Monday, November 25, 2013

Saint Pancratius



Not many facts are known about St. Pancratius, because he was born so long ago.  Legend has it,however, that he was born at the end of the 3rd century in Synnada, Phrygia, a kingdom in what is now Turkey.  His Greek name means “the one who holds everything.” After his parents died, his
uncle Dionysius brought him to Rome where he raised him up.  Meeting early Christians, St.Pancras, as he was also called, was impressed by their fervor. Also influenced his uncle, he converted to Christianity, a dangerous decision during the reign of Deocletian who launched the most violent persecutions of Christians. Nevertheless, fearless St. Pancras did not hesitate to announce his new-found faith in public. It didn’t take long for the emperor’s minions to arrest him. True to form, they beheaded St. Pancratius notwithstanding his young age.  He was only 14. 

What an early age to suffer a brutal death, so young to be martyred! His remains were buried in a cemetery that was later named in his honor.       

Although not many people around the world know St. Pancratius, this saint holds a special place
in    England thanks to the Benedictine monk, Augustine of Canterbury, who dedicated his first
church to the young martyr.  Not only that, the relics of the saint were given as gifts to the
king of Northumberland, a region in England.  A district in London is named after St. Pancras,
evidence of his popularity among the British people.

An advocate of young soldiers, St. Pancratius is their inspiration to be brave amid danger.
Likewise, he is an advocate for children and teen-agers to remain steadfast and unwavering in
their faith when faced with life’s trials and temptations. It is not clear why but St. Pancratius
is the favorite saint for job-seekers and workers who ask for his intercession in their quest for
work or a source of livelihood.   As if these weren’t plenty enough, he is also the patron saint
invoked against cramps and headache as well as perjurers and false witnesses.

Religious portrayals of St. Pancras show him with a book in his hands with the Latin inscription,
"Venite Ad Me et Ego dabo vobis omnia bona" meaning, Come to me and I will give all that is good.
St. Pancratius's right index finger is pointed to heaven to indicate that it is God who made the
promise. He is also depicted wearing a red cape like the kind worn by centurions (Roman soldiers)
and holding a palm leaf to show he was martyred.   His feast day is May 12.

 Reflection:

 It is in older martyrs and saints that we find the admirable ability to transcend death for the
love of God. But in one so young to forsake life and whatever sweet promises it has to offer?
That’s why I find the story of St. Pancratius so refreshing.  It’s so nice to know of a young
saint barely in his teens, who wasn’t scared to offer his life for Jesus Christ.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Saint Paul of Tarsus

Before St. Paul the apostle became a zealous follower of Christ, he was the much-feared Jewish Saul of Tarsus, a Roman city in a province of present-day Turkey. Saul was an infamous persecutor of early Christians until his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. Unthinkable that a staunch believer of Judaism could suddenly turn into a Gentile? Not when Jesus gets into the act. Like when a stroke of lightning blinded him and a thunderous voice boomed from the heavens, “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” Saul shifted directions when his sight returned after a few days. Who wouldn’t? He began to preach the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. The change in him was so radical he preached the gospel even inside synagogues! Clearly, these were Jewish holy territories, definitely off-limits to evangelizing Christians. Paul’s gumption incurred the hatred of his fellow Jews who drove him out of the city. Isn’t it ironic that it was this Jew who had brutally killed early Christians thereby quashing newly-formed groups of budding Christians? The tables have turned, St. Paul was now at the receiving end of relentless persecution. Undaunted, he tirelessly travelled far and wide to spread the Word of God, imbued as ever with missionary fervor. It was then that he journeyed to Jerusalem to give his respects to the head of the Church, St. Peter. His being both a Jew and a Roman citizen influenced Jewish and Roman audiences alike enabling him to form many Christian communities. Returning to Tarsus, he evangelized province mates, converting many to Christianity. In the span of twenty years, St. Paul founded many churches in Asia Minor (now the Middle East) and Europe. Still, the persecution went on. He was imprisoned for his beliefs not once but twice. After his release, he traveled to Spain and the East. Returning to Rome, he was jailed again, this time even chained, until he was beheaded in AD 67. St. Paul the Apostle is one of the most important figures of the Apostolic age. Of the 27 books of the New Testament, he wrote seven epistles. Scholars undisputedly say these are his authentic works. Six others are also attributed to him but this is under argument. Still, seven is a considerable number. Not only that, about half of the Acts of the Apostles is devoted to his life and works. How influential could he be? Rightly so, as he was a deep theological thinker. Endowed with leadership qualities, his hand in the development of Christianity is undeniable. Today, many churches are named in honor of St. Paul the apostle all over the Christian world as well as schools, hospitals, even Catholic printing presses. June 29 is his feast day.


Reflection: St. Paul the apostle’s one-hundred-eighty-degree-turn from persecutor of Christians to indefatigable worker for Christ is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Imagine such a notorious sinner instantly transforming into a saint. If he can do it, then so can ordinary sinners like you and I.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Saint Faustina



St. Faustina,  a well-known saint, is associated with the feast of the Divine Mercy, divine mercy chaplet and
3’oclock PM divine mercy prayer.  Born Helena Kowalski in Lodz, Poland on Aug. 25, 1905, she was the 3rd of 10 children of peasants. An obedient, prayerful child, her formal schooling lasted only 3 years.  Early on, she wanted to be a nun but was dissuaded by her mother who needed a helping hand.

