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St. Justin
Justin was from Samaria. He lived in the second century. His father brought him up without any belief in God. When he was a boy, Justin studied poetry, history and science. As he grew up, he kept on studying because he wanted to find out the truth about God. One day as he was walking along the shore of the sea, Justin met an old man. They began to talk together. Since Justin looked troubled, the man asked him what was on his mind. Justin answered that he was unhappy because he had not found anything certain about God in all the books he had read. The old man told him about Jesus, the Savior. He encouraged Justin to pray so that he would be able to understand the truth about God. So Justin began to pray and to read the Word of God, the Bible. He grew to love it very much. He was also impressed to see how brave the Christians who were dying for their belief in and love for Jesus were. After learning more about the Christian religion, Justin became a Christian when he was about thirty years old. Then he used his great knowledge to explain and defend the faith with many writings. Justin went to Rome and began teaching there. It was in Rome that he was arrested for being a Christian. The judge asked him, ”Do you think that by dying you will enter heaven and be rewarded?” “I don’t just think so,” the saint answered. ”I am sure of it!” And he died a martyr around the year 166.
To keep our faith strong like St. Justin’s we can pray an act of faith often. A short one that’s easy to remember is: “My God, I believe in you.”
St. Marcellinus and St. Peter
These two saints are mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass. They were widely honored and prayed to by the early Christians. The feast of these two martyrs was included in the Roman calendar of saints by Pope Vigilius in 555. Marcellinus was a priest. Peter assisted him in his ministry. Both were very brave in the practice of their Christian faith. They served the Christian com- munity with great self-sacrifice. During the persecution of Diocletian, many Christians were killed. Marcellinus and Peter were martyred in 304. As they awaited execution in prison, they continued to witness to their faith in Jesus. Many people, including their jailer and his family, were impressed by their strong faith and became Christians too. When the time came for their execution, Marcellinus and Peter were brought to a hidden spot in a forest called Silva Nigra. This was done to keep the Christians from finding them. Marcellinus and Peter were put to work clearing the briars away to prepare the place where they would be buried. Then they were beheaded. Some time later, their executioner was sorry for the terrible thing he had done. He led the Christians to the graves. Then Marcellinus and Peter were buried in the catacomb of St. Tiberius. Pope Gregory IV sent their relics to Frankfurt, Germany, in 827. He believed that the relics of these two saints would bring blessings to the Church in that nation.
We can learn from the martyrs that our lives should show that we believe in and love Jesus. Let’s pray to St. Marcellinus and St. Peter and ask them for the grace to grow in our faith and love.
St. Charles Lwanga and Companions
Christianity was still quite new to Uganda, Africa, when a Catholic mission was started there in 1879. The priests were members of the Missionaries of Africa. Because of their white religious habit, they became popularly known as the “White Fathers.” King Mwanga did not understand Christianity. But he became angry when Joseph Mkasa, the teacher of the court pages and a Catholic, denounced him for his corrupt way of life. The king had murdered a Protestant minister. He had also been committing sins against purity with his young court pages. King Mwanga’s anger turned into resentment and hatred for Joseph Mkasa and his Catholic religion. A few of the king’s ambitious officers fueled his fears with lies. Joseph Mkasa was beheaded on November 18, 1885. The persecution had begun. Before it was over, a hundred people died. Twenty-two of them would be declared saints. With the death of Joseph Mkasa, Charles Lwanga took his place as master of the king’s pages. On May 26, 1886, the king found out that some of his pages were Catholic. He called in Denis Sebuggawo. He asked Denis if he had been teaching religion to another page. Denis said yes. The king grabbed his spear and flung it violently through the young man’s throat. Then the king shouted that no one was permitted to leave his headquarters. War drums beat throughout the night. In a hidden room, Charles Lwanga secretly baptized four pages. One was St. Kizito, a cheerful, generous thirteen-year- old. He was the youngest of the group. Most of the twenty-two Uganda martyrs who have been proclaimed saints were killed on June 3, 1886. They were forced to walk thirty-seven miles to the execution site. After a few days in prison, they were thrown into a huge fire. Seventeen of the martyrs were royal pages. One of the martyred boys was St. Mbanga. His own uncle was the executioner that day. Another of the martyrs, St. Andrew Kaggwa, died on January 27, 1887. He was among the twenty-two proclaimed saints in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.
St. Charles Lwanga is the patron of African young people. He and his companions really appreciated their gift of faith and refused to give it up. They were heroes! St. Charles and the Ugandan martyrs show us how to witness to Jesus and his Church.
St. Francis Caracciolo
Francis was born in the Abruzzi region of Italy on October 13, 1563. His father was a Neapolitan prince. His mother was related to the Aquino family to which the thirteenth-century saint, Thomas Aquinas, belonged. Francis had a good upbringing. He was active in sports. But when he was twenty-two, a disease similar to leprosy, brought him close to death. While he was sick, he thought about the emptiness of the pleasures of the world. He realized that real happiness could only be found in something deeper. Francis made a vow that if he got better, he would dedicate his life to God. He recuperated so quickly that it seemed like a miracle. Francis kept his promise. He began his studies to become a priest. After being ordained, Father Francis joined a group who were devoted to prison ministry. They cared for the prisoners and prepared condemned men to die reconciled to God. Francis and another priest, John Augustine Adorno, started a new religious congregation called the Minor Clerics Regular. When Father John died, Francis was chosen as the superior or leader of the group. He was not at all comfortable with this position. In fact, he was so humble that he actually signed his letters, ”Francis the sinner.” He also took his turn, along with the other priests, sweeping the floors, making beds and washing dishes. Father Francis often spent almost the whole night praying in church. He wanted all the priests to spend at least one hour a day in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Francis spoke so often and so well about God’s love for us that he became known as “the preacher of the love of God.” Francis did not live a long life. He died in June, 1608, at the age of forty-four. Just before he died, he suddenly cried, ”Let’s go!” ”Where do you want to go?” asked the priest by his bed. “To heaven! To heaven!” came the answer in a clear, happy voice. Francis Caracciolo was proclaimed a saint by Pope Pius VII in 1807.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us that “God loves the cheerful giver.” This was the kind of person St. Francis was. We can ask him to help us to be generous in cheerfully offering our help to others.
