St. Matthew, Apostle

Saint Matthew, the first-century tax collector turned apostle who chronicled the life and ministry of Christ in his Gospel, is celebrated by the Church today, September 21. Although relatively little is known about the life of St. Matthew, the account he wrote of Christ’s ministry – traditionally considered to be the first of the four Gospels – is of inestimable value to the Church, particularly in its verification of Jesus as the Messiah. Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox churches celebrate St. Matthew on November 16, along with St. Fulvianus, a prince who is recorded in some traditions as converting from paganism after Matthew’s martyrdom. The Gospel accounts of Mark and Luke, like Matthew’s own, describe the encounter between Jesus and Matthew under the surprising circumstances of Matthew’s tax-collecting duties. Jewish publicans, who collected taxes on behalf of the Roman rulers of first-century Judea, were objects of scorn and even hatred among their own communities, since they worked on behalf of the occupying power and often earned their living by collecting more than the state’s due. Jesus most likely first encountered Matthew near the house of Peter, in Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. The meeting of the two was dramatic, as Matthew’s third-person account in his Gospel captured: “As Jesus passed on,â€� the ninth chapter recounts, “he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me’. And he got up and followed him.â€� Matthew’s calling into Jesus’ inner circle was a dramatic gesture of the Messiah’s universal message and mission, causing some religious authorities of the Jewish community to wonder: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?â€� Jesus’ significant response indicated a central purpose of his ministry: “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”A witness to Christ’s resurrection after death, as well as his ascension into heaven and the events of Pentecost, Matthew also recorded Jesus’ instruction for the apostles to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.â€�Like 11 of the 12 apostles, St. Matthew is traditionally thought to have died as a martyr while preaching the Gospel. The Roman Martyrology describes his death as occurring in a territory near present-day Egypt. Both the saint himself, and his Gospel narrative, have inspired important works of religious art, ranging from the ornate illuminated pages of the Book of Kells in the ninth century, to the Saint Matthew Passion of J.S. Bach. Three famous paintings of Caravaggio, depicting St. Matthew’s calling, inspiration and martyrdom, hang within the Contarelli Chapel in Rome’s Church of St. Louis of the French.Reflecting on St. Matthew’s calling, from the pursuit of dishonest financial gain to the heights of holiness and divine inspiration, Pope Benedict said in 2006 that “in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God’s mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvelous effects in their own lives.â€�

Sts. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Choñg Ha

Pope John Paul II said this of the Catholic Church in Korea: “The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by laypeople. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast 10,000 martyrs. The years 1791, 1801, 1827, 1839, 1846, and 1866 are forever signed with the holy blood of your martyrs and engraved in your hearts. The death of these many martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today’s splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians of the Church of Silence in the north of this tragically divided land.” Christianity came to Korea through Christian books which had been brought across the border from China. In 1784 the small community of Koreans who had been converted through what they read in the books sent one of their own to Beijing to receive baptism.In the next half century, the rapidly growing Christian community of Korea was sustained in the Sacraments by only two priests from China, until 1836, when, after years of pleading, a group of French missionary priests were sent to Korea. These priests all numbered among the martyrs.At the end of the 18th century and throughout the next, there were six great waves of persecution in which 10,000 martyrs shed their blood for the faith. Saints Andrew Kim Taegon and Paul Chong Hasañg, were leaders of the Catholic Church in Korea. Andrew Kim Taegon was born to Korean nobility, and his parents converted when he was 15-years old. He traveled over 1000 miles to study in a seminary and became the first native Korean priest. He was tortured and beheaded in 1846.Paul Choñg Hasang was a Korean Catholic lay leader who defended the faith before the government of Korea, and reunited the Christians in the midst of the persecutions, encouraging them to stay strong in the faith. In response to his direct appeals, the Pope, Gregory X, confirmed the validity of the Korean Church and sent more priests to Korea. He was martyred in 1839.

