Category Archives: Saints

Saint Sylvester

St SylvesterOn this final day of the civil year Mother Church honors the memory of Pope Saint Sylvester, who guided the Church with his teaching and life during the persecutions of Diocletian, and during the period of Arianism and the Council of Nicæa. That his feast day is so close to Christmas ought to indicate to us that he had concern for the Christology of Catholic belief and life.

Pope Sylvester’s pontifical ministry saw the construction of great churches in Rome by Constantine, namely the basilica and baptistery of the Lateran near the former imperial Lateran palace where the pope lived (he now resides at the Vatican), the basilica of the Sessorian palace (the Basilica of Santa Croce where the relics of the holy passion are located), the first Church of St. Peter on Vatican Hill, and several cemeterial churches over the graves of martyrs.

More to the point for this blog, and the desire to live in a theology of communion, the sainted Pope contributed to the development of the sacred Liturgy of the Roman Church and drew together the first martyrology of Roman martyrs. Moreover, Sylvester established of the Roman school of chant and music.

Pope Saint Sylvester is buried at the Church connected with the Catacomb of Priscilla.

Saint Thomas Becket

St Thomas BecketSaint Thomas, son of an English nobleman, Gilbert Becket, was born on the day consecrated to the memory of Saint Thomas the Apostle, December 21, 1117, in Southwark, England. He was endowed by both nature and grace with gifts recommending him to his fellow men; and his father, certain he would one day be a great servant of Christ, confided his education to a monastery. His first employment was in the government of the London police. There he was obliged to learn the various rights of the Church and of the secular arm, but already he saw so many injustices imposed upon the clergy that he preferred to leave that employment rather than to participate in iniquity. He was perfectly chaste and truthful, and no snares could cause to waver his hatred for any form of covert action.

He was employed then by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent him on missions to Rome and permitted him to study civil law at the University of Bologna (Italy) for an entire year. After a few years, witnessing his perfect service, he made him his Archdeacon and endowed him with several benefices. The young cleric’s virtue and force soon recommended him also to the king, who made of him his Lord Chancellor. In that high office, while inflexible in the rendition of justice, he was generous and solicitous for the relief of misery. He was severe towards himself, spending the better part of every night in prayer. He often employed a discipline, to be less subject to the revolts of the flesh against the spirit. In a war with France he won the respect of his enemies, including that of the young king Louis VII. To Saint Thomas, his own sovereign, Henry II, confided the education of the crown prince. Of the formation of the future king and the young lords who composed his suite, the Chancellor took extreme care, knowing well that the strength of a State depends largely on the early impressions received by the elite of its youth.

When Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury died, the king insisted on the consecration of Saint Thomas in his stead. Saint Thomas at first declined, warning the king that from that hour their friendship would be threatened by his own obligations to uphold the rights of the Church against infringement by the sovereign, whose tendencies were not different from those of his predecessors. In the end he was obliged by obedience to yield. The inevitable conflict was not long in coming. Saint Thomas resisted when the king’s courtiers drew up a list of royal customs at Clarendon, where the parliament of the king was assembled, and Henry obliged all the bishops as well as the lords to sign a promise to uphold these without permitting any restrictions whatsoever. Many of these pretended customs violated the liberties of the Church, and some were even invented for the occasion. Saint Thomas, obliged in conscience to resist, was soon the object of persecution, not only from the irritated king but by all who had sworn loyalty to his nefarious doings.

Saint Thomas took refuge in France under the protection of the generous Louis VII, who resisted successfully the repeated efforts of Henry to turn away his favor from the Archbishop. The Pope at that time was in France, and he, too, was besieged by Henry’s emissaries, but knew well how to pacify minds and protect the defender of the Church. Thomas retired to a Benedictine monastery for two years, and when Henry wrote a threatening letter to its abbot, moved to another. After six years, his office restored as the Pope’s apostolic legate, a title which Henry had wrested from him for a time, he returned to England, to preach again and enforce order in his see. He knew well that it was to martyrdom that he was destined; it is related that the Mother of God appeared to him in France to foretell it to him, and that She presented him for that intention with a red chasuble. By this time the persecuted Archbishop’s case was known to all of Christian Europe, which sympathized with him and elicited from king Henry an appearance of conciliation.

A few words which the capricious Henry spoke to certain courtiers who hated Thomas, sufficed for the latter to decide to do away with the prelate who contravened all their unchristian doings. They violated a monastic cloister and chapel to enter there while he was assisting at Vespers; the Saint himself prevented the monks from resisting the assassins at the door. Refusing to flee the church as the assassins summoned him to do, he was slain before the altar, by cruel and murderous repeated blows on the head. He died, saying: I die willingly, for the name of Jesus and for the defense of the Church.

The actions of the Pope in this conflict make clear what all of history teaches: the lives of the Church’s Saints themselves comprise the history of the world. The humility of Thomas had prompted him, after a moment of weakness he had manifested in a difficult situation, to judge himself unfit for his office and offer his resignation as Archbishop. The Pope did not hesitate a moment in refusing his resignation. He judged with apostolic wisdom that if Thomas should be deprived of his rank for having opposed the unjust pretensions of the English royalty, no bishop would ever dare oppose the impingements of iniquity on the Church’s rights, and the Spouse of Christ would be no longer sustained by marble columns, but by reeds bending in the wind.