St. Boniface
This great apostle of Germany was born in Devonshire, England, around the year 680. When he was small, some missionaries stayed a while at his home. They told the boy all about their work. They were so happy and excited about bringing the Good News to people. Boniface decided in his heart that he would be just like the missionaries when he grew up. While still young, Boniface went to a monastery school to be educated. Some years later, he became a popular teacher. When he was ordained a priest, he was a powerful preacher because he was so full of enthusiasm. Boniface wanted everyone to have the opportunity to know about and love Jesus and his Church. He became a missionary to the western part of Germany. Pope St. Gregory II blessed him and sent him on this mission. Boniface preached with great success. He was gentle and kind. He was also a man of great courage. Once, to prove that the pagan gods were false, he did a bold thing. There was a certain huge oak tree called the “oak of Thor.” The pagans believed it was sacred to their gods. In front of a large crowd, Boniface cut down the tree with an axe. The big tree crashed. The pagans realized that their gods were false when nothing happened to Boniface. Everywhere he preached, new members were received into the Church. In his lifetime, Boniface converted great numbers of people. In place of the statues of the pagan gods, he built churches and monasteries. In 732, the new pope, St. Gregory III, made Boniface an archbishop and gave him another mission territory. It was Bavaria, which is part of Germany today. Boniface and some companions went there to teach the people about the Christian faith. Here, too, the holy bishop was very successful. Then, one day, Bishop Boniface was preparing to confirm some converts. A group of fierce warriors swooped down on the camp. Boniface would not let his companions defend him. “Our Lord tells us to repay evil with good,” he said. ”The day has come for which I have waited so long. Trust in God and he will save us.” The Barbarians attacked, and Boniface was the first one killed. He died a martyr on June 5, 754. He was buried at the famous monastery that he had founded at Fulda, Germany. This was what he wanted.
Even today, many people who say they believe in God don’t have a true idea of who he is. We can learn more about God by studying our faith, reading the Bible, and having a personal prayer relationship with God our loving Father. Let’s also ask St. Boniface to help all those people who have still never heard about Jesus, God’s Son.
St. Norbert
Norbert, the son of Count Heribert, was born in Germany around the year 1080. He was good boy as a child and teenager. But when he went to live at the court of Emperor Henry V, Norbert really changed. He was anxious to be given positions of honor. He was the first to arrive at parties and celebrations. All he ever thought about was having fun. Then one day, while Norbert was riding across a field, a sudden storm came up. A flash of lightning struck the ground in front of him. His horse bolted. Norbert was thrown to the ground and knocked unconscious. When he woke, he began to think seriously about the way his life was going. He felt that God was very near. Norbert realized that the Lord was offering him the grace to change for the better. He decided to become a priest. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1115. Father Norbert worked hard to make others turn from their worldly ways. He gave everyone a good example by selling all he had to give the money to the poor. Norbert became the founder of a religious congregation for the spreading of the faith. His original group included thirteen men. They lived as a community in the valley of Premontre. That is why they were called Premonstratensians. Today the members are also called Norbertines, in honor of their founder, Norbert. Norbert was chosen bishop of the city of Magdeburg. He entered the city wearing very poor clothes and no shoes. The porter at the door of the bishop’s house didn’t know him and refused to let him in. He told the bishop to go and join the other beggars. “But he is our new bishop!” shouted those who knew the saint. The porter was shocked and very sorry. “Never mind, dear brother,” Norbert said kindly. ”You judge me more correctly than those who brought me here.” Norbert had to clarify a false teaching that denied the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. His beautiful words about our Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament brought the people back to their holy faith. In March, 1133, Norbert and his great friend, St. Bernard (whose feast is celebrated on August 20) walked in an unusual procession. When Anacletus II claimed to be the pope, they joined the emperor and his army to accompany the true pope, Innocent II, safely to the Vatican. Norbert died in 1134. Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed him a saint in 1582.
We can learn many good things from St. Norbert. We can especially learn that the way we live here on earth is preparing us for a life that will never end. St. Norbert also teaches us to love and honor Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
Blessed Anne García
Anne, the daughter of peasants, was born in Almendral, Spain, in 1549. She took care of sheep until she was twenty years old. Four miles from her hometown was Avila, the city where St. Teresa and her Carmelite nuns lived. Anne wanted to be a nun too, and St. Teresa accepted her into the monastery. Anne became a lay sister instead of a cloistered nun. This meant that Sister Anne could go out and do the errands while the other nuns who stayed home prayed. For the last six years of her life, St. Teresa chose Sister Anne to be her traveling companion and secre- tary. St. Teresa went around to visit the communities of Carmelite nuns. Sometimes she started a new convent. Sometimes she helped the nuns become more enthusiastic about the wonderful life they had chosen. St. Teresa thought very highly of Sister Anne and praised her to the other nuns. Although Sister Anne never had the chance to go to school, she knew how to read and write. She recorded her experiences with the great St. Teresa. It was Sister Anne who was with her when she died. Sister Anne’s life continued quite normally for six years after St. Teresa’s death. Then the superiors decided to open a new convent in Paris, France. Five nuns were selected to go and Sister Anne was one of them. While the people of Paris were warmly greeting the nuns, Sister Anne slipped into the kitchen and prepared a meal for her hungry sisters. Eventually, four of the five nuns moved on to the Netherlands. Sister Anne remained behind in France because she had been appointed the prioress or superior. Considering herself unworthy of this office, she reminded the Lord that most of the young French women joining their community were from rich, noble families. She was only a shepherdess. Within her heart, Sister Anne heard the Lord’s answer: ”With straws I light my fire.” Sister Anne was later sent to the Netherlands to start more new convents. She went first to Mons and then to Antwerp. The young women who came to join the Carmelites thought of Sister Anne as a saint. Sister Anne died in Antwerp in 1626. She was proclaimed “blessed” by Pope Benedict XV.
Blessed Anne liked to be in the background. She wasn’t ambitious. Whenever we find ourselves wanting to be considered more important than others, we can pray to this holy nun. She will help us concentrate on pleasing God rather than impressing other people.
St. William of York
William Fitzherbert was born in England in the twelfth century. He was the nephew of King Stephen. As a young man, William was rather easy-going and even a bit lazy. He seems to have given the impression to some that he was not very serious about taking responsibility in life. However, William was very popular with the people of his city of York. Years later, when the archbishop of York died, William was chosen to take his place. In those times, princes used to interfere in the election of the bishops. This is why many priests did not think William had been properly chosen. It was his uncle, the king, who had appointed him. Even the great St. Bernard persuaded the pope to make someone else archbishop of York. William was asked to step aside because many people felt that his appointment was not valid. William left his bishop’s house feeling hurt and humiliated. He went to live with another uncle, a bishop. It seems that William then became a much more spiritual person. He would not accept any of the comforts his uncle offered him. He prayed and performed penances. He began to show how much he cared about his faith and about the Church. The people of York were angry at what had happened to their archbishop. They could not understand how something like this could take place. There were street fights between those who wanted William and those who did not. Six years passed. William continued to live a quiet life of prayer in the home of his uncle. He asked the Lord for peace for his archdiocese. It did not matter any more if he had been treated unjustly. What mattered was that his people be taken care of. Finally, his prayers were answered. When the other archbishop died, the pope sent William back to York. He arrived in May, 1154. The people were very happy. But William was an old man by this time, and he died about a month later. He was proclaimed a saint by Pope Honorius III in 1227.
Sometimes people may say things about us that are untrue or exaggerated. When this happens we can ask St. William to help us be as forgiving as he was. We can also ask him to help us not to hold grudges.
