Today is the feast of my patron saint, Saint Margaret of Scotland.
Margaret was the daughter of King Edward the Exile of England. After her father's death, she fled from England; she was received by Malcolm III of Scotland, who later married her. As queen, Margaret convoked a synod which made regulations concerning the Lenten fast, Easter Communion, and marriage laws. She founded several churches, and was constantly engaged in prayer and pious practices.
When I converted to the Church in 1984, I pored over a mini Butler to find just the right saint. Finally, I settled on this woman for a few reasons: she was lay, she had many children, and she died shortly after her husband (why stick around?). She also lived in a different land from where she was born. Small point, but nostalgically important then (and still).
When the time came for my entrance into the Church, I announced I had chosen my "name," at which the priest receiving me was perplexed. "We don't do that any more," was his less-than-gracious reply. Remember, this was pre-RCIA and "off-season." (I was slipping into the Church in February because I wanted to have everything completed before my wedding.) We tussled, and then compromised. He would enter "Margaret" as my middle name.
Obviously, I have since had children confirmed -- children who were asked to choose patron saints -- and it was a big deal. But, for the record, dear Margaret is a part of my paperwork ... somewhere.
It is also the feast of Saint Gertrude (the Great!) and thus the name day of a fine woman who passed away in 2009. Mothers matter. And this mother (like Margaret) made a great difference:
October 21 ,Gertrud Gänswein, the 78-year-old mother of Pope Benedict's personal secretary, Msgr. Georg Gänswein, passed away at her home in Freiburg, Germany. Her death was unexpected.
She had appeared in vibrant health just two months ago at the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the priestly ordination of her son and she was at the time received in an audience by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Italian writer Alessandra Borghese, a friend of don Georg, in an article published four months ago, on June 11, in Gente, said that Msgr. Georg's relationship with his mother was "decisive and fundamental" for his priestly vocation, and that this relationship was then still "extremely close."
In an interview two years ago, Msgr. Georg said his mother was "a woman who above all knew how to give answers to the questions of her children."
I imagine, according to custom, she was buried with the linen cloth that wrapped the hands of her son at his ordination -- her son who was subsequently named an Archbishop. (I know one dear woman whose eyes positively sparkled when she pondered that detail of her own imminent passing!) Surely, the Church's calendar is filled with feasts dedicated to strong women -- on whom the integrity of our culture depends. Happy feast day to all Margarets and Gertrudes -- and their spiritual daughters!
[The above portion came from the regular newsletter offered by Robert Moynihan, editor of Inside the Vatican. Always informative and well-written, I highly recommend it -- here.]
The story of Saint Josephine Bakhita is a marvelous testament to the power of God's love, the power of forgiveness, and the power of love to overcome evil. She was kidnapped by slave traders when she was a small child, beaten and scarred, treated as a near-worthless object—but she persevered until she found a new way to live. This short segment from my book explains how forgiveness fits in:
It was her fifth owner, the Italian consul at Karthoum, who first showed her kindness and ultimately brought her to Europe, where she discovered Christ. While taking care of the young daughter of a family there, she was introduced to the Canossan Sisters with whom she eventually found a home as a religious sister. Fifty years of quiet consecrated life allowed her to witness to others the deep abiding peace that faith and forgiveness can bring. Seeing God’s hand even in the difficult path of her life, she noted, “If I was to meet those slave raiders that abducted me and those who tortured me, I'd kneel down to them to kiss their hands, because, if it had not been for them, I would not have become a Christian and religious woman.”
At her beatification, Pope John Paul II praised her as “Our Universal Sister,” pointing out that she offers us “a message of reconciliation and evangelic forgiveness in a world so much divided and hurt by hatred and violence.” Note that Bakhita didn’t say that what the slave traders and her owners did to her was right—it most certainly was not. But she recognized that through her wounds she found salvation, which she could not ignore.
Cardinal Weurl reminds us of the importance of her story as it relates to the suffering of women even today:
At Bakhita’s canonization, Blessed John Paul II called the first saint from Sudan “a shining advocate of genuine emancipation” for women victimized in today’s world. “The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance, but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights,” the pope said.
Some have promoted Bakhita as a possible patron saint for the victims of human trafficking, the modern-day form of slavery that includes forced labor and many women and children of both sexes being forced into prostitution. The feast day of Saint Josephine Bakhita, February 8, has been designated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a day of prayer to raise awareness of, and to help end, the scourge of human trafficking.
