Tuesday, December 6, 2016

St. Nicholas of Bari

Nicholas is thought to have been born in Patara, Lycia, a province of Asia Minor. Myra was the capital, close to the ocean, and an episcopal see. When the see became vacant, Nicholas was chosen bishop and became famous and beloved for his extraordinary piety, zeal and many astonishing miracles.

He suffered imprisonment for his faith and made a glorious confession during the persecution of Diocletian.

He was also present at the Council of Nicaea and there condemned Arianism. St. Methodius asserts that thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, Myra alone was untouched by the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ.

Legend has it that the tradition of gift giving attached to St. Nicholas comes from the fact that he once helped a father and his three daughters. Hearing that they were destitute, and therefore could find no husbands, he slipped a bag of gold through the family’s window under the cover of darkness. At intervals, he did the same for the second and third girl, saving all three from a life of want and shame.

Nicholas died and was buried in his city of Myra, and by the time of Justinian, there was already a basilica built in his honor in Constantinople. Later, his relics were moved to the city of Bari, Italy, and many miracles were attributed to his intercession.

The devotion to St. Nicholas spread not only in the East but also in the West, and his image was amply reproduced, second only to that of Our Lady. In the later Middle Ages, there were nearly four hundred churches in England alone dedicated to him. In the East, St. Nicholas is venerated as patron of sailors, and in the West, of children.

In several European countries he is beloved as the pre-Christmas “gift giver”. The modern “Santa Claus” is a secular corruption of the saint.

For fear

The people of this world are wary of evil-doing
for fear of temporal punishment.
How much more, then, should they be wary for fear of
the punishment of Hell, which is greater,
both in respect to its severity and in respect to its manifold nature:
Remember thy last end, and thou shall never sin.”

St. Thomas Aquinas

Monday, December 5, 2016

Impossible

It is impossible to save one's soul
without devotion to Mary
and without her protection.

Saint Anselm, Doctor of the Church

St. Sabas

Sabas was born in Cappadocia, the son of an army officer, who transferring to Alexandria, took with him his wife and left Sabas with his brother-in-law, who was also left in charge of the estate. His uncle’s wife treated Sabas so harshly that when he was eight he ran away to another uncle, Gregory, his father’s brother. As guardian of the boy, Gregory thought he should also run the estate, and trouble ensued. Upset, Sabas, who was of a quiet disposition, ran away again, this time to a monastery.

At the age of thirty, he obtained leave to live as a hermit five days of the week, and later retired into further solitude in the desert towards Jericho. After four years in the wilderness, hearing of his holiness, disciples began to flock to him, and, eventually, a monastery was established. St. Sabas was ordained a priest in 491 to minister the sacraments to his monks.

After the death of Sabas' father, his mother moved to Palestine and lived under her son’s direction. With the money his mother brought, he built three hospitals and a monastery.

In 511 when the holy abbot was seventy years old, Elias the Patriarch of Jerusalem sent him to Emperor Anastasius who was supporting the Eutychian heresy and persecuting the orthodox bishops.  But Anastasius was obdurate and contrived to have Elias deposed, exiled and replaced. For several years Sabas traveled, preaching and bringing those who had strayed back to the true faith and right living.

In his ninety-first year, he again traveled to Constantinople, this time to iron out trouble that had arisen in connection with a Samaritan revolt. This time he was successful and had the good will of Emperor Justinian who wished to lavish funds on his monastery. Instead, Sabas asked for a remission of taxes in favor of the Palestinians in consideration of what they had suffered on account of the Samaritans.

Back at his monastery, and feeling himself ailing, he appointed his successor and then spent four days in silence preparing to meet his Maker. On the evening of December 5, 532 he departed to Him Whom he had served since his boyhood.

Mary and the Muslim

Don Octavio del Monaco was a wealthy citizen of 17th century Naples. Like many of his class, Don Octavius had several Muslim slaves in his household. These children of Islam were amazed at the kindness of their “master.” He fed and clothed them better than they received in their native land. In return, his slaves attended to their tasks with diligence, as Don Octavius did not over work them, but assigned them duties in keeping with their dignity as children of God.
If these Muslim slaves had any reason for complaint, it was the gentle persistence with which their master and his wife exhorted them to give up their false religion and become Catholics. Don Octavius even went so far as to invite the slaves to join his family in the chapel to worship the one true God with them!
Our story today is about one young slave in particular. His name was Abel, like the slain son of Adam and Eve. He felt drawn in a peculiar way to a lamp that burned in front of a shrine to Holy Mary. Abel would purchase the oil needed to keep the lamp lit from his own meager stipend. As he continued to practice this humble devotion, he would say, “I hope that this Lady will grant me some great favor.”
One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian. At first the Turk resisted. But she placed her hand upon his shoulder, and said to him: “Now no longer resist, Abel, but be baptized and called Joseph,” conferring on him a name that was very dear to her Immaculate Heart indeed.
On August the 10th, 1648, there was much rejoicing in Heaven, for on that day “Joseph” and eleven other Muslims converted to the Christian faith and were baptized. Their conversion was brought about by the kindness shown by Don Octavius and the special intercession of the Mother of God.
Our story does not end here. Even once this son of hers was safely baptized, Mother Mary delighted in visiting him. Once, after having appeared to him, she was about to depart. But the Moor seized her mantle, saying, “Oh, Lady, when I find myself afflicted, I pray you to let me see you.” In fact, she one day promised him this and when Joseph found himself afflicted he invoked her, and Mary appeared to him again saying, “Have patience, “and he was consoled.
From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The test of love

He who limits himself
to performing only what is his obligation
does not love. 

St. Peter Julian Eymard

St. John Damascene

John Damascene was born in Damascus, then under Muslim rule. Though imposing a poll tax and other conditions upon the Jews and Christians, the Muslims of Damascus were, for the most part, tolerant, allowing both Jews and Christians to occupy important posts, and amass fortune.

Among the officials at the khalif’s court in 675 was a Christian called John, chief of the revenue department. The father of our saint, he was surnamed al-Mansur by the Arabs, a name the family carried.

The younger John was born around 690, baptized in infancy, and, as he grew, had a tutor named Cosmas, a wise man of letters, whom the Arabs had brought back from Sicily among other captives. Young John had an adopted brother also called Cosmas, and both became the pupils of the Sicilian sage, who taught them the natural sciences and theology.

John succeeded his father in his office at the court and worked there, free to practice his Faith, and respected for his virtues. After some years, he resigned his post, and, with his brother Cosmas, joined the monastery of St. Sabas.

As monks, John and Cosmas used their spare time to write books and poetry, which occupation rather scandalized their brethren.

Better appreciated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, John V, the brothers joined his clergy. Cosmas was eventually consecrated bishop of Majuma serving his flock admirably, and also reaching sainthood. John, after being ordained, served for a while in Jerusalem, but then returned to his monastery. He wrote extensively in defense of icons against the iconoclasts, incurring the ill will of upholders of the heresy in high places.

St. John wrote works of theology and poetry at St. Sabas where he died a very old man.

He was proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 1890.