St. Ephrem
Ephrem was born in Mesopotamia around the year 306. He was baptized when he was eighteen. Ephrem eventually went into the hills and became a hermit. He found a cave near the city of Edessa in Syria. His wore patched rags for clothes and he ate what the earth provided. Ephrem used to become angry easily. But little by little, he gained control over himself. People who met him even thought that he was a very calm person by nature. Ephrem often went to preach in Edessa. He spoke so fervently about God that the people wept. He would tell them that he was a great sinner. He really meant it, too, because although his sins were small, they seemed very big to him. When St. Basil met him, he asked, “Are you Ephrem, the famous servant of Jesus?” Ephrem answered quickly, ”I am Ephrem who walks unworthily on the way to salvation.” Then Ephrem asked and received advice from St. Basil on how to grow closer to God. Ephrem spent his time writing spiritual books. He wrote in several languages—Syriac, Greek, Latin and Armenian. His books are so beautiful and spiritual that they have been translated into many languages. They are still read today. Ephrem also wrote hymns for public worship. That is why he is called “the harp of the Holy Spirit.” Ephrem’s hymns became very popular. As the people sang them, they learned much about the faith. Ephrem died in June of 373. Because he taught so many people through his writings, he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church many years later in 1920.
When we gather with our parish community for Mass, we can ask St. Ephrem to help us participate as well as we can. An important way to do this is to pray the prayers and responses out loud, and to join in singing the songs.
Blessed Anna Maria Taigi
Anna Maria was born in Siena, Italy, in 1769. Because her family was poor, they moved to Rome soon after in order to find work. As soon as Anna Maria was old enough, she took a job as a house servant in Rome. There she met another servant named Dominic Taigi. They were married in 1790. Even though the young couple had little income, Anna Maria liked to spend what she could on nice clothes. She was very pretty and she knew it. She spent a lot of time admiring herself in the mirror. But one day, after going to confession, she realized how empty and superficial her life had become. She start- ed to realize that beauty of the soul is the most important thing. So Anna Maria changed her way of living. She began to dress simply and modestly. And she became more prayerful and concerned about others. Anna Maria and Dominic were blessed with seven children. Three of them died in infancy, but the other four received an excellent upbringing from their mother. In addition to taking care of the needs of her home and family, Anna Maria spent much time in prayer, even while doing her household tasks. She helped those less fortunate than her own family, visiting the hospital and helping to care for the sick. She was an example of Christian virtue to all who knew her. God blessed Anna Maria with special visions and other spiritual experiences, which she managed to keep hidden from her husband. She felt that Dominic deserved to have a “normal” wife. But many people came to know of her closeness to God and soon she had visitors, even priests and bishops, coming to ask for advice. Anna Maria Taigi died on June 9, 1837, after forty-eight years of marriage. She was sixty-eight years old. She was beatified in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.
Blessed Anna Maria Taigi did not become holy because of her visions or her gift of prophecy. What made her a saint was her great love for God and her dedication to her family. Her story proves that people from all walks of life are called to become holy.
St. Barnabas
Although he was not one of the original twelve apostles, Barnabas is called an apostle by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. This is because, like Paul the apostle, Barnabas received a special mission from God. He was a Jew born on the island of Cyprus. His name was Joseph, but the apostles changed it to Barnabas. This name means “son of consolation.” As soon as he became a Christian, Barnabas sold all he owned and gave the money to the apostles. He was a good, kind-hearted man. He was full of enthusiasm to share his belief in and love for Jesus. Barnabas was sent to the city of Antioch to preach the Gospel. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. It was where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Barnabas realized that he needed help. He thought of Paul of Tarsus, a former persecutor of the Christians who had been converted when Jesus appeared to him. It was Barnabas who convinced St. Peter and the Christian community that Paul really loved Jesus and wanted to spread his Gospel. Barnabas asked Paul to come and work with him. Barnabas was a humble person. He was not afraid of sharing responsibility and power. He knew that Paul, too, had a great gift to give, and he wanted him to have the chance to share that gift. Sometime later, the Holy Spirit chose Paul and Barnabas for a special assignment. Not long afterward, the two apostles set off on a daring missionary journey. They had many sufferings to bear and often risked their lives. Despite the hardships, their preaching won many people to Jesus and his Church. Later St. Barnabas went on another missionary journey, this time with his relative, John Mark. They went to Barnabas’ own country of Cyprus. So many people became believers through his preaching that Barnabas is called the apostle of Cyprus. It is commonly believed that this great saint was stoned to death in the year 61.
St. Barnabas received a name that symbolized what he was—a good person who encouraged others to love the Lord. Let’s always try to cheer up those who are sad or lonely. Let’s encourage others to love God by the good example we give.
St. John Gonzalez de Castrillo
John was born at Sahagún, Spain, in 1419. He received his education from the Benedictine monks of his town. Then John became a parish priest. He could have lived a very comfortable life in the cathedral parish or in other wealthy parishes. But John felt attracted to poverty and the simple lifestyle that Jesus had lived. Father John chose to keep charge only of a small chapel. There he celebrated Mass, preached and taught catechism. Father John realized that he needed to know theology better. He enrolled in classes at the great Catholic University of Salamanca. After four years of hard study, he became famous as a preacher. Nine years later, he joined a community of Augustinian friars. They were very impressed by the way he practiced the Christian virtues. He was obedient to his superiors and humble, too. He also continued his preaching. His beautiful homilies or sermons brought about a change in the people of Salamanca. They had been quarreling violently among themselves. Often young noblemen fought each other in revenge. Father John succeeded in ending many of these bitter fights. He even persuaded people to forgive one another. He was not afraid to correct evils, even when the evildoers were powerful people who could take revenge. Once he corrected a duke for the way he was making the poor people suffer. In anger, the duke sent two of his men to kill John. The two men found the priest and approached him. Father John was so calm and kind. Both men were overcome with sorrow and asked his pardon. Then the duke became sick. Through Father John’s prayers he repented of his sins and recovered. It was the graces he received from prayer and from the Mass that gave Father John his special power as a preacher. He celebrated the Mass with great devotion. John died on June II, 1479. He was proclaimed a saint by Pope Alexander VIII in 1690.
St. John was a peacemaker because he tried to be loving and kind with everyone. How can we be peacemakers at home or at school?
