Thursday, January 4, 2018

Icon of Holiness & Divine Love

A contemporary Holy Family Icon by V. Lukan
As the Christmas Season comes to a close, this week’s liturgical calendar is rich with solemnities, feasts, and memorials. The tone and theological focus for this week was set right at the beginning, on this past Sunday, with celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family. Then, on the day which the secular world calls New Year’s Day, we celebrated the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Within the family of the Lord, we see the epitome of human holiness, generosity and faithfulness. That is, we see and remember the great calling and work of Mary, whose Fiat began a New Day for humanity.

This coming Sunday, we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany on January 7th, and then, on Monday, January 8th, the Christmas Season will end with the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism. Meanwhile, these major celebrations are flanked on all sides with celebrations of great saints who followed the path to personal holiness which was set by Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Their apostolates of service (unique in salvation history) comprised their own journeys to ever-perfecting personal holiness for themselves and to their participation in redemption for all the faithful. The saints we celebrate this week also emptied themselves to make room for the Lord by serving the communities around them. Each one of these pillars of holiness displayed profound devotion to the Holy Family and its members. In their various communities, they all served the most vulnerable members of the human family, the sick, the poor, and children. Here I will present only brief outlines of the lives of these wonderful saints. I highly recommend reading about the details of their lives as told in books available from Pauline Books & Media.

Two Ancient Doctors of the Church

Saint Basil the Great

Both Saint Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen were fourth century Fathers of the Eastern Church. We celebrate their memorial on January 2nd. They both also have been declared Doctors of the Church. In fact, they were good friends and reinforced each other in their theological and apologetic efforts to strengthen the early Church by clarifying its dogma. In addition, Saint Basil was renowned for his sensitivity to and work with the poor. His generosity eventually became the stuff of legend.
Saint Gregory Nazianzen

As Bishop of Caesarea, Saint Basil personally organized a soup kitchen and distributed food to the poor during a famine following a drought in the region. He gave away his personal family inheritance to benefit the poor of his diocese. For Greeks and others in the Orthodox tradition, Basil is the saint associated with Santa Claus as opposed to the western tradition of Saint Nicholas.


Remembering Three North American Saints

On January 4th and 5th we celebrate the memorials of the first two American citizens to be canonized, Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821) and John Neumann (1811-1860), respectively. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first saint who was actually American-born. Both of these saints were educators, known for the development of educational institutions in the United States. Their apostolates provided essential support to families working to bring their children up in the faith while becoming good citizens of their young nation.

 Elizabeth Ann Seton was particularly devoted to both the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph. The order she founded, now known as the Sisters of Charity, was originally named, “Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph”. John Neumann’s contributions to Catholic education were made in conjunction with his role as Bishop of Philadelphia, where he was the first Bishop in America to establish a diocesan school system. He did this at a time when the country was rife with anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic attitudes and activities. As we all know, Elizabeth Ann Seton also dealt with strong anti-Catholic sentiments and treatment. Both of these saints were canonized in the 1970s by Pope Paul VI.
Statue of Brother André by
Joseph-Emile Brunet
on the grounds of
Saint Joseph's Oratory in
Montreal, QC, Canada

 On January 6th we celebrate the life and ministry of Saint André Bessette (1845-1937), who was a mystic and healer. During all of his religious life, he was known as Brother André, serving in ministry to the sick. His life (well worth study) is a fascinating story of courageous perseverance and dedication in the face of withering challenges and controversy. When he was accepted into the order of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, his own poor health prevented him from being ordained. So, after first having his application to join the Congregation rejected, he was assigned duties as porter, sacristan, and messenger for the College of Notre Dame in Quebec. Some of his duties included visiting the sick, which eventually became a healing ministry and which generated dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people to seek him out. However, he refused to take credit for any of the thousands of cures. He insisted that the cures were effected, through prayer, by the intercession of Saint Joseph. 

He anointed with oil the pilgrims who sought him out in his little chapel, and he prayed over them. He devoted his entire apostolate to Saint Joseph and began an effort to build a larger space to receive the sick. In 1924, construction began on the Basilica of Saint Joseph’s Oratory. Brother André, who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, was the first Saint of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

The Holy Family: Model of Love, Work & Service

Saint Joseph's Oratory, Montreal. This is a
popular pilgrimage site for those devoted to
both Saint Joseph and Brother André .
For Brother André and so many saints commemorated this week, Saint Joseph of the Holy Family was a great exemplar of personal holiness. They followed his example in their own lives. They consciously tried to emulate the way Joseph loved, led and protected the Holy Family. Devotion and prayer to Mary's spouse, Jesus' foster father, bears great fruits for the believer. They say that faith can move mountains. Brother André has shown that it can cure the incurable. Understanding Saint Joseph with the spiritual depth of our saints will lead, in turn, to deeper understanding of how to become an increasingly graced member of any family, including the family which is the Catholic Church.

About the Holy Family, Pope Paul VI gave us the following words of wisdom in an address he made on January 5, 1964. You can find the text of the full address in the Readings section of the Prayer of the Church for the Feast of the Holy Family (Liturgy of the Hours: According to the Roman Rite, Volume I, Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York, 1975, pages 426-428). 

“The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.
“Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplify its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings, in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute.
“Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognize its value – demanding yet redeeming – and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself.”

In these words Pope Paul VI, who is often referred to as the “Theologian Pope”, shared his thoughts about the simple, yet powerful, beauty of praying and working within the community of love which is the family. He also teaches us how to become more and more worthy members of the other family to which we all can belong, the Church.


"May God grant that, through the Redeemer, we all be made authentic children of Mary, brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus, sons and daughters of the Father, and members of the Family of Divine Love, which is the Church."

Marie-Louise Handal is a Pauline Cooperator based in Manhattan, New York City. She is an educator and writer who has participated in organizing and hosting a number of Pauline Family special events, media presentations and educational programs in the New York Archdiocese and environs.
      Her education includes a Master’s Degree from St. Joseph's Seminary, a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from the New York Archdiocesan Center for Spiritual Development, a Master of Science in the Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and a B.A. in Mathematics & Science from Hunter College. She is currently a candidate for the S.T.L. from the International Marian Research Institute, the American Branch of the Pontifical Theological Faculty Marianum, Rome.

1 comment:

Association of Pauline Cooperators said...

A great review of holiness to start the New Year. Sr. Margaret Charles