January 15th, 2019
Jan 15 - “St. Ita” © artwork by Brenda Nippert. Happy Feast Day St. Ita!
Born of noble parents, Saint Ita was given the name Diedre. Her mother was a princess and her father a chieftain. Even as a child, Ita was so good and holy that no one was surprised when she wished to devote her life to God. Surprised or not, her father refused to let her consecrate herself and wished to arrange a marriage which she in return refused. Ita set off with a few companions and her sister to live the life they choose, for God and God alone. They journeyed to Killeedy where Ita founded a convent spending the rest of her life there. Her convent became a training school for young boys. Many of which became great men in the church, earning Ita the nickname “foster mother of the saints.” One of the boys she mentored was Saint Brendan, the great navigator. He often came to visit Ita between his voyages and sought her council throughout his life. Today, Ita's grave is still visited and often covered with flowers even 1,500 years later. Near her grave is also a holy well, known to cure many ills over the centuries.
Her feast day is January 15.
January 14th, 2019
Jan 14 - “Christ Sophia: The Word of God” © icon by Fr. Michael Reyes, OFM.
This icon celebrates the profound harmony that can exist between Eastern and Western spiritualities. Asian peoples who encounter the Gospel of Christ bring to it thousands of years of spiritual maturity from their own cultures. This joining of wisdoms, like the confluence of mighty rivers, is the work of Holy Wisdom, who has been at work in creation since the beginning of time.
The radiant face of Christ, who is the incarnated Word and Wisdom of God, hovers above the bloom of a pink lotus. Both arise from a velvet black background that depicts the silence of God. Chinese characters in gold leaf shine from this darkness to name “Jesus Christ.”
Because a lotus is rooted in mud and climbs through murky water toward light at its surface to bloom, it has been an ancient Asian symbol for enlightenment. The Buddha and other ancient Asian saints sit on lotus thrones to symbolize the enlightenment they have achieved in their lives. In this icon the pink blossom of the lotus is a glowing throne for Christ, who is the Wisdom of God.
The lotus, like Christ, is a coincidence of opposites. It ties darkness to light, earth to sky, and decomposing matter to new life. As such it is also a symbol of Christian life. At the heart of Christian life is the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Every Christian is called to enter into this mystery. To enter the mystery fully is to become like Christ, who is the Wisdom of God. The lotus is a symbol of this process of transfiguration.
January 13th, 2019
Jan 13 - “Pope Francis” © artwork by Julie Lonneman.
Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is the first pope from the Americas and the first from the Southern Hemisphere. Like St. Francis, his papal namesake, the pope is known for his humility, simplicity, and concern for the poor. Following St. Francis’ example, Pope Francis has dedicated himself to the reform and healing of the Church. In his words,
“We grow in understanding of the truth…There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the Church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.”
Through his efforts, may the Church become realigned with the core message of Jesus, and in turn,“…enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep.”
And, with Pope Francis, may we the Church become ever more committed to building a new world, arm in arm with others.
January 12th, 2019
Jan 12 - “St. Aelred of Rievaulx” © icon by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM. Happy Feast Day St. Aelred!
Aelred lived in northern Britain at the time when Norman cultural values were displacing more ancient Celtic ways. He was himself most likely a Celt, and was the son of a married priest. As a young man he was taken into the service of King David of Scotland. Intimate male friendship was common in old Celtic culture and Aelred became the closest of friends with the King’s son and stepsons.
At 24 he left the court and became a monk at the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx. The Cistercians were reformers of western Christian monasticism, who stressed simplicity and the contemplative life. Their order was newly founded when Aelred joined and he is counted as one of the first Cistercian mystical theologians.