St. Anthony of Padua
This very popular saint was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195. His baptismal name was Ferdinand. Ferdinand was taught by the Augustinian friars. When he was old enough, he joined their order. At the age of twenty-five, Ferdinand’s life took an exciting turn. He heard about some Franciscans who had been martyred by the Moors in Morocco. These friars were St. Berard and his companions. (We celebrate their feast on January 16.) Ferdinand was so impressed with the courage of the martyrs that he got permission to transfer from the Augustinian Order to the Franciscan Order. This order was very new. St. Francis, its founder, was still alive. Ferdinand took the new name “Anthony.” He went off to Africa to preach about Jesus to the Moors. But he soon became so sick that his superiors called him back to Portugal. On the way there, however, his ship was caught in a terrible storm. It had to land in Italy instead of returning to Portugal. No one in his new religious order realized how brilliant and talented Anthony was. He never spoke about himself or how much he knew. So the Franciscan superiors assigned him to a quiet friary in Italy. There he washed pots and pans. One day Anthony was unexpectedly asked to preach in front of a crowd of priests and important people. Everyone was surprised at the wonderful things he said about God. From then on, until he died nine years later, Anthony was sent to preach all over Italy. He was so popular that people even closed their stores to go to hear him. After 1226, Anthony remained in the city of Padua, Italy. There his preaching completely changed the lives of the people. He helped the poor and worked to keep people who couldn’t pay their bills from being thrown into prison. His sermons helped people to not only understand their faith better, but to put it into practice, too. Anthony died at Arcella, near Padua, Italy, on June 13, 1231. He was only thirty-six years old. Pope Gregory IX proclaimed him a saint just one year later. Many people ask St. Anthony to pray to God for them when they need help. And many miracles have taken place through his intercession. Statues of St. Anthony show him holding the Infant Jesus because Jesus once appeared to him as a baby. Other pictures show St. Anthony holding a Bible. This is because he knew, loved and preached the Word of God so well. In fact, St. Anthony knew Scripture so well that Pope Pius XII proclaimed him the “Evangelical Doctor,” or Doctor of Sacred Scripture.
Sometimes we want to be recognized for the things we do well. It may be that we won’t always receive as much attention as we would like. That’s when we can ask St. Anthony to teach us how to use our gifts without expecting any praise in return.
St. Andrew Fournet
St. Andrew Fournet was born on December 6, 1752. He was from Maille, a little town near Poitiers, in France. Andrew’s parents were religious people. Mrs. Fournet had her heart set on Andrew becoming a priest. The little boy heard this more often than he cared to. Once he declared, ”I’m a good boy, but I’m still not going to be a priest or a monk!” When he grew up, Andrew went to Poitiers to study philosophy and law. But that didn’t last long. He was having too much of a good time to study! His mother encouraged him to find good jobs, but they fell through, one after another. Then his mother suggested that Andrew go and stay for a while with his uncle, a holy priest who was living in a poor parish. To his mother’s surprise, Andrew agreed. Andrew’s uncle recognized his nephew’s good qualities. And the priest’s own good example sparked something in Andrew. Andrew began to feel drawn to the priesthood. He started to study seriously to make up for lost time. Andrew was eventually ordained a priest and assigned to be his uncle’s assistant. In 1781,he was transferred to his home parish in Maille. His mother was so happy! Andrew had become a caring and prayerful priest. When the French revolution began, Andrew refused to take an oath that was against the Church. He became a hunted man. In 1792, he was forced to flee to Spain. There he remained for five years. But he worried about his people and went back to France. The danger was as great as before. But Father Andrew was protected by the people. He nearly escaped death several times. Meanwhile, he heard confessions, celebrated the Eucharist, and anointed the sick and dying. When the Church was free again, Andrew came out of hiding. He was always inviting his people to love and serve God. One of the good ladies from the area, Elizabeth Bichier des Ages (who also became a saint) helped Father Andrew very much. Together they started an order of sisters called the Daughters of the Cross. (St. Elizabeth’s feast day is August 26.) Andrew died on May 13, 1834, at the age of eighty-two. He was proclaimed a saint by Pope Pius XI on June 4, 1933.
Let’s ask St. Andrew to help us never to be afraid or ashamed to stand up for what’s right.
St. Germaine of Pibrac
Pibrac is the little village in France where Germaine was born around 1579. She spent her life there. She was a sickly and unattractive girl. In fact, her right hand was deformed and helpless. Her father paid little attention to her. And her stepmother didn’t want her around her own healthy children. So Germaine slept in the barn, even in cold weather. She dressed in rags and was laughed at by other children. She spent all day tending the sheep out in the fields. When she came home at night, her stepmother often shouted at her and beat her. Yet this poor girl learned to talk with God and to remember that he was with her all the time. She always managed to get to daily Mass. She left her sheep in care of her guardian angel. Never once did one wander away from her shepherd’s staff, which she would leave standing upright in the ground. Germaine often gathered young children around her to teach them about the Catholic faith. She wanted their hearts to be full of God’s love. She tried her best to help the poor, too. She shared with beggars the little bit of food she was given to eat. One winter day, her stepmother accused her of stealing bread. The woman chased her with a stick. When she finally caught up with Germaine, she demanded to see what Germaine had wrapped in her apron. Her stepmother was amazed to discover not bread but summer flowers! By now people no longer made fun of Germaine. In fact, they loved and admired her. She could have begun to live in her father’s house, but she chose to keep her little corner in the barn. Germaine died in 1601. She was only twenty-two years old. Her life of great suffering was over. And God worked miracles to show everyone that she was a saint.
St. Germaine was very patient in putting up with all the difficulties she had. At Mass and in Holy Communion she received the help she needed from God. Whenever something makes us suffer we should pray for God’s help too.
St. John Francis Regis
This French saint was born in 1597. When he was eighteen, he entered the Jesuit Order. In the seminary, John’s love for God and his vocation showed in the way he prayed. He was also eager to teach the faith to people in the parishes whenever he could. After he was ordained a priest, John Francis began his work as a missionary preacher. He gave very simple talks that came right from his heart. He especially liked to speak to the poor, the ordinary people. They came in great crowds to hear him. Father John Francis spent his mornings praying, celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation and preaching. In the afternoon, he would visit prisons and hospitals. To someone who said that the prisoners and other sinners he converted would not stay good for long, Father John Francis answered: ”If my efforts stop just one sin from being committed, I shall consider them worthwhile.” Father John Francis journeyed to remote mountain parishes even on the coldest days of winter to preach his missions. ”I have seen him stand all day on a heap of snow at the top of a mountain preaching,” one priest said, “and then spend the whole night hearing confessions.” Sometimes he would start off for a far-away town at three o’clock in the morning with a few apples in his pocket for his day’s food. Once, on his way to a village, Father John Francis fell and broke his leg. But he kept on going, leaning on a stick and on his companion’s shoulder. When he reached the village, he went at once to hear confessions, without going to see a doctor. At the end of the day, when the doctor finally examined it, his leg was already completely healed! God rewarded the priest’s great love with this miracle. Father John Francis died on one of his preaching missions. He became very ill while lost at night in the woods. Just before he died, he exclaimed: ”I see our Lord and his Mother opening heaven for me.” He died on December 31, 1640. In 1806, a pilgrim joined the crowds going to pray at the shrine of St. John Francis Regis. This pilgrim believed all his life that St. John Francis obtained his vocation to the priesthood for him. The pilgrim was St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars. His feast is celebrated on August 4.
