Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, Priest

Reading 1 IS 26:1-6

On that day they will sing this song in the land of Judah:

“A strong city have we;
he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.
Open up the gates
to let in a nation that is just,
one that keeps faith.
A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace;
in peace, for its trust in you.

”Trust in the LORD forever!
For the LORD is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places,
and the lofty city he brings down;
He tumbles it to the ground,
levels it with the dust.
It is trampled underfoot by the needy,
by the footsteps of the poor.

Responsorial Psalm PS 118:1 AND 8-9, 19-21, 25-27A

R. (26a)  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, 
for his mercy endures forever.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes. 
R. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Open to me the gates of justice;
 I will enter them and give thanks to the LORD.
This gate is the LORD’s;
 the just shall enter it.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
 and have been my savior.
R. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
O LORD, grant salvation!
O LORD, grant prosperity!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD;
we bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has given us light.
R. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

 

 

Alleluia IS 55:6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call him while he is near.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 7:21, 24-27

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house. 
But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 
And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house. 
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

– – –

Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Strong Foundations

Today’s readings are all about foundations. A simple matter, really. Foundations are often overlooked in the everyday world. But that does not make them any less important.

In the First Reading we hear about nations who have a strong foundation and those that do not. “A strong city have we; He sets up walls and ramparts to protect us. Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith. A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace; in peace, for its trust in you”.

This nation is strong, safe, and peaceful because of its trust in the Lord.

On the flip side, “He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; he tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust. It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor.”

This nation, however, was disintegrated because of the lack of trust. It rose higher and higher with the false belief that it was strong, that it did not need him. Only buildings with weak foundations fall. It’s no wonder that the Lord was able to crush it to dust! We are like the two nations, either with the strong foundation or without. We need a strong foundation, and that comes from trusting in the Lord.

Besides not wanting to crumble into dust, why should we trust in the Lord? The Lord will build us a strong foundation. “For the LORD is an eternal Rock.” We need a solid foundation, and we are given one! Rock! Solid, strong, lovely rock. Our Rock – the sturdy building material that we need – is the Lord.

In the Gospel Jesus brings up construction once more. He tells us the story of a wise man and a foolish man who built their houses differently. The wise man built his on rock, and the foolish man built his on sand. The storm came, and the wise man’s house was perfect, no damage, no nothing. The foolish man’s house however, came crashing down due to a weak foundation. I can only imagine that he was caught under it, trying to shelter from the storm when it did.

The difference between the two men’s houses was their foundation. The one with a sturdy foundation of Rock survived, and the one with a weak foundation did not. The same thing happens in our lives. We need to build up our houses, our spiritual foundations to be strong. We must root them in rock, the eternal rock, the Lord, if we want to weather the storm. If we build on false beliefs and false foundations, when the storm comes the house will collapse.

So, are you built upon rock, or in the sand? Are you ready for the winds that will buffet and blow your house? Are you ready for the unexpected tests and trials that life is going to throw your way? We need a strong sturdy foundation. That foundation can only be found in the eternal rock, the Lord. It’s time to get building.

Perpetua Phelps is a high school student residing in West Michigan and is the second of four children. Apart from homeschooling, Perpetua enjoys volunteering at her church, attending retreats, studying Latin and French, and reading classics such as BeowulfThe Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, and Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc. She also spends much time writing novels, essays, and poetry for fun and competition. A passionate Tolkien fan, Perpetua is a founding member of a Tolkien podcast.

Feature Image Credit: IA SB, https://unsplash.com/photos/_MMdxl-jUHo

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

Reading 1 IS 25:6-10A

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from all faces;
The reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.

On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

Responsorial Psalm PS 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6

R. (6cd) I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage. 
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

 

 

Alleluia 

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Behold, the Lord comes to save his people;
blessed are those prepared to meet him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 15:29-37

At that time:
Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee,
went up on the mountain, and sat down there. 
Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others. 
They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. 
The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking,
the deformed made whole, 
the lame walking, 
and the blind able to see,
and they glorified the God of Israel.

Jesus summoned his disciples and said,
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,
for they have been with me now for three days
and have nothing to eat. 
I do not want to send them away hungry,
for fear they may collapse on the way.” 
The disciples said to him,
“Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place
to satisfy such a crowd?” 
Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” 
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few fish.” 
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. 
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,
gave thanks, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. 
They all ate and were satisfied. 
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full.

