Friday, July 27, 2012
On July 31st , the Church celebrates the feast day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He may sound familiar because of Loyola University. According to the university’s web site, Loyola's rich history dates back to 1540, when Saint Ignatius founded the Jesuit order. From the beginning, Jesuits have held that scholarship plays an important role in helping men and women achieve moral excellence, and so education has been their focus for more than four centuries. It was with this focus that the Jesuits arrived among the earliest settlers in New Orleans and Louisiana, establishing what would become Loyola University. The Jesuit educational network is one of the largest systems in American higher education. Worldwide, Jesuit universities and colleges have graduated more than one million students.
Jesuit education is a call to academic excellence that challenges the student to develop all of his or her talents to the fullest. It is a call to critical thinking and disciplined studies, a call to develop the whole person, head and heart, intellect and feelings. This is the Jesuit mission, thanks to the vision of St. Ignatius.
In the eighteenth century, when the Jesuits were expelled from much of Europe for political reasons, their misfortune turned out to be a boon for the Catholic Church in New Mexico, Colorado, and West Texas. Bishop Lamy of Santa Fe went to Rome and requested some Spanish-speaking Jesuits. Eventually, five Jesuits of the dispersed Naples Province were assigned to him.
Bishop Lamy assigned the Jesuits to work at San Felipe in Old Town Albuquerque in 1868. Fourteen years later, it became evident that New Town Albuquerque would need a church as well, so a site was chosen for what would become Immaculate Conception Church.
The New Town’s people generously helped to build the church, and in 1893, St. Mary’s school was completed and began to educate young Catholics. The Jesuits continue to minister at Immaculate Conception Church in downtown Albuquerque and have done so since the very beginning.
The influence of the Jesuits on New Mexico is undeniable. Many people do not know that prestigious Regis University in Denver was founded by the Jesuits in 1877 in Las Vegas, New Mexico, before moving ten years later to its current site in Colorado.
As we celebrate the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we remember the efforts of those, like the Jesuits, who came to the Southwest, bringing the gospel message and churches, a ministry of healing and hospitals, and a vision for education and schools.
Friday, July 20, 2012
This coming Thursday, July 26th, the Church celebrates the Feast Day of Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, patron saints of Christian mothers and fathers. This couple had the God-given honor and responsibility of raising Mary, our Holy Mother.
If you read the New Testament Gospels and letters, you won't find anything about Mary's parents. So how do we know anything about these grandparents of Jesus?
In addition to the canon of Scripture - those books accepted as inspired by God and included in the Holy Bible - there are also extra-canonical or extra-biblical sources that we can use for their historical value. The Church is understandably cautious in using these writings, and carefully evaluates the information in these sources. As long as it doesn't conflict with official teaching, especially regarding faith and morals, the Church views much of this material as valuable.
In spite of its title, the Protoevangelium of James was written by an unknown writer in the 2nd century. The word protoevangelium means “first gospel” because the events take place before the events in sacred Scripture – specifically, before the Annunciation to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. A scholar at the University of Dayton who specializes in the study of Mary calls the account "a very imaginative, creative story about the birth of Mary, written about 150 A.D."
It is in this extra-biblical story that we learn of the names of Mary’s parents. Anne and Joachim were childless for many years, and at the time that they lived, this was considered to be a punishment from God. They prayed to God, who answered their prayers with a daughter. When she was three-years-old, Anne and Joachim presented Mary in the temple, where she danced on the third step of the altar and "all the house of Israel loved her." Joseph, a widower with children, was named as her protector when she reached twelve or thirteen years old.
While we can’t be absolutely certain of the authenticity of the story and the names of Mary’s parents, we know this couple was holy based on what we read about Mary in the Scriptures. The strong character of Mary in making decisions, her practice of prayer, her trust in God, and her devotion to her relatives indicate that her upbringing was in a close-knit, loving, faith-filled family. We also remember that Anne and Joachim, as grandparents, would have modeled a life of faith to their grandson Jesus.
