The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the world’s 8th largest church. Auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, Monsignor Barry Knestout celebrated the Mass. Approximately 4,000 attended and it was broadcasted live on EWTN.
Above is an altarpiece, completed circa 1510 and pictures St. Nicholas(left), whom we celebrate today. St. Nick is widely hailed as the inspiration for Santa Claus although his true identity was that of a 4th century Catholic bishop who preached Christianity and practiced model charity in what is present day Turkey. 502 years after the altarpiece’s completion, Catholic bishops still wear the same vestments.
Note that while St. Nicholas already had many traditions associated with his feast in the 1500’s, he is not depicted as the Santa Claus that we know today; rather, he is painted with the chasuble and bishop’s miter(hat) with crosier(staff). Below is the famous painting completed in 1668 by Dutch artist Jan Steen which depicts boys and girls checking to see what gifts St. Nick had delivered to their homes and stuffed in their shoes on the morning of December 6th. It is clear that the girl(painted as if she is a little adult) was on the “nice list” and the boy was not. The most famous story of St. Nick is his gift of the dowry for three women. A poor father was unable to provide the funds for his three daughters to get married, which would likely mean they would have to turn to prostitution. So in his humility, St. Nicholas quietly and secretly delivered three small purses with enough money to cover the dowry.
St. Nicholas is a fantastic example of Christian charity and humility for all of us to follow.
The Great is an exceptional title given very sparingly and only by tradition in the Catholic Church. It is unofficial in a sense that there is no special canonization process to receive this title; however, although it stems from a nickname given by scholars or overtime by popular use, the Vatican has been known to reference it in official documents which in a sense makes it official. Cardinal Angelo Sodano reference John Paul the Great in a Vatican document which acts like an endorsement of the title.
S. Albertus Magnus (1193-1280)
Today is the feast day of St. Albert the Great, a doctor of the Church. Albert was born in present day Germany sometime around 1193 A.D. He was a Dominican priest who was curious about philosophy, world religions, and the physical sciences. St. Albert engaged Islamic scholars in academic critiques and was the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas. In a spirit of humility, he refused to ride on the horse he was entitled to as Bishop of Regensburg.
As a student of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, St. James’ epistle in the 2nd reading at Mass holds a deep meaning and could even serve as the preface to every technical book ever written on the topic. James the Just, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, inspired people with perfect words of charity. According to tradition, he even prayed for his murderers as they were stoning him to death. When we hear about the constant turmoil in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, the words of St. James give consolation and advice as well as a reminder to pray for peace. There is no need for an analysis, I am simply going to re-post the 2nd reading from the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
This 12th century Chiesa di San Giacamo in Bellagio, Italy appears to depict the scene where St. James the Just was bludgeoned to death in the mosaic above the altar.
A reading from the Letter of St. James
Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.
Where do the wars
and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions
that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
The word of the Lord
The body of St. Robert Bellarmine is buried in Rome next to a boy he mentored, St. Luigi Gonzaga.
Often translated as St. Robert Bellarmine in English, Roberto was born in 1542 to a very poor, yet well-connected Italian family in Montepulciano, Siena. He is one of the most famous Jesuits in history and a highly respected reformer of the Catholic Church.
His time came during a difficult and ever-changing period in Church history. He was ordained a Catholic priest in the same year that the Tridentine(what we now call the “traditional Latin Mass”) Rite was approved for use. Robert Bellarmine was made a Cardinal in 1599 and ordained a bishop two years later, a few months before St. Francis DeSales. Calvinism and Lutheranism were thriving in many parts of Europe, only about half a century after those men died. The popular Queen Elizabeth I of England, daughter of Henry VIII, was a driving force of the Anglican Church and economic powers of England. Bellarmine would later draw King James I of England into debates over theological matters that attracted a lot of European philosophers. In his works, St. Bellarmine vigorously and charmingly refuted Calvin’s rejection of the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
A Scar. Although the Catholic Church has historically been a great promoter of science, industrialization, and the establishment of higher education, there are a few scars that the secular world tends to focus on. In 1616, as a judge, he did warn Galileo that the Church was about to summon him for his promotion of heliocentrism (Earth revolves around the Sun). Although there is evidence that Bellarmine was doubtful of which side he favored during the trial, he did ultimately contribute to the pause in Galileo’s work.
