The Beheading of John the Baptist

Today the Church remembers The Beheading of St John the Baptist.- John the Baptist is the only saint in the calendar (apart from St Joseph) who has two feasts to himself. One, in August, celebrates his death, and one, in June, celebrates his birth. And this is as it should be, for as Christ himself said, John was the greatest of the sons of men.
The greatest, but also the most tragic. A prophet

from before his birth, leaping in the womb to announce the coming of the incarnate God, his task was to proclaim the fulfillment of all prophecies – and thus his own obsolescence. And he did it: with unequalled courage he spread the news that he, the greatest of all men, was the least in the kingdom of heaven. His disciples, and the devil, would have preferred him to fight, to build his sect, to defeat this upstart whom he himself had baptized, to seize his place in history. But he did not – and so, rightly, he has his place, and he has glory in heaven.
Here is a short video of the Pope explaining exactly what this feast day is about:


The Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Out Holy Father St Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430), Bishop and Doctor.- He was born in Thagaste in Africa of a Berber family. He was brought up a Christian but left the Church and embraced the Manichaean heresy, later seeing how nonsensical it was and becoming a Neoplatonist instead. He led a wild and dissolute youth. He took a concubine by whom he had a son, Adeodatus. He had a brilliant legal and acedemic career. At length, through the prayers of his mother, and the teaching of St Ambrose of Milan, he was converted back to Christanity. He was baptized in 387, shortly before his mother’s death. He returned home to Africa and led an ascetic life. He wrote the “Rule” of life that Norbertine canons and many other religious communities follow. He was elected Bishop of Hippo and spent 34 years looking after his flock, teaching them, strengthening them in the faith and protecting them strenuously against the errors of the time. He wrote an enormous number of works: the Office of Readings has many extracts from them. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Boniface VIII in 1308.
(Thank you to Daylesford Abbey)

St. Monica

Today we remember Saint Monica (331 – 387), widow and mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. She was born at Thagaste in Africa of a Christian family. She was married young, to Patricius, and among her children was Augustine. He had a brilliant intellect and uncertain morals and his wayward spiritual career saw him at one time a Manichee and then a Neoplatonist. With many tears she prayed unceasingly to God for his conversion and her prayers were answered shortly before she died. She had a deep faith and outstanding virtue and is a wonderful example of a Christian mother.
St. Monica is especially important to the Norbertine Order because of her influence on the conversion St. Augustine – who’s rule of life was adapted by Norbert some time later.  

(Thank you to Daylesford Abbey)

The Connection Between Humor and Spirituality

I ran across and article today from Kerry Trotter who works with “Word on Fire” ministries about the connection between humor and spirituality.  The article is itself, humorous yet profound.  I apologize for the length, but it is well worth it.  So here is the post in its entirety from “Word on Fire:” 

Spirituality: What’s So Funny About Catholicism?

We at Word on Fire share a lot of laughs. We’re talking a lot. This prompted us to get thinking — is there something about the Catholic faith that lends itself to good humor? Kerry Trotter thinks so, and she shares her hair-brained (and hair-shirted) theories today.

“If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it’s not funny.”

I saw Woody Allen’s 1989 film “Crimes and Misdemeanors” while I was in college, some years after it was released. The movie was required viewing for a drama class I took to fill an arts requirement, attended with little interest but likely with a hangover.
Alan Alda’s film producer character sits on a New York City park bench and explains comedy — how the crowds and stress and suffering of urban life will drive anyone crazy, but that’s where all the humor begins — the whole bending/breaking idea. You just need to get some space from all the madness in order to find the funny. Then there was the line: “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”

Something snapped in my foggy freshman brain. Hawkeye had a point. While comedy is not quite as cut-and-dry (or insensitive) as the simple “tragedy plus time” equation, there is something there. I let out a loud guffaw at this scene, and noticed my professor wheel his head around, a satisfied smirk on his bearded face.
That professor, an erudite and quirky Dominican friar who wore a cape and a beret over his white habit, wanted us to take note of this scene. This was the lesson. What is comedy? What makes something funny? Beyond events occurring when or where they are not expected (take that beret and cape, for instance), there is another piece.


And who knows suffering better than anyone?
Yup, Catholics.
(Well, I think Jews might have a run at this one, Buddhists too, but I’m neither Jewish nor Buddhist so I can’t speak with any authority to that point.)

