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Blessed James Oldo (Giacomo Oldo):
Good Steward of his neighbors during a Pandemic

Giacomo Oldo was born in 1364 to a prosperous family in Lodi, Italy near Milan. His father died while he was young, leaving him a legacy that made him a wealthy man. Giacomo was married at a young age to Caterina Bocconi, and they had three children. The young couple enjoyed a life of extravagance and luxury.

In the late 14th century, when the Black Death pandemic of 1347 re-emerged in northern Italy, Giacomo, like many other wealthy citizens of Lombardy, took Caterina, his mother and three children and secluded them in one of their country houses to escape the disease. Despite their precautions, however, two of his daughters died from the plague.

Giacomo’s grief was deep, but it was not until he attended the funeral of a close friend who died from the pandemic that he experienced a profound radical conversion to Jesus Christ. He became a Secular Franciscan and began using one of his houses as a hospital where he took care of the sick and provided for the poor in his region of Lombardy. Caterina was initially opposed to his work, as was his mother. But after seeing his devotion and tireless efforts on behalf of the sick, they eventually joined him in caring for the afflicted. Caterina became a Secular Franciscan herself.

In 1397 Caterina passed away, and soon thereafter, Giacomo was ordained a priest by the bishop of Lodi. His house was transformed into a chapel where small groups of people, many of them fellow Secular Franciscans, came for prayer and support. He became a celebrated preacher, and was known to have inspired many to enter consecrated religious life.

Giacomo died in 1404 at the age of 40 after contracting a disease from one of his patients. He was buried at the church of Saint Julian, the construction of which he and Caterina had financed. In the 18th century, his body was finally interred at the cathedral in Lodi. Giacomo was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1933.

 

 

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Many of us work for companies or dioceses or parishes that have a mission statement or a vision statement; sometimes these can be ‘holy hopes’ written by a committee and then forgotten, but sometimes they are the very core of an organisation and are ‘owned’ by all stakeholders.  The Beatitudes are Jesus’ mission statement, they reflect the very heart of Jesus.  So, as stewards, as followers of Jesus, part of his ‘committee’ if we find that image helpful, we too should try to live these eight statements as both our vision and our mission.  Ultimately, stewardship is a way of life lived gratefully for all that God has given to us; all the ways in which God has blessed our lives, for that is the meaning of beatitude. 

We live in a society where success appears to be the heart of all that is good.  The eight beatitudes offer us a counter-cultural approach, where humility and mourning and gentleness and peacefulness etc. are what is blessed.  These are gifts from God that we are called to steward; they lead us to a life lived in integrity and honesty.  What we hear and what we learn from Jesus’ identification of who is blessed is something for us to hold at the very heart of our discipleship.  Yet these beatitudes are paradoxical – the first, for example telling us ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’, yet who among us would choose that?!  Poverty of spirit has a gift to offer us; it can teach us not to rely on ourselves, but to rely on God.  It invites us to be grateful to God for the blessings we receive in our poverty. 

An invitation might be to take eight days and pray each of these beatitudes in turn, listening to Jesus speak each one to us and seeing where the truth of where we are living each one is in our own lives.  We might also think of those identified in each beatitude (the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted because of righteousness).  These are the people who reflect God to us through the ways in which God has extravagantly blessed them.  In what ways am I called to reflect these blessings?  Praying these beatitudes may be a step to becoming and being a more faithful steward in response to the fact that we are all truly blessed by God.

 

            Teresa Keogh

 

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Saint Patrick, the “apostle to Ireland,” is one of the world’s most famous and celebrated saints. His missionary zeal arguably matched that of Saint Paul, whose missionary activities, though oftentimes a severe struggle, remained in the territories governed by Roman law. Saint Patrick, however, was the first recorded Christian missionary to evangelize beyond the bounds of Roman rule and into the darkness of what was then considered the end of the earth.

“Patricius” was born in Roman Britain around 385. His father was a public official and church deacon. He was kidnapped by Irish slave traders while in his mid-teens and forced into slavery; herding sheep on remote Irish hillsides under harsh conditions. Spending most of his time in solitude, he grew to trust in God and embrace a life of prayer. After six years, he made a dangerous and harrowing escape over land and sea that finally resulted in a return to his parents. They found him, at age 22, a serious visionary who sought holiness and friendship with Christ.

 

Patrick entered the priesthood, and in time, was sent to evangelize the Irish. He was appointed the bishop of Ireland in 435 and established his see at Armagh in the north.

 

The Irish were known to be wild, unrestrained and corrupt. But Patrick’s success in making converts to Christianity was nothing less than astonishing, even to him. He traveled to most parts of Ireland, winning the hearts of the Celtic people by his deep faith, humility, simplicity and pastoral care. He took great measures to incorporate pagan rituals into his teachings on Christianity. Since the ancient Celts honored their gods with fire, Patrick used bonfires to celebrate Easter; and he placed the sun, a powerful Celtic symbol, around the Christian cross to create the now familiar Celtic cross.

