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The day after Christmas is called “St. Stephen’s Day” to commemorate the first Christian martyr. It is also this “Feast of Stephen” that is mentioned in the English Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas.”

Stephen was a Greek-speaking Jew living in Jerusalem. He became a follower of Jesus Christ and was one of seven individuals chosen by the twelve apostles to serve tables, look after the distribution of the community funds (alms), especially to widows, and assist in the ministry of preaching.

Stephen was also a leader in the Christian group known as the “Hellenists,” a community that had its own synagogues where the scriptures were read in Greek. The Hellenist Christians maintained that the new Christian faith could not grow unless it separated itself from Judaism and specifically the Temple and the Mosaic law. The Hellenists also urged the expansion of the Church’s mission to the Gentiles.

The elders in a number of neighboring synagogues opposed Stephen and the Hellenists and charged him with blasphemy for saying that the Temple would be destroyed and that Jesus had set aside the Mosaic law even though Stephen maintained that Jesus came to fulfill the law, not set it aside.

When dragged before the Sanhedrin, the supreme legal court of Jewish elders, Stephen made an eloquent defense of the Hellenist Christian teaching. He charged his accusers of trying to stifle the movement of the Holy Spirit, of persecuting those who spoke prophetically and of betraying and murdering Jesus. Then he looked up to heaven and began to describe a vision he was having of the recently executed Jesus standing on the right side of God.

The council erupted into a furor and its members began shouting, covered their ears and ordered Stephen to be dragged outside the city and executed. As he was being stoned to death, Stephen asked God to forgive his attackers while the witnesses to his martyrdom placed their cloaks at the feet of Saul of Tarsus who consented to Stephen’s death. Saul would later undergo a conversion experience and become Saint Paul.

Saint Stephen was one of the most popular saints in the Middle Ages and in many countries his feast day of December 26 is still a public holiday. He is the patron saint of deacons and his name is included in Eucharistic Prayer I of the Mass.

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Saint Albert the Great was a 13th-century German Dominican priest, considered one of the most extraordinary men of his age alongside Peter Lombard, Roger Bacon and Saint Thomas Aquinas. His stewardship of the intellectual life, his students and our life of faith is profound.

Born in 1200, near Ulm, Albert was the eldest son of a powerful and wealthy German family. He was educated in the liberal arts at the University of Padua, Italy, and against his family’s wishes, joined the Dominican Order in 1223.

He earned his doctorate at the University of Paris and taught theology with much success in a number of medieval German universities, including Cologne.

For a time Albert was the pope’s personal theologian, and in 1260 was appointed bishop of Regensburg, Germany, against his will. He remained for only three years before returning his time and energy to teaching and writing in Cologne. He enhanced his reputation for humility by refusing to ride horses. Instead, he walked back and forth across his huge diocese, keeping with the rules of the Dominican order.

Albert’s influence on scholars is substantial. His fame is due in part to being the forerunner, spiritual guide and teacher of Saint Thomas Aquinas. But he also composed an encyclopedia containing treatises on almost every branch of learning known at the time. His work fills thirty-eight volumes and covers subjects ranging from astronomy and chemistry to geography and philosophy. His knowledge of science was considerable, and for the age remarkably accurate. He also displayed an insight into nature and a knowledge of theology that surprised his contemporaries, who named him “Magnus” (“the Great”) to recognize his genius. Albert even inspired a mystical school of theology among fellow Dominicans such as Meister Eckhart.

Albert participated in the Second Council of Lyons, France, in 1274, the fourteenth of the Catholic Church’s 21 great councils (Vatican II was the twenty-first). On his way to the council, he was shocked to learn of Aquinas’ death at age 49, and he publicly defended his former student against attacks on the Catholicity of his writings.

After suffering from what is now thought to be Alzheimer’s disease, Albert died in Cologne on November 15, 1280. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931, one of only 33 individuals bestowed that honor. His tomb is in the crypt of the Dominican church in Cologne, and his relics are in the Cologne Cathedral. His feast day is November 15.