I know what you’re thinking, “What is funny about suffering?” On its face, nothing. But time, in addition to wrinkles and incontinence, doles out a hefty dose of perspective, and with the perspective comes detachment — the gateway to humorville. Here is an admittedly facile example: vomiting in the middle of fifth grade social studies class — mortifying in the moment, but hilarious some years later.
Tragedy plus time — bada-bing, bada-boom.
So why are Catholics more susceptible to suffering? Well, if you grew up Catholic, you probably don’t need me to answer that. It’s not so much a susceptibility but a willing participation in its inevitability, a preparedness or an expectation that through suffering comes clarity, experiential wisdom and a closeness with God — a been-there-done-that sort of authoritative boo-hooing. It also helps that Catholicism happens to have an extensive “to do” and “not to do” list in regard to sin. The “not to do’s” tend to be sort of fun, easy and enticing, and the “to do’s” are considerably harder and more joyless (initially). So if you’re good at honoring the list, you’re probably not doing much of the fun stuff, ipso facto you’re suffering. Yes, I know, just in the here and now.

I recently learned of St. Lawrence, whose feast day we celebrated a few weeks ago. He is known and revered as a particularly quick-witted and funny man, a nice foil to his piety as a steward to the poor and needy and a martyr of the early Church. As the story goes, the greedy prefect of Rome demanded that St. Lawrence, a deacon, hand over all the treasures of the Church. St. Lawrence, bearing a shrewd sense of irony, presented to the prefect a mass of the city’s sick and poor. Zing. The prefect was not amused and sentenced St. Lawrence to death — a particularly slow and cruel method of roasting him over a fire.
As St. Lawrence burned, he joked: “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.” And at the moment before he died, he said, “I’m cooked enough now.”
Now that’s funny. Sad, yes, but pretty funny.
He’s not alone among funny saints, and there are extensive studies into humor laced throughout the Bible. St. Lawrence experienced the tragedy-plus-time theory at warp speed, with the ecstasy of martyrdom and the promise of Heaven enough of a consolation prize to keep him cracking jokes. This guy got it.

He was also no slouch in the brain department. Consider it — Catholicism is confusing. It demands a great deal of research, reading, questioning, reflecting, thinking in tandem with faith. It demands that we “discern,” a word that always scared me a little because it sounds so much like “concern.” To discern is to recognize, to realize, to make a decision based upon some hand-wringing, head-banging, lofty precepts and ideas. Catholicism doesn’t let us off easy, ever. It forces us to do some serious noggin using. And honest-to-God funny people are always smart, well read and analytical. So if you do a lot of smart people stuff, there is a greater chance of being funny. This is philosophical syllogism at work: not all smart people are funny, but all funny people are smart.
So many great comedy writers, actors, storytellers and impersonators are either Catholic or fallen away Catholics (they count, too), and that is not a coincidence. In order to be that funny, one must have keen powers of perception and mimicry, an ability to relay events and details in a way that trump that of mere observation. There’s a certain intimacy with the human condition that one must possess in order to harness that skill, and such intimacy is gleaned through experience. Suffering is often the byproduct of that experience — be it a mild inconvenience or out-and-out bad news.
But it’s not all fasting and hairshirts. Catholicism doesn’t break us, it bends us, contorting our minds and bodies in a way that is difficult and painful, but ultimately yielding an enlightened perspective — a higher perch where we can view the goings on of the world. Beyond the tragedy and the ascetes’ pursuit of knowledge is something even more unique to Catholicism: joy. Humor, as St. Lawrence taught us, is born through having that bird’s eye view of humanity from which we can see the end to the suffering. We may hurt now but we know there’s an end to it, and for that we are joyful. And what do joyful people do?
We laugh.

Kerry Trotter is the content manager at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, and a big fan of funny.

