Friday, December 31, 2010
Since I've visited St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City three times in my life, the final resting place of St. Peter the Apostle, I like to think it increases my chances of getting into Heaven since he holds the keys. Therefore, symbolically, I consider him the most appropriate saint to conclude my blog with.
St. Peter the Apostle was born Simon in Bethsaida c.1. He was a fisherman by trade and a disciple of Jesus who renamed him Peter meaning "rock" since he would be the foundation on which the church would be built. His brother was St. Andrew the Apostle.
Tradition says St. Peter the Apostle caught so many fish that he fell down in front of Jesus who told him not to be afraid because "from now on you will be catching men."
To Roman Catholics, St. Peter the Apostle was the first Bishop of Rome, Italy and first Pope from c.30 to c.64. He was with Jesus during the Transfiguration, the Last Supper, and the Passion. And, the Risen Christ appeared to him first.
When St. Peter the Apostle was crucified c.67 in Rome, he asked that it be done head downward because he felt he was not worthy of the same death as Jesus. His feast day is celebrated with St. Paul the Apostle on June 29 as the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
My cousin Anthony, age 51, recently informed me that he doesn't believe in everlasting life. Since he is one of the smartest people I've ever known, his disbelief in Heaven made me perk up and listen.
Did he feel this way because we grew up in a dysfunctional family? Was I a fool for believing? Afterall, someone I hold in the highest regard was saying there's nothing after we die.
Anthony gave me this explanation:
"Many people, and maybe you are one of them, need to believe that everything happens for a reason - that everything is part of the grand plan of some benevolent being...and that even the terrible things that befall us, would make sense if we only knew God's plan, which of course, we never will. I understand why people want to believe this and how comforting it would be to think there is a good reason for horrible things - I just don't believe it."
My cousin continued:
"I don't take many things on faith. I believe in evolution and I think man created religion and God to control other men - what better way to do that than telling people the meek shall inherit the Earth or your reward will come in the next life? That's how you get folks to behave and keep the 'have-nots' from massacre-ing the 'haves.' If poor people thought that this life was all there is, do you think they'd accept their poverty? I think not."
Anthony said animals live and die: some live long lives, some get hit by cars as babies, and some get eaten by predators. That we don't have to believe all those early deaths happen for a reason. We accept they're animals and that is their fate. So he asks why can't we accept that we are animals too, and things happen to us just as randomly, good or bad?
"The fact that our brains are of a higher order, doesn't change what happens when we die as opposed to all other animals, at least not in my mind," he concluded. "And the fact that we can imagine there is a God, doesn't mean there is one."
Maybe I would have agreed with Anthony many years ago, but as I've said earlier, when I saw the robe and sandals of St. Francis of Assisi, at age 26, that all changed. I know there is everlasting life.
Since Anthony lives in New Hampshire, I felt I should write about the state's patron saint, Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
I didn't realize the significance of it at the time, but when I was just 27-years-old, I wandered into the Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome, Italy, and my eyes met the amazing icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It is there under the care of the Redemptorist Fathers.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, with a solemn expression, wears the traditional blue veil and mantle. The baby Jesus hugs her.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help's message is "You can come to me."
The Byzantine icon is thought to have been painted in the 13th century although the artist is unknown and many historians feel it was made in Crete. To the left, is St. Michael the Archangel, holding the lance and sponge from the Crucifixion, and at right is St. Gabriel the Archangel with a three-bar Cross and nails, respectively.
The feast day of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is June 27.
"O Mother of Perpetual Help, grant that I may ever invoke thy most powerful name, which is the safeguard of the living and the salvation of the dying. O Purest Mary, O Sweetest Mary, let thy name henceforth be ever on my lips. Delay not, O Blessed Lady, to help me whenever I call on thee, for, in all my needs, in all my temptations I shall never cease to call on thee, ever repeating thy sacred name, Mary, Mary."
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
(St. Paul the Apostle)
Since I started writing "A Sinner's Guide to the Saints," at the beginning of the year, I've encountered people of all faiths who have expressed an interest in my blog. They want to know what inspired me, ask me specific questions, or are eager to tell their own stories about Roman Catholic saints.
But, perhaps one of the most interesting things I've noticed is that many lapsed Catholics, who claim they will never go to Mass again and bash the church, are hooked on my blog.
