St. Elizabeth of Hungary

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2016

On Nov. 17, the Catholic Church celebrates the life and example of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, a medieval noblewoman who responded to personal tragedy by embracing St. Francis’ ideals of poverty and service. A patron of secular Franciscans, she is especially beloved to Germans, as well as the faithful of her native Hungary.

As the daughter of the Hungarian King Andrew II, Elizabeth had the responsibilities of royalty thrust upon her almost as soon as her short life began in 1207. While she was still very young, Elizabeth’s father arranged for her to be married to a German nobleman, Ludwig of Thuringia.

The plan forced Elizabeth to separate from her parents while still a child. Adding to this sorrow was the murder of Elizabeth’s mother Gertrude in 1213, which history ascribes to a conflict between her own German people and the Hungarian nobles. Elizabeth took a solemn view of life and death from that point on, and found consolation in prayer. Both tendencies drew some ire from her royal peers.

For a time, beginning in 1221, she was happily married. Ludwig, who had advanced to become one of the rulers of Thuringia, supported Elizabeth’s efforts to live out the principles of the Gospel even within the royal court. She met with friars of the nascent Franciscan order during its founder’s own lifetime, resolving to use her position as queen to advance their mission of charity.

Remarkably, Ludwig agreed with his wife’s resolution, and the politically powerful couple embraced a life of remarkable generosity toward the poor. They had three children, two of whom went on to live as as members of the nobility, although one of them –her only son– died relatively young. The third eventually entered religious life and became abbess of a German convent.

In 1226, while Ludwig was attending to political affairs in Italy, Elizabeth took charge of distributing aid to victims of disease and flooding that struck Thuringia. She took charge of caring for the afflicted, even when this required giving up the royal family’s own clothes and goods. Elizabeth arranged for a hospital to be built, and is said to have provided for the needs of nearly a thousand desperately poor people on a daily basis.

The next year, however, would put Elizabeth’s faith to the test. Her husband had promised to assist the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the Sixth Crusade, but he died of illness en route to Jerusalem. Devastated by Ludwig’s death, Elizabeth vowed never to remarry. Her children were sent away, and relatives heavily pressured her to break the vow.

Undeterred, Elizabeth used her remaining money to build another hospital, where she personally attended to the sick almost constantly. Sending away her servants, she joined the Third Order of St. Francis, seeking to emulate the example of its founder as closely as her responsibilities would allow. Near the end of her life, she lived in a small hut and spun her own clothes.

Working continually with the severely ill, Elizabeth became sick herself, dying of illness in November of 1231. After she died, miraculous healings soon began to occur at her grave near the hospital, and she was declared a saint only four years later.

Pope Benedict XVI has praised her as a “model for those in authority,” noting the continuity between her personal love for God, and her public work on behalf of the poor and sick.

Patronage: Bakers; beggars; brides; charitable societies; charitable workers; charities; countesses; death of children; exiles; falsely accused people; hoboes; homeless people; hospitals; in-law problems; lacemakers; lace workers; nursing homes; nursing services; people in exile; people ridiculed for their piety; Sisters of Mercy; tertiaries; Teutonic Knights; toothache; tramps; widows.

Representation: A queen distributing alms; woman wearing a crown and tending to beggars; woman wearing a crown, carrying a load of roses in her apron or mantle.

 


read more

St Damien of Molokai

Feast Day: MAY 10, 2016

The Catholic Church remembers St. Damien of Molokai on May 10. The Belgian priest sacrificed his life and health to become a spiritual father to the victims of leprosy quarantined on a Hawaiian island.

Joseph de Veuser, who later took the name Damien in religious life, was born into a farming family in the Belgian town of Tremlo in 1840. During his youth he felt a calling to become a Catholic missionary, an urge that prompted him to join the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Damien’s final vows to the congregation involved a dramatic ceremony in which his superiors draped him in the cloth that would be used to cover his coffin after death. The custom was meant to symbolize the young man’s solemn commitment, and his identification with Christ’s own death. For Damien, the event would become more significant, as he would go on to lay down his life for the lepers of Molokai.

