Category Archives: Saints

Saint Sebastian

St SebastianAt this morning’s Mass the Church commemorated the memory of two early martyrs of the Faith, Saints Fabian and Sebastian. When we recited the entrance antiphon mention was made of not fearing the words of the godless and when the priest prayed the opening prayer I noted that through the intercession of these two martyrs we hope to progress in the communion of the faith and service in courage. I also was struck in the Letter to the Hebrews that the author exhorts us to hope in the promises of Jesus who is both our anchor and our priest. Indeed, God remembers his covenant. That’s the hope I rely upon.

Here is a piece on Sebastian:

Saint Sebastian was an officer in the Roman army, esteemed even by the pagans as a good soldier, and honored by the Church ever since as a champion of Jesus Christ. Born at Narbonne, Sebastian came to Rome about the year 284 and entered the lists against the powers of evil. He found the twin brothers Marcus and Marcellinus in prison for the faith, and when they were close to yielding to the entreaties of their relatives, encouraged them to despise flesh and blood, and to die for Christ. God confirmed his words by miracles: light shone around him while he spoke; he cured the sick by his prayers; and in this divine strength he led multitudes to the faith, among them the Prefect of Rome, with his son Tiburtius.

He saw his disciples die before him, and one of them came back from heaven to tell him that his own end was near. It was in a contest of fervor and charity that Saint Sebastian found the occasion of martyrdom. The Governor-Prefect of Rome was converted to the faith and afterwards retired to his estates in Campania, taking with him a great number of his fellow-converts to this place of safety. It was a question whether Polycarp the priest or Saint Sebastian should accompany the neophytes. Each was eager to stay and face the danger at Rome; finally the Pope decided that the Roman church could not spare the services of Sebastian, who therefore remained amid the perils in the city.

He continued to labor at his post of danger until he was betrayed by a false disciple. He was led before Diocletian and, at the emperor’s command, pierced with arrows and left for dead. God raised him up again, cured, and of his own accord he went before the emperor and conjured him to halt the persecution of the Church. Again sentenced, he was beaten to death by clubs, and crowned his labors by the merit of a double martyrdom.

Reflection. Your ordinary occupations will give you opportunities of laboring for the faith. Ask help from Saint Sebastian, both wise and prudent.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).

Saint Anthony of Egypt

Anthony of the DesertToday, the Church recalls the memory of Saint Antony, Abbot (251-356) ~ “Father of Monasticism”! The saint was born in Egypt: he listened to and then followed the words of the Gospel and gave all his material things to the poor. Anthony left civilization as it was known then and went into the wilderness to begin a life of penitence, living in absolute poverty, praying, meditating, and supporting himself by manual work. He suffered many temptations, both physical and spiritual, but he overcame them. As you would expect, disciples found his manner of life and teaching attractive: his wisdom, love, moderation, and holiness. He gave support to the victims of the persecutions of Diocletian, and helping Saint Athanasius in his fight against the Arians. He lived to be over a hundred years old.

Saint Anthony of the Desert taught,

“One should not say that it is impossible to reach a virtuous life; but one should say that it is not easy. Nor do those who have reached it find it easy to maintain. Those who are devout and whose intellect enjoys the love of God participate in the life of virtue; the ordinary intellect, however, is worldly and wavering, producing both good and evil thoughts, because it is changeful by nature and directed towards material things. But the intellect that enjoys the love of God punishes the evil which arises spontaneously because of man’s laziness.”

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

St Elizabeth Ann SetonElizabeth Ann Seton was a woman of great and persevering generosity and service – as a wife, a mother, a widow, and as a religious. She was canonized on September 14, 1975 by Pope Paul VI. At that time he told the Church in America, “Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is a Saint! She is the first daughter of the United States of America to be glorified with this incomparable attribute!”

Mother Seton came to Baltimore and then to Emmitsburg to educate the young and the poor, a healing of body, mind and spirit. Her discipleship with the Lord as Master was informed by her femininity, her spousal relationship with her husband, her motherhood, her conversion to the Church of Rome and most importantly, her spousal relationship with Jesus Christ. As a consequence of Seton’s intense faith in Christ and the sacrament of the Church Seton was able to follow the invitation of the Sulpician who invited her to serve the Church in a new way. The founding of the Daughters of Charity was just one concrete way of living of the spiritual and corporal works. As we know, love knows no limitations; where man’s mercy may have limitations, God’s mercy does not and that was Seton’s message.

When death was imminent and it came on January 2, 1821, Mother Seton said as her final words: “Be children of the Church!” Hers was the message she learned from experience and from Ignatian spirituality, “sentire cum ecclesiae.” Her words were an exhortation to be a close and intimate friend of Jesus, a mature offspring of the Divine Master.

For Mother Seton, and therefore for us who are close to her, our vocation is to bear witness to that mercy in ministries of the mission, education and healing formed by charity. The gospel knows no other way.

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

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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