Category Archives: Saints

Martyrdom of St John the Baptist

head-of-st-john-the-baptist-1600-1650-cleveland-museum_of_artOur remembrance today of the Baptist’s martyrdom calls to mind that we are baptized not only with water but also in the fire of the Holy Spirit. Today, I keenly recall that we are in fact, unfit to untie the Lord’s sandals. That we need the Spirit to cry Ecce in front of the person of Jesus. What further does this killing of the cousin of the Lord teach us? What value does our memorial have in reality for us today?

Benedict XVI said, “celebrating the martyrdom of St John the Baptist reminds us too, Christians of this time, that with love for Christ, for his words and for the Truth, we cannot stoop to compromises. The Truth is Truth; there are no compromises. Christian life demands, so to speak the “martyrdom” of the daily fidelity to the Gospel, the courage, that is, to let Christ grow within us and let him be the One who guides our thoughts and actions” (August 29, 2012).

St Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo was an early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy.

Aurelius Augustinus was born in 354 in Tagaste (modern-day Souk Ahras, Algeria) to a Christian mother and a pagan father, raised in Roman north Africa, educated in Carthage, and employed as a professor of rhetoric in Milan by 383. He followed the Manichaean religion in his student days, and was converted to Christianity by the preaching and example of Ambrose of Milan. He was baptized at Pascha in 387, and returned to north Africa and created a monastic foundation at Tagaste for himself and a group of friends. In 391 he was ordained a priest in Hippo Regius (now Annaba, in Algeria). He became a famous preacher (more than 350 preserved sermons are believed to be authentic), and was noted for combatting the Manichaean heresy.

In 396 he was made coadjutor bishop of Hippo (assistant with the right of succession on the death of the current bishop), and remained as bishop in Hippo until his death in 430. He left his monastery, but continued to lead a monastic life in the episcopal residence. He left a Rule (Regula in Latin) for his monastery that has led him to be designated the “patron saint of Regular Clergy,” that is, parish clergy who live by a monastic rule.

Augustine died on August 28, 430, during the siege of Hippo by the Vandals. He is said to have encouraged its citizens to resist the attacks, primarily on the grounds that the Vandals adhered to heretical Arian Christianity. (NS)

Ss Martha, Mary and Lazarus

Benedictines celebrate today as the memorial of Saints Mary, Martha and Lazarus- Hosts of the Lord. Models par excellence of what the Rule of Saint Benedict says about receiving guests as Christ Himself. Divine revelation, likewise, reveals to us that the Lord was received by his friends to tomb of Lazarus, but before this point, he was received by the holy siblings to their home.
The Gospel today shows us the house at Bethany after Lazarus has been raised by Jesus. There is a dinner being prepared in the house of his dear friends. Martha is preparing the feast, Lazarus is at table and Mary takes a liter of costly perfumed oil and anoints Jesus’ feet most tenderly and dries them with her hair.

The Monastic Fathers attest to the fact that this gospel reading begs us all to take up the calling that all three live. A particular witness to this teaching is Saint Bernard who says that each monk (and by extension to the Oblate) must unite in himself “all three vocations: that of the penitent, the active worker and the contemplative.” We hear Jesus’ call to come out of the tomb of our sinfulness into the light of his mercy as did Lazarus. Likewise the call is lived when we serve one another in love as Martha. Moreover, we ought to attend to Jesus Christ, we listen (a virtue echoed by the Holy Rule) to his words and cherish them in our hearts like Mary. The three ways of love can  lead us to choose the “better part,” which Jesus promises shall not be taken from us.

St Irenaeus

St Irenaeus was born c.130 in Smyrna, Asia Minor (today modern Izmir, Turkey) and was martyred in 202 in Lyons, France; his tomb and relics were destroyed by Calvinists in 1562 but his head rests in Saint John’s Church, Lyons, France. Today the western Church liturgically recalls Irenaeus while the Orthodox Church liturgically recalls his memory on August 23.

History tells us that St Irenaeus was a disciple of St Polycarp of Smyrna. In 177, was ordained and later was the Bishop of Lugdunum, Gaul (modern Lyons, France).

His learning and prudence (discretion) identified him as a true “lover of peace” which is what his name implies. You might say that Irenaeus’ enduring legacy speaks to the fact that he worked and wrote against Gnosticism (see his work Against Heresies), basing his arguments on the works of St John the Apostle, whose Gospel is often cited by Gnostics. He is considered the first great Western ecclesiastical writer and theologian, who emphasized the unity of the Old and New Testaments, and of Jesus Christ’s simultaneous human and divine nature, and the value of tradition. The calls Irenaeus a “Father of the Church”. He is clearly among the “greats”.

As one said, “Emerging from the turmoil of the second century, the Church is indebted to Irenaeus for its catholic self-consciousness and its awareness of unity as reflected in the emergence of the canon of Scripture, the interpretation of prophecy, and apostolic succession.”

Fisher and More

“… many stood for Christ against the State, and they were felled for it – martyred for Faith in Jesus Christ and for clinging to the Truth he taught – Truth handed on faithfully from generation to generation by Christ’s holy Church. But of the hundreds who were martyred for the Catholic Faith from 1535 onwards, two are especially eminent, and they were the first to be canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1935. St John Fisher was the saintly Bishop of Rochester, Chancellor of Cambridge University, Tutor to Henry VIII, Confessor to Lady Margaret,  mother of Henry VII. Erasmus considered him to be “incomparable for uprightness of life, for learning and for greatness of soul.” In short, he was an luminary of the Church. St Thomas More was a luminary of the State. He was Lord High Chancellor of England, a noted Humanist philosopher and lawyer, and a Scholar.

The combination of these two Saints reminds us that neither spiritual nor temporal lords could stand against the State and the will of the Crown. Nevertheless, both men remained steadfast in upholding the Truth of the Gospel, particularly concerning the indissolubility of Christian marriage. For their fidelity to Christ’s Word, they were executed in 1535, St John Fisher on this day (22 June), and St Thomas More on 6 July.

In our own time, the teaching of Christ on the permanence of Christian marriage, and thus the refusal to accept divorce, is largely seen as irrelevant or outdated. And, it appears, that some, even within the Catholic Church, regard this stance to be “rigid” and lacking in “mercy”. And yet, today’s Saints clung to the perennial teaching of Christ, and they were willing to die for this Truth. They died not simply as ‘conscientious objectors’ but, more fundamentally, as witnesses to the Truth of the Gospel. Truth is everlasting and it is not changed to suit us, but rather, we must conform to the Truth, above all, to the Person of Jesus Christ and to his teachings. Today’s Martyrs taught this with their lives.

Fr Lawrence Lew, OP
excerpt, homily for the feast of Ss. John Fisher and Thomas More, 2017

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]yahoo.com.
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