Saint of the Day

April 15: Saint Abundius

For the next month, there will be a daily post of a lesser-known saint each day. These are saints who aren’t in my book but who are still saints of the Church, as listed in the 2004 Martyrologium Romanum, the official list of saints published by the Vatican. These daily posts will give you a feel for my book, which is still slated to be released in May, 2020.

We know very little about Saint Abundius (sometimes spelled Acontius). We know that he has been remembered for centuries on this date. We know that he died in the late sixth century. And we know that Pope Saint Gregory the Great thought Abundius’ Christian example was worth describing in his work, the Dialogues, a collection of contemporary miracle stories that he wrote down to encourage the faithful that miracles still happen. According to Saint Gregory, Abundius served as sacristan at a church in Rome, perhaps a few decades before Gregory became pope. Everyone remembered Abundius as possessing “extraordinary humility and gravity” in fulfilling his duties.

The miracle story recounted by Saint Gregory the Great is as follows. A girl who lived in Saint Abundius’ parish was paralyzed. She prayed fervently to Saint Peter the Apostle to be cured for some time, until one night when she had a vision of Saint Peter. In the vision, Saint Peter told her to go speak to the sacristan Abundius, instead of himself, to be healed. The girl obediently went to Abundius and relayed the message from the saint. Abundius told the girl that, if she had been sent by Saint Peter, “get up on your feet”. Which the girl did.

Saint Abundius, pray for me to be humble, and, if it is God’s will, pray for ____ to be healed.

The Lost Saint of Easter

Solemn feast days of our Lord trump every other feast, most particularly Easter, which is why we won’t be celebrating Saint Joseph Moscati (or any of the other saints commemorated on April 12) this year. But in this year of COVID-19, perhaps we can think of him all the same on Easter.

Joseph (1880-1927) was born into a large Catholic family and grew up in Naples, Italy. He became a brilliant medical doctor, researcher, and hospital administrator, but above all, he was able to combine personal holiness and his vocation in caring for the sick in a remarkable way. He treated and cured many patients, but he also prayed with them. Sometimes he seemed to know how to diagnose and treat a patient without even having seen him; other times he cured patients by gently encouraging them to seek the sacraments, as well as medicine, for healing. While caring for his patients one day, he took a short break and died of a stroke. The miracle that was cited in his canonization was the complete cure of a young man fatally ill with leukemia; the man’s mother saw a doctor in a white lab coat in a dream and, after her son was healed, only recognized Joseph as the doctor who had healed her son when she saw a photograph of him.

As so many people suffer from sickness and so many medical professionals spend themselves to serve the sick, we can ask our Lord to bless us with a few more miracles this Easter, through the intercession of the gentle doctor-saint, Joseph Moscati.

By Inviaggio – w:it, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6499420

April 2020: Book recommendations

Many years ago, I was laid off. I took advantage of this unexpected “blessing” to reconsider what I was doing with my life. Since millions of people have become unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some book recommendations that might help you pivot your life in a more God-centered direction.

  • The best book I have ever found to help me discern career choices is What Color is Your Parachute? It’s updated annually and has a web site for more information. It’s not Catholic or even explicitly Christian, but it helps you stop thinking of yourself in terms of your degree or past job, which is a first step in seeing yourself as God sees you.
  • On the spiritual side, a retreat or novena is an excellent way-used by many great saints-to ask God for help. You might try an online novena or a book of novenas; I like this one: The Church’s Most Powerful Novenas. Fr. Michael Gaitley, M.I.C. has written several retreats-in-a-book that are excellent; just go to your favorite book resource and enter his name. I have also used several different books to complete a consecration to Jesus, through Mary. Since I haven’t found a “bad” one yet and since such things tend to be personal preference, just do an online search or web retailer search for “St. Louis de Montfort Consecration to Mary”.

April 2020: The Saints’ Secrets to Facing Calamities

Attributed to Joshua Benoliel. This file has been extracted from another file: ChildrensofFatima.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56150014

Since the COVID-19 virus has begun to spread globally, many Catholics have remembered the two young visionaries of Fatima in Portugal: Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Both died during the Spanish flu pandemic in the early twentieth century, so they are great intercessors to help us pray for an end to our own pandemic. But there’s much more that the saints can do besides praying for us from Heaven: we can learn from them while here on earth. More specifically, the saints from the month of April can teach us many lessons to help us respond to the problems that we’re currently facing.

