Browse by Topic: Saints

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Meditations on the Sixth Station

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He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)

Hanging on a wall in the Louvre Museum, you will find Christ Carrying the Cross, a painting by the Florentine artist Biagio d’Antonio. Dressed in red and adorned with a crown of thorns, Jesus is at the heart of the image. He is part of a large procession, making its way up a hillside. Walking behind him, we find Simon of Cyrene, pressed into service by the Roman guards and helping Christ to carry his heavy burden. To Simon’s left, we see a woman clad in brown, her hands clasped together in prayer -- the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose gaze is fixed intently upon her son. He stares back at her, a man of sorrows, his face bruised and beaten, as if to say, “Woman, behold your son.” Around them officials and infantry ride on horseback, directing the crowd, which includes: Mary Magdalene, John the Beloved Disciple, and the women of Jerusalem who weep for Jesus. Finally, almost out of frame, one notices a woman kneeling, holding in her hands a veil with the likeness of Christ’ face upon it. This is Veronica, whose merciful act we reflect on while praying the Sixth Station of the Cross.

The story of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus does not appear in the Gospels, but tradition tells us of a compassionate woman who came forward to wipe the blood and sweat from Christ’s face as he made his way to Golgotha, and how the piece of fabric she used came away with an image of the Lord’s face. Although we are not sure of the woman’s name, she came to be known as Veronica, since the cloth contained a true likeness (vera eikon) of Christ, and the word from which Veronica is derived, berenice, means “bearer of victory.” 

In Biagio’s painting, this bearer of victory is a counterpoint to the figure of Simon of Cyrene. He has been forced to carry the cross, so he looks up and away from Jesus, hiding his face, unwilling to esteem the man who will die for his sake. Veronica, on the other hand, kneels in humility, looking at Christ in the fashion of his mother, blessed to perform a small act of charity in hope of easing the Lord’s suffering. Her example is a reminder that we are to serve God in whatever way we can.

As we make our way this through Lenten season, may we be inspired by Veronica’s kindness, so that we might serve our neighbors in need, and in doing so, serve the Lord himself.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Fireworks, Freedom, and Frassati

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A month after his 21st birthday -- a time when most young people are trying to find themselves -- Pier Giorgio Frassati became a member of the Dominican family. Kneeling down in the gothic church of San Domenico, with the soft glow of candlelight reflecting off the vaulted ceilings, and the sweet aroma of incense filling the air, he received the white scapular of the Third Order of St. Dominic. Taking the name Gerolamo, after the Dominican friar whom he so admired for his religious zeal and fervor, Pier Giorgio had no doubts about his purpose in life. He was to be a man of the beatitudes: merciful, pure of heart, a peacemaker.

Like many Catholics in the modern age, Pier Giorgio was no stranger to political unrest. He understood, perfectly well, the struggle for peace and religious freedom. As a young man he participated in a number of religious processions that often led to his being “detained” by the police. They were afraid that he might be trying to stir up trouble as a member of the Popular-Socialist Party, who along with the Fascists, were vying for control of the Italian government in the early 1900s.

In spite of his distaste for the Fascist Party, the affairs of state were not Pier Giorgio’s chief concern. He simply believed that violence was never the answer and that “true peace is more a fruit of Christian neighborly love than of justice” (A Man of the Beatitudes, 99). So he used his brief periods in jail, not to promote some political agenda, but to encourage his fellow prisoners – to pray the rosary with them, to counsel them, and to ease their pain. For Pier Giorgio, this is what it meant to be a Christian, to be blessed. As a man with a hunger and thirst for righteousness, he had discovered that freedom is not merely something political. True liberty is spiritual – freedom from the power of Satan and slavery to sin.  

We find an example of this type of freedom in the Gospel of Matthew (8:28-34), when Jesus heals two men who have been possessed by evil spirits; men who had been held captive in Satan’s grasp for many years. By sending these demons into a herd of pigs, Jesus reveals that his miraculous work is not limited to feeding the hungry crowds. He also has the power to free us from the bonds of sin. Like the demoniacs who are freed from their spiritual imprisonment, we too can experience the power that frees us from spiritual death and raises us to new life in Christ. It is made available to us in the Sacraments, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when we are absolved of our sins, when grace is poured upon us, and we are given the strength to resist future temptation.

These least two weeks, during the Fortnight for Freedom, have been a wonderful time to reflect on our belief as Americans that everyone has a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” While I will gladly admit that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are essential aspects of our way of life, we must not forget that spiritual freedom – freedom from the power of sin – is just as important. For Christ’s reign extends over all creation and the proclamation of his kingdom includes a declaration of liberty to captives – those under the thumb of human oppressors, as well as those who find themselves oppressed by spiritual forces.