His superiors originally intended to send Damien’s brother, a member of the same congregation, to Hawaii. But he became sick, and Damien arranged to take his place. Damien arrived in Honolulu in 1864, less than a century after Europeans had begun to establish a presence in Hawaii. He was ordained a priest the same year.

During his ninth year of the priesthood, Father Damien responded to his bishop’s call for priests to serve on the leper colony of Molokai. A lack of previous exposure to leprosy, which had no treatment at the time, made the Hawaiian natives especially susceptible to the infection. Molokai became a quarantine center for the victims, who became disfigured and debilitated as the disease progressed.

The island had become a wasteland in human terms, despite its natural beauty. The leprosy victims of Molokai faced hopeless conditions and extreme deprivation, sometimes lacking not only basic palliative care but even the means of survival.

Inwardly, Fr. Damien was terrified by the prospect of contracting leprosy himself. However, he knew that he would have to set aside this fear in order to convey God’s love to the lepers in the most authentic way. Other missionaries had kept the lepers at arms’ length, but Fr. Damien chose to immerse himself in their common life and leave the outcome to God.

The inhabitants of Molokai saw the difference in the new priest’s approach, and embraced his efforts to improve their living conditions. A strong man, accustomed to physical labor, he performed the Church’s traditional works of mercy – such as feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and giving proper burial to the dead – in the face of suffering that others could hardly even bear to see.

Fr. Damien’s work helped to raise the lepers up from their physical sufferings, while also making them aware of their worth as beloved children of God. Although he could not take away the constant presence of death in the leper colony, he could change its meaning and inspire hope. The death-sentence of leprosy could, and often did, become a painful yet redemptive path toward eternal life.

The priest’s devotion to his people, and his activism on their behalf, sometimes alienated him from officials of the Hawaiian kingdom and from his religious superiors in Europe. His mission was not only fateful, but also lonely. He drew strength from Eucharistic adoration and the celebration of the Mass, but longed for another priest to arrive so that he could receive the sacrament of confession regularly.

In December of 1884, Fr. Damien discovered that he had lost all feeling in his feet. It was an early, but unmistakable sign that he had contracted leprosy. The priest knew that his time was short. He undertook to finish whatever accomplishments he could, on behalf of his fellow colony residents, before the diseased robbed him of his eyesight, speech and mobility.

Fr. Damien suffered humiliations and personal trials during his final years. An American Protestant minister accused him of scandalous behavior, based on the contemporary belief that leprosy was a sexually transmitted disease. He ran into disagreements with his religious superiors, and felt psychologically tormented by the notion that his work had been a failure.

In the end, priests of his congregation arrived to administer the last sacraments to the dying priest. During the Spring of 1889, Fr. Damien told his friends that he believed it was God’s will for him to spend the upcoming Easter not on Molokai, but in heaven. He died of leprosy during Holy Week, on April 15, 1889.

St. Damien of Molokai was beatified in 1995. Pope Benedict XVI canonized him in 2009.


read more

St Flavian

On Feb. 18, the Roman Catholic Church remembers Patriarch Saint Flavian of Constantinople, who is honored on the same date by Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine tradition and by Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Known to Eastern Christians as “St. Flavian the Confessor,” the patriarch endured condemnation and severe beatings during a fifth-century dispute about the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ. Though he died from his injuries, his stand against heresy was later vindicated at the Church’s fourth ecumenical council in 451.

St. Flavian is closely associated with Pope St. Leo the Great, who also upheld the truth about Christ’s divine and human natures during the controversy. The Pope’s best-known contribution to the fourth council – a letter known as the “Tome of Leo – was originally addressed to St. Flavian, though it did not reach the patriarch during his lifetime.

Flavian’s date of birth is unknown, as are most of his biographical details. He was highly-regarded as a priest during the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II (which lasted from 408 to 450), and he became Archbishop of Constantinople following the death of Patriarch Saint Proclus in approximately 447.

