Archive | January, 2018

St. John (Don) Bosco

January 26, 2018

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John Bosco was born in 1815 near Castelnuovo in the diocese of Turin in northern Italy. His family was extremely poor. His father died when he was only two, and he was raised by his mother and his two older brothers.

When John Bosco was ten he attended a traveling circus. He was nimble with his hands, learned magic tricks, and later conducted magic shows for his neighbors. He would conclude his performances with a prayer or a reflection on the gospel. In addition to making a small amount for his living and school expenses, it was the beginning of his journey to priesthood. He entered the seminary in 1835 at the age of twenty, and was ordained on June 5, 1841.

John Bosco’s first assignment was in Turin, and one of his ministries was to visit the local prison. He was horrified by the conditions and wanted to do everything possible to prevent young people from ending up there. With great zeal he reached out to boys and young men who were poor, neglected, homeless, uneducated, orphans, or roaming the streets. He used his magic tricks to grab their attention, and then would teach them about Jesus and the gospel. Through the generosity of wealthy local patrons, he was able to provide needy youth with food and shelter.

As the ministry grew, other priests joined the effort, and by 1852 over six hundred youth were in their care. Seven years later, in 1859, John Bosco founded the Society of St. Francis de Sales, commonly known as the Salesian Order, a religious community of men dedicated to the instruction of youth. It was the time of the industrial revolution. Youth were taught trades and manual skills such as bookbinding, printing, shoemaking, ironworking, and tailoring, and John Bosco became a pioneer of vocational education. These schools also taught arts, sciences, liberal arts, and religion for those preparing for higher studies or exploring a vocation to the priesthood.

There were many girls and young ladies who were also poor and neglected, so in collaboration with Sister Mary Dominic Mazzarello, in 1872 they founded a similar community for women, the Daughters of Our Lady, Help of Christians, commonly known as the Salesian Sisters.

A wave of emigration to Latin America began in 1875 which prompted a Salesian missionary apostolate. John Bosco traveled throughout Europe to solicit funds to support the missions to the needy, which caused some to refer to him as the new St. Vincent de Paul.

John Bosco also wrote a number of catechetical pamphlets that both explained and defended the Christian life. They were widely distributed throughout Europe and proved very popular. He also published the Salesian Bulletin, and he is the first saint ever to submit to a press interview.

John Bosco died on January 31, 1888, in Turin, Italy. His body was laid in state, and before his funeral forty thousand people filed by to pay their respects, and large crowds lined the streets for the procession. John Bosco was canonized on Easter Sunday, 1934, by Pope Pius XI. The next day a national holiday was proclaimed throughout Italy, the first time that a civic holiday had ever been declared to honor a canonized saint. Pope John Paul II gave him the title, “Teacher and father to the young.” He is the patron saint of Catholic publishers, editors, schoolchildren, apprentices, and laborers.

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Saint Fabian, Pope and Martyr

January 19, 2018

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Saint Fabian was the twentieth pope. He succeeded Pope St. Anterus who was in office only six weeks before dying of natural causes. An assembly was called to elect the new pope, and both clergy and laity were in attendance. Eusebius, a historian from Caesarea, reported that during the proceedings a dove mysteriously appeared and alighted on Fabian’s head. The voters took this to be a sign from the Holy Spirit that Fabian should be chosen, even though he was not well known to them, a layman, a farmer who had come into Rome, and happened to be in the audience. Fabian was elected on January 10, 236.

Pope Fabian had a fourteen year pontificate (236-250), and he is considered one of the most effective popes of the early Church. He was a gifted administrator. He directed a reorganization of the local clergy. He also subdivided the Roman church into seven ecclesiastical districts, placed a deacon in charge of each district, provided a subdeacon to support each deacon, and appointed six additional junior assistants for each district.

Pope Fabian led a number of building and restoration projects for the Christian cemeteries or catacombs in and around Rome. Not only were they burial places for Christians, they also served as worship sites, and it was customary for Masses to be offered on the tombs of the martyrs. He also arranged for a papal burial crypt in the catacomb of St. Callistus on the Appian Way, and his predecessor, Pope St. Anterus, was the first to be buried there. He also arranged for the body of Pope St. Pontian, the pope from 230 to 235, to be returned from Sardinia, where he had been in exile and martyred, and he, too, was entombed in the papal crypt.

Pope Fabian wisely appointed a number of holy and gifted bishops to preach the gospel in Gaul. He also was forced to condemn Bishop Privatus of Lambaesa, Africa, who was teaching heresy.

The Church was free of persecution during the first thirteen years of his pontificate. The Roman emperors during that time, Gordian III and Philip the Arab, both tolerated Christians. This changed abruptly and dramatically when the emperor Decius rose to power in 249. He immediately unleashed a ferocious persecution against Christians, and Pope Fabian was one of the first to be arrested and imprisoned. He was treated with extreme cruelty during his confinement, and finally tortured and executed on January 20, 250. He was buried in the papal crypt in the catacombs of St. Callistus, and sometime later his remains were transferred to the basilica of St. Sebastian (San Sebastiano) in Rome.