The story of St. John Francis shows us what amazing things God can do when we let him work in our lives. Let’s pray that God will use us to bring his love to many other people.
St. Emily de Vialar
Emily de Vialar was an only child. She was born in France in 1797. Her wealthy parents sent her to school in Paris. Fifteen-year-old Emily returned to her small town of Gaillac when her mother died. Her father was interested in finding her a suitable husband. He became angry when Emily refused to marry. Emily knew that she wanted to be a religious sister and give her life to God. But her father was against this idea and used to start arguments to get her to change her mind. When Emily was twenty-one, a new priest arrived in Gaillac. His name was Father Mercier. He helped Emily to discover that God did want her to serve the poor and the sick. Father Mercier helped her set up an outpatient service right on the terrace of the de Vialar home. Emily’s father was upset by all this. This tense situation between Emily and her father lasted for fifteen years. Then Emily’s grandfather, the Baron de Portal, died, leaving her a fortune. At last she had the independence she needed to begin her great work for God. With the help of Father Mercier, Emily bought a large house in her hometown. She and three other women began a religious order. They designed a habit and chose a name. They called themselves the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition. (In Matthew’s Gospel, an angel had appeared to Joseph to tell him that Mary’s child was from God.) The archbishop blessed their congregation and ministry. These sisters would be dedicated to the care of the sick and poor, and to the education of children. Twelve young women joined the group within three months. Sister Emily pronounced her vows in 1835 along with seventeen other sisters. The archbishop approved the rule they would live by. The Sisters of St. Joseph opened branch convents. In 1847, some went to Burma and in 1854 other sisters went to Australia. In forty years, Mother Emily saw her congregation grow from the patio of her home in Gaillac, France, to some forty foundations around the world. Mother Emily wrote many letters that revealed her tremendous love for God, for his Church and for people. She cared about everyone. She saw in her heart people everywhere who needed the truth of the Gospel and the love that Christianity brings. She asked Jesus for the strength she needed to continue on. Mother Emily’s health began to fail around 1850. She died in August 1856. Pope Pius XII proclaimed her a saint in 1951.
It’s not enough to just believe in the teachings of Jesus. We also have to put them into practice, as St. Emily did. How can you reach out to others? Can you help a friend who’s having a hard time with schoolwork? Can you visit elderly people living in a nursing home? How can you help out around the house?
St. Gregory Barbarigo
Gregory was born in 1625. He was raised and educated in his native city of Venice, Italy. While still in his twenties, Gregory was chosen to go with the Venetian ambassador to Munster, Germany, for the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia on October 24, 1648. This treaty would bring an end to the Thirty Year War. This war, begun in 1618, was fought in Germany. It involved local, Swedish and French troops and was basically caused by Catholic- Protestant misunderstanding. At Munster, Gregory met the pope’s representative. This man was to become Pope Alexander VII in 1655. He realized the goodness and spiritual qualities of Father Gregory. He made him a bishop and assigned him to the diocese of Bergamo, Italy. In 1660, the pope called Gregory to Rome again. This time he made Gregory a cardinal and assigned him to Padua. Cardinal Gregory Barbarigo was to spend the rest of his life in that city already made famous by St. Anthony. People often said that Cardinal Barbarigo was like a second Cardinal Borromeo. (We celebrate the feast of St. Charles Borromeo on November 4.) Cardinal Barbarigo lived a simple, self-sacrificing life. He gave large sums of money to charitable works. He kept his door open and was always available when people were in trouble. He started an excellent college and seminary to train men to be priests. He gave the seminary a wonderful library with many books by the early Church Fathers and books about Sacred Scripture. He even equipped the seminary with a printing press. Cardinal Gregory Barbarigo died in June, 1697, at the age of seventy-two. He was canonized by Pope John XXIII in 1960.
St. Gregory was always ready to help those who were in trouble. We can imitate him in small ways by being kind and welcoming to those who might not have many friends at school, or by smiling at someone who looks sad. When we try to treat others as Jesus would we can make a difference.
St. Romuald
Romuald, an Italian nobleman, was born around 951 in Ravenna, Italy. When he was twenty, he was shocked to see his father kill a man in a duel. Romuald went to a Benedictine monastery. He wanted to set his own life straight. He also wanted to do penance for his father’s drastic deed. The monastery surroundings and lifestyle were new to Romuald. He was used to luxury and an easy way of life without much work. The nobleman was impressed by the good example of many of the monks. He became a monk, remaining at the monastery for three years. After that, he decided to find a stricter way of life. He asked a good hermit named Marinus to be his spiritual guide. Both Marinus and Romuald tried to spend each day praising and loving God. Romuald’s own father Sergius came to observe his son’s new way of life. He was struck by its spirit of simplicity and self-sacrifice. Sergius realized that there had to be great happiness in this kind of life because his son had given up everything to live like this. That was all Sergius needed. He too gave up his wealth and spent the rest of his life as a monk. Eventually, Romuald began the Camaldolese Benedictine order. He traveled around Italy starting hermitages and monasteries. Wherever he went, he gave his monks a wonderful example of love and penance. He ate very simple meals consisting of food he grew himself. Through these sacrifices Romuald grew closer to God. Romuald died on June 19, 1027, at the monastery of Valdi-Castro. He was alone in his cell and passed away quietly, probably whispering his favorite prayer: “Oh, my sweet Jesus! God of my heart! Delight of pure souls! The object of all my desires!”
Let’s ask St. Romuald to help us to value prayer and the life of Jesus within us. We can also ask him to help us keep our priorities straight. He knows how hard that can sometimes be.
Blessed Michelina of Pesaro
Michelina was born in 1300 in Pesaro, Italy. Her family was wealthy and she married a rich man. Michelina was a happy person by nature. She and her husband lived a life of luxury and comfort. But when she was just twenty, her husband died. All of a sudden, Michelina found herself alone with a little son to raise. A holy Franciscan laywoman lived in Pesaro. Her name was Syriaca. Syriaca realized that Michelina was really a wonderful person who needed direction and help to become closer to God. The two women became friends, and Michelina took Syriaca into her home. The holy woman greatly influenced Michelina. Michelina became prayerful. She took good care of her son and her home. She spent her free time serving the poor and needy. She visited the lonely and took care of those too sick or too old to look after themselves. Then, Michelina’s son died suddenly. Michelina decided to become a Third Order Franciscan. At first, her relatives were concerned when she gave away her money and fancy clothes and started to eat plain food. But after a while, they became convinced that Michelina was very close to God. Michelina lived her whole life in the same house in Pesaro. She died in 1356 at the age of fifty-six. In her memory, the people of her town kept a lamp always lit in her home. In 1590, Blessed Michelina’s house was made into a church.