St. Emily de Rodat

Emily was born in 1787 at Rodez, France.  She was educated at Villefranche, became a teacher at the age of 18 and, realizing that many of the children of the poor were not going to school because they could not afford to, she opened a school for them and taught without charge. She also began to consider religious life, but after entering three or four congregations for a short time, she realized that she was not called to any of the existing orders. Emily devoted all of her life to teaching the poor and gathered other young women to help her cope with the rapidly growing numbers of children in her school. These women also gave all their lives to teaching the children and became the nucleus of the Religious Congregation of the Holy Family of Villefranche.  The congregation was devoted to caring for the elderly, prisoners, and orphans, in addition to the schools for the poor. Some of the nuns were also contemplative and spent their time in prayer and adoration. She died of cancer at Villefranche on September 19, 1852.  At the time of her death Saint Emily de Rodat had opened 38 charitable institutions.   Saint Emily was canonized in 1950 by Pope Pius XII.

St. Joseph of Cupertino

On September 18, the Church celebrates the life of St. Joseph of Cupertino, a mystic who was perhaps most famous for his ability to fly.  His father, a poor carpenter, died before his birth and his mother, who was unable to pay the debts, lost her home and gave birth to Joseph in a stable at Cupertino, Italy on June 17, 1603.Joseph began having mystical visions when he was seven, and was often so lost to the world around him that the other children made fun of him giving him the nickname, “open-mouthed” for his gaping manner.He had an irascible temper and read very poorly, giving others the impression that he was dumb and good for nothing. Aside from that, he was so continually drawn into ecstasy that it was impossible for him to be attentive to the tasks at hand. Thus, when he secured a job, he lost it very quickly.He finally managed to obtain a post taking care of a stable in a Franciscan convent near Cupertino. Upon realizing his holiness and aptitude for penance, humility, and obedience, it was decided that he could begin studying for the priesthood.Joseph was a very poor student, however during his final examination, the examiner happened to ask him a question on the one topic he knew well.  He passed and was admitted into the priesthoodIt was also soon recognized that though he knew little by way of worldly knowledge and had little capacity to learn, Joseph was infused with a divine knowledge that made him capable of solving some of the most intricate theological quandaries.For the last 35 years of his life as a priest he was unable to celebrate Mass in public because he would often, without being able to help it, be lifted up into the air when he went into an ecstatic state, which happened at nearly every Mass.  It took only the slightest reference of anything having to do with God in order for this state to be induced in him.Despite being moved from one friary to another, because of the disruption he caused by his ecstasies and the persecutions he endured from some of his brothers who were envious of his gifts, he remained profoundly inundated by the joy of abandoning himself to Divine Providence.He died on September 18, 1663 and was canonized in 1767 by Pope Clement XIII.  He is the patron of air travelers and students preparing for exams.

St. Robert Bellarmine

On Sept. 17, the Catholic Church celebrates the Italian cardinal and theologian St. Robert Bellarmine. One of the great saints of the Jesuit order, St. Robert has also been declared a Doctor of the Church and the patron of catechists. Robert Bellarmine was born on October 4, 1542 in the Tuscan town of Montepulciano. His uncle was a cardinal who later became Pope Marcellus II. As a young man, Robert received his education from the Jesuit order, which had received written papal approval only two years before his birth.In September of 1560, Robert entered the Jesuit order himself. He studied philosophy for three years in Rome, then taught humanities until 1567, when he began a study of theology that lasted until 1569. The final stage of his training emphasized the refutation of Protestant errors.Robert received ordination to the priesthood in Belgium, where his sermons drew crowds of both Catholics and Protestants. In 1576, he returned to Italy and took up an academic position addressing theological controversies. The resulting work, his “Disputations,â€� became a classic of Catholic apologetics. Near the end of the 1580s, the esteemed theologian became “Spiritual Fatherâ€� to the Roman College. He served as a guide to St. Aloysius Gonzaga near the end of the young Jesuit’s life, and helped produce the authoritative Latin text of the Bible called for by the recent Council of Trent. Around the century’s end Robert became an advisor to Pope Clement VIII. The Pope named him a cardinal in 1599, declaring him to be the most educated man in the Church. Robert played a part in a debate between Dominicans and Jesuits regarding grace, though the Pope later decided to appoint and consecrate him as the Archbishop of Capua. The cardinal archbishop’s three years in Capua stood out as an example of fidelity to the reforming spirit and decrees of the Council of Trent. He was considered as a possible Pope in two successive elections, but the thought of becoming Pope disturbed him and in the end he was never chosen.In the early years of the 17th century, the cardinal took a public stand for the Church’s freedom when it came under attack in Venice and England. He also attempted, though not successfully, to negotiate peace between the Vatican and his personal friend Galileo Galilei, over the scientist’s insistence that not only the earth, but the entire universe, revolved around the sun.Cardinal Bellarmine retired due to health problems in the summer of 1621. Two years before, he had set out his thoughts on the end of earthly life in a book titled “The Art of Dying Well.â€� In that work, the cardinal explained that preparing for death was life’s most important business, since the state of one’s soul at death would determine the person’s eternal destiny.St. Robert Bellarmine died on September 17, 1621. Pope Pius XI canonized him in 1931, and declared him to be a Doctor of the Church.