People like to focus on the fact that Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), whose feast day is April 29, influenced the decisions of popes. But she was still only an unknown young woman living in her hometown when she began serving the sick. Catherine had no illusions that she would be safe from contracting the diseases of those she cared for, and she later told her followers that, while daily attending a woman with leprosy, she saw the signs of the disease on her own body. But she accepted this horrifying disease with peace before (according to her) God miraculously and completely healed her. We can thank God for that too, because sparing Catherine from an early death gave her time to deepen in her spiritual life. This not only blessed the people of her time through her personal example but has helped generations of future Catholics through the writings she left behind.

There are many reasons to consider Pope Saint Pius V (1504-1572) one of our greatest popes. But as we remember him on April 30, perhaps we can focus on his strength and leadership in the face of a seemingly impossible problem: the imminent invasion of Europe by Muslims. We may remember the Battle of Lepanto as a great victory that saved Europe and Christianity from invasion, but the battle was far from an easy one. Virtually everyone in Europe thought they were outmanned and outgunned by Islamic forces, and when the Christians later claimed the victory was a miracle, that’s because it was. This victory was primarily the result of one man negotiating, pleading, and working for years to unite the many different and disorganized leaders of Christian nations to fight together and protect their people. That one man’s secret was his rock-solid faith in God. On the day of battle, Pius V united all of Christendom by asking them to pray for the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and the impossible became possible.

Saint Lidwina of Schiedam in Holland (1380-1433), while not a commonly known saint, shouldn’t be overlooked on her feast day, April 14. After a fall on the ice at the age of fifteen (depicted below), she suffered from many incurable and painful medical problems throughout her life. At the same time, God blessed her with visions and miracles. Modern studies point out that her symptoms sound a lot like multiple sclerosis, an unknown disease at the time, but the inexplicable nature of her condition led to vicious rumors that she was not sick but possessed by the devil. Lidwina could have been bitter or angry over her pain, her illness, and her social isolation; instead, she patiently waited for God to sort out truth from fiction. And, of course, He did, since she’s now considered a saint of the Church.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=245090

Saint Francisco Marto’s feast day is April 4, the date of his death at the age of ten. Francisco and his sister aren’t considered saints merely because they saw apparitions; they were recognized as saints because of the holy, penitential way they lived and died during their short lives. Most particularly, Francisco took to heart the message he had heard and seen directly from Our Lady of Fatima, and he willingly accepted little penances, even while he was sick and dying, for his own salvation and for the sake of sinners.

Fear of contracting an illness, fear of a seemingly impossible situation, fear of isolation, and fear of death are not modern inventions. They’re as old as Adam and Eve. But our all-too-human fears of today deserve Christian responses, as the saints have taught us in the past. What all four of these saints possessed in abundance—and what the world will always lack—is what will help us face COVID-19 and every other calamity. That “something” is as simple and as profound as one little word: trust. When we place our trust in God—while humbly accepting the help provided by medicine, technology, and other people—we will not only know the secrets of the saints, we will know the peace that God gives to those who love Him.

Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?

James 2:5

COVID-19 Versus the 14 Holy Helpers

By © Ralph Hammann – Wikimedia Commons – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16543825

Sooner or later, every adult has this experience. What appeared to be a routine doctor’s visit turns out to be something life-changing. Or a meeting with the boss ends with a layoff notice. Or a conversation with a friend or family member goes horribly wrong. You walk away in a daze, with the world turned upside down. It’s as if the guard rails on life itself are no longer there, or as if the next step you take might be out in midair, with nothing to catch you.

COVID-19 has done something very similar to all of us. Our ordinary lives have been turned upside down, seemingly overnight. Fortunately, as Catholics, we can say with the author of Ecclesiastes (1:9) that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Whatever might seem new to us has already been encountered by faithful believers who lived before us, and we can learn from them.

The most obvious historical corollary to our current pandemic is the “Black Death”, the bubonic plague which devastated Europe in the fourteenth century and periodically recurred in other centuries up until the twentieth. Thirty to sixty percent of Europe died during the largest outbreaks, and it took a few centuries for the world’s population to recover. Those statistics sound frightening, but how did the Catholics of that time handle this terrible event?

The people of that time didn’t have our modern medical knowledge to combat this deadly disease, but they used what they had. Other people turned to superstition, pagan practices, and mob violence. Some chose the “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die,” (see Luke 12:19) approach, which never solves anything, except as a general anesthetic. Some simply despaired.

But not the saints.