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Pope Pius X

Perhaps nowhere in the history of the Church is there a better example of a man possessed of so many of the saintly virtues—piety, charity, deep humility, pastoral zeal, and simplicity—than in one of the newest of God’s elect, St. Pius X. Yet the parish priest of Tombolo, who remained a country priest at heart throughout his life, faced the problems and evils of a strife-torn world with the spiritual fervor of a crusader. The inscription on his tomb in the crypt of the basilica of St. Peter’s gives the most eloquent testimony to a life spent in the service of God:
“Born poor and humble of heart,
Undaunted champion of the Catholic faith,
Zealous to restore all things in Christ,
Crowned a holy life with a holy death.”
St. Pius X was born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto on June 2, 1835 in the little Italian town of Riese, in the province of Treviso near Venice. His father was Giovanni Sarto, a cobbler by trade, who was also caretaker of the city hall and the town’s postmaster; his mother was Margherita Sanson, a seamstress. The family had few worldly goods and the early life of young Giuseppe, eldest of eight surviving children, was a difficult one. He attended the parish school and while there, his intelligence and high moral character attracted the notice of the pastor, who arranged a scholarship for the lad at the high school in Castelfranco, a larger town two miles from Riese. After completing the course of instruction at Castelfranco, he made known that he had felt the call to the priesthood for some time, but had considered the means of attaining this end beyond his grasp. However, his parents saw that the will of God was in their son’s calling, and they did all in their power to encourage him, while the pastor again came to the rescue by arranging another scholarship to the seminary at Padua. In November of 1850, young Sarto arrived at Padua and was immediately taken up with the life and studies of the seminary. The same high qualifications of intellect and spirit, later to blossom forth in his work as bishop and Pope, were much in evidence as a seminarian. Giuseppe worked hard and finally on September 18, 1858, Father Sarto was ordained at the cathedral in Castelfranco.
The young priest’s first assignment was as curate at Tombolo, a parish of 1500 souls in the Trentino district of Italy. Here, for eight years, Father Sarto labored among his favorite parishioners, the poor. He also organized a night school for the general education of adults, and trained the parish choir to a high degree of skill in Gregorian Chant. His pastor at Tombolo, Father Constantini, recognizing the worth of the young priest, wrote a prophetic summary of his assistant. “They have sent me as curate a young priest, with orders to mould him to the duties of pastor; in fact, however, the contrary is true. He is so zealous, so full of good sense, and other precious gifts that it is I who can learn much from him. Some day or other he will wear the mitre, of that I am sure. After that—who knows?”
In July of 1867, Father Sarto, then 32 years of age, was appointed pastor of Salzano, one of the most favored parishes in the diocese of Treviso. Soon his concern and help toward the poor became well known throughout the parish, and his two sisters, who acted as his housekeepers, were often at wit’s end as their brother gave away much of his own clothing and food to the needy. The new pastor arranged for the instruction of young and old in the fundamentals of Christian Doctrine. The firm conviction that devotion meant little if its meaning was not understood was later to be embodied in the encyclical , “On the Teaching of Christian Doctrine.” After nine years at Salzano, Father Sarto was rewarded for his labors by the appointment as Canon of the Cathedral at Treviso and as Chancellor of that diocese. In addition, he became Spiritual Director of the seminary. Canon Sarto took a deep interest in this work of forming Christ in the hearts of young priests. However, in spite of these many duties, he remained ever the teacher; he often journeyed from the seminary into the city to teach catechism to the children, and he organized Sunday classes for those children who attended public schools, where religion was banned. When the diocese of Mantua fell vacant in 1884, Pope Leo XIII named Canon Sarto as bishop of that diocese.
Bishop Sarto found a troubled diocese in which to begin his labors. There was a general opposition of the government to religion manifested in many ways—monasteries had been suppressed, many religious institutions were government-managed, and Church property was heavily taxed. All these political disturbances had a far-reaching effect on both the clergy and the laiety. The seminaries of Mantua were depleted and a general laxity among the younger priests was evident; dangerous errors of thought had crept into the clergy, and the faults of the shepherds had spread to the flock. In general, a pall of religious indifference and secularism had spread over the diocese. With characteristic energy and spiritual strength, Bishop Sarto set to work to put his see in order. He gave first attention to the seminary, where by his own example of zeal and teaching, he won back the clergy to full and faithful service. The laxity of the people was attributed to neglect of parish priests in the instruction of the catechism; Bishop Sarto often taught such classes himself, and in his pastoral visits and letters, he urged the establishment of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in all parishes. God blessed this work on behalf of all classes of His flock, and in 1893, His Holiness, Leo XIII, elevated Bishop Sarto to Cardinal and appointed him Patriarch of Venice.
As Patriarch of Venice, it was Tombolo, Salzano, and Mantua all over again, but on a widening scale—the same care for his clergy and for the seminaries, the ever-willing hand and heart given to the poor, the long hours spent in teaching young and old—only the red of his new office had replaced the purple and black of former days. Social and economic problems were of prime concern to the new cardinal, and any worthy social action organization was assured of his help. When the Workingmen’s Society was founded in Venice, the name of Cardinal Sarto was at the top of the list and he paid regular dues as a member! Once it seemed that an important diocesan newspaper would go into bankruptcy, and the cardinal declared, “I would rather sell my crozier and my robes of office than let that paper go under.”