– – –

Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

St. Raymond Nonnatus

Raymond became a priest due to his quiet persistence in prayer and study. He was born to a noble Spanish family in 1204. His mother died during child birth and his father had high expectations for Raymond to serve in the country’s Royal Court.  However, the young Raymond felt drawn to religious life. In an attempt to dissuade him, his father ordered him to manage one of the family farms. However, Raymond spent his time with the workers, studying, and praying. His father finally gave up and allowed Raymond to enter the Mercederians. Fr. Raymond spent his entire estate ransoming slaves. He even offered himself as a hostage to free another. He was sentenced to death but was spared because his ransom would bring in a large amount of money. During his imprisonment, he succeeded at converting some of his guards. To keep him from continuing his preaching, his captors bored a hole through his lips with a hot iron, and attached a padlock. He was eventually ransomed, and he returned to Barcelona in 1239. That year, he was named a cardinal by Pope Gregory IX.  The following year, in 1240, he was summoned to Rome, but barely made it out of Barcelona before he died at the age of 36. St. Raymond is the patron saint of pregnant women, childbirth, and newborn infants.

Saint Jeanne Jugan

On Aug. 30, the Catholic Church celebrates Saint Jeanne Jugan, also known as Sister Mary of the Cross. During the 19th century, she founded the Little Sisters of the Poor with the goal of imitating Christ’s humility through service to elderly people in need. In his homily for her canonization in October 2009, Pope Benedict XVI praised St. Jeanne as “a beacon to guide our societiesâ€� toward a renewed love for those in old age. The Pope recalled how she “lived the mystery of loveâ€� in a way that remains “ever timely while so many elderly people are suffering from numerous forms of poverty and solitude and are sometimes also abandoned by their families.â€� Born on Oct. 25, 1792 in a port city of the French region of Brittany, Jeanne Jugan grew up during the political and religious upheavals of the French Revolution. Four years after she was born, her father was lost at sea. Her mother struggled to provide for Jeanne and her three siblings, while also providing them secretly with religious instruction amid the anti-Catholic persecutions of the day. Jeanne worked as a shepherdess, and later as a domestic servant. At age 18, and again six years later, she declined two marriage proposals from the same man. She told her mother that God had other plans, and was calling her to “a work which is not yet founded.â€� At age 25, the young woman joined the Third Order of St. John Eudes, a religious association for laypersons founded during the 17th century. Jeanne worked as a nurse in the town of Saint-Servan for six years, but had to leave her position due to health troubles. Afterward she worked for 12 years as the servant of a fellow member of the third order, until the woman’s death in 1835. During 1839, a year of economic hardship in Saint-Servan, Jeanne was sharing an apartment with an older woman and an orphaned young lady. It was during the winter of this year that Jeanne encountered Anne Chauvin, an elderly woman who was blind, partially paralyzed, and had no one to care for her. Jeanne carried Anne home to her apartment and took her in from that day forward, letting the woman have her bed while Jeanne slept in the attic. She soon took in two more old women in need of help, and by 1841 she had rented a room to provide housing for a dozen elderly people. The following year, she acquired an unused convent building that could house 40 of them. During the 1840s, many other young women joined Jeanne in her mission of service to the elderly poor. By begging in the streets, the foundress was able to establish four more homes for their beneficiaries by the end of the decade. By 1850, over 100 women had joined the congregation that had become known as the Little Sisters of the Poor. However, Jeanne Jugan – known in religious life as Sister Mary of the Cross – had been forced out of her leadership role by Father Auguste Le Pailleur, the priest who had been appointed superior general of the congregation. In an apparent effort to suppress her true role as foundress, the superior general ordered her into retirement and a life of obscurity for 27 years. During these years, she served the order through her prayers and by accepting the trial permitted by God. At the time of her death on Aug. 29, 1879, she was not known to have founded the order, which by then had 2,400 members serving internationally. Fr. Le Pailleur, however, was eventually investigated and disciplined, and St. Jeanne Jugan came to be acknowledged as their foundress.

The Beheading of John the Baptist

On this day, the universal Church marks the beheading of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus. As an adult, he lived as a hermit in the wilderness. After the Spirit inspired him, he went about preaching that the people should repent of their sins and be baptized in order to prepare for the Messiah. Herod imprisoned John because he had condemned Herod for committing adultery by living with his brother’s wife, Herodias.  At he celebration for Herod on his birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced for him, and Herod was so impressed that he said he would offer her anything she liked. She consulted with Herodias who told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod did not want to kill John for fear or what his follwers might do, but because of his promise to the girl he could not refuse, and so John was beheaded.