Early in his patriarchate, Flavian angered a state official named Chrysaphius by refusing to offer a bribe to the emperor. The ruler’s wife Eudocia joined the resulting conspiracy which Chrysaphius hatched against Flavian, a plot that would come to fruition in an illegitimate Church council and the patriarch’s death.

As head of the Church in Constantinople, Flavian had inherited a theological controversy about the relationship between deity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. In an occurrence that was not uncommon for the time, the doctrinal issue became entangled with personal and political rivalries. Flavian’s stand for orthodoxy gave his high-ranking court opponents a chance to act against him by encouraging the proponents of doctrinal error and manipulating the emperor in their favor.

The theological issue had arisen after the Council of Ephesus, which in 431 had confirmed the personal unity of Christ and condemned the error (known as Nestorianism) that said he was a composite being made up of a divine person and a human person. But questions persisted: Were Jesus’ eternal divinity, and his assumed humanity, two distinct and complete natures fully united in one person? Or did the person of Christ have only one hybrid nature, made up in some manner of both humanity and divinity?

The Church would eventually confirm that the Lord’s incarnation involved both a divine and a human nature at all times. When God took on a human nature at the incarnation, in the words of Pope St. Leo the Great, “the proper character of both natures was maintained and came together in a single person,” and “each nature kept its proper character without loss.”

During Flavian’s patriarchate, however, the doctrine of Christ’s two natures had not been fully and explicitly defined. Thus, controversy came up regarding the doctrine of a monk named Eutyches, who insisted that Christ had only “one nature.” Flavian understood the “monophysite” doctrine as contrary to faith in Christ’s full humanity, and he condemned it at a local council in November of 448. He excommunicated Eutyches, and sent his decision to Pope Leo, who gave his approval in May 449.

Chrysaphius, who knew Eutyches personally, proceeded to use the monk as his instrument against the patriarch who had angered him. He convinced the emperor that a Church council should be convened to consider Eutyches’ doctrine again. The resulting council, held in August 449 and led by Dioscorus of Alexandria, was completely illegitimate, and later formally condemned. But it pronounced against Flavian and declared him deposed from the patriarchate.

During this same illicit gathering, known to history as the “Robber Council,” a mob of monks beat St. Flavian so aggressively that he died from his injuries three days later. Chrysaphius seemed, for the moment, to have triumphed over the patriarch.

But the state official’s ambitions soon collapsed. Chrysaphius fell out of favor with Theodosius II shortly before the emperor’s death in July 450, and he was executed early in the reign of his successor Marcian.

St. Flavian, meanwhile, was canonized by the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451. Its participants gave strong acclamation to the “Tome of Leo” – in which the Pope confirmed St. Flavian’s condemnation of Eutyches and affirmed the truth about Christ’s two natures, both divine and human.


read more

St. Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Feast Day: September 30th

Saint Jerome, the priest, monk and Doctor of the Church renowned for his extraordinary depth of learning and translations of the Bible into Latin in the Vulgate, is celebrated by the Church with his memorial today, September 30.

Besides his contributions as a Church Father and patronage of subsequent Catholic scholarship, Jerome is also regarded as a patron of people with difficult personalities—owing to the sometimes extreme approach which he took in articulating his scholarly opinions and the teaching of the Church. He is also notable for his devotion to the ascetic life, and for his insistence on the importance of Hebrew scholarship for Christians.

Born around 340 as Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius in present-day Croatia, Jerome received Christian instruction from his father, who sent him to Rome for instruction in rhetoric and classical literature. His youth was thus dominated by a struggle between worldly pursuits –which brought him into many types of temptation– and the inclination to a life of faith, a feeling evoked by regular trips to the Roman catacombs with his friends in the city.

Baptized in 360 by Pope Liberius, Jerome traveled widely among the monastic and intellectual centers of the newly Christian empire. Upon returning to the city of his birth, following the end of a local crisis caused by the Arian heresy, he studied theology in the famous schools of Trier and worked closely with two other future saints, Chromatius and Heliodorus, who were outstanding teachers of orthodox theology.