On July 20, 1903, the reign of Leo XIII came to a close, and the world mourned the death of a great Pontiff. Cardinals from all over the world came to Rome for the conclave which would elect the new Pope, and it is again typical of Cardinal Sarto that, due to his many charities, he was short of funds necessary to make the trip; so sure was he that he would never be elected that the problem was solved by the purchase of a return ticket to Venice! With the conclave in solemn session, the voting began, and with each successive ballot, Cardinal Sarto gained more votes. As his cause continued to gain strength, he all the more strongly pleaded that he was neither worthy nor capable enough for the office. When it was finally announced that he had gained sufficient votes to be elected, he bent his head, broke into tears, and whispered, “Fiat voluntas tua” (Thy will be done). He accepted, took the name of Pius X, and on August 9, 1903, was crowned as Vicar of Christ on earth.
The world was now the parish of the new Pontiff, and in his first encyclical he announced the aim of his reign. It was his desire, in the words of St. Paul, “to restore all things in Christ.” (Eph 1:10). The prime means of accomplishing this restoration was dearly seen by Pius to be through the clergy, and throughout his reign, the Pope exhorted bishops to reorganize the seminaries and to obtain the best possible training for these men who would instill in others the knowledge of God. The Pontiff published an encyclical, “Exhortation to the Catholic Clergy,” in which he pointed out that only through a trained and disciplined clergy could a program of return to Christ be realized.
The religious instruction of young and old became the second most important means toward the Christian restoration, and in his encyclical , “On the Teaching of Christian Doctrine,” Pius X firmly stated his position. The evils of the world were traceable to an ignorance of God, he said, and it was necessary for priests to make the eternal truths available to all and in a language that all could understand. Ever an example, he himself gave Sunday instruction to the people in one of the Vatican courtyards. However, no reform of Pius’ was more widely acclaimed than the Decrees on Holy Communion, and Pius X is often called “the Pope of the Eucharist.” These decrees, issued from 1905 through 1910, allowed the reception of first Holy Communion at an earlier age than had formerly been required, encouraged the frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist by all Catholics, and relaxed the fast for the sick.
In the field of Christian social action the Pope had always been an ardent champion, and in 1905, he published , “On Catholic Social Action.” In this work, the Pontiff listed practical recommendations for the solution of the social problem; he reaffirmed the need and power of prayer, but said that society would not be Christianized by prayer alone. Action is needed, he pointed out, as had been shown in the lives of the Apostles and of saints like Francis Xavier. The Pope likewise vigorously promoted reforms within the liturgy of the Church, since he felt that these were long overdue. In his , he listed the aims of such music to be sanctity, beauty of form, and universality. Gregorian Chant, the Pope felt, was the music best suited to attain those aims. However, he felt that an attempt to make all Church music Gregorian was an exaggerated fad, and modern compositions were always welcomed by the Pontiff as long as they fulfilled the prescribed norms. Pius also reformed the Breviary, and was founder of the Biblical Institute for the advancement of scholarship in the study of the Scriptures. Even more important for the internal structure of the Church, he initiated and closely supervised the construction of the Code of Canon Law.
The familiar notion of Pius X as the Teacher of Christian Truth and the firm guide and staunch foe of error was forceably illustrated in 1907 when he issued more than fourteen pronouncements against the growth of Modernism. This subtle philosophy, in which Pius saw the poison of all heresies, pretended to “modernize” the Church and to make it keep pace with the changing times. In reality, its end would have been the destructions of the foundation of faith. The crowning achievement of the Pontiff’s writings and pronouncements against this philosophy came in the encyclical, , “On the Doctrines of the Modernists.” In this work, which was a death blow to Modernism, he gave a systematic exposition of the errors involved, their causes, and provisions for combating the errors by definite preventive measures.
Pius X labored for the Master until the very last days of his life. His 79 years had not set too heavily upon him, but overwork and anxiety over the impending doom of a World War began to take their toll. Pius saw clearly the horrors of the coming conflict and felt helpless that he could not prevent it. A little more than a month after the outbreak of the war, the Pope was seized with an attack of influenza, and his weakened constitution could not combat the illness. The end for the Christ-like Pius came peacefully on August 20, 1914, and the world, though in the throes of a death struggle, paused to mourn the gentle and humble man whose last will and testament gave such an insight into his character. It read, in part, “I was born poor, I lived poor, I die poor.” Shortly after his death, the faithful began to make pilgrimages to his tomb, bringing flowers, prayers, and petitions for favors. Accounts of miraculous favors and cures, some even accomplished during his lifetime and granted through his intercession, were announced and given widespread acclaim. In 1923, the Church, always cautious in such matters, began inquiry into the life and virtues of Pius X, and in February of 1943, the first official step in his Cause was taken when the necessary decree was signed by the present Pontiff, Pius XII. In honor of the work which Pius X had accomplished in its behalf, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine actively contributed in promoting the Cause for his beatification and canonization. On June 3, 1951, Pius X was declared Blessed, and finally on May 29, 1954, amid the traditional pealing of the bells in the great churches of Rome, Giuseppe Sarto, the humble parish priest of the world, was canonized a saint of God.