The severity of human trafficking cannot be underestimated. It is estimated that there are as many as 27 million trafficking victims at any given time worldwide. A recent article in the Catholic News Service notes that experts estimate that five million of these trafficked and enslaved people are children. The evil is unfolding not only in foreign countries. A 2013 report from the U.S. State Department confirms that the “United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children – both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals – subjected to forced labor, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, and sex trafficking.”
That number—27 million—defies comprehension, but try to imagine the horror of each of those isolated souls. We must beg Saint Bakhita's intercession to bring light, emancipation, and joy to these captives. But there's more to the suffering than even the statistics reveal:
There are many forms of slavery, including those that do not have visible chains or leave outward marks. We suffer from them as long as we cannot name them, claim our own dignity which comes from being created in the image and likeness of God, and renounce them from holding us captive. The liberation that forgiveness can offer is as stark as the sundering of iron fetters and the opening of a prison door—it is for the one who suffers to choose freedom and wholeness of heart, despite her surroundings. The graces of God are available to all even in the darkest hours and each cross bears within it the seeds of Easter for those who cling to Christ.
Please pray for for all who are captive—from those enduring physical constraints to those trapped in a cell of resentment over past injuries. Consider how freedom may be lacking even in the lives of those around you, and share Bakhita's story. Even when all the slaves have been freed, it remains for us to show them how to rise above the past, and how to realise all the good that God has in store for those who forgive.
After decades of distracted catechesis on the faith, many contemporary Catholics have discerned two pressing needs: to learn why Marian
devotion is such an integral element in the life of the Church, and to find a
comprehensive (but accessible!) written work to offer to others who believe that there
is no need to include Mary in their journey towards God. In this entirely
readable text, Walking With Mary: A
Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross, Dr. Edward Sri provides just such a tool to reintroduce Catholics to the Mother of God, and to lead them to an appreciation for the particular beauty of Mary.
One of the delightful attributes of this book is its
wonderful balance that operates on many levels. Dr. Sri explains the overarching
reverence in which Mary has been held by the faithful over the centuries while
showing that her witness as Jesus’ first disciple is a model for all
Christians. He reveals how her singular role in salvation history was
foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament while at the same time her fiat provided the means for an entirely
unexpected event. Moreover, there is an explanation of how her spotless soul shows
the magnanimity of God while simultaneously explaining that her humility is an
essential component in putting on Christ. Finally, the author shows how Mary can be
both mother and queen while living as apostle and witness to generation after
generation of her spiritual children.
One might think that little can be known of Mary because of
her quietness throughout the Gospels—she speaks so rarely!—but reliable Biblical
scholarship shows us how both the setting in the events of her life and the particular phrasing of the scriptural texts provide magnificent details that would otherwise be missed. Even words that we may regularly gloss over, such as “on the third day,” “hour,”
and "woman” are themselves charged with meaning, providing more essential clues.
Dr. Sri synthesises the original Greek
texts, related Biblical passages, and sentence structure, as he reminds the reader of the virtues being revealed and Divine promises kept. While it is a truism that “ignorance
of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” the very same can be said about our
knowledge of Mary, the first fruit and most perfect image of the Church.
Every faithful child of the Church is a child of Mary (whether
or not he or she is aware of the relationship) but readers will discover how Mary’s maternity is particularly instructive for a world that rejects
both motherhood and fatherhood. In the end, her fiat—which was renewed as
events unfolded—included the call to nurture each of us, who are thereby enfolded
in her mantle of mercy. Her fidelity to her children, her concern for our joys
and sorrows should encourage and console us. In fact, her fiat is a warm, motherly invitation to
persevere in the demands of love, no matter the cost.
This book is a delight, and would make a wonderful gift for any serious Christian. If we can see our way to Mary, the rest of the journey
will be a road of familial joy and fortifying communion. I heartily recommend Walking With Mary!
Richard Miller explains the genesis of the feast day:
The feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary began in Spain in 1513 and in 1671 was extended to all of Spain and the Kingdom of Naples. In 1683, John Sobieski, king of Poland, brought an army to the outskirts of Vienna to stop the advance of Muslim armies loyal to Mohammed IV in Constantinople. After Sobieski entrusted himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he and his soldiers thoroughly defeated the Muslims. Pope Innocent XI extended this feast to the entire Church.
“Lord our God, when your Son was dying on the altar of the cross, he gave us as our mother the one he had chosen to be his own mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary; grant that we who call upon the holy name of Mary, our mother, with confidence in her protection may receive strength and comfort in all our needs” (Marian Sacramentary, Mass for the Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary).
In the words of Saint Bonaventure:
Blessed is the man who loves thy name, O Mary!