At 16, she left home and worked in three cities at different times in various capacities as a housekeeper,
gardener or porter to support herself and help her parents.  She was twenty when she joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, a congregation in Warsaw dedicated to the care and education of troubled young women. After a year, she was given her religious habit and the name Maria Faustina and, as allowed by her congregation, she added “of the blessed Sacrament.” When St. Faustina was transferred to Vilnius, she met Father Michael Sopocko who became her confessor.

In 1930, she began having visions of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord asked her to spread His message of mercy to the whole world, to be his apostle and a model of mercy to others.  She wrote all the messages and conversations in a diary as requested by the Lord and also by her confessor. These visions and conversations occurred all throughout her life but she never confided in anyone except some of her superiors and Fr. Sopocko. The diary was later published in the book, “the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul.”As requested by Jesus Christ, St. Faustina’s life became a sacrifice, a life for others.  She was asked to imitate our Lord which she did willingly.  Consequently, she suffered in silence and offered all her sufferings to atone for the sins of others, especially big sinners and the dying, in unison with Jesus.  Always cheerful and humble, she brought a smile to everyone she dealt with.  A doer of mercy, she brought peace and happiness to others even if she herself was stricken with the debilitating disease, TB that claimed her life in 1938.Both St. Faustina and Father Sopocho guided an artist to paint the first Divine Mercy image based on her visions.

The priest used the artist’s painting when he celebrated the first Mass on the first Sunday after Easter that we
know today as the Divine Mercy Sunday.  St. Faustina’s  feast day is Oct. 5. She was beatified and canonized by Pope John Paul II.



Reflection:

It’s heartening to know from St. Faustina’s writings that God is merciful and far from the uncompromising, rigid disciplinarian that most people think.  Isn’t it like a breath of fresh air to hear from Jesus himself that He
wants everybody to be saved from hell, no exceptions? No matter how grievously we have sinned, if we only truly repent and resolve to do better, then everything will be okay. Jesus loves us after all!  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

St. Gianna Beretta Molla




Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta (Milan), Italy on Oct. 4, 1922. The 10th of 13 children whom only 9 lived to adulthood, she grew up in the Lombardy region where her family relocated. Raised well in the Christian faith by her parents, she actively participated in a youth Catholic Action group. She was also a member of the Vincent de Paul Society, doing apostolic work towards the needy and elderly members of her community.

In 1949, she received her diploma on Medicine and Surgery from the University of Pavia. She opened a clinic near her hometown and specialized in Pediatrics. Not a nerdy doctor, Gianna’s zest for life overflowed when skiing and mountaineering with friends.

 Bent on joining her brother, a missionary priest in Brazil, Gianna strongly believed her expertise on Gynecology could help the poor women there. But chronic poor health prevented it.  Instead, she ministered to needy women, children and the elderly in Milan. In 1954, she married Pietro Molla, an engineer ten years her senior.   After giving birth to three children, Gianna suffered 2 miscarriages. In 1961, she was expecting a baby again.  Unfortunately, a fibroma developed in her uterus. Her doctors gave 3 options: an abortion, a hysterectomy or removal of the fibroma. An abortion was unthinkable. Gianna also nixed the 2nd choice, although the Catholic Church allows removal of the uterus for health reasons.  She was well aware removal of her uterus would never let her bear children again.   Only the encroaching fibroma was surgically removed without harming the baby inside her womb -- even if it meant complications will hound her after the operation.  As expected, she did suffer from complications throughout her pregnancy. Knowing her eventual delivery would be difficult, she intimated to her family:  if a choice will come up between her life and that of her baby’s, the doctors must save her baby.

Gianna Beretta Molla’s 4th baby was born thru Caesarean section on April, 21, 1962, a Good Friday. She endured excruciating pain as infection spread throughout the insides of her body. Writhing in pain, she exclaimed repeatedly, “Jesus, I love you!” as her doctors frantically tried to save her life. On April 28, she succumbed to septic peritonitis seven days after her delivery. Only 39 when the young wife and mother died, deep sorrow pervaded her funeral. St. Gianna is the patron saint of physicians, mothers and preborn children. Her feast day is April 28, her death anniversary.



 Reflection:

St. Gianna offered the supreme sacrifice--her own life-- so that her baby may live.  What can be more selfless than offering one’s life so that another may live? If that isn’t mother’s instinct in its fullest, if that isn’t true unconditional love, I don’t know what is.  Even as her life hung like a flimsy thread ready to snap anytime, the only words that came out of her lips was an undying love for God. The unimaginable pain she suffered then was farthest from her mind. How awe-inspiring!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Saint Gerard

Gerard, youngest and only boy of five children of Dominic and Benedetta Majella of Muro, Italy was sickly

Even at 5, he prayed in a nearby chapel and came home with bread “from a handsome boy.” Curious, his sister followed and saw the Virgin and Child come alive!  Jesus climbed down from his mother’s arms to play with the kneeling Gerard. That was only the first miracle. His first communion was given to him by  Michael the Archangel himself. Only 12 when his tailor father died, Gerard apprenticed to a cruel tailor who beat him mercilessly.  Later, as houseboy of a Bishop, the latchkey fell in the well as he fetched water. Gerard prayed as he tied a statue of Baby Jesus and lowered it into the water. Bystanders gasped upon seeing the latchkey on the statue’s hand.