In all times and places, the saints of the Church can serve us as guard rails when there seem to be none, guiding hands when we’re lost, and intercessors for us with the God who has already counted every hair on our heads and knows exactly how all this will play out in the end.

In our modern world, opponents of Catholicism commonly characterize the Church as a male-dominated, insensitive hierarchy out of touch with ordinary people. The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a perfect example of how that characterization is perfectly wrong.

It wasn’t a bishop or a pope who came up with the idea of the Fourteen Holy Helpers—fourteen particular saints to call upon for help from the unknown and deadly disease—it was ordinary Catholics. That is, men and women who were in fear for their lives turned to the lives of the saints to seek help from God during a difficult time. The names and number of saints wasn’t magic or the result of an apparition; it was the heartfelt prayers of faithful Catholics who knew their saints as real people and who needed help with specific problems.

Bubonic plague is not only a deadly disease; it’s a painful one. Who would understand the aches and pains of the Black Death better than these early Church martyrs who died in excruciating pain?

  • Saint Eustace was a second century convert to the faith from paganism before dying a martyr by being burned alive in a bronze bull.
  • Saint Denis was a third century bishop of Paris whose success at converting pagans caused him to be arrested, tortured, and executed.
  • Saint Blaise was a fourth century bishop and martyr; his most famous miracle involved saving a boy from death who had a fishbone stuck in his throat.
  • Saint Erasmus was fourth century bishop and martyr who was tortured by having his intestines wound around a windlass.
  • Saint Vitus was a fourth century Christian with a reputation for being a wonderworker who was executed by being boiled to death in oil.
  • Saint Margaret of Antioch was a virgin-martyr who may also have been tortured by being thrown into boiling oil; the year of her death is uncertain, but tradition says that when she survived the burning oil, she was beheaded.
  • Saint Barbara was a third century woman who was killed by her own father with a sword for daring to become a Christian.
  • Saint Catherine of Alexandria was a fourth century virgin-martyr who was tortured on a toothed wheel before being killed.

It’s obvious that most of these saints were chosen because of the pain they endured during martyrdom. What about the others?

Who would know courage in the face of sudden, unexpected death better than a soldier? Then ask for help from Saint Acacius, a Roman soldier who was martyred in the early fourth century. Or Saint George, a fourth century martyr, probably from modern Palestine. Although we don’t have writings from ancient times indicating that George was also a knight, medieval stories of his life say that he was, so medieval Catholics would have considered him a perfect intercessor.

If you’re sick, why not ask Saint Pantaleon, a third century physician who died a martyr for the faith, for his professional help? If you’re afraid of a disease that can harm anyone, powerful or poor, why not ask Saint Christopher? According to tradition, he was a third century martyr who wanted to serve the greatest king in the world, even serving the devil himself until he found out that Jesus was even stronger. If you’re afraid of the devil’s power to cause sickness, why not ask Saint Cyriacus, a fourth century nobleman-turned-deacon who performed exorcisms before he was martyred?

The only saint among the Fourteen Holy Helpers who was not an early Church martyr is Saint Giles. He was an eighth century hermit who was crippled by an injury, yet he became known as a wonderworker during his own lifetime through his prayers. After his death, the monastery built in his name became a famous shrine for the handicapped and poor.

Medieval Catholics knew that they were in a great battle with a silent killer, a disease that not only robbed them of their loved ones and their lives, but which created great fear, suffering, and hopelessness. They responded by begging God for help, particularly through faithful saints who could relate to their own current problems. They took courage from the example of saints of great courage and recognized that the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the healthy and the sick—all men and women—were in a bigger battle than the one with a physical illness.

In the end, they recognized that their lives were in God’s hands and that, whether life seemed certain or uncertain, the goal of very Christian is to end up with Him and in the company of the saints.

March 2020: A Month for Martyrs

Wikimedia Commons, National Museum in Warsaw / Public domain

The above painting shows our Blessed Mother with two women who were also mothers: Saints Perpetua and Felicity. These two women, along with many other men and women, died during the first four centuries after the birth of Christ and are commemorated during the month of March. What can we, as Christians, learn from the martyrs this month?

How dangerous would it be for six people to present themselves at your local church and say they wanted to become Catholic? In the year 203, in the city of Carthage (in modern Tunisia), that was not a safe request. Although the law against being a Christian was not always enforced at every time and place in the Roman empire, at this time and in this place, it was.