St. Cornelius, Pope, Martyr and St. Cyprian, Bishop, Martyr

Saint Cornelius was elected Pope in 251 during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius. His first challenge, besides the ever present threat of the Roman authorities, was to bring an end to the schism brought on by his rival, the first anti-pope Novatian. He convened a synod of bishops to confirm him as the rightful successor of Peter. The great controversy that arose as a result of the Decian persecution was whether or not the Church could pardon and receive back into the Church those who had apostacized in the face of martyrdom.  Against both the bishops who argued that the Church could not welcome back apostates, and those who argued that they should be welcomed back but did not demand a heavy penance of the penitent, Cornelius decreed that they must be welcomed back and insisted that they perform an adequate penance. In 253 Cornelius was exiled by the emperor Gallus and died of the hardships he endured in exile. He is venerated as a martyr. Saint Cyprian of Carthage is second in importance only to the great Saint Augustine as a figure and Father of the African church. He was a close friend of Pope Cornelius, and supported him both against the anti-pope Novatian and in his views concerning the re-admittance of apostates into the Church. Saint Cyprian was born to wealthy pagans around the year 190, and was educated in the classics and in rhetoric. He converted at the age of 56, was ordained a priest a year later, and made bishop two years after that. His writings are of great importance, especially his treatise on The Unity of the Catholic Church, in which he argues that unity is grounded in the authority of the bishop, and among the bishops, in the primacy of the See of Rome. In, “The Unity of the Catholic Church,” St. Cyprian writes, “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother…. God is one and Christ is one, and his Church is one; one is the faith, and one is the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body…. If we are the heirs of Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are the sons of God, let us be lovers of peace.” During the Decian persecutions Cyprian considered it wiser to go into hiding and guide his flock covertly rather than seek the glorious crown of martyrdom, a decision that his enemies attacked him for. On September 14, 258, however, he was martyred during the persecutions of the emperor Valerian.

Our Lady of Sorrows

The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows commemorates the seven great sorrows which Mary lived in relation to Her Son, as they are recorded in the Gospels or through Tradition. Today we are invited to reflect on Mary’s deep suffering:1. At the prophecy of Simeon: “You yourself shall be pierced with a sword – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.” (Luke 2:35).2. At the flight into Egypt; “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt.” (Mt 2:13).3. Having lost the Holy Child at Jerusalem; “You see that your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow.” (Luke 2:48).4. Meeting Jesus on his way to Calvary; 5. Standing at the foot of the Cross; “Near the cross of Jesus there stood His mother.” (John 19:25).6. Jesus being taken from the Cross; 7. At the burial of Christ.Prior to the Second Vatican Council, there were two feasts devoted to the sorrows of Mary. The first feast was insitituted in Cologne in 1413 as an expiation for the sins of the iconoclast Hussites.  The second is attributed to the Servite order whose principal devotion are the Seven Sorrows.  It was institued in 1668, though the devotion had been in existence since 1239 – five years after the founding of the order.