Since I only have three entries left, I feel compelled to mention a letter I just finishing reading in the local Catholic newspaper by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, my homestate. It's one of the most insightful things I've read all year. In it, Bishop Tobin encourages "inactive Catholics" to return to the church.
He doesn't say former Catholic because once you're baptized a Catholic, you're one for life (your soul is infused with Catholic DNA). And, forget fallen Catholic. Bishop Tobin states it reminds him of someone falling out of a tree or off a fence.
Next, he states four reasons that people are inactive Catholics, myself included. I think I fall under #4. (#1 doesn't apply to me because I tend to make my own rules.)
1. You disagree with the teachings and practices of the church. (Matters of faith and morals aren't negotiable. They can't be changed. They were given to us by Christ. He encourages readers to understand what the church teaches and why.)
2. You found it boring and didn't get anything out of it. (He agrees that sometimes church leaders haven't fed the flock very well, haven't provided sound and challenging teaching and preaching, and haven't very kind or welcoming. He also apologizes, then says it's not all about us. It's about God and we should go to Mass to ask forgiveness, thank him, pray for others, and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ adding you can't do that anywhere else.)
3. You left the church because another member of the church offended or disappointed you. (He says that bishops and priests included are completely human and often make statements that are unacceptable or even immoral. We belong to a community of sinners and that the virtue of forgiveness is an essential part of Christian life. He suggests we give it another try.)
4. You left the church because of your own spiritual laziness. (The ball's in our court. We must think about our relationship with God and understand how important the church is in helping us fulfill our God-given potential. It was founded by Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit. He says that the church has much to offer and if we feel it's imperfect in serving its mission, in serving the Lord, and caring for one another, perhaps we can help it to do better.)
Bishop Tobin concludes by saying that inactive Catholics should return to the church and if there's an issue or problem to contact our local parish or him. Again, his letter was brilliant.
St. Paul the Apostle is a patron saint of many things including the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island and evangelists. He was born c.5 in Tarsus, Turkey.
St. Paul the Apostle was known as Saul the Jew and persecuted Christians. On his way to Syria one day between the years 33 and 36, he was struck to the ground and blinded by a heavenly light. The message was that by persecuting Christians, he was persecuting Christ.
He then changed his ways. St. Paul the Apostle was baptized a Christian and spent the rest of his life teaching the words of Christ. Thirteen of his epistles are in the New Testament. He was beheaded in Rome, Italy c.67.
St. Paul the Apostle shares his feast day, June 29, with St. Peter as the Solemnity of Saints Peter and St. Paul.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Just before my grandfather passed away in 1979, he told the family that he only wanted to be in the funeral parlor for the shortest time possible because it gave him the creeps. This was an educated man who was a registered architect.
My grandfather was always afraid of the dead. So, to honor his wish, his wake was one night instead of two which was the tradition in those days.
My grandmother would tell me stories about how she'd have to accompany him to the basement of the centuries-old house they lived in during the 1940s, when the boiler went out. And, once it was fixed, my grandfather would run upstairs and leave her behind.
I've heard people say that if you're afraid, to make the Sign of the Cross and you'll be safe. As a child, we always had a crucifix in each bedroom and rosary beads had to be blessed before they could be brought into the house.
Evil spirits or ghosts creep people out for a variety of reasons. I wouldn't want to see a ghost because I'd be afraid it would hurt me or the simple fact that it would be startling.
But, many people fear seeing one because they think it means their own death is soon to follow. I recently read an account where one woman felt the ghost of her dead mother was keeping her from finding a husband. And, I have to draw the line at this one, but another woman was afraid she'd be impregnated by a ghost. (Could this be from watching "Rosemary's Baby" too many times?)
Christians believe that evil spirits are fallen angels and the Roman Catholic Church says that angels and demons are real beings.
We all have our own superstitions about evil spirits. And, back in 2nd century, people were no different. That is when St. Demetrius of Sermium, the patron saint against evil spirits, lived. He was raised by rich Christian parents in Thessalonia.
St. Demetrius of Sermium was a soldier and a deacon. Then, when it was discovered he was a Christian, he was imprisoned in a bathhouse (sounds like fun to me). Eventually, he was martyred.
St. Demetrius of Sermium had a bit of a revival 300 years after his death when he appeared to soldiers during a battle in 586. His feast day is Oct. 8.
