THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY MOTHER OF GOD, New Year’s Day, the Octave of Christmas, and World Day of Peace. Of the many themes associated with this day of celebration and good resolutions the Church gives first place to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Mother of God. When fifth century Nestorians began to preach that Mary was the Mother of Christ but not the Mother of God, there was a strong reaction among lay people as well as theologians - similar to what might be expected today if a new version of the Hail Mary read “Holy Mary, Mother of Christ. . .”
The Council of Ephesus in 431 vindicated the traditional title Theotokos (Mother of God), since it brings out so well Mary’s unique dignity and expresses in a realistic way the true faith in the mystery of Christ: one Divine Person who is both true God and true man.
Today’s feast also recalls the Circumcision eight days after the birth of Christ, when he received the name Jesus (the Lord saves).
In 1967 Pope Paul VI designated New Year’s as the annual World Day of Peace and invited all men of good will to join in prayer for peace.
St. Gregory Nazianzen the Elder, Cappadocian official, convert at 49, father of three saints, and bishop succeeded by his more famous son Gregory, died at about age 98.
553 [O.S.A., O.A.R.]
St. Fulgentius, abbot, bishop of Ruspenow Kudiat Rosfa in Tunisia-author of some treatises against the Arian heresy and principal spokesman for the sixty African bishops banished to Sardinia by the Arian Vandals. He was attracted to the ascetic ideal by reading a sermon of St. Augustine on the brevity of human life.
379 and 389
St. BASIL the GREAT, principal organizer of monastic life in the Eastern Church, and St. GREGORY NAZIANZEN. These two Cappadocian bishops and doctors belong to the group of oriental theologians to whom, under God, the Church owes right belief in the Trinity and Incarnation. Though they had already met in their home province of Cappadocia, it was only while studying rhetoric in Athens-along with the future emperor Julian the Apostate-that they became close friends. During their period as monks in Pontus they collaborated to produce St. Basil’s two famous codes of the ascetic life, The Longer and Shorter Rules.
Basil, one of ten children in what is probably the church’s most remarkable family of saints, became archbishop of his native Caesarea-now Kayseri in central Turkey-and the chief mainstay of orthodoxy after the death of St. Athanasius. Of his letters, 366 have survived. He commanded such prestige that Valens, the Arian emperor, was afraid in his case to carry out the policy of deposing non-Arian bishops. Gregory Nazianzen has preserved Basil’s answer to the Prfect Nlodestus: “Confiscation means nothing to a man who has nothing, unless you covet these poor rags and a few books. . . . As for exile. ..I shall feel at home in any place to which I am sent. Or rather, I regard the whole earth as belonging to God, and I consider myself a stranger wherever I am. . . . As for death, this will be a benefit to me; for it will take me the sooner to God for whom I live. . . .” When the prefect remarked that no one had ever spoken to him like this before, Basil answered, “Perhaps that is because you have never had to deal with a bishop.” He died worn out at forty-nine, just when the Catholic emperior, Theodosius the Great, was coming to power.
St. Gregory Nazianzen was of a contemplative and studious disposition, with none of Basil’s talent for administration. He was ordained a priest against his will by his own father, St. Gregory Nazianzen the Elder, and ten years later reluctantly allowed Basil to ordain him bishop of Sasima, an outpost in Arian .territory. After both ordinations he escaped into seclusion. Under the Theodosian restoration the Catholic party in Constantinople succeeded in transferring him to the imperial city, where Arians had dominated for over thirty years. He opened a small chapel in the house of a friend, consoling himself with the reflection that if the Arians were the stronger party his was the better cause; though they had the churches and the people, God and the angels were with him. In that small chapel he preached the famous orations on the Trinity that. won him the title of “theologian” which he shares with St. John the Apostle. He presided for a time over the First Council of Constantinople in 381; but when the legitimacy of his transfer to Constantinople was contested by the Patriarch of Alexandria, he resigned in the cause of peace. He died on January 25 in 389 or 390.