The martyred Archbishop was canonized by Pope Alexander III on Ash Wednesday, 1173, not yet three years after his death on December 29, 1170, to the edification of the entire Church.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 14

Saint John the Evangelist

the Evangelist JohnThe Beloved Disciple and Evangelist, Saint John, is honored by the Church in her Liturgy today. He’s known as “the Divine” and historically known as one of the sons of Zebedee, and his mother’s name was Salome [Matthew 4:21, 27:56; Mark 15:40, 16:1]. John’s date of death cannot be fixed with any precision, but we know he lived to an advanced age and he’s known not to have been martyred as the other Apostles were. Some have claimed he made his residence in Ephesus in 97.

Saint John is represented holding a chalice from which a dragon comes out,  as he is supposed to have been given poison, which was, however, neutralized. Today is a day on which we typically bless wine. The eagle also represents John and his gospel (look closely to the image here).

Who is the Beloved Disciple, John the Divine?

From biblical study we know that John and family lived on the shores of Galilee. The brother of Saint John, considerably older, was Saint James. The mention of the “hired men” [Mark 1:20], and of Saint John’s “home” [John 19:27], implies that Salome and her children were not impoverished

Saints John and James followed the Baptist when he preached repentance in the wilderness of Jordan. There can be little doubt that the two disciples, whom Gospel does not name (John 1:35), who followed when the Baptist exclaimed with prophetic utterance, “Behold the Lamb of God!” were Andrew and John. They followed and asked the Lord where he abided. “Come and see” is the famous line. From here they entered into a profound friendship with the Eternal Word of God.

When Jesus appeared on the shore early in the morning, John was the first to recognize him. The last words of the Gospel reveal the attachment which existed between the two apostles. Peter came to know his destiny and that of his friend –the Acts of the Apostles gives evidence that they are still connected as entered together as worshippers into the Temple [Acts 3:1], and later protesting the threats of the Sanhedrin [Acts 4:13].

It’s very likely that Saint John remained at Jerusalem until the death of Mary, though tradition of no great antiquity or weight asserts that he took her to Ephesus. The exact date when he went to Ephesus is uncertain; we know that he was at Jerusalem fifteen years after Saint Paul’s first visit there [Acts 15:6]. There is no trace of his presence there when Saint Paul was at Jerusalem for the last time.

Early Christian writers such as Saint Irenaeus write that Saint John did not settle at Ephesus until after the death the Apostles Peter and Paul. He certainly was not there when Timothy was appointed bishop of that place. Moreover, Jerome thinks he governed all the Churches of Asia.. During the persecution of Domitian John was taken to Rome, and was placed in a cauldron of boiling oil, outside the Latin gate, without the boiling fluid doing him any injury. [Eusebius makes no mention of this. The legend of the boiling oil occurs in Tertullian and in Jerome]. There are some biblical experts who say that John was sent to labor at the mines in Patmos. When Nerva became the political leader John  was set free, returned to Ephesus, and there it is thought that he wrote his gospel and had a hand in the composition of other letters. Of his zeal and love combined we have examples in Eusebius, based on the authority of Irenaeus, that  John once fled out of a bath on hearing that Cerinthus was in it, lest, as he asserted, the roof should fall in, ending his reign.

Saint Juan Diego

St Juan Diego Martha Orozco

The Church prays:

O God, Who, through Saint Juan Diego, did show forth the special love of the Most Holy Virgin Mary toward Your people, grant us, at his intercession, so to obey the admonitions given by our Mother of Guadalupe, that we may ever be able to carry out Your will.

Today’s liturgical memorial connects with the one for Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec 12) because it is Saint Juan Diego who recognizes and advocates for the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary when others doubted. Saint Juan Diego was the messenger of the Mother of God to the rest of humanity.

The tradition holds that on 9 December 1531, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an indigenous peasant, received a vision of a young woman while he was on a hill in the Tepeyac desert, near Mexico City. The beautiful lady told him to build a church exactly on the spot where they were standing. Wondering what this message meant, Juan Diego told the local bishop who asked for some proof. The vision happened a second time. But this time Juan Diego asked the lady to answer the bishop’s requirement of proof. The Lady told him to  “Bring the roses behind you.” When he opened his poncho, instead of roses, there was an image of the young lady in the vision. The tilma is now a relic of the experience in Mexico.

Is the gospel and teachings of the Church an integral part of your Christian life? Do you carry the message and manner of living commanded by God to others? Is there joy in the message? Is God’s will an important factor in life?

Patriarch Abraham

Holy Patriarch AbrahamThe feast of Abraham recalls the person, our father in monotheistic Judaism who opened the door to human faithfulness before the holiness of a God who revealed Himself to humanity in a new way. The holy Patriarch’s liturgical memorial is not celebrated in the Latin Church but in the Byzantine Church does so today. He is, however, recalled in the Roman Canon of the Mass and in several of the prayers used during the year. What we believe, and why we pray is expressed in the hymn texts of the Divine Liturgy. By looking at the liturgy we know what we believe and how to live. Here, the holy Patriarch Abraham is extolled a light to follow and a man of God who mediates for humanity before the Throne of Grace.

In the night universal of ignorance towards God, and in that starless, profound gloom bereft of heavenly light, you, O Abraham, were kindled in the firmament, burning with bright far-shining faith in the Everlasting light. Who shines forth to us from your seed, entreat Him with fervor, that He enlighten us and save our souls. (Troparion, Tone 1)

You were a servant, a mortal fashioned from the earth, your master was God, Lord and Fashioner of creation, yet, well-pleased to glorify your celestial greatness, the Lord of all called Himself the God of Abraham Procure for us mercies from your merciful God. (Kondak, Tone 2)

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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