Monday, December 27, 2010
(Blessed Teresa of Calcutta)
We were hit by a blizzard during the night. And, as much as I enjoyed listening to the wind howling wildly from the confines of my loft bedroom, I knew there was a chance that the power might go out. I kept watching the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle all the while hoping that work would be cancelled in the morning. Then, I fell asleep.
Today, I awoke to the disaster of more than a foot of drifted snow. I drive a small sporty car, so forget four-wheel drive. I had my work cut out for me with at least three feet of snow between where I was parked and the street. But, I didn't panic.
It has been said that timing is everything and I lucked out. A town worker was driving by in a snowplow just as I was about to dig my car out. I waved him over and he gave me the thumbs up sign.
Without hesitating, he plowed me out and went on his way. Someone I didn't even know took the time to help me. And, that kindness stayed with me throughout the day.
St. Guy of Anderlecht is a patron saint of laborers. He was born into a life of poverty in Aderlecht, Belgium c.950. All that he knew was poverty and he spent his time helping others less fortunate.
During the day, St. Guy of Anderlecht tended the fields and, oftentimes, his guardian angel would work the plow so that he could pray.
He spent so much time at church that his parish priest named him the sacristan. St. Guy of Anderlecht began investing in a trading venture, but when that fell through, he felt he was being punished. So, he went to Rome, Italy for penance. Then, he travelled to Jerusalem to work as a guide for pilgrims.
St. Guy of Anderlecht died on his way back to Belgium in 1012. He is also a patron saint of convulsive children and horned animals. His feast day is September 12.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
If getting out of Purgatory isn't hard enough, we Roman Catholics believe that when Jesus comes again at the end of the world, everybody who ever lived will be judged. So, that's two times. Or is it?
What most concerns me, is who will be on this planet when Jesus returns? And, if the Last Judgment takes place in eternity, where there is no sense of time, is there a chance that the two judgments might take place simultaneously?
It's not something that I care to think about at this point in my life because the possibilities of what it could mean are endless. For now, I'll let St. Odilo of Cluny take care of it, as he is the patron saint of the souls in Purgatory.
He was born in France in c.692 and became an abbot at the monastery in Cluny at age 32. St. Odilo of Cluny is credited with establishing the feast of All Souls Day on November 2.
To help feed the poor, it is said that he sold riches that were found within the monastery. St. Odilo of Cluny died in Souvigny c.1048.
Within a day or two of my family members dying (in particular, my maternal grandmother and my mother), I felt an overwhelming sense that they were in Heaven. It's not something that I was even thinking about at the time which makes it even more remarkable.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Many people I encountered this month said they weren't in the spirit of the season, it didn't feel like Christmas, or they were depressed about the holiday. Why did they feel this way?
No matter what happens to me throughout the year, as soon as Advent comes along, I am ready to put up a Christmas tree, decorate the house, send cards, do more baking, and listen to Christmas carols. All of these things are a comfort to me at a time that can be sad or stressful.
We remember our loved ones who are no longer with us to celebrate and worry about not having enough money to buy presents. My deceased family members would want me to recall happy times, not cry about them. And, as far as money, if I plan wisely during the year, I'm debt free when it comes time for holiday shopping.
I am definitely a kid at heart and although I never force others to be happy at Christmas, I try to bring a little bit of joy to people I know are hurting.
It's the middle of the night right now which is thought to be the time of Christ's birth. Tradition says he was born in a stable with farm animals. St. Francis of Assisi is recognized for creating the first living nativity.
In 1223, he was in the tiny hill town of Grecio, Italy about to celebrate Midnight Mass and discovered that the chapel in the Franciscan hermitage was too small to fit everyone. So, St. Francis of Assisi received permission from the sovereign Pontiff to create an outdoor altar and manger. He gathered hay, an ox, an ass, and sheep to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus.
In "St. Francis and the Christmas Creche" by Rev. William Saunders, he writes that "although the story is long old the message is clear to us... May we never forget to see in our hearts the Little Babe of Bethlehem, who came to save us from sin."
(The image above is by James Christensen.)
Friday, December 24, 2010
The magic of Christmas is still with me as an adult. Long before DVDs were invented, my dad would record A Charlie Brown Christmas television special so that my older brother and I could listen to the audio over and over and over during the month of December.