St. Augustine

Today, August 28, the Church honors St. Augustine. St. Augustine was born at the town of Thagaste (now Souk-Ahras in modern day Algeria) on November 13, 354 and grew to become one the most significant and influential thinkers in the history of the Catholic Church. His teachings were the foundation of Christian doctrine for a millennium.The story of his life, up until his conversion, is written in the autobiographical Confessions, the most intimate and well-known glimpse into an individual’s soul ever written, as well as a fascinating philosophical, theological, mystical, poetic and literary work.Augustine, though being brought up in early childhood as a Christian, lived a dissolute life of revelry and sin, and soon drifted away from the Church – thinking that he wasn’t necessarily leaving Christ, of whose name he acknowledges “I kept it in the recesses of my heart; and all that presented itself to me without that Divine name, though it might be elegant, well written, and even replete with truth, did not altogether carry me away” (Confessions, I, iv).He went to study in Carthage and became well-known in the city for his brilliant mind and rhetorical skills and sought a career as an orator or lawyer. But he also discovered and fell in love with philosophy at the age of 19, a love he pursued with great vehemence.He was attracted to Manichaeanism at this time, after its devotees had promised him that they had scientific answers to the mystery of nature, could disprove the Scriptures, and could explain the problem of evil. Augustine became a follower for nine years, learning all there was to learn in it before rejecting it as incoherent and fraudulent.He went to Rome and then Milan in 386 where he met Saint Ambrose, the bishop and Doctor of the Church, whose sermons inspired him to look for the truth he had always sought in the faith he had rejected. He received baptism and soon after, his mother, Saint Monica, died with the knowledge that all she had hoped for in this world had been fulfilled.He returned to Africa, to his hometown of Tagaste, “having now cast off from himself the cares of the world, he lived for God with those who accompanied him, in fasting, prayers, and good works, meditating on the law of the Lord by day and by night.”On a visit to Hippo he was proclaimed priest and then bishop against his will. He later accepted it as the will of God and spent the rest of his life as the pastor of the North African town, where he spent much time refuting the writings of heretics.  Augustine also wrote, The City of God, against the pagans who charged that the fall of the Roman empire, which was taking place at the hands of the Vandals, was due to the spread of Christianity.  On August 28, 430, as Hippo was under siege by the Vandals, Augustine died, at the age of 76. His legacy continues to deeply shape the face of the Church to this day.

St. Monica

On August 27, one day before the feast of her son St. Augustine, the Catholic Church honors St. Monica, whose holy example and fervent intercession led to one of the most dramatic conversions in Church history.Monica was born into a Catholic family in 332, in the North African city of Tagaste located in present-day Algeria. She was raised by a maidservant who taught her the virtues of obedience and temperance. While still relatively young, she married Patricius, a Roman civil servant with a bad temper and a disdain for his wife’s religion.Patricius’ wife dealt patiently with his distressing behavior, which included infidelity to their marriage vows. But she experienced a greater grief when he would not allow their three children – Augustine, Nagivius, and Perpetua – to receive Baptism. When Augustine, the oldest, became sick and was in danger of death, Patricius gave consent for his Baptism, but withdrew it when he recovered.Monica’s long-suffering patience and prayers eventually helped Patricius to see the error of his ways, and he was baptized into the Church one year before his death in 371. Her oldest son, however, soon embraced a way of life that brought her further grief, as he fathered a child out of wedlock in 372. One year later, he began to practice the occult religion of Manichaeism. In her distress and grief, Monica initially shunned her oldest son. However, she experienced a mysterious dream that strengthened her hope for Augustine’s soul, in which a messenger assured her: “Your son is with you.â€� After this experience, which took place around 377, she allowed him back into her home, and continued to beg God for his conversion.But this would not take place for another nine years. In the meantime, Monica sought the advice of local clergy, wondering what they might do to persuade her son away from the Manichean heresy. One bishop, who had once belonged to that sect himself, assured Monica that it was “impossible that the son of such tears should perish.â€� These tears and prayers intensified when Augustine, at age 29, abandoned Monica without warning as she passed the night praying in a chapel. Without saying goodbye to his mother, Augustine boarded a ship bound for Rome. Yet even this painful event would serve God’s greater purpose, as Augustine left to become a teacher in the place where he was destined to become a Catholic.Under the influence of the bishop St. Ambrose of Milan, Augustine renounced the teaching of the Manichees around 384. Monica followed her son to Milan, and drew encouragement from her son’s growing interest in the saintly bishop’s preaching. After three years of struggle against his own desires and perplexities, Augustine succumbed to God’s grace and was baptized in 387.Shortly before her death, Monica shared a profound mystical experience of God with Augustine, who chronicled the event in his “Confessions.â€� Finally, she told him: “Son, for myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here.â€� “The only thing I ask of you both,â€� she told Augustine and his brother Nagivius, “is that you make remembrance of me at the altar of the Lord wherever you are.â€� St. Monica died at age 56, in the year 387. In modern times, she has become the inspiration for the St. Monica Sodality, which encourages prayer and penance among Catholics whose children have left the faith.