St. Genevieve, patroness of Paris. While historians question the reliability of the famous Life of St. Genevieve, she has proven herself a special protectress of Paris with miracles that made her tomb and church renowned throughout France. In times of calamity her reliquary would be carried in procession. In this way the fever of 1129 was stopped-an event still commemorated in Paris on November 26.
During the French Revolution her church was made the Pantheon and her body was burned. The remains of her relics were later re-enshrined in the church of St. Etienne du Mont where they continue to attract pilgrims.
The traditional story of her life shows Genevieve consecrating her virginity to God at fifteen. A few years later at a time of imminent danger of invasion she urged the people not to leave Paris but to do penance and trust in God while she and her devoted companions spent whole days in prayer until, at the last moment, Attila and his horde changed their course and by-passed Paris. And while the Franks-with whom she eventually got on very well-were besieging the city she managed to break through the blockade with several boatloads of grain for the starving population. Throughout the history of France she has been a symbol of Christian womanhood and of the fruitfulness of consecrated virginity.
St. Gregory, bishop of Langres, France. On the death of his wife and after forty years as governor of Autun, he retired to live as a hermit; but the people brought him back to be their bishop. As civil ruler he had a reputation for strict justice, but now he distinguished himself by gentleness. St. Tetricus, his son, succeeded him as bishop; and his great-grandson is St. Gregory of Tours.
1821 [United States, S.C., C.M.]
St. ELIZABETH BAYLEY SETON. In 1809 at Emmitsburg, Maryland, she founded the Sisters of Charity with a rule adapted from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. She was a widow of thirty when her faith in the Eucharist led her along with her five children into the Catholic Church.
Works of mercy had always been a part of her life, and soon she opened a school in Baltimore. Others joined her. The religious ceremony of 1813 in which Mother Seton and seventeen companions pronounced their vows may be seen as the beginning of the immense parochial school system in the United States. Of the thousands who followed Mother Seton into religious life her own daughter Ann has a special place as the first one who took vows-a deathbed profession at the age of sixteen.
St. Syncletica, A member of a wealthy Alexandrian family of Macedonian descent, Syncletica, though beautiful, felt called to celibacy and refused to marry. On the death of her parents she gave away her inheritance and retired with her blind sister to an unused tomb on a relative’s estate. Known for her charity and humility, she died of cancer at the age of 84. She is one of the great “mothers” or “Ammas” of the Egyptian desert, whose sayings are recorded in the Greek and Latin collections of apophthegmata, or “sayings”. Despite her great austerities, her teachings are full of gentle balance and sharp insight, such as the following: “‘There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.”
St. Symeon Stylites, The first of the “Stylites” or “pillar ascetics”. He was born on the Syrian border of Cilicia. After some time as a monk in the monastery of Eusebona (at Tell ‘Ada, between Antioch and Aleppo) he moved to Telanissos, which was not far away. Here, after several years of anchoretic life, he mounted a pillar, at first low, but gradually increased to a height of forty cubits; he lived on the top of it until his death, occupied in adoration and intercession.
This novel austerity attracted to him a continuous stream of pilgrims, and was widely imitated. Both by personal interactions and by correspondence, Simeon exercised considerable influence upon the world of his time, converting pagans, awakening the careless, reconciling enemies, and urging the cause of Chalcedonian orthodoxy.
St. Edward the Confessor, king of England from 1042 to 1066. His mother was from Normandy; and he was sent there for safety at the age of ten, returning to England only when called to the throne at the age of forty. His reign was peaceful ,and just; but his extensive Norman connections, sympathies, and even commitments led to the Norman Conquest upon his death. Edward rebuilt and handsomely endowed the abbey of St. Peter on the isle of Thorney, called Westminster to distinguish it from the church of St. Paul in east London. According to William of Malmesbury, Edward was “so gentle that he would not say a word of reproach to the meanest person.”