I loved to go outside and look at the bright, twinkling lights that decorated the houses and yards of our neighbors. And, I will never forget the trips to LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro, Mass. to view the annual Christmas lights and burn colorful prayer candles.
I was thrilled as a child to get our Christmas tree. It would have to stay on the porch overnight so that the branches opened up. My dad would not budge when I'd ask each year that we decorate it that night.
But, the most important part of Christmas Eve was the Feast of the Seven Fishes at my grandparent's home, a commemoration of the wait for the birth of Jesus. I hate seafood, however being half Italian-American, I could not escape it. My mother would have to cook her contribution of fish at my grandmother's house because I did not want it to smell up our house or my hair.
There was always plenty of pizza and broccoli rabe available for me and my 13 cousins, if we didn't want to each the fish or spaghetti and clam sauce that was readily available.
As this blog will come to a close on Dec. 31, 2010, I would like to say that Christmas Eve stands out as one of the most important days for me as a Roman Catholic. We always went to Mass at 5:15 p.m. at St. Michael's Church in Georgiaville. When I got older, I would walk with my cousins Dorothy, Melanie, and Isabel to St. Lawrence Church in Centredale. And, Christmas caroling would follow.
Most important, tonight I remember the words of St. Luke: "Suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared, with the angel praising God and saying "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
Thursday, December 23, 2010
My former landlord, Phil, an older bachelor, died unexpectedly at the end of October from a heart attack. He was a self-proclaimed collector of junk, so it took his family several weeks to empty out his house and storage unit.
I saw his niece, Amanda, today and she was still devastated and in shock over the loss of her uncle. I told her I understood because when I was teenager, my Uncle Vinnie dropped dead from a heart attack at age 44. When someone close to you dies, they stay with you for the rest of your life.
Amanda told me that Phil was cremated and it got me to thinking about how as a Roman Catholic, it's against the rules. In part, it goes back to the times of the early Christian martyrs. Roman emperors scattered their ashes to ridicule Christian belief in the Resurrection.
Nowadays, it is required that, in most cases, the body of the deceased be brought in the church for the Mass of Christian Burial.
Can you rise to Heaven in a destroyed body? I suppose a cremated person has just as much a chance as a decomposed body. Because St. Thomas the Apostle (Doubting Thomas) felt the wounds of Jesus after he was resurrected, he is convinced that we will all rise to Heaven in the perfect body.
I recall my dad telling me that we will be around age 33 in Heaven, the age Jesus was when he died. This is considered the best possible age of our life. But, how can we all be the same age?
It is said that we will have an identity with those we had in earthly life, although we may not be immediately recognized as was the case when St. Thomas the Apostle encountered Jesus.
For now, I'd like to forget about the whole thing and think happy thoughts. But, I would like to remember St. Victoria whose feast day is today. She was martyred, so there is the possibility her ashes were scattered.
St. Victoria refused to marry a nobleman so was thrown in prison and starved. (Imagine if that happened today? Half the male population would be behind bars.) She refused to sacrifice herself to pagan gods and was eventually stabbed through the heart at Monteleone Sabino, Italy in 250.
(The image above is from saintscards.com)
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
My friend, Nancy, is an artist who specializes in intricate bead work and is a well known member of a local Indian tribe. Her art requires excellent vision, so three years ago, when she was almost legally blind as a result of an intestinal disease, she was devastated.
Her friend is an acupunturist to international celebrities and lives in Paris, France. And Nancy thought she had nothing to lose by seeing her (excuse the pun) for treatment, although she was apprehensive about the whole idea of it.
"I thought God was playing tricks on me," Nancy said after the treatment. "I could see again and wasn't even wearing my glasses."
When she returned to her doctor in the United States, he was baffled. He had never seen anything like it. She was cured.
What Nancy experienced was a miracle. And, sometimes, miracles happen to those who don't believe. Her faith was restored although she's not sure if it was the acupunture or God that helped her.
There are many patron saints of eye disease, blind people, and eye patients, with St. Lucy being the most notable. It doesn't matter who you invoke, they will work just the same.
St. Deochar was born in 8th century Bavaria. He found peace living alone in the forests. A Benedictine monk and the first abbot of Herriedon Abbey, he is responsible for healing a young boy's blindness. St. Deochar is a patron saint of blind people and eye patients. He died in 847 and his feast day is July 7.