s parents had other intentions for her life. They wanted her to marry, and in response Catherine cut off her hair to make herself unattractive. With her father’s eventual support, she joined the tertiary order of the Dominicans, a group of laity who participate in the works of the order but do not take religious vows. Catherine continued to live at home and committed herself to a life of solitude, intense prayer, and extreme fasting, eating as little food as possible. 

At 19, she had a second mystical experience. Both Jesus and his mother Mary appeared to her, and through this encounter she entered into a spiritual marriage with Christ.

Even though she had committed to a life of solitude, through prayer she felt a call from God to shift towards public service. In her work with the Dominican order, she began to care for lepers and cancer patients, and those suffering from the plague. Catherine was generous and prolific in sharing her intimate knowledge of Christ through her letters to fellow Dominicans and associates, and these letters increased her following in Siena. She was wholly committed to her faith, and challenged others to examine the state of their souls. Catherine also visited men sentenced to death in prison in an effort to help them make peace with God. She accompanied one prisoner to the scaffold, and he called out “Jesus and Catherine!” at his death.

In February, 1375, while visiting St. Christina’s church in Pisa, Catherine received the wounds of the stigmata. They were only visible to her during her life, but could be seen after her death.

Living during a contentious time in Italy’s history, Catherine was often called on to settle disputes. In the political sphere, the Papacy had fallen under the influence of the French crown as seven popes, in succession, resided in Avignon, France, rather than Rome. Catherine was a vocal advocate for unity in the Church. During the summer of 1376, she traveled to Avignon as ambassador of the Republic of Florence to make peace with the Papal States. She was unsuccessful and disowned by the Florentine leaders who used her in their strategy to advance their own political agenda. Catherine responded with a defiant letter. The pope returned to Rome in September of that year, in debatable response to Catherine’s efforts. 

Catherine lived her commitment to God in a broad spectrum. Years in solitude transitioned into serving the poor, imprisoned, and plague-stricken, and, as a lay woman, appealing to leaders for peace and unity in government and the Church with uncommon success.

  • St. Catherine served the poor and sick, and she used persuasion and her peacemaking skills in politics to work for unity in the Church. Do you ever doubt or let self-imposed limits influence what God might otherwise be calling you to do? 
  • Examining the circumstances in your life, are you fully open to the movements of God’s plan for you?
By Annie Syrowski
Faith Formation Commission Member

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Doctors of the Church - St Athanasius of Alexandria

He was born around 296 or 298 in Alexandria, Egypt. His parents where a prominent Christian couple, who had the means to educate the young Athanasius. He was educated in Greek, philosophy, rhetoric and jurisprudence. He studied Hebrew scriptures and the Gospel accounts and Christian texts of which later the Church would recognize as part of the Canon of the New Testament.

He seemed destined to become a Bishop. After Bishop Alexander witnessed the young Athanasius baptizing other children as they played. Immediately, Alexander summoned them and after arriving at his office he encouraged them to become priests. This became Athanasius calling he was ordained deacon about the year 319.

In the year 325, Athonasius served as Alexander’s secretary at the First Council of Nicaea. It was at this council that the term “consubstantial” was suggested by Athanasius. This was incorporated by Hosius into the Nicene Creed. Which was later adopted as the Creed of the Church.

In the year 328, Athanasius became the Bishop of Alexandria, after Alexanders’ death. His bishoproic inspired Athanasius to earn the title of “Athanasius against the world.” for standing against Arianism and the power of Rome. It was Emperor Constantine, who had called the Council of Nicea but later he became sympathetic to Arianism. Despite the Emperor’s change of heart and being exiled from his bishopric. Athanasius continued in Apostolic Faith in the Incarnation by enduring being exiled several times.

It was during one of his exiles in the Egyptian desert that he met the ascetic monk Antony. Their time together resulted in Athanasius writing a biography of “The Life of Antony”. The biography captures Antony’s courage of living life in the desert as a model for Christian living. The book later inspired another Church father, St Augustine of Hippo. Some of Athanasius other writings include “On The Incarnation” and “History of the Arians”. His contribution to the early Church has had a lasting impact. He has given the followers of Christ a large body of work on better understanding our Lord.

In conclusion, St Athanasius was a true defender of Christ’s divinity. 
  • Have you ever found it difficult to speak up for Christ?
  • Do you fear being rejected for being a follower of Christ?

If you are like me, perhaps you answered yes to any of the above questions. The road is not always easy but keep in mind the following scripture verse. 

Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 
Matthew 10:39

By Jaime Gonzalez
Faith Formation Commission Member

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Doctors of the Church: Gregory the Great

Gregory lived from 540 to 604 and was a man these turbulent years. The Roman Empire had fallen, Rome had been sacked several times and most of its grand buildings were in ruins. War, famine and the plague were prevalent throughout Rome and large sections of Europe. The world was desperate for organized, disciplined and visionary leadership. Gregory responded, setting aside personal desires for a detached, secluded life and his impacted is felt to this very day.