Seeking a life more akin to the first generation of “desert fathers,” Jerome left the Adriatic and traveled east to Syria, visiting several Greek cities of civil and ecclesiastical importance on the way to his real destination: “a wild and stony desert … to which, through fear or hell, I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts.”

Jerome’s letters vividly chronicle the temptations and trials he endured during several years as a desert hermit. Nevertheless, after his ordination by the bishop of Antioch, followed by periods of study in Constantinople and service at Rome to Pope Damasus I, Jerome opted permanently for a solitary and ascetic life in the city of Bethlehem from the mid-380s.

Jerome remained engaged both as an arbitrator and disputant of controversies in the Church, and served as a spiritual father to a group of nuns who had become his disciples in Rome. Monks and pilgrims from a wide array of nations and cultures also found their way to his monastery, where he commented that “as many different choirs chant the psalms as there are nations.”

Rejecting pagan literature as a distraction, Jerome undertook to learn Hebrew from a Christian monk who had converted from Judaism. Somewhat unusually for a fourth-century Christian priest, he also studied with Jewish rabbis, striving to maintain the connection between Hebrew language and culture, and the emerging world of Greek and Latin-speaking Christianity. He became a secretary of Pope Damasus, who commissioned the Vulgate from him. Prepared by these ventures, Jerome spent 15 years translating most of the Hebrew Bible into its authoritative Latin version. His harsh temperament and biting criticisms of his intellectual opponents made him many enemies in the Church and in Rome and he was forced to leave the city.

Jerome went to Bethlehem, established a monastery, and lived the rest of his years in study, prayer, and ascetcism.

St. Jerome once said, “I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: ‘Search the Scriptures,’ and ‘Seek and you shall find.’ For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

After living through both Barbarian invasions of the Roman empire, and a resurgence of riots sparked by doctrinal disputes in the Church, Jerome died in his Bethlehem monastery in 420.


read more

St. Cornelius, Pope, Martyr and St. Cyprian, Bishop, Martyr

Feast day Septemeber 16th

Saint Cornelius was elected Pope in 251 during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius. His first challenge, besides the ever present threat of the Roman authorities, was to bring an end to the schism brought on by his rival, the first anti-pope Novatian. He convened a synod of bishops to confirm him as the rightful successor of Peter.

The great controversy that arose as a result of the Decian persecution was whether or not the Church could pardon and receive back into the Church those who had apostacized in the face of martyrdom.

Against both the bishops who argued that the Church could not welcome back apostates, and those who argued that they should be welcomed back but did not demand a heavy penance of the penitent, Cornelius decreed that they must be welcomed back and insisted that they perform an adequate penance.

In 253 Cornelius was exiled by the emperor Gallus and died of the hardships he endured in exile. He is venerated as a martyr.

Saint Cyprian of Carthage is second in importance only to the great Saint Augustine as a figure and Father of the African church. He was a close friend of Pope Cornelius, and supported him both against the anti-pope Novatian and in his views concerning the re-admittance of apostates into the Church.

Saint Cyprian was born to wealthy pagans around the year 190, and was educated in the classics and in rhetoric. He converted at the age of 56, was ordained a priest a year later, and made bishop two years after that.

His writings are of great importance, especially his treatise on The Unity of the Catholic Church, in which he argues that unity is grounded in the authority of the bishop, and among the bishops, in the primacy of the See of Rome.

In, “The Unity of the Catholic Church,” St. Cyprian writes, “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother…. God is one and Christ is one, and his Church is one; one is the faith, and one is the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body…. If we are the heirs of Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are the sons of God, let us be lovers of peace.”

During the Decian persecutions Cyprian considered it wiser to go into hiding and guide his flock covertly rather than seek the glorious crown of martyrdom, a decision that his enemies attacked him for.

On September 14, 258, however, he was martyred during the persecutions of the emperor Valerian.


read more