1860 [United States, C.SS.R]
St. JOHN Nepomucene NEUMANN, Redemptorist, the first United States bishop raised to the altar. He immigrated at twenty-five, penniless but with his theological studies completed and with a speaking knowledge of six - and later of twelve - languages. The archbishop of New York accepted him at once. In a matter of weeks he was ordained and sent as pastor of a territory in northern New York more extensive than the whole of his native Bohemia. Niagra Falls he referred to as “his baptismal font.” Four years later he became a Redemptorist, the first to make profession in America. As bishop achieved a nearly twenty-fold increase of Catholic school attendance in the Philadelphia diocese.
At forty-nine he dropped dead on a Philadelphia street. A poor man wearing one of the bishop’s own shirts ran for a priest. Under his patched suit was found a belt of sharply pointed wires and in his coat pocket a rosary along with pieces of candy he always carried for the children.
THE EPIPHANY of THE LORD
This feast originated in the Christian East in the Third Century, where it was celebrated on the sixth of January in honor of the Baptism of Christ (sometimes also in connection with the Nativity). From the 4th century it ranked with Easter and Pentecost as one of the three principal festivals of the Church. One of its main features in the East is the solemn blessing of water.
It was introduced into the Western Church in the 4th century: but there the association with the Baptism of Christ diminished: instead it came to be associated in the West with the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the person of the Magi and at the wedding feast at Cana. The Feast of the Magi, traditionally named Saints Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar, are therefore also commemorated on this day. In some Roman Catholic dioceses the Solemnity of the Epiphany is transferred to the preceding Sunday.
St. Peter of Canterbury. A monk at Saint Andrew’ monastery in Rome, Italy, Peter was chosen by Pope Gregory the Great to work with Saint Augustine of Canterbury and others as missionaries to England in 596. He became the first abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Saint Peter and Paul at Canterbury, England in 602. He died at Ambleteu, near Boulogne on his way to Rome to report on the success of the mission.
St. Erminold of Prüfening, Consecrated to God as a small child at the abbey of Hirsau, Germany, he was educated and professed as a Benedictine monk at the abbey. He became Abbot of Lorsch, Germany in 1110. Fearing his appointment had been simoniacal, he resigned and returned to Hirsau. Four years later he was made first prior of the abbey of Prüfening, Germany, and became its abbot in 1117. He ascetical discipline was regarded as too strict by some of his monks; and after four years as abbot he was struck on the head and killed by an enraged lay-brother of the community.
Bl. Andre Bessette, son of a woodcutter, and eighth of twelve children. After the death of his parents he was adopted at age twelve by a farmer uncle who insisted he work for his keep. At 25 he applied to join the Congregation of the Holy Cross. He served as porter at Notre Dame College, Montreal, as sacristan, laundry worker and messenger. He spent much of each night in prayer, and had a great devotion to St. Joseph
He developed a special ministry to the sick, whom he would anoint with oil taken from a lamp in the college chapel. Word of healing miracles spread, and the trickle of sick people to his door became a flood. His superiors were uneasy; diocesan authorities were suspicious; doctors condemned him as a charlatan. “I do not cure,” he always said. “Saint Joseph cures.” By his death, he was receiving 80,000 letters each year from the sick who sought his prayers.
ST. RAYMOND OF PENAFORT, outstanding canonist, third master general of the Dominicans, a truly apostolic man. He joined the Friars Preachers at forty-seven after a distinguished career as professor and as archdeacon of Barcelona. He wanted his new superiors to give him a severe penance for the complacency he had sometimes taken in his teaching. Instead, they had him write a collection of cases of conscience to help confessors -the first of its kind. Under Gregory IX he compiled the five books of Decretals, the most authoritative collection of church law until the 1917 code.
As master general he put through a rule that a superior’s voluntary resignation should be accepted if he had a good reason. And so, after only two years in office, he resigned because of his age; he was sixty-five, and would actually live to be one hundred. During the remaining years he devoted much apostolic effort to the Moors of Spain. He encouraged St. Thomas to write the Summa contra Gentiles and induced several Dominican houses to teach Arabic and Hebrew. He died on Epiphany, 1275.