 

Patrick’s profound witness to the Gospel eventually brought an end to human sacrifices, trafficking of women, and slavery in general. He is the first person in recorded history to publicly oppose slavery; a protest that would not be taken up again for another millennium.

 

His writings reveal a keen understanding of stewardship as well. He wrote that whatever good he had been able to accomplish on behalf of the Lord, in his “meager, unlearned, and sinful state … has been a gift from God.”

 

Over the centuries, Irish immigrants would spread their devotion to Saint Patrick as they established the Catholic faith around the world. He is thought to have died on March 17, 461, the date which became his feast day.

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Born in western Sudan in 1869, our February stewardship saint recalled having a loving family and happy childhood. At age seven, however, she was abducted by Arab slave traders; the trauma and sheer anguish of which caused her to forget her own name. A slaver sarcastically named her Bakhita, Arabic for lucky. For the next eight years, Bakhita would be sold and resold in African slave markets. She experienced the cruelties, humiliations and sufferings of slavery, including severe emotional abuse, beatings and indescribable mutilations.

In 1883, at age14, Bakhita was sold to an Italian consul, who treated her with much kindness. She was gifted to an Italian couple in 1885 who took her to their villa outside Venice where she would become nanny to their infant daughter.

Needing to leave the country on business for a several weeks in late 1888, the couple entrusted their daughter and Bakhita to the care of a Venetian convent of the Canossian Daughters of Charity. But when time came for the pair to be collected, Bakhita refused to leave. To protect her, the religious superior complained to local authorities.

An Italian court ruled that because Sudan had outlawed slavery even before Bakhita’s birth and because in any case Italian law did not recognize slavery, Bakhita had never legally been a slave, could not be considered property, and having reached majority age, could make her own decisions. Bakhita chose to remain with the religious community.

In 1890, Bakhita received the sacraments of Christian initiation, and embraced the name Josephine. She was eventually admitted into the Canossian community and in 1902, Sister Josephine was assigned to the convent in Schio, a town in the Italian Alps.

For the rest of her life, Sister Josephine happily served the community in Schio as sacristan, cook, and portress, the community member appointed to interact with the public and provide hospitality to guests. Besides her humble and faithful stewardship of daily prayer and service, Sister Josephine helped prepare other members for missionary work in Africa. Her gentleness, calming voice, and ever-present smile caught others’ attention. She was encouraged by her community to tell her story, and in 1931, its publication made her well known throughout Italy.

Her life in Schio continued uninterrupted through two world wars. When air-raid sirens sent others scurrying for cover during World War II, Sister Josephine, unfazed, would continue her cooking or sweeping. Many believed their town escaped serious damage because of her saintliness and felt protected by her mere presence.

Sister Josephine died on February 8, 1947. Since then, many have sought her prayerful intercession, especially those who experience any form of slavery, and those who need to find peace, forgiveness and reconciliation in their lives. She was canonized a saint in 2000 by Saint John Paul II. Her feast day is February 8.

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Saint John the Almsgiver earned the title “almsgiver” because of his passion for social justice and his stewardship of the poor and oppressed. Born at Amathus, Cyprus, around 560, the son of the governor of Cyprus, he was wealthy and of noble lineage. His wife and children died before John reached the age of 50.

A devout Christian, John sought to live a life of simplicity and in the spirit of poverty despite his wealth. He used his riches and position to help the poor. Despite being a layman, the Church at Alexandria petitioned to have John appointed bishop. He was consecrated Patriarch of Alexandria in 610.

He pledged himself to practice “charity without limits” and placed several thousand needy persons under his personal, pastoral care. He always referred to the poor as his “lords and masters,” because of what he called “their mighty influence at the Court of the Most High.”

He divided the church treasury’s gold among hospitals and monasteries, and worked to establish an economic redistribution system whereby poor people received adequate money and means to support themselves. Refugees from neighboring territories were welcomed with open arms.

John was a reformer who established new hospitals and increased the number of churches in Alexandria from seven to seventy.

As bishop, John developed a reputation for kindness. Twice weekly, he made himself available to anyone, rich or destitute, who wished to speak with him. People lined up and waited patiently for their turn.

When asked about his passionate concern for the poor, it is said that John often recounted a youthful dream. In it, a beautiful young woman told him that she was “charity.” She told him: “I am the oldest daughter of the King. If you are devoted to me, I will lead you to Jesus. No one is as influential with him as I am. Remember, it was for me that he became a baby to redeem the world.” John used this story to persuade the rich to be generous.