Blessed Michelina had the choice to live a selfish, easy life or a life of loving, Christian service. It was through the example of her friend Syriaca that Michelina became holy. Let’s thank God for the gift of our own good friends.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga
Aloysius, the patron saint of young Catholics, was born on March 9, 1568 in Castiglione, Italy. Since he was so full of life, his father planned to make a great soldier out of him. When Aloysius was just five, his father took him to the army camp. There, little Aloysius marched in parade. He even managed to load and fire a gun one day while the army was resting. He learned rough language from the soldiers, too. But when he found out what the words meant, Aloysius felt very bad that he had used them. As he grew, Aloysius was sent to the court of the Duke of Mantua. Dishonesty, hatred, and impurity were common there. But the only effect it all had on Aloysius was to make him more careful to live as a good follower of Jesus. He became sick. That gave him an excuse to spend some time praying and reading good books. When Aloysius was sixteen, he decided to become a Jesuit priest. His father refused to allow it. However, after three years, he finally gave in. Once Aloysius had joined the order, he asked to do hard and humble tasks. He served in the kitchen and washed the dishes. When a terrible sickness called the plague broke out in Rome, Aloysius asked to be allowed to care for the sick. The young man who had grown up with servants waiting on him now washed the sick and made their beds. He served them until he caught the sickness himself. Aloysius was only twenty-three years old when he died. It was the night of June 20, 1591. He said simply, “I am going to heaven.” The body of Aloysius Gonzaga is buried in the Church of St. Ignatius in Rome. He was proclaimed a saint by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.
Peer pressure can sometimes make us say and do things that we shouldn’t. Let’s ask St. Aloysius for the courage to do what’s right no matter what others are doing or what they think about us.
St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More
John Fisher was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1469. He was educated at Cambridge University and became a priest. Father John taught at Cambridge, too. He was a wonderful teacher and helped the students grow in their knowledge of the Catholic faith. But there was a lot of confusion about religion in those days. Father John helped people to know the truth about God and the Catholic Church. In 1504, he became the bishop of Rochester, England. It was a poor diocese. Bishop John was to remain its shepherd for thirty years. Besides being the bishop of Rochester, he was the head of Cambridge University. Bishop John also heard the confessions of King Henry VIII’s mother. Bishop John had many friends, including the famous scholar, Erasmus, and the great Sir Thomas More. Bishop John and Thomas More would have never guessed that one day they would be sharing a feast day on the calendar of saints! King Henry VIII became angry with Bishop John for insisting that his marriage to Queen Catherine was true. Then Henry VIII divorced Catherine and married Anne Boleyn in a civil ceremony. The king demanded that people sign an oath of loyalty to him. He made himself head of the Church in England. Bishop John would not sign the oath. He was arrested in 1534 and sent to the Tower of London. The tower was damp and the treatment was harsh. Bishop John suffered very much, but he would not betray his faith. Even though there were no televisions and radios back then, people found out about what Bishop John, Sir Thomas More and others like them were going through. They were shocked and saddened. On June 12, 1535, Pope Paul III named Bishop John a cardinal. He hoped this would make King Henry set him free. But the king only became angrier and meaner. After ten months in prison, Cardinal John was beheaded on June 22, 1535. Along with his friend, Sir Thomas More, Cardinal John Fisher was proclaimed a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1935. Sometimes it’s much easier to go along with the crowd rather than stand up for the truth. But the story of St. John shows that God will always give us the strength we need to do the right thing. Sir Thomas More was a famous lawyer and writer. He was born in London in 1478. His father had been a lawyer, too, and a judge. Thomas was always grateful to his father for being so loving and for not spoiling him. Thomas’ first wife, Jane Colt, died when she very young. Thomas was left with four small children. He got married again to a widow named Alice Middleton. She was a good but simple woman who could not even read or write, even though Thomas tried to teach her. Thomas made home life enjoyable for his family because he was so pleasant to be with. During meals, one of the children would read from the Bible. Then they would have fun and tell jokes. Thomas often invited poorer neighbors to come to dinner, too. He always helped the poor as much as he could. He loved to delight his guests with surprises. He even kept some playful monkeys as pets. But few people could have imagined how deeply religious Thomas really was. He prayed long hours into the night and performed penances, too. He was very much aware that he needed the grace and help of God to live as a true Christian. Thomas held important government positions in England. For three years he was Lord Chancellor, another name for prime minister. King Henry VIII used to put his arm around Thomas’ shoulder because they were such good friends. Although Thomas was most loyal to the king, he was loyal to God first of all. In fact, when the king tried to make him disobey God’s law, Thomas refused. King Henry wanted to divorce his wife and marry another woman. However, the pope could not give permission, since that is against God’s law. Henry was stubborn and at last he left the Church. He wanted everyone to recognize him as the head of the Church in England. Thomas could not do that. He chose to remain faithful to the Catholic faith and to God. He was condemned to death for that, yet he forgave his judges. Thomas even said that he hoped he would see them in heaven. He really meant it, too. At the scaffold, where he was to die, Thomas declared himself “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” He kissed his executioner on the cheek. Then he joked, saying that his beard should not be cut off because it had not done anything wrong. Sir Thomas More was martyred on Tuesday, July 6, 1535, at the age of fifty-seven. Sir Thomas More was proclaimed a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1935, together with his friend, Bishop John Fisher. He is the patron saint of lawyers.
St. Thomas risked losing everything: his fortune, his position, his own security and even the safety of his family. But he held fast to his Catholic faith, even to the point of sacrificing his life. Like his friend St. John, Thomas was able to remain strong because he prayed and trusted in God. Let’s try to be like him. St. Paulinus of Nola also shares this feast day with St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.
St. Joseph Cafasso
Joseph Cafasso was born in 1811, in northern Italy, near the city of Turin. (Four years later, in 1815, one of his most famous students John Bosco—who would also become a saint—was born in the same town. We celebrate his feast on January 31.) Joseph had loving parents who, although poor, were willing to sacrifice for his education. When he was old enough, Joseph went to Turin to study to become a priest. Joseph met John Bosco in 1827 when John was just twelve. The two became friends for the rest of their lives. In 1833, Joseph was ordained a priest. He began his priestly work and went to an excellent school of theology for priests. When Father Joseph graduated, he became a theology professor. He taught many young priests over the years. They could tell that he really loved them. Father Joseph became known as the priest who believed in the gentle and loving mercy of God. Because he was so kind himself, he gave people courage and hope. He guided many priests, religious and lay people. He helped John Bosco, who had become Father John Bosco, begin his great work with troubled boys. Father Joseph also guided Father John in starting his religious order known as the Salesians. Father Joseph gave good advice to founders of other religious orders too. There were many social needs in Father Joseph Cafasso’s time. One of the most urgent was the prison system. Prison conditions were terrible. But what most disturbed Father Joseph was the custom of publicly hanging prisoners sentenced to death. Father Joseph went to them and heard their confessions. He stayed with them, telling them of God’s love and mercy until they died. He helped over sixty convicted men. All of them repented and died in the peace of Jesus. No one could ever measure Father Joseph’s great influence on people and works in the Church. He died on June 23, 1860. His devoted friend, Father John Bosco, preached the homily at his funeral. Pope Pius XII proclaimed Father Joseph Cafasso a saint in 1947.