Aelred was abbot of Rievaulx by the time he was 38 years old. The abbey swelled to 600 monks, largely because of his reputation as a wise and gentle leader. According to a biographer of his time, "He did not treat them with the pedantic imbecility habitual in some silly abbots who, if a monk takes a brother's’ hand in his own or says something they do not like, demand his cowl, strip and expel him." Aelred encouraged his monks to be friends and was himself a close friend to a monk named Simon. When Aelred lay dying, monks sat all over his bed and "talked with him," says his biographer, "as a little child prattles with its mother." Although Latin was the common language for monastic prayer, with his last breath he called on God to hasten, "for Crist Luve."
Aelred has been called the patron saint of friendship. He wrote a treatise called Spiritual Friendship, in which he says, "...what is true of charity I surely do not hesitate to grant friendship, since he that abides in friendship abides in God, and God in him."
His feast day is Jan 12.
January 11th, 2019
Jan 11 - “Jesus I Love You - Lesos Konoronhkwa” © artwork by Br. Mickey McGrath, OSFS.
Konoronhkwa in Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) language has a deeper meaning than “I love you.”
It is an interconnected, deep love, caring and compassion toward another relation whether it be a person, animal, plant life or spirit.
Remembering Konoronhkwa is the way to healing and reconciliation with all our relations.
January 10th, 2019
Jan 10 - “St. Paul of Obnora” © icon by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM. Happy Feast Day St. Paul!
St. Paul was born into a noble family near Moscow. When his parents arranged a marriage for him, he secretly left his family home and entered a distant monastery. Some time later he moved to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity to become a disciple of St. Sergius of Radonezh. Under the direction of St. Sergius, he made great progress in unceasing prayer of the heart. The elder blessed him to retire to a hermitage near the monastery, and he lived there 15 years.
In time St. Sergius gave him permission to go deeper into the wilderness as a desert-dweller, and he disappeared into the forests across the Volga River, where he found an ancient hollow linden tree for a hermitage. Eating whatever plants he could find, he was soon surrounded by wild animals of all sorts who lived peacefully in his presence. It was as though the original peace of Eden surrounded the man of God.
Near the end of his life he was persuaded to found a cenobitic monastery near his hermitage. He appointed one of his disciples to be abbot of this monastery and he himself lived in solitude. He died at the age of 112 and was buried near the monastery church.
In the following century Kazan Tatars destroyed his monastery and killed many of the monks. It was rebuilt and became a popular pilgrimage site until the communists destroyed it in the last century.
His feast day is January 10.
January 9th, 2019
Jan 9 - “Venerable Br. Polycarp” © icon by Lewis Williams, OFS. Happy Memorial Day Br. Polycarp!
Born in the French countryside, tending sheep in the foothills of the Alps, Br. Polycarp’s roots and temperament were almost opposite those of founder Fr. Andre’ Coindre. Yet God’s plan for Polycarp was to revive this order of Brothers after the death of its founder. He began as a teacher, fervently teaching Christian values and was much beloved by his students. Seeking deeper commitment, he knew of two neighbors who had joined a recently formed congregation of teaching Brothers and approached them about their lives. At age 26 he opted to join them. He was quickly noted for his modesty and serenity of heart. By 1830, the French Revolution revived, along with its persecution of the Church. This was a difficult time for the Order, but it survived and on September 13, 1841, Br. Polycarp was elected by his peers Superior General. He addressed the abuses that had crept into the Community during the difficult times, returning to the ideals of the founder to form a Rule for the Community. At his death there were 400 Brothers serving needy youth in 70 schools, with plans to establish the Congregation in the United States. Rekindling the torch lit by Fr. Coindre, his kindly heart was aflame with love for his Brothers and the youth he served. The Brothers at that time chose as their symbol the joined Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This image too was representative of the two founders, Andre of Christ’s passion and he with the gentle, suffering heart of Mary.
January 8th, 2019
Jan 8 - “Japanese Christ, the Pearl of Great Price” © icon by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM.
When missionaries first arrived in Japan in the 16th century, they presented Christian theology with European trappings. They also encouraged Japanese converts to abandon their native culture and adopt Western ways. As a result, Japanese authorities suspected that the converts were foreign agents and unleashed a brutal persecution, driving any converts who survived into hiding.
While Christianity returned to Japan under new laws of religious freedom in the 1870’s, it has always remained the faith of a tiny minority. The novelist Shusaku Endo became a Catholic as a child. In the second half of the 20th century, he wrote a series of novels, struggling to reconcile this religion from Europe with his Japanese identity.
He once described Catholicism as a symphony rather than a solo. He said that it could only be a true religion if it found room for a Japanese contribution. His major novels, Silence and The Samurai, are major efforts to discover that Japanese contribution.
This icon uses Japanese symbols for compassion and enlightenment to describe the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus sits on a glorious lotus blossom, in the posture of a bodhisattva, just as in ancient Greek icons he is depicted in the robes of a philosopher like Plato or Aristotle. As the Greek artists made no effort to depict Jesus as a Palestinian Jew, but made him one of their own, so he is depicted here as a Japanese man. As they freely gave him attributes of Greek gods and Roman emperors, without fear of adding him to the pantheon of another religion, here Buddhist attributes surround Jesus, with no intention of making him Buddhist.
The inscription on the left side of the icon reads “Jesus Christ.” That on the right reads “The Pearl of Great Price.” Jesus and his Gospel are the pearl of great price for all of humanity. Just as we translate the words of the Gospel into other languages, so we must find ways to describe Jesus, the Word himself, with symbols that make sense to non-Europeans.
January 7th, 2019
Jan 7 - “Christ the Student” © artwork by Br. Mickey McGrath, OSFS.
This painting depicts Jesus as a student at the age of twelve. According to the gospel of Luke, He sat amidst the teachers in the Temple in Jerusalem, asking them questions and astounding them with His answers and the breadth of His knowledge. In the upper right corner, we see the tear-stained faces of Mary and Joseph, who have spent three days frantically looking for Him among the throngs of people who had come there for Passover. Their tears are the tears of relief and pride.
The elders of the Temple are shown not just as Rabbis, but also represent leaders and teachers from other faiths and cultures. They are all dressed in black and white to emphasize Jesus as the only source of color and light. He inspires us to think outside the boundaries of our black and white worlds, and to find in Him the encouragement we need to be ourselves, broaden our horizons, and deepen the faith that lives in our hearts. Following His example, we become students for life in “our father’s house”, always ready to learn something new about ourselves and about the love of God.
January 6th, 2019
Jan 6 - “St. André Bessette” © artwork by Julie Lonneman. Happy Feast Day St. André!
Orphaned at age 12, in chronically poor health and poorly educated, Alfred Bessette began to wander here and there in search of work. During the ensuing thirteen years, he made his living as a farm boy, tinsmith, blacksmith, baker, cobbler and coachman, often suffering exploitation at the hands of his employers. In 1870, Alfred presented himself as a candidate at the novitiate of the Congregation of Holy Cross in Montreal. Given the name Brother André, he began serving as porter and gardener at Notre Dame College, a post he held for 25 years.
Soon the sick and broken-hearted found their way to the humble lay brother's tiny gatehouse for comfort and prayers. Because of his special devotion to St. Joseph, he encouraged his visitors to pray to the saint and many experienced answers to their prayers. Brother André enlisted the help of friends to build a chapel dedicated to St. Joseph, using money he had earned by cutting students' hair. This was the humble beginning of the great Oratory of St. Joseph that today overlooks Montreal on Mount Royal. It remains a popular pilgrimage site where thousands come to pray for physical and spiritual healing.
"A daily crowd of the sick, the afflicted, the poor of all kinds—those who were handicapped or wounded by life—came to him. They found in his presence a welcome ear, comfort and faith in God. Do not the poor of today have as much need of such love, of such hope, of such education in prayer?"
—Pope John Paul II
His feast day is Jan 6.