Shortly after his death St. Cyprian of Carthage, one of the highest ranking bishops of the Church, wrote that Pope Fabian was “an incomparable man, the glory of whose death corresponds to his holiness of life,” and that “it is encouraging when a bishop offers himself as a model for his brothers by the constancy of his faith.”

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Winter In Minnesota In January

January 12, 2018

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We Minnesotans are a hearty bunch! We deal with prolonged cold day after day. The average high temperatures are below freezing for weeks on end. The weather map is mostly blues, purples, and whites. Weather reports do not only give the actual temperature; they include wind chill, too. The ice on the lakes gets thicker. The snow piles get higher. We shovel and run the snow blower. We icefish and snowmobile, cross country ski and snowshoe. Minnesotans are often heard saying, “We choose to live here!” “We enjoy the theater of seasons!” “We’re tough!” “We can take the cold!”

As much as we talk “Minnesota nice” about winter, after long periods of confinement indoors, bundling up to go outside, higher heating bills, snow emergencies, parking bans, slippery roads, traffic congestion, and a film of salt on the car, just to name a few of the hassles of winter, cabin fever sets in and our patience runs thin. If we Minnesotans are truly honest about the challenges of winter, it is not always so nice. For some, it causes sad, blue days. For others, it escalates irritation and agitation, crabbiness and complaining. Worn down and demoralized, sometimes tempers flare. Winter can be a time when it is increasingly difficult to love others and practice the virtues.

Aware of the spiritual dangers of wintertime, it is imperative for Christian Minnesotans to consciously and firmly recommit to Jesus’ Law of Love and virtuous living during these trying times. Jesus wants his disciples to go above and beyond “nice.” He gave us a new commandment, “Love one another” (Jn 13:34), not just on warm and sunny days, but every day. The standards of virtuous living apply all the time, especially when we are cold and tired. Not only should we clothe ourselves with heavy jackets and boots, caps and mittens, we should also clothe ourselves with “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” (Col 3:12). While there may be more slipping and falling during wintertime, not just on the ice but also to temptation, Christians do their best to stand firm in the fruits of the Holy Spirit, to practice and exhibit “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22,23).

Spring is still a long way off. We dare not let anything, even snow and cold, derail our baptismal commitment to walk in Jesus’ ways. Winter is a time to persevere. Let us not only turn up the heat in our homes, let us also turn up the heat of our love for God and neighbor (Mt 22:37,39).

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The Star of Christmas

January 5, 2018

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Christmas StarThe star is an important Christmas symbol. It is traditional to crown the top branch of the Christmas tree with a star. Star-shaped ornaments are common. Some manger scenes have a star on or above the roof of the stable.

The Christmas star is mentioned in Matthew’s Infancy Narrative. A star appeared in the night sky when Jesus was born, and it was seen in faraway Persia by a number of magi, highly esteemed scholars (Mt 2:2,7). It was a common ancient belief that when a great ruler was born, a new star would appear. When the Christmas star appeared the magi were convinced that a birth of epic proportions had taken place, they rejoiced at its sight, and they decided to follow the star wherever it went, and it finally stopped over the place where Jesus was (Mt 2:9,10).

The usual Christmas star has five points. This star, when it has a single point up, two to the side, and two pointed down, roughly resembles the limbs of a human person. The five-pointed star is also the Star of Balaam. In the Fourth Oracle of Balaam, he predicted that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Nm 24:17), which is a metaphorical way to say that one of Jacob’s descendants would be a great king, and we believe that Jesus is both the star and the king. The five-pointed star also represents Jesus, the morning star (Rv 22:16).

The light of the star pierced the darkness of the night sky. It was beaming bright. A radiant star is a beautiful symbol for Jesus who is the true light that was coming into the world (Jn 1:9; 12:46). He is the light of the world (Jn 8:12), the light that shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it (Jn 1:5).

When the Christmas star appeared, it was one of countless stars that dotted the night sky, but it shined more brightly than the rest. The magi could tell the difference between the star of Jesus and the other stars, and they chose to follow his star rather than any of the lesser ones.

We are confronted with the same dilemma. There are many bright lights competing for our attention. There are movie stars, dancing stars, and star athletes. There are pulsating lights on the front of theater marquees, search lights above car dealerships, flood lights on storefronts, and glittering lights in front of casinos and night clubs. Of all these lights, the Christmas star and its light shine more brightly than the rest. The lesser stars are competing for our attention, but we must not be misled. If we follow the example of the magi, we will choose the Christmas star over all other stars, and we will follow Jesus who is our Light.

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