We can never be too kind and understanding with people. St. Joseph was especially known for his kindness to those in prison. We may not be able to help those in prison as St. Joseph did, but we can and should pray for them.
Birth of St. John the Baptist
John’s parents were Zachary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was an elderly cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The archangel Gabriel appeared to Zachary and told him that Elizabeth would have a son, whom he should name John. Zachary doubted the angel, because he and his wife were too old to have children. To show God’s power, the angel told Zachary that he would not be able to speak until everything had happened as the Lord had promised. Later, Gabriel visited Mary and told her that she would become the mother of the Savior. Gabriel also told Mary that Elizabeth was soon to be a mother. Mary went to visit and help her cousin. Then Elizabeth had her baby. Zachary named him John, as the angel had requested. At that moment, Zachary was able to speak again, and he began praising God. When the neighbors of Zachary and Elizabeth witnessed this, they began to ask each other, ”What will this child become?” They knew that God was calling him to something great. John did have a special calling. He was going to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus. As a young man, John went into the desert to prepare himself for his mission with silence, prayer and penance. Soon crowds started to come to him. They realized he was a holy man. John warned the people to be sorry for their sins. He told them to change their lives, and he gave them the baptism of repentance. That is why he is called John the Baptist. One day, Jesus himself came to John. He wanted to be baptized with John’s baptism to begin making up for our sins. On that day, John told the crowds that Jesus was the Messiah, the one they had been waiting for. He told them and everyone else to follow Jesus. John said, “Jesus must become more and more important and I must become less and less important.” He said that he was not even worthy to loosen the strap of Jesus’ sandal. We also celebrate the day that John the Baptist was killed by King Herod because that is the day he went to live with Jesus in heaven. This feast is on August 29.
St. John the Baptist was a great prophet. He pointed Jesus out and prepared people to follow Jesus. Let’s listen to the advice of St. John and allow Jesus to become more and more important in our lives.
St. William of Vercelli
William was born in Vercelli, Italy, in 1085. His parents died when he was a baby. His relatives raised him. When William grew up, he became a hermit. He worked a miracle, curing a blind man, and found himself famous. William was too humble to be happy with the people’s admiration. He really wanted to remain a hermit so that he could concentrate on God. So he went out in the wilderness to live alone on a high mountain. He thought that there no one would bother him. But he was wrong. Many men wanted William to help them become closer to God. They came to live with him, and they built a monastery dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Because of William’s monastery, people gave the mountain a new name. They called it the Mountain of the Virgin. After a while, some of the monks began to complain that their way of life was too hard. They wanted better food and an easier schedule. William would not relax the rule for himself. Instead, he chose a prior for the monks. Then he and five faithful followers set out to start another monastery, where they could live the strict kind of life they felt called to. One of William’s companions was John of Matera. Both William and John were leaders. They realized, as time went on, that it would be better if they split up, and each start a separate monastery. They were great friends, but they saw things differently. So John went east and William went west. Both did very well. In fact, both became saints. Later, King Roger I of Naples helped William. William’s good influence on the king angered some evil men of the court. They tried to prove to the king that William was really evil and that he was hiding behind a holy habit. They sent a bad woman to tempt William, but she was unsuccessful. It seems that she repented and gave up her life of sin. St. William died on June 25, 1142.
The story of St. William shows that even good friends don’t always agree on everything. Even though St. William and St. John had different ideas they didn’t let this interfere with their friendship. We can ask St. William to help us to respect the ideas of our friends even when they are different from our own.
St. Josemaría Escrivá
Josemaría Escrivá was born in Barbastro, Spain, on January 9, 1902. He was one of the six children of José Escrivá and Dolores Balaguer. After he graduated from high school, Josemaría studied law at Saragossa and received his doctorate in Madrid. Then he returned to Saragossa and entered the seminary. After he was ordained a priest on March 28, 1925, Josemaría continued his studies in Rome and earned a doctorate in theology. Father Escrivá began his priestly ministry in country parishes. Later, he began working with university students. He worked in the slums of Saragossa and Madrid, where he came into contact with people from every level of society. He recognized the need to bring the Christian message of faith and hope to the rich and poor, the educated and the simple. In order to fulfill this need, Father Escrivá started an association called Opus Dei, which means “the work of God” in Latin. It was an organization for people from all levels of social and professional life who wanted to live the Christian life more fully. Members of Opus Dei offer up the work they do each day in union with Jesus. In this way, they make their work, themselves, and others holy. Father Escrivá traveled throughout Europe and Latin America bringing Opus Dei to people in other nations. He taught that everyone is called to live a holy life and to carry out a mission in the Church. He wrote many books on history and law, but his spiritual works were especially popular. His book, The Way, which was first published in 1934, has sold over four million copies in over forty languages! Father Escrivá died suddenly on June 26, 1975, in Rome. At the time of his death, Opus Dei had spread to six continents with more than 60,000 members representing eighty nationalities. Pope John Paul II canonized Father Josemaría Escrivá on October 6, 2002.
St. Josemaría Escrivá taught that the work we do in our everyday lives is a way to become closer to God. When we offer Jesus our schoolwork, our daily chores, and even our times of fun, our whole life becomes a prayer and a fulfillment of God’s will. This is what true holiness is.
St. Cyril of Alexandria
Cyril was born in Alexandria, Egypt, around the year 370. His uncle, Theophilus, was the patriarch or archbishop. His uncle meant well, but he had a bad temper and could be stubborn at times. Archbishop Theophilus was responsible for sending Bishop John Chrysostom (who became a saint) into exile in 403. But the emperor brought the famous bishop back to his archdiocese of Constantinople. It seems that Cyril was influenced by his uncle’s prejudice of John, and agreed when Bishop John was sent into exile. (We celebrate the feast of St. John Chrysostom on September 13.) When Theophilus died in 412, Cyril became the archbishop. He was very clear about his love for the Church and for Jesus. He was a brave man in confusing times, and he preached what the Church taught. Cyril was honest and straightforward. He was not looking for praise or positions. However, Cyril could be impulsive and stubborn at times. He wanted to express the truths of the Church with his preaching and writing, and he did. But when he became upset, he was not concerned about saying things in a gentle way, so he blurted out angrily at times. This must have caused him sorrow. Yet Christians were grateful for his many wonderful qualities, such as courage in defending the Church and her teachings. Cyril was the representative of Pope St. Celestine I at the Council of Ephesus in 431. This was an official Church meeting of over 200 bishops. They had to study the teachings of a priest named Nestorius. The Council explained clearly that Nestorius was wrong about some important truths we believe. For example, he was teaching that Jesus Christ was God, but not man. Of course, Jesus is truly God and truly man. The pope gave Nestorius ten days to promise that he would not keep preaching his errors. But Nestorius would not give in. The Council explained to the people of God that such errors about Jesus could not be accepted. The bishops were so clear in their explanation that these false teachings would never again be a major threat. The people were very grateful to Cyril of Alexandria who led the Council meetings. Cyril went back to his archdiocese and worked hard for the Church, writing and explaining the truths of the faith until he died in 444. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed St. Cyril a Doctor of the Church in 1882.