When the Persians sacked Jerusalem in 614, John sent food and money to support the Christian refugees. Eventually, the Persians took over Alexandria, and John himself was forced to flee to his native Cyprus. John died peacefully on November 11, 619. His feast day is January 23.

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Be a Good Steward of the Christmas Season

December is such a busy time of year, and a month that tempts us to lose sight of the profound spiritual importance of the Advent and Christmas seasons. The best way to stay focused on keeping Christ in Christmas is to be good stewards of his presence in our daily lives this Christmas season. Here are simple ways to exercise good stewardship of this sacred time of year.

  1. Give God a very special gift during the Christmas season: Let this gift be something personal that no one else needs to know about, and let it be a sacrifice. Perhaps your gift will be to commit to spending more time with God daily. Perhaps there is a habit you know you should give up. Why wait for a New Year’s resolution? Start now.
  1. Celebrate the season of Christmas in its entirety: Light a Christmas candle each night before dinner daily through the Christmas season to Sunday, January 12, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. If you have children, let them offer their own prayers to the Christ child.
  1. Set aside a special time after Christmas Day to read the Christmas story in the Gospel of Saint Luke 1:5-56 through 2:1-20 more reflectively: Consider reading this account with your family and discussing it together.
  1. Keep a crèche up in your home throughout the Christmas season: Consider having one set that is “kid-proof” which your children are allowed to handle. Kids love to make the Nativity story their own, and they especially love the angels!
  1. Plan a project to help someone this Christmas season: Identify someone with a genuine need, involve your whole family and see how happy you can make someone during the Christmas season. Participate in your parish Adopt-a-Family program or call Catholic Charities or another charity and find a family through their programs. Make sure your children take part in shopping for a family who needs extra help and make them aware of the needs in your community. 
  1. Take a group Christmas caroling to a nursing home or a children’s hospital: Get people together after the busyness of the days leading up to Christmas is over. Make it a festive time. Bring the gifts of your joyful smiles and voices to those who may need these gifts.
  1. Give a surprise gift of service to each member of your family: The idea of giving an unexpected gift of service to members of your family in the days following Christmas reveals your own love and concern for them. You might consider giving your spouse a day away, running an errand for your brother, or cleaning out a closet for your mother. Make it personal and meaningful.
  1. Continue to send Christmas cards and thank you notes that convey a spiritual message: This is an easy way to share your faith during the Christmas season. Don’t just sign your name! Include a personal message with each card. Set aside some time after Christmas Day to write thank you notes and help your children to write thank you notes for the gifts they receive. This is a wonderful habit for a lifetime, and a good way to foster a steward’s gratitude for all gifts.
  1. Write a Christmas letter to someone far away such as someone in the service, or perhaps someone working or ministering in a foreign country: It has been said that receiving a letter when you are far away from home is like opening a priceless gift on Christmas morning, no matter what day of the year. Many people are unable to travel home for the holidays, so it can be a very lonely time for them. Write a special Christmas letter to someone of your choice.
  1. Start the New Year in a special way. Attend Mass on January 1: New Year’s Day is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. It falls on Wednesday in 2020. Try to get family to go with you. If you are alone this Christmas season or don’t have family living near you, invite a friend or a neighbor to join you.




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John of Kanty, also known as John Cantius, was born to a wealthy family in Kanti, near Auschwitz, Poland, in 1390. He was educated at the University of Krakow and was ordained a priest soon after completing his studies.

John was appointed a lecturer at the university and was known to be an effective teacher and preacher. He was assigned to a parish for a time, but after a few years was recalled to university life to hold a chair in theology.

John was held in such high esteem that his academic gown was used to invest each new candidate at the conferring of doctoral degrees. He was known to be a good steward of the students entrusted to him and saw to their religious instruction. He taught them to oppose false statements and opinions with courtesy and persuasiveness.

He was renowned not only for his teaching but also for his good humor, humility, simple way of life and generosity to the poor. He subsisted only on what was strictly necessary to sustain his life, giving food and clothing regularly to the poor. When he was urged to take better care of his health he replied by pointing out that the early desert fathers were notably long-lived.

His fame was not all confined to academic circles. He was a welcome guest at the homes of the nobility, although once his simple cassock caused the servants to refuse him admission.

He made a number of pilgrimages, all by walking; four to Rome and one to Turkish-held Jerusalem where he desired to suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Turks.

John of Kanty died on Christmas Eve, 1473, at the age of 83. He was canonized in 1767. His feast day is December 23. He is the patron saint of Poland and Lithuania. His remains were interred in the Church of St. Anne in Kraków, where his tomb became and remains a popular pilgrimage site.

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The eleventh month is now upon us, drawing us closer to the end of the calendar year. It is a transition month, a month between autumn and winter, when the leaves get raked, and the crops have been harvested. We “fall back” from Daylight Savings Time and revert to Standard Time. Most of us prepare for rain, snow and winter storms. It is also a month that reminds us to be grateful which is so fundamental to Christian stewardship.

