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In the early 2000s, when the sex abuse scandal first shocked the Church in the United States, Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk (now retired), initiated a program he called “Grateful Believers.” He dedicated his weekly column in the archdiocesan newspaper to reminiscences about people and things for which he was grateful, and he invited all clergy and lay people in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to call to mind similar experiences of gratitude.

Archbishop Pilarczyk’s insight was that if we focus only on the negative, on the sins and scandals, we risk losing sight of the fundamental beauty and goodness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Yes, some Church’s leaders have sinned. Yes, we are right to be embarrassed, angry and hurt. But is that all there is? No.

Think back to the experiences for which you are grateful:  For the gift of Jesus Christ freely given in the Eucharist and all the sacraments; for the Word of God generously shared in the scriptures; for the ministry of good priests, deacons and bishops; for the holy women and men in religious orders, and countless lay people, who have given their lives to proclaim the Gospel, to teach our children and to serve the poor and vulnerable among us. We should be grateful to them—now more than ever—because they did not give up on the wounded Church they served so faithfully.

Are you mad at the pope and the bishops for their failures to protect our children and punish those who committed horrible crimes? Fair enough. There is plenty to be mad about. But is that all there is? No.

There are more than a few reasons to be grateful for the ministry of recent popes, for the leadership of bishops past and present, and for the good priests who have served parishes throughout the United States so faithfully. Name a few of the people you are grateful for. Recall their kindness to you in times of trouble, or their ministry to the sick and elderly members of your family. Thank God for all that they shared with you in homilies or faith sharing sessions. Remember the people who cared unselfishly for the needs of God’s people, and say thank you.

Gratitude is the best cure for anger and depression. It lifts our spirits and calls attention to the blessings we have received—undeservedly and with no strings attached. When we say thank you to God or to another human being, we acknowledge that we are not autonomous, self-sufficient beings but members of God’s family called to love and serve one another.

Grateful believers are not naïve. They do not sweep bad news under the carpet or maintain that no evil has been done by sinful men and women in positions of authority in the Church. Grateful believers are thankful that painful truths are now being told; that Church leaders are cooperating with civil authorities and being accountable for, and transparent about, abuses dating back several generations. Grateful believers are sad and angry, but they refuse to let these emotions paralyze them or cause them to give up on the Church.  

Grateful believers know that the work of Christ must continue—now more than ever. The Gospel must be preached; the faith must be handed on to future generations; and the poor and vulnerable must be served. Whatever evil may have been committed by individual Church leaders, there is still no greater force for good in the United States than the Catholic Church. No institution or community does a better job of resettling refugees, of helping children and families break the cycle of poverty, of caring for the healthcare needs of the indigent poor, of inspiring young people to live lives of generous service, and much more.

Now more than ever, we should give thanks for the sacraments, for the intercession of Mary and all the saints, and for the good work being done every day by lay people, religious, deacons, priests and bishops. Now more than ever, we should be proud of our Church which in spite of its weakness and sin carries on the work of Jesus Christ here and now.

Is it too much to ask that each of us say “thank you” at least once a day for the gifts we have received in and through the Catholic Church? Surely gratitude is better than bitter resentment when it comes to a healthy spiritual life.

Thank you, Pope Francis, cardinals, archbishops and bishops, and all you holy priests and deacons, religious women and men, and lay people who serve the Church in our country. We are grateful believers who—in spite of everything—appreciate your ministry now more than ever.

 

            Dan Conway

            dconway@gpcatholic.com

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The feast day of Saint Vincent de Paul is September 27, the date of his passing in 1660. He was the founder of the Vincentians and the Sisters of Charity, and is the patron saint of all charitable organizations.

Born in 1581 to a peasant family in southwestern France, Vincent studied for the priesthood at a local Franciscan college and then at Toulouse University. He was ordained a priest at the age of nineteen.

Little is truly known of Vincent’s early life in the priesthood except that he spent a year in Rome, perhaps studying. In 1612 he became a parish priest in a village just north of Paris and the following year became a tutor in the household of the wealthy and politically powerful Gondi family. He remained with the family for the next 12 years and spent some time as a parish priest where he attended to the needs of the sick and the poor in his parish. In 1617 he formed a group of women who ministered to the needs of these families. He established similar groups in other villages.

Around the year 1618 Vincent came to know Saint Francis de Sales, whose writings, especially the Introduction to the Devout Life, had a strong influence on him. That same year Vincent established a society of priests, sometimes referred to as “Vincentians,” who with the financial support of Madame Gondi, would go from village to village on the Gondi estates to preach to the peasants and conduct missions. The mission work became so successful that with the approval of the archbishop of Paris and continued financial support of the Gondis, the group established a base in Paris and their community continued to grow along with their ministry.