Pier Giorgio knew this well. He believed that “faith enables us to bear the thorns with which our life is woven,” whether they be political or spiritual. This is why he went to Mass daily and once told a group of young people, “Feed on this Bread of Angels and from it you will gain the strength to fight your inner battle, the battle against passion and all adversities, because Jesus Christ has promised to those who feed on the Holy Eucharist eternal life and the graces necessary to obtain it…you will enjoy the peace that those who are happy in accordance with this world have never experienced, because true happiness does not consist in the pleasures of the world or in earthly things, but in peace of conscience, which we only have if we are pure in heart and mind” (A Man of the Beatitudes, 97-8).

Pure in heart; these words were often used to describe Pier Giorgio, by those who knew him best. When he died of polio on the 4th of July, 1925, it seemed as if the entire city of Turin turned up to pay their respects: Ester, the housekeeper whom he had brought to the faith; Signora Converso, the poor woman to whom he had sent medication while on his own deathbed. These and many others poured into the house, lined the streets during the procession, and crowded into the Church during the funeral. In Pier Giorgio they had been witness to a life touched by grace, a man of blessedness, who had experienced spiritual freedom in Christ and wanted to share it with the world.

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Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1990, and is a patron of World Youth Day. 

Things That Remain

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"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."  Luke 21:33.

Rev. Br. Gian Matteo Serra, OPClose to the village where I was born, in northern Sardinia, in the open countryside, there is a small and ancient Romanesque church dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria. Each year about a thousand people gather to celebrate the holy woman, and, of course after Mass, lunch is offered to all present. It’s a big feast. I remember that every year I used to blow off school for St. Catherine’s feast. My parents belong to the group of people who have organized that feast for many years. <--break->

When I was eighteen I moved to Rome to study economics. It was a big surprise for me to discover there the body of St. Catherine in a church in the city center. My family was very happy, and we planned to organize a pilgrimage. <--break->

I often went to pray in this church. It was a familiar place where I could find a piece of my home.  The day I discovered that the body in that church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, was that of St. Catherine of Siena, and not that of the martyr of Alexandria, I became really sad. However, I continued to pray there, thinking that the two saints in heaven would come to an agreement in sharing my prayers.

After a couple of years I met the Dominicans. The friar who helped me with my discernment suggested that I choose St. Catherine of Siena as my patron saint.  He did not know that I already had  a friendship with her, or more precisely, with her namesake.

When, after some time, I found out that Catherine of Alexandria was a patron of the Dominican Order, I no longer had any doubt that the two saints had been planning a meeting about my vocation. 

I don’t think I’m making a mistake if I consider this "planned meeting", a beautiful expression of the communion of saints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, referring to the communion of saints, outlines two aspects that make it up: "communion in holy things" (sancta) and "among holy persons" (sancti).  The two are closely knit. The first aspect refers in particular to our walking as a church on earth sharing the same faith in Christ, and whose expression are the sacraments and especially the Eucharist.  The second aspect, the communion among holy persons, refers to the relationship between us and the saints. They, who already contemplate the face of God, intercede for us and help us on our life’s pilgrimage.

The two aspects of the communion of saints are ordered to the same purpose, which is the vision of The Face of the Creator Father for eternity. To enter into the communion of saints who see, praise, and worship God face to face is our true calling.  The “today”, the present moment, should be lived as the waiting of this fullness of praise and contemplation to which we are called. With our life we should prepare ourselves every day, through the practice of charity. In during so, we begin, here and now, to contemplate God in faith, with the hope of seeing Him on the last day. 

The Saints, sometimes with a sense of humor, come into our lives.  They are not just an example to follow, but they are a presence that touches our hearts to increase in us the desire to be part of the family of those who praise God for eternity.

I think that today’s Gospel can help us understand how each of us is responding to our given vocation. The contrast between the things that pass and the things that remain can be the criterion of discerning to which direction we orient our lives.

Are we growing in our communion of holiness? Everything we do: our work, our apostolate, our study, our liturgy, our daily life - as important and indispensable as they are - belongs to the things that pass. All these things are a way and an instrument that must bring us to what truly remains: his Word, his presence. At every moment, we have to judge whether what we are doing in response to our vocation, is really bringing us close to God.

But we should be mindful that the call to the communion of saints is universal. That’s why we are sent to evangelize.  We must be witnesses of the beauty of this loving plan of God, so as to increase in the people we meet, their desire to find the source of our joy .... provided that we are joyful!

Of course, as a Dominican I can tirelessly preach.

But sometimes I ask myself: Does my life on earth preach that I choose to belong, first of all, to the communion of love and holiness in heaven?