(Thank you uCatholic)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Today the Church remembers St Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot and Doctor (1090 – 1153).- Bernard was born near Dijon, France, in 1090, of a noble family. In 1112 he joined the new monastery at Cîteaux. His five brothers and two dozen friends followed him into the monastery. Within three years he had been sent out to found a new monastery at Clairvaux, in Champagne, France, where he remained abbot fo

r the rest of his life. By the time of his death, the Cistercian Order had grown from one house to 343, of which 68 were daughter houses of Clairvaux itself. Bernard was a man of great holiness and wisdom, and was active in many of the great public debates of the time. He strongly opposed the excesses of some of the clergy, and fought against the persecution of the Jews. He was also a prolific and inspiring writer. Bernard died in 1153. His most precious writings have earned for him the titles of the last of the Fathers and a Doctor of Holy Church.
(Thank you to Daylesford Abbey)

St. Mamas

Wow, this early Greek Saint and Martyr has quite a story: 

St. Mamas (second century) is ranked by the Greeks among the great martyrs. Born in prison to parents who had been jailed because they were Christian, Mamas became an orphan when his parents were executed. After his parents’ death, Mamas was raised by a rich widow named Ammia, who died when he was 15 years old.
Mamas was tortured for his faith by the governor of Caesarea and was then sent before the Roman Emperor Aurelian, who tortured him again. The Mamas legend states that an angel then liberated him and ordered him to hide himself on a mountain near Caesarea.
Mamas was later thrown to the lions, but managed to make the beasts docile. He preached to animals in the fields, and a lion remained with him as companion. Accompanied by the lion, he visited Duke Alexander, who condemned him to death. He was struck in the stomach with a trident. Bleeding, Mamas dragged himself to a spot near a theater before his soul was carried into heaven by angels.
The center of his cult was situated at Caesarea before shifting to Langres when his relics were brought there in the 8th century. The Cathédrale Saint-Mammès, in Langres, is dedicated to him. Mamas is the chief patron of the diocese.
Saint Mamas is also a popular saint in Lebanon with many churches and convents named in his honor. He is the patron saint of Deir Mimas in Lebanon and of Kfarhata, which is adjacent to Zgharta. The Church of Saint Mamas Church in Ehden was built in 749 A.D. and is one of the oldest Maronite Catholic churches in Lebanon. Lebanon is also home to the Saint Mamas Church of Baabdat, which was built in the 16th century.

(Thank you uCatholic)

Disrespect of the Eucharist by South Korean Government?

I guess I might be a bit defensive, but it seems that as Catholics we should equally be as shocked and disgusted by the disrespect the South Korean government has shown towards the Eucharist as many Muslims have justly been at the United States government for destroying the Qur’an in recent instances.  The problem with this story is that it is a “he said/he said” situation where the people participating in the protest claim that riot police knocked over the celebrant and trod on the Eucharist and the police and government say that the policeman accused says that no such thing happened. 

Click here for a link to the story as reported in UCA News.

Maximillian Kolbe

Another saint who we celebrate today is relatively recent.  Saint Maximillian Kolbe is well known for being the “Saint of Auschwitz.”  During Nazi occupation in Poland, Kolbe was rounded up and arrested, sent to Auschwitz.  When a prison escape was foiled, ten men were rounded up to die as an example to the other prisoners – one of which was a father and husband.  Fr. Kolbe stood in his place and died of starvation and thirst two weeks later.  He was canonized by Blessed John Paul II in 1982.