Meanwhile the women’s groups started to multiply. In 1633 Vincent began offering formal religious formation for this new group, called the Daughters of Charity. A new order of women religious was born that ministered in hospitals, orphanages, prisons and many other places. The order was formally approved by the Church in 1668.

Vincent’s approach to a devout life of faith was to be simple, practical and to have confidence in God’s love and mercy. He would maintain: “When you leave your prayer to care for a sick person, you leave God for God. To care for a sick person is to pray.”

At Vincent’s funeral the presiding bishop said that he had “changed the face of the Church.” He was canonized in 1737. In 1833, Blessed Antoine Frederic Ozanam would found the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. In 1885 Pope Leo XIII named St. Vincent de Paul universal patron of all works of charity.

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Lydia is the first recorded person in Europe to become a follower of Jesus Christ. She was Saint Paul’s first baptized convert at Philippi.

What we know of Lydia is found in the Acts of the Apostles. She was from Thyatira, an industrial center located in what is now western Turkey. She was a wealthy business woman; a manufacturer and seller of purple dyes and fabrics for which the city of Thyatira was noted. Lydia was part of a high value industry. Purple goods were luxury items, used by emperors, high government officials, and priests of the pagan religions.

At the time of the narrative in Acts, Lydia and her household had moved to the city of Philippi, a Roman colony on the Rome-to-Asia trade route. This is where she had her first encounter with Paul on his second missionary journey about the year 50.

While visiting Philippi for the first time, Paul and his party came upon Lydia and a group of women gathered by the river that ran through the city center. He sat down and shared the gospel with them. Lydia listened intently, took the gospel message to heart, and she and her family were then baptized in the river.

Lydia insisted on providing hospitality to Paul and his companions, so they made their home with her while in Philippi. She continued to help them even after they were jailed and released.

As a successful businesswoman, her home would have been spacious enough to welcome guests and to become a place for community gatherings and liturgies.

Paul cherished the members of the Christian community at Philippi and called them his “joy and crown.” Undoubtedly, Lydia’s generous hospitality and leadership in the founding of this early Christian community contributed to Paul’s affection.

Saint Lydia’s feast day is August 3.

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Saint Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, is considered a model of Christian stewardship. He authored the famous Rule of St. Benedict, a handbook of daily Christian living that emphasizes exercising stewardship over prayer, work, and community.

Born in central Italy in the town of Nursia around 480, Benedict studied in Rome as a young man. He was so distressed by the chaos and incivility he found there that he left the city and traveled to Subiaco, Italy to become a hermit. He soon attracted followers who wanted to join him in his simple way of living; imitating his style of prayer and work while respecting the rhythms of the day. Benedict stayed there for 25 years before taking a small group of his monks to Monte Cassino, near Naples, where he wrote the final version of his Rule.

The Rule of St. Benedict started a simple, spiritual tradition that exists to this day. It was meant to “…establish a school for the Lord’s service.” It is a set of Christian principles around which the members of the community were to organize their daily lives, focusing on the most important Christian values that would direct their daily actions and help them cultivate habits that would ensure good stewardship of their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

A hallmark of Christian stewardship is hospitality, making room for others. St. Benedict found this aspect of the Christian life especially important for his communities. In his Rule, St. Benedict writes:

“Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Mt. 25:35).’ ‘And to all let due honor be shown, especially to those who share our faith’ (Gal. 6:10) and to pilgrims…In welcoming the poor and pilgrims the greatest care and solicitude should be shown, because it is especially in them that Christ is received” (Rule of St. Benedict 53:1-2, 15).

The Rule of St. Benedict was meant to stand on the shoulders of the Gospels and many spiritual writers throughout the ages attest to its transforming power to change lives. It teaches the principles of stewardship, shows one how to live in a way that is uniquely countercultural and invites its adherents to enter into a deeper and more joyful relationship with the Lord.

St. Benedict died in approximately 550. He is the patron saint of monks and farm workers. In 1964 Pope Paul VI declared him to be the patron saint of Europe. His feast day is July 11.

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Saint Anthony of Padua is one the most beloved and admired saints in the Church. A Franciscan friar and a Doctor of the Church, he is considered one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christianity.

Anthony was born on the Feast of the Assumption in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195 to a wealthy and educated family of the Portuguese nobility. He entered the Augustinian religious community at an early age where he devoted himself to the study of sacred scripture and Latin classics. He felt a call to missionary work, however, and was given permission to join the Franciscan Order when he was 26 years old.

Anthony traveled tirelessly to preach what it meant to live according to the Gospel. He is believed to have made as many as 400 trips to towns in both northern Italy and southern France where he attracted people by the thousands. He was so popular a preacher that he often had to speak in public squares and marketplaces rather than churches.

Anthony knew that preaching was not enough to help people understand how to follow Jesus Christ. He believed he had to give witness to the Gospel by the way he lived his personal life. So, he adopted and maintained a simple lifestyle consistent with what he believed the Gospel was calling him to. He became one of Francis of Assisi’s favorite disciples and closest friend.