Reform! One reform of the Church that St. Bellarmine promoted was the residency requirement of bishops. He argued that bishops must live in his own diocese, a practice that is now required today. As bishop, St. Bellarmine paid close attention to his people and is generally considered to have been an excellent pastor.
He died in 1621, a year before his counter-reformation colleague Bishop Francis DeSales. He is buried in Rome at the Church of St. Ignatius next to his mentee, St. Luigi Gonzaga.
The Catholic Church in the United States has engaged in a rigorous debate this past year over religious freedom and just law. But this is not an unique struggle in the world. This past month marks the 477th anniversary of the execution of Cardinal St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More by King Henry VIII who demanded the clergy cut ties with Rome and declare the King the Supreme Head of the Church. Look to these two saints in these tough times and be inspired by their courage.
Cardinal Fisher and Sir Thomas More, martyrs for the faith
Flowered then Devoured Saint Thomas More saw the danger in allowing laws to change for the sake of reflecting culture’s demands. He used a parable about 1st century Roman Emperor Tiberius to highlight what can happen when men try to compromise their conscience with culture. The emperor announced a law condemning any citizen to death for a certain offense unless the offender was a virgin. When the emperor came across a virgin, he was unsure what to do. So he had her violated in order that she may be put to death. “First let her be deflowered, and then after she may be deflowered” (full text found here). He went on to assure them that he would not be deflowered, implying that those who do submit to the King’s will are subject to be devoured. Sir Thomas More was executed after being found guilty of treason; nevertheless, many of the King’s servants and advisers who had supported his supremacy over the Church later fell out of the king’s graces and were executed.
The following clip from The Tudors is of Saint Thomas More’s execution. Their interpretation of this particular moment in history is likely accurate.
Cardinal Saint John Fisher, in a similar way that St Thomas More did, questioned the authority of Parliament to declare Divine matters. As a bishop, he vigorously opposed corruption in the Catholic Church but declared that Martin Luther’s abandonment of the sacraments and break from the See of St. Peter was wrong. He was also Katherine of Aragon’s sole counselor when the Ecclesiastical Court investigated whether or not her marriage to King Henry VIII should be dissolved or not. Like his patron, Saint John the Baptist, he was beheaded for challenging his ruler’s marriage to a taken woman. This similarity created a lot of attention in favor of Fisher. He is both a reformer of the Church and a martyr.
The brave and courageous actions of More and Fisher were certainly not in vain. Centuries later, there is a new Ordinariate (Similar to a Diocese) of the Catholic Church, allowing for Anglicans to return in full communion with the Catholic Church without forcing them to abandon many of their traditions. Over time, many faithful in England and elsewhere who adhere to the Anglican traditions have come to recognize that the break from the Rock in which Jesus built His Church is political and not Divine.
Born one year before Columbus set sail for the New World, Ignatius came into the world at the onset of a very tumultuous period in European and Ecclesiastical history.
He underwent a spiritual awakening while injured after a battle in 1521(Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses in 1517). During that time, he read many great texts and practiced self-denial. Along with six other intellectual friends, he founded the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, in 1534. They originally limited their work to service in hospitals but went on to found many exceptional universities and schools throughout the world. Pope Paul III issued the papal bull Regimini militantis Ecclesiae(to the Government of the Church Militant) in 1540 which officially approved the order and allowed them to expand up to sixty members.
The Jesuits vigorously opposed the protestant movement and lived according to the motto ad majorum dei gloriam, which is all for the greater honor and glory of God. Most famously, St. Ignatius wrote the Spiritual Exercises which is an intense retreat formula that has transformed many hearts and minds and is still in use today. He died in 1556 in Rome and is buried at the Church of St Ignatius near the Pantheon.