It doesn’t pay to become discouraged after we’ve done something that we shouldn’t have. What we should do is pray to do better next time. St. Cyril had a hard time controlling his temper, but he kept working on it. Let’s ask him to help us become more like Jesus in that virtue that we need the most.
St. Irenaeus
Irenaeus was a Greek who was born between the years 120 and 140. He had the great privilege of being taught by St. Polycarp, who had been a disciple of St. John the Apostle. Irenaeus once told a friend: “I listened to St. Polycarp’s instructions very carefully. I wrote down his actions and his words, not on paper, but on my heart.” After he became a priest, Irenaeus was sent to the French city of Lyons. It was in this city that the bishop, St. Pothinius, was martyred along with a great many other saints. Irenaeus was not martyred at that time because he had left the city to do an errand. His brother priests had asked him to take an important message from them to the pope in Rome. In that letter they spoke of Irenaeus as a man full of zeal for the faith. After reading that letter, the pope made Irenaeus a bishop and sent him back to Lyons. When Irenaeus returned to Lyons, the persecution was over. But there was another danger—a false religion called Gnosticism was spreading. This false religion attracted some people by its promise to teach them secret mysteries. Irenaeus studied all its teachings and then wrote five books to explain their errors. He wrote with respect, because he wanted to win people to Jesus. However, sometimes he had to use strong words, too. Many people read Irenaeus’ book. Before long, the false religion began to die out. St. Irenaeus died around the year 202. Many believe he was martyred.
St. Irenaeus always remembered what he had been taught by St. Polycarp. Let’s try to form the habit of being grateful to all those who have taught us many good things: our parents or guardians, our priests and teachers. Let’s pray for them and try to put all that we’ve learned into practice.
St. Peter and St. Paul
Peter, the first bishop of Rome (we now call the bishop of Rome the pope), was a fisherman from Bethsaida. Jesus invited him to follow him, saying: ”I will make you a fisher of people.” Peter was a simple, hard-working man. He was generous, honest and very attached to Jesus. This great apostle’s original name was Simon, but Jesus changed it to Peter, which means “rock.” “You are Peter,” Jesus said, ”and on this rock I will build my Church.” Peter was the leader of the apostles. When Jesus was arrested, Peter became afraid. That’s when he denied that he knew Jesus three times. But Peter was very sorry for what he had done, and Jesus forgave him. After his resurrection Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” “Lord,” Peter answered, ”you know all things. You know that I love you.” Peter was right. Jesus really did know! Jesus said kindly, “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.” Jesus was telling Peter to take care of his Church because he would be ascending into heaven. Jesus made Peter the leader of his followers. Peter eventually went to live in Rome. Rome was the center of the whole world at that time. Peter converted many nonbelievers there. When the fierce persecution of Christians began, they begged Peter to leave Rome and save himself. There is a tradition that says Peter actually started to run away. But he met Jesus on the road. ”Lord, where are you going?” Peter asked him. Jesus answered, ”I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time.” Then Peter turned around and went back. He realized that this vision meant that he was to suffer and die for Jesus. Soon after, he was taken prisoner and condemned to death. Because he was not a Roman citizen, he, like Jesus, could be crucified. This time he did not deny the Lord. This time he was ready to die for him. Peter asked to be crucified with his head downward since he was not worthy to suffer as Jesus had. The Roman soldiers did not find this unusual because slaves were crucified in the same manner. St. Peter was martyred and buried on Vatican Hill. It was around the year 67. Emperor Constantine built a large church over that holy spot in the fourth century. Today the beautiful church called St. Peter’s Basilica stands there. St. Peter has another feast that we celebrate. It is on February 22 and is called the Chair of St. Peter. We can learn from St. Peter that when we make Jesus the center of our hearts and lives everything else will work out. Our sins and failings will never keep Jesus from loving and forgiving us. Saul was Jewish, but because he was born in Tarsus, he was also a Roman citizen, with the Roman name “Paul.” He studied his Jewish faith carefully and was very dedicated to it. Saul made his living as a tentmaker. Before Saul’s conversion, he thought he was pleasing God by persecuting the Christians. At the time of his conversion, Jesus had said: “I will show him how much he must suffer for me.” After Jesus appeared to Saul, Saul began to use his Roman name Paul. Paul loved Jesus very much, so much, in fact, that he tried to imitate him in every way. All his life, during his many missionary trips, Paul met troubles and went through dangers of every kind. He was whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, and lost at sea. Many, many times he was hungry, thirsty and cold. But Paul always trusted in God. And he never stopped preaching. “The love of Jesus presses me onward,” he said. In reward, God gave him great comfort and joy in spite of every suffering. We read about St. Paul’s marvelous adventures for Jesus in St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, beginning with chapter nine. But St. Luke’s story ends when Paul arrives in Rome. He is under house arrest, waiting to be tried by Emperor Nero. A famous early Christian writer, Tertullian, tells us that Paul was freed after his first trial. But then he was put in prison again. This time he was sentenced to death. He died around the year 67,during Nero’s terrible persecution of the Christians. Paul called himself the apostle of the Gentiles because he preached the Gospel to the people who weren’t Jewish. That took him across the then-known world. Because of Paul, we too, have received the Christian faith. In the New Testament, we can read many of the letters which he wrote to the churches which he helped form. In these letters, St. Paul gives helpful advice on living the Christian life. We celebrate another feast of St. Paul, the feast of his conversion, on January 25.
Once St. Paul discovered who Jesus was, he dedicated his whole life to loving and serving the Lord and telling as many people as he could about him. What can we do to help others know Jesus better?
First Martyrs of the Church of Rome
The people we honor today had one thing in common: they all gave up their lives for Jesus. They were killed because they were his followers. By the year 64, Emperor Nero’s human rights violations had reached proportions beyond description. When a fire broke out in Rome on July 16, it was commonly believed that the emperor himself had set it. As almost the entire city lay in ruins, the anger of the people grew. Nero became fearful. He needed to blame the fire on someone else, and he picked the Christians. Tacitus, a well-known historian, recorded that the Christians suffered cruel deaths. Nero had some of them fed to wild animals. Others were tied to posts and became human torches that lit the Roman streets. The exact number of these Christian heroes is not known, but their gift of witness and their holy lives made a lasting impact on the people. Nero was the first Roman emperor to persecute the Christians, but he was not the last. And the more the Church was persecuted, the more it grew. The martyrs had paid the price so that all who would come after them would be free to practice the Catholic faith.
We can be grateful that we live in a country in which we are free to practice our Catholic faith. Many other people do not have this same gift. Let’s ask the Martyrs of Rome to help all those who are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus.