It’s Not About You

We have come to the conclusion of the Easter Cycle as we celebrate Pentecost this weekend. All through this period we have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Fully the last two-thirds of Acts has focused on the Evangelical Mission of St. Paul as he made four journeys into Asia Minor and then into Greece. The final chapters of Acts deal with Paul’s arrest, imprisonment and appearance before Roman officials such as Felix and Festus, as well as Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem and Caesarea.

Paul appeals his case to Rome and is sent there on ill fated journey that shipwrecks at Malta. Finally making it to Rome, Paul is imprisoned and awaits the trial that will either vindicate him or seal his fate. The story seems to be building to a climactic conclusion and we, the readers,  are ready to see Paul through his final trial. But then something astonishing happens: the story just ends. He is the concluding line of the Acts of the Apostles:

[Paul] remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:30-31)

But Luke! Don’t just leave us hanging! Did Paul go on trial? We he acquitted as some traditions assert and then made his way to Spain as he wanted? Or did he loose his appeal and suffer beheading right away? What was the outcome? We have seen Paul so far and now the story just ends?!

How can we answer this exasperating and unsatisfying end?

The simplest answer is that the Acts of the Apostles is not about Paul. It is about the going forth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. Luke has, to be sure, personified this going forth of the Gospel to the nations by focusing on Paul. But once Paul reaches Rome and, though under house arrest,  is able to freely preach the Gospel there (for there is chaining the Word of God(2 Tim 2:9)), the story reaches its natural conclusion. It is true, others had preached the Gospel in Rome before Paul, but since Paul has been the way Luke illustrates this going forth of the Word of God, the entry of Paul into Rome means the story has reached its goal. From Rome the Gospel with go forth to every part of the Empire, for every road led to Rome and away from it. Now that the Gospel has reached the center hub and is being freely preached, it will radiate outward in all directions by the grace of God.

But what about Paul and what of his fate? It doesn’t matter. It never WAS about Paul. It was about the Gospel. Paul himself testified to this when he said, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

We are often focused on personalities and frequently we loose track about what is most important. And, frankly the personality we are most focused on is very often ourselves. Acts never really was about Paul. And your life is not about you. It is about what the Lord is doing for you and through you. We often want things to revolve around us, around what we think, and what we want. But, truth be told, you are not that important, neither am I. We must decrease and the Lord must increase (Jn 3:30).

Some of these notions hit hard in the self esteem culture in which we live. But in the end our true glory is not our own glory, but the glory of God radiating in us. If we decrease, the Lord increases. But that does not mean we are swallowed up and lost in Christ. Rather, it means we truly become the man or woman God has always made us to be, one who reflects the very glory of God. Perhaps it is best to let Paul himself end this:

For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ. (2 Cor 4:5-6)

This video is of the conclusion of the Acts of the Apostles. The scene begins with Paul speaking to Jewish leaders in Rome. The epilogue in the video which shows Luke leaving Rome is not part of the Acts of the Apostles.

St. Joseph and Manhood

I remember once being amused to hear that a certain Franciscan Theologian from the 19th Century (whose name I cannot remember) wrote a six volume “Life of St. Joseph.” Six volumes?! How could one possibly get enough material? We know so little of Joseph from the Scriptures. He seems to have been the strong, silent type. Not a word of his is recorded. But his actions have much to say, especially to to men. On this feast of St. Joseph we do well to ponder him as a model for manhood, for husbands and fathers.

  1. A man who obeys God and clings to his wife – Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This is more than being engaged. It means they were actually married. It was the practice at that time for a couple to marry rather young. Once betrothed they lived an additional year in their parents’ household as they became more acquainted and prepared for life together. Now at a certain point it was discovered that Mary was pregnant, though not by Joseph. The Scripture says that Joseph was a “just man.” This is does not mean that Joseph was a fair and nice guy (though I presume he was). What it means was that he was a follower of the Law. He based his life of the Jewish Law that God gave through Moses and as interpreted by the Rabbis. Now the Law said that if a man discovered that a woman to whom he was betrothed was not a virgin, he should divorce her and not “sully” his home. Joseph as a just man, that is a follower of the Law, was prepared to follow its requirements. However, he did not wish to expose Mary to the full force of the law which permitted the stoning of such women. Hence he chose to follow the law by filing the divorce decree  but not publicly accusing her. He would remain quiet as to his reason for the divorce and Mary would escape possible stoning. To fail to divorce Mary would expose Joseph to cultural ramifications. Just men just didn’t marry women guilty of fornication or adultery. To ignore this might have harmed not only Joseph’s standing in the community but also that of his family of origin. But you know the rest of the story. Joseph is told in a dream not to fear and that Mary  has committed no sin.  Matthew records: When Joseph awoke, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matt 1:24).  Now a man obeys God even if it not popular, even if he may suffer for it. Joseph is told to cling to his wife. He may suffer for it but he as a man “obeys God rather than men.” It takes a strong man to do this especially when we consider the culture in which Joseph lived, and in a small town, no less. Joseph models strong manhood and has something to say to the men of our day.  In the current wedding vows  a man agrees to cling to his wife, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or health. This is what a man is to do. Our culture often pressures men to bail out when there is trouble Joseph shows the way by obeying God over the pressures of prevailing culture, even if he will personally suffer for it.
  2. A man whose vocation is more important than his career – In Bethlehem Joseph is warned by an angel in a dream: Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him (Matt 2:13). Joseph may well have had much to lose in this flight. Back in Nazareth he had a business, a career if you will. He had business prospects, business partners and contacts. Fleeing to a distant land might mean others would take his business etc. But Joseph was a father and husband before he was a businessman. His child was threatened and his first obligation was to Jesus and Mary. His vocation outweighed his career. In a culture like ours where too many parents make their careers and livelihoods paramount and their children are too easily placed in day care Joseph displays a different priority. It is true that many parents feel they have no choice but to work. But it is also true that many demand a lifestyle which requires a lot of extra income. Perhaps a smaller house, less amenities etc would permit a daycare free childhood for more of our children. Joseph points the way for parents: vocation has priority over career. For fathers especially Joseph shows that a man is a husband and father before he is a businessman.
  3. A man who protects his family– And for men, Joseph also models a protective instinct that too many men lack today. Our children, like Jesus was,  are exposed to many dangers. Our American scene does not feature a lot of physical dangers but moral dangers surely abound. Fathers, what are your children watching on TV? What are their Internet habits?  Who are their friends? What do your children think about important moral issues? Are you preparing them to face the moral challenges and temptations of life?  Are you teaching them the faith along with your wife? Or are you just a passive father, uninvolved in the raising of your children? A man protects his children from harm, physical, moral and spiritual. Joseph shows forth this aspect of manhood.
  4. A man of work –The Scriptures (Matt 13:55) speak of Joseph as a “carpenter.” The Greek word however is τέκτονος (tekton, os) which can mean more than a worker in wood. It can also refer to a builder or any craftsman. It seems unlikely that Joseph and Jesus would have worked exclusively in wood since wood was more rare in the Holy Land and used more sparingly than in our culture. Stone was surely plentiful and so it may be that Joseph also worked with stone as well as wood in his work. It was and through his work Joseph supported his family. It is the call of a man to work diligently and to responsibly and reliably provide for his family.  Joseph models this essential aspect of manhood.  Paul felt it necessary to rebuke some of the men of his day for their idleness: In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching  you received from us….For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”  We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they earn the bread they eat. (2 Thess 310-12)
  5. A man who teaches his son– We learn from Scripture that Jesus too was a carpenter (Mk 6:3). It is obvious that it was Joseph who taught this trade to Jesus. Consider the hours each day they spent together as Joseph patiently handed this trade on to Jesus, teaching him of its intricacies, and methods. It is not enough for a father to provide for his children, he must also prepare them for life. He does this through modeling and teaching discipline, moderation, hard works, self-control, and many other life skills. In our times it is more rare for fathers to teach a trade to their sons or other children. But in the end a man prepares his children for life. Joseph models manhood by preparing his Son Jesus for life as a tradesman.

Joseph is a model for manhood. Nothing he ever said was recorded but his life speaks eloquently enough. He is referred to at the Guardian and Patron of the Universal Church. He has these titles for he was guardian, protector and patron(provider) of the Church in the earliest stage, when the Church was just Jesus and Mary. But since the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, in protecting, providing and preparing Jesus he was doing that for us for we are in Christ as members of his body. Men especially do well to imitate St. Joseph and invoke his patronage in all their endeavors as Husbands, Fathers and providers.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

A Parable on the Paradox of Perfect Power

When Moses was 40 years old he got a notion to work toward saving his fellow Jewish people from cruel slavery. He figured he could, by his own strength and eloquence free the Israelites. But Moses was a ahead of God’s plan. He was still too proud, too young and strong for God to use him. He’s trying to fix lives that God isn’t ready to fix yet. and he really needs his own life fixed first.  Moses ended up murdering a man and he had to flee for his life. It’s never a good thing to get ahead of God. It means He is no longer leading, you are, and that’s a very dangerous place to be, out ahead of God.

So Moses is now a broken man, sought by the law and not even welcomed by the people he wants to save. Off to the desert he flees and to the Land of Midian for forty more years. There he gets married and helps his Father-in-Law tend sheep. This is a far place from the Egyptian palace he grew up in. But God humbles only to exult us. It took another forty years, but Moses was finally weak enough and defendant enough for God to use him. Has not St. Paul written that power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). We have to be weak and dependent enough for God to really use us. Only when we discover our limits and our need for God are we “safe enough” for God to use. Moses needed to learn this paradox of perfect power. St. Paul writes elsewhere:

For it is written “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;  the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? ….Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor 1:18-31 selected)

God couldn’t use or call Moses as long as he was among the “wise and powerful” of this world, as long as he drew his strength from his status as a member of Pharaoh’s household. No, first God had to help Moses become a fool to this world, despised, no longer influential , no longer of noble birth. It took forty years in the desert but now it was accomplished. So, at Age 80(!) God calls to Moses from the Burning Bush and sends him to “let my people go.” Most of us aren’t thinking of doing great things at 80. We’re settling in for the last pages of our life. And Moses tries to get out of it. But the time has come. Now Moses is ready and God is ready too.

Do you understand the moral of this story? A lot of us are trying to fix other people in our lives when God wants to fix us first. Moses was too proud and strong to help at age forty. Now he is fixed and ready to go. He is humble enough to be used by God. He is aware of his limits, that he is slow of speech, that he stutters and is not eloquent or persuasive. He is now weak enough to be strong for now the power of God will rest upon him (cf 2 Cor 12:9)  You don’t have to wait to be perfect to help in fixing others. But to be most effective we have to let God work on us too. The more fixed you are the more effective you are.

Moses lived on to be 120 years old. But in the last 1/3 of his life he never went anywhere without the Staff of God in his hand. He was humble enough now that he had to lean on that staff and depend wholly on the strength of God.  WE think we are most effective in the prime of our life when we are on the “top of our game” but the story of Moses says otherwise. We have to be weak and humble to lean on God. Moses’ power came in his weakness, his leaning on and dependence upon the Staff of God. My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. (2 Co 12:10). A paradox to be sure, a paradox of power made perfect.

This video features Louis Armstrong’s version of “Go Down Moses.”  The Cartoon is interesting but has on major flaw. It presents Moses as a young Man. He was not. He was 80 years old when God called him:

Admonition and Prayer on the Feast of All Saints

On this Feast of All Saints we commemorate men and women who lived heroically among us. The word “Saint”  comes from the Latin word Sanctus meaning “holy or set apart.” The Saints lived in the world but were not of it. Indeed if we understand the root meaning or “being set apart” we come to understand that an essential part of holiness is to live in distinction from and in contrast to the values of world. It takes great courage to stand apart from what is merely current or popular. More than ever as our world turns very secular we need strength to distinguish ourselves and to summon the world to God’s truth.

This is especially evident in the Church. Pray especially for bishops and priests. As the world continues to grow in hostility to the faith the clergy will need great zeal, conviction and courage. We must speak boldly and clearly and lead the Catholic faithful through difficult times.

Pray also for Catholics who are in public and civil authority. Many of us have been saddened at the poor example of faith that many (not all) Catholic politicians have exhibited. Pray for conversion where necessary and their courage to live their faith publicly and in a way that distinguishes them from non-believers. There are so many Catholics in public life! If they could stand together for the truth of faith and be of one accord with the Church in the moral issues of our day we would be at a far better place.