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Br. Emmanuel Taylor, O.P.'s picture

Saintly Scientists

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“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.” - Psalm 19:2

St. AlbertSt. Albert the Great blazed a path to God through the natural sciences. Now, --whether a professional scientist, a more casual bird-watcher, or one who simply enjoys watching nature shows--you too can be a saint. Conducting scientific investigation can lead you to God if you follow the example of Albert. If you follow this pedagogy you will be a saintly scientist.<--break->

The first step of a saintly scientist is to see. The Dominican historian Simon Tugwell describes Albert as “an inveterate looker at things” (Albert & Thomas: Selected Writings, 29). St. Albert was a great scientist because he delighted in looking at things. To learn to see things is the first step of a saintly scientist.

St. Albert found time to explore the natural sciences even though he had other jobs. He had official positions in the Church: he was Provincial of the Order of Preachers and he was Bishop in Regensburg, Germany. However, these official duties did not stop him from looking at things. As he would travel on business he would visit mines, “going far out of his way to do so, because of his interest in mineralogy” (Albert & Thomas, 8). He incorporated into his busy life his, the habit to see things.

From seeing things, the next step is to understand. “The natural scientist seeks to understand the cause of all these things,” writes St. Albert in his book On Minerals (III 1.10). This means that it is not enough simply to see things. To be a saintly scientist you must also wonder about their cause.

St. Albert sought understanding across many areas of science. He loved not only geology, but also biology. He studied animals of many varieties in their natural habitats. He also kept some animals, including snakes and even a “puppy with one white eye and one black eye.” (Albert & Thomas, 29)

Finally, to be a saintly scientist requires not only seeing and understanding nature but also seeing and understanding God. In addition to his scientific enquiries, Albert sought to see and understand God. From Scripture he developed his vision of God. This ability to “see” God is called contemplative prayer--it can just as easily be called contemplative vision. It is because St. Albert the Great combined his natural vision with spiritual vision that he proclaims with delight: “The whole world is theology for us, because the heavens proclaim the glory of God” (Comm. Matt. 13.35; trans. Tugwell, Albert & Thomas, 29). Albert shows us that the study of nature can bring us to God. Let us follow his example, and be saintly scientists who proclaim the glory of God.

 

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Br. Ambrose Sigman, O.P.'s picture

Blessed Anthony Neyrot

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Very soon now, April 10th in fact, we Dominicans will celebrate one of the more unusual blesseds on our calendar, Blessed Anthony Neyrot (d. 1460). Bl. Anthony was the only Dominican blessed ever to renounce his faith, and yet in the end return to the faith and die a martyr’s death. Bl. Anthony is a reminder to us that nothing is lost which cannot be found again, and no one can stray so far that the Good Shepherd cannot bring him or her home.

Not much is known about the youth of Bl. Anthony, only that he was from Rivoli in Italy. He was received into the Order by the great Dominican, Saint Antoninus. After his studies and ordination, Anthony was assigned to the convent of San Marco in Florence. Being somewhat wayward and impatient, Anthony quickly grew tired of this and asked for a change of scenery. He was sent first to Sicily, about which he was not thrilled, and then to Naples. While sailing to Naples, Anthony’s ship was captured by pirates, and he and the other passengers were taken to the city of Tunis in North Africa.

 At first, Anthony was well-liked by the emir in Tunis and was allowed a measure of freedom. His continuing arrogance, though, quickly brought the wrath of his captors and Anthony was put in prison and given only bread and water. Anthony eventually gave in, denying his faith in order to obtain his freedom. Anthony quickly embraced his new faith, even going so far as to attempt a translation of the Qur’an. Soon, he was adopted by the emir and married a high-born Turkish lady.

 Anthony’s newfound complacency, though, was quickly shattered. Into his life came the news that his beloved teacher and mentor, Saint Antoninus, had died. Love for his old master stirred in Anthony’s heart a desire for the Truth which he had abandoned. He resolved very quickly to return to the Christian faith. Anthony decided to make his return publicly. In private, he confessed and was reconciled to God. Then, during one of the emir’s public processions, Anthony appeared on the palace steps wearing again his Dominican habit, and proclaiming his faith in a loud voice, and his sorrow at ever having abandoned it. Failing to change Anthony’s mind, the emir ordered his death. Anthony died under a shower of stones, proclaiming his faith and his sorrow on Holy Thursday, 1460. His body was eventually returned to Rivoli, where it still rests.

 Holy Mary, Searcher for the Lost, pray for us.

 Blessed Anthony Neyrot, pray for us.