St. Bibiana

St. Bibiana

The earliest mention in authentic historical authority of St. Bibiana, a Roman female martyr, occurs in the “Liber Pontificalis” where in the biography of Pope Simplicius (468-483) it is stated that this pope “consecrated a basilica of the holy martyr Bibiana, which contained her body”. This basilica still exists today. In the fifth century, therefore, the bodily remains of St. Bibiana rested within the city walls. We have no further historical particulars concerning the martyr or the circumstances of her death, neither do we know why she was buried in the city itself. In later times a legend sprang up concerning her, connected with the Acts of the martyrdom of Saints John and Paul, and has no historical claim to belief.

According to this legend, Bibiana was the daughter of a former prefect, Flavianus, who was banished by Julian the Apostate. Dafrosa, the wife of Flavianus, and his two daughters, Demetria and Bibiana, were also persecuted by Julian. Dafrosa and Demetria died a natural death and were buried by Bibiana in their own house, but Bibiana was tortured and died as a result of her sufferings. Two days after her death a priest named John buried Bibiana near her mother and sister in her home, and the house was later turned into a church. It is evident that the legend seeks to explain in this way the origin of the church and the presence in it of the bodies of the above mentioned confessors. The account contained in the martyrologies of the ninth century is drawn from the legend.

An alternate account says that in the year 363, Emperor Julian made Apronianus Governor of Rome. Bibiana suffered in the persecution started by him. She was the daughter of Christians, Flavian, a Roman knight, and Dafrosa, his wife. Bibiana’s father was tortured and sent into exile, where he died of his wounds. Her mother was beheaded, and their two daughters, Bibiana and Demetria, were stripped of their possessions and left to suffer poverty. However, they remained in their house, spending their time in fasting and prayer. Governer Apronianus, seeing that hunger and want had no effect upon them, summoned them. Demetria, after confessing her faith, fell dead at the feet of the tyrant. Bibiana was reserved for greater sufferings. She was placed in the hands of a wicked woman called Rufina, who in vain endeavored defile her virginity. She used blows as well as persuasion, but the Christian virgin remained faithful. Enraged at the constancy of this saintly virgin, Apronianus ordered her to be tied to a pillar and beaten with scourges, laden with lead plummets, until she died. The saint endured the torments with joy, and died under the blows inflicted by the hands of the executioner. Her body was then put in the open air to be torn apart by wild animals, yet none would touch it. After two days she was buried according to this legend.

St. Francis Xavier

St. Francis Xavier

On Dec. 3, the Roman Catholic Church honors St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits who went on to evangelize vast portions of Asia.

Francis Xavier was born during 1506 in the Kingdom of Navarre, a region now divided between Spain and France. His mother was an esteemed heiress, and his father an adviser to King John III. While his brothers entered the military, Francis followed an intellectual path to a college in Paris. There he studied philosophy, and later taught it after earning his masters degree.

In Paris, the young man would discover his destiny with the help of his long-time friend Peter Faber, and an older student named Ignatius Loyola – who came to Paris in 1528 to finish a degree, and brought together a group of men looking to glorify God with their lives.

At first, personal ambition kept Francis from heeding God’s call. Ignatius’ humble and austere lifestyle did not appeal to him. But the older student, who had undergone a dramatic conversion, often posed Christ’s question to Francis: “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Gradually, Ignatius convinced the young man to give up his own plans and open his mind to God’s will. In 1534, Francis Xavier, Peter Faber, and four other men joined Ignatius in making a vow of poverty, chastity, and dedication to the spread of the Gospel through personal obedience to the Pope.

Francis became a priest in 1537. Three years later, Pope Paul III confirmed Ignatius and his companions as a religious order, the Jesuits. During that year, the king of Portugal asked the Pope to send missionaries to his newly-acquired territories in India.

Together with another Jesuit, Simon Rodriguez, Francis first spent time in Portugal caring for the sick and giving instruction in the faith. On his 35th birthday, he set sail for Goa on India’s west coast. There, however, he found the Portuguese colonists causing disgrace to the Church through their bad behavior.

This situation spurred the Jesuit to action. He spent his days visiting prisoners and the sick, gathering groups of children together to teach them about God, and preaching to both Portuguese and Indians. Adopting the lifestyle of the common people, he lived on rice and water in a hut with a dirt floor.

Xavier’s missionary efforts among them often succeeded, though he had more difficulty converting the upper classes, and encountered opposition from both Hindus and Muslims. In 1545 he extended his efforts to Malaysia, before moving on to Japan in 1549.

Becoming fluent in Japanese, Francis instructed the first generation of Japanese Catholic converts. Many said that they were willing to suffer martyrdom, rather than renounce the faith brought by the far-flung Jesuit.

St. Francis Xavier became ill and died on Dec. 3, 1552, while seeking a way to enter the closely-guarded kingdom of China. In 1622, both St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius Loyola were canonized on the same day.