The last months of Anthony’s life were lived in Padua, Italy, with preaching, hearing confessions, and assisting those in debt. He died there on June 13, 1231 at the age of 36 and was proclaimed a saint less than one year after his death. So simple, yet compelling and inspiring was Anthony’s teaching of the Catholic faith that he was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1946.

Anthony is best known as the saint to whom one prays to find a lost article. When a novice took his Psalter without permission, Anthony prayed for the book’s return. After the novice was visited by a ghost in a frightening nightmare, he rushed to give the book back to Anthony. Many people do not know, though, that St. Anthony is the patron of other causes. He is the patron saint of Brazil and Portugal, the poor, barren women, harvests and those who travel. His feast day is June 13.

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Stewardship Saint

Saint Ita, January 2018 Stewardship SaintIta of Killeedy, Ireland

Ita of Killeedy, Ireland, also known as Ida, is one of the two most famous women saints in Ireland, along with Brigid of Kildare. Born near present-day County Waterford, allegedly of a royal family, she was baptized as Deidre. She is said to have rejected a prestigious marriage for a life as a consecrated woman religious. She moved early in her life to Killeedy (in County Limerick), where she founded a small community of nuns and resided for the remainder of her life, in community with other consecrated women. She dedicated herself to prayer, fasting, a simplicity of life and cultivating a gift for spiritual discernment.

Ita was well known for having the gift of being able to guide people in holiness. She was much sought after as a spiritual director and confessor. During this period of Christianity, the Celtic Church was more advanced than other churches at the time in recognizing qualities of spiritual leadership in women and in encouraging women in this role. It is thought that Ita may have been abbess of a double monastery of men and women and that she was a confessor to both, giving difficult penances while maintaining a forgiving and compassionate spirit. Confessing one’s sins to a priest had not yet been established as the normal form for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and ordained priests were not yet regarded as the only members of the Church authorized to hear confessions, forgive sins, and impose penances.

She began a school for boys, some of whose graduates became saints in their own right, the most famous of whom was Saint Brendan. She was also known as the “foster mother of the saints of Erin.” The name “Ita” (“thirst for holiness”) was conferred on her because of her saintly qualities.

She believed that the three things God most detested were a scowling face, obstinacy in wrong-doing, and too great a confidence in the power of money. Three things she believed God especially loved included a pure heart, living a simple life and great generosity inspired by gratitude for God’s gifts.

Ita died sometime around 570 and was buried in the monastery she founded. It was destroyed by Viking invaders in the ninth century. A Romanesque church was later built over its ruins, but that too failed to survive. The site, however, remains a place of pilgrimage today.

Ita’s feast day is January 15. Although not on the Roman calendar of saints, her feast is celebrated as an optional memorial in Ireland.

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Saint Fabiola is the patron saint of difficult marriages, divorced persons, abused spouses and victims of unfaithful spouses. She was a Christian, born in Rome in the mid-4th century to a powerful and wealthy family. She was married off at a young age to an abusive and adulterous husband.

Saint Jerome, the most famous biblical scholar in the history of the Church, knew her personally, as he was her teacher and spiritual director. He wrote: “So terrible were the faults imputed to her former husband that not even a prostitute or a common slave could have put up with them.” Fabiola was able to secure a divorce from her husband under Roman civil law, and then she remarried, violating the ordinances of the Church.

While she was still young, Fabiola’s ex-husband died, followed shortly thereafter by her second husband. Upon the latter’s death, she appeared before the gates of Saint John Lateran Basilica, dressed in penitential garb and sought forgiveness for marrying outside the Church. Her public plea for reconciliation was said to have made a great impression upon the Christian population of Rome, and the pope received her formally again into full communion with the Church.

Fabiola devoted her immense wealth to the needs of the poor, the sick and the homeless of Rome. She became a physician and practiced medicine, treating patients with illnesses other physicians would avoid. She also supported the needs of the Church and parish communities throughout Italy.

In 395 Fabiola made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, an experience which deepened her faith even more dramatically. She lived in a hospice for a time with a religious community, spent hours in prayer, performed menial tasks and cultivated a profound devotion to the simplicity and poverty of the Nativity.
When she returned to Rome, Fabiola sold all her belongings and co-founded what is known to be the first hospital in the Western world. Saint Jerome later wrote that this innovative institution became famous from Britain to Parthia (modern day Iran). And she continued to work tirelessly to treat patients that no one else would treat.

Fabiola died on December 27, 399, of natural causes, and her death was marked by an enormous procession befitting a state funeral. Roman citizens turned out by the thousands to express their gratitude for the life and ministry she had embraced in the city of Rome.

Her feast day is December 27th.
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