On their feast day, in the Catholic tradition of asking the saints to pray for us, we ask for the intercession of Saints Anne and Joachim on behalf of parents raising their children to love and follow God.
Friday, July 13, 2012
At the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his Apostles, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” We hear similar words at Mass before the invitation to “share with one another a sign of Christ’s peace.”
The word peace is from the Latin pacem, and originally meant “tranquility” or “absence of war.” Breaking down the parts of the word, it is literally translated as “covenant or agree.” Going back to Biblical times, it is a translation of shalom, which means peace in the sense of “right relationship” with God and one another.
From the beginning of the Church, the sign of peace was exchanged at Mass among all the faithful. The Council of Trent in the mid-1500s limited the sign of peace to only the clergy, but when the liturgy was reformed after Vatican II, everyone was once again included.
This single gesture sums up much of what the liturgical reform of the 1960s was about. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Second Vatican Council stated that the Church did not want believers to attend the Eucharist “as if they were outsiders or silent onlookers,” but as an assembly of people gathered as a sign of faith. The exchange of peace makes this teaching real.
This sign of peace is important because as we offer peace to those around us, it is not simply offering a friendly “hello,” nor does it require that we shake hands with every worshipper present. As we share Christ’s peace, it is with the understanding that the intention is different from the welcoming we did before Mass. As we anticipate sharing in Eucharist, we are showing our desire to be reconciled with our neighbor as we say “Peace be with you.” This holy, symbolic gesture is done thoughtfully and reverently. It should include eye contact with the person whose hand we grasp and a heartfelt prayer that their soul finds peace.
This is important because a few minutes later, we will be approaching the altar of God with our brothers and sisters around us. We will become what we eat, the Body of Christ, and this rite – the Sign of Peace – helps us to realize what that means.
The peace we offer is a God-given peace, built on justice, where everything and everyone is in right relationship with each other before God. As we take each other’s hand, we are praying for true peace and unity throughout the world.
Friday, July 6, 2012
On July 14th, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates the feast day of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. She was beatified in1980, and when she is canonized on October 21st, she will be the first Native American saint.
Kateri was born in 1656 in a Mohawk village in what is now New York. She was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and a Christian Algonquin woman. When she was four years old, her parents and brother were killed by smallpox, and she herself was scarred and left almost blind from the disease. Kateri was adopted and raised by relatives of her father, but never forgot her mother’s devotion to Christ.
Further influenced by the Jesuit missionaries, Kateri was baptized at the age of twenty, and because of that was treated with hostility in her tribe. She refused to work on Sunday, and so she was not allowed to eat on that day. Wanting to live more fully as a disciple, Kateri left her tribe and went to live in colony of Native American Christians in Canada. She lived a life of faith, caring for the elderly and the sick, before dying on April 17, 1680 at the age of twenty-four. She is known as the “Lily of the Mohawks” and is the patroness of the environment.
In 2008, Pope Benedict came to the United States. It was close to April 17th, the Feast Day of Blessed Kateri in nearby Canada, and the pope mentioned her in a talk to young people and seminarians. This is what he said:
“Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Saint John Neumann, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Venerable Pierre Toussaint, and Padre Felix Varela: any one of us could be among them, for there is no stereotype to this group, no single mold. Yet a closer look reveals that there are common elements . Inflamed with the love of Jesus, their lives became remarkable journeys of hope... For each there was an act of abandonment to God, in the confidence that he is the final destination of every pilgrim. And all offered an outstretched hand of hope to those they encountered along the way, often awakening in them a life of faith. Through orphanages, schools and hospitals, by befriending the poor, the sick and the marginalized, and through the compelling witness that comes from walking humbly in the footsteps of Jesus, these six people laid open the way of faith, hope and charity to countless individuals, including perhaps your own ancestors….”
“The saints show us the selfless love of (Jesus Christ).” In celebrating feasts of saints, we are inspired to imitate their examples in our own lives.