What we need is holiness in the leaders of the Church and in Catholic Lay Leaders in our world. We need saints. Consider the following admonition from the Book of Wisdom to those in Civil Authority:

Hear, therefore, kings, and understand; learn, you magistrates of the earth’s expanse! Hearken, you who are in power over the multitude and lord it over throngs of peoples! Because authority was given you by the LORD and sovereignty by the Most High, who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels! Because, though you were ministers of his kingdom, you judged not rightly, and did not keep the law, nor walk according to the will of God, Terribly and swiftly shall he come against you, because judgment is stern for the exalted- For the lowly may be pardoned out of mercy but the mighty shall be mightily put to the test. For the Lord of all shows no partiality, nor does he fear greatness, Because he himself made the great as well as the small, and he provides for all alike; but for those in power a rigorous scrutiny impends. To you, therefore, O princes, are my words addressed that you may learn wisdom and that you may not sin. For those who keep the holy precepts hallowed shall be found holy, and those learned in them will have ready a response. Desire therefore my words; long for them and you shall be instructed. (Wisdom 6:1-10)

And to the religious leaders of Ezekiel’s day God said:

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.  You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost….’Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD : As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock,  therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD : This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. (Ezekiel 38:2-8)

And so on this Feast of All Saints, pray for saints. Saints among the clergy and among civil leaders and politicians. Pray for us to fear God God more than man, to love the truth more passing opinions, and to serve rather than be served. Pray for all in authority because we will be held to a stricter account. God is still looking for saints. Heaven isn”t filled yet. Your prayers are essential. On this feast of All Saints pray for more saints especially among the “leaders of the people.”

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4)

I’m in the Holy Land this week until November 8th. I have scheduled blogs that will appear each day while I’m away so stay tuned! My participation in the comments however may be a little light since my time with the internet will be sporadic. Comments will be moderated by someone else on the team and I’ll participate when I can. – Msgr Pope.

Guardian Angels are Real Angels not Hallmark Angels

See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father
(Mat 18:10)

In this text Jesus affirms the truth that we have Guardian Angels. Today is the feast of the Guardian Angels and it is a beautiful truth that God would assign an angel to have special care for us, it is a sign of his very specific love for each of us as individuals. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has much to say on angels. Here are just a few verses:

The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels….In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God….From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (CCC #s 334-336 selectae)

All this said, I would like to propose to you that, to some extent we have tended in modern times to sentimentalize the role of the angels in our lives and to drift from the Biblical data regarding them. I would like to propose a few corrective ideas to balance the sentimental notions we may have. I do not say that sentiment is wrong, but it needs to be balanced by deep respect for the angels.

  1. Angels have no bodies. They are not human and never have been human. Human beings never become angels or “earn wings.”  Angels are persons, but persons of pure spirit. Hence they have no gender. Now we have to envision them somehow,  so it is not wrong that we portray them with masculine or feminine qualities but it is important to remember that they transcend any such distinction.
  2. Biblically, angels are not the rather fluffy and charming creatures that modern portraits often depict. In the Bible angels are depicted as awesome and powerful agents of God. Many times the appearance of an angel struck fear in the one who saw them (cf  Judg 6:22; Lk 1:11; Lk 1:29; Lk 2:9; Acts 10:3; Rev. 22:8). Angels are often described in the Bible in warlike terms: they are call a host (the biblical word for army), they wage war on God’s behalf and that of his people (e.g. Ex 14:19; Ex 33:2; Nm 22:23;  Ps 35:5; Is 37:36; Rev 12:7). While they are said to have wings (e.g. Ex 25:20; 1 Kings 6:24;  inter al)  recall that they do not have physical bodies so the wings are an image of their swiftness. They are also mentioned at times as being like fire (Ex. 3:2; Rev 10:1). And as for those cute little “cherubs” we have in our art, those cute baby-faced angels with wings and no body? Well read about the real Cherubim in Ezekiel 10. They are fearsome, awesome creatures, powerful and swift servants of God and more than capable of putting God’s enemies to flight. And this is my main point, angels are not the sentimetal syruppy and cute creatures we have often recast them to be. They are awesome, wonderful, and powerful servants of God. They are his messengers and they manifest God’s glory. They bear forth the power and majesty of God are immensely to be respected. They are surely also our helpers and, by God’s command act on our behalf.
  3. What then is our proper reaction to the great gift of the angels and in particular our Guardian Angel? Sentimental thought may have its place but what God especially commands of us toward our angel is obedience. Read what God said in the Book of Exodus: Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him. (Ex 23:21) So our fundamental task is to hear and heed the voice of our angel. How, you might ask do we hear the voice of our Guardian Angel? I would suggest to you that we most hear the voice of our angel in our conscience. Deep down, we hear God’s voice, we know what is true and what is false. In terms of basic right and wrong, we know what we are doing. I am convinced that our conscience interacts with our Guardian Angel. Now be careful, we like to try and rationalize what we do, explain away bad behavior, make excuses. But in the end, deep down inside, we know what we are doing and whether or not it is wrong. I am sure it is our angel who testifies to the truth in us and informs our conscience. God’s command is clear: listen to and heed this voice. Respect this angel God has given you not so much with sentimental odes, but with sober obedience.
  4. Finally, an on a less important note, we often think of angels in choirs singing. But there is no Scriptural verse that I have ever read that describes them as singing. Even in the classic Christmas scene where we depict them as singing “Glory to God in the Highest,” the text says that they SAY it not sing it (cf. Luke 2:14). If you can find a Scripture text that shows the angels singing please share it, but I’ve looked for years and can’t find it. Not a big point except to say that perhaps singing is a special gift given to the human person.

