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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.


 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.


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!