St. Lucian of Antioch, martyr, who founded the Antiochene school of exegesis and did sound critical work on the Septuagint and on New Testament texts. Arius was his pupil. For a time he supported Paul of Samosata, but was evidently reconciled to the orthodox faith before his martyrdom at Nicomedia under Diocletian.
St. Canute Lavard, the “Good,” duke of southern Jutland and then king of the Wends, nephew of St. Canute, king of Denmark. He worked for justice and peace, spent much of his time fighting off Viking pirates, supported the missionary efforts of St. Vicelin, and was killed at the behest of a jealous uncle.
1309 [Franciscan III O.]
Bl. Angela of Foligno, a married woman suddenly converted at about the age of forty from a selfish and - by her account - sinful life to become a great mystic. Despite excruciating desolations and the death of her husband and sons, joy was her dominant characteristic. Her life is a good example of the harrowing temptations which can mark the higher stages of spiritual purification and of the way in which growth in holiness brings a corresponding realization of one’s imperfections.
She became the center of a mixed group of Franciscan tertiaries. One Holy Thursday she said to a companion, “Let us go and look for Christ our Lord.” They sold their veils to buy some food which they took to a hospital, where they washed the women’s feet and the men’s hands as they lay lonely and forsaken on their pallets. Bl. Angela is known principally through the visions she dictated to her confessor.
St. Frodobert, Benedictine monk at Luxeuil, France and spiritual student of Saint Waldebert. He was renowned for his austere lifestyle, his devotion to prayer, and a child-like simplicity that often made him the victim of practical jokes by confreres and even superiors. He founded the abbey of Moutier-la-Celle abbey near Troyes, France, and served as its first abbot.
St. Erhart (or “Albert”) of Regensburg, Celtic monk, he became a missionary and preached in Bavaria. He assisted the archbishop of Trier and became Bishop of Regensburg. He was known as a miracle worker: his baptism of Saint Odilia was credited with curing her congenital blindness. After his death a group of women formed a religious order called Erardinonnen (Nuns of Erhard) who prayed perpetually at his tomb until they were disbanded at the Reformation.
St. Lawrence Justinian, the first patriarch of Venice, serene and humble like his two modern successors, St. Pius X and Pope John XXIII. He governed his see in a turbulent epoch with as much ease as his own community. His preaching and example constantly inculcated humility, the cross of Christ, prayer, and works of charity. Besides sermons he left fifteen treatises on the spiritual life and the apostolate. Holiness he saw as the progressive possession of the wisdom of God obtained through love until a new creature is formed in the image of Christ, and the apostolate he saw as nothing else than the communication of this wisdom.
St. Adrian of Canterbury, Born in the mid 640’s, his family fled to Naples, in the wake of Arab invasion. He became a Benedictine monk when quite young, and was made Abbot of Hiridanum, on the Isle of Nisida, in the Bay of Naples. Twice offered the Archbishopric of Canterbury he declined, citing unworthiness. When Saint Theodore of Tarsus was sent instead, Adrian went as his assistant. Although he was detained in France due to suspicions of espionage for the emperor, he arrived in England in 669, and later became abbot of Saint Peter’s, a monastery founded by Augustine of Canterbury.
Both Saints Adrian and Theodore were highly successful missionaries in largely-pagan England. Adrian was a great teacher of languages, mathematics, poetry, astronomy, and sacred scripture. Under his leadership, the School of Canterbury became the center of English learning.
Bl. Alix le Clereq, co-founder with St. Peter Fourier of the Augustinian Canonesses Regular of the Congregation of Notre Dame. She has a place after St. Angela Merici among those who first organized communities of nuns for teaching.
Bl. Joseph Pawloski and Casimir Grelewski, Polish diocesan priests martyred by the Nazis at Dachau during World War II.