Gregory’s family lineage had produced two previous Popes. He was classically educated and won the admiration of Roman citizens for his administrative skills while serving as Prefect of Rome in his early thirties. When Gregory’s father passed in 575, he left public service to pursue his true passion. He converted his home into a Monastery and used his inheritance to establish six more. 

His monastic days were short-lived as Gregory’s skills were needed by the church and he was requested to leave his Monastery to serve in a number of important roles beginning in 579. The plague claimed Gregory’s predecessor, Pope Pelagius II in 590. Gregory reluctantly accepted his ultimate call to duty and became Pope.

Leaving the monastic life behind was a great sacrifice for Gregory. “I remember with sorrow what I once was in the monastery, how I rose in contemplation above all changeable and decaying things and thought of nothing but the things of heaven. I sigh as one who looks back and gazes on the shore he has left behind”.

Gregory’s contributions during his pastoral mission were deep, diverse and far reaching. Among his more impactful actions, Gregory famously promoted the plainsong choral music now known as the Gregorian Chant. 

Among Gregory’s major written works, the “Dialogues” did much to promote the widespread practice of monasticism, it’s lifestyle and Benedictine structure as might be expected from the first monk to become Pope.

Perhaps Gregory’s greatest contribution to the world was commissioning a group of 40 monks under Augustine to bring Christianity to England. These efforts are widely believed to be a catalyst to the unification of the warring tribes of the British Isles as the spread of the gospel brought common ground to the factions. St. Bede documents that Gregory had a very active hand in the conversion with frequent written communication and guidance throughout the process. Inspiring Augustine to forge ahead from trials at Gaul, Gregory wrote “It is better never to undertake any high enterprise than to abandon it when once begun. So with the help of God you must carry out this Holy task… although my office prevents me from working at your side… I hope to share in your joyful reward”

St. Gregory’s feast day is September 3rd.

  • When have I been asked to subordinate my desires to God’s calling?
  • What talents have I been blessed with that can benefit the children of God? 
  • How can I best use my gifts to glorify God and his creation?
By: Carl Casareto
Faith Formation Commission Member

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Doctors of the Church - St. John Chrysostom

St. John attested to Jesus' divinity against the heresy of Arianism.

How can we be like God?
We can imitate God by loving one another.

“The Holy Scriptures were not given
to us that we should enclose
them in books, but that we should
engrave them upon our hearts.”

When we pray, we come to know God’s love.

“Everywhere, wherever you may find yourself, you can set up an altar to God in your mind by means of prayer.”

When we love God, we learn how to demonstrate our love for one another.

“But first I want you to tell me this: do you know the power of love? Christ passed over all the marvelous works which were to be performed by the apostles and said, "By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.”

“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

In our hearts, we come to love others through empathy- understanding what it means to live as they do.

“Helping a person in need is good in itself. But the degree of goodness is hugely affected by the attitude with which it is done. If you show resentment because you are helping the person out of a reluctant sense of duty, then the person may receive your help but may feel awkward and embarrassed. This is because he will feel beholden to you. If,on the other hand, you help the person in a spirit of joy, then the help will be received joyfully. The person will feel neither demeaned nor humiliated by your help, …. And joy is the appropriate attitude with which to help others because acts of generosity are a source of blessing to the giver as well as the receiver.”

As we do good for others, we can show love for ourselves as well.

“The Church is a hospital, and not a courtroom, for souls. She does not condemn on behalf of sins, but grants remission of sins....In the Church, the troubled find relief, and the heavy-laden, rest.

“Come to me,” says the Lord, “all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

What could be more desirable than to meet this voice? What is sweeter than this invitation? The Lord is calling you to the Church for a rich banquet. He transfers you from struggles to rest, and from tortures to relief. He relieves you from the burden of your sins. He heals worries with thanksgiving, and sadness with joy.

How has prayer helped you to empathize with others?

Which experiences of helping others have you found personally rewarding in ways which are intangible?

What did you learn and how did volunteering bring you contentment?

A famous literary maxim is “To err is human, to forgive divine.” 

When you attend mass, how do the readings and homilies attest to this?

To read more about St. John, please visit this page or this page from the Vatican.

Laura Ross
Faith Formation Commission member

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Doctors of the Church - St. Cyril of Jerusalem

The early Church had to endure many controversies during the first centuries. During these times, Cyril came into the world at or near Jerusalem. The year was 315 A.D. and not much is known of his parents. However, he did receive a formal education which centered on the Church fathers, philosophers and the Bible. He was ordained a priest. Later, when the Bishop died he became the Bishop of Jerusalem. 

During the time of his See, he was exiled three times. He was the Bishop of his See for 37 years, but spent almost 20 years in exile. The main reason was due to the spread of Arianism. 

Over the course of his time as Bishop, he delivered 24 catechesis. The majority of which are addressed to the catechumens who are about to receive Baptism. They explain the Sacrament of Baptism, conversion from secular morals and explain the 10 dogmatic truths in the Creed.

It is important to note that Cyril, was part of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea. Which gave us The Nicene Creed. 

In one of his lectures he goes on to explain that there are two kinds of faith. The first, is a gift from our Lord, as was given at the last hour to the “Good” thief. The second, type of faith given by our Lord. Is the Holy Spirit. This type of faith goes beyond the doctrinal matters and produces effects beyond any human capability. Cyril sites Matthew 17:20, for further explanation. 

It becomes apparent that Cyril was courage’s during his life as Bishop and his works further reinforce his virtue of fortitude. I am reminded as a cradle Catholic. That it is to one’s best interest to read St. Cyril’s catechesis, to gain a richer and deeper understanding of our Baptism. 

By Jaime Gonzalez
Faith Formation Commission

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Holy Cross & St. Peter Damian

Doctors of the Church: St. Peter Damian 

St. Peter Damian was born in Ravenna, Italy in 1007.

St. Peter Damian was one of the most significant figures in the church during the eleventh century. 

At the age of 34, he left a comfortable life as a professor and writer to join the Monastery of Fonte Avellana, an order of Benedictine monks known for their austere lifestyle. 

St. Peter found his calling within this cloistered, monastic life – a life dedicated to prayer and charity. There are two aspects of St. Peter Damian’s life that elevate him in standing among the saints – his devotion to the Holy Cross and his dedication to the formation of rules for leading a monastic life. 

In his time at Fonte Avellana, Peter was drawn to and embraced the order’s Hermitage of Fonte Avellana; the hermitage focused their devotions on the Holy Cross, the central mystery of faith. 

Peter’s personal devotion to the Holy Cross is reflected in statements in his writings at the time:

‘O Blessed Cross, you are venerated, preached, and honored by the father of the Patriarchs, the predictions of the prophets, the senate of Apostles that judges, the victorious army of Martyrs, and the throngs of all the Saints’. 

The Holy Cross represents the supreme act of love for humanity by God. 

Peter compiled a rule for monastic life in which he stressed the rigor of the life of a hermit devoted to a prayerful life. In the silence of the cloister, the monk is called to spend a life of prayer by day and by night, with strict fasting; a monk must put into practice generous brotherly charity in obedience to the leadership of the monastic order. In his time as a Benedictine monk, St. Peter founded 5 additional monastery based hermitages in Italy.

Peter described the hermit’s life as ‘the parlor in which God converses with men’. 

His example of quiet contemplation and connection with God carries forward to today’s life – the special quality that silence in prayer and reflection brings to our lives as we listen to God’s voice in prayer. 

St. Peter Damian died in 1072; he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XII in 1828. 

For Reflection:
  • Can you think of opportunities to build time into your daily life for silent prayer and reflection? Think of opportunities to enrich your connection with God through prayer?
  • The Holy Cross is venerated during the Easter season; the rich, moving story of the Passion of Christ calls out the significance of the Holy Cross to Catholic Faith. Can we reflect on the significance of the Holy Cross beyond just the Lenten and Easter seasons? How can we do so? 

By Ken Henriksen
Faith Formation Commission

Note: the quotations from St. Peter Damian are cited from: Church Fathers and Teachers – From Saint Leo the Great to Peter Lombard, by Pope Benedict XVI, published by Ignatius Press, 2010.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Doctors of the Church: St. Ephram the Syrian

St. Ephram the Syrian

Feast Day is June 18.

St. Ephram was subjected to the same type of mass relocation that many Christians in the Middle East are facing today. In the year 363, his lifetime home of Nisibis fell to the Persians forcing Ephram to Edessa (in present day Iraq) where he lived in a cave in monastic seclusion and experienced the most fruitful and productive years of his life.

St. Ephram became known as “the Harp of the Holy Ghost” and composed a prolific number of poems and religious hymns as pioneer in the use of these forms of theological expression. He applied his verse to music in his efforts to combat some of the heresies of the day and address mysteries like the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Incarnation. Ephram’s descriptions of death, the Last Judgement, heaven and hell later influenced Dante and his work. Several of his prayers and hymns are recited and sung regularly to this day.

Even Ephram’s life in Edessa was filled with challenges. At one point, Valens, and Arian Emperor, camped outside the town and threatened to kill all Christians who did not submit. The Edessans courageously defended their home, attributing their inspiration and determination to St. Ephram’s hymns.

Although he was born to a Christian family, Ephram evolved from a childhood of worldly pursuits in a manner similar to St. Augustine. He stated “I was born in the way of truth: though my childhood was unaware of the greatness of the benefit, I knew it when trial came.” Although there is vagueness to the record of his younger days, some believe the development of his faith was aided by a brief imprisonment after being falsely accused of the theft of sheep. In response to this injustice, he began a life devoted to God. He served as a Deacon in Nisibis before he and his fellow Christians were forced to depart. In his most famous prayer, Ephram seeks the grace to rise above earthly ways.

The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephram
O Lord and Master of my life, take me from the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen

An extended version of this prayer can be found here.

A rendition of his “Hymn to the Light” can be found here.

  • Do I examine my thoughts and actions as a means of improving my faith?
  • Can I use adversity in my life as a platform for spiritual growth?
  • How can I inspire others to move forward with their own spiritual journey?
By: Carl Casareto
Faith Formation Commission