During a roundup of Christians in Carthage, a group of four men and two women were only catechumens when they were arrested. One of the four men wrote an account of their arrest and imprisonment, and a witness later added a description of the deaths of all six. The account that has come down to us over the centuries is particularly moving, as it describes how one of the women, Perpetua, was visited by her father while she was in prison. Her father pleaded with her to renounce her faith in Christ, broke down in tears, and pointed out that her baby would never even know his own mother if she continued to persist in calling herself a follower of Jesus Christ. Perpetua loved her family, but she loved God too, and she knew that He deserved all her heart. She and her companions remained faithful throughout their imprisonment and were executed by being thrown into an arena with wild animals. The crowds in the amphitheater cheered while they were killed; Perpetua and Felicity were gored by a wild bull before being beheaded with their companions. The biography of Saint Perpetua and her companions was so widely-read by early Christians that Saint Augustine of Hippo later had to remind people that it was not part of Sacred Scripture. The feast day of this group of martyrs is March 7.

During the reign of the Roman emperor Valerian, the Roman empire was under attack by various armies. Valerian probably thought he was just being a good Roman, a good pagan, and a good emperor when he demanded that all citizens, even Christians, offer sacrifices to the Roman gods. Priscus, Malchus, and Alexander were Christian hermits living in the desert of Caesarea (modern Israel) when they heard about the persecution. In the year 260, they entered the nearby city to encourage the Christian faithful, proclaimed themselves to be Christians, and peacefully faced torture and martyrdom. They are remembered on March 28.

A few decades later, in the year 303, the Roman emperor Diocletian unleashed one of the most bitter and violent persecutions that the Church ever faced. We know that a group of Christians living in Caesarea (modern Israel) died together in that year (and presumably on their feast day, March 24), but we only know the names of six of them: Agapius, Alexander, Dionysius, Pausis, Romulus, and Timolaus.

Although the Roman emperor Constantine legalized the practice of Christianity in the year 313, his co-emperor, Licinius, reversed that order in the part of the empire that he ruled in the year 320. Licinius was about to fight an unsuccessful war for control of the empire against Constantine, but his word was law in his own territory. So when the local ruler ordered the Roman army stationed in Sebaste, Armenia, to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, forty Christian soldiers of the Thunderstruck Legion refused. In the bitter cold, the men were ordered to strip off their clothes and lie on a frozen lake, with a huge bath of hot water waiting temptingly for them nearby. One man gave in, raced to the bath, and died instantly. Another soldier, seeing the bravery of the Christians, stepped forward to replace the dead man. All forty men are commemorated as martyrs on March 9.

In the year 339, Christians living in Alexandria, Egypt, were put to death because of the persecution of Christians ordered by the Roman emperor Constantius; their feast day is March 21. In the year 392 in the same city of Alexandria, a group of Christians were attacked and killed by a mob of pagans who were outraged that the Christians refused to worship the god Serapis; their feast day is March 17.

What do we learn from this random sampling of Christian martyrs who died together for their faith in the same month but centuries apart? Perhaps most obviously, we’re struck by the fortitude of these Catholic men and women, despite the incredible brutality inflicted upon them by their own rulers and neighbors for the crime of being Christian.

On the other hand, it may surprise some people to learn that the deaths of many of these martyrs was unexpected. While there were certainly times when persecution was so pervasive that becoming a martyr was a constant threat, many men and women probably entered the Church in hopes that the violence would pass them by. Arrest came for each of them on a seemingly ordinary day, when there were so many good things to live for. But, of course, there was a better world waiting for them than the one they left behind.

Perhaps one of the best lessons to take from the stories of the martyrs is given to us by the world of art. While the lovely painting of Saints Perpetua and Felicity in Heaven with the Blessed Mother shown above is gorgeous and inspires us to want to join them in the beauty of their new home, a more realistic image of martyrdom (below) provides a different sort of inspiration. It helps us remain thankful for the much smaller sufferings that we undergo in our daily lives and to ask the martyrs to help us face those pains with the peace of Christ.

Wikimedia Commons, Foxe’s Christian Martyrs, Foxe, John, 1516-1587 / No restrictions

February 2020: Leap Day Saints

Gregorian calendar, 1582, Aloysius Lilius

Once every four years, February 29 appears on our calendars, and we celebrate leap day. The Catholic Church’s official collection of saints, the Martyrologium Romanum, only lists four saints on this date.

This is surprising since the number of entries for a given date in the Martyrologium ranges anywhere from a half dozen to almost two dozen—and some of those entries include large numbers of martyrs. (Note that there have been many collections of Catholic saints issued over the centuries; the first Martyrologium Romanum dates to 1583, and the latest revision is dated 2004 and available only in Latin.)