St. Miltiades, pope at the time Constantine gave peace to the Church.
St. Paul the Hermit. traditionally regarded the first Christian hermit. Acc. to St Jerome’s Life of Paul, the sole authority, Paul was a native of the Thebaid. During the Decian persecution (249–51) he fled to the desert, where he lived for some hundred years a life of prayer and penitence in a cave. St Antony is said to have visited him when 113 years old and later to have buried him, wrapping him in the mantle which he had himself received from St Athanasius. In later art, Paul is commonly represented with a palm tree or two lions.
395 [ O. S. B., O. C. S. O. ]
St. Gregory of Nyssa, the Cappadocian doctor who exercised a particularly profound influence on the spirituality of Eastern monasticism. A fervent Origenist, but a very original thinker, he is one of the most philosophic of the Greek Fathers and contributed heavily to the spiritual theology which was passed on to East and West through Pseudo-Dionysius.
He was raised by his sister St. Macrina - whose life he wrote - and by his brother St. Basil the Great, whom he calls “father and teacher.” They groomed him for an ecclesiastical career but he married and became a rhetorician like his father. But after his wife’s death he was persuaded by St. Gregory Nazianzen to enter a monastery; St. Basil also had his way and made him bishop of Nyssa.
His many writings belong almost entirely to the period of maturity after Basil’s death. He was considered the leading theologian at the First Council of Constantinople. The Second Council of Nicaea would refer to him as “the father of the fathers.” His Catechetical Discourse is particularly important as a compact and vital synthesis of patristic Christianity.
St. Agatho, pope, a Sicilian Greek. He was married for twenty years and occupied in business; then he became a monk. He served as treasurer of the Roman Church and at a very advanced age was made pope. In a dogmatic letter to the III Council of Constantinople, 680, he asserted the authority and infallibility of Rome and vindicated the Catholic faith against the “One-will heresy” with such dignity, energy, and learning that the council went on record to say, “Peter has spoken through Agatho.”
Bl. Gregory X, archdeacon of Liege, elected pope at the instance of St. Bonaventure. He called the II Council of Lyons as the best way to help the Holy Land and promote reunion with the Greeks. Since it had taken them three years to arrive at an election in his own case, he made it a rule that in the future no cardinal could leave the conclave before a pope had been chosen.
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
St. Theodosius, abbot, whose monastery at Cathismus near Bethlehem attracted so many disciples from various lands that the liturgy of the word was celebrated in three languages in separate churches, with everyone coming together after the gospel to complete the Eucharist in Greek. The community had a large guesthouse and three hospitals: for the aged, the sick, and the insane. Appointed cenobiarch by the patriarch of Jerusalem, Theodosius had responsibility for all the local monasteries, while St. Sabbas supervised the hermits. At ninety-five he traveled through Palestine strengthening the faithful against the “One-nature heresy” Emperor Anastasius was pronoting. During a sermon in Jerusalem he cried out, “If anyone receives not the four councils as the four gospels, let him be anathema.” He was banished, but a later emperor recalled him. He died at 105.
Bl. Thomas of Cori, Italian Franciscan. His specialty was prayer, a habit he developed in childhood while tending sheep. As a priest he preferred the small, out-of-the-way friary at Civitella in the hills near Subiaco, where many extraordinary events were recorded about his prayer life and charity. As guardian he insisted that the divine office be said reverently and without haste. His saying was, “Unless the heart prays, the tongue only plays.”
St. Benedict Biscop, abbot-founder of the twin monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, one of the most attractive and practical churchmen of England’s Anglo-Saxon period. His five trips to Rome, his love for the Scriptures, the liturgy, the see of Peter, the saints, and his enthusiasm for letters, art and architecture made his monasteries the cultural center of Northumbria and capable of producing St. Bede-who was entrusted to. Biscop as a small boy and later became his appreciative biographer.
1167 [O. Cist., O.C. S.O.]