During the month of November we express our gratitude for the saints, witnesses to the Gospel who challenge us to find our own path to holiness. We are grateful for the lives of all who have gone before us to meet the Lord, especially those we know and hold dear. We thank our veterans who have offered their lives on our behalf. And of course, in the United States, there is Thanksgiving Day, a holiday that is all about gratitude.

The month of November is an ideal time of the year to focus our spiritual lives more intently on being grateful for the blessings of the Lord. Sacred scripture is a good place to start because it is filled with the themes of thanksgiving and gratitude. The psalmist sings: “Give thanks to God, bless his name” (Psalm 100:4). We can become more aware, too, of gratitude as it is expressed in the rhythm of the Eucharistic celebration. Other spiritual exercises, too, may help us to grow to be more grateful stewards of God’s love.

The month of November is an ideal time of the year to focus our spiritual lives more intently on being grateful for the blessings of the Lord.

Pray with gratitude. Set aside some time for prayer each day. If you are new to the habit of daily prayer, find 10 minutes in your daily schedule. Pray as a family as well. And begin with a prayer of gratitude.

Put gratitude into action. Do something in your parish or neighborhood to share your material blessings with those who might otherwise go hungry. Contribute to a food bank or help deliver food baskets.

Make gratitude a habit. Find ways to thank others for their generosity and kindness toward you every day. The late Catholic spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, once wrote that to be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything. Let us use the month of November as an opportunity to grow in stewardship which, simply put, means living a life of gratitude. And as the psalmist encourages us to do: “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).

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St. Frances Cabrini, better known as Mother Cabrini, was the first American citizen to be elevated to sainthood by the Catholic Church. Born in 1850, near Milan in northern Italy, she was the youngest of 13 children. As a young girl she was fascinated by the stories of missionaries and made up her mind to join a religious order. She tried twice to enter religious communities but was turned down both times because of poor health.

Having earned a teaching certificate, she became a school-teacher in a girls’ school, and eventually became headmistress of an orphanage where she drew a small community of women together to live a religious way of life.

Gaining the attention of the local bishop for their way of life and their care of poor children in schools and hospitals, Cabrini and six other women took religious vows and in 1880, their community, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was officially approved.

Sister Frances Cabrini dreamt of being a missionary in China, but Pope Leo XIII had other plans for her. He asked her to travel to the United States and minister to the Italian immigrant community in New York. She made that journey in 1889 with the six members of her community.

Said to have possessed remarkable administrative abilities, Frances Cabrini was responsible for the establishment of nearly seventy orphanages, schools and hospitals, scattered over eight countries in Europe, North America and in parts of Latin America.

There is much that can be learned first-hand about Mother Cabrini because of the letters and diaries she left behind. A very prayerful person, she was able to accomplish in her work what others said could not be done. And even as she was maintaining schools and hospitals and in charge of hundreds of nuns, she was ever mindful to care for the poor, the homeless and immigrants who were without jobs.

Frances Cabrini’s legacy continues today through the Missionary Sisters, their lay collaborators and in the innumerable religious institutions that bear her name. Her charism continues to inspire thousands who serve the poor in schools, hospitals and other ministries around the world.

St. Frances Cabrini died in Chicago in 1917 at the age of 67 and was proclaimed a saint in 1946. She is the patron saint of immigrants and hospital administrators. Her feast day is celebrated on November 13.

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Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, or Theresa of Lisieux, is a model stewardship saint because of her simple and practical way of life. Better known as the “Little Flower,” Theresa was an extremely popular saint in the first half of the twentieth century. Born in France in 1873 to a very pious family, Marie Francoise Therese Martin became a Carmelite nun at Lisieux, France, at the age of fifteen. She dedicated her life to growing in holiness in a very simple and straightforward way. She meditated on the Sacred Scriptures as well as the writings of famous saints such as Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales and John of the Cross. She was faithful to the Carmelite Rule and the rhythm of daily life and worship in her religious community. Theresa believed that authentic holiness could be grasped by anyone. It was not just a pious ideal available only to clergy and religious.

In 1895 she suffered the initial stages of tuberculosis, the disease that eventually caused her death. And in the last two years of her life she remained at Lisieux and wrote a spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul, which became immensely popular and was translated into several languages after her death. She made a well-known promise to spend her life in heaven continuing to do good works on earth, “as long as there were souls to be saved.” She said she would let fall a “shower of roses” from heaven.

St. Theresa died in 1897 at the age of 24. She was canonized in 1925, an amazingly short length of time since her death. She was declared a Doctor of the Church by Saint John Paul II in 1997. Theresa of Lisieux is the patron saint of the missions, florists, aviators, and the countries France and Russia. Her feast day is October 1.

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