On the other hand, since leap days occur only once every four years, it’s not surprising that there aren’t many saints celebrated on this date. The Martyrologium lists all four of these saints on February 28 as well as February 29, encouraging us not to overlook them.

Why are these saints listed on a date that only occurs once every four years? Because that’s the date on which they died.

Auguste Chapdelaine (1814-1856) was a French priest who was sent as a missionary to China. After being robbed on the way and then arrested briefly by the authorities, he finally met the Catholic faithful in his assigned city, Yaoshan. He was able to live among the Chinese people, serve them as their priest, and bring others to the faith for about two years. When the government began a widespread persecution of Christians, he was imprisoned again, this time on the false charge of encouraging an insurrection against the government. When he failed to recant or pay the hefty fine imposed upon him, he was tortured and imprisoned in an iron cage before finally being condemned to death. He died a martyr for the faith on leap day in 1856.

Long before him, Pope Hilary (sometimes called Hilarus or Hilarius) died of natural causes on this date in the year 468. He was the forty-sixth pope, and he is best remembered for building a church dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist, whom he credited for his narrow escape from an attack instigated by supporters of the Monophysite heresy in 449. Hilary not only remembered Saint John’s intercession and protection; he remembered the dangers of this heresy and its supporters and formally condemned the heresy when he became pope.

The two other saints commemorated on this date are: Blessed Antonia of Florence (1400-1472), a wife, mother, widow, and later a Poor Clare nun; and Saint Oswald of Worcester (d. 992), who became archbishop of York but was best remembered for daily washing the feet of the poor.

But leap day means more to the Church than the celebration of a handful of saints. While we moderns tend to think of leap day as more of a scientific oddity than anything else, we forget that dates matter to us Catholics too. We also tend to believe that the accurate determination of the calendar is something that has only been made possible by modern science.

But that’s wrong. A major reform the calendar was ordered by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C., under the advice of prominent mathematicians and astronomers of the time. The Roman Empire changed the calendar—now called the Julian calendar after him—so that the calendar would more accurately match the sun’s behavior. Failing to properly calculate the length of the year had gradually allowed the calendar to creep away from the true date. The date on the calendar that should have been the shortest day of the year, for example, wasn’t the shortest day of the year.

This caused all sorts of problems in the ancient world. Politicians adjusted the calendar as they saw fit to extend their time in office, ordinary people living away from big cities couldn’t accurately know the correct date, and intermediate adjustments to the calendar had only made things worse. The Julian calendar fixed all that.

Well, it fixed the problem for a while. By the sixteenth century, the calendar had slowly shifted again, all because it takes the earth 365.2422 days to travel around the sun, not 365.25 days. During the pontificate of Pope Gregory XIII, this problem had become so pronounced that ten erroneous days needed to be removed from the calendar. There was also a minor adjustment made to leap days; only centurial years that are multiples of four (i.e., the years 2000, 2400, 2800, etc.) include leap days as a result of the Gregorian calendar. While there were certainly pragmatic reasons for Pope Gregory to make this pronouncement in the year 1582—such as international stability, agricultural calculations, and basic communication between communities—there was a much more important reason.

As the Baltimore Catechism teaches us, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” That is, although it’s certainly good for farmers to know the correct date so they can plant crops, the Church cares about the calendar primarily because human beings need to have accurate knowledge of earthly time so that they can be better prepared for Heaven. After all, in the Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the entry for Time simply says, “See Eternal Life.” As Catholics, we care about the calendar because God has called us to know, love, and serve Him every single day of our lives, in preparation for the last day of our lives. And for some holy men and women, that great day occurred on a leap day.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Protector of the University of Cusco

January: A Month for Saintly Teachers

Does every diocese in the world celebrate Catholic Schools Week during the last week of January or just mine? It’s certainly the perfect time to do so. After all, the calendar of saints practically demands that we celebrate the teaching profession in late January.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Protector of the University of Cusco

For example, the Church’s official calendar of saints, the 2004 Martyrologium Romanum,[1] celebrates these holy men and women, one right after another:

  • January 23: Saint Marianne Cope (1838-1918) was the mother superior of a home and school for lepers on Molokai (USA).
  • January 24: Saint Francis de Sales was an influential French bishop whose excellent writings explaining the faith brought many Protestants back to the Church in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
  • January 25: One of the greatest saints in the history of the Church, Saint Paul the Apostle, whose writings have taught every Christian about Christ, celebrates his conversion to the faith on this date.
  • January 26: First century Saints Timothy and Titus show us the power of a great teacher; both of these men gave their lives to Christ as priests and evangelists because of the encouragement of Saint Paul.
  • January 27: Saint Angela Merici did the unthinkable in fifteenth century Italy when she, a mere woman, began teaching religion and other subjects to children.
  • January 28: Saint Thomas Aquinas’ achievements as a scholar and writer changed the worlds of Catholic theology and philosophy forever, and his personal brilliance has made him the patron of students hoping to emulate his phenomenal memory (particularly while taking tests).
  • January 29: Saint Gildas the Wise was a sixth century hermit and abbot who helped his monks grow in holiness and was one of the earliest British historians.
  • January 30: Saint Mucian Mary Wiaux (1841-1917) was a simple lay brother who was given the chore of teaching art to students at his order’s school; his students were profoundly affected by his prayerfulness, but also by the way that his gentleness and compassion as a teacher brought out the best in them.
  • January 31: Saint John Bosco was a nineteenth century priest who devoted his life to the care and education of boys in his native Italy and formed an order which spread all over the world.

Our modern world thinks of teaching as a career; the saints saw it as a vocation, a calling by God to help other people, particularly children, grow in wisdom. Far from today’s emphasis on education as a means of simple economic advancement or personal pride, the Catholic understanding of education sees something far more profound.

Saintly teachers certainly recognized that educating children in the fundamentals—teaching them to read and learn basic math skills—better enabled them to support themselves as adults, protect their own families, and become better citizens. But every culture has its own challenges for young people. The leper colony on Molokai, Hawaii, was a place without hope until Saint Damien de Veuster arrived, and the school that Saint Marianne founded with him enabled children with leprosy—children who could never leave that island—to learn about the world beyond the sea that surrounded them. Saint Angela Merici’s Italy was a world of warring cities and education only for the rich. She made it possible for girls to learn about God and building happy families. Saint John Bosco had learned magic tricks and gymnastics when he was young as a means of drawing other boys to Church to worship God; in the trying economic times of nineteenth century Italy, he brought boys into his group homes and schools so that they could become good Catholic men, rather than roaming the streets as unemployed pickpockets, thieves, and worse. Saint Mucian Wiaux was given the task of teaching art because he was a bit too gentle for more demanding subjects—some said he couldn’t control the classroom at times—but in small groups, through one-on-one instruction, he literally changed the lives of his students simply by showing them Christ-like love.

Every teacher worthy of the name should communicate truth; Jesus is, literally, the Truth. The wisdom, knowledge, and power of God literally poured out from Christ’s lips when He spoke in Galilee and Judea, and that same truth pours itself out when we draw close to Him. Saint Gildas’ treatise on the history of Britain in the sixth century is still studied today—there are no other historical accounts from that time period—but sometimes criticized because he wrote it with an axe to grind. His goal in writing? To convince his countrymen, like a prophet of the Old Testament, that their current problems were the results of their sins and failures to live as true Christians.

To say that Saint Thomas Aquinas communicated truth is a fact hardly worth mentioning. Although there are a few theological, philosophical, and moral issues that he supported in his writings that are not in keeping with current Church teaching (he didn’t see the necessity of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, for example), in almost every other matter, Thomas’s writing is often put forward to precisely explain Church teaching. One simple example: we are still singing the hymn he wrote for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi seven centuries later. One could say that Saint Thomas’s life was devoted to communicating truths to lead people to Christ the Truth.

But ultimately, these saints knew that the greatest gift was Christ Himself, who told His apostles to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.”[2] Saints Paul, Timothy, and Titus were obedient to that command. Paul taught the good news of salvation through his missionary journeys, his personal example, and his letters. In his letters to Timothy and Titus, he teaches them how to do the same; tradition says that both men, like Paul, “died with their boots on”, engaged in evangelizing the world for Christ.

But today’s world is not unlike the world of Saint Francis de Sales, a world that has rejected the Church because it thinks it has better answers. January is the perfect month to both thank holy teachers for fulfilling their vocations to bring truth to those around them—and to remember that we are all still students who should be studying for our “final exam” before God Himself. All you saintly teachers, pray for us!


Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Thomas_Aquinas,_Protector_of_the_University_of_Cusco.jpg

[1] Martyrologium Romanum, Editio Altera, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2004 (note that this is available only in Latin).

[2] Mark 16:15.