Yes, truly blessed is he who loves thy sweet name, O Mother of God!
for, thy name is so glorious and admirable,
that no one who remembers it has any fears at the hour of death....
I ask thee, O Mary, for the glory of thy name,
to come and meet my soul when it is departing from this world,
Thomas a Kempis affirms "that the devils fear the Queen of heaven to such a degree, that only on hearing her great name pronounced, they fly from him who does so as from a burning fire." The Blessed Virgin herself revealed to St. Bridget "that there is not on earth a sinner, however devoid he may be of the love of God, from whom the devil is not obliged immediately to fly, if he invokes her holy name with a determination to repent." On another occasion she repeated the same thing to the saint, saying, "that all the devils venerate and fear her name to such a degree, that on hearing it they immediately loosen the claws with which they hold the soul captive." Our Blessed Lady also told St. Bridget, "that in the same way as the rebel angels fly from sinners who invoke the name of Mary, so also do the good angels approach nearer to just souls who pronounce her name with devotion."
A prayer to Mary, and an triple invocation:
O dearest Lady, Sweet Mother mine, watch the hour when my departing soul shall lose its hold on all earthly things, and stand unveiled in the presence of its Creator. Show thyself as my tender Mother then, and offer to the Eternal Father the precious Blood of thy Son Jesus for my poor soul, that it may, thus purified, be pleasing in His sight. Plead for thy poor child at the moment of his (or her) departure from this world, and say to the Heavenly Father: Receive him (or her) this day into Thy Kingdom! Amen.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with you.
Imprimatur: +John Farley, Archbishop of New York, Sept 19, 1908.
Pope Benedict's Wednesday Audience was especially profound today, as applied to the challenges of everyday life, but also when tackling the tragedies that spring up in our midst:
As part of our catechesis for this
Year of Faith, it is fitting, during these last days of Advent, to consider the
faith of Mary, the Virgin Mother of Christ. At the Annunciation, the angel
Gabriel greets Mary with an invitation to rejoice because the Lord is with her.
This joy is that of the messianic hope of God’s people, the daughter of Zion,
now being fulfilled in her. It is also the fruit of the grace which
fills Mary’s heart and shapes her obedience to God’s word. Mary’s faith,
like that of Abraham, combines complete trust in the Lord’s promises with a
certain “unknowing.” In her life Mary knew, as we do, that God’s will can
seem at times obscure and far from our expectations; it involves embracing the
mystery of the Cross.
Mary--like Abraham (her father in faith)--was faced with incomprehensible events. They were not only out of the ordinary, but seemed at face value to contradict what each already knew about God. Their daily communion with God through prayer and observance of the law stabilised them amidst the turbulence, and guided them as they placed one foot in front of the other along a perplexing journey.
If the trust hadn't been built previously, they would never have been able to shoulder the burdens of their calling. That said, even those who embrace all the means possible to know God may still find his ways bewildering at times.
It is significant that at the Annunciation Mary
ponders in her heart the meaning of the Angel’s message. Her example
reminds us that faith, while fully obedient to the Lord’s will, also must seek
daily to discern, understand and accept that will. In this holy season, may Our
Lady’s prayers help us to grow in a humble, trusting faith which will open the
door to God’s grace in our hearts and in our world.
Today is the feast day of a brilliant son of Mary, although it was not always so. It was not that Bl. John Duns Scotus wasn't always devoted to the Mother of God, it was that he wasn't always brilliant. His intellect seems to have been a singular gift offered to him while still a youngster studying with the Cistercians -- for he wanted to be able to explain the truths of God. After having begged to be healed of his "dullness," he was infused with tremendous insights, leading one biographer to note:
He described the Divine Nature as if he had seen God; the celestial spirits as if he had been an angel;the happiness of the future state as if he had enjoyed them; and the ways of Providence as if he had penetrated into its secrets.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia explains where the gift led:
It was also in Paris that Bl. John came to be called as the "Marian Doctor" after he championed the privilege of Mary's Immaculate Conception. In England, Bl. John taught the truth of this Marian privilege without any opposition. But at Paris the situation was reversed. The academic body of the University admitted only the purification of Mary in the womb of Her mother St. Anne, like St. John the Baptist. Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Parisian Masters, were not able to solve the problem of the universality of original sin and of the efficacy of Christ's Redemption. They thought that even the Blessed Virgin Mary was included in this universality, and therefore subject to contract the original stain even if only for an instant, so that she may also be redeemed. Scotus in his attempt to introduce and teach a theological position different from that upheld by the university, had to appear in a public dispute before the whole academic body, at the risk of expulsion from the university if he failed to defend his doctrine. Bl. John Scotus prepared himself for the event in prayer and recollection and in total confidence to the Immaculate Virgin, the Seat of Wisdom.