Br. Richard Maher, O.P.'s picture

St. Patrick, The Irish, and the Catholic Church

Given the profound contribution to the Catholic Church and the Dominican Order in the United States of Irish Catholicism, which is attributed in large part to St. Patrick’s evangelization, a short reflection on this great Saint and principal patron of Ireland is appropriate.

St. Patrick, born in Scotland in the late fourth century, was captured into slavery as a young boy and brought to what was then a predominantly pagan Ireland. It was there, while being forced to labor as a sheepherder, that he was immersed in the Irish culture and developed a deep affection for the Irish people. During these years of slavery, Patrick never lost his devotion to Christ and our Lord appeared to him in a dream so as to show him the way to freedom from slavery.

This period in which Patrick tended sheep on the Emerald Isle was a preparation of sorts for the time when he would be called back to Ireland as a bishop who would bring many into the fold of Christ’s spiritual flock. Not long after he had been ordained, the Irish people appeared to Patrick in a dream and pleaded with him to return. Indeed, his love for the Irish was too strong to keep him away. Upon his return to Ireland, Patrick embarked on an exhaustive and effective evangelization effort which would last for nearly four decades, until his death on March 17, 461. He was noted for his powerful preaching and his many miracles, through which he converted people of different social and political classes. Needless to say, this effort was far from seamless. Patrick was repeatedly imprisoned and subjected to torture; numerous attempts were made against his life. Amidst these trials, Patrick’s focus and determination to see the Irish brought to Christ won him respect, acclaim, and devotion. Indeed, the evangelization of the “Isle of Mists” is attributed to Patrick and his immediate followers.

If Jesus promised that only a little bit of yeast was needed to leaven the dough, such a promise was fulfilled by St. Patrick’s evangelization of Ireland. Taking Patrick as a model of strength and stalwartness, the Irish Catholics persevered in their faith, most notably amidst the cruel and sustained systematic oppression by the British from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. Following in the footsteps of Patrick, the Irish Church burgeoned during this period as the Catholic faith provided for a separate and strong identity for these people as distinct from their Protestant persecutors. Indeed, it was during this time that they grew closer to Our Lord through deep, yet discreet, devotion. Additionally, both Irish immigration to other nations throughout the world and the missionary efforts of its dedicated and abundant priests and religious, spread the influence of Irish Catholicism. The Church in nations such as the United States can attribute much of their ethos and infrastructure to the Irish. The embracing of St. Patrick as a model of the faith and missionary activity is not only for Irish and those of us who can claim Irish ancestry. Indeed, the entire Church can embrace Patrick’s evangelical witness and that of the people to whom he brought the faith.

Br. Ambrose Sigman, O.P.'s picture

Blessed Reginald of Orleans

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This Saturday, February 12th, we Dominicans honor the memory of one of the most important early members of our Order, Blessed Reginald of Orleans (ca. 1183-1220). Blessed Reginald was born in France, in the city of Orleans, and received his education in Canon Law at the University of Paris. Blessed Reginald was renowned as a brilliant teacher, and because of his talents and virtues he was made dean of the cathedral chapter at Orleans. He was known both for the brilliance of his mind and the eloquence of his preaching. He also was deeply devoted to Our Lady.

The zealousness of young Reginald soon led him to desire to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On his way to Jerusalem, he stopped in Rome and paid a visit to Cardinal Hugh de Segni, to whom he explained his desire for a more ascetic way of life. Cardinal de Segni told Reginald he knew exactly what he was looking for, and so sent him on to St. Dominic. Thus Reginald became an early member of the Order of Preachers.

Reginald had scarcely entered the Order when he became deathly ill. St. Dominic, knowing that this bright young man would be an invaluable asset to the fledgling Order, prayed earnestly for his recovery. It was the Queen of Heaven herself who responded to the prayer. In a dream, Reginald had a vision of Mary, accompanied by St. Cecilia and St. Catherine of Alexandria. Our Lady anointed Reginald with a heavenly perfume. She also showed to Reginald a long white scapular and told him it was to be part of the habit of the Order. The friars, who up until that time (1218) had worn the garb of Canons Regular, gladly changed to the scapular designed for them by the Mother of God. Reginald wore this new habit for two years, preaching to huge crowds in Paris and Bologna, drawing many to follow his footsteps into the Order, famous professors and doctors of law, including a young German, Jordan of Saxony. He was dubbed a kidnapper of souls for the service of God. After two years Reginald died, having the honor of being the first friar to wear the distinctive Dominican habit and the first one to die in it.

Blessed Reginald remains for us one of the great models of our way of life. He was a man of great intellect, one of the leading academic lights of his day, yet these talents were always put to the service of God. His eloquence as a preacher and his life of virtue has rightly earned him a place among the greatest of Dominicans.