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Luke is the author of the third Gospel and was a companion of Saint Paul. According to reliable tradition, he was a Syrian physician from Antioch who wrote his Gospel in Achaea (Greece). Both the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are attributed to Luke, because he appears to be the person intended by the first-person reference in Acts. The opening of Acts refers to the Gospel and is dedicated to the same person, Theophilus.

The basic point of Luke’s New Testament writings is to emphasize the love and compassion of Jesus Christ. Luke also has an interest in the reality of poverty and reveals a deep concern for the poor, the outcast, and the underprivileged throughout the Gospel.

Stewardship is a major theme in Luke’s Gospel. As a matter of fact, what emerges from Luke’s writings is a sophisticated theology of stewardship that is unique to his Gospel and not addressed so profoundly by other New Testament writers. Luke defines the duty and role of a steward as a unique sort of servant who is entrusted with material possessions by a master, takes charge of them and is required to use them prudently.

Luke envisions the steward as not having any possessions or property of his own, but as taking care of his master’s property and wealth until the master summons him to turn in an account of his stewardship.

There is a finiteness to stewardship. According to Luke, a steward carries out his responsibilities with alertness, knowing that the master’s return may come at any time. And depending on the quality of his stewardship, there is the anticipation of a reward as a result of his stewardship. Luke believes stewards are not just a chosen or appointed few. Stewardship is the responsibility of all Christian disciples.

Luke takes his basic ideas of stewardship and applies them to the motif of material possessions as well, instructing his readers on the right use of wealth and the wrong use of wealth.

Finally, Luke’s concept of almsgiving, based on his theology of stewardship, was unique and radical at the time of his writing. Almsgiving was considered an obligation of Christian disciples; imperative inside and outside the community. Luke enjoined his readers to look upon the poor with genuine sympathy and urged those with material resources to remember their identity as stewards, to distribute their wealth to the poor as alms, and to give up ownership of their own material possessions.

Luke is the patron saint of physicians, artists and butchers. His feast day is October 18.

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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 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 Margaret of Cortona, February 2018 Stewardship Saint

Margaret of Cortona

Margaret of Cortona is the patron saint of single mothers and the homeless. Her story begins in 1247 in Laviano, Tuscany, where she was born into a farming family. Her mother died when Margaret was seven years old and life with her stepmother was very difficult. At age seventeen, Margaret met a young Tuscan nobleman of Cortona, moved out of the family home, and into the young man’s castle.

Margaret lived as a mistress to the cavalier, who for nine years promised to marry her but never did. In the meantime she gave birth to his son. During this period, Margaret revealed a deep compassion for the poor, and sought out quiet places to pray and ask for the Lord’s guidance to change her station in life.

One day the young cavalier was discovered murdered in a nearby forest. It was an event that shocked Margaret so badly that she left her companion’s castle, gave his gifts and heirlooms to his family and returned to Laviano with her young son.

When Margaret discovered that she was unwelcome in her hometown, she returned to Cortona to seek shelter. She was desperate for herself and her son, and fought the temptation to trade her beauty for a meal and place to stay. She prayed not to give in.

Two women in Cortona, noticing that she was homeless, took her home with them. They introduced her to the Franciscan friars at the Church of San Francesco. Margaret found spiritual solace in the Franciscan way of life. She embraced this life of simplicity, prayer, penance and self-denial. Her devotion to the Eucharist increased as well.

Under the guidance of a Franciscan spiritual director, she established a hospital for the poor and the homeless.

In 1277, three years after her return to Cortona, Margaret became a Franciscan tertiary. She established a congregation of tertiary sisters from which she recruited nurses for the hospital. Her commitment to prayer and her devotions fueled her growing ministry and drew people to her for advice and inspiration.

Margaret’s son would become a Franciscan friar, and Margaret herself would remain in Cortona for the rest of her life, providing hospitality to the homeless and caring for the sick and impoverished. She passed away when she was 50 years old in Cortona, on February 22, 1297. Her feast day is February 22.

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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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