When the fixed day of the dispute arrived, on leaving the convent, he passed before a statue of Our Lady and with suppliant voice entreated her: "Allow me to praise You, O Most Holy Virgin; give me strength against your enemies." Our Lady responded with a prodigious visible sign: the head of the statue moved and bowed slightly before him. It was as if to say: "Yes I will give you all the strength you need."
Two Papal legates presided over the dispute. Then with powerful dialectic and with deep and subtle reasoning, Bl. Scotus refuted all the objections of the learned men in attendance, undermining the foundation of every argument contrary to Mary's Immaculate Conception. Bl. John Scotus pointed out: "The Perfect Redeemer, must in some case, have done the work of redemption most perfectly, which would not be, unless there is some person, at least, in whose regard, the wrath of God was anticipated and not merely appeased." Bl. John triumphed. From that day the University of Paris took up the same cause to defend this privilege of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
your love be upon us, O Lord, as we place all our hope in you” (Ps
32:22). With these words, the liturgy invites us to make our own this
hymn to God, creator and provider, accepting his plan into our lives.
María Carmelo Sallés y Barangueras, a religious born in Vic in Spain in
1848, did just so. Filled with hope in spite of many trials, she, on
seeing the progress of the Congregation of the Conceptionist Missionary
Sisters of Teaching, which she founded in 1892, was able to sing with
the Mother of God, “His mercy is on those who fear him from generation
to generation” (Lk 1:50). Her educational work, entrusted to the
Immaculate Virgin Mary, continues to bear abundant fruit among young
people through the generous dedication of her daughters who, like her,
entrust themselves to God for whom all is possible.
I now turn
to Marianne Cope, born in eighteen thirty-eight in Heppenheim, Germany.
Only one year old when taken to the United States, in eighteen
sixty-two she entered the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis at
Syracuse, New York. Later, as Superior General of her congregation,
Mother Marianne willingly embraced a call to care for the lepers of
Hawaii after many others had refused. She personally went, with six of
her fellow sisters, to manage a hospital on Oahu, later founding
Malulani Hospital on Maui and opening a home for girls whose parents
were lepers. Five years after that she accepted the invitation to open a
home for women and girls on the island of Molokai itself, bravely going
there herself and effectively ending her contact with the outside
world. There she looked after Father Damien, already famous for his
heroic work among the lepers, nursed him as he died and took over his
work among male lepers. At a time when little could be done for those
suffering from this terrible disease, Marianne Cope showed the highest
love, courage and enthusiasm. She is a shining and energetic example of
the best of the tradition of Catholic nursing sisters and of the spirit
of her beloved Saint Francis.
Kateri Tekakwitha was born in
today’s New York state in sixteen fifty-six to a Mohawk father and a
Christian Algonquin mother who gave to her a sense of the living God.
She was baptized at twenty years of age and, to escape persecution, she
took refuge in Saint Francis Xavier Mission near Montreal. There she
worked, faithful to the traditions of her people, although renouncing
their religious convictions until her death at the age of twenty-four.
Leading a simple life, Kateri remained faithful to her love for Jesus,
to prayer and to daily Mass. Her greatest wish was to know and to do
what pleased God. She lived a life radiant with faith and purity.
Kateri impresses us by the action of grace in her life in spite of the
absence of external help and by the courage of her vocation, so unusual
in her culture. In her, faith and culture enrich each other! May her
example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who
we are. Saint Kateri, Protectress of Canada and the first native
American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the first
nations and in all of North America! May God bless the first nations!
Schaeffer, from Mindelstetten, as a young woman wished to enter a
missionary order. She came from a poor background so, in order to earn
the dowry needed for acceptance into the cloister, she worked as a maid.
One day she suffered a terrible accident and received incurable burns
on her legs which forced her to be bed-ridden for the rest of her life.
So her sick-bed became her cloister cell and her suffering a missionary
service. She struggled for a time to accept her fate, but then
understood her situation as a loving call from the crucified One to
follow him. Strengthened by daily communion, she became an untiring
intercessor in prayer and a mirror of God’s love for the many who sought
her counsel. May her apostolate of prayer and suffering, of sacrifice
and expiation, be a shining example for believers in her homeland, and
may her intercession strengthen the Christian hospice movement in its
Four lovely icons of Holy Mother Church -- our true teacher, our source of healing and consolation, the builder of authentic culture. Four new examples of the feminine genius that is only fully possible in the rich soil of our faith. Dear sisters, pray for us!