Striving to be a Brother but in ill health, he was refused 3 times.  Meanwhile, he set up shop at home.  He didn’t make much because he gave away most of his income as apportioned: 1/3 for his mother, 1/3 for the poor and the lastly, Masses for the dead. He also rendered free service to the needy.  Once, fabric brought for a suit was a few yards short when measured.  Shyly, the customer admitted he had no more money.  No problem.   Gerard simply measured it again and wonder of wonders, it magically lengthened!

 At 23,  the Redemptorists accepted Gerard upon the recommendation of a priest who warned, “useless in physical work.”  He surprised everyone by doing the work of 3 healthy men, serving as sacristan, porter, gardener, tailor and infirmarian.    Impressed by his piety, wisdom and ability to read consciences, superiors allowed him to counsel communities of religious women.

Various groups claim St. Gerard as their patron saint like workingmen, expectant mothers for a happy delivery, for a good confession.  He’s also the patron of vocations.


Reflection:

I can’t help but be amazed at what a miracle-worker St. Gerard was.  And to think that he was such a humble, self-effacing man, how admirable! On second thought, maybe the reason God so favored him with miraculous powers is precisely because of his humility, innate goodness and lack of love for material things.
since birth. Obedient, selfless and patient, he was only 29 when  TB claimed his life in 1775.  Wonders  crammed his life, it seemed he specialized in performing miracles. Grown pale and thin thru fasting and self-denial, he got weaker but this didn’t prevent him from healing the sick.  Incredibly, he also levitated in ecstasy, bi-located by materializing in front of a superior to do his bidding even if he was somewhere else and produced loaves of bread from nothing.  A farmer who lost his crops to rats asked him for money.  Penniless himself, he commanded the pests to drop dead instead.  Seeing a boatload of fishermen tossing in treacherous waves, he walked and pulled their boat to shore! He escaped from the adoring fishermen who chased him shouting, “Saint, saint!”  

Friday, October 11, 2013

St. Helen


Born in mid-3rd century in the Middle East, St. Helen lived to a ripe old age as Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great.  A daughter of humble inn-keepers, Helena married Roman general, Constantius, who later divorced her upon becoming junior emperor to marry--for political expediency--the stepdaughter of his patron, co-emperor Maximianus.  Remaining loyal, her only child, Constantine,  succeeded his father’s throne upon his death.  When he defeated his rivals becoming sole ruler, Constantine summoned Helena to the imperial court, bestowing on her the title “Empress.” Furthermore, he honored his mother by ordering coins made with her name and portrait.    

Influenced by Constantine, Empress Helena converted to Christianity becoming even more devout than those born and raised as Christians.  Known for her charitable acts, she gave generously to whole towns, not just individuals, especially the needy. Her generosity and zeal in building churches and visiting shrines encouraged the wider spread of Christianity.   In her late 70’s, Empress Helena made a pilgrimage to Palestine. In a dream, she saw the Cross of Christ buried under a pagan temple.  She had it demolished, the ground dug out.  Helena found fragments of the Cross, recognizable for its inscription between 2 plain ones.  She sent the nails to Constantine who put one in his crown, another in his horse’s bridle, making the prophecy of Zechariah come true (14.20).  In that day there shall be upon the bells of the horses, “Holy Unto The Lord.”

St. Helen lived so long ago, legend and fact have intertwined. Legend credits her for building churches in Rome and other places and decorating them lavishly. The fact remains, as Palestine’s Bishop Eusebius asserted, she did build a church near the Grotto of Nativity in Bethlehem, another on the Mount of the Ascension near Jerusalem and embellished the Grotto.

Already past 80, Helen returned to her native land which Constantine, then residing in the East, had improved renaming it, Helenapolis.  Constantine was at her deathbed in 330, the last year known to have coins with her image.  Her body was transported to Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) to the imperial vault of the church of the Church of the Apostles. Today, the sarcophagus of St. Helen lies in the Vatican Museum.

St. Helen was venerated as a saint as early as the 9th century, devotees reaching even western countries.  Her religious pictures show her holding a cross.  August 18 is her feast day.



Reflection:

Let us reflect on St. Helen’s journey to sainthood.  Isn’t it impressive that she used the massive wealth at her disposal in church-building and uplifting the lives of the needy?  She could have wallowed in a luxurious lifestyle befitting a Roman empress had she been self-indulgent. Hadn’t she the pick of the finest jewelry to bedeck herself?  Couldn’t she have caroused in endless banquets and merry-making with the high and mighty? Instead, she used the resources of the empire to decorate the churches she built and devoted her time to visiting shrines and holy places.