Every day is a holiday

A uniquely Catholic greeting

One of the teachers at my school and I have an amusing manner of greeting one another. Rather than a simple “hello” or “good morning” we always recall the feast day the Church is celebrating. For example, this morning, we said, “Happy St. Wenceslaus Day.” Tomorrow, it will be “Happy Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael!” Even on days when, in the United States, no feast or solemnity is designated, we challenge each other by researching a feast day in another country. Some days, we come up with the most obscure of Catholic feasts but, in 2 years, we have never had to do a simple “Hello.” Last week, I discovered St. Finbar of Ireland – Who knew?

It is a Catholic thing

One of our non-Catholic colleagues asked about this tradition one day. She confessed that beyond Easter and Christmas, she did not realize there were other “holidays” celebrated by the Church. Once we broke out the Catholic calendar and showed her the various feasts, she commented, “It seems like the calendar we follow is based on the Church’s calendar.” How true that is!

Christmas is really “The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord.”

Easter is really “The Solemnity of the Resurrection of Our Lord.”

Even Saint Patrick’s Day is listed in the Divine Office as, “The Commemoration of Patrick, Bishop.”

Governments and societies celebrate these events on days designated by the Church, not the other way around.

What is today’s date?

Brothers and sisters, go beyond the ordinary when starting your day. A great way to center yourself in Christ is to refer to the Catholic calendar. Trust me, there is something affirming about knowing that somewhere else in God’s creation, a fellow Christian is reflecting upon the exact same feast or solemnity as you. And, if you are unsure about who else in the world is sharing that prayer with you, rest assured, there are at least two people at a small Catholic high school joining you.

This is a great guide to the Catholic liturgical calendar:

The Martyrdom of St. Cyprian

Today is the feast of St. Cyprian the patronal saint of my parish.  What follows is an account of his martyrdom.

In the year 258 AD severe edicts were issued from Rome indicating that those who persisted in their refusal to worship the pagan gods were to be put to death. Knowing his end was near, Cyprian spent his final days encouraging his flock and expressing his affection for them. He also undertook personal penances in preparation for death.

 Sentenced to Death – Cyprian had already been imprisoned and exiled to the City of Curubis the year before for his refusal to burn incense to the Roman gods. Soon enough orders came and Cyprian was brought back to Carthage to stand trial once again. When word got out among the populace that Cyprian was in custody, a large multitude gathered and lamented him. Even a great many pagans protested on his behalf for they remembered his kindness, courage and generosity during the recent plague. But it was to no avail, the new proconsul, Galerius Maximus, seemed anxious to enforce the death penalty.

We are blessed to have received from antiquity the account of St. Cyprian’s final trial which is substantially reproduced here:

  • Proconsul: Are you Thascius Cyprian?
  •  Cyprian: I am
  •  Proconsul: Are you the person who has been bishop and father to men of ungodly minds?
  • Cyprian: I have been their bishop.
  • Proconsul: The most sacred emperors have commanded you to conform to the ceremonies of the Roman religion.
  • Cyprian: I cannot
  • Proconsul: Consider again for your own safety.
  • Cyprian: Obey your orders. In so manifestly just a case there is no need for me to reconsider.
  • Proconsul: Long have you lived with an irreligious heart and have joined great numbers with yourself in an unnatural conspiracy against the Roman deities and their holy rites. Nor have our sacred and most pious emperors…been able to claim you to their ceremonies. Since you have been a ringleader in crimes of such a heinous nature, you shall be made an example to those whom you have seduced to join with you and discipline shall be established in your blood. I will that Thascius Cyprian be beheaded.
  • Cyprian: Blessed be God

Many Christians who were within the room cried out, Let us be beheaded with him! As Cyprian was led out to die a large crowd pressed in on all sides so that a strong cohort of soldiers was required to escort him. They led him outside the city to an open field ringed by large trees. Many onlookers climb those trees to better see him.

Martyred – On arriving at the spot where he was to die, Bishop Cyprian took off his mantle (or overcoat), and fell to his knees and prostrated himself before God. Then, arising he took off his dalmatic which he gave to his attending deacons and remained in his long white robe. He payed his executioner the sum of 25 gold denarii. While this gesture was not unheard of especially for a person of some means it nevertheless tells us of the graciousness and forgiveness in the heart of Cyprian. He himself tied the blindfold over his eyes after which his hands were tied. Kneeling again he awaited the final blow. At length the sword passed and Cyprian ended his pilgrimage here. It was September 14, 258.

We have solemnly renounced the world and therefore, while we continue in it should behave like strangers and pilgrims. We should welcome that happy day (of our death) which is to fix us, everyone, in our proper habitation, to rescue us from the embarrassments and snares of this world, and remove us to the kingdom of heaven…. There we shall meet with the glorious choir of apostles; with the goodly company of the prophets; with an innumerable multitude of holy martyrs; there we shall be blessed with the sight of those triumphant virgins who have subdued the inordinate lusts of the flesh; and there we shall behold the rewards of those who, by feeding the hungry and consoling the afflicted have with their earthly treasure stored up for themselves treasure in heaven. To these beloved brethren let us hasten with eager longing! Let us pray that it may befall us speedily to be with them; speedily to come to Christ. (St. Cyprian,  De Mortalitate, 26)

From a dysfunctional family comes…Saints

monicaToday is the memorial of St. Monica, mother of Saint Augustine. A family who produces two saints must look more like the holy family than your family or my  family, but this family may surprise you. Monica married a man who was an alcoholic and as often happens with alcoholism, violent and abusive. She lived in the home of her mother-in-law, who was also an alcoholic and so it is not hard to imagine how difficult her family life must have been. Monica, however,  had one great defense and that was that she was a woman of great faith and a powerhouse of prayer.

Monica prayed for the conversion of her husband and indeed he did convert at some point in his life.  Monica is an inspiration for all mothers who fervently pray for their children, particularly when all seems hopeless. She felt that way about Augustine, who was smart, talented, successful, but also a self-described lover of wine and women and the good life. He joined, for a time, a crazy religious sect, and he fathered a child with a woman to whom he was not married.  Monica prayed for his conversion, seemingly without ceasing, as St. Paul would say. Augustine, in the true style of an obstinate young man, decided to flee their home in North Africa and go to Italy, in part, to get away from his mother. But Monica was on a mission and not to be deterred, she actually got on the next boat that left after his and followed Augustine to Europe!

The Power of Prayer

Monica is a witness to the strength and fortitude that can come from prayer. She gives all mothers of temperamental teenagers and young adults hope that one day, they will again have a close relationship with their children.

In the spirit of Monica

Today, many mothers are inspired by Monica. I wrote recently about the two planes that crashed over the Hudson. In that story is a subplot which brought the story of Monica and Augustine to mind.  The pilot of the helicopter, though baptized Catholic had stopped practicing the faith. This did not keep his mother and his fiancee from praying for him and his return to the faith. Last Easter he was confirmed. His mother commented at the time of his death, “It was the perfect time.”

Seeking the intercession of Monica

tomb of Saint Monica
tomb of Saint Monica

I have a great love for Monica as she is buried in the church of Saint Augustine in Rome. It was my parish while I was studying at the Angelicum. I would often visit the tomb and ask her intercession for situations that seemed hopeless and for my friends who were struggling with their kids. The stories of the prayer of these two mothers are a reminder to me that God